Recent Bloomington employee death a reminder of dire effects of pandemic disease, even as indicators trend better

A push for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was again a main talking point at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders on pandemic response.

Among the local sites for free vaccine distribution is Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at Indiana University.

The message for people to take advantage of the free vaccine got some extra urgency from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, who confirmed an earlier press release that announced the death of a city employee due to COVID-19.

On the employee’s death, Hamilton said, “That reminds us that this disease is still very much among us, and can be dire, and can bring terrible consequences.” Hamilton added, “I just want to express our sympathy and condolences to family members.” Continue reading “Recent Bloomington employee death a reminder of dire effects of pandemic disease, even as indicators trend better”

Bloomington utilities board welcomes familiar face, gets quick update on rate case

At its regular meeting on Monday, Bloomington’s seven-member utilities service board (USB) welcomed Kirk White, who was appointed by mayor John Hamilton to fill Jason Banach’s seat.

The board also got a brief update on the city’s proposal to increase Bloomington’s water rates, which is currently under the standard review process by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).

City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) director Vic Kelson told the board about the IURC rate case review: “We’re still in the midst of discovery, and we’ve been getting a lot of questions and data requests to handle.”

Kelson added, “So we’ve been hard at work on those for the last couple of weeks. And so far, it seems to be going pretty well.” Continue reading “Bloomington utilities board welcomes familiar face, gets quick update on rate case”

Bloomington Transit mulls ending pandemic-based fare-free rides

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Bloomington Transit (BT) board, the continuation of COVID-19 protocols, including fare-free, rear-door boarding for all bus passengers, was confirmed for another month.

It could be the last time the board votes to approve the protocols, without a date for resumption of regular service.

Board members are looking towards a resumption of regular operations by the fall. That’s when Indiana University has announced in-person classes will resume.

About 70 percent of BT’s normal, non-pandemic ridership comes from IU affiliates—students, staff and faculty. They don’t pay a fare when they board, because their rides are covered under an agreement between IU and BT.

The BT board’s next monthly meeting, in April, will include an agenda item to consider the formal question of resuming fare collection, effective as early as June 1.

The board’s decision not to collect fares—made early in the pandemic—was based on the goal of limiting the opportunity for driver-passenger COVID-19 disease spread, by allowing passengers to board through the bus rear doors. Fare boxes are located next to the driver’s seat at the front door of the buses.

On Tuesday, BT general manager Lew May reported to the board that the drivers union recommends resumption of fare collection as soon as possible.

About the union’s recommendation, May said, “They have noticed over the past year, a marked increase in the homeless population that has been using the bus as a place of refuge. And, and in some cases, they have caused some difficulty for us.”

How will the resumption of public bus fare collection affect the population of people who are experiencing homelessness, and organizations who serve them?

According to Beacon, Inc. executive director Forrest Gilmore, during non-pandemic times, the nonprofit spends about $500 a month on 50-percent discounted bus fares for its clients. That translates into 1,000 rides a month. That’s an expense that Beacon, Inc. has been able to save during the pandemic.

Back-and-forth between May and board members drew out some of the different motivations for resumption of front-door passenger boarding and fare collection. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit mulls ending pandemic-based fare-free rides”

Monroe County adds 235 confirmed COVID-19 cases

The Indiana State Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard for Friday (Sept. 11) shows 235 new confirmed positive cases for Monroe County. That’s three times the previous daily high of 83 on Sept. 4.

According to notes on the dashboard, the confirmed positive numbers reflect when the ISDH receives and confirms the report of a test as positive, not when the specimen for the test was drawn. Positivity rates are computed based on when the specimen was drawn.

Based on Friday’s dashboard, which shows large numbers of new tests that are dated several days earlier, it looks like some of the 235 new positive cases might have had their specimens drawn several days in the past.

Indiana University officials have said they are reporting all their data to the state.

[This article has been updated, with added information appended below]. Continue reading “Monroe County adds 235 confirmed COVID-19 cases”

Monroe County confirmed COVID-19 numbers jump, driven by younger cases

The last two days of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases in Monroe County have soared past previous highs, since the county’s first confirmed positive case on March 21.

The number reported for Saturday (Aug. 30) was 38, eclipsing the previous one-day total by 3. The number for Sunday was 56, which is about double the current rolling 7-day rolling average of confirmed positives.

Speculation that the increased numbers are driven by positive tests among Indiana University students is supported by the age range of recent cases. Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill told The Square Beacon that the health department was getting reports of increased numbers of positive test among people age 18 to 25.

Caudill told The Square Beacon that she’d been advised that the Indiana State Department of Health will eventually provide a breakdown of Indiana University’s numbers. “I am anxiously awaiting these details from the state,” she said.

Based on Indiana State Department of Health numbers, it’s the younger age brackets that are driving the increases. People under age 30 account for 70 percent of confirmed cases for the three-and-a-half-week period from Aug. 7 through yesterday. Continue reading “Monroe County confirmed COVID-19 numbers jump, driven by younger cases”

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”

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”

Little 500 notebook: Cutters are the only team

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The Cutters Little 500 bicycle team gather, in a socially distant way, at Bill Armstrong Stadium to hang out for a bit on Saturday, April 25, when the 70th running of the race had been scheduled. It was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The 70th edition of the Little 500 would have be run today at Bill Armstrong Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana. But it was cancelled over a month ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic, like so many other events across the country.

The storied bicycle race this year would have featured an attempt by one team to win the 50-mile race for its third year in a row, and a total of 15 times.

That team is the Cutters, led by seniors Noble Guyon, William Huibregtse, and Patrick Coulter.

“It’s the only team,” Robert Harman laughed, standing on one end of the track on Saturday, as he uncrossed the arms of a sweatshirt draped over his shoulders to reveal a “Cutters” T-shirt. Continue reading “Little 500 notebook: Cutters are the only team”

Indiana Court of Appeals rules 2–1: Bloomington’s definition of fraternity delegated undue authority to Indiana University

In a ruling issued Thursday, a three-judge panel from the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled 2–1 to uphold a lower court ruling: The definition of a fraternity or sorority in Bloomington’s zoning code violates the US Constitution because it delegates to Indiana University the city’s authority to determine zoning compliance. Continue reading “Indiana Court of Appeals rules 2–1: Bloomington’s definition of fraternity delegated undue authority to Indiana University”

Second Monday in October is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington

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Agnes Woodward, a Cree from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, who now lives in Bloomington, returns to her seat after speaking to the city council during public commentary in support of declaring Indigenous People’s Day. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The second Monday in October is now recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington, Indiana. This year that’s Oct. 14.

The city council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution putting the day permanently on the calendar, after Mayor John Hamilton proclaimed last year’s Oct. 8 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

It doesn’t mean that city employees get another holiday. Rather, the resolution says it’s “an opportunity to celebrate the cultures and values that Indigenous Peoples of our region add to the communities in Bloomington, throughout Indiana, and globally.” Continue reading “Second Monday in October is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington”