Monroe County, Bloomington officials say: Get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn

In the state of Indiana and Monroe County, the COVID-19 pandemic numbers continue to slide down the other side of the peaks that were climbed starting in mid- to late-October of 2020.

The most recent rolling 7-day daily averages for Indiana deaths (19), hospitalizations (1,274), confirmed positive cases(1,621) are the lowest the state has seen since mid-October. The same is true for confirmed positive cases in Monroe County (31).

Dispensing every drop of vaccine that they are allocated has become the main focus for local health officials. That’s the basic picture that emerged from Friday’s weekly news conference held by local officials on pandemic response.

Right now the main barrier to vaccinating more people is the amount of vaccine available. IU Health is currently allocated about 4,000 doses a week, and Monroe County’s clinic is getting around 800 doses a week. The current pace of full vaccinations—two doses are required—would put Monroe County at the 70-percent herd-immunity threshold around mid-November.

That’s assuming demand remains higher than the supply of vaccine. Otherwise put, that’s assuming that enough people are willing to be vaccinated. Continue reading “Monroe County, Bloomington officials say: Get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn”

IU Health’s bonus dose now standard as Pfizer limits COVID vaccine shipments based on 6-dose vials

The IU Health pharmacy team that prepares the COVID-19 vaccine for its clinic in Monroe County is able to extract an extra sixth dose out of the 5-dose vaccine vials it gets from Pfizer.

“We get at least six doses out of every vial,” president of IU Health’s southwest region Brian Shockney confirmed to the Square Beacon.

To accomplish the extraction of the extra dose requires a speciality syringe. Shockney said, “We have the needles.”

That is the same experience of many pharmacies across the country.

But the New York Times reported Friday that the sixth dose can’t be considered a bonus any longer.

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.”

Extraction of a sixth dose from a Pfizer vial will now be considered just par for the course. Continue reading “IU Health’s bonus dose now standard as Pfizer limits COVID vaccine shipments based on 6-dose vials”

COVID-19 update: Availability of vaccine still key barrier to shots in arms; declining case numbers boost morale

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.

Countering general frustration about vaccine availability on Friday was a sustained downward trend for confirmed positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, in Monroe County and across the state. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Availability of vaccine still key barrier to shots in arms; declining case numbers boost morale”

IU official on planned Bloomington water rate increase: “This is a rate shock to Indiana University.”

At its Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s seven-member utilities service board (USB) voted unanimously, with one abstention, to recommend a proposal to the city council that water rates be increased starting in 2022.

Abstaining was USB member Jason Banach. He’s a former city councilmember who represented District 2 from 1996 to 2005.

Before the USB took up the item, Banach announced that his employer is Bloomington’s largest water customer, adding, “It’s out of an abundance of caution that I’ll be recusing myself from this discussion and abstaining from the vote.” Banach works for Indiana University as the university’s director of real estate.

It is the university that is likely to be the strongest opponent of the water rate increase.

The proposed water rate increase would come in two phases, in 2022 and 2024, with residential customers paying a total of 22 percent more over the course of four years. Customers would see higher bills starting in early 2022.

After the two phases are implemented, Indiana University, which is a separate class of customer, would pay 39.7 percent more than it does now. IU also pays for water as an irrigation customer, and all irrigation customers would see a 43.9 percent increase over the two phases.

At Tuesday’s USB meeting, Indiana University assistant vice president for utilities Keith Thompson told the board: “IU is not happy with a 40-percent rate increase, even though it’s coming in two phases.” Thompson added, “This is a rate shock to Indiana University.”

The higher increases for IU and for irrigation customers is based on a cost of service study, done by a city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) consultant, which says that residential customers have been subsidizing other classes of customers.

Director of utilities Vic Kelson had previously reported to the USB that Indiana University is not happy with the proposed rate increase.

If the city council approves the water rate increase as proposed, Thompson said, IU would likely intervene in the case that goes in front of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC). Any water rate increase would have to be reviewed by the IURC. Continue reading “IU official on planned Bloomington water rate increase: “This is a rate shock to Indiana University.””

Houseless advocates march from Seminary Park to People’s Park to protest clearance from public spaces

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The clearance of an encampment at Bloomington’s Seminary Park in early December and again last week prompted on Monday the second protest in as many nights.

Protesters want the Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to allow encampments of houseless people to persist in public parks. They point to Centers for Disease Control guidelines that call for allowing encampments to stay in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, if other individual housing options are not available.

Whether such options are available is a disputed point.

Monday’s action included as many as 80 people at its peak, which retraced the steps of around a dozen people the night before, from Seminary Park to Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s house. He lives in the Elm Heights neighborhood, south of the Indiana University campus, about a three-quarter mile walk from Seminary Park.

On Monday, the group continued from the mayor’s house to People’s Park on Kirkwood Avenue, where a teach-in was held, featuring speakers from Indiana University’s Rainbow Coalition, a relatively new coalition of multicultural groups on campus.

The night wrapped up around 11:30 p.m. as two houseless men pitched a tent at People’s Park, and protesters lined the sidewalk to form a wall against possible police action.

Protesters left soon after that, and as of 8 a.m. on Tuesday, the tent was still there. Another second, larger one had been added. Continue reading “Houseless advocates march from Seminary Park to People’s Park to protest clearance from public spaces”

IU Health president makes plea on COVID-19 vaccination: “Get the vaccine when your opportunity comes.”

 

Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s south central region, which includes Bloomington and Monroe County, said on Friday: “My personal and professional plea to each of you is to get the vaccine when your opportunity comes.”

Registration for vaccination appointments, which are currently limited to frontline healthcare workers and those older than 70, can be done online, or by calling 211.

Shockney followed up a few minutes later with a challenge: “I put a challenge out: Let’s be the first county to achieve herd immunity.” In ballpark numbers that would translate into 70 percent of Monroe County’s population of about 148,000, or 103,600 people.

Shockney was speaking during Friday’s weekly news conference of local leaders on COVID-19 response. Continue reading “IU Health president makes plea on COVID-19 vaccination: “Get the vaccine when your opportunity comes.””

COVID-19 update: Vaccine arrives as Monroe County adds to death count

At Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders to talk about response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the counterpoint to the increasing number of deaths was news from IU Health that the first 15 doses of vaccine had been administered in Monroe County.

According to Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s south central region, the 15 “frontline healthcare heroes” who received the vaccine Friday morning amounted to a “practice run.” Starting Monday, Shockney said, IU Health will be vaccinating up to 350 people per day in Bloomington and over 150 per day in Paoli.

Shockey stressed that it’s the number of people who are being vaccinated that is important, not the number of doses that are being shipped. He pegged 70 percent as the minimum fraction of the population that need to get the vaccine to achieve widespread immunity to COVID-19.

Leading off the press conference was Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton, who talked about the increased number of COVID-19 deaths the county has seen recently. After long stretches in the summer when no deaths were recorded, the county has seen an average of two COVID-19 deaths a day over the last few days, he said.

Another way to think about the recent upward trend for COVID-19 deaths is that half of the 79 deaths in Monroe County have come since Nov. 4. At around 53 per 100,000 residents, that number still makes for one of the lowest per capita rates among the 92 counties in the state of Indiana. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Vaccine arrives as Monroe County adds to death count”

COVID-19 Update: Health administrator asks everyone: “Where have you been in the last four days?”

Highlights from Wednesday’s press conference of local leaders on COVID-19 pandemic response included a couple of takeaways.

First, when the vaccine starts to arrive locally, expected in mid-December, that’s not the end of the COVID-19 marathon.

Second, part of what it means to keep running the race means keeping track of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen over the last few days. That way if you test positive, you know what to tell contact tracers.

The idea of keeping track of your own behavior, even if you have not yet tested positive, came from Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill. She fielded a question about the followup interviews that contact tracers conduct with patients who have tested positive.

Patients are not asked if they have been in specific places, Caudill said. Rather they are asked, “Where have you been?”

Caudill then pivoted to a challenge for anyone who has not tested positive. What would you say if you had to answer the questions: “Where were you in the last four days? How many places have you been? How many people were near you without a mask within six feet? And how long is that list?”

Caudill’s caution: “If that list is more than one or two people and the people in your own household, it’s too many.” Continue reading “COVID-19 Update: Health administrator asks everyone: “Where have you been in the last four days?””

Updated: COVID-19 reduces by 4 (was 2) already short Bloomington dispatch staff, police chief says adequate resources still available

[Updated 2:30 p.m Nov. 17, 2020: Shortly after this piece was published on Tuesday afternoon, the city of Bloomington announced that two additional dispatchers, for a total of four, have been diagnosed with COVID-19.]

On Monday, the city of Bloomington reported three additional employees had been added to the tally of city workers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic hit Monroe County, bringing the total to 20.

Dispatcher attrition/retention. Rows correspond to employees in Bloomington’s police department who are dispatchers (telecommunicators) including supervisors and managers. Columns correspond to payroll distributions starting in January 2020, and ending in early November, according to the city’s online financial system. Cells shaded green are those containing any payments.

Two of them are dispatchers who answer 911 calls at the central emergency dispatch center that serves the area both inside and outside the city.

According to Monday’s press release, one dispatcher was tested last Friday (Nov. 13) after being in quarantine for five days after first showing symptoms. Close work contacts of that employee have been alerted, according to the release.

The other dispatcher was tested Wednesday (Nov. 11) and was quarantining since first having symptoms the day before. No close work contacts were identified for that employee, according to the release.

In light of the ongoing challenge to fill open positions at the dispatch center, which is already understaffed, The Square Beacon asked Bloomington police chief Mike Diekhoff how the department will approach covering for the two sick dispatchers.

Diekhoff said the department will still be able to maintain adequate coverage of the center.

Part of the strategy that could be used is a contingency plan involving Indiana University’s police department, which has its own dispatch center, Diekhoff said. A combination of moving staff from one dispatch center to the other, and simply transferring phone lines, is part of the contingency plans that have been in place for years, he said.

As an example of a partial implementation of that contingency, Diekhoff gave the temporary relocation of dispatchers to IU dispatch while the central dispatch facility was being disinfected after the two dispatchers received their positive COVID-19 diagnoses.

Continue reading “Updated: COVID-19 reduces by 4 (was 2) already short Bloomington dispatch staff, police chief says adequate resources still available”

Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is still causing ridership on Bloomington Transit buses to slump compared to normal levels, even if the month-to-month numbers have shown increases starting in May.

The return to campus of Indiana University students in August has increased numbers a bit, but the historical September spike is not evident on this year’s chart. That’s because the local travel needs of students have diminished due to the prevalence of classes offered online.

The reduced ridership means BT has reduced its service hours on routes that primarily serve campus locations—Routes 6, 7, and 9. That has led BT and IU to renegotiate the agreement under which university affiliates can board buses without paying a fare. The renegotiation reduced the payment to around 70 percent of the historical number.

At their Tuesday meeting, BT board members voted to continue BT’s COVID-19 protocols another month, which includes allowing all riders to board buses without paying a fare.

On Wednesday the city issued a press release announcing that a second BT bus driver has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The first driver tested positive on Aug. 3. According to Wednesday’s press release, an internal contact tracing process determined that there were no other employees or customers placed at risk of exposure by the driver. They drove on Routes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 9 from Oct. 3 to Oct. 17, according to the release. Continue reading “Ridership still down on Bloomington public buses, fare-free rides continue, new agreement reached with IU, second driver tests positive for COVID-19”