COVID-19 Update: Monroe County issues separate order; mayor announces positive antibodies; mask mandate mulled; more tests, confirmed cases

On Thursday, Monroe County’s health officer issued a separate COVID-19 order that is slightly more restrictive than the statewide directive.

The local order starts July 4.

The local health order includes a requirement that businesses post signs encouraging their patrons to wear masks, but does not mandate the wearing of masks.

Local officials are mulling the possibility of following the lead of some other Indiana jurisdictions—St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marion counties—by imposing a requirement that masks be worn when residents are in public. But their preference is to get voluntary compliance.

At their regular weekly press conference on Thursday, pushed up a day due to the July 4 holiday, local officials praised Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s decision the previous day to pause his Back on Track plan. Holcomb issued a 4.5 version, instead of adopting Back on Track 5.0.

The day before that, Holcomb had extended to July 31 a previous order halting evictions due to non-payment of rent. As a part of the same extended order, utility shutoffs were suspended until Aug. 14.

The new local health order was issued on the same day when Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. That’s likely due to having been infected back in April, despite having twice tested negative back then.

Increased testing in Monroe County—from a 7-day rolling average of around 100 a day in the first part of June, to closer to 150 a day in the second half of the month—has come with the highest number of positive cases since the pandemic started.

The current 7-day rolling average is around 6 new confirmed cases a day after staying under 2 from late April to mid-June. The rate of positive tests has nudged upward, but not in a dramatic way. Continue reading “COVID-19 Update: Monroe County issues separate order; mayor announces positive antibodies; mask mandate mulled; more tests, confirmed cases”

Margins, flipped results for mail-in versus in-person make Monroe County election stories

Much of the media coverage of 2020 primary elections focused on the mechanics of voting methods, instead of the campaigns.

That’s because the COVID-19 pandemic led the state election commission to postpone the primaries four weeks, from May 5 to June 2, and to make no-excuse absentee voting available for any voter. That meant every voter could vote by mail, instead of showing up in person to vote on any of the six days before Election Day or the day itself.

In Monroe County, a lot more people voted by mail, ahead of Election Day, than they did in 2016. Of the 26,791 voters who cast a ballot for this year’s primary, 17,785 (66 percent) did it by mail.

The 66 percent who voted by mail this year was more than twice the percentage who voted before Primary Election Day in 2016. The 2016 figure also includes mail-in ballots and in-person ballots cast during the early voting period.

Did the increased percentage of mail-in votes this year affect the outcome of any races? Maybe. Continue reading “Margins, flipped results for mail-in versus in-person make Monroe County election stories”

A closer look at some COVID-19 trends behind re-opening Indiana: Monroe County in statewide context

Barchart COVID-19 admittances

When Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave his state of the city address on Feb. 20, just 15 cases of the COVID-19 virus were confirmed nationwide, none of them in the Hoosier state.

Now two and a half months later, 1,132 residents of Indiana have died of COVID-19, out of about 20,000 confirmed cases.

In Monroe County, the count of COVID-19 deaths stands at 8, out of a total of 130 confirmed positive cases. Of the eight Monroe County deaths, three are female, one male and one is unknown. Four were between 70 and 79 years old, three were older than 80, and one was 50 to 59. All eight were White.

An economic shutdown prompted by COVID-19 began with Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s “Hunker-Down, Hoosiers” order six weeks ago, on March 25.

Now most of the state is preparing for a partial emergence from that shutdown on the morning of Monday May 4.

Under Holcomb’s Friday order, most of the state will see all retail stores allowed to open on Monday at 50 percent of their occupational capacity. Under Holcomb’s order, a week later, on May 11, restaurants would be allowed to open for dine-in service at 50 percent of their seating capacity. The governor’s order includes a series of phases that lead to a mostly complete re-opening by July 4.

But Monroe County health officials, with support from other government leaders, are using their option to keep the county buttoned up a bit longer. Continue reading “A closer look at some COVID-19 trends behind re-opening Indiana: Monroe County in statewide context”

$800K in federal community development fund allocations OK’d by Bloomington city council

At its regular Wednesday meeting this past week, Bloomington’s city council approved allocations for $800,000 worth of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

Doris Sims, who’s director of the city’s  HAND (Housing and Neighborhood Development) department led off the presentation to the city council on the resolution.

The amount awarded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development could turn out to be more than $800,000. If additional funds turn out to be available, the resolution approved by the city council allocates the extra money based on a priority ranking of programs that were not fully funded, or funded at all, in the basic allocation. Continue reading “$800K in federal community development fund allocations OK’d by Bloomington city council”

New report: Bloomington’s 2018 GHG emissions up compared to 2016, but asterisks abound

On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s department of economic and sustainable development released a new report on greenhouse gas emissions. Based on data presented in the report, citywide numbers for the gases that are causing climate change have gone up by at least 12 percent since the last inventory was taken two years ago.

But the new report is hedged with caveats throughout, cautioning against comparing figures from the two reports, because of changes in methodology between the two years.

The previous inventory was based on 2016 data.

The new report, which is based on 2018 data, says that Bloomington generated community-wide 1,639,657 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions that year. That compares to 1,375,237 metric tons reported for 2016.

During Tuesday night’s presentation of the new report at city hall, Alex Crowley, director of the city’s department of economic and sustainable development, said the focus now would be on comparing future years with the numbers in the report released Tuesday. He also said a retroactive effort would be made to compute the inventory for the previous report using the current methodology.

To some extent, the new report already tries to adjust figures from the 2016 report.
The total emissions number reported by Bloomington in 2016 was 1,375,237 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent. But after adjusting for methodology in the solid waste sector, the report released on Tuesday would put the 2016 solid waste number at 132,400 metric tons, instead of the 47,214 tons that was previously reported. That adjustment puts the emissions total for 2016 at 1,460,422 metric tons.

Compared to the solid-waste-adjusted total number from 2016, the 2018 number of 1,639,657 metric tons is 12 percent higher. The 2018 figure is 19 percent higher, if based on the unadjusted solid waste figure from 2016. Continue reading “New report: Bloomington’s 2018 GHG emissions up compared to 2016, but asterisks abound”

September 2019 was Indy’s warmest September on record

September this year at the Indianapolis International Airport was the warmest September on record, based on data from the NOAA Regional Climate Center. Records for the Indy airport go back to 1943.

Thermometer 13925024415866The mean average temperature for September this year was 73.7 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s 2 degrees warmer than the  next-warmest September on record, which came in 2007. It’s about 7 degrees warmer than the mean  of all September averages since 1943, which is 66.9 degrees.

Last year’s September (2018)  ranked 4th warmest since 1943.

Records for Monroe County’s airport go back just a couple of decades. This year’s September numbers are the warmest since 1998 by about a degree—72.1 compared to 71 degrees last year.

Data in the climate center’s database for Indiana University station’s in Bloomington go back to 1896, but temperature data stopped getting reported in late August this year. The Beacon has made some inquiries into that. [Updated Oct. 4, 2019: The word from National Weather Service is: “The IUBloomington station is undergoing some construction so the site is temporarily down. The time table for it being back up and running is unknown due to the construction. But, it will be back.”]

Not counting this year, the warmest September on record for Bloomington came in 1933 with a monthly mean average temperature of 74.5 degrees. If the airport temperature were taken as a proxy for the IU station, this year’s 72.1 degrees would rank as the 10th warmest September since 1896.

Swapping in Monroe County airport numbers would be a tricky business—the monthly averages can differ by as much as 3 degrees compared to the IU station.

Continue reading “September 2019 was Indy’s warmest September on record”

New tree study for Bloomington measures canopy at 38 percent, climate strikers demand 60 percent

A key stat from a new tree inventory for the city of Bloomington, released on Tuesday, found its way into a list of climate activist demands presented to Mayor John Hamilton on Friday.

The demands were presented to the mayor a little after 3 p.m. by around 400 people who marched from Dunn Meadow, where Bloomington’s Climate Strike activities had started, to city hall. The third point on the list was:

Get the City of Bloomington to 60% Tree Coverage.

Based on a report delivered on Tuesday to Bloomington’s board of park commissioners  by Aren Flint, an urban forester with Davey Resource Group (DRG), the maximum tree canopy that Bloomington could achieve is 61 percent of its 15,000 acres. So the demand is essentially to max out Bloomington’s potential canopy. (The layer of leaves, branches and trunks of trees that block the view of the ground from above is called the “canopy.”)

The climate strikers’ demand noted that Bloomington’s tree canopy now covers just 38 percent of Bloomington’s area. That’s the figure from Tuesday’s new report, which is a 2018 analysis. Continue reading “New tree study for Bloomington measures canopy at 38 percent, climate strikers demand 60 percent”

Analysis: Small, older batch of voters will decide Bloomington municipal elections this year

The headline for this piece is unlikely to surprise anyone with just a scant knowledge of local Bloomington politics or national election trends.

Labeled R Map 2019 Bloomington City ElectionsDistrictRepsxxxx
Shown are the two districts where Bloomington city elections will be held on Nov. 5 this year, with the names of candidates who will appear on the ballot. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Still, it’s worth adding some precision to some general ideas.  Bloomington’s quadrennial municipal elections—held the year before presidential contests—attract few voters. And those who do vote are older than average.

Based on turnout in past years, I think maybe 1,500 voters will participate in Bloomington’s Nov. 5 elections. That’s about 3 percent of city voters in the registered voter file provided by the Monroe County election supervisor’s office in early July.

Based on participation in past elections, more than half of those 1,500 voters will be older than 60. That’s almost three decades older than the average registered voter in Bloomington.

It’s unfair, of course, to compare an estimated maximum of 1,500 voters this November to the number of registered voters in all of Bloomington. That’s because elections will be held in just two of six city council districts this year. The other four district seats on the city council are uncontested. Also uncontested are races for all city-wide offices—mayor, city clerk and member-at-large city council seats.

Adjusting for just the roughly 16,000 registered voters in District 2 and District 3 combined, an estimated maximum turnout of 1,500 works out to around 9 percent. That doesn’t add up to a point of civic pride.

For District 2, my working estimate for maximum turnout is about 500 voters. I think if one of the two candidates gets more than 250 votes, that will be enough to win the seat. For District 3, I don’t think the turnout will be more than about 1,000 voters. I think if any of the three candidates gets more than 375 votes, that will be enough to win.

For both districts, I think the average age of voters this November will be older than 60.

After the jump, I’ll lay out the numbers behind those estimates. Continue reading “Analysis: Small, older batch of voters will decide Bloomington municipal elections this year”

City council 2020 budget talks look towards ending leaf collection, increasing trash data

The city’s director of public works, Adam Wason, stood at the podium for three hours at Thursday’s 2020 departmental budget hearings held by the Bloomington city council.

He had to present budget proposals for seven different divisions in his department: admin ($1,918,580), animal care and control ($1,903,971), fleet ($3,358,141), street and traffic ($8,331,136), sanitation ($4,360,802), main facilities ($1,192,487) and parking facilities ($2,397,734).

The seven divisions together made for a 2020 public works budget that totals about $23.5 million. It’s an amount that’s more than any other city department, except for utilities, which is proposed at $46.6 million. In contrast to public works, which is supported by general fund money, utilities gets its funding from rate payers.

Even if it’s safe for the 2020 budget, funding for one public works activity—with a total cost pegged at about $936,000—could disappear in 2021: curbside leaf collection. Councilmembers floated the idea of eliminating it next year or at least reducing its scale by promoting composting.

Responding to the council, Wason indicated his support for cutting the program. And deputy mayor Mick Renneisen told the council, “The administration is receptive to a change in the leafing program…”

Renneisen also indicated support for a long-term plan to consolidate public works divisions all under one roof. He said it’s on a timeline that’s far enough away that it doesn’t appear in any of the city’s current long-range capital plans.

While councilmembers, including Steve Volan, generally reacted positively to the presentations Wason gave, Volan was critical of the lack of data provided for one of the divisions: sanitation. Volan wanted some basic data to appear on a slide about trash collection, like the 6,771 tons collected in 2018—which was about 20 percent more than the 5,683 tons the year before. Continue reading “City council 2020 budget talks look towards ending leaf collection, increasing trash data”