Restaurant, bar capacity limits in Marion County to be eased March 1

Like many restaurants across the region, Bru Burger in Noblesville turned to take-out service in the spring when dining rooms had to close. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

More people will be allowed into Marion County restaurants, bars and gyms starting March 1, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced Thursday morning, citing improving local COVID-19 pandemic conditions.

Restaurants will be allowed to have indoor seating up to 75% capacity, an increase from the 25% or 50% caps to which they’ve been limited since June 1. A restriction of no more than six people per table will remain in place.

Additionally, bars and music venues will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity—up from 25%—and stay open until 2 a.m. instead of midnight. Bar seating will be permitted, as long as social distancing is in place. Gyms will also be allowed to increase their capacity from 25% to 50%.

The order also raises capacity from 25% to 50% at zoos, museums, music venues and parks.

Mayor Joe Hogsett said he expects the increased capacity will be a “shot in the arm” for the city’s hospitality and restaurant industries as the city prepares for a month of basketball tournaments, including the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Even so, he said, the decision to allow more people into the establishments wasn’t influenced by the upcoming slate of events.

“I want to make it clear though that these decisions in no way were driven by March Madness or the basketball tournaments,” he said. “We’re making these changes today because of the data, and because public health experts upon who I rely, have told me the progress that we together have made is making a difference—a substantial difference.”

New cases of COVID-19 continue to fall in Marion County, along with deaths and hospitalizations tied to the disease.

Since spiking in December at more than 1,000 cases per day, the county has dropped to an average of about 109 cases per day over the past few weeks. Dr. Virginia Caine, executive director of the Marion County Public Health Department, said the figure is “still high,” and she would prefer to be seeing only about 35 new cases per day at this point. Deaths are down to one to two per day—meeting county expectations.

Hogsett and Caine said they believe the addition of hundreds of basketball fans to the equation isn’t likely to pose any new public health risks for the city, but added they hope visitors and residents will “stay vigilant” in their safety precautions.

“The NCAA is assisting us, so that anybody buying a ticket—they’re making sure the education gets to them about our expectations in our city and what needs to be done,” said Caine. “We’re putting a lot of messages out there are to outside folks that may come into our city for these game.”

Restrictions could be reimposed if the health data calls for it, he said.

For both the Big Ten Conference and NCAA basketball tournaments, venue capacity limits will be 25%, maximum. The Big Ten has not yet announced spectator policies for the men’s and women’s tournaments.

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29 thoughts on “Restaurant, bar capacity limits in Marion County to be eased March 1

  1. When will Dear Leader Joe allow Indy to go to 3’ spacing in High Schools so my kids can go back to school? If you are “following the science”…3’ is a no brainer…

    1. Great call — I watched the press conference. Marion Co. has fewer cases than all of the surrounding counties who have gone to 3ft. Dr. Cain says she wants to “look closely” before making a decision. She’s apparently been very focused on getting the bars more open….(eye-roll).

    2. Joe, share the links? Every study re school transmission of Covid shows it is almost zero. It’s why schools all over the world have remained open during the pandemic. Even the CDC guidance (which was pretty much written by the teacher unions) says 6 ft “where feasible”. Schools are only so big. Almost zero transmission is occurring, and, even if it does kids have nearly zero reaction to the virus.

    3. That’s funny, my kid who had the virus would disagree with you there. She said it sucked.

      It appears three feet might work if everyone is masked and stays that way. So then the game becomes how you feed all those people and keep them spread out when they’re unmasked for meals, which is a solvable issue. I’d support trying three feet distances knowing that the distance might have to go back to six if school spread becomes an issue.

      As far as six feet not being enough, I was speaking to the below… which is why I’m not doing any indoor dining until a couple weeks after my second shot.

    4. IBJ comments get withheld for review if they have more than one link, so you have to choose carefully which link you embed in a comment.

      Thanks to Ted and David for tipping me off on the three foot with masks research. I have heard of a private school in Johnson County that’s been doing the three foot rule but not requiring masks in the classroom … I believe they’ve had multiple cases in classrooms. So that was where my mind went when the three foot rule came up, but I was wrong.

    1. To clarify – capacity would be increasing, meaning limits are decreasing. Comment refers to headline of article.

    2. Geez. It can be said either way. Put in your resume and go be an editor, instead of playing one here.

    1. We’ll see if the media show all the closed/boarded up businesses downtown, which resulted from Mayor Joe’s ineptitude, incompetence and cowardice.

    2. Many NBA players are angry that the All Star game is going on as scheduled in Atlanta even though we are still in the midst of a pandemic. But NCAA Tournament and Big Ten Tournament goes on without the bat of an eyelash even though it is a longer time frame and we know that college students are much more likely to be careless party participants. Stupidity and greed at its best. We know the NCAA said that they could not survive another year without the tournament and Indpls was dumb enough to grab the bait to host all 66 games. They’d host the NBA All Star game too if they could have scheduled it in.

  2. Bars can now operate at a whole 50% of capacity and stay open an extra 2 hours on weekends? Wow, that will be a real gamechanger (not). Thank you Pothole Joe for your benevolence!

    1. Actually, you would be surprised what that two-hour difference makes for bars. It will not automatically turn things around but it will help.

  3. It’s going to be difficult for the downtown restaurant industry to staff up for march madness. Our elected officials have destroyed the industry and now expect them to deliver pre-pandemic hospitality. The restaurant owner and their teams will work themselves to death to deliver the highest level of service for March Madness, even with limited resources.

    1. They’ve known for a month now that’s it’s coming. And the virus destroyed the economy, not the restrictions.

    1. Yes, the mindless zombies of the right wing media cult … they stink to high heaven. How many people has Hannity killed with his nonsense on the virus, anyway?

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