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Chancellor Boyce: “We’re incredibly optimistic” about opening the Grove in 2021

Two weeks ago, the status of a full Grove come Saturdays this fall was still unclear, but Ole Miss Chancellor Glenn Boyce shed some light on the matter this week.

Speaking with the EAGLE on Thursday, Boyce provided some clarity and stated his expectations for the fan experience during Ole Miss home football game days in 2021. While it is still more than five months away from the the Rebels’ home opener against Austin Peay, Boyce said he is “optimistic” the Grove will have a 2019 feel.

The current state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rollout of the vaccine come August and September will be key factors in a decision to allow tents and tailgating back on the University of Mississippi campus.

“It won’t be an official (decision) until we can absolutely know and the data can validate it, but our optimism and the way that the vaccine rollout is moving forward, and the way the numbers and the data looks across our state, and certainly within our university, we’re incredibly optimistic that we’re going to be able to open up the Grove this year,” Boyce said.

Boyce added that the university will continue to monitor the pandemic and how case numbers either continue to decrease, or if another surge might happen this summer.

When the EAGLE spoke with Ole Miss Provost and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Noel Wilkin two weeks ago, there was optimism but also an abundance of caution in declaring the Grove will be fully open with half a year between then and the Rebels’ first home game.

Wilkin spoke of the university providing COVID-19 vaccines to its campus community, including faculty, staff and students. Since the vaccine became available on campus last month, more than 2,300 doses have been administered in two weeks. Getting as much of the campus community fully vaccinated as possible was one of the factors in being able to provide a safe environment this fall on campus. The University on Wednesday also announced another round of vaccine appointments after receiving an allotment of Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccines.

“I’ve been excited in talking with our staff and our employees and our faculty, but including very much so our students (about the vaccine),” Boyce said. “I wasn’t sure if our students were going to be as excited about receiving the vaccine as some of the rest of us were going to be. But our students have been ready and were absolutely on go when it came to get the vaccine as well.”

In Lafayette County, more than 30,000 doses have been administered with over 19,000 Lafayette County residents fully vaccinated as of 8 a.m. on April 1. According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, 22 percent of Lafayette County residents are now fully vaccinated and more than half a million Mississippians are now fully vaccinated.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves rolled back nearly all of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions last month, including the mask mandate. With masks no longer required by law to be worn indoors or outdoors and outdoor gathering limitations essentially gone with Reeves’ latest Executive Orders, Boyce said he does not know if there will be requirements for masks to be worn if the Grove is opened back up to a full capacity this fall.

“I want to be optimistic and my desire is for (The Grove) to be just like it was pre-COVID,” Boyce said. “I want to see generations of families back in that Grove. I want to see those young children running around, throwing that football and wearing those Rebel jerseys. I want to see that vibrant game day experience, because it’s unlike anything in the country, right back to normal. Just as normal as it was in pre-COVID, and that’s what we’re going to be shooting for.”

Ole Miss and Austin Peay are scheduled to play on Sept. 11, 2021. A kickoff time will be announced at a later date.