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”

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.””

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”

COVID 19 Update: Local officials say, “We gotta get this vaccine rate up.”

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.”

IU Health’s south central region president Brian Shockney put it this way: “We gotta get this vaccine rate up.” Continue reading “COVID 19 Update: Local officials say, “We gotta get this vaccine rate up.””

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”

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”

COVID-19 update: Upward surge of cases continues, but vaccinations accelerate

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.

White was speaking at the weekly Friday afternoon press conference held by local leaders on COVID-19 pandemic response. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Upward surge of cases continues, but vaccinations accelerate”

County board of health mulls Greek house guests

No decision was reached at its Thursday meeting, but Monroe County’s board of health wrestled for around an hour with the idea of relaxing somewhat its COVID-19 regulations on communal living facilities.

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.

That revised regulation could come to the board for approval at its next meeting, now set for April 6. Continue reading “County board of health mulls Greek house guests”

COVID-19 Update | IU’s Assembly Hall could offer 2K shots a day, but officials urge continued caution: “There are still a lot of people suffering.”

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.

Mixed in with the good news on vaccination capacity and continued downward infection trends were doses of caution. Continue reading “COVID-19 Update | IU’s Assembly Hall could offer 2K shots a day, but officials urge continued caution: “There are still a lot of people suffering.””