Incremental progress for COVID-19 vaccination in Monroe County, pre-filed pandemic bills for 2021 legislature panned by local officials

At a press conference on Wednesday, Monroe County commissioner Julie Thomas called COVID-19 vaccine distribution a “hurry-up-and-wait” situation. She said in her household the question comes up every other day: “Is it here yet? Is it our turn yet?”

Map is from Indiana’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard. The image links to the dashboard.

For most people, the answer is no.

But Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s southwest region, reported that so far in Monroe County, 3,000 frontline medical workers had received their first shot of the two-dose vaccine.

That includes some paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement officers, who render medical aid, if they’re first on the scene.

Monroe County’s emergency manager Allison Moore said that in addition to notifying news outlets, the county would be using its emergency alert system to tell residents when the vaccine becomes generally available.

The regular news conference of local leaders on COVID-19 response was shifted from Friday to Wednesday this week due to the New Year’s holiday.

Also at the news conference, pandemic-related legislation that’s been pre-filed for the 2021 General Assembly session got a reaction from local officials. It was mostly negative.

One resolution that’s been pre-filed would put an end to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s executive order declaring a health emergency [CR 2].  Another bill includes a 14-day limit on the duration of COVID-19 health orders that are issued by a county health officer—unless they’re approved by the county executive [SB 48]. A third piece of legislation would allow a pharmacist or pharmacy technician to administer the COVID vaccine [SB 47].

About the first two bills, Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton gave an initial take: “This looks to me like a group of people that are looking to say no, when we need to be saying yes.” He continued, “My goodness, this legislature does not need to try to slow things down or make it more difficult.”

About the state’s legislators, Hamilton added, “Here’s something they could do. They could fund our public health system appropriately!”

Vaccine

As national news outlets have reported, the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine across the country has not gone as quickly as hoped.

That’s consistent with the picture sketched out at Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s Wednesday press conference by Lindsay Weaver, who’s the chief medical officer for the Indiana State Department of Health.

Weaver said by the end of this week, Indiana will have been allocated 146,250 doses of Pfizer vaccine and 152,500 doses of Moderna vaccine. She called that a “sizable” initial shipment of vaccine, but said Indiana’s weekly allocations will be lower going forward.

Vaccinations were limited over Christmas and will be again limited for New Year’s. “But vaccines will be picking up as we get past the holidays,” Weaver said.

Weaver said at this point nearly 76,000 Indiana residents had received their first dose of vaccine. Based on appointments scheduled through Monday, 110,000 Indiana residents will have been vaccinated by then, Weaver said.

President of IU Health’s southwest region, Brian Shockney, was asked how the figure of 3,000 stacks up against the total number of frontline health care workers that need to be vaccinated in Monroe County. Shockney pegged the number for the region at around 10,000.

But to arrive at that number is a little complicated, Shockney said. For an IU Health employee who lives in another county, but works in Bloomington’s hospital, they might be vaccinated here in Bloomington. The number of vaccinations in a geographic area is based on a person’s home address, Shockney said.

Shockney said he hopes the vaccination information will be tracked on the dashboard the state was set up. The state’s vaccination dashboard was rolled out on Wednesday, a few hours after the news conference ended.

Asked about possible vaccination requirements that could be imposed on county and city first responders, the executives of Monroe County and the city of Bloomington both said the strategy would be one of encouragement.

Julie Thomas, president of the county board of commissioners, said plans for vaccinating Monroe County employees are underway. She pointed out that it’s an advantage that the county has its own health clinic for employees. “We’re going to set up a pod there to ensure that our employees get vaccinated,” she said.

The idea of a vaccination requirement has not been discussed up to now, Thomas said. She added: “We’re going to be as encouraging as possible.” Thomas noted that employees who contract COVID-19 now are given the benefit of a bit more leeway for time off. As soon as a large enough percentage of people have been vaccinated, that benefit will disappear, Thomas said.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said he thinks generally that employers can require vaccinations, even if that’s not been discussed at the city of Bloomington.

Hamilton said the city is focused on encouraging vaccination. He noted that some firefighters had been vaccinated. A Dec. 23 post on Facebook showed fire chief Jason Moore getting his first shot.

Hamilton took the chance to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. “Vaccinations help protect not only your family and you, but also your fellow employees,” Hamilton said. He added, “Of course, getting to herd immunity, to beat this pandemic, depends upon a large percentage of all of us getting vaccinated eventually.”

A press release issued just before Wednesday’s news conference put the total of Bloomington’s city employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 at 54.

On Dec. 22, Monroe County sheriff Brad Swain announced four COVID-19 positive cases at the jail.

Jail commander Sam Crowe, speaking to Monroe County councilors at their meeting on Dec. 22, reported that he had himself tested positive and was quarantining.

Pre-filed legislation for 2021

About the possible legislation that would end the governor’s order on a public health emergency and limit the duration of a local health officer’s emergency order, county commissioner Julie Thomas said, “It’s worrying to see the direction of some of that legislation, because we’re in a public health emergency.” She added, “Now is not the time to determine that we don’t have the right to have a public health order.”

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton: “We did have a two week period in December, when we were averaging two deaths a day in Monroe County—an unheard of level that we hadn’t seen before. We’re back down to a rolling average of one death a day. But it’s still a very serious situation, as you all know.”

Thomas addressed the bill that would limit the duration of a county health officer’s emergency order, unless it were approved by the county executive. To allay any concern about getting approval from commissioners, Thomas said they had been “in the loop” with the county health department throughout the pandemic.

Thomas warned of unintended consequences for ending the governor’s executive order. As one example, she gave the ability of government bodies to continue to hold public meetings via Zoom video conference, because it’s not safe to gather in a meeting space. “That’s something that we can only do because the governor has issued an emergency order,” Thomas said.

If the General Assembly takes up the pre-filed legislation and pushes it forward, a local lobbying effort would mean “a future with a lot of calls and a lot of committee meetings,” Thomas said.

Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill said the local health department is restricted from lobbying. But she could advocate and educate, Caudill said. About the legislation that would allow pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to do COVID-19 vaccinations, Caudill said pharmacists already do a lot of vaccinations.

One thought on “Incremental progress for COVID-19 vaccination in Monroe County, pre-filed pandemic bills for 2021 legislature panned by local officials

  1. The Mayor would like our health system funded appropriately but does not indicate what that would be. That’s easy to say and a lot less helpful than saying ” We need $xxxx more in order to do the following”. It’s easy to say money is the problem, but it’s not the solution to anything without attacking the base causes of “the problem”.

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