COVID-19 numbers continue steep climb as Monroe County and Bloomington take different paths after Supreme Court vax-or-test ruling

The number of positive COVID-19 cases across Indiana and in Monroe County has continued its steep rise.

The big case numbers form part of the background to Thursday’s U.S. Supreme ruling on the OSHA emergency temporary standard set forth by the Biden administration.

It’s the standard that includes a requirement for employers with more than 100 workers to be vaccinated or get tested weekly for the pandemic virus.

The Supreme Court ruling imposes a stay on the OSHA rule.

A 6–3 majority on the nation’s highest court agrees that OSHA’s mandate “exceeds its statutory authority and is otherwise unlawful,” which means that the majority thinks the plaintiffs in a lower federal court battle are likely to prevail.

Based on remarks from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton at Friday’s weekly news conference, it sounds like the city of Bloomington is going to stick with its implementation of the OSHA mandate, while a local lawsuit against the city plays out. Three city unions  filed a lawsuit against the city of Bloomington in Monroe County circuit court  over the city’s vax-or-test policy.

Based on an email message sent to department heads by a Monroe County staff attorney, Monroe County will hold off on enforcing its plan to conform with the OSHA mandate.  The email message states: “[D]epartment leaders are being asked to not enforce the additional requirements found in that particular policy.” The message continues, “Compliance with the local health order and other aspects of the County Continuity of Operations Plan is still expected.”

At their regular Wednesday morning meeting next week, county commissioners intend to revisit the question of its implementation of the OSHA mandate, according to the message that was emailed to county department heads.

The recent surge has been caused by the Omicron variant of the virus. According to Indiana’s COVID-19 dashboard, in the last week of 2021, 82 percent of COVID-19 cases in Indiana were caused by the Omicron variant.

The rolling average of daily positive cases in the Hoosier state now stands at an all-time pandemic high of about 13,900 cases per day, which is about three times higher than this time last year.

In Monroe County, the rolling average of daily cases is about 310, also easily a pandemic all-time high. It’s about four and a half times the rolling average in the county this time last year.

The rise in the statewide census of COVID-19 hospital patients has not been as steep, but the current daily average of 3,439 patients statewide is now at an all-time pandemic high. That’s about one-third more than this time last year.

On Thursday, the city of Bloomington reported 20 employees had tested positive for COVID-19, the highest weekly total of the pandemic.

In his opening remarks at Friday’s news conference, Hamilton said, “I know there’s been some legal changes at the national level, but we’re going to continue to explore all the best ways we can to keep everybody safe.” He continued, “We know that the vaccinated and the boosted are much safer in the midst of these skyrocketing numbers.”

Hamilton encouraged mask wearing, adding, “Don’t share air, if you don’t have to.”

Asked by a reporter about the impact of the Supreme Court decision on the city’s vax-or-test policy, Hamilton said, “I’m very disappointed in the Supreme Court decision.” Hamilton said the court had limited the ability of OSHA to try to protect Americans in the workplace.

Hamilton said department heads had not been directed to make any changes to their implementation of the city’s OHSA compliance. He wrapped up his comments by saying, “No order change at this moment.”

Before delivering that statement, Hamilton spoke about how important it is for the workforce to be as vaccinated as possible. “We are committed to continuing to provide public services, from public safety, to water, to sanitation…to help our community get ready for storms and other things like that.”

Hamilton added, “We’re reviewing our options, and we’ll keep you posted on that.”

Hamilton didn’t comment on the local lawsuit except to say that, “You might guess that my lawyers are always wanting to be careful about what we say in the middle of a lawsuit. So I will be a little bit circumspect about that.”

The most recent development in that lawsuit is the recusal of the judge. Geoff Bradley, to whom the case was initially assigned, has recused himself from the case.