CINCINNATI — Ahead of Opening Day, the Reds and businesses at The Banks are stressing the importance of COVID-19 measures during the unofficial Cincinnati holiday.
"This is different, it's not a party," said Jim Moehring, owner of Holy Grail Tavern and Grille. "Tomorrow's going to be an OK day. It will meet our expectations but, over the last 15 months, our expectations have been lowered drastically. Saturday night was our biggest night since December 31, 2019."
Concerns over crowd control on Opening Day grew this week, following the first weekend of The Banks' designated outdoor refreshment area (DORA). Some people, including councilman and mayoral candidate David Mann, expressed concern about a lack of masks and distancing on Freedom Way.
"We all look forward to the day when we can move around mask-free without social distancing," Mann wrote in a motion filed Tuesday morning. "That moment is getting close, but we cannot risk causing a setback with a surge of new cases."
The Banks, Cincinnati police, and business owners stressed the importance of maintaining distancing in a news conference on Wednesday.
"Remember that we are still in a pandemic," said Capt. Doug Wiesman, noting the only issues at the DORA last weekend were pandemic-related. "If you come down here, bring a mask, socially distance, take some personal responsibility to be safe in that regard."
Business owners like Moehring said the DORA and expanded outdoor areas for distancing were critical to their success.
"We aren't inviting people down here saying 'Hey, turn this into a rager all night long,'" he said. "What this has done for us a business owners is taken the pressure off of us. We're all on completely limited capacities."
Tracy Schwegmann, representing The Banks, said Wednesday there would be people patrolling with masks to encourage people to follow COVID-19 measures starting on Opening Day.
Great American Ball Park will open to fans for the first time since 2019 on Thursday at 30% capacity. The Reds play the St. Louis Cardinals for the first homestand.
Tim O’Connell, vice president of ballpark operations for the Cincinnati Reds, said the team worked with local health and government officials to develop a five-pillar plan for Opening Day.
- Mandatory masks: Everyone in the ballpark must mask up, including fans and staff.
- Social distancing: This will be in place throughout the ballpark, like podding of up to six seats. Digital ticketing on smartphones and cashless pay.
- Personal hygiene: There are hand sanitizing stations throughout the ballpark.
- Cleanliness and sanitation: P&G’s Microban will be used to sanitize seats daily.
- Communication: New signage will be blue, green and white to stand out and promote proper COVID behaviors.
“I cannot express to our community how excited the Reds are to welcome fans back,” O’Connell said. “This has been an 18-month avenue that we have gone down in order to get us to where we will be tomorrow.”
Dr. Matthew Daggy, TriHealth medical director for sports medicine, said they collaborated with Michael Schuster, the ballpark's architect, to determine how to appropriately space fans.
"The tickets are going to be sold in pods – anywhere from one to six pods – and the ticket system is designed to be able to isolate and move those seats so we don't have two individual people together," Daggy said.
Those ticket pods will have one row between them and at least three seats on either side of them. Daggy said it measured out to at least six feet in all directions between pods.
Distancing will be expected throughout the ballpark.
"Signage, voice messaging, public service announcements, all these things to remind people to stay socially distanced," he said at a briefing Monday.
If a spectator starts to show COVID-19 symptoms, Daggy said, the ballpark now has isolation rooms for medical staff to treat them away from the general public.