Marion County health officials keeping an eye on COVID-19 spread during Big Ten games

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INDIANAPOLIS — Marion County health officials say they’re keeping a close eye on COVID-19 community spread as out-of-state fans travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday.

“If you’re out in public – and especially in mass gatherings – mask up again,” said Melissa McMasters, administrator of the Marion County Public Health Department’s (MCPHD) Immunization and Infectious Disease Program.

McMasters said that rule of thumb should apply to all Hoosiers regardless of their vaccination status. She said she believes the U.S. will see more cases of the omicron variant pop up nationwide in the coming days.

“Unfortunately, I think people are a little burnt out of those safety precautions but right now it may be more important than ever as we see this variant coming,” said McMasters.

Meanwhile, contact tracers at IUPUI’s Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health said they are prepared to handle a potential increase in COVID-19 cases.

Shandy Dearth, director of the Undergraduate Epidemiology Program at Fairbanks, issued this written statement saying in part:

We will track if we see any clusters of cases reporting they attend the games downtown, but since most of the fans attending the games from colleges out of state, the local health departments where those people reside would be the ones to follow up on any positive tests. We will only receive information on cases who reside in Marion County. I know the epidemiology department at MCPHD is also continuing their regular surveillance which includes syndromic surveillance (looking for increases in symptoms mirroring COVID), as well as analyzing the reported cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. 

Indiana is experiencing an increase in cases now and we encourage all adults 18 and up to get their boosters and everyone should mask up!

Shandy Dearth – Director of the Undergraduate Epidemiology Program at IUPUI’s Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health

“Certainly still during this pandemic any large gatherings get me concerned about the transmission,” said Dr. Christopher Belcher, infection prevention medical director at Ascension St Vincent Hospital. “The timing could be better I think.”

Dr. Belcher said the championship game is happening at a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are increasing.

Right now, there are 26 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across the Ascension St. Vincent Indianapolis hospitals. Of these 26 patients, eight are in an ICU.

“I think things will be much safer if people wear their masks,” said Dr. Belcher. “Keeping that mask on when you’re in a large group is going to help decrease transmission.”

Masks are no longer required at Lucas Oil Stadium, but Dr. Belcher hopes Hoosiers will make the right decision and wear one anyway.

” I want people to come here – I think the tournament’s a great thing – but people should get vaccinated or get boosted if you haven’t, wear your mask, socially distance when possible… Just make it as safe as possible. I know we want to get back to normal, but let’s make it safe too,” said Dr. Belcher. “I know it’s been a long time, but you still need to do these things to protect yourself and others.”

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