INDIANAPOLIS — March Madness is expected to give central Indiana businesses a big boost. However, we are still in the middle of a pandemic which raises concerns about safety in terms of keeping the spread of coronavirus to a minimum.
The NCAA has a clear plan for teams including extensive testing before they arrive and throughout the tournament. They also plan to keep the teams isolated as to not spread the virus.
The plan for fans is less clear. According to the NCAA, arenas will be limited to 25% capacity. The event capacity will include all participants, essential staff and family members of each team's players and coaches and a reduced number of fans.
Face coverings and social distancing will be required. However, thousands of other fans are expected to travel to Central Indiana who plan to watch the games at bars and restaurants in the area. Those establishments are left to safely host basketball fans.
"We're always excited for all the sports stuff, everything that goes on in town. We always support that," Tabitha Hatfield, a bartender at Barringer's Tavern on the Southside of Indy, said.
Hatfield said she expects customers, many regulars and maybe new ones, will fill up their place within the guidelines to watch the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. Hatfield said they're taking all the necessary precautions to try and keep people safe.
"When you walk in, masks up. We always have masks available for people at the door in case you forget your mask. We have hand sanitizer throughout the building so you can use it whenever you need to or when you want," Hatfield said.
Hatfield and other service industry workers will find themselves on the front lines of making sure everyone is following the current COVID-19 guidelines.
"The restaurants, the bars, the hotels who will really benefit from these guests being here have a vested interest in making sure people are following the public health guidelines, social distancing, and wearing masks," Shandy Dearth, director of the undergraduate epidemiology program at the Fairbanks School of Public Health, said. "I think we'll see a good partnership with them encouraging that activity of following the guidelines."
Dearth said the only problem she could see happening is people who travel to central Indiana from places where guidelines have been more relaxed.
"We understand we might have some guests coming from areas where mask use hasn't been mandated often. Here in Indianapolis, we do require mask use whenever you go inside or around crowds," Dearth said.
WRTV reached out to the Marion County Health Department about safety precautions as it pertains to the NCAA Tournament. Below is the response we received:
"There is always concern about an increase in spread, but the current rate of new cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have been trending down significantly and the mask mandate - along with other restrictions/precautions for businesses and events - are in place. The hope is that everyone will continue doing what is needed to reduce the spread - mask wearing, social distancing, staying home if you feel sick, washing hands frequently, and following the public health order."
MCPHD can enforce violations if businesses aren't following guidelines either by observing the violations directly and/or investigating complaints. However, enforcement-related activities will not be announced in advance.