“Pandemic is not yet over,” local officials say, as Assembly Hall vax site to boost shot number by 10x next week

The weekly Friday afternoon press conference held by Bloomington area local leaders on COVID-19 response is not typically followed with a press release hammering home talking points from the briefing.

That’s one measure of how important local leaders think this message is: “We are united in the belief that the pandemic is not yet over and that it is not yet time to let down our guard.” The statement was included in the opening paragraph of Friday’s followup release.

The release came from Monroe County’s health administrator Penny Caudill, the county’s health officer, Thomas Sharp, the three county commissioners (Julie Thomas, Lee Jones, and Penny Githens), Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, IU Health south central region’s president Brian Shockney, and IU provost Lauren Robel.

At the press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said “Governor Holcomb’s recent announcement to remove the mask mandate at the state level is terribly misguided, and unfortunate.”

While the state-level restrictions are due to be lifted on April 6, local edicts will remain.

A bright spot in the press conference included next week’s planned vaccination numbers for the new Assembly Hall site, announced by IU’s Kirk White. The numbers White talked about were high enough that it prompted a question to confirm what he said. Yes, the 7,000 doses expected for next week, for which the state’s scheduling software has opened slots, is a 10-fold increase from last week’s allocation.

The news release supported statements from Caudill made during Friday’s press conference, “We stand beside the Monroe County health officer and health board in maintaining the mask and social distancing mandates put in place to protect our community.”

Under the county board of health’s current health order, Caudill and county health officer Thomas Sharp have the “the ability to adjust restrictions—in any particular area—as required, in order to protect the public health.”

The restrictions that will remain in effect for Monroe County include: masking requirements; a prohibition against bar top service (customers in restaurants have to be seated at a table); six-foot physical distancing; and gathering size limits.

Monroe County’s gathering size limit, which is applicable to all commercial and non-commercial gathering or events, is 50 people. The city of Bloomington’s limit, which operates under a more restrictive order from mayor John Hamilton has a gathering size limit of 15 people.

The county board of health is next scheduled to meet on April 6 at 4 p.m. That’s the same day when Holcomb’s restrictions are to expire, even if the emergency health order will remain in place at least through the end of the month.

The county’s board of health is not expected to relax restrictions. That’s because of the recent uptick in county confirmed case numbers. The report for March 31 on the state’s dashboard showed 47 COVID-19 cases in Monroe County. That was the highest number since Feb 5, when 52 cases were reported.

The 7-day rolling average of cases is pointing towards another week in the “yellow” category for Monroe County in the state’s color-coded metric for community spread. The metric includes two data points: positivity rate and per capita case numbers. The threshold for average daily cases that puts Monroe County in yellow is 21.2. The current rolling average, through Thursday, stands at 27.

Monroe County’s positivity rate remains low at 0.9 percent, but that number has risen slightly and steadily over the last two weeks, from 0.5 percent. On Friday, IU’s Kirk White said, “We’ve seen a slight uptick this past week.” The university’s prevalence rate for the week of March 21 was 0.4 percent, White reported on Friday.

White added, “And I think [the prevalence rate] is going to bump up another couple of tenths maybe as we get all the results for this week.” White continued, “We have seen some scattered outbreaks in various places that we were able to immediately identify through our contact tracing, and our testing protocols.

During the press conference Bloomington’s mayor Hamilton pointed to statewide hospitalization numbers that are creeping upward, even if IU Health’s local and regional census of COVID-19 patients remains relatively low and stable for now.

Two weeks ago, the statewide rolling 7-day average number of COVID-19 hospital patients was 548. That rolling average is now nudging towards 700. Those numbers are still just one-fifth the 3,460 the state saw at the end of November.

The big boost in Assembly Hall vaccine doses is connected to a state health department initiative to allocate additional doses to universities around the state, IU’s Kirk White said on Friday.

The state will be sending an email to members of the university community about the increased availability over the next couple of days, White said. The email message will include a special link for scheduling a vaccine appointment, he said. White’s message to university affiliates: “So if you get that, that’s something you should pay attention to. Open it up!”