Monroe County hits one benchmark for pandemic cases, but far from trigger to lift mask mandate

This time last year, the county saw a dramatic increase in cases, associated with a major new wave. This year the trend is expected to continue downward, even if the decline is slow.

Sunday’s 14 positive COVID-19 cases for Monroe County contributed to a rolling 7-day average of 19.7 cases.

That’s good news, in terms of the state’s metrics for community disease spread. But it still leaves the county at about twice the number of daily cases needed for an automatic lifting of the indoor mask mandate.

The county’s board of health voted to extend the mask mandate at its meeting last week. The lifting of the mandate is not tied to a date, but to a specific benchmark.  That benchmark corresponds to a rolling 7-day average of 10.6 cases a day, which is about half the current number.

County commissioners are set to vote on the extension of the mask mandate at their regular Wednesday morning meeting. Continue reading “Monroe County hits one benchmark for pandemic cases, but far from trigger to lift mask mandate”

Continued calls for vaccination against COVID-19: “There’s no reason to be ‘right’—we all just want to be happy here.”

The percentage of eligible Monroe County residents who have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic virus is still just under 60 percent.

At the current pace of vaccinations in the county, which is around 60 additional people a day, it will take another week or so to eke out the next few tenths of a point to get past the 60-percent milestone.

At Friday’s weekly news conference of local leaders on pandemic response, Monroe County’s department of health public information officer Kathy Hewett said about the remaining 40 percent of the eligible population, “We still have a ways to go.”

For those who have not yet received a jab, could a decision now to get vaccinated feel like an admission that they’ve been wrong up to this point?

Responding to a question from a reporter about that possibility, Indiana University’s health officer Aaron Carroll said, “There’s no reason to be ‘right’—we all just want to be happy here.”

Carroll continued, “Everyone will be safer if they get vaccinated.” He added, “If you need an excuse, more recently, I think you could point to recent data, and that the hospitals are still filling up, that things are still very dangerous.” Continue reading “Continued calls for vaccination against COVID-19: “There’s no reason to be ‘right’—we all just want to be happy here.””

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.””

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”

Pandemic surges in Monroe County like rest of Indiana, full approval of Pfizer’s jab means extra encouragement to get vaccine

The height of the red line is at 21.2 cases a day. That’s the daily average below which Monroe County needs to stay in order to remain in the “yellow” category for weekly cases per 100,000 residents, in the state’s dual-metric classification scheme.

At Wednesday’s regular meeting of Monroe County commissioners, county health administrator Penny Caudill briefed the three electeds on the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Positive cases continue to trend upward in Monroe County, in the state, and across the country, she reported.

But Monday’s full approval of Pfizer’s vaccine by the US Food and Drug Administration could mean that one concern people have cited about getting vaccinated will be relieved, Caudill said. That concern relates to the fact that the vaccine had up to now been administered only under an emergency use provision.

Pfizer’s vaccine is now branded as Comirnaty.

Monroe County’s fraction of those age 12 and over who have been vaccinated is still just 58.3 percent

Caudill pointed to Indiana’s vaccine website as a resource for finding a place to get vaccinated. Continue reading “Pandemic surges in Monroe County like rest of Indiana, full approval of Pfizer’s jab means extra encouragement to get vaccine”

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”

Long-time election worker retires: “We’re here for one thing. And that’s to make a good election.”

Monroe County’s clerk, Nicole Browne, told The B Square on Thursday afternoon: “There is no replacing a Jack. He is one-of-a-kind. He is amazing. And I will miss him every single day. Every single day.”

Browne was talking about Jack Davis, a county employee whose retirement was marked Thursday at a reception held by his colleagues at Election Central, where he has worked for the election division.

Thursday was the six-year anniversary of Davis’s most recent span of service in local government—he started that half-dozen year stretch on the same day as county election supervisor Karen Wheeler.

But the octogenarian’s history of work for local government can be traced back to way earlier. Continue reading “Long-time election worker retires: “We’re here for one thing. And that’s to make a good election.””

Column: Meetings better for in-person attendees, if a remote connection is provided

Screen shot of Zoom connection during the June 15, 2021 Bloomington Transit board meeting.

I attended an in-person government meeting on Tuesday, but logged in to the remote Zoom connection anyway. And I’m glad I did.

Why? I was able to hear and see better than I could have, by just sitting there listening and looking, without being logged in to Zoom.

Here’s some background. Continue reading “Column: Meetings better for in-person attendees, if a remote connection is provided”

Monroe County, Bloomington officials say: Get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn

In the state of Indiana and Monroe County, the COVID-19 pandemic numbers continue to slide down the other side of the peaks that were climbed starting in mid- to late-October of 2020.

The most recent rolling 7-day daily averages for Indiana deaths (19), hospitalizations (1,274), confirmed positive cases(1,621) are the lowest the state has seen since mid-October. The same is true for confirmed positive cases in Monroe County (31).

Dispensing every drop of vaccine that they are allocated has become the main focus for local health officials. That’s the basic picture that emerged from Friday’s weekly news conference held by local officials on pandemic response.

Right now the main barrier to vaccinating more people is the amount of vaccine available. IU Health is currently allocated about 4,000 doses a week, and Monroe County’s clinic is getting around 800 doses a week. The current pace of full vaccinations—two doses are required—would put Monroe County at the 70-percent herd-immunity threshold around mid-November.

That’s assuming demand remains higher than the supply of vaccine. Otherwise put, that’s assuming that enough people are willing to be vaccinated. Continue reading “Monroe County, Bloomington officials say: Get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn”

Bloomington parks board votes 1–3 on policy change: Daytime camping still allowed

A proposed policy change that would have prohibited camping or otherwise inhabiting Bloomington’s parks at any time, not just overnight, got just one vote of support at Tuesday’s meeting of the board of park commissioners.

Dissenting on the vote was Les Coyne, who was congratulated at the start of the meeting on concluding his 44 years of service as a park commissioner.

The other three commissioners voted against the change to policy, despite a press release issued by the mayor’s office a couple of hours before the meeting started, in support of the policy change.

The press release said, “The recommendation to amend the special use permit policy is being made in response to an increasing presence of tents and other makeshift structures in several city park properties overnight.” Continue reading “Bloomington parks board votes 1–3 on policy change: Daytime camping still allowed”