Column: Bloomington’s next mayor should routinely field questions in public from residents, press

Should the mayor of Bloomington hold a monthly news conference, where any resident or member of the press can ask a question on any topic?

Incumbent mayor John Hamilton does not appear to think it’s very important to make himself available like that.

No such news conference has been held in the last three and a half years, which is the time The B Square has been in publication.

Hamilton is not seeking reelection. But I hope the next mayor of Bloomington thinks it’s important to hold a regular public event where anyone can ask a question.

Most Bloomington voters seem to think so, too. Continue reading “Column: Bloomington’s next mayor should routinely field questions in public from residents, press”

Bloomington pandemic update: A “sense of calm” as COVID-19 case numbers subside

Just two COVID-19 patients are currently being treated in IU Health hospitals across the health provider’s south central region, which includes Bloomington, Bedford and Paoli.

Both of those patients are at Bloomington’s new hospital, according to Brian Shockney, who is president of IU Health’s south central region. Shockney was speaking at Friday’s biweekly news conference of local leaders on pandemic response.

Shockney described a change in atmosphere at IU Health’s Bloomington hospital: “For the first time, our team was truly faced with a sense of calm this past week after these two years of pandemic.” Continue reading “Bloomington pandemic update: A “sense of calm” as COVID-19 case numbers subside”

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”

COVID-19 update: Top Hoosier health official’s forecast of “very steep rise in cases” true just one day later

Kristina Box, the health commissioner for the state of Indiana, warned at a Wednesday news conference about the looming impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Box put it this way: “We expect to see a very steep rise in cases over the next several weeks.”

On Thursday, the update to the state’s dashboard for COVID-19 data showed the biggest number of reported cases for any day since the start of the pandemic about 22 months ago.

According to the dashboard data, across the state of Indiana, 12,004 positive cases were reported for Dec. 29. That’s 1.5 times the previous high of 8,436 on Dec. 2, 2020.

The 12,004 cases pushed the current 7-day rolling average of positive cases in the Hoosier state to 5,784. Up until Thursday’s update, the statewide rolling averages had been trending in the low- to mid-4,000s.

In Monroe County, the positive cases reported for Dec. 29 showed a similar spike. The 163 cases reported for Dec. 29 in Monroe County made for the second-highest total of the pandemic. The only day with a higher total was Sept. 10, 2020, when 235 positive tests were recorded.

Late in the day on Thursday, the city of Bloomington reported an additional eight employees had tested positive for the pandemic virus, which made for 36 cases in the month of December. That outpaced the previous monthly high of 22, which was recorded in December 2020.

The one statistic that has not shown a steep increase in late 2021 has been the number of deaths. In Monroe County, November this year saw 17 deaths due to COVID-19, compared to 16 in 2020.

In December last year, 60 people in Monroe County died of the pandemic virus, according to state department of health statistics. In December 2021 so far, Monroe County has seen 12 COVID-19 deaths, just one-fifth the number last year.

The figure will likely climb by at least a few cases, when the book is closed on December this year. That’s because the month has a couple days left, and  deaths are assigned to the date of the death, not the day it was reported. That means deaths that happen in late December, but are not reported until early January, will still be logged in the state’s dataset by their December date.

Hospitalizations, in contrast to deaths, have spiked right along with the number of confirmed positive cases.

As IU Health south central region president Brian Shockney put it at Thursday’s news conference of local Bloomington leaders: “We are beyond our bed capacity—if you want to talk about what was designated for inpatient beds. I think probably every hospital in the state is at that point as well.”

Shockney described how IU Health’s new hospital facility, on Bloomington’s east side near the SR-46 bypass, is designed to have flexible room configurations that allow the hospital to “flex” the space. Beds not designated for inpatients are being adapted for that use.

Shockney described some beds that are typically used for surgical patients—they would normally start and end their procedures there. Given that all except for emergency surgical procedures have been stopped, those rooms are now being used for COVID-19 patients, Shockney said.

Shockney closed out his remarks by asking that people keep their New Year’s gatherings small. “I’d like to ask you to keep your New Year’s celebration to those small groups and families where you’re being safe and stopping the spread of this virus.”

Shockney talked about the best way to honor those who have suffered with COVID-19, the healthcare and public health heroes, and those who have died. Shockney called on people to usher in 2022 in a “peaceful and respectful way, remembering the past and protecting our future.”

One year after vaccine, IU Health at highest census since pandemic start: “That just seems unreal…”

Across its whole system, IU Health is now caring for its highest number of COVID-19 patients since the pandemic started.

That was the bad news delivered by president of IU Health’s south central region, Brian Shockney, at Friday’s biweekly news conference with local leaders on pandemic response.

Shockney put that state of affairs in the context of the one-year milestone for the first vaccines administered in the state of Indiana. He said, “We didn’t think one year after the vaccine became available, we would see our highest COVID-19 volumes to date.”

Shockney continued, “That just seems unreal that we have a vaccine and we’re in this state of highest numbers of inpatients in our hospitals.”

Shockney said IU Health has for now suspended all elective surgeries.

As a reason for cautious optimism, Shockney gave the leveling off of positive cases statewide. The leveling and subsequent dropping of positive case numbers tends to be followed by a downward trend in hospital inpatient numbers, Shockney said.

With the next round of holiday gatherings on the horizon, Shockney said, “It’s imperative that we all take precautions during this time. Our January and February can be a good January and February and not the same as December, if we do the right thing.”

The “right thing,” according to Shockeny and other health officials, includes getting an initial vaccination, a booster for people who have already been vaccinated, and a test for people who think they might be symptomatic. Continue reading “One year after vaccine, IU Health at highest census since pandemic start: “That just seems unreal…””

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!””

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. Continue reading “Pandemic notebook: Monroe County flirts with blue advisory level, could be back to yellow next week”

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”

Likely response to new charges in year-old Lake Monroe incident: Challenge to special prosecutor’s jurisdiction

Last Friday, charges of battery and criminal trespass were filed by a special prosecutor against former Bloomington resident Vauhxx Booker, in connection with an incident that took place a year ago on July 4, near Lake Monroe.

A motion to challenge the special prosecutor’s jurisdiction to file charges against Booker will probably be made in the next few weeks.  In any event, that motion would come before the scheduled first hearing date in front of a judge, currently set for Sept. 14.

That’s the word from Booker’s attorney, Katherine Liell, who joined Booker and representatives from the Monroe County branch of the NAACP, for a news conference early Monday afternoon.

The news conference, held on the southeast corner of the Monroe County courthouse lawn, was attended by at least a half dozen news outlets.

The NAACP released a statement last Friday evening condemning special prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp’s decision to charge Booker.

The filing of charges against Booker came a year after two other men were charged in their role of allegedly assaulting Booker in an incident at Lake Monroe, which Booker described at the time as an “attempted lynching.”

Booker’s team released a statement on Friday that described how the special prosecutor allegedly threatened him with the charges that were filed, if he did not participate in a “restorative justice” process. Booker said he withdrew from that process when it was evident to him that his alleged attackers felt no remorse.

On Friday, Booker alluded to the restorative justice process in his concluding remarks at the news conference. “They wait till after I refuse to publicly go on a ‘forgiveness tour’ with these men to charge me.”

Booker added, “This isn’t about justice. This is about making me bend to the will of folks that feel like they should be over me.

Continue reading “Likely response to new charges in year-old Lake Monroe incident: Challenge to special prosecutor’s jurisdiction”