If the North Carolina Tar Heels’ men’s basketball team completes a regular season sweep of Duke on Saturday, don’t expect to see a party in downtown Chapel Hill.
Town officials announced Tuesday that they will not allow large crowds to gather on Franklin Street, citing the state's specific orders.
"Governor Roy Cooper's COVID-19 crowd limits prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people outdoors due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus," Emergency Management Coordinator Kelly Drayton said in a statement. "In fact, the Governor's decision to stick to 50 people outdoors while loosening other restrictions should be a clear message about its importance. We must adhere to these public health guidelines to continue this important battle we’ve all been in for nearly a year."
A month ago, on Feb. 6, about 1,000 defiant Tar Heel fans cut loose on Franklin Street while ignoring the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions.
"I know many Tar Heels enjoy rushing Franklin Street to celebrate a big win, but we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and COVID doesn't take a break for the Duke game," UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement after the incident.
UNC players also celebrated that victory over their Tobacco Road rival and were documented partying indoors while not wearing masks. Their next game against Miami was postponed about two hours before it tipped off and the Tar Heels players involved issued a public apology. UNC head coach Roy Williams said afterwards, "I was upset about it, I'm still upset about it, but let's not make it out like we charged the Capitol building or anything like that. That's not what it was."
COVID-19 doesn’t take a timeout, and neither should you this game day. Remember to be safe as you watch the @UNC_basketball game against Duke this weekend – avoid large gatherings and practice the three Ws #UNC pic.twitter.com/siN1LsgjuR— UNC-Chapel Hill (@UNC) March 2, 2021
Chapel Hill is hoping that its warnings and messaging will be enough this time around, as it's not planning on closing any roads in the anticipation of crowds forming.
"Franklin and Columbia streets are major thoroughfares, especially for ambulances and UNC Hospitals. It is important to keep those avenues open, especially during a public health emergency," a statement from the town read.
Town staff will be present downtown and "prepared for the unexpected," but are encouraging folks to find different ways to celebrate.
The town of Chapel Hill said in a statement that it has worked closely with the university to prepare for Saturday's game, which tips off at 6 p.m. at the Dean E. Smith Center – better known as "the Dean Dome." Officials have held numerous meetings to develop pre-game messaging, the town said, including safe ways to view the game and appropriate ways "to celebrate a Carolina victory," should the game fall in the Tar Heels' favor. UNC is hosting a virtual watch party for the game.
ESPN will carry the national broadcast of the game with Sean McDonough and former All-ACC player Cory Alexander on the call.
The town and university have also worked together on their operational plans for game-day and post-game activities. The town is urging fans to support local downtown businesses before the game by buying gear to wear at home, and ordering ahead for to-go orders.
UNC lost Monday night at Syracuse, 72-70. Duke has won four of its last five games. Neither team is currently ranked in the AP Top 25 poll.