INDIANAPOLIS — There is growing concern from health officials and Hoosiers after videos and photos show large crowds gathering downtown during the first big weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Many fans could be seen not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.
“This afternoon, we were like, 'It is a gorgeous day, and we haven’t checked out this area yet.' We thought it would be great to walk around,” Robin Damm said.
The new Bottleworks District off Massachusetts Avenue hosted a March Madness watch party. Hundreds of fans packed into the small block between two LED screens at each end. Some areas were so crowded, there was no room for social distancing.
One group of friends, who found a table around the corner, said they felt safe since the event was outdoors.
“It is nice that there are so many opportunities to be outside, especially with COVID,” Annie Browning said. “I feel like everything has been really safe.”
The concern from health officials is that large groups of people not wearing masks could increase the spread of the virus or the new COVID-19 variants.
According to the Marion County public health order, people should wear a mask when social distancing is not possible, including outdoor public gatherings.
Bar and restaurants can have 100 percent capacity outdoors, but groups must be limited to six people or fewer at each table while maintaining a minimum of 6 feet between parties. Customers also must remain seated, and congregation is not permitted.
Businesses planning large gatherings must have a risk mitigation plan if they expect more than 50 people to attend. That plan needs to be approved by MCPHD before the event can begin.
The Marion County Public Health Department issued the following statement about large weekend crowds:
“MCPHD wants people to be safe any time they gather, and protocols are in place to help people do this safely as we all work to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Gatherings should be managed during this time using these protocols for the health safety of everyone. The health department is monitoring for concerns about any possible violations to the public health order and will take any action as necessary. We want to work with restaurants and venues to safely host gatherings during the NCAA tournament and in the weeks ahead. We continue asking everyone to wear a mask and stay socially distanced when going out in public. Taking these steps help keep everyone safe during this time.”