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”

“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”

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”

COVID-19 Update: Infection trends down, local regs mostly same, audit bumps historical death counts

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.

At the press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said he would be sticking with his executive order that limits gatherings to not more than 15 people inside Bloomington. Continue reading “COVID-19 Update: Infection trends down, local regs mostly same, audit bumps historical death counts”

IU Health’s bonus dose now standard as Pfizer limits COVID vaccine shipments based on 6-dose vials

The IU Health pharmacy team that prepares the COVID-19 vaccine for its clinic in Monroe County is able to extract an extra sixth dose out of the 5-dose vaccine vials it gets from Pfizer.

“We get at least six doses out of every vial,” president of IU Health’s southwest region Brian Shockney confirmed to the Square Beacon.

To accomplish the extraction of the extra dose requires a speciality syringe. Shockney said, “We have the needles.”

That is the same experience of many pharmacies across the country.

But the New York Times reported Friday that the sixth dose can’t be considered a bonus any longer.

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.”

Extraction of a sixth dose from a Pfizer vial will now be considered just par for the course. Continue reading “IU Health’s bonus dose now standard as Pfizer limits COVID vaccine shipments based on 6-dose vials”

COVID-19 update: Availability of vaccine still key barrier to shots in arms; declining case numbers boost morale

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.

Countering general frustration about vaccine availability on Friday was a sustained downward trend for confirmed positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, in Monroe County and across the state. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Availability of vaccine still key barrier to shots in arms; declining case numbers boost morale”

Limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine in Monroe County: “We’ve been giving what we can give.”

Since Dec. 21, about 500 people a day in Monroe County have been getting their first of two required shots for the COVID-19 vaccine at the IU Health Medical Arts Building clinic.

The total number who have received that first shot now stands at 4,333.

That was the update given to Monroe County’s board of health members on Tuesday afternoon by Amy Meek, nursing supervisor for IU Health.

Based on that 500-per-day pace of COVID-19 shots, it would take a little over a year for 70 percent of the county’s roughly 150,000 residents to receive the required two doses of vaccine. The 70 percent figure has been cited as the minimum percentage needed to achieve herd immunity.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the pace of vaccination struck health board members as slow.

Asked for a breakdown of the bottlenecks, Meek said the problem is not staffing, it’s vaccine supply. “We’ve been giving what we can give.” She added, “We can’t have more appointments than the vaccine inventory that we have.” Continue reading “Limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine in Monroe County: “We’ve been giving what we can give.””

COVID-19 update: Vaccine arrives as Monroe County adds to death count

At Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders to talk about response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the counterpoint to the increasing number of deaths was news from IU Health that the first 15 doses of vaccine had been administered in Monroe County.

According to Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s south central region, the 15 “frontline healthcare heroes” who received the vaccine Friday morning amounted to a “practice run.” Starting Monday, Shockney said, IU Health will be vaccinating up to 350 people per day in Bloomington and over 150 per day in Paoli.

Shockey stressed that it’s the number of people who are being vaccinated that is important, not the number of doses that are being shipped. He pegged 70 percent as the minimum fraction of the population that need to get the vaccine to achieve widespread immunity to COVID-19.

Leading off the press conference was Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton, who talked about the increased number of COVID-19 deaths the county has seen recently. After long stretches in the summer when no deaths were recorded, the county has seen an average of two COVID-19 deaths a day over the last few days, he said.

Another way to think about the recent upward trend for COVID-19 deaths is that half of the 79 deaths in Monroe County have come since Nov. 4. At around 53 per 100,000 residents, that number still makes for one of the lowest per capita rates among the 92 counties in the state of Indiana. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Vaccine arrives as Monroe County adds to death count”

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?””