County commissioners, board of health move to beef up enforcement of COVID-19 health regs

On Wednesday at their regular weekly meeting, Monroe County commissioners approved a $25,000 contract with Security Pro 24/7 to help enforce the county board of health’s regulations, which were imposed to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

The idea initially is to focus enforcement on late night hours, according to Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill. She said the compliance officers are supposed to “help businesses maintain that compliance, just to be there to remind people what the regulations are.”

Caudill added, “Some of the businesses have said that we get lots of out of town guests—they don’t always know what the regulations in Monroe County are.”

Among the county regulations is a non-commercial group gathering size limit of 50 people, which is larger than the city of Bloomington’s limit of 15.

The county also limits bars to offering only tabletop seating, and no bar service. That’s a regulation that could be revisited by the board of health in a couple of weeks.

On Thursday, the board of health gave its own unanimous approval of the agreement with Security Pro 24/7.

The board also took action to revise its COVID-19 regulations to allow for enforcement of its regs by Security Pro 24/7.

The part of the regulations that give them some teeth now reads as follows:

Violations of this regulation are subject to penalties as provided by the Monroe County the Monroe County Code, including but not limited to Chapters 305 and 115 and may be enforced by any local or state law enforcement agency, or any agent authorized by the Monroe County Board of Health, Health Department, or Monroe County Board of Commissioners.

The move to add enforcement resources comes as Monroe County’s COVID-19 case count continues at moderate levels based on a percentage of its population, and relatively low positivity rates compared to the rest of the state of Indiana.

For most of the month of October, Monroe County’s rolling 7-day average of confirmed cases stayed around 25 cases per day, but started to creep towards 30 by month’s end. Through Nov. 4, Monroe County’s rolling average had risen to 37 cases a day, with individual day totals upwards of 50.

The rise is a cause for concern for local health officials. But they’re relieved that the dramatic increase in statewide totals is not reflected in Monroe County.

The current rolling statewide average of daily confirmed cases, which now stands at 3,359, is more than triple the average at the start of October.

On Thursday, the state’s COVID-19 dashboard reported 4,457 new confirmed cases, which was the highest number of cases reported since the pandemic hit the Hoosier state. That figure was 731 more than the 3,726 logged the day before, which was also a new daily high.

To put a jump of 731 cases in perspective, from mid-May through mid-June, the total daily average statewide was steady at around 500 confirmed cases.

Numbers that previously were considered shocking are now accepted as commonplace, something that Monroe County board of health member Mark Norrell called “policy fatigue” during the board’s Thursday meeting.

“If you think back to the…very beginning days, we reacted quite strongly to two cases, three cases in Monroe County. And here we are with Penny [Caudill] telling us we’re up in the 40s and maybe pushing 50 on a daily basis. And we seem to have, from a policy standpoint, just said, OK, it seems like we just accept that now.”

Norrell added, “I’m not asking for action, I just want to observe that there’s fatigue from a policy standpoint.”

The board heard a draft proposal to allow restaurants to offer a limited kind of bar service, but did not act on it. The idea would be to allow people seated at tables to queue up at the bar to order drinks, which could be taken back to table seating. Board members want to see how the added enforcement goes over the next weekend, before acting to revise the regulations.

According to county attorney Jeff Cockerill, commenting at Wednesday’s meeting of the county commissioners, the budget for the enforcement agreement was based on six hours per night for four enforcement officers—for Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The contract runs through Dec. 15. The money to pay the contract will be taken from the county’s rainy day fund, to be reimbursed through the CARES Act.

At the board of health’s Thursday meeting, county attorney Margie Rice said that Security Pro 24/7 is led by a former officer with the Bloomington police department, which mean that he had some familiarity with local rules. That’s
James Witmer, who served with BPD for more than two decades, through 2013, and then as a school resource officer for Monroe County Community School Corporation.

The regular weekly press conference on local COVID-19 response is held every Friday at 1:15 p.m. and is streamed live on the city of Bloomington’s Facebook page.