Script almost ready to run for Bloomington city council’s OK of $2 million COVID-19 recovery

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A $2.4 million package of recovery programs, first pitched to the city council by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton at a July 10 work session, is now on course for approval at this Wednesday’s city council meeting.

The money is already in city coffers, Hamilton said last Wednesday afternoon.

So as soon as the appropriation is approved, the money can start paying for the programs it is meant to support. That includes a coding school to be hosted by The Mill, to train underemployed people to program computers.

Hamilton’s comments last Wednesday came during a video conference on the proposed funding package. Continue reading “Script almost ready to run for Bloomington city council’s OK of $2 million COVID-19 recovery”

Monroe County election board prepping for in-person polling numbers based on regular rules for absentee voters

The reduced number of polling sites that Monroe County used for the June 2 primary is not a part of current planning for November voting. That’s the latest word from the county election board’s meeting last Thursday.

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For the general election, the county election board is looking to use all its regular sites and maybe more, not just the seven it selected for the primary from the 34 that it typically uses.

That’s because it was only for the primary election that no-excuse absentee voting was approved by the state’s election commission this spring—during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A larger number of absentee voters means fewer people at the polls on election day.

No-excuse absentee voting is unlikely to be enacted for this year’s general election, based on Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s remarks at his press conference last Wednesday.

Holcomb is not inclined to allow mail-in balloting, except for the limited exceptions that are already listed out in the state’s election law. Continue reading “Monroe County election board prepping for in-person polling numbers based on regular rules for absentee voters”

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”

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”

Start for MCSCC students delayed until Aug. 12, online-only at first

On Tuesday night, the board of the Monroe County Community School Corporation voted unanimously  to accept revisions to the district’s re-opening plan proposed by superintendent Judith DeMuth.

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Screenshot of the MCCSC board meeting of July 28, 2020

A resurgence of COVID-19 cases across the country, state and local region, has led to concerns about the safety of students, teachers and staff.

Highlights of the revisions include a delay to the start for students until Aug. 12.

At that point, instruction will be online-only—at least to start. A re-evaluation of the situation will be done by Sept. 11. Families will get a week’s notice before a change from online instruction.

Teachers will start Aug. 5 and use the time from then until Aug. 12 to prepare for online-only instruction. Continue reading “Start for MCSCC students delayed until Aug. 12, online-only at first”

MCCSC board expected to finalize school re-opening plan at Tuesday night’s board meeting

On Monday morning, a half dozen people showed up at the Monroe County health department’s temporary location in the Showers building on Morton Street.

They held signs with slogans like, “Shut it down, now! Start over! Do it right!” They were  advocating for a stronger statement from health officials on the question of re-opening schools.

They’re concerned about a start to the school year amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the area, and across the state.

News reporters narrowly outnumbered demonstrators. Organizer Debbie Fish, a former teacher and educational professional, said she expects a stronger continent at a rally planned for Tuesday at the district’s education resource center on Miller Drive.

That’s where the board will be meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, partly in-person and partly by videoconference.

Fish said she is concerned that if schools start up now, and teachers have to go back into the classroom, some will take the semester off. There may be some who will just quit the profession of teaching, Fish fears.

Early in the meeting, the agenda for Tuesday includes a re-entry plan overview by superintendent Judith DeMuth and a board discussion with possible modifications. A resolution on adopting a plan for re-opening schools is the final point of business, after a dozen other business items.

The meeting will be live-streamed at www.mccsc.edu/boardmeeting

The board’s Tuesday decision is expected to be based on potential additional information presented by the teachers union and the county health health department. Continue reading “MCCSC board expected to finalize school re-opening plan at Tuesday night’s board meeting”

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”

Indiana’s COVID-19 testing capacity could fall short of prescribed back-to-college needs

On Wednesday, an Indiana State Department of Health spokesperson responded to a question about COVID-19 testing capacity in the state by telling The Square Beacon: “Indiana currently is experiencing a shortage of reagents, the materials used to analyze the specimens.”

That came in response to a question about any specific missing ingredients in COVID-19 testing supplies for the state—swabs, transport media, or reagents.

Not confirmed in the ISDH response was the idea that the reason for the shortage is the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) diversion of supplies from Indiana to other states where surges in positive cases are even bigger than the increase that Indiana is showing. Continue reading “Indiana’s COVID-19 testing capacity could fall short of prescribed back-to-college needs”