INDIANAPOLIS — Thousands of people packed Lucas Oil Stadium Monday night for the College Football Playoff National Championship, despite the highly contagious omicron variant spreading across the country, along with a surge in COVID cases and hospitalizations in Indiana.
To mitigate risk, health leaders tried something new to encourage testing and vaccinations: a mobile clinic downtown, right in the midst of visiting crowds. The game plan on game day in the midst of surging COVID cases included the pop-up clinic to get people protected, offering vaccines, boosters and rapid testing.
Football fans, excited for the game, said they feel safe going to the stadium.
"I'm vaccinated. I'm not super worried about it, to be honest with you. I just really want to go to this game," said Georgia fan Griffin Durden.
"Everybody makes their own choice coming out here, so I'm comfortable. I'm here," added another fan from Georgia.
"We think this is a really important risk-mitigating strategy before the game, be able to offer the participants going to the game their ability to get tested and know that they're safe before going into the game," said Marion County Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine.
The mobile clinic is really the only risk-reduction strategy for the national championship game, to the chagrin of some doctors and health experts.
Indiana University School of Medicine Dr. Gabriel Bosslet has been outspoken on Twitter, regarding the championship game and his frustration and concerns over what he called “a missed opportunity to meet people where they are.”
"I am not bummed we are hosting this game. I understand its importance to many. I’m sad that this was a missed opportunity to meet people where they are and employ a harm reduction approach to the pandemic," Bosslet tweeted.
In his tweets, Bosslet said a harm-reduction approach would involve requiring people to be vaccinated before going into the game or antigen testing for unvaccinated fans with those who tested positive for COVID getting their ticket refunded.
Bosslet recommended vaccination stations while tests were being run and branded KN95 masks for everyone.
He said such measures would have been “a worthwhile heavy lift.”
There were no requirements for masks, testing, vaccinations or social distancing inside Lucas Oil Stadium. It was all recommended and encouraged, but not mandated.
Marion County health leaders hope people take it upon themselves to be safe, and some fans did before arriving in Indianapolis.
"We all tested," said fan Kemp Norris. "We all tested two days ago and all tested negative. We're not going to come to another city, you know, without us knowing for sure. We don't want to spread anything."
At a time when tests are getting harder to find, there was some confusion at this mobile clinic when it opened Monday morning.
People were turned away at first, unless they had tickets to the game. A temporary sign went up saying "rapid testing for game ticket holders only." That's despite the health department advertising and promising tests were available and free for anyone.
The rules were quickly clarified and the sign went away within about an hour. That allowed people not going to the game, to get tested too.
Cherelle Young brought her sons, who have been home sick for a few days.
"The boys had been feeling a little bit sick. We told the school about it. Just wanted to get them tested to be sure so they could go back to school," Young said. "It was very convenient to be able to come and get help right away."
According to the health department, 41 COVID rapid tests were given and 19 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered at the clinic. Earlier in the day, officials said over 100 people had gotten a vaccine, booster or rapid test at the clinic.
Caine said the health department is considering offering another mobile clinic downtown for testing as soon as next week.