For Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill, kindness is part of the key to dealing with the current resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
At Friday’s regular news conference of local leaders, Caudill sketched out the rise in the basic pandemic stats and the relatively low vaccination rates.
She then made an appeal to kindness: “You can be part of the solution to this. Be kind to others even when you disagree.” Caudill continued, “Be kind to the workers doing their jobs. Wear your mask as required, and if requested. Stay at home if you’re sick, get tested as appropriate.”
Caudill wrapped up: “So please be kind. And we want people to get vaccinated.” Caudill said, the best place to find information about times and locations of vaccination clinics is still at ourshot.in.gov
The vaccination rate among eligible Monroe County residents is still only about 57.2 percent, well short of the 70 percent that was batted around as a target in the early days of vaccination.
The red line indicates a threshold of 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 color-coded classification scheme.
By next Wednesday, all Monroe County residents, even those who are vaccinated, will likely be under a renewed mandate to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
According to Monroe County health administrator Caudill, a new order from county health officer Thomas Sharp will also say that schools should follow guidance from the CDC, the Indiana Department of Health, and the Indiana Department of Education.
What does guidance from those three entities mean for area K-12 schools? Caudill concluded: “At this time, that means masks should be worn in schools.”
The announcement about a new mask mandate came at Friday’s biweekly news conference on local COVID-19 pandemic response. The usual order of speakers was altered to put Monroe County healthy administrator Penny Caudill first, so she could deliver the news on masks.
Before announcing the new mask mandate for indoor public settings, Caudill described the negative trends that led to the decision: increased confirmed COVID-19 case numbers, increased positivity rates and increased hospitalizations, and less-than-hoped-for vaccination rates.
Caudill reported at the news conference that the county’s board of health would meet to deliberate on the mask mandate on Tuesday, Aug. 3 at 9:15 a.m. on a Zoom video conference.
The following day, at its regular Wednesday meeting, county commissioners could approve the mandate. The need for the board of county commissioners to act is due to a recent statutory change. The new law [SEA 05] requires the board of county commissioners sign off on local health orders.
Sign boards typically used for traffic alerts are being used to remind patrons of Kirkwood Avenue establishments to wear masks. The streetis closed to automobile traffic, to help restaurants do more business than they would, if inside dining were the only option.
“While it feels like COVID may be behind us, in many ways it’s not,” IU Health’s south central region president Brian Shockney said at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders.
Shockney added: “The best way that you can choose to help ensure our communities don’t see another surge is to make the choice to get your vaccine.”
The importance of continuing to wear a face covering, despite the ending of the statewide mask mandate, was another talking point on Friday.
Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael, said about the local decision by the Monroe County board of health to continue the mask regulations: “We’re going to stick with this. We know we’re not out of the woods.”
Carmichael also encouraged restaurant patrons not to put servers in the position of playing the role of the “mask police.” She said, “Obviously, these are businesses that have signage on the doors, letting folks know…you will be expected to wear a mask. So we just ask everybody to please mind those rules. Continue to wear those masks.”
The county board of health has contracted with Security Pro 24/7 to enforce the local health regulations. That contract goes through July 1.
he dark purple line is the 7-day rolling average of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. 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 weekly Friday afternoon press conference held by Bloomington area local leaders on COVID-19 response is not typically followed with a press release hammering home talking points from the briefing.
That’s one measure of how important local leaders think this message is: “We are united in the belief that the pandemic is not yet over and that it is not yet time to let down our guard.” The statement was included in the opening paragraph of Friday’s followup release.
The release came from Monroe County’s health administrator Penny Caudill, the county’s health officer, Thomas Sharp, the three county commissioners (Julie Thomas, Lee Jones, and Penny Githens), Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, IU Health south central region’s president Brian Shockney, and IU provost Lauren Robel.
At the press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said “Governor Holcomb’s recent announcement to remove the mask mandate at the state level is terribly misguided, and unfortunate.”
While the state-level restrictions are due to be lifted on April 6, local edicts will remain.
Across the state of Indiana and in Monroe County, COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths are trending downward.
The good downward trends have not yet led local officials to relax regulations much. The numbers in all key areas, though headed downward, are still well above spring 2020 peaks.
In Monroe County, the rolling average of 31 daily cases is down from a mid-January peak of about 80, but that rolling average is still three times higher than the spring 2020 single-day high of 11.
Monroe County’s low positivity rate (2.2 percent), combined with a decrease in per capita case counts, has put the county into the yellow category on the state’s two-metric, color-coded system.
That’s led to one relaxed requirement from the county board of health. Gathering size limits have been raised from 25 to 50, Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill said on Friday. She was speaking at the weekly press conference of local leaders about COVID-19 response.
According to the NYT report, the discovery in December that a sixth dose could be extracted from the 5-dose vials will now lead to less vaccine shipped by Pfizer.
According to the report: “Pfizer plans to count the surprise sixth dose toward its previous commitment of 200 million doses of Covid vaccine by the end of July and therefore will be providing fewer vials than once expected for the United States.”
The main barrier to COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Monroe County, as well as other parts of the state and country, continues to be the availability of the vaccine.
As many 1,000 additional doses of vaccine a day could be distributed by Indiana University, according to IU’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships Kirk White. He was speaking at Friday’s weekly news conference of local leaders on COVID-19 response.
Whenever the state is able to allocate vaccine to the university as a distribution site, White said, “I’m pretty comfortable that we could do between 500 and 1000 vaccinations that day, if we had the supply.”
For now, the only vaccination clinics in the county are being operated by IU Health and Monroe County’s health department. The vaccine is free, but appointments are required for both clinics. For now it’s only frontline healthcare workers and those over 70 years old who are eligible.
Since Dec. 21, about 500 people a day in Monroe County have been getting their first of two required shots for the COVID-19 vaccine at the IU Health Medical Arts Building clinic.
The total number who have received that first shot now stands at 4,333.
That was the update given to Monroe County’s board of health members on Tuesday afternoon by Amy Meek, nursing supervisor for IU Health.
Based on that 500-per-day pace of COVID-19 shots, it would take a little over a year for 70 percent of the county’s roughly 150,000 residents to receive the required two doses of vaccine. The 70 percent figure has been cited as the minimum percentage needed to achieve herd immunity.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the pace of vaccination struck health board members as slow.