Local business experts say Monroe County jobs numbers took “big hit” from pandemic, but vaccinations could give economy a shot in the arm

At their regular meeting on Tuesday, Monroe County councilors got a briefing from local economic experts on their outlook for the coming year.

The presentation came from Carol Rogers, who’s co-director of the Indiana Business Research Center at IUPUI, and Jennifer Pearl, who’s president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation.

The current jobs growth and unemployment news is bad in Monroe County, as it is in the rest of the state.

Rogers told county councilors the local labor force numbers have slipped. The labor force figure of 69,205 in December 2020 is down 2.5 percent compared to December 2019, she said.

Out of that labor force of 69,205, in late 2020, 2,315 people were unemployed in Monroe County. That made for a 3.3-percent unemployment rate. It’s 25 percent higher than last year, Rogers said. “We’re in one of the highest unemployment scenarios that we’ve been in the county since the Great Recession,” Rogers said.

One statistic that Rogers said she’ll be tracking as a possible driver of economic recovery is the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Rogers said, “As more and more people become vaccinated, as the spread [of COVID-19] is reduced and hopefully potentially eliminated, [we hope] we’ll see [weekly unemployment] claims get down to the hundreds instead of well over 1,000.”

“The ability for [Indiana University] to constrain the virus spreading among the student population is going to have an effect on that.” Rogers said. Continue reading “Local business experts say Monroe County jobs numbers took “big hit” from pandemic, but vaccinations could give economy a shot in the arm”

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. Continue reading “COVID-19 Update: Infection trends down, local regs mostly same, audit bumps historical death counts”

Monroe County COVID-19 update: Vaccine distribution, infection rates show good relative trends, absolute picture still not ideal

Monroe County’s two COVID-19 vaccination clinics are able to deliver almost all of the vaccine they’re being allocated by the state of Indiana into the arms of the county’s residents.

That’s the latest word from Brian Shockney, president of IU Health’s south central region.

Speaking at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders, Shockney said that through Jan. 27, Bloomington has dispensed 14,717 of the 16,100 doses (91 percent) that have been allocated to Monroe County. By the end of Friday, Shockney said that number would rise even higher.

Shockney said on Friday, “Bloomington’s vaccine site has been outperforming every vaccine site in the IU Health system in regards to our utilization rate.” Shockney said that reflects IU Health’s commitment to making Monroe County the first county to be immunized at a high enough rate to get out of the pandemic.

Infection numbers, deaths and hospitalization  are all trending down, across the state and in the county.

One of the key stats with a local trend in the right direction, and markedly better than elsewhere in the state, is the rolling average “all tests” positivity rate.

For Monroe County the positivity rate has now dropped to 2.9 percent. That is well below the 5-percent threshold that qualifies Monroe County for the best possible score on the state’s two-metric green-yellow-orange-red color-coding scheme.

Even though Monroe County’s numbers for vaccinations and positivity rates are good compared to stats from other places, in absolute terms the picture is still sobering. Continue reading “Monroe County COVID-19 update: Vaccine distribution, infection rates show good relative trends, absolute picture still not ideal”

Area state legislators update local residents on state budget, local income taxes, closure of capitol

At a forum hosted Saturday morning by the League of Women Voters Bloomington-Monroe and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, three state legislators gave an update after two weeks of this year’s session.

Screen shot of the Jan. 16, 2021 forum co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Clockwise from upper right: Ann Birch (president of the LWV of Bloomington-Monroe, Matt Pierce (representing District 61 in the state house), Peggy Mayfield (representing District 60 in the state house), and Shelli Yoder (representing District 40 in the state senate.) (Image links to CATS recording of the forum)

Any partisan jostling that unfolded between the two Democrats and one Republican who attended was relatively mild.

In their opening remarks, and in their responses to the questions from the public, they covered a range of topics, including the budget, teacher pay, local income tax, and next week’s capitol closure, among others.

Matt Pierce, a Democrat representing District 61 in the state House, used his opening remarks to talk about the budget. Indiana’s legislature adopts a budget every two years, and that cycle makes 2021 a budget year.

Pierce said, “It’s interesting that the governor and his proposal seems to be focusing mostly on buildings and infrastructure.” Pierce said the Democrats would be taking a different approach from that of Republican governor Eric Holcomb.

Pierce said, “We think that particularly at a time when so many people are struggling, we should be maybe focusing the resources we have more on people—people infrastructure, human capital, and particularly those who are struggling at the bottom.”

Pierce added, “It seems like we do a very good job of stockpiling the surplus, but even when it’s raining, and you might want to use a rainy day fund, seems like we still kind of hang on to that money.”

Following Pierce was Peggy Mayfield, a Republican representing District 60 in the state house. Mayfield took up the topic of the surplus by saying, “Because Indiana has been so disciplined over the last decade…, we have money now to continue to invest in Indiana, instead of figuring out how we’re going to pay our bills coming out of this pandemic.” Continue reading “Area state legislators update local residents on state budget, local income taxes, closure of capitol”

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.””

Indiana bill on checking executive authority gets first committee hearing

Getting a first committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon was a bill that would put the state legislature in a position to have a say on extending the Indiana governor’s executive orders related to a disaster emergency.

Representative Matt Pierce asks a question during the Jan. 12, 2021 meeting of the House standing committee on rules and procedures. The image is a screen grab from the live video that the General Assembly makes available for committee hearings.

HB 1123 is one of several bills that deal with executive powers, which have been referred to the House standing committee on rules and procedures.

The bills are a reaction by legislators to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holcomb, who is a Republican in a state where both chambers of the legislature have better than two-thirds Republican majorities, issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency on March 6, 2020. The governor has extended the executive order several times since then, in 30-day increments. The state of emergency is still in effect.

HB 1123 was authored by representative Matt Lehman, a Republican whose District 79 covers a swatch of the state that’s south of Fort Wayne.

The initial draft proposed by Lehman would prevent a governor’s order from continuing for longer than 30 days, unless the General Assembly is in session, or the governor has called for a special session of the legislature. Continue reading “Indiana bill on checking executive authority gets first committee hearing”

Press release: New strain of COVID-19 in Hoosier state, vaccine dashboard gets daily update

Indiana’s department of health issued a press release just before noon on Monday (Dec. 11) saying that a new strain of COVID-19, previously identified in the United Kingdom, has been found in the state of Indiana.

According to the press release, the new strain does not cause more severe infections, but spreads easier. The state’s health commissioner, Kris Box, is quoted in the release saying, “It’s common for viruses to mutate, and we are seeing that occur with COVID-19.”

The quote from Box continues, “Because this strain of the virus can be transmitted more easily, it’s more important than ever that Hoosiers continue to wear their masks, practice social distancing, maintain good hygiene and get vaccinated when they are eligible.”

[Updated on Jan. 11, 2021 at 3:57 p.m. A spokesperson for the state’s department of health responded to a Square Beacon question about the possibility of separate tracking of the new strain by saying, “We do not intend to track it differently on the dashboard.” That’s because “It is normal for viruses to mutate, but the disease the virus caused – COVID-19 – is unchanged,” according to the spokesperson.]

The vaccine mentioned in Box’s quote is part of another update in the press release—about the state’s vaccine dashboard. It will now be updated daily, according to the release. Since its initial launch in recent weeks, it has been updated just on Wednesdays. Continue reading “Press release: New strain of COVID-19 in Hoosier state, vaccine dashboard gets daily update”

Press Release: Bloomington investigating death of Seminary Park camper

In a press release issued late Thursday afternoon, Bloomington’s police department announced that it is investigating the death of a 51-year-old man who was staying  at the Seminary Park encampment.

Seminary Park looking south along College Avenue on Dec. 22, 2020.

According to the news release, the officers responded to a call around 11:40 a.m., which was made by a passerby, who said several people at the park had asked them to call 911.

Officers and EMS staff attempted to resuscitate the man but were not successful, according to the release. The release says that others at the park had spoken to the man earlier in the morning and he seemed fine.

According to the news release, several people had tried the day before to get the man services and had offered him overnight accommodations but the man had refused and slept in the park.

BPD had checked on the man once during the evening hours of Dec. 23 and twice on the morning of Dec. 24th, but the man was sleeping and refused any assistance, according to the news release.

The news release says there were no signs of foul play or injuries to the man.

Continue reading “Press Release: Bloomington investigating death of Seminary Park camper”

Bloomington looks to nonprofits to help place Seminary Park area campers elsewhere by Jan. 11

Just south of the historical marker placed at Seminary Park, near College Avenue, a campsite persists this week.

That’s after people and their belongings were removed from the park two weeks ago by a combination of Bloomington police officers, the department’s social worker, and other nonprofit street outreach staff who work with those experiencing homelessness.

The Wednesday night removal two weeks ago was based on a violation of park rules, which prohibit overnight camping.

The dozen tents now pitched near the park look like they’re at least partly in the public right-of-way, based on the parcel boundaries from Monroe County’s online property lookup system.

Camping in the public right-of-way is also not something the city has to allow.

On Jan. 11, the city won’t be allowing it any longer, according to Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael.

Carmichael told The Square Beacon, “We’ve asked funders and providers to transition folks overnighting in the Seminary Park area to alternative shelter/housing or camping by Jan. 11.” She added that the city of Bloomington will continue its efforts to point park area campers to other resources.

Carmichael added that an initial deadline of Jan. 8 had been set, but after more discussion, was shifted to three days later.

The roughly three weeks that remain before the next potential removal action by the city of Bloomington will give the city and local organizations some time to sort out possible alternatives.

[Updated Dec. 24, 2020 at 5:24 p.m. Bloomington’s police department issued a press release late Thursday afternoon announcing the death of one of the Seminary Park campers. The news release states: “There were no signs of foul play or injuries to the man.”] Continue reading “Bloomington looks to nonprofits to help place Seminary Park area campers elsewhere by Jan. 11”

Indiana COVID-19 positivity rate impacted by software error, fix will mean higher rates

Positivity rates will be changing on Indiana’s COVID-19 dashboard starting Wednesday next week (Dec. 30), but not due to differences in the number of actual positive tests.

At Governor Holcomb’s Wednesday press conference, Indiana’s health commissioner Kristina Box said that a software error had caused an error in past calculations. Statewide the numbers will increase by 2 or 3 points after the fix is made, she said. Counties will also see an impact.

The rolling average positivity rate in Monroe County is now about 5 percent, or about half of the statewide rate. The upward and downward trends for Monroe County and the state are roughly parallel, except for period when Indiana University students were returning to campus.

The rates that are now to be re-calculated show the same trends as those that were previously reported, according to Box, even if the absolute value of the numbers is different.

The new calculations would not have affected decisions that were made, Box said. Data on hospital resources and number of cases or deaths was not affected by the error, Box said. Continue reading “Indiana COVID-19 positivity rate impacted by software error, fix will mean higher rates”