CINCINNATI — He's a Reds fan, but Gov. Mike DeWine hardly cheered when he saw Opening Day crowds at The Banks on Thursday.
"I think that's a mistake. I think that's a mistake to be that close together," DeWine said during his routine COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday afternoon, around the same time fans began congregating en masse on E. Freedom Way just outside Great American Ball Park. The strip -- lined with bars and restaurants -- is a small portion of a new designated open-container zone that spans most of The Banks.
For DeWine, he saw too many people too close for his comfort, and too few wearing masks.
"They’re outside, and that’s the best thing I can say — they are outside," the governor said.
The comment begged the question: How safe are outdoor gatherings when crowds get as dense as they were on Reds Opening Day, or like they were during the open-container zone's -- also known as a designated outdoor refreshment area, or DORA -- first weekend.
Dr. Steve Feagins with Mercy Health said get-togethers outdoors are safer than indoors, for the obvious reason: better ventilation. But he added that what he saw at The Banks Thursday made an entire physician's lounge at his hospital cringe.
"Everybody had the same reaction to watching all those people at The Banks," he said. "Oh, no. And these are the docs that take care of COVID patients."
Especially in an atmosphere where crowds are cheering, the risk of transmission -- even outdoors -- increases, Feagins said.
"When the sound is up, you're shouting, so you're actually aerosolizing more," he said.
Despite the increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines, states across the country -- including Ohio -- are seeing a rise in cases and hospitalizations, yet again. But now, those who are contracting the virus most are younger people, as a majority of the state's older populations have already been vaccinated.
"Ohio remains in a race against a virus that is now more contagious and is right back on our heels," said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health, referring to increasing cases of more virulent COVID variants that have surged across the U.S.
Vanderhoff said doctors expect one or more of the variant strains soon to be the most common among current coronavirus cases.
So when it comes to wearing a mask and social distancing -- even when outside among crowds -- Feagins said, "Just keep going."