COVID-19 update: Get vaccinated, keep masking up, local leaders continue to say

“While it feels like COVID may be behind us, in many ways it’s not,” IU Health’s southwest region president Brian Shockney said at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders.

Shockney added: “The best way that you can choose to help ensure our communities don’t see another surge is to make the choice to get your vaccine.”

The importance of continuing to wear a face covering, despite the ending of the statewide mask mandate, was another talking point on Friday.

Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael, said about the local decision by the Monroe County board of health to continue the mask regulations: “We’re going to stick with this. We know we’re not out of the woods.”

Carmichael also encouraged restaurant patrons not to put servers in the position of playing the role of the “mask police.” She said, “Obviously, these are businesses that have signage on the doors, letting folks know…you will be expected to wear a mask. So we just ask everybody to please mind those rules. Continue to wear those masks.”

The county board of health has contracted with Security Pro 24/7 to enforce the local health regulations. That contract goes through July 1.

For Shockney and Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill, part of the message on Friday centered on the Centers for Disease Control recommendation announced on Tuesday to suspend administration of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That announcement came after unusual blood clots were identified in six women between the ages of 18 and 48. One of them died. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Get vaccinated, keep masking up, local leaders continue to say”

Approaching $750K: Monroe County reimbursement grants to businesses using CARES Act money

Monroe County’s total allocation of awards to local businesses, nonprofits and other governmental entities using federal COVID-19 pandemic relief money is now approaching three quarters of a million dollars.

This is a partial list of businesses, nonprofits and taxing units that have received reimbursement pandemic relief grants through Monroe County government, sorted by grant amounts. A complete table is include below.

At their regular Wednesday meeting, county commissioners approved a total $64,724 in the latest round of allocations to local businesses to reimburse COVID-19 expenses. The grand total amount that’s been awarded so far now stands at $743,654.

Wednesday’s grantees included: Dimension Mill; Hive; Jerry G. Miller; Katherine James Designs; Monroe County Public Library; Nick’s English Hut, Inc; One World Catering; Pizza Express, Inc; Rainbow (Hopscotch) Bakery; The Wonderlab Museum; Upland Brewing Company, Inc;VTG Enterprises; Landlocked Enterprises, Inc; Innovative Financial Solutions; Laughlin Financial LLC; Litwin Enterprises; and BloomingPaws LLC.

On Wednesday, after Monroe County’s financial director, Brianne Gregory, presented the item, commissioners approved the allocations without a lot of extra discussion.

Board of commissioners president Julie Thomas noted that the application deadline for the grants is April 30. That means only a couple more weeks are left for businesses, nonprofits, and other governmental entities to apply for the reimbursements.

The county has set up a web page with a form for applicants to fill out.

The basic purpose of the funds is to reimburse non-payroll pandemic-related expenses that haven’t been covered by some other program. Continue reading “Approaching $750K: Monroe County reimbursement grants to businesses using CARES Act money”

Time to attend memorial services of colleagues now covered for Monroe County workers, under revised personnel policy

At their regular Wednesday meeting, Monroe County’s board of commissioners approved a change to the county’s personnel policy.

This image, extracted from the Monroe County sheriff’s office recording of Deputy James Driver’s memorial service, links to the full video.

The change explicitly allows for employees to receive compensated time in order to attend memorial services for anyone actively employed by, or volunteering for the county.

Prompting the change was the recent death of sheriff’s deputy James Driver, who died in a car crash on March 29.

Commissioner Lee Jones said at Wednesday’s meeting, “The recent tragic death that we experienced is what caused us to notice that this needed to be included in the personnel policy.”

According to the press release from the sheriff’s office, Driver was at the time responding with emergency lights and sirens, to a different crash with reported injuries. The location of the crash in which Driver died was near State Road 45 and Eller Road, according to the news release.

The effective date of the ordinance was made April 1, 2021, which covers the time of the memorial services held for Driver in the first week of April. Continue reading “Time to attend memorial services of colleagues now covered for Monroe County workers, under revised personnel policy”

Column | Register for April 29 Red Cross blood drive, a great way to do a good turn

Please consider registering for the April 29 blood drive that will be held at the Monroe County Convention Center.

That hyperlink should take you directly to the Red Cross website where you can register.

Running a public service announcement like this means driving a little outside of The Square Beacon’s normal lane.

But Monroe County’s emergency manager Allison Moore said at Friday’s weekly press conference that she is worried about the April 29 date.

Moore said that for the first time since the pandemic-response blood drives started, one of the dates that’s been scheduled for the convention center location might not get every appointment slot filled.

So I figured it was worth amplifying that message: Please consider registering for the April 29 blood drive. Continue reading “Column | Register for April 29 Red Cross blood drive, a great way to do a good turn”

Monroe County property taxes due: May 10

“Bills are out and we are really busy right now,” Monroe County treasurer Jessica McClellan told the Square Beacon on Wednesday.

That means property owners are sending in the taxes they owe, in response to the bills that were due to be sent out a week ago. The deadline for spring tax bills is Monday, May 10.

Property tax season also explains the drop box that’s been placed just to the side of the north entrance of the Monroe County courthouse. The courthouse building is still closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The drop box is listed in a press release from the treasurer’s office issued the last week of March, as one of several options property owners can use to pay their taxes.

Continue reading “Monroe County property taxes due: May 10”

“Pandemic is not yet over,” local officials say, as Assembly Hall vax site to boost shot number by 10x next week

The weekly Friday afternoon press conference held by Bloomington area local leaders on COVID-19 response is not typically followed with a press release hammering home talking points from the briefing.

That’s one measure of how important local leaders think this message is: “We are united in the belief that the pandemic is not yet over and that it is not yet time to let down our guard.” The statement was included in the opening paragraph of Friday’s followup release.

The release came from Monroe County’s health administrator Penny Caudill, the county’s health officer, Thomas Sharp, the three county commissioners (Julie Thomas, Lee Jones, and Penny Githens), Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, IU Health south central region’s president Brian Shockney, and IU provost Lauren Robel.

At the press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said “Governor Holcomb’s recent announcement to remove the mask mandate at the state level is terribly misguided, and unfortunate.”

While the state-level restrictions are due to be lifted on April 6, local edicts will remain.

A bright spot in the press conference included next week’s planned vaccination numbers for the new Assembly Hall site, announced by IU’s Kirk White. The numbers White talked about were high enough that it prompted a question to confirm what he said. Yes, the 7,000 doses expected for next week, for which the state’s scheduling software has opened slots, is a 10-fold increase from last week’s allocation. Continue reading ““Pandemic is not yet over,” local officials say, as Assembly Hall vax site to boost shot number by 10x next week”

Mystery man with political campaign mask at polls motivates election board to develop procedure to document incidents

Monroe County’s election board isn’t able to pursue the case of a voter who reportedly engaged in electioneering at the polls during early voting in October last year.

That’s because the board doesn’t know who the man is.

At its Thursday meeting, the board reviewed some initial work on a procedure for documenting future potential incidents of electioneering, so that the people involved can be identified.

At its Thursday meeting, the board also wrapped up the remaining open issue with late campaign finance forms from the last election cycle, which resulted in the calculation of a $900 fine for a candidate.

Under the board’s policy, that got knocked down to 25 percent of the allowable amount, which is $225. Continue reading “Mystery man with political campaign mask at polls motivates election board to develop procedure to document incidents”

Housing as a human right gets county support, a good first step, housing advisory group says

At their regular Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County commissioners approved a resolution recognizing housing as a human right.

The key clause from the resolution reads: “…Monroe County joins other jurisdictions across the country in declaring housing as a human right.”

Commissioners Penny Githens and Lee Jones both voted to support of the resolution. President of the board of commissioners Julie Thomas was not able to attend the meeting to cast a vote, but Githens relayed Thomas’s support.

The resolution was put forward by the county’s affordable housing advisory commission (AHAC). At Wednesday’s meeting, Githens said, “I want to thank the affordable housing commission for their work on this. They didn’t just sit back, they kept pushing, they kept talking. They kept doing things. They’re pretty tireless.”

About the resolution, Jones said, “During this time of COVID, it’s been made so clear just how dangerous homelessness can be both for the homeless and for society.” She continued, “It is well known that the best outcomes for disadvantaged people come about when they are in stable housing.”

Attending the Wednesday meeting in support of the resolution were current AHAC chair Cathi Crabtree, and past chairs Deborah Myerson and Vauhxx Booker. It was Booker who read the resolution into the record of Wednesday’s meeting. Continue reading “Housing as a human right gets county support, a good first step, housing advisory group says”

Hint of potential upward trend for Monroe County COVID-19 cases as local officials look towards ramping up vaccinations

The height of the red line is at 21.2 cases a day. That’s the daily average below which Monroe County needs to stay in order to remain in the “yellow” category for weekly cases per 100,000 residents, in the state’s dual-metric classification scheme. The “yellow” category goes from 10 to 100 weekly cases per 100,000. More than 100 cases per 100,000 would put Monroe County into the “orange” category. Even when combined with Monroe County’s best-possible score on positivity, an “orange” rating for cases per 100,000 would put Monroe County into the “yellow” category overall.

On Friday, the reports of a continued trend of low case numbers for COVID-19 included customary words of caution about continued vigilance from local officials in Monroe County.

But remarks by local officials at Friday’s weekly press conference on pandemic response also included a hint of concern about possible future trends. Continue reading “Hint of potential upward trend for Monroe County COVID-19 cases as local officials look towards ramping up vaccinations”

Convention and visitors group eyes 2021 recovery, helped by food and beverage money

On Thursday, convention and visitors commissioner Mike Campbell delivered to his colleagues an update on Monroe County’s innkeeper’s tax revenues. The news was not as bad as over the summer.

Another bright spot on Thursday for the five-member convention and visitors commission (CVC) related to a different revenue source—the countywide food and beverage tax. The CVC approved a quarterly debt payment of $159,000 from a fund that holds food and beverage money.

It was a bright spot, because historically it has been the innkeeper’s tax that has paid for debt service. The use of the food and beverage money needed approval from the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC).

The FABTAC recommended that up to $300,000 of the county’s share of food and beverage tax revenues could be used to service the debt from past renovations and land acquisition for the convention center.

Monthly revenues from innkeeper’s tax, a 5-percent charge on lodging in the county, hit their COVID-19 pandemic low point in June. That’s when the $48,541 collected in 2020 was just 16.8 percent of the $288,525 that was collected in June 2019.

The $189,306 that has been collected through the first two months of 2021, is 65.2 percent of the $290,290 in innkeeper’s tax revenue that was collected in January and February last year, Campbell reported.

About the potential positive signs of recovery in those figures, Campbell said, “There seems to be at least some solace in that it’s not where we were in the summertime.” Continue reading “Convention and visitors group eyes 2021 recovery, helped by food and beverage money”