Recent Bloomington employee death a reminder of dire effects of pandemic disease, even as indicators trend better

A push for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was again a main talking point at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders on pandemic response.

Among the local sites for free vaccine distribution is Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at Indiana University.

The message for people to take advantage of the free vaccine got some extra urgency from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, who confirmed an earlier press release that announced the death of a city employee due to COVID-19.

On the employee’s death, Hamilton said, “That reminds us that this disease is still very much among us, and can be dire, and can bring terrible consequences.” Hamilton added, “I just want to express our sympathy and condolences to family members.”

Hamilton noted that Indiana is among the states with lower vaccination rates. Leading the way, according to New York Times reporting is Vermont, where 83 percent of residents 18 years and older have received at least one dose of vaccine. Indiana comes in at 29 points behind Vermont. About 54 percent of Indiana residents 18 years and older have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

On that metric, Indiana is better than just 11 other states: Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas, West Virginia, Tennessee, Wyoming, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Responding to a question from a reporter, Hamilton ventured that the lower vaccination rates in Indiana and other states at the lower end of the list have a political connection. States with lower vaccination rates are more conservative politically, Hamilton said, adding, “And that’s really unfortunate, because we all deserve the vaccine and should get it and hopefully we’ll be able to move forward with that.”

On Friday, Kirk White, Indiana University’s vice president for strategic partnerships, gave an update on the university’s incentive program for its affiliates to get vaccinated. They’re entered in a drawing for prizes.  The prizes vary for students, faculty and staff but include: $500 bookstore gift cards, campus dining credit, an Apple Watch, and AirPods Pro, among other items.

The first drawing, with a random selection set up from the database, took place on Thursday, White said.

The incentive program has ratcheted upward the percentage of IU affiliates who have submitted documentation of their vaccination, White reported. In about a month, White thinks, if things continue on the same pace, a 70-percent vaccination rate will be achieved. “That’ll get us where we need to be in that concept of herd immunity,” White said, adding, “We feel very, very good about the trajectory that we’re on.”

The university’s incentive program is a revision to its initial approach, which would have required documentation of vaccination for all students, faculty and staff starting in the fall 2021 semester. Flak from state legislators and the state’s attorney general led the university to change course.

On Friday, a push for people to get vaccinated also came from Brian Shockney, president of IU Health’s south central region. Shockney is fond of celebrating various national days. Shockney noted that Friday was Making Life Beautiful Day.

He then delivered the pitch: “How you can really make a difference and ‘make life beautiful’ is to get vaccinated.”

Shockney showed a chart of the in-patient census at IU Health facilities, plotted against the cumulative number of vaccinations. In-patient census numbers have trended down, as cumulative numbers of vaccinations have trended up. But both trends have plateaued, he noted. The in-patient numbers keep bouncing around double-digit figures, and just won’t go down to single-digits, he said.

A similar picture emerges for the number of confirmed positive cases in Monroe County. They’re averaging in the high single digits, but have not yet settled into the one or two cases a day that Monroe County saw this time last year.