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?””

COVID-19 stats continue bad trend across state, Monroe County: “These are your friends, these are your neighbors.”

Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders to talk about COVID-19 response came on another day of bad COVID numbers for Monroe County and the rest of Indiana.

Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s south central region, said in his region, a total of 4,438 inpatients had been tested and 556 of those have been “very, very sick.”

Shockney described the patients this way: “These are your friends, these are your neighbors. These are those people that you know, your family members.” He added, “This is a serious disease and we need to take it seriously, now more than ever.”

Monroe County itself, which includes IU Health Bloomington and Monroe Hospital is showing a continuous upward increase in patients, Shockney said. Visitor policies have been revised to eliminate visits, with a few exceptions.

Current statewide hospital census totals, according to the Indiana State Department of Health dashboard, have hit 3,077 patients. That’s about 75 percent more than the spring peak.

Confirmed case case counts continue to climb. On Friday, the statewide 7-day rolling average per day stood at around 6,500, which is six times higher than the average at the start of October. The countywide rolling average now stands at 109 confirmed cases per day, which eclipses the mid-September high of 94. That earlier spike was chalked up to the return to campus by Indiana University students. Continue reading “COVID-19 stats continue bad trend across state, Monroe County: “These are your friends, these are your neighbors.””

Bloomington public buses continue to roll at 21-percent ridership under COVID-19 conditions, board OKs deal with Trinitas development

At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the board of Bloomington Transit handled routine business, like receiving a financial report from its controller.

The five-member group also handled another item that has become routine business for the board: an extension of its COVID-19 protocols for another month—through Dec. 15.

The board also approved a deal with Trinitas Ventures, the developer of a roughly 1,000-bedroom project oriented in large part towards students, to provide transit service to the West 17th and Arlington Road area on the west side of town.

The deal with Trinitas was a requirement for the city council’s approval of the zoning for the project. The first year of service will cost $359,000. Construction on that project is expected to start as soon as the real estate deal closes, which is early December, based on remarks from Jeff Kanable of Trinitas, made to the BT board at Tuesday’s meeting.

The board also approved its Federal Transit Administration safety plan on just a 3–2 vote, with dissent from Alex Cartwright and James McLary. The plan did not appear to be controversial, but Cartwright and McLary wanted better clarity about how the definition of “safety event” that’s used by the feds squares up with BT’s statistics.

In another piece of business handled on Tuesday, the BT board approved an extension with the company that sells advertising on its bus wraps. BT splits the revenue 50-50 with Mesmerize, formerly Clean Zone Marketing. That stands at about $175,000 annually, according to BT general manager Lew May at the meeting. That’s about a six-fold increase since 2015, when BT started doing business with Mesmerize, he said.

The extension of COVID-19 protocols for BT means continued fare-free boarding for all passengers and a closure of the indoor passenger waiting area of the downtown transit center. The Grimes Lanes administration building will also remain closed to the public. Designated administrative management and employees will continue to work remotely. Continue reading “Bloomington public buses continue to roll at 21-percent ridership under COVID-19 conditions, board OKs deal with Trinitas development”

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”

Saturday update: Indiana’s 8,427 COVID-19 cases almost 2K more than previous daily high

Monroe County’s new testing site across the B-Line Trail from the Seminary Kroger store,  is due to open Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Currently planned hours are: 8 a.m. – 3 pm on Monday and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays and 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. on the first and third Saturdays of the month. [press release] Walk-ins will not be accepted. Residents who want to be tested at the new site are required to register and make an appointment through an online portal before arrival.
On Saturday, the state of Indiana’s COVID-19 dashboard logged 8,427 new confirmed cases, which was easily a new daily high since the pandemic started.

It’s 1,851 more cases than the previous daily high, just two days before.

The peak daily confirmed case high during Indiana’s spring surge was almost an order of magnitude lower: 946 on April 26.

In Monroe County, the 112 new cases recorded on the dashboard put the rolling 7-day daily average number of cases at 64. That’s about two and a half times the number of confirmed cases averaged through most of October.

Increased positivity rates, across the state and locally, show that it’s not just the increased number of tests that accounts for the increased number of cases. Monroe County’s 7-day rolling average of positive tests is now sitting at about 5.1 percent. The statewide number is more than twice that, at 10.9 percent. Continue reading “Saturday update: Indiana’s 8,427 COVID-19 cases almost 2K more than previous daily high”

Bloomington set to bang wobbles out of budget wheel, in year-end ritual

If the city’s annual budget starts out as a perfectly round plan at the beginning of the year, it gets a few dings as it rolls along through the months.

By Centrimaster – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Towards year’s end, adjustments always get made to the budget, in the form of an appropriation ordinance. Money gets shuffled amongst funds and in some cases draws on the general fund balance to square up the ledger.

As city controller Jeff Underwood described the process to the city council’s committee of the whole on Thursday night, “We come to you in the fall and…kind of ‘true up’, as I call it, the different departments and different funds that may need transfers or may need additional funds.”

At Thursday’s meeting, the appropriation ordinance, totaling about $1.5 million, got a favorable recommendation from the council’s committee of the whole, which sets the stage for a vote of approval by the full city council in December.

One of the bumps in the road this year was the COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s online financial system shows $543,595 worth of expenses with “COVID” in the expense description.  That’s close to the $549,000 described by Underwood as expected to be reimbursed through the state’s and city’s federal COVID-19 relief assistance. Continue reading “Bloomington set to bang wobbles out of budget wheel, in year-end ritual”

Pandemic racks up 5K confirmed cases in Hoosier state, another daily high

Saturday’s noon kickoff for the football game in Bloomington, between Indiana University and the University of Michigan,  coincided with the daily update to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The 38–21 victory by the Hoosiers put a total of three in the win column, against no losses, for the Hoosier squad so far in the COVID-19-shortened season.

On Saturday, the COVID-19 pandemic virus again put up big numbers statewide and in Monroe County.

The 5,007 cases recorded for Indiana counted as another daily high since the pandemic started. The statewide rolling average of confirmed COVID-19 cases now stands at 3,786, which is three and a half times greater than the rolling average on Oct. 1.

Monroe County saw its confirmed cases spike in late August through mid-September, when university students returned to campus. After that, the numbers subsided a bit. Through October, local numbers have not shown the kind of sharp increases seen statewide over the last month.

Still, the 70 cases that COVID-19 put up on the dashboard on Saturday brought the rolling average of Monroe County cases to 46. That compares to an average of 26 at the start of October. Continue reading “Pandemic racks up 5K confirmed cases in Hoosier state, another daily high”

Grease is the word…at the end of FOG: Bloomington council revises law on how restaurants keep fats, oils out of sewer

An aerial view of the Dillman Road wastewater treatment facility south of Bloomington, where grease from the city’s FOG (fat, oil and grease) program can be hauled, where it oxidizes in the sun. (The image is dated April 2020 in the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property records.)

“The way we handle grease at the [Dillman Road wastewater treatment] plant, it’s actually discharged into a lagoon where it is oxidized in the sun.”

That was city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) director Vic Kelson talking to the Bloomington city council on Wednesday about the grease that about 600 local restaurants clean out of their traps and are allowed to haul to the city’s wastewater treatment plant south of town.

The item on the city council’s agenda was a change to the ordinance on the FOG (fats, oils, and grease) program, which requires restaurants (food service establishments) to use grease traps to keep it from clogging up the city’s sanitary sewer system. The ordinance change was approved unanimously.

After the ordinance change, the program is still in place but gives restaurants a cheaper option in grease retention devices. The revised ordinance also establishes a “preferred pumper program” for haulers to take the grease from the traps, which have to be cleaned out on a regular basis, down to the city’s Dillman road facility. Continue reading “Grease is the word…at the end of FOG: Bloomington council revises law on how restaurants keep fats, oils out of sewer”

County commissioners, board of health move to beef up enforcement of COVID-19 health regs

On Wednesday at their regular weekly meeting, Monroe County commissioners approved a $25,000 contract with Security Pro 24/7 to help enforce the county board of health’s regulations, which were imposed to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

The idea initially is to focus enforcement on late night hours, according to Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill. She said the compliance officers are supposed to “help businesses maintain that compliance, just to be there to remind people what the regulations are.”

Caudill added, “Some of the businesses have said that we get lots of out of town guests—they don’t always know what the regulations in Monroe County are.”

Among the county regulations is a non-commercial group gathering size limit of 50 people, which is larger than the city of Bloomington’s limit of 15.

The county also limits bars to offering only tabletop seating, and no bar service. That’s a regulation that could be revisited by the board of health in a couple of weeks.

On Thursday, the board of health gave its own unanimous approval of the agreement with Security Pro 24/7.

The board also took action to revise its COVID-19 regulations to allow for enforcement of its regs by Security Pro 24/7. Continue reading “County commissioners, board of health move to beef up enforcement of COVID-19 health regs”

Courthouse closed as Nov. 10 fall property tax deadline approaches, treasurer describes ways to pay

As the Nov. 10 deadline for paying fall property taxes approaches, Monroe County treasurer Jessica McClellan is making a push to make sure residents know what their options are for making tax payments.

The county courthouse building is closed, except by appointment, due to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions. That’s an extra reason McClellan is trying to get the word out this year about how to pay.

For folks who want to deal with a live human being, facemask to facemask, appointments can be made by calling the treasurer’s office at 812-349-2530. McClellan says it will likely switch callers to voicemail: Leave a message and it will be answered in the order it was received.

For those who want to use the mails, the address is: PO Box 2028, Bloomington, IN 47402. To count as on time, the tax payment has to be postmarked by Nov. 10.

That’s more lenient than the law that applies to absentee ballots. Ballots have to be received (not just postmarked) by the clerk’s office no later than noon on Election Day.

For taxpayers who don’t want to send their payment through the mail, but don’t feel a need to hand deliver their payment to another person, a dropbox has been installed at the north entrance to the courthouse. Continue reading “Courthouse closed as Nov. 10 fall property tax deadline approaches, treasurer describes ways to pay”