Those who live and work in our county know what many around the world are learning—nobody does March like Indianapolis. Over recent weeks, college basketball has taken center stage as teams from around the country have gathered here for 98 games over 28 days, including the Big Dance, March Madness.
As the lead public health official for Marion County, I am intimately familiar with the obstacles the past year has presented to our community, and the ways COVID-19 has changed day-to-day life for so many.
Throughout the pandemic, the Marion County Public Health Department has worked closely with the Indiana Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health, Resolve to Save Lives, hospital systems, the City of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis City-County Council, the Indy Chamber, school systems, and the many sectors of our economy, embracing best practices and smart public health policies, while preserving and protecting our local economy to the greatest extent possible.
No one quite knew when our community would begin to see a revival in the sports events and conventions that drive so much of our downtown’s success. But our city rose to the challenges presented to us nonetheless.
Then in January, the NCAA announced that the entire Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament would be hosted in Indianapolis. This move was unprecedented and was not without additional obstacles for our city. I had confidence, however, that this community was once again ready to meet the challenge.
This opportunity to move Indianapolis forward has been a major undertaking. I have worked closely with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, Visit Indy, Indiana Sports Corp, the CIB, the State of Indiana, and many other local organizations to ensure Indy was a safe place to visit.
I collaborated closely with NCAA officials and their medical advisory board to help develop health safety protocols to protect the thousands of players, coaches, and staff who were heading to our city. And over the past few months, the facilities that have played host to the tournament – Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Lucas Oil Stadium, Hinkle Fieldhouse, and the Indiana Convention Center – have successfully hosted events, with the review and approval of health safety plans by my staff.
I can say without hesitation that everyone involved has the health and safety of guests and our community as the highest priority.
Now, as we approach the championship game, I can confidently say that bringing the buzz of college basketball back to our city was only possible through the efforts of our residents, businesses, and community partners to mask up, socially distance, and operate within the constructs of necessary public health orders. We must not let up now.
I continue to ask residents and visitors alike to wear a mask, wash their hands, and watch their distance when in public, so that this tournament is just the beginning of our community’s return to the activities we all love and have missed over the last year.
Caine is the director and chief medical officer of the Marion County Public Health Department.