Pandemic notebook: Monroe County flirts with blue advisory level, could be back to yellow next week

Monroe County’s mask mandate won’t be lifted next Wednesday. That’s because it’s a mathematical impossibility, based on the health order’s criteria for termination.

In order for Monroe County’s mask mandate to be lifted, the weekly cases per 100,000 population have to drop below 50. In raw numbers, that’s 74 in a week—given the county’s roughly 148,000 residents.

But in just the first four days that get plugged into next Wednesday’s calculation—Monday through Thursday this week—Monroe County has already logged 112 cases.

At this Friday’s weekly news conference on local response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the criteria for termination of the mask mandate got a review by Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill.

Caudill also reviewed the difference between the county’s advisory level in the state’s color-coded scheme and county’s weekly two-metric score.

A point of emphasis for Caudill: Monroe County’s currently weekly two-metric score is 0.5. That is low enough to put the county’s advisory level in blue—but only if the county’s two-metric score is that low for two weeks in a row.

The mask mandate does not end, unless the advisory level is blue. The 50-cases-per-100,000 requirement has to be met in addition to the blue advisory level.

What are Monroe County’s prospects for achieving a blue advisory level next week? Otherwise put, what are Monroe County’s prospects of achieving a two-metric score of 0.5 or lower next week? Not great, but not impossible.

Monroe County’s 0.5 score this week is based on the average of a 0 for positivity rate and a 1 for weekly per capita cases. For next week, the county’s positivity rate looks like it’s trending in a way that will keep it below 5 percent—that’s the upper bound for the best score.

But in the scoring scheme for per capita numbers, Monroe County would need to stay below 100 cases per 100,000 residents again next week. That’s the threshold above which a score of 2 is assigned, which would bump Monroe County to an average of 1 in the two-metric score—and that would translate to a yellow advisory level.

In raw numbers, Monroe County needs to stay below 148 cases for the week to keep its 0.5 score next Wednesday. The first four days that feed into the calculation—Monday through Thursday of this week—have already chewed up 112 of those cases.

That means for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the county would need to average no more than 12 cases a day, in order to have a weekly two-metric score of 0.5 next week. The most recent day on which the county logged a number that low was Oct. 17. To find the one before that, you have to go back to Aug. 1, when 10 cases were recorded for Monroe County.

About the possibility that the per capita metric would push above 100 per 100,000 residents next week, Caudill said on Friday, “There’s a good chance we will be over 100 cases per 100,000 next week.” But she added, “We might slide in there and the upper 90s.” About the 0.5 score this week, Caudill said, “This week’s numbers are good, and we’re pleased with those.”

Despite the slight uptick in positive cases over the last four days, the local hospitalization numbers are showing a better downward trend. IU Health’s south central region president Brian Shockney said on Friday, “We have started to see a steeper decline in COVID-19 inpatients across our region. We’re also seeing a similar trend here in Monroe County, between IU Health Bloomington and Monroe Hospital.”

Shockney also stressed that the number of IU Health’s COVID-19 in-patients are “overwhelmingly unvaccinated individuals.” Vaccination is key to getting out of the pandemic, Shockney said.

Vaccination among city of Bloomington employees has reached 68 percent, mayor John Hamilton reported last Friday. That reflected a 4-point bump, possibly connected to a $600 health insurance incentive, Hamilton said.

The 68-percent rate among Bloomington’s city employees is 7 points better than the county’s overall vaccination rate. It’s still far below Indiana University’s vaccination rate. On Friday, vice president for strategic partnerships Kirk White reported the latest university rate as 94.1 percent.

At this week’s news conference, director of public engagement Mary Catherine Carmichael filled in for Hamilton. The latest city employee vaccination numbers weren’t available, but Carmichael clarified the $600 figure.

It’s not a $600 bonus for employees who get vaccinated. It’s a $600 extra charge for employees on the city’s insurance plan who choose not to get vaccinated. Carmichael put it like this: “If you are a city of Bloomington employee, your health insurance will increase by $600 If you’re not vaccinated.”