Local health officials said Thursday they are open to modifying restaurant capacity restrictions ahead of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament—but cautioned the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t bode well for changes.
Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said restaurant restrictions are evaluated “on a weekly basis.” But because of the continued prevalence of the pandemic—including a sustained positivity rate in the mid-teens—she isn’t certain if rollbacks would occur before the tournament, scheduled for the last two weeks of March and the first weekend of April.
“I can just say right now, at this current point, we’re not able to increase our restaurant capacity, but that’s something that we definitely want to look at very carefully,” she said. “But that is something that we are monitoring very very closely and hope we can have some good news on that [for the] tournament.”
Restaurants are currently restricted to no more than 50% of capacity for indoor dining, but they are permitted to be at 100% for outdoor seating. No more than six people may be seated at a table.
While fans have not yet been approved for tournament games, each team will be permitted by the health department to have up to 420 family members in their contingent—six per participant.
She said the decision on further opening restaurants will be dictated by positivity rates, vaccine distribution and case counts much closer to the tournament.
The city also has started conversations with businesses that participated in the Dine Out program—which incentivized and encouraged outdoor dining—to begin ramping up for the tournament.
Deputy Mayor Taylor Schaffer, said the city is “thinking about how we can deploy some of those same tools to be able to utilize additional space for those restaurants and venues during the NCAA Tournament.”