Pandemic racks up 5K confirmed cases in Hoosier state, another daily high

Saturday’s noon kickoff for the football game in Bloomington, between Indiana University and the University of Michigan,  coincided with the daily update to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The 38–21 victory by the Hoosiers put a total of three in the win column, against no losses, for the Hoosier squad so far in the COVID-19-shortened season.

On Saturday, the COVID-19 pandemic virus again put up big numbers statewide and in Monroe County.

The 5,007 cases recorded for Indiana counted as another daily high since the pandemic started. The statewide rolling average of confirmed COVID-19 cases now stands at 3,786, which is three and a half times greater than the rolling average on Oct. 1.

Monroe County saw its confirmed cases spike in late August through mid-September, when university students returned to campus. After that, the numbers subsided a bit. Through October, local numbers have not shown the kind of sharp increases seen statewide over the last month.

Still, the 70 cases that COVID-19 put up on the dashboard on Saturday brought the rolling average of Monroe County cases to 46. That compares to an average of 26 at the start of October.

The rolling average positivity rate in Monroe County is starting to rise, too, even if it’s lower than the statewide average. on On Oct. 1, Monroe County’s rolling positivity rate stood at 1.5 percent, but by the end of October had risen to 3.9 percent.

The rolling average daily deaths in the state has settled between 30 and 35 over the last week. That’s starting to approach the spring peak of 40 deaths a day.

After making it from late September though late August with no deaths, in the last week, since Oct 28, Monroe County has recorded four deaths due to COVID-19. That makes 42 Monroe County residents who have died from COVID-19.

The 205,722 confirmed cases in the state of Indiana, which has a population of around 6.7 million, mean that about 3 of every 100 Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

At Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders, health administrator Penny Caudill said that it’s smaller gatherings that are causing most of the infections, not necessarily super-spreader events.

“Across the county and the state we are hearing that most of our cases are really coming from family and friend gatherings. It’s the weddings, it’s maybe the funerals, it’s the worship services, it’s the meetings, the sleep-overs, the little parties that we’re having, where we don’t mask, we don’t maintain distance, and we’ve let our guard down,” Caudill said.

She added, “It only takes that one person who can come into that group and infect the rest of the group unknowingly, many times because they may be asymptomatic.”

The IU football team’s victory on Saturday against Michigan came after another big home game win two weeks ago against Penn State. That occasion was marked by spontaneous celebrations of large groups of students who did not maintain physical distance between themselves and did not wear masks.

At Friday’s press conference, Kirk White, who is IU’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships and the lead for IU Bloomington’s COVID response unit said, “Let me make this as clear as I can. We have suspended students across the spectrum for hosting these large parties. We’ve suspended Greek students, we’ve suspended athletes, we’ve suspended off-campus and residence halls living students. We can’t have this kind of irresponsible activity.”

White added, “And when we find it, we will find out who’s responsible. And you will be summarily suspended from Indiana University. If you’re found to be irresponsible this late in the semester, you’ll be suspended for next semester. That’s all there is to it. So don’t do it.”

The county has a number of health regulations in place, including those on mask wearing, maintaining physical distance, and keeping gathering sizes for non-commercial events under 50 people. The city of Bloomington has a lower limit on gatherings, which is 15 people.

As far as enforcement goes, Monroe County this week has added some compliance officers, which it hired through Security Pro 24/7 a local security firm. The officers will act as agents of the health department, Caudill said on Friday.

Caudill added, “And they certainly can write fines, if that’s what they need to do. We don’t ever want to write fines—we want compliance. Fines, in and of themselves, don’t do anything for us at the health department, but make more work, just to be quite frank about that.” She wrapped up by hammering home the point: “What we want is compliance.”

At Friday’s press conference, Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton told Caudill not to be afraid to impose fines: “If we need them, we need them.” He added, “Sometimes [imposing a fine] gets attention when people need attention.” Caudill assured Hamilton, “We will certainly issue fines if we need to. We’re not afraid to use them. We would prefer not to use them.”

Portions of Kirkwood Avenue in downtown Bloomington, near campus, have been closed to automobile traffic to allow restaurants to expand outdoor seating. Those closures for some sections of the street go through the week and weekends for the rest of the year.

Saturday, after the football game ended, around 3:30 p.m., Kirkwood Avenue saw an influx of young people wearing IU apparel and in a mood to celebrate. One young man, who was not wearing a mask, jabbed his finger in the direction of The Square Beacon’s masked reporter and warned, “This is a no-mask area!” He did not press further the matter of The Square Beacon’s non-compliance.

Two young men wearing maize and blue jerseys with the numbers of Tom Brady and Charles Woodson—University of Michigan football players of some renown, but from a past era—were treated to what seemed like good-natured derision by the surrounding crowd.

Headed south on Dunn Street, a Bloomington police department squad car cruised a couple of times past the curb-to-curb gathering of maybe 200 people. As of about 5:30 p.m. the Kirkwood crowd had not seen any enforcement action.

The scene on Kirkwood Avenue around 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 after the Indiana University football team defeated the University of Michigan by a score of 38–21. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)