COVID-19 Update: Infection trends down, local regs mostly same, audit bumps historical death counts

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.

At the press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said he would be sticking with his executive order that limits gatherings to not more than 15 people inside Bloomington.

Hamilton said “We are going to keep the city order on social gatherings at 15 or fewer.” He added, “And the bottom line, really, you shouldn’t be mixing with people who you don’t need to mix with. You shouldn’t be sharing air, unless you have to—including on Super Bowl Sunday.”

An audit of death certificates by the state’s department of health has added about 1,500 more deaths to the state’s count of COVID-19 deaths, pushing the statewide total over 10,000 to 11,280. Monroe County’s death count got a bump of around 35 new cases, bringing its current total to 151. The news about the audit came mid-week.

Responding to a question during the press conference, Caudill said her department had not received a detailed breakdown of the date-by-date additional deaths from the audit. She added that such a breakdown might be forthcoming. Caudill thinks that some of the added deaths might be related to long-term care facilities.

The impact of the additional deaths statewide was that the daily high count was raised to 118, for Dec. 29, 2020, compared to the pre-audit high of 97 on Dec. 11, 2020. After the audit of death certificates, more than 100 COVID-19-related deaths were recorded on 10 different days.

In Monroe County, about half of the additional deaths that were added came in the month of December 2020. The 16 additional deaths brought December’s total from 45 to 61.

The pace of vaccinations is still incremental. Based on the state’s vaccination dashboard, the percentage of Indiana’s population that has been fully vaccinated is a bit shy of 3 percent.

The limiting factor is still the availability of vaccine. IU Health has distributed 78 percent of the vaccines it has been issued, said Shawna Girgis, who is IU Health south central region program director for community relations and outreach.

The percentage is based on the distribution of 18,795 vaccines out of the 24,100 that IU Health has received since Dec. 21. Lesley Sndyer, IU Health’s chief of staff for its south central region, said by the end of the Saturday clinic, the percentage of vaccines used so far is expected to rise to 84 percent.

Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton gave a general update on vaccination numbers from the city’s fire and police departments. He said 61 firefighters, which is about 60 percent of the total, had been vaccinated so far. About half the city’s police officers have been vaccinated, Hamilton said.

Asked about the possibility of an eventual requirement imposed on city employees to get vaccinated, Hamilton said no mandate was in place, but did not rule it out: “We have not chosen to do a mandate. That’s tricky. I think it can be done. It’s not typical for most places, but we’ll continue to look at that.”

Hamilton said the city’s continuity of government team is looking at the issue of how to handle vaccination by city employees—maybe that means different protocols for employees, depending on whether or not they have been vaccinated.

Hamilton added, “There may be incentives to get vaccinated, and there may be kind of behavioral requirements if not vaccinated.” Hamilton said he hopes the example set by fellow firefighters and police officers who are getting vaccinated will help encourage more and more to get the vaccine.

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