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 heights of the two red lines are set at 21.2 and 42.4 cases per day, which correspond to 100 and 200 cases per week per 100,000 residents in the county. Those are the benchmarks for the color-coded system used by the state to measure community spread.
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.”
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.
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.
As the prospect of achieving herd immunity against the COVID-19 virus could be waning, according to some experts, Bloomington and Monroe County area officials are trying to focus on getting local vaccination rates as high as possible.
The confirmed daily positive case numbers in Monroe County have been vacillating over the last couple of weeks in the low to mid-20s without a clear longer-term upward or downward trend. The short-term trend over the last five days is somewhat downward.
Speaking at the regular Friday news conference of local leaders this week, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said, “Even if we don’t make population immunity or herd immunity…maybe the local vaccination numbers just in our area are more important than we may have thought, compared to everything else.”
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.
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. The “yellow” category goes from 10 to 100 weekly cases per 100,000. More than 100 cases per 100,000 would put Monroe County into the “orange” category. Even when combined with Monroe County’s best-possible score on positivity, an “orange” rating for cases per 100,000 would put Monroe County into the “yellow” category overall.
Friday’s report of 54 new cases of COVID-19 for Monroe County cases is the highest number since Feb. 3.
But the rate of fully vaccinated county residents that are being added to the daily total has risen in the last couple weeks, to around 500 per day. That’s after bumping along in the low 300s for about seven weeks.
According to Indiana University’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White, another boost to the number of fully vaccinated county residents will come in early May. That increase will come when people who are being vaccinated at the university’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall start getting their second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
The board voted to approve a motion to have county health administrator Penny Caudill and county health commissioner Thomas Sharp collaborate with Indiana University officials on a revised regulation.
The revised rule might distinguish between inside guests and outside guests of Greek houses, and would likely still prohibit guests inside buildings and place restrictions on guests who remain outside.
Good news tempered with caution about the persistent presence of the pandemic virus was again the theme of this Friday’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 response, held by Bloomington area leaders.
Probably the most significant news out of Friday’s news conference was the fact that Monroe County’s public vaccination site will transition in April from its current location at the county’s convention center to Indiana University’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the school’s basketball venue.
That news came jointly from Indiana University’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White, and Monroe County’s health administrator, Penny Caudill.
People who get their first shot at the convention center in March will still be able to get the second dose scheduled for the convention center location, Caudill said. IU Health’s vaccination site at its Medical Arts building will continue to offer vaccinations.
To dispense the COVID-19 vaccine, White said IU would use a logistical setup at Assembly Hall similar to the one it deployed for its mass flu vaccination clinic. The initial COVID-19 vaccine supply will not support the full capacity of that setup, White said. “We feel confident that if we had the supply, we could probably run upwards of 2,000 people through in a day.”
Another bit of good news: Brian Shockney, president of IU Health’s south central region, reported that starting March 8, all IU Health hospitals will begin allowing visitors for COVID-19 patients. Shockney said COVID-19 patients will be able to designate two close contacts as visitors, and one of the two designated visitors will be able to visit per day.