Fans pack Gillette Stadium for Patriots season opener

Covid concerns cast aside even as cases surge

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For the first time since the pandemic began, real fans crowded Gillette Stadium for a regular season Patriots game -- many thousands of real fans. Declan Hiltz was among them.

“That crowd and those fans, man, the best I’ve ever felt,” he said.

And while the home team lost to Miami, fans were still thrilled to return to Gillette Stadium for the first time since the 2019 postseason.

The Miami Dolphins enjoyed a 17-16 win over the New England Patriots on Sunday.

As for safety, fans told Boston 25 News that given it was an outdoor event, they weren’t concerned about catching Covid.

“We definitely felt fine... open air,” said Lauren Barbo. “There weren’t too many people around us. We felt fine. Awesome game. We felt pumped to be there.”

“I think if there were any concerns Bill Belichik would already have taken care of it,” said Patrick McPherson.

Added his friend Alex Cochrane, “I feel like most of the people in there are vaxed anyway.”

While that may be true, the Delta variant has shown, in recent months, that vaccination is no guarantee against infection -- as the state has recorded numerous instances of vaccinated residents coming down with Covid anyway.

While COVID-19 capacity limits have been lifted, there are still some safety protocols in place. Since Patriots fans last attended a home game, Gillette Stadium has implemented many site modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic and upgraded several fan areas to improve the guest experience.

Fans are not required to be vaccinated, but unvaccinated people are urged to wear a mask at all times. People sick or recently exposed to someone with COVID-19 are asked to stay home. All ticketing this season is mobile – fans will have digital tickets right on their phones. All stadium vendors are cashless.

To minimize the chances of infection, the Patriots did put in place a cashless transaction system at Gillette as well as an exclusively mobile way to sell tickets.

Still, public health experts have expressed worry as football season opened with crowded college and professional games. While open-air events are, no doubt, less likely to cause transmission of the virus -- the more bodies in a given space, the higher the likelihood of exposure to an infected individual.

Still, Patriots fans seemed unconcerned after the season opener about Covid, so caught up were they in optimism about the team’s future with quarterback Mac Jones.

“This year they’ll make the play-offs,” said McPherson. “Make a run.”

Declan Hiltz sees bigger things down the line from Jones.

“That guy’s gonna give us three Super Bowls,” he said. “Three Super Bowls from that kid.”

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