The Marion County Public Health Department is nearing a decision on whether fans will be permitted to attend games during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Indianapolis next month.
Dr. Virginia Caine, executive director of the health department, said she expects the NCAA to formalize a request regarding fans “within the next one to two weeks,” and she said recent data related to positive tests and hospitalizations is promising.
Caine said any decision on fans for the tournament, which will tip off March 18, will be based on the final pandemic safety plan submitted by the organization.
“We will be able to say once we see that final plan and their request,” she said Thursday afternoon. “If they do want to have spectators, we will be able to help determine what that capacity is related to the numbers, but our numbers are looking very favorable for us to make a decision.”
The NCAA has so far not said whether it expects to have spectators at the tournament, which is being played in its entirety in Indiana. A source has told IBJ that the Indianapolis-based organization is generally considering allowing fans for only the Final Four portion of the tourney, which will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 3 and 5, respectively.
New cases of COVID-19 have been on the decline for the past month in Marion County, with Caine predicting the county could have a seven-day average of fewer than 100 cases per day by the end of February. Also on the decline are the number of hospitalizations, as well as deaths per day.
Marion County reported 198 new cases on Thursday and three new deaths. The seven-day daily moving average of new cases has fallen from 260 to 204 since Feb. 1, while the seven-day daily moving average of new deaths has fallen from 12 to 3 over the past month.
She said the health department will weigh data available at the time a formal request is submitted to determine how many fans may be permitted.
“If they make a request for spectators, they’re looking very good,” she said. “These are always tough decisions … you’re balancing trying to reduce community spread [and] at the same time, you have to look at the economics, making sure that we can keep businesses open.”
Each of the Indianapolis venues being used for the tournament have received approval for limited fans for other events, including Lucas Oil Stadium, which was permitted to have up to 12,500 fans at several late-season Indianapolis Colts games.
The city is continuing to prepare for the tournament in a variety of ways, including beautification efforts throughout downtown and near north-side venues Indiana Farmers Coliseum and Hinkle Fieldhouse. And some hotels are also getting ready for the 68 teams that will participate in the tournament, largely in a controlled environment.