A BT bus heads north on Walnut at 3rd Street on Feb. 15, 2021.
Bloomington Transit’s new route optimization plan now seems like a long shot to be implemented before the end of the year. That’s based on discussion by BT board members with general manager Lew May at their monthly meeting on Tuesday.
The route optimization plan, with increased frequency on some routes, and some service specifically set up for the new IU Health hospital on SR-46, was originally slated to be rolled out in fall 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed that timeframe. It’s not clear when a date for the plan’s implementation might be dialed in. Based on Tuesday’s board discussion with May, about six months of lead time will be needed to put all the pieces in place after a timing decision is made. The pieces include hiring 8 to 12 new drivers and educating the public about the new routes.
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.
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.
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 southwest 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.]
Indiana’s state department of health announced mid-week that people 80 years and older are now eligible to register for an appointment to receive the vaccine. That was the main newsy bit at Friday’s press conference of local leaders about response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Up to now, just frontline healthcare workers have been able to get the vaccine.
As the first of the vaccine doses start to get distributed in Monroe County, the number of confirmed cases for the first week of the year has seen a recent upward trend. After trending downward for the last four weeks of the year, from a rolling 7-day average of around 100 cases to the mid-40s, the rolling average is now back up to around 75.
The adding up of raw case numbers was highlighted by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, at Friday’s health conference. Hamilton ticked through the stats for the number of city employees who have received a positive COVID-19 test.