Good news tempered with caution about the persistent presence of the pandemic virus was again the theme of this Friday’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 response, held by Bloomington area leaders.
Probably the most significant news out of Friday’s news conference was the fact that Monroe County’s public vaccination site will transition in April from its current location at the county’s convention center to Indiana University’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the school’s basketball venue.
That news came jointly from Indiana University’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White, and Monroe County’s health administrator, Penny Caudill.
People who get their first shot at the convention center in March will still be able to get the second dose scheduled for the convention center location, Caudill said. IU Health’s vaccination site at its Medical Arts building will continue to offer vaccinations.
To dispense the COVID-19 vaccine, White said IU would use a logistical setup at Assembly Hall similar to the one it deployed for its mass flu vaccination clinic. The initial COVID-19 vaccine supply will not support the full capacity of that setup, White said. “We feel confident that if we had the supply, we could probably run upwards of 2,000 people through in a day.”
Another bit of good news: Brian Shockney, president of IU Health’s south central region, reported that starting March 8, all IU Health hospitals will begin allowing visitors for COVID-19 patients. Shockney said COVID-19 patients will be able to designate two close contacts as visitors, and one of the two designated visitors will be able to visit per day.
Mixed in with the good news on vaccination capacity and continued downward infection trends were doses of caution.
White said, “There are still a lot of people suffering, a lot of people still contracting the virus.”
White gave an example: “I was on the phone this morning with one of our senior administrators on the campus, whose spouse is suffering from COVID. Now, she’s been sick for seven days. She’s very ill.” About a possible end to the pandemic, White said, “This is not something that we can celebrate yet.”
Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton echoed the sentiment for caution. “People are dying every day in the state from this disease. We are not out of the woods,” Hamilton said.
On Friday, the state’s COVID-19 dashboard recorded one additional death for Monroe County, bringing the county’s total to 164.
Hamilton added, “And I know everybody’s tired of the protocols and protections but it’s kind of like, we’re still in a rainstorm…The things we’re doing are protecting us. It’s not time to put the umbrella down, because then we’ll get wet again.”
Caudill also urged continued caution. And patience.
Caudill responded to a question about when bars would be allowed to stay open until 3 a.m.—instead of having to close at 2 a.m. Caudill said Monroe County’s recently-achieved “blue” status—which is the best of the three-color scheme—is “very encouraging.” She added, “But it doesn’t mean we’re ready to open everything up.”
She also talked about incremental progress towards a return to normal. The extension of bar closing times to 2 a.m., but not until 3 a.m. is “a small step that we can watch,” Caudill said.
About the reason that bars were subjected to earlier closing times in the first place, Caudill said: “The longer people are there, and the more they drink, the longer the masks are off, the less they distance, and the harder that may be to control.”
From Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton came an update on the way that the city will encourage its own employees to get vaccinated. There will be a $100 “wellness incentive” that will be handled along the same lines as gym participation or smoking cessation. The incentive will be managed by the city’s third-party health benefit administrator, Hamilton said.
Asked if a chance to shoot free throws would be offered as a way to get people to come get vaccinated at Assembly Hall, White did not say no. But White’s response did not make it sound likely: “From the layouts I’ve seen so far, we don’t have anybody getting down to the floor. But I will say that Assembly Hall in and of itself, is certainly a neat place to visit.”
White described the bronze statues, the trophy cases and the interactive videos that give some of the history of the place.
Vaccination photos of White, and county commissioners Penny Githens and Julie Thomas, were a part of Shockney’s IU Health presentation at Friday’s news conference.
About his vaccination, White said, “My arm is a little sore today, but nothing different than a lot of vaccines I’ve gotten in the army, that’s for sure. But I feel fine. And not missing a beat.” In 2020, White retired as a field artillery officer in Indiana’s Army National Guard, after three decades of service.