Doctors warn, ‘risk is there for ‘super-spreader’ type outbreak’ race weekend

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SPEEDWAY — With race day fast approaching, health officials urge attendees to the Indy 500 to remember, you’ll be required to wear a mask while you’re at the race and hopefully, while you’re in downtown Speedway. 

Doctors like Vice President of Medical Affairs for Franciscan Health Christopher Doehring say the risk is there, when it comes to the potential of a ‘super-spreader’ event this weekend, but it may not be directly caused by what could be the largest in-person gathering since the start of the pandemic. 

“No doubt there is an increased risk. The good news is we do have relatively low levels of spread of the virus right now in the community,” Dr. Doehring said. “If someone’s not vaccinated, I think it’s still a good idea to be based even outside and I appreciate the fact that the speedway is putting the expectation in place.”

But the 500 will attract some 135,000 fans from, likely, far beyond Indiana. Dr. Doehring says the threat of spreading COVID-19 in an outdoor setting like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is very low. Masks or not. 

“I think for the outdoor activities, particularly if folks are vaccinated, the role of masking is pretty much gone away,” Doehring said. “Certainly, to the extent that we have that many people gathering, if they’re in relatively enclosed spaces like some of the local bars and watering holes, restaurants and whatnot, there is certainly an increased risk in those settings. Particularly if folks are not, you know, protected with the vaccine.”

Those smaller, enclosed spaces nearby, like Dawson’s On Main pose higher risks, according to Dr. Doehring. 

“Obviously we want to try and make sure everything is clean. That’s been the goal since we like, opened back up. Make sure everybody’s safe but at the same time, we still want people to be able to have a good time on top of that,” Dawson’s On Main Bartender John Seiner said. “Absolutely, we’ll still try to… I guess… maintain social distancing, to some degree, whatever percent we’re allowed to be open – we’ll open.”

Guidelines or not, Siener says to expect crowds if you plan to venture into Speedway this weekend. 

“Definitely prepare for it to be really busy. It’s been really busy, you know, since we started back opening up. I just think it’s gonna be really great to see everybody back out and having a good time hopefully,” Siener said. “Everybody like, we all have our own opinions about the virus and the rules and whatever but… at the end of the day, you know, the rules are what they are… we have to follow them. Even if we don’t like them. That’s just what it is. We’re gonna make money no matter what. It don’t matter. Rain, shine, how many people you let in. It won’t matter… We’re just here to make some money and have a good time.”

With nearly 50% of Indiana’s eligible adult population having received the vaccine, Dr. Doehring says the light at the end of the tunnel is near and the ‘good time’ with it. 

“It’s been a long time coming, I think it speaks to the confidence and the successes that we’re having with widespread vaccination,” Dr. Doehring said. “This is kinda the promise that came once the vaccines were approved and have been implemented.”

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