IU Health: “We would love to provide you with a vaccine instead of a hospital stay.”

President Joe Biden announced Thursday that federal workers, with few exceptions, would have to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Biden’s new mandates include a requirement that employers with more than 100 workers have to require their employees to be vaccinated or be tested weekly.

Friday’s local news conference of local leaders also had a renewed focus on vaccination.

As Brian Schockney, president of IU Health’s south central region, put it on Friday: “We would love to provide you with a vaccine instead of a hospital stay.”

The state’s health department maintains a website for scheduling appointments for the vaccine, which is free.

A fresh focus on vaccines continued a theme from Wednesday’s meeting of the county board of health. At the Wednesday meeting, health department officials indicated their preference for putting their efforts towards vaccination, instead of enforcement of a mask mandate—as they continued to encourage the wearing of masks. The county’s current mask mandate would expire on Sept. 30 unless there’s action taken to extend it.

As the whole country deals with the two-month surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant, some local and regional trends—for the number of positive cases and hospitalizations—look like they might have started to level off. During Friday’s news conference Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said, “It’s too early to know if that’s a trend, we’ve seen these bumps before.”

About the specific hospitalization numbers, Shockney said, “Our COVID-19 inpatient census in the south central region may have achieved a peak over the past few days.” He added, “It still remains high and,… and it continues to require us to reduce our other services to ensure care for the sick patients.”

Shockney tied hospitalizations to vaccination rates: “Here in Monroe County, between IU health and Monroe Hospital, the numbers of COVID patients seem to be declining at a faster rate. And I solely believe this is because Monroe County has a higher vaccination rate than those of our other counties.”

Shockney shared a graphic to illustrate the kind of protection provided by the vaccine. On Sept. 10 for the south central IU Health region, all 11 patients who are in an intensive care unit are unvaccinated, according to the graphic. And of 54 patients who are hospitalized, 47 are unvaccinated.

The rate of new vaccinations in Monroe County has fallen to a rolling average of around 50 people becoming fully vaccinated each day. In a county with 148,000 residents, the 50 additional vaccinations per day increase the county’s vaccination rate by about .03 percentage points a day. So at the current pace, it could take another month to bump the Monroe County’s rate of vaccination from 58.9 percent over the 60-percent threshold.

Indiana’s legislature passed a law earlier this year that prohibits governmental entities from requiring “vaccine passports.” Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, was asked at Friday’s news conference if Biden’s Thursday vaccination mandates would have an impact on the city’s ability to require its employees to get vaccinated.

Hamilton said, “I look forward to finding that out—whether we can [require employees to be vaccinated] despite the state law. … I don’t know the legal impact, yet, whether it overcomes the state law.”

Vaccination events mentioned by health administrator Penny Caudill at Friday’s news conference included:

  • Fiesta del Otoño at Bryant Park on Sept. 18 from noon to 3 p.m.
  • 50+ Expo at Switchyard Park Pavilion on Sept. 22 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Information on vaccination availability is posted on a website set up by the state’s health department.