Monroe County likely to bring back indoor mask requirement to help stop spread of pandemic virus

By next Wednesday, all Monroe County residents, even those who are vaccinated, will likely be under a renewed mandate to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

According to Monroe County health administrator Caudill, a new order from county health officer Thomas Sharp will also say that schools should follow guidance from the CDC, the Indiana Department of Health, and the Indiana Department of Education.

What does guidance from those three entities mean for area K-12 schools? Caudill concluded: “At this time, that means masks should be worn in schools.”

The announcement about a new mask mandate came at Friday’s biweekly news conference on local COVID-19 pandemic response. The usual order of speakers was altered to put Monroe County healthy administrator Penny Caudill first, so she could deliver the news on masks.

Before announcing the new mask mandate for indoor public settings, Caudill described the negative trends that led to the decision: increased confirmed COVID-19 case numbers, increased positivity rates and increased hospitalizations, and less-than-hoped-for vaccination rates.

Caudill reported at the news conference that the county’s board of health would meet to deliberate on the mask mandate on Tuesday, Aug. 3 at 9:15 a.m. on a Zoom video conference.

The following day, at its regular Wednesday meeting, county commissioners could approve the mandate. The need for the board of county commissioners to act is due to a recent statutory change. The new law [SEA 05]  requires the board of county commissioners sign off on local health orders.

Continue reading “Monroe County likely to bring back indoor mask requirement to help stop spread of pandemic virus”

Bloomington redev commission gives initial OK for $660K to 9 nonprofits in special CDBG funding round

At its regular Monday meeting, Bloomington’s redevelopment commission gave its approval of federal Community Development Block Grant awards totaling $660,602 to nine local nonprofits.

It was a special funding round to address impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The requirement of a COVID-19 connection led to the recommendation of a three-member committee against funding some of the projects of five other applicants, according to John Zody, director of Bloomington’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department.

The total amount awarded worked out to about half of the $1.3 million that was requested.

Of the nine applicants that received recommendations for funding, seven received the full amount requested. Continue reading “Bloomington redev commission gives initial OK for $660K to 9 nonprofits in special CDBG funding round”

Indiana releases numbers over time for COVID-19 variants, revises dashboard presentation to reflect Delta dominance

At a news conference last week, Indiana’s state health commissioner Kris Box sounded the alarm about the increased number of  COVID-19 cases in the state due to the Delta variant.

“The Delta variant is now the one that we are seeing most frequently,” Box said.

The Delta variant, one of several mutations that have been discovered, is more easily transmitted than the basic COVID-19 virus.

When Box delivered her remarks, the state’s COVID-19 dashboard still showed the cumulative numbers for variants, ever since the genetic sequencing of positive samples started. That meant the relative proportion of the Delta variant was portrayed by the dashboard as still small—just 3 percent of positive samples.

But in recent weeks, since mid-June, the percentage of positive samples with the Delta variant has vacillated between 50 and 80 percent.

That’s based on the health department’s release to The B Square on Thursday of the daily time series for the numbers of variants, broken down by variant type.

The state’s dashboard data presentation has now been revised to show the percentage of variants in the current month, with an indication of the change over the previous month. As of Friday, the Delta variant was found in 67 percent of positive COVID-19 samples for the current month.

According to the dashboard, for the current month, in about 96 percent of positive COVID-19 cases that were sequenced, one of the variants of concern was found. Continue reading “Indiana releases numbers over time for COVID-19 variants, revises dashboard presentation to reflect Delta dominance”

Through July: Monroe County, Bloomington government meetings mostly electronic, as jabs slow, positive COVID-19 numbers stay stubborn

A key reason that Indiana governor Eric Holcomb this week issued another extension of his emergency health order is the low vaccination rate among state residents.

The order itself  says: “Critically, only 48.1 percent of eligible Hoosiers are fully vaccinated and Indiana ranks 38th of the 50 states with eligible individuals receiving at least a first dose vaccination.”

Monroe County’s numbers are slightly better, but not dramatically so.

About the county’s 55.4-percent vaccination rate, among those who are eligible, county health administrator Penny Caudill said she is concerned about the 45 percent of people who are still not vaccinated. She was speaking at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders on pandemic response.

Local officials will be taking advantage of the governor’s health order to continue holding government meetings electronically, on a video-conferencing platform, as they have for the last 16 months. County commissioner Lee Jones said at Friday’s press conference that through July, county meetings would be held electronically, not using a hybrid approach with in-person participation.

The Bloomington mayor’s office confirmed to The B Square on Friday afternoon that the city’s boards and commissions would meet electronically, unless noted otherwise in the meeting announcement.

Caudill said the county had fallen short of her goal, which was to have 60 percent of Monroe County’s eligible residents vaccinated by July 1. Everyone 12 years and older is eligible for at least one of the vaccines that are available. Continue reading “Through July: Monroe County, Bloomington government meetings mostly electronic, as jabs slow, positive COVID-19 numbers stay stubborn”

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.” Continue reading “Recent Bloomington employee death a reminder of dire effects of pandemic disease, even as indicators trend better”

IU offers shot at free parking spot for students who get their COVID-19 vaccination

Indiana University is sticking with its policy of vaccinations for students, faculty and university staff with the start of the fall 2021 semester, but has relented on its demand for documentation.

Instead of demanding proof, IU is now trying a gentler approach—a drawing for prizes for IU affiliates who submit their documentation. 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.

At Friday’s weekly press conference on local COVID-19 response, one of the prizes for students got an extra pitch from IU vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White: “Students will be eligible for—get this, hey—a year long free parking permit! Now what’s better than that for students?” The regular price for a student parking permit is $174.

The revision the university’s policy on vaccination  came after objections from several state legislators  and an opinion issued by the state’s attorney general. Continue reading “IU offers shot at free parking spot for students who get their COVID-19 vaccination”

IU to “stay the course” on vaccine requirement for fall, points to $10M savings compared to mitigation testing

Indiana University “certainly made the papers this week.”

That was a remark from IU’s media relations director Chuck Carney, as he turned over the mic to the university’s vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White, during Friday’s weekly press conference with local leaders on pandemic response.

But White led off his turn with some news that might not have made the papers—the latest dose numbers at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Since late March, 35,600 doses have been administered, White said. Plenty of appointment slots are available next week, which can be scheduled at the state’s online registration site, White said.

Some of the news that put IU in the papers was the letter that several state legislators sent to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb. The state lawmakers object to the university’s decision, announced last Friday, to require vaccinations for students, faculty and university staff with the start of the fall 2021 semester.

Also putting IU in the news this past week was an opinion  issued on Wednesday by Indiana’s attorney general Todd Rokita. The opinion says IU’s approach to its policy requiring a COVID-19 vaccination violates a new law passed by the state legislature this year. Continue reading “IU to “stay the course” on vaccine requirement for fall, points to $10M savings compared to mitigation testing”

Monroe County preps for veto override of new law imposing new requirements for local health orders

A new law (SEA 05) recently enacted by Indiana’s legislature imposes additional requirements for local health orders to go into effect, if they are more restrictive than an order from the governor.

On Tuesday, governor Eric Holcomb vetoed the law, saying, “I am vetoing SEA 5 because I believe it will… restrict necessary flexibility in the law, and further undermine local responses to future public health emergencies.”

Monroe County’s health regulations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have generally been more restrictive than the governor’s orders, with respect to masking and gathering sizes, among other things.

For example, the current Monroe County health regulations, which are effective through May 28, limit gatherings to 50 people, and require masking in a range of situations.

So at Tuesday’s meeting of Monroe County’s board of heath, members got a briefing from county attorney Margie Rice on the required steps, if the governor’s veto is overridden, which they are anticipating. Continue reading “Monroe County preps for veto override of new law imposing new requirements for local health orders”

Vaccination rate in Monroe County trending up, pop-up clinics set for next week

The 14-day rolling average of final doses administered per day in Monroe County through April 29, 2021 stands at 902 (dark green line).

The number of final-dose vaccinations administered in Monroe County has seen a significant upward trend over the past four days.

That’s the impact of second shots of Pfizer vaccine now getting delivered at Indiana University’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall clinic site, after its launch at the end of March.

The 14-day rolling average of final doses administered per day in Monroe County through April 29 stands at 902.

At that rate, based on the total of 44,920 people who have been fully vaccinated so far, and a Monroe County population of 148,431, it would take about 65 days to achieve a 70-percent vaccination rate.

That would mean the 70-percent threshold—which is sometimes cited as a minimum for herd immunity—would be achieved in Monroe County on July 4.

Additional one-time local clinics are hoped to keep the momentum for vaccination going.

At Friday’s regular press conference of local leaders on COVID-19 response, county health administrator Penny Caudill announced that two pop-up clinics would be held in the coming two weeks.

On May 6 from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., a pop-up clinic will be held at the Boys and Girls Club.

On May 10, a pop-up clinic will be held at the Monroe County convention center, starting at noon. That clinic, which will target local Hispanic residents, will use the Moderna vaccine, and the follow-up second shot will be set for June 7, Caudill said. Continue reading “Vaccination rate in Monroe County trending up, pop-up clinics set for next week”

COVID-19: State tells locals to take walk-ins for shots, Assembly Hall to absorb IU Health vax clinic

The pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in the earliest phases of the rollout was availability of vaccine.

Now, hesitancy to get vaccinated could start to become a limiting factor in the rate of vaccination uptake.

That has led Indiana’s state department of health to tell local clinics to start offering walk-in COVID-19 shots, without an appointment.

Walk-ins are supposed to start on Monday (April 26). It’s still possible to make an appointment to receive a vaccine, which local officials continue to encourage.

Asked if it was a state mandate to accept walk-ins, Monroe County’s health administrator Penny Caudill described it this way: “I would say we were told that we’re going to be doing it. There wasn’t really an option.” Caudill was speaking at Friday’s weekly news conference held by local leaders on COVID-19 response. Continue reading “COVID-19: State tells locals to take walk-ins for shots, Assembly Hall to absorb IU Health vax clinic”