CORONAVIRUS

High school volleyball players, and COVID-19 concerns, descend on Cedar Rapids

Organizers promise precautions as players and fans arrive

Rows of seats are covered in plastic or marked with a sticker to allow for social distancing Thursday at the Alliant Ene
Rows of seats are covered in plastic or marked with a sticker to allow for social distancing Thursday at the Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids. The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union State Volleyball Tournament begins Monday. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — When the city sees the annual influx of visitors for the state high school girls volleyball tournament, players and their parents typically come in droves to fill tables at downtown spots like The Map Room pub.

Christina Springman, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Mitch, said groups often came in as a table of 15 or so players, and parents sat in similarly sized group at a different table.

“We can’t do that this year,” Springman said.

It won’t be business-as-usual when thousands starting Monday come to Cedar Rapids from across the state for the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union state volleyball tournament at the newly renamed Alliant Energy PowerHouse. As the state sees record-high COVID-19 cases, tournament officials and area businesses say they are taking steps to keep guests safe from the virus.

“We’re welcoming the extra traffic,” Springman said, but staff is taking precautions. Plexiglass barriers are placed between booths, heaters are on the patio to allow dining outdoors, there are extra sanitation measures and masks are required for all — except for customers who have received food or beverages, Springman said.

People cannot wait for a table to open inside the restaurant, at 416 Third St. SE, so she said they need to wait outside on benches or in their cars.

Other area restaurants are taking similar mitigation measures.

Justin Zehr, who co-owns Bricks Bar and Grill, LP Street Food and Moco, said Bricks may see more of the traffic, given its location at 320 Second Ave. SE near the tournament venue.

“It can put a little bit of extra stress on people when they’re coming in the doors,” Zehr said, as the restaurant workers would need to advise people not to loiter and to stay in their car or wait elsewhere. A worker stationed at the door would manage incoming customers to steer any potential influx of people.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Weather is expected to be decent for the tournament through Thursday, staying in the 60-degree range after a chillier Monday. Zehr noted Bricks also has an outdoor patio.

Boost for economy

According to VenuWorks of Cedar Rapids, the tournament is a boon for the local economy each year, typically attracting about 26,000 spectators and 40 teams. They purchase meals and seek entertainment and some stay overnight.

Hotel stays in the city during the tournament are between 400 and 450, according to city Finance Director Casey Drew.

“This all depends on which teams qualify and how far they have to travel. Along with hotels, the tournament also has a nice impact on area restaurants, shops, convenience stores,” he said.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz recently told The Gazette that hotel occupancy has leveled off since seeing a boost after the derecho with utility crews, construction workers and residents displaced from damaged homes booking a temporary place to stay.

Of the city’s 2,881 hotel rooms, Drew reported that the city saw a 70.6 percent occupancy rate in September. Overnight stays took a hit at the onset of the pandemic — in May, occupancy sat at 33.7 percent, and 48.4 percent in July when the city-owned DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton reopened.

VenuWorks Executive Director Michael Silva said he expects attendance to be slightly lower than in the past, but he estimates it will still be “well over 20,000 people for the week.”

The Alliant Energy PowerHouse is capping capacity at 2,600 people per match and encouraging people to leave the arena after matches to allow the next match’s spectators to enter.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Student spectators are required to wear masks at all times but are not required to socially distance, though venue staff have blocked off every other row in the sections to encourage it.

All spectators will be required to wear face coverings when moving around the venue outside of their sections. Non-student spectators are not required to wear masks while at their seats, but they are asked to practice distancing.

He said there is signage around the venue encouraging people to adhere to safety protocols. Venue staff will hammer home those practices “until we’re blue in the face.”

Players vs. pandemic

Heather Meador, clinical services supervisor at Linn County Public Health, advised attendees to keep in mind there still is a pandemic. Even if people have what seem to be only a mild illness or allergies, they should stay home, she said.

“We still have to be concerned of what may be brought into our community and also what may be taken out of our community back to other communities,” she said.

The potential for gatherings of this scale to turn into superspreader events is a concern, she said, “because you’re going to have individuals be in attendance that may have gone in with the best intentions to follow all of the mitigation efforts but then get carried away with things and do not.”

Mayor Brad Hart said at a news conference Friday “it’s possible that event might still be canceled,” pointing to the NCAA’s abrupt cancellation of spring tournaments. “But I’m certain that they are trying to do everything they can to keep the players and families safe.”

Lisa Brinkmeyer, assistant director with the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, said there have been no talks of canceling the tournament and officials are confident the matches can carry on safely.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Players do not have to be masked while they’re playing on the court, but this year there will be no large gathering of fans after each match. And to alleviate cross-contamination of communities, the time between matches is spread out with two-and-a-half hours so fans leave and new fans can enter 30 minutes before the next match.

The players also get their temperatures checked, but she said they have to monitor their own symptoms.

“If someone tries to play sick, that’s their immoral choice and there’s not a lot we can do about that,” Brinkmeyer said.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; marissa.payne@thegazette.com

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please subscribe. Your subscription will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please subscribe. Your subscription will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.