As the omicron skyrockets, is it safe to attend sporting events?

COVID cases are on the rise in Indiana and across the country, largely because of the omicron variant. It’s also one of the busiest times of the year for sporting events, from high school to college to the pros.

Many sites have relaxed COVID restrictions both in terms of capacity limits and masking requirements, so there are always risks involved in attending events with large numbers of people. We asked St. Vincent’s infectious disease doctor Dr. Chris Belcher about the risks of going to games and what fans can do to protect themselves.

Is it safe to attend sporting events with increasing COVID cases?

“Safety is a somewhat relative term. It depends on a lot of things,” Belcher said. “It depends on who’s going, who they’re going to be with, what’s going on in the community and what precautions they’re taking. It’s by no means absolutely safe. One concern would be if you’re the one considering to go and you have underlying medical issues – heart disease, lung disease, issues that can weaken your immune system – or if you’re of an advanced age, over 60 or 70 or 80, those are all risks of bad COVID, even when people have been properly vaccinated. “

What factors and risks should fans consider before attending an event?

Omicron cases are on the rise across the country.  Cases have increased 126% in the United States over the past 14 days.

“Who are you going with?” How are you doing there? Do you all have the same car? Are you going to wear masks in the car? What is the immunization status of other people? Belcher said. “At the event you’re going to, are they able to impose social distancing? Are you able to wear masks? (Also consider) things over which you have very little control – if other people are vaccinated, what is the air circulation, are there adequate facilities for washing hands? How many COVIDs are there in the community? “

“There will be people at these events who have omicron and are contagious.”

Indianapolis Colts fans cheer after Indianapolis Colts linebacker EJ Speed ​​(45) scored after recovering a blocked punt on Sunday, November 14, 2021, in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium in 'Indianapolis.

COVID cases have increased 126% in the United States in the past 14 days. Cases rose 26% in Indianapolis during the same period.

“Unfortunately right now with omicron we are seeing it setting in quickly and the number of cases is only skyrocketing,” he said. “There will be people at these events who have omicron and who are contagious. These are all considerations in this risk discussion. Due to the high risk in the community, I would strongly discourage anyone who has not been vaccinated to go there. to go, and I would strongly discourage people who have underlying medical conditions where the vaccine may not be as protective as it has been in the past to stay home as well. ”

Omicron makes large group events “much more dangerous”

“We are learning a lot about (the omicron variant). Although some things are unknown, it is well established that it is very highly transmissible,” Belcher said. “It makes large group events a lot more dangerous because there are more viruses being spread by these individuals, and it’s just a lot easier to pick up. What is known is not good news. unknowns, we find out in time. “

Fans cheer during the Crossroads Classic College Basketball Tournament on Saturday, December 18, 2021 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.  The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame face the Indiana Hoosiers.

While omicron has been shown to be highly transmissible, it has been shown not to be very dangerous for people who have been vaccinated.

“If you’re immune and, more importantly, if you’re boosted, you’ll avoid big problems,” James Musser, chairman of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Hospital and Research Institute, told the Washington Post. .

As hospitals fill up, there is more to COVID to consider

According to the Indiana Department of Health dashboard, only 13% of the state’s critical care hospital beds are available. U.S. Navy personnel began assisting the IU health system last week due to the high number of patients.

Hospital availability is something to keep in mind when going to big events, Belcher said.

“There are even more important considerations rather than just, ‘Am I likely to catch it? If hospitals are full of COVID patients who need intensive care spaces or hospital beds, if you have a car accident while rushing to your event, there may be no have no open emergency room or open intensive care beds to help you, ”he said. “If you have a heart attack on your way, there might not be any open beds or people to help you. It is very important to minimize all of these risks. It goes beyond knowing if you think whether you are likely to get a bad case of COVID or not. “

What can people do to minimize their risk?

“I would encourage everyone to attend events to make sure you have received all of the vaccines you are eligible for,” he said. “Make sure you’ve received your first set of shots – it’s usually two shots plus a booster, if you’re in an eligible group for a booster. Also get your flu shot. What we’ve been doing for the past two years has helped with all of this – wearing a face mask. social distancing and washing or using an alcohol hand sanitizer on your hands. “

51.9% of Indiana residents are fully vaccinated, which is among the lowest percentages in the country.

Follow IndyStar Trending Sports Journalist Matthew VanTryon on Twitter @MVanTryon and send him story ideas at [email protected]

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