Factoring in the latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, Monroe County’s health officer, Thomas Sharp, is rescinding the current Monroe County health regulations, effective Monday, May 17, at 8 a.m.
Those regulations limit gatherings to 50 people, and require masking in a range of situations.
The announcement came from county health administrator Penny Caudill at Friday’s weekly press conference on pandemic response held by local leaders.
Caudill stressed that there will still be some requirements to wear masks and to maintain distance—for people who are vaccinated or not. Examples given by Caudill are: federal or state property, vaccination clinics, and COVID testing sites.
Other government offices can still require distancing or masking, Caudill said. Local businesses can continue masking and distancing requirements as well, she added. “That is their option. Please be respectful and accommodating of those requests,” Caudill said.
On Friday evening came the city of Bloomington’s notification that its gathering size limit would also end on Monday, May 17.
At the press conference earlier in the day, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton said his executive order, which limits gathering sizes to 15 people, was still legally in effect. He said, “There’s still a concern about large numbers of unvaccinated people gathering and causing issues.”
Still, Hamilton hinted that the executive order’s days were numbered, saying, “We’re going to be looking at that very quickly.” So the evening press release on the ending of the order was not a surprise.
Again a point of emphasis at Friday’s press conference was the importance of getting vaccinated. A Saturday May 15 walk-in vaccine clinic will be held at the Indiana University Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Walk-in hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Anyone 12 years or older is eligible to receive the vaccine.
A few hours after the press conference, the county’s news release was issued on the topic, quoting Sharp: “Our plan was to remove the health order once we reached the blue advisory level category on the Indiana Department of Health Covid-19 map. We are on track to reach that goal early next week.”
Blue designates the best category in the color-coded dual-metric scheme the state set up—which corresponds to “low community spread.”
One of the metrics in the color-coded scheme is the number of cases per 100,000 people in a county.
For the week ending Sunday, May 9, Monroe county had a rolling 7-day average of around 14 cases. That was low enough to move the county from third-best (orange) to second-best (yellow) category for the per capita metric. And combined with the other metric, which is positivity rate, the average put the county in blue.
But the county has to maintain the blue designation for two weeks in a row to be considered out from under the yellow advisory.
To stay in the next-best category for cases per 100,000, Monroe County needs to maintain fewer than 21.2 cases a day. The “yellow” category ranges from 10 to 100 weekly cases per 100,000.
On Friday, the rolling 7-day average of confirmed positive cases in Monroe County dropped to just under 10. It has not been that low since early August 2020.
That downward trend, combined with the other metric in the coding scheme, is the basis of Sharp’s optimism about reaching the goal of blue two weeks in a row.
The other metric, besides the number of confirmed cases per 100,000, is positivity rate. Monroe County has consistently scored in the best category for the positivity metric, due in part to the massive amount of mitigation testing that Indiana University has undertaken.
Mitigation testing, of randomly selected people, by its nature will show a lower positivity rate than testing of those who decide they want a test for some reason.
On Friday, Caudill cautioned that Monroe County’s positivity rate may tick up a little bit, because of the smaller testing pool for the university community over the summer.
Based on data from the Indiana University testing dashboard, which is reported by week, over the last ten weeks, the Bloomington campus accounted for about half the number of Monroe County positive cases—777 out of 1,569 cases.
Monroe County’s health regulations were set to expire on May 28. A meeting of the board of health had been set for May 19, to re-evaluate the regulations and consider letting the regulations expire or possibly extending them. That meeting will still take place.