Coronavirus infections rise in Marion County as NCAA tournament starts

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INDIANAPOLIS – Now that the NCAA Division men’s basketball tournament has left town, Mayor Joe Hogsett has called the Indianapolis Big Dance staging a big hit, even as COVID-19 issues have compromised the end of a fairy tale.

The tournament ended Monday night with a new national champion crowned and the efforts of the Marion County Public Health Department to monitor COVID-19 infections that claimed the lives of two people, one from a fan basketball court and the other from an employee of a famous downtown Indianapolis restaurant where service was suspended for 48 hours.

The specter of a COVID-19 outbreak loomed over the planning and execution of the entire March Madness tournament in central Indiana with most games played in Marion County.

Mayor Hogsett admitted this during an early morning briefing with reporters.

“An expectation that recent events have confirmed,” Hogsett said. “Our public health experts have been able to respond and respond to a potential spread so quickly and thoroughly.”

The NCAA crowd left Indianapolis after the final buzzer of the Baylor-Gonzaga game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night, but left behind an estimated nine-figure salary for the city and its hospitality industry.

“We’ve proven to the world that we can responsibly host major events,” Hogsett said as the Indiana Convention Center prepares to host two events and welcome eight thousand visitors to the city this weekend. “The NCAA March Madness tournament is a starting point for the return of Indianapolis, the return of conventions, the return of the hospitality industry, and I look forward to the months ahead.”

According to Marion County Director of Public Health, Dr. Virginia Caine, Marion County Director of Public Health, Marion County Director of Public Health, could complicate these coming months and the economic recovery of the city after the pandemic.

“We are now seeing a slow increase in our positivity rates for COVID-19,” said Dr. Caine, “but we have slowly increased our positivity where we are now at 4.1% positivity at the end of March.”

Dr Caine said she suspected residents of Marion County returning from spring break and more virulent strains of the virus could be behind the increase in new cases and emergency room visits.

Yet, she said, it is too early to determine whether the presence of the NCAA tournament and the thousands of fans and staff it has brought to town, as well as residents leaving their homes in the During the second spring of the pandemic, is to blame for an increase in Marion County’s infection rate.

“I now expect to see an increase based on these numbers, but due to its slowness and the lower rate of increase in cases that we expect, we will likely have a more moderate increase from what we saw at Thanksgiving. and what we saw during the Christmas holidays.

MCPHD continues to monitor the infection that killed a University of Alabama basketball fan after returning home after a visit to Indianapolis to watch the Crimson Tide play in the tournament and an outbreak that forced the temporary closure of St. Elmo Steak House.

Luke Ratliff, known in the Alabama college games section as “Fluffopotamus,” posted several messages on Twitter in late March about his trips to Indianapolis, visits to several restaurants, and attending a trio of Crimson Tide games.

He also stayed at an Airbnb on March 20 and died in Alabama last Friday.

Dr Caine said his investigators have contacted authorities in Alabama to trace contacts of anyone in Ratliff’s entourage who may have been exposed to the virus.

“On Saturday, when we became aware of the report, we contacted the Indiana State Department of Health to contact the Alabama Department of Public Health on our behalf to identify if anyone. one in Indianapolis had potentially been exposed to COVID. -19 by any resident of Alabama, ”she said. “A handful of people (in Alabama) who attended our NCAA games have been contacted regarding their potential exposure to COVID-19. We will continue to cooperate with the State of Alabama COVID contact tracing investigation. “

Dr. Caine detailed the extensive contact tracing process available to her investigators to track any tournament-related outbreaks.

“Anyone, for example, who might have attended the NCAA event, do we keep information on where a person is seated?” ” she said. “We have their email information; we have their phone information so that we have the ability to look and say in a six foot diameter or even up to a twelve foot diameter that I can generate a list of those people surrounding anyone who might have been infected in as a spectator in some of our events.

“Instead of having to send a letter to anyone who may have been at a big NCAA event, I can say based on the information we’ve gathered and all the prior work we’ve done that we can do contact tracing very efficient.

The MCPHD has also been monitoring the outbreak in St. Elmo which has left at least nine employees testing positive for COVID-19 and the restaurant has reported a work-related death to the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Craig Huse, CEO of Huse Culinary, owner of St. Elmo, announced at 11 p.m. on Saturday that his restaurant would be closed for two nights before Monday’s championship game, causing dozens of reservations to be allegedly canceled.

The restaurant reopened on a limited basis at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

“We continue to provide guidance and oversight to ensure the safety of all staff and customers, including providing free PCR testing for all staff and we are monitoring restaurant operations very closely,” said Dr. Caine who doubts restaurant customers do. were infected by staff. “We follow what’s called CDC guidelines which define close contact as someone who is within six feet of an individual, they are masked, but if they are masked and are within six feet from an individual infected with COVID-19 for fifteen minutes or more, then we are concerned about transmission to clients or clients. Based on our investigation at this point, we do not believe that there has been any risk of exposure to customers under this directive. “

Despite the easing of mask mandates across Indiana today, Mayor Hogsett said Marion County will maintain its public health emergency rules for now.

“We must remain vigilant. We have to wear masks. We need to stay socially distant. We have to wash our hands often, ”he said. “Indianapolis and Marion County are fundamentally different from the rest of the state. We have more people and therefore we have a higher risk of spread. “

Dr Caine said 16.4% of residents of Marion County have been fully vaccinated, well below the 80% vaccination rate she says the county must achieve to achieve herd immunity against COVID- 19.

“You have to get your shot,” advised Hogsett. “Vaccination is ultimately what will put COVID-19 behind us. “

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