Pandemic notebook: Surge subsiding, but slowly

The current surge in COVID-19 case numbers seems to be past its peak statewide and in Monroe County.

But  IU Health south central region president Brian Shockney said on Friday that this one seems to be a little different from previous surges.

That’s because hospitalization numbers are decreasing more slowly after hitting their peak. He was speaking at the weekly news conference of local leaders on pandemic response.

Shockney said IU Health’s facility has continued to see a steady volume of COVID-19 patients over the past few weeks. “We’re seeing a longer tail in this surge than previous surges,” Shockney said. He added, “We may be coming out of this surge for a longer period of time than previously thought.” Continue reading “Pandemic notebook: Surge subsiding, but slowly”

Monroe County moves ahead on purchase of quarry land for tourism destination

Purchase agreements for land with several quarry holes, at the northwest corner of the interchange of SR-46 and I-69, were approved by county commissioners at their regular Wednesday meeting.

The purpose of the land acquisition is to establish the location as a kind of outdoor limestone museum that celebrates Monroe County’s heritage of high quality limestone, and the role the limestone industry has played in local history.

About the purchase agreements, with two different landowners, president of the board of commissioners Julie Thomas said, “This is really something that should be in the hands of Monroe County government. And I really look forward to seeing where we go with this next, and what we can make out of this.”

For the 14.89-acre property owned by Kathy Francis, the purchase agreement is for $175,000. For the 14.57-acre property owned by the Yates Trust, the agreement is for $195,000. The money is coming from a 2019 general obligation (GO) bond.

The seven-member county council, the county’s fiscal body, still needs to approve the purchase agreements, even though the money is already approved. That’s because the expenditure involves land acquisition.

A third property, just to the south, and owned by Ledge Wall Quarry, LLC, is still in the mix as a possible acquisition by Monroe County, Thomas told The B Square on Thursday. Continue reading “Monroe County moves ahead on purchase of quarry land for tourism destination”

$48K to 16 Monroe County arts groups among awards from Indiana Arts Commission

In a news release issued Monday morning, the Indiana Arts Commission (IAC) announced 278 $3,000 awards for a total of $834,000 to arts groups across the state.

Among the awardees are 16 Monroe County arts groups.

The $48,000 that went to local groups puts Monroe County fourth behind Marion, Allen, and Hamilton counties for the total awarded.

The grant money came from IAC’s Arts Recovery Program, which draws on American Rescue Plan Act through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Additional NEA money came through Arts Midwest, Indiana’s regional partner, according to the news release.

Quoted in the news release is Lewis Ricci, Indiana Arts Commission executive director: “This funding is a recognition of the value that the creative sector provides to the economic and social health of our state and nation.” Continue reading “$48K to 16 Monroe County arts groups among awards from Indiana Arts Commission”

Indiana DNR lifts moratorium on feeding birds

It’s OK for bird lovers across the state to set out their bird feeds again, according to Indiana’s department of natural resources (DNR).

The news was announced late Friday afternoon on a web page the DNR set up to inform Hoosier bird lovers about the status of a mysterious malady, which three months ago started leaving songbirds of several species dead or dying.

The green light to set out feeders came with a caveat. The DNR says: “Residents throughout Indiana may again put out their bird feeders if they are comfortable doing so and are not observing sick or dead birds in their yard.”

The cause of the dead and sick birds is still not known. According to the DNR webpage, “The cause of this disease is unknown and it is possible it may never be determined.”

The statement from the DNR continues, “The USGS National Wildlife Health Center and other researchers are continuing the investigation with existing samples and data, but unless the event repeats, it is unlikely they will be able to identify a cause in the short-term.” Continue reading “Indiana DNR lifts moratorium on feeding birds”

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

Monroe County health board to decide on Sept. 22 about possible extension of mask mandate into October

Monroe County’s indoor mask mandate, which is intended to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus, will almost certainly stay in place through its current expiration date of Sept. 30.

Image links to Indiana’s dashboard for COVID-19

The mask mandate has been in place since Aug. 5.

Whether it will be extended into October will be decided at the next meeting of the county’s board of health, which is now set for 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 22.

That would allow time for the county’s board of commissioners to ratify the local regulation at its regular Wednesday morning on Sept. 29, if a decision is made to extend the mandate.

Based on discussion at Wednesday’s board of health meeting, there’s a possibility that the mask mandate will not be extended.

Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill, county health officer Thomas Sharp, and county attorney Margie Rice asked board of health members to weigh the benefits of the mask mandate compared to the energy it takes to enforce it.

The energy that goes into enforcing the mask mandate might be used better to promote vaccination, they said.

On Wednesday at least some board of health members did not sound inclined to alter the mandate, certainly not that day. They pointed to the mask mandate as possibly one of the reasons that the community spread of the pandemic in Monroe County, as measured in the state’s color-coded system for counties, is one of the lowest in the state.

Still it was apparent they were receptive at least to the possibility of letting the mask mandate expire, depending on what the numbers look like two weeks from now, even if Monroe County is not “blue.”

On Wednesday, Monroe County scored yellow in the four-color system of: blue, yellow, orange, and red.

Continue reading “Monroe County health board to decide on Sept. 22 about possible extension of mask mandate into October”

COVID-19 Update: Hospitalizations keep climbing

The long Labor Day weekend meant that on Tuesday at noon there were four days worth of fresh data updated to the state of Indiana’s COVID-19 dashboard. A note indicated hospitalization numbers for three of the days—Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—would be missing.

But Monday’s statewide hospitalization numbers came in at 2,518, which put the seven-day rolling average at 2,405. That’s the highest number since early January this year after a peak of over 3,200 in late November of 2020.

That’s consistent with the growing trend of hospitalizations in a more local area. At last Friday’s news conference of local leaders on pandemic response, Brian Shockney, who’s president of the IU Health south central region, shared a chart showing IU Health’s upward hospitalization trend.

Responding to an emailed question from The B Square earlier last week about the possibility that its current 2nd Street location might be kept open as a pandemic-only facility, after the new hospital on SR 46 is opened, an IU Health spokesperson wrote: “IU Health continues to focus on the best ways to provide care for our patients. At this time, we are not planning to keep IU Health Bloomington Hospital on 2nd Street open to provide patient care once we move to the new hospital.”

In Monroe County, the case numbers look like they might have stabilized or even started to trend downward, based on just the numbers in September. But it’s not clear if that’s a trend or just the impact of the holiday weekend, which could have affected the number of tests that were done. The preliminary testing numbers, which could increase as they are updated, are still below typical weekend numbers.

After peaking at a rolling average of 46 on Aug. 29, the daily average for Monroe County is now down about 10 points, at around 36. Continue reading “COVID-19 Update: Hospitalizations keep climbing”

Bloomington gets final OK from feds for $3.5 million grant towards technology center

In a news release issued Friday afternoon, the city of Bloomington announced that it had received a $3.5-million award from the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help build a technology center in the Trades District.

The location is north of Bloomington’s city hall building in the Trades District, which is a certified technology park.

News about the EDA grant lends a bit of momentum for the Trades District area generally. That’s because the future technology center location is northwest of the Showers administration building. And a deal is now in the works for Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) to sell the administration building to a company called Fine Tune, so that its corporate headquarters can be located there.

The planned location of the technology center is on the southwest corner of Madison Street and Maker Way, diagonally across from The Mill, which is a co-working space. One of the former Showers Brother Furniture buildings was adapted for reuse by The Mill.

The co-applicant for the EDA grant, with the city of Bloomington, was the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC).

BEDC executive director Jen Pearl told The B Square on Friday, that the technology center building would be operated by a non-profit entity, which would coordinate programming and services for local tech companies. Continue reading “Bloomington gets final OK from feds for $3.5 million grant towards technology center”

Photos: Bloomington Pridefest 2021

Saturday marked Bloomington’s seventh annual Pridefest, an in-person street festival on Kirkwood Avenue celebrating the LGBTQ community.

Hosted by the non-profit Bloomington PRIDE, Saturday’s event drew around 15,000 people, according to one volunteer’s estimate.

The day-long event featured vendor expos, workshops with activists, and entertainment. The entertainment featured MPG Wrestling in a ring set up at Kirkwood and Lincoln, and a drag show on a stage set up on the north end of the block of Grant Street between Kirkwood and 6th Street.

More photos after the jump. Continue reading “Photos: Bloomington Pridefest 2021”

Bloomington 2022 budget revenues: Property tax levy up, local income tax down

Last Friday, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton released his proposed 2022 budget.

Compared to the 2021 budget, the combination of local income tax distributions and the general fund property tax levy nets out to about zero change for 2022 revenues.

There’s an increase in the general fund property tax levy (based on a 4.3-percent growth quotient)—from $24.43 million to $25.48 million, or an increase of $1.05 million.

But Bloomington’s certified share of local income taxes is expected to drop 7.8 percent, from $13.65 million in 2021 to $12.56 million in 2022, for a difference of $1.09 million.

So the $1.05 million gain in property tax levy is erased by the $1.09 million loss in local income tax revenues.

Still, the overall proposed budget for the city of Bloomington in 2022—not including Bloomington Transit, Bloomington Utilities, and the Bloomington Housing Authority—will increase by ​​about $11.5 million compared to 2021, making the total for 2022 about $106.6 million.

The revenue to cover the $11.5-million increase is coming from the two federal pandemic relief packages—the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

According to Bloomington’s 2022 proposed budget document, the $106.6 million budget will tap  Bloomington’s CARES Act funding for $1 million and the ARPA for $9.735 million.

Unlike the 2021 budget, which relied on a $2-million transfer from the rainy day fund, the 2022 budget does  not make any transfers out of the rainy day fund.

Continue reading “Bloomington 2022 budget revenues: Property tax levy up, local income tax down”