COVID-19 update: Get vaccinated, keep masking up, local leaders continue to say

“While it feels like COVID may be behind us, in many ways it’s not,” IU Health’s south central region president Brian Shockney said at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders.

Shockney added: “The best way that you can choose to help ensure our communities don’t see another surge is to make the choice to get your vaccine.”

The importance of continuing to wear a face covering, despite the ending of the statewide mask mandate, was another talking point on Friday.

Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael, said about the local decision by the Monroe County board of health to continue the mask regulations: “We’re going to stick with this. We know we’re not out of the woods.”

Carmichael also encouraged restaurant patrons not to put servers in the position of playing the role of the “mask police.” She said, “Obviously, these are businesses that have signage on the doors, letting folks know…you will be expected to wear a mask. So we just ask everybody to please mind those rules. Continue to wear those masks.”

The county board of health has contracted with Security Pro 24/7 to enforce the local health regulations. That contract goes through July 1.

For Shockney and Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill, part of the message on Friday centered on the Centers for Disease Control recommendation announced on Tuesday to suspend administration of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That announcement came after unusual blood clots were identified in six women between the ages of 18 and 48. One of them died.

The vast majority of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Monroe County are the two-shot vaccines manufactured by Pfizer or Moderna, not the one-shot vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson.

Caudill said the discovery of six women with unusual blood clots was evidence that the vaccine adverse event reporting system is working. She called the six cases out of more than 7 million total doses of the J&J vaccine “an extremely small number.”

Caudill said recommendations on whether to resume use of the J&J vaccine are expected by the end of next week.

Shockney said that IU Health is reaching out to its high-risk clients—women from 18 to 48—who received a J&J shot, to remind them of the symptoms to watch out for, and contact their healthcare provider if needed.

Based on data from the state’s department of health, the number of doses of J&J vaccine received by Monroe County residents over two weeks before Tuesday’s announcement had averaged around 150 per day. On Tuesday that dropped to 2, and 0 on Wednesday.

Shockney said he thinks the message to suspend use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was received at local clinics within five minutes of the CDC announcement.

The pace of vaccinations using the Pfizer vaccine is expected to increase over the next few weeks at Indiana University’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall vaccination site, according to IU’s vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White.

Next week, 3,120 open appointments are expected to be filled, and that’s expected to increase to 3,900 next week and possibly 4,700, the week after that, White said. White noted that it’s possible to sign up for an appointment online.

Caudill talked about the goals for vaccination in terms of percentage of the population. She pegged the number at 75 percent or higher. “When we get [to 75 percent], you’re going to hear me push to get a higher number. I’ll just warn you about that right now,” Caudill said.

Asked if the achievement of a 75-percent vaccination rate would mean dropping the masking and social distancing requirements, Caudill tied the change to regulations to drops in infection rates and positivity rates.

Infection numbers across the state and in Monroe County are showing a slight, but steady increase over the few weeks. Monroe County’s 7-day rolling average of confirmed positive cases is now around 30, which is double the number in early March.