WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Health experts have changed their tune about allowing fans at Mackey Arena for March Madness. That comes as COVID-19 numbers in Tippecanoe County continue to trend downward.
As News 18 previously reported, the NCAA announced a limited number of fans will be allowed inside Mackey and other venues in Indiana hosting games for the men's basketball tournament.
"Having the NCAA tournament here is fantastic," says West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis. "It really does help us spread our brand."
Dennis says basketball fans are a welcome boost to restaurants, hotels, bars and other businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
"We can see the light at the end of the tunnel but we're not there yet," he says. "There still needs to be a lot of self discipline when it comes to doing things in masks."
That's a sentiment echoed by the Tippecanoe County Health Department.
"All of those same precautions still need to remain in place," says Tippecanoe County Health Officer Dr. Jeremy Adler.
As News 18 previously reported, Adler said in January allowing fans would be a bad idea.
"Our COVID situation has improved greatly since then," he says.
Although numbers are trending in the right direction, Adler cautions about pandemic complacency.
"People need to be very careful about having get together to watch the games and really be careful to do those things as carefully as possible and with the smallest number of people as possible," he says.
Fans are limited to about 12 to 13 percent of Mackey's capacity.
"I wouldn't get super excited about a lot fans being allowed in," says Tippecanoe County Health Department Administrator Khala Hochstedler.
Hochstedler says it's what happens outside the arena that's concerning.
"It will draw more people to have house parties to watch it and to watch it in bars, and so just like remembering the common sense rules that have been in place for a year at this time," she says.