Bloomington public bus driver tests positive for COVID-19, BT still on course for closer-to-normal service on Aug. 24

In a press release issued late Monday afternoon, the city announced that a Bloomington Transit (BT) bus driver has tested positive for COVID-19.

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The caution tape separating drivers from passengers on Bloomington Transit buses will soon be replaced with plexiglass shields.

That’s the second BT employee who has tested positive for the pandemic disease. The first was a maintenance worker. Nine other city employees have also tested positive.

According to Monday’s release, the driver started having symptoms on Wednesday, July 29 and received the positive result on Saturday, Aug. 1. For Saturday, Monroe County’s total COVID-19 confirmed positive case count was 10.

The seven-day average daily case count in Monroe County has started to drop—it’s now around around 13, compared to 20 for the last week of July. The number of cases reported for Sunday was just 2, the lowest number since July 6, almost a month ago.

In July, the BT board approved a plan to resume certain aspects of normal service starting Aug. 24. Continue reading “Bloomington public bus driver tests positive for COVID-19, BT still on course for closer-to-normal service on Aug. 24”

Opinion | Bloomington city council’s legislative process should require an anti-racist step; training by locals would help

What if every ordinance and resolution considered by Bloomington’s city council had to be scrutinized and debated publicly based on this question: How is this legislation anti-racist?

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Under city code, Bloomington’s city regular council meetings are scheduled for the first and third Wednesdays of the month. If three readings were required for an ordinance, the legislative process would take at least a month, from start to finish.

I think building such a step into the city council’s regular process could complement Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s recent proposed response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is to “recover forward.”

The idea is not merely to restore Bloomington’s economic health, but to make it better than it was before. The same goes for two other areas—climate justice and racial justice.

Hamilton’s proposal includes the idea of changing the way Bloomington does things, so that we are combatting racial injustice in a way that reflects community values.

Here’s one way to build a separate step into the city council’s process, so that all legislation gets scrutinized through an anti-racist lens: Add an anti-racist reading to the legislative routine.

Currently, the normal process is that every ordinance must get read twice, at separate meetings, before it is enacted. A resolution currently just needs one reading.

The idea would be to add an occasion designed to discuss the ways the item does or does not serve the city’s anti-racist policy goals—an occasion called the “anti-racist reading.”

For ordinances, the anti-racist reading would be sandwiched between what are currently the first and second readings. For resolutions, the anti-racist reading would come after what is currently the first and only reading.

To engage in that discussion would, I think, require some training, which would equip city councilmembers with some tools that would make that kind of work easier. Continue reading “Opinion | Bloomington city council’s legislative process should require an anti-racist step; training by locals would help”

IU Health COVID-19 response: Capacity limits mean dialing down elective procedures, shifting patients to deal with recent surge

At IU Health’s hospital in Bloomington, the area’s recent surge in COVID-19 cases has pushed administrators to find ways to make space for new patients.

A month ago in Monroe County, the seven-day average of confirmed new positive COVID-19 cases had settled around 2. That has increased to around 17 at the end of July. Not every positive case requires hospitalization. But those increased numbers have pushed IU Health’s Bloomington facility towards its capacity.

On Friday, MaryAnn Valenta, IU Health’s regional director for strategic integration, said the hospital is responding to the recent surge by reducing the number of elective procedures and transferring patients to other hospitals inside and outside the region. Where they’re transferred is based on “the location that makes the most sense to each patient based on bed capacity.”

Valenta’s remarks came during Friday’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 response with local leaders from the city, county and university. Continue reading “IU Health COVID-19 response: Capacity limits mean dialing down elective procedures, shifting patients to deal with recent surge”

10K COVID-19 tests a day: Indiana University’s reopening plan to include diagnostic and surveillance testing

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Screenshot of Friday July 31, 2020 press conference of local Bloomington leaders. It was conducted on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

As part of its campus re-opening plan, Indiana University is planning to use a combination of diagnostic and surveillance testing, in a program that will see up to 10,000 COVID-19 tests done in a single day.

That was Friday’s news from Aaron Carroll, associate dean of the Indiana University School of Medicine. Continue reading “10K COVID-19 tests a day: Indiana University’s reopening plan to include diagnostic and surveillance testing”

Bloomington mayor: Proposed 2021 budget will reduce sworn police from 105 to 100

During a panel discussion with other city officials, live streamed Thursday afternoon on Facebook, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton put numbers to an idea he mentioned in a speech two weeks ago.

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The 2021 budget proposal, which the mayor will eventually present to the city council in mid-to-late August, would reduce the number of sworn officer positions with the Bloomington police department (BPD) from 105 to 100.

The budget is scheduled for adoption in October.

The idea is to re-allocate the money for five sworn officers to at least five new non-sworn positions—a mix of social workers and neighborhood resource specialists, Hamilton said.

The move comes in the context of calls nationwide and locally to “defund the police.” Continue reading “Bloomington mayor: Proposed 2021 budget will reduce sworn police from 105 to 100”

Bloomington city council gets first formal look at mayor’s $2.4 M plan to jumpstart recovery in fall 2020, gives positive review but wants more detail

At a committee-of-the-whole meeting on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council had several questions for mayor John Hamilton about the initial part of his “Recover Forward” plan.

GRAPHIC for App Ord

The plan has city government playing a “counter-cyclical” role in the context of the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initial phase of the plan relies on just shy of $2 million of existing general fund money and another $400,000 of funds from other sources, to provide additional support for sustainable development, jobs, and housing.

Most of the questions from councilmembers on Wednesday amounted to requests for additional detail about the programs that the mayor wants to fund. They’d received an initial briefing a couple weeks ago at a work session.  But the most recent information they’d received still lacked the level of detail some councilmembers wanted.

On Aug. 5, the city council will hold another committee meeting on the topic, with possible enactment of the appropriation ordinance on Aug. 12.
Continue reading “Bloomington city council gets first formal look at mayor’s $2.4 M plan to jumpstart recovery in fall 2020, gives positive review but wants more detail”

IU adjusts with test-on-arrival approach to fit COVID-19 testing landscape, Monroe County positive cases continue to rise

Indiana University still wants all students to be tested for COVID-19 before they start classes in the fall.

The expectation of universal testing was part an update sent to Indiana University faculty and staff on Friday (July 24). It matched the message from the university’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White, at Friday’s weekly press conference of community leaders.

The novel part of Friday’s announcement was the hybrid test-on-arrival approach that the university will take to getting all students tested.

Those students who are not tested within a 10-day window before arrival will now be tested after arrival. The testing program will be organized by the university itself. Continue reading “IU adjusts with test-on-arrival approach to fit COVID-19 testing landscape, Monroe County positive cases continue to rise”

Bloomington public buses roll fare-free through COVID-19 towards fall, with Uber as backup plan, same general manager in driver’s seat

Lew May will be staying on board for another year as general manager of Bloomington Transit.

The five-member board expressed relief at the news at their meeting on Tuesday night—May has been contemplating retirement.

Board member Kent McDaniel said, “We’re lucky to have Lew and I’m glad he’s willing to stay for another year.” The board approved May’s contract extension on a unanimous vote.

May gave two reasons he wants to stay on. First, he wants to stay on through the implementation of the planned new routes, originally scheduled for this fall, but delayed due to uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Second he wants to get Bloomington Transit back on its feet after the pandemic. “To me those are two important things that I would not like to just hand off to the next manager,” May said.

Much of Tuesday’s meeting was focused on various issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. A maintenance staffer tested positive for COVID-19, the city announced in a press issued last week.

No additional employees have tested positive, according to May. But as a contingency, the board authorized the eventual signing of a contract with Uber. Under that contract, Uber would provide transportation service, if so many drivers test positive that the BT bus fleet can’t be operated.

Amid uncertainty about the number of Indiana University students who’ll be returning to campus and where they’ll live, the board OK’d an addendum to BT’s current contract with IU to get through July and August. That’s an alternative to trying to negotiate the renewal of the contract for the whole year, which would typically be done around now. About 70 percent of BT’s ridership typically comes from IU affiliates.

The board also green-lighted a return to service levels that are close to normal, starting Aug. 24. That’s when the time-and-half hazard pay will end for drivers and front-door boarding will start again. All riders will continue to board fare-free.

Continue reading “Bloomington public buses roll fare-free through COVID-19 towards fall, with Uber as backup plan, same general manager in driver’s seat”

Opinion | Recovering four words: true and equal partnership

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This Square Beacon file photo is from a joint meeting of city and county officials on the convention center expansion that took place in 2019.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave a speech last week on Thursday, released in a Facebook video, that revealed the basic approach the city will take to spur a local recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19. It’s a program the mayor is calling “Recovering Forward.”

The speech prompted a response from county elected officials in the form of a pointed press release issued late this Friday afternoon.

By way of background, the mayor had sketched out the initial part of his recovery plan at a Bloomington city council work session the Friday before. To jump start the effort, the initial part of the plan includes a request to the Bloomington city council for a $2-million appropriation.

Overshadowing the rest of the speech was the mayor’s renewed pitch for an increase to the local income tax, something he’d announced as a goal on New Year’s Day. The amount of the proposed increase last week was reduced—from a half point to a quarter point—compared to the proposal he’d made earlier.

The way the local income tax works is already a point of friction between Bloomington and Monroe County government.

But escaping mention in the local press was this passage from the mayor’s speech:

I’ll note that the City’s recovery investment can and I believe should be in parallel with a similar county government investment in recovery, with their also-healthy financial reserves. I’ve urged our colleagues in county government to expand their support for eviction protection, for our public health system, for the criminal justice system reforms so sorely needed, and for other recovery needs.

That paragraph from the address, among others, piqued the interest of the mayor’s “colleagues in county government”—who wondered why the mayor felt it was his place to urge them to do anything at all.

They wondered even more why the mayor was urging them to do things they believe they’re already doing. Continue reading “Opinion | Recovering four words: true and equal partnership”

Press release: BPD investigates Wednesday night shooting as homicide

City of Bloomington police detectives are trying to locate possible witnesses to a late Wednesday night shooting that left a 28-year-old man lying in a pool of blood in the parking lot of an apartment complex on the south side of town, according to a press release.

According to the BPD press release, at about 11:25 p.m. on Wednesday (July 22), officers responded to an apartment complex in the 3200 block of S. Walnut Springs Drive. They had received a call about a man shot in a parking lot. Continue reading “Press release: BPD investigates Wednesday night shooting as homicide”