COVID-19 update: Numbers hit plateau, vaccine clinics this week

After a steep climb starting in late 2021 going through mid-January, the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Monroe County and the state of Indiana appear to have plateaued and are starting to show signs of declining.

In Monroe County, the rolling 7-day average has stayed mostly under 290 cases per day for the last two weeks, after hitting 293 on Jan. 13.

The statewide hospital census of COVID-19 patients shows the same general trend, although the rise in cases has been smaller, compared to the total number of cases. Statewide, the rolling daily average census of patients who are hospitalized with the pandemic virus has declined for the last five days, after peaking at around 3,450 patients.

Based on numbers from Indiana’s pandemic dashboard, 75 percent of positive COVID-19 cases in the last four weeks were caused by the Omicron variant.

Vaccine clinics at two locations this week are being promoted by Monroe County’s public health department. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Numbers hit plateau, vaccine clinics this week”

Vax-or-test policy: Lawsuit against Bloomington filed by three city unions contends new regs on COVID-19 impose new unnegotiated employment conditions

A lawsuit filed on Tuesday against the city of Bloomington in Monroe County circuit court claims that a new COVID-19 policy is in conflict with union contacts.

The city’s policy requires employees to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or get tested weekly for an infection. If any employee does not show proof of vaccination or get tested weekly, then under the policy, they will be “removed from the workplace until they provide a test result.”

Absences caused by failure to comply with the vax-or-test policy will necessarily mean lost income. The policy states: “They will not be allowed to use benefit time to cover their absences; the absence will be unpaid.”

On Saturday morning through mid-day, a dozen or so members of the city’s AFSCME local, including some workers in the public works and utilities departments, demonstrated on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington against the city’s vax-or-test policy. They held signs with slogans like, “Please Don’t Abuse Loyal Employees” and “Keep Compassion in Fashion”

The lawsuit contends that the city’s new policy imposes new conditions of employment that the City did not negotiate with the unions. Continue reading “Vax-or-test policy: Lawsuit against Bloomington filed by three city unions contends new regs on COVID-19 impose new unnegotiated employment conditions”

Sheer number of COVID-19 cases has health care system struggling

The rolling average of positive COVID-19 cases in Monroe County now stands at about 152 per day. That’s almost twice the average this time last year. It’s also about 1.5 times the previous pandemic high point for the county, which came in November 2021.

It’s the same picture across all of Indiana. The rolling average of positive cases across the Hoosier state is 10,227, nearly twice the 5,500 average daily cases at this time last year.

Even if the infections caused by the Omicron variant of the virus might be comparatively milder, it’s their sheer number, and the likelihood of spread to vulnerable populations, that is still putting more people in the hospital. And that’s putting a continued strain on statewide and local health systems.

President of IU Health’s south central region, Brian Shockney, put it this way at a news conference of local leaders held Friday: “Omicron is hitting a high number of people and spreading fast to those immunocompromised patients. And they are what we can see in the initial stages here are getting hospitalized.”

Shockney continued, “IU Health is caring for its highest number of patients of the pandemic to date.” He added, “70 percent of these patients are unvaccinated.”

For the watching public, Shockney repeated what has become a kind of mantra: “Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Get tested.” Continue reading “Sheer number of COVID-19 cases has health care system struggling”

Temperature notebook: December 2021 one of Bloomington’s warmest on record

Sub-freezing temperatures in Bloomington on the second day of 2022 signaled a contrast between the last month of 2021 and the start to the new year.

The National Weather Service office for Indianapolis led off its Jan. 2 forecast like this: “The recent warm weather pattern has come to an end. Colder temperatures will persist through the upcoming week.”

What did the “recent warm weather pattern” mean for Bloomington?

December 2021 ranked fourth warmest as defined by the mean of the average daily temperature among all Decembers—since records started being kept by the Indiana University weather station in 1895.

It was a 42.2 F degree average for December 2021 that put it in fourth place. Continue reading “Temperature notebook: December 2021 one of Bloomington’s warmest on record”

Pandemic notebook: Monroe County racks up 100 cases for one day in last update before Christmas

Indiana’s COVID-19 dashboard recorded 100 positive cases for Monroe County on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

That’s the highest daily total the county has seen since early January. It’s the 19th time Monroe County has hit triple digits for a day, since the county’s first positive case was identified on March 21, 2020.

The dashboard won’t get updated again until Monday, Dec. 27. The tentative date for the next news conference hosted by local leaders about their response to the pandemic is Thursday, Dec. 30.

One topic that could come up at the news conference is the vaccination status of local government employees.

A Jan. 4 deadline for vaccination or testing has been set by U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for employers with more than 100 workers. Under the OSHA requirement, employees would have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4, or get a weekly test for the virus.

Recent judicial activity related to that deadline includes a 2-1 decision by a panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the Biden administration’s OSHA requirement. Continue reading “Pandemic notebook: Monroe County racks up 100 cases for one day in last update before Christmas”

Post-Thanksgiving pandemic surge continues in Monroe County: “Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!”

Indiana University health officer Aaron Carroll’s message on Friday wrapped up like this: “The best thing we can all keep doing is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!”

Carroll was speaking at Friday’s biweekly press conference on COVID-19 pandemic response held by local city and county leaders.

Vaccination locations are listed out on searchable map maintained by the state’s department of health.

Even on IU’s Bloomington campus, where almost 95 percent of the university population is vaccinated, the positive case tally for the week ending Dec. 1 was 89. That’s about four times the weekly number that the campus was seeing through the month of October.

For all of Monroe County, the weekly total from Nov. 25 through Dec. 1 was 275.

The countywide daily positive case numbers reported for Wednesday and Thursday were 91 and 74. Monroe County has not seen daily case numbers that high since early January.

Continue reading “Post-Thanksgiving pandemic surge continues in Monroe County: “Vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate!””

No more pet store sale of dogs or cats in Bloomington, starting Jan. 1, 2023

On an 8–0 vote on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council passed an ordinance that bans the sale of cats and dogs by retail pet stores.

That means Bloomington joins some other Indiana localities that have passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of cats and dogs by pet stores, which include: St. Joseph County, Columbus, Dyer, Highland, and Crown Point. The last four on that list passed the laws in 2021.

The two Bloomington stores that would be impacted by the new law are Delilah’s Pet Shop on West Third Street and Anthony’s Pets in College Mall.

The idea behind the new local law is to reduce the consumer demand for animals that is currently met by puppy and kitten mills—operations that put volume ahead of animal welfare.

This kind of ordinance is supported by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which says most of the dogs and cats sold in pet shops are sourced from puppy and kitten mills. Continue reading “No more pet store sale of dogs or cats in Bloomington, starting Jan. 1, 2023”

Pandemic notebook: November numbers surging, local impact of ‘breakthrough’ cases not certain

Monroe County has seen a doubling in the rolling average of COVID-19 confirmed positive cases from the third week in October through most of November.

On Oct. 23 the number was about 19, which has climbed to an average of about 38 cases a day on Nov. 23.

That’s not as steep a rise as the 2020 increase during roughly the same period, which saw a four-fold increase from about 23 to about 93 positive cases per day.

But the current numbers are still four times higher than the target that has been set by the county board of public health for lifting the county’s mask mandate. The target of 50 cases per week per 100,000 population works out to about 10.2 daily cases for Monroe County.

The 50 cases per week per 100,000 population is the upper bound on the Centers for Disease Control classification for “moderate” community spread. Continue reading “Pandemic notebook: November numbers surging, local impact of ‘breakthrough’ cases not certain”

Possible new Bloomington law banning pet shop sale of cats, dogs would add to national momentum

Bloomington’s animal control commission voted unanimously on Monday to support a proposed new ordinance banning the sale of cats and dogs.

If the new ordinance is enacted by the city council, then starting in about a year, on Jan. 1, 2023, pet shops inside the city limits of Bloomington would not be able to sell dogs or cats.

Bloomington’s city council is supposed to hear the ordinance for a first reading at its meeting next week, on Nov. 17. The ordinance is being put forward by councilmembers Susan Sandberg, Dave Rollo, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

The two Bloomington stores that would be impacted by the new law are Delilah’s Pet Shop on West Third Street and Anthony’s Pets in College Mall.

The idea of the ordinance was not controversial for animal control commissioners—they’d already been looking for movement in that direction. As animal commission president Valerie Peña put it: “Absolutely thrilled to see this. It has been a long time coming and it’s great news.”

The idea behind the new local law is to reduce the consumer demand for animals that is currently met by puppy and kitten mills—operations that put volume ahead of animal welfare. Continue reading “Possible new Bloomington law banning pet shop sale of cats, dogs would add to national momentum”

County clerk to pitch more space for elections division, election board welcomes Rana as new Dem appointee

At Thursday’s regular meeting of Monroe County’s election board, one of the highlights was a briefing from county clerk Nicole Browne on an upcoming conversation she’s requested with Monroe County’s three county commissioners.

The idea that Browne will be pitching to commissioners at next week’s Aug. 11 work session is one with a history stretching back over a half decade—more room for the elections division.

The elections division currently shares space with the probation department in the old Johnson Hardware building at Madison and 7th streets.

Based on the history of the topic, commissioners won’t be eager to allocate more space to the election division. They approved the funds for a renovation to the building in early 2020 that was, in part, supposed to relieve some of the need for additional space.

Joining her first meeting of the three-member election board on Thursday was Shruti Rana, who was picked to succeed Carolyn VandeWiel as the Democratic Party appointee. The board consists of a Democrat, a Republican (Hal Turner), and the current county clerk.

Continue reading “County clerk to pitch more space for elections division, election board welcomes Rana as new Dem appointee”