WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Hours before Purdue would take on Iowa in front of a sell-out crowd in Mackey Arena Friday, a lead doctor for IU Health Arnett Hospital expressed public health concerns related to potential COVID-19 exposure.
In a scheduled call with media members addressing general COVID-19 topics, Dr. Christopher Mansfield pointed out the large number of fans attending home games of the top-ranked Boilermakers.
Mansfield, associate chief medical officer for adult hospital medicine at IU Health Arnett, joined the virtual news conference with Dr. Daniel Wickert, vice president of medical affairs for Franciscan Health Lafayette.
The two detailed a recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations immediately after Thanksgiving, where both facilities saw twice as many positive patients in the hospital than the previous week. The increase, they stressed, wasn't directly related to Thanksgiving gatherings, because that impact would be reflected in reported numbers about 10 days later.
Friday would mark the 30th consecutive game that Mackey Arena, with a capacity of just over 14,200, sold out of tickets. While masks are required while inside Purdue facilities, including athletic venues, Mansfield noted there are times when fans take off their masks.
Worth noting, Mansfield is a doctor and a Purdue fan.
"This is coming from, I'll just throw it out there, I'm a diehard Boilermaker," said Mansfield. "I grew up in this city, I've attended so many countless basketball and football games, baseball games, volleyball games, etc.
"That being said, in my current seat from a medical lens and knowing what we've been dealing with from a pandemic, if I can wear any different hat in that scenario, but if you take an enclosed arena that is seating 14,000 strong, there is an increased risk, period."
Those concerned with the community's public health have discussed sell-out crowds in enclosed Mackey Arena as recently as this week during a regular community call, Mansfield said.
"As much as I love Purdue basketball, you're talking about the potential No. 1 team in the nation after they win (Friday), the No. 1 team in terms of bracketology — I don't mean to put on my basketball hat right now — that doesn't mean we don't need to be safe in our community. We don't want a spreader type event."
Don't stay away from the game, Mansfield told those on the conference call, but take precautions.
"Whether it's one time a week, whether it's twice a week, I get it, I love Purdue basketball, I love cheering for them," the doctor said. "But when I show up for a game, I'm masked at that game, I'm fully vaccinated. I have had a booster shot. I'm sitting there with my mask on and as is my family that's sitting around me."
Shutting down concessions could be something to consider, Mansfield said, which would eliminate the need for fans to take down their masks. Mansfield acknowledged that's not a decision for the doctors.
Banning fans entirel would be extreme, he said.
The doctor stopped short of calling a Purdue basketball game a COVID-19 spreader event.
"We know science, we know how this (virus) spreads," he said. "We know what the capacity in a certain enclosed arena is. So what I would encourage, the take-home message would be, be safe, go to the game, wear your mask."
Deanna Watson is the executive editor at the Journal & Courier. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @deannawatson66.
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Doctor: Capacity crowds at Mackey Arena are a COVID-19 concern