Coronavirus not stopping First Four, high school state tournaments — for now

Tipoff for the start of the NCAA First Four at UD Arena when Florida Gulf Coast played Farleigh Dickinson in 2016. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

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Tipoff for the start of the NCAA First Four at UD Arena when Florida Gulf Coast played Farleigh Dickinson in 2016. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Although a major sports event in the state will be closed to spectators, March Madness in Ohio appears to be safe from the coronavirus — at least for now.

Dan Tierney, spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine, said Wednesday the First Four NCAA Tournament basketball games March 17-18 at UD Arena — and other sports gatherings such as high school, college and professional games — are not expected to be canceled. That could change as those events are still more than a week away.

"This changes day by day, hour by hour," Tierney told the Dayton Daily News on Wednesday following an announcement that the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus will be closed to spectators this weekend.

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While the basketball games are high-profile events, the Arnold festival presented challenging circumstances: 60,000 unique visitors, 22,000 athletes from 80 countries and extremely congested conditions over multiple days. The festival and trade show floor often is so packed that people shuffle along shoulder to shoulder, giving them no ability to seek out social distance.

Tierney said updated advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prompted Ohio officials to dramatically scale back the Arnold. New CDC guidelines on coronavirus say to consider the capacity of local public health officials to prevent community spread of the virus in connection with mass gatherings, DeWine said.

To allow the festival to go on without changes presented an “unacceptable risk,” the governor said.

Screening measures, including taking temperatures, will be done at area airports as athletes arrive. Athletes from China, Iran, South Korea and Italy will be barred from the event, public health officials announced.

The four-day festival, which brings $53 million in economic impact to Columbus, is scheduled to begin Thursday.

»RELATED: OHSAA updates status of high school state tournaments

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he supports the decision and noted the organization wouldn’t choose making money over risking people’s health. Schwarzenegger, who dialed into DeWine’s news conference, said he’ll attend the festival this weekend.

One person in Ohio is under observation for possible infection, seven people tested negative for the virus and there are no cases confirmed in the state.

Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton said, “We will see cases in Ohio eventually.”

She urged Ohioans to wash their hands, cough or sneeze into their sleeves and stay home if they are sick. Acton also said Ohioans can get reliable, up-to-date information at CoronaVirus.Ohio.gov.

Also Wednesday, the Ohio High School Athletic Association told its members in a memo the organization is monitoring the situation and reviewing tournament plans, "but at this time all tournaments are currently scheduled to proceed as planned."

Beyond that, the organization has procedures in place to handle closures of host sites for a variety of reasons, including inclement weather or health issues, and reserves the right to delay or reschedule tournaments such as bowling and wrestling if various factors prove to make that a practical move.

The bowling state tournament is scheduled to begin Friday in Columbus for both boys and girls.

The wrestling tournament is set for March 13-15 at Value City Arena in Columbus, while the girls basketball tournament is at the regional stage and the boys basketball tournament is at the district stage.

Ohio State will host the girls state basketball tournament March 12-14 at St. John Arena and the boys tournament March 21-23 at Value City Arena.

The NCAA announced Tuesday it has established an advisory panel of medical and public health experts to guide its response to the outbreak, which has sickened more than 92,000 people and killed 3,100 worldwide according to the Associated Press.

“The NCAA is committed to conducting its championships and events in a safe and responsible manner,” NCAA chief operating officer Donald Remy said in a statement. “Today we are planning to conduct our championships as planned, however, we are evaluating the (coronavirus) situation daily and will make decisions accordingly.”

The First Four games are a major draw for the Dayton area every year, and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is by far the biggest moneymaker for the NCAA, which receives nearly $1 billion annually from media rights fees, corporate sponsorships and ticket sales.

According to the AP, attendance at the 2019 tournament averaged more than 19,000 per game.