Give Now  »

Noon Edition

Update: Vaccination Plans And Local Progress Fighting COVID Spread

Read Transcript
Hide Transcript



>>BOB ZALTSBERG: This is NOON EDITION on WFIU. I'm your host, Bob Zaltsberg, co-hosting with WFIU News Bureau Chief Sara Wittmeyer. This week we're talking about the fight against COVID-19 and about vaccine distribution. We have four guests with us today. Kirk White is the assistant vice president for strategic partnerships at Indiana University. Dr. Dan Handel, M.D., is the chief medical officer for IU Health, South Central Region. Carol Weiss-Kennedy is director of community health for IU Health Bloomington Hospital, and Amy Meek is nurse manager for the Monroe County Health Department. You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition, and you can send us your questions there. You can also send questions for the show to We're doing the show over Zoom today, so you can't call in with your questions. Well, thank you all for being here with us today. I want to start with Kirk. Why, Kirk, it was just a year ago that the university was trying to decide what to do. You were thinking about how we could maybe use spring break. Students were supposed to be off for two weeks, and then you were going to check and see whether they could come back. And now here we are a year later. That seems almost quaint, that there was maybe a two-week spring break going to happen and then students were going to come back. So can you sort of reflect back on that time and how little we knew then? 

>>KIRK WHITE: Well, Bob, you're right. We didn't know a whole lot. We knew it was coming in January is when we started tracking it at the university. You know, personally, I was still deployed at that time. I was overseas in the kingdom of Jordan on my final military assignment. And I was just reflecting on how it felt being overseas at that time and watching it start to unfold and knowing that I was flying back into the middle of a national emergency, more or less. And as we left to Jordan, I was like leaving a scene from a bad disaster movie. The roads were all deserted. There were military blockades at every major intersection as we traveled through the country to get on our flights to leave from the air base. But back here at the university at that time, it was a lot like the rest of the country. We were trying to figure out exactly where we were, what the risks were, and the best way to organize ourselves to respond to an emergency like we'd never seen hit the campus since, really, World War II. And so I think that the the best things you can say about this is that it has allowed us to to put an organizational structure together that took best advantage of the experts that we had on the campus and throughout the university to make the policy decisions really like we would at a research university, looking at the science and making the decisions strictly by those considerations. And that's really what's kept us in business and able to do things in a safe environment, which has been President McRobbie's top priority since this whole thing began a year ago. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We'll get back to you, Kirk, and talk more about what the university has done, but I want to bring in Dr. Dan Handel in, chief medical officer for IU Health, South Central Region. And also, Carol Weiss-Kennedy is here, director of community health for IU Bloomington Hospital. Dan, you and I have had the opportunity to talk several times in the last few weeks, and I know some of what you've been through over there. But if you could just share a little bit of the journey of IU Health and trying to figure out, you know, from a year ago where we were to where we are now. 

>>DAN HANDEL: Thanks, Bob. You know, it's been a long road, and I think it's been really tough on our team members not only in the south central region but across the state. But as we start to cautiously reflect back on the past year, I think we're a much stronger organization because of all of it. I think we have figured out how to really operate truly as a system, you know, AND how to deploy our resources where they're needed in the moment. And I think those lessons we're going to continue to carry forward to constantly look at how do we better deliver care to the communities that we serve, not only in the south central region but across the state of Indiana. It's - you know, I really appreciate the partnership that we've had with IU, especially in Bloomington over the past year as well. And I really want to applaud Kirk and the university. I think they've probably done it as well as anyone across the country in terms of really mitigating this pandemic and making sure that we (unintelligible). So it's been a hard journey, but I think we're much better off as an organization moving forward because of it. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Carol, as a director of community health, I mean, your job had to have changed considerably, trying to work with all the other community partners and trying to make sure the community stays safe. So how how has your life changed, and how have your - how's your job changed? 

>>CAROL WEISS-KENNEDY: Obviously, everything went virtual with our team, and that was really difficult for a group of people that are used to meeting with people, providing services and building relationships. So that was really difficult in the very beginning, but I saw, you know, kind of that uncomfort or that discomfort more, with our team especially, turned to ways of, well, how can we make this work, and what can we learn from this? You know, some of the things that were developed were testing at home for HIV versus having to have somebody come into a space or what can we do in the parks to help clients in those areas just with some pop-up services? We provided flu shots like that in in the community. So it became a challenge and something that I think everybody stepped up to bat and to take on and not so much fear anymore as, you know, we can do this type of an attitude. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Amy Meek, nurse manager, Monroe County Health Department, Amy, we've had Penny on the show several times, and I would dare say that the Monroe County Health Department's profile is higher now than it's been maybe in its history. But can you talk about, you know, working at the health department and how, you know, how you've been changed for the last year? 

>>AMY MEEK: Certainly. So I manage our Monroe County Public Health Clinic, which is actually the link between the health department and the hospital. So in Monroe County, that nursing division part of the health department is contracted to IU Health Bloomington Hospital, and we've actually done that since 1965. So it's not a new thing, but this has been one of those opportunities where we know that collaboration is strong and that it really benefits our community. But never have we seen that more strongly than through a global pandemic. So being able to just pull resources from both the health department side and the hospital side to meet our community needs has been really great. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Sara. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Amy, we've gotten in a lot of questions, particularly about vaccines. Can you just go over who is eligible right now? 

>>AMY MEEK: So the eligibility has been lowered to 50 plus, so you know, we look week to week for the state to maybe roll out new eligibility criteria. That has been one of the things we don't always get heads up whenever there's a new roll out for eligibility changes, but as of today, that is 50 plus. There are also some certain medical conditions that would prompt someone to be eligible for the vaccine. And if someone is eligible in that way, they have gotten notice from the state through their doctor's office. And then, of course, our health care providers and frontline staff are still eligible to get vaccinated. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: OK. And then we got a question asking, when will 40 and older be eligible? And I'll go ahead and ask you the other question, too, which is where - can people go get a specific kind of vaccination? We've seen people - some of the questions are, I just want to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, for example. 

>>AMY MEEK: Yeah, so that's a popular question. And the age limit, we don't know what day that will lower, but we know it will continue to lower, and we kind of expect it to lower quickly so that more people are available to get vaccinated. We've kind of maintained the stance that the best vaccine for you to get is the one that's available to you. So while you might want a certain vaccine, there's only certain vaccines available. So certain sites have one vaccine shipped to them. Another site might have a different vaccine shipped to them, but as far as efficacy and as far as just getting vaccinated, you really should just get your employment where you can get your appointment and get vaccinated. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Dr. Handel, we talked about that this week, and so some people may have heard you and I talking about this before, but could you explain why what Amy said is absolutely right? 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I think the important thing is, you know, there's different numbers floating around in terms of the efficacy of these vaccines. So Johnson and Johnson, their more recent studies are in the mid-70s. If you look at the original studies, Moderna and Pfizer, they're in the mid-90s, and that's about contracting the virus. But the first thing is not an apples-to-apples comparison because the studies for Pfizer and Moderna were done months earlier than the Johnson and Johnson trials were, so it's hard to compare the two when you have different variants in the population from one period of time to another. The most important thing and the thing that you and I talked about a couple times now is how do these vaccines prevent hospitalizations, and, more importantly, how to do vaccines prevent death? And when you look at the data of fully vaccinated individuals, it's 100% across the board. So why - so the reason that Amy said it doesn't matter which, it's whichever one you can get first, that's the reason why because, you know, the only way we can start keeping people out of the hospitals, stop people dying from COVID is to get everyone vaccinated with whatever vaccine is available as quickly as possible. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Talking about COVID, COVID-19 - we're a year into this pandemic, and we have guests from Indiana University, IU Health South Central Region, IU Health, Bloomington Hospital and Monroe County Health Department with us today. So if you have questions, you can send them to us at You can also follow us on Twitter and send us questions there to @NoonEdition. Kirk, the task of the university was pretty mammoth. I think a lot of people were concerned when the students were going to come back this fall that it was going to be a disaster, that all these young people were going to come to town and it was going to create a real difficult situation for not just the university but the city of Bloomington. Can you talk about all the steps that you took? You don't have to talk about all of them because that would take a long time, but talk about the steps that the university took and the success rate that you've had. 

>>KIRK WHITE: Well, Bob, you know, I think that the concern that the community felt, we felt it, too, and perhaps even amplified quite a bit because to us, it was a matter of whether we could have - whether we could open the campus in the fall or not. That was the question in the summer. Can we have the campus in some form of operation in the fall safely? And what was the best way to do that? And right off the bat, the university organized several expert committees from the executive level to the campus level to take care of those questions throughout the state where we have locations. And one of the best things they did was organize a medical response team, known as the MRT, which was made up of four of our expert infectious disease physicians from the IU School of Medicine complemented with representatives from each of the campuses. The MRT was able to put the day-to-day guidance together, but that was overall guided by a restart committee, which was chaired by the deans of our school of public health and school of medicine. And that was really a blue-ribbon committee that put together a wide range of overarching policies and guidelines. And then it was up to the MRT, and then, at our level, at the campus COVID response unit to then interpret those and then make recommendations back up again. So it's been a really great team effort. And then the the final part of that here locally was for us to work hand in hand with the local elected officials, the county health department and, of course, the hospitals. And I think that our relationship today is stronger than it's ever been with those organizations. And that's not been the case with some of our peers at other Big 10 institutions where those very essential partners are not getting along and have debated how to best respond. So that's really how this has worked out and been so successful. And I guess finally is that, you know, it's been a team effort. Our students, faculty and staff have helped us. We've given them guidance and direction and some regulation, but they've followed them for the most part, and that's kept us all a lot safer. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Kirk, I think that there are some of our listeners that probably know - but some probably don't - that every Friday, you're involved with basically a news conference, press availability with a lot of your peers to talk about this. And I think that's been one of the important points is that you've kept everybody up to date. 

>>KIRK WHITE: That's really true. We've been proud to be able to do that. The local elected officials and county and city leaders as well as the university and the hospital, we're able to be as transparent as possible on a weekly basis because this all moves quickly, and things change by the day, really, if you look at numbers and guidance from the CDC, guidance from state and federal officials. We had to be flexible and make changes, certainly by the day, and announce them, make that available to the public as quickly as possible. And that weekly media opportunity has been a great way for us to communicate with the public. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Kirk, we got a question about COVID infection rates among students. Can you talk about what they currently are and, you know, sort of how they have trended? 

>>KIRK WHITE: Yeah. So what we realized early on was the best way to be able to monitor infection rates and contain any kind of outbreak was to do an aggressive form of mitigation and symptomatic testing. Mitigation testing is the big one. Those are the people that are asymptomatic that we require to test at least, for the most part, weekly. So that's for our students, faculty and staff. And for for example, for the week of February 28, just at the Bloomington campus, we did 26,890 tests, which was right on track with what we had done the week before. We've got a positivity rate of 0.2% on prevalence rate and of those mitigation tests. And so that's as low as it's been, and that's much better than where we started back in August and September, where we started the arrival testing and, immediately upon students arriving in August, the decision was to test everybody as they arrived and find where the infections were and get them in quarantine and isolation. And, of course, we stood up a quarantine and isolation facility for all of the residents of our residential programs and services on campus dormitories, and we required that the Greek houses do the same thing, and we gave guidance to our off campus students to quarantine or isolate themselves in their own small apartments to mitigate exposure as well. So we're in as good a shape as we've been throughout the pandemic, but we're not going to take our foot off the gas. We're continuing to test. And as soon as we find any kind of outbreak, we get it into to quarantine and isolation. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I want to ask Carol Weiss-Kennedy and Amy Meek, both from IU Health and the Monroe County Health Department, about this massive testing and then basically trying to switch over and create vaccination clinics. And, you know, you - I suppose you had some some plans on the books before this all started, but can you talk about the difficulties of getting these things going and what's all sort of involved in creating a mass vaccination clinic or just a vaccination clinic? Amy, you want to start? 

>>AMY MEEK: Sure. So from the health department side, you know, as far as testing goes, that ramped up, of course, slower than we would have wished. So we had a little time to get that kind of working on its own. But when it comes to vaccination in those mass clinics, this is actually something we train for and plan for all of the time. So every year we schedule a little what we call PODs, or point of dispensing, and we do them in small quantities and in large quantities. We do them in our schools. We practice doing drive-through flu clinics. During our hepatitis A outbreak, we had a couple, you know, very large PODs that we set up to get people vaccinated for hepatitis A. So it's something that we're used to doing. But the difference with this, I think, is we're not used to setting it up and then maintaining it for so long. So that's been a little different now that we set this up, we do it and we're done. But COVID isn't going to work that way for us. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Before I ask Carol to comment, I know when we had Penny on at one point, she said that she hoped, when the weather got better, that there might be some drive-through clinics. Do you see that - or drive-through vaccination sites. Do you see that happening? 


>>CAROL WEISS-KENNEDY: Oops, sorry. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Go ahead, Amy. 

>>AMY MEEK: Sorry, I wasn't sure if that was for Carol or for me. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: No, you go ahead first and then we'll - then I'll go to Carol. 

>>AMY MEEK: Yeah. So, I mean, I hope that that's something we can do. The big, you know, kind of factor for that is the inventory. So I think once we get a large amount of inventory that we can do something like that, we would be really excited to set something like that up. 


>>CAROL WEISS-KENNEDY: Sure. I'll just add to that. As IU is rolling out their clinics - and that could be a possibility because once, again, supply ramps up and because space is much more available on campus for a drive-through clinic. But I think in terms of a whole community reaction to vaccine, it includes clinics similar to the IU Health Bloomington Med Arts Clinic and the convention center clinic that the health department is running. And then, you know, that gets one group of people, but then we have to think about those people that can't come in. And I think the health department is working on a homebound program. And we, in combination with the health department, will look at how can we vaccinate those in shelters, those in congregate living spaces. And then the next steps, you know, in the next probably few weeks when supply is more available, there could be the mass vaccination clinics. And then another step is really how do we get back to normal and how do you put this in a workflow that can be continued throughout? And so that might be retail pharmacies within hospitals or primary care. Those are yet to be done, but that's, you know, kind of a nice pathway to providing vaccination in a community. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Carol, a quick follow up. We got a question from a lady who says she's 86 years old and homebound and wondering when there might be a way for her to get a vaccine in her home and what that might look like - how she could sign up to be eligible for that. 

>>CAROL WEISS-KENNEDY: Sure. I think you said Carol to answer that, and - but I'm going to let Amy answer that, because through our, again, with partnership with the health department, they're actually working on that homebound piece and she might give you more details about that as that's getting ready to roll out. 

>>AMY MEEK: Yes. So if - they can call the Area (unintelligible) on Aging. They are collecting that list of people who need vaccinated and can't get out of their home. And we are partnering to roll that out, hopefully in the next week. So we've started this week doing just a few of those extra doses, you know, at the end of the clinic, but that's really only maybe one or two doses. It's not very many. So we will be working with our fire departments and Vast EMTs to help us get that rolled out and do it quickly. So we will be addressing everyone that's on that list, hopefully very soon. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We had another question - another specific question from a parent of a 36-year-old daughter who has Down's syndrome, and Amy might be able just to continue there. I mean, are - I believe that people with Down's syndrome are now eligible for the vaccine, is that correct? 

>>AMY MEEK: They are. So she should receive a link from the state to sign up. And if she hasn't, then she should follow back with her primary care provider because providers were able to submit those names to get on the list from the state to get vaccinated. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK, thank you. If you have a question, you can send us your question to And you can also follow us on Twitter at @NoonEdition and send us your questions there. We're talking about COVID-19. And we're a year in and we've got lots of questions from various people and we have great guests here with us. Kirk White from the university, assistant vice president for strategic partnerships. Dan - Dr. Dan Handel, chief medical officer from IU Health South Central Region. Carol Weiss-Kennedy, director of health - of community health for IU Health Bloomington Hospital. And Amy Meek, nurse manager from - for Monroe County Health Department. Sara? 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: This is a question for Dr. Handel. It's another question about vaccines. Someone just wondering if there have been any bad side effects that you've seen in anyone from the vaccine. Has anyone gotten really sick or even died? 

>>DAN HANDEL: Not that I'm aware of. We've had - you know, a couple of people have had allergic reactions, but as far as I know, 100% of those people, after being observed, were able to go home. So - and I have not heard - not only in Bloomington, but across the country - of any deaths from the vaccines, not only in the trials, but since then. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I think, for those who have not experienced this - and Dr. Handel, you can talk about it - but after people have their shot, they stay at the site where they got the shot so they can be observed in case they do have a serious reaction. 

>>DAN HANDEL: Right. We watch everyone for at least 15 minutes to make sure they have no side effects. And the two sites we have at Bloomington Hospital and Paoli are literally across the street from the ER. So, you know, if we - if someone is having any reactions, we can address them immediately But it's thankfully been an extremely rare event. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I do want to talk a little bit about, you know, where we are right now. I mean, things are starting to look a whole lot better. I think there's no doubt about that. The university has decided to have commencement for the class of '20 and the class of '21. Kirk, what's that going to look like? And what are the metrics or the numbers that make you think that that can be done safely? 

>>KIRK WHITE: Well, we, for sure, wanted to make sure that, if we were going to do a commencement, that we follow the consistency of having a safe environment and not endangering others by making them feel obligated to travel here across the country or from around the world or whatever. So that's why commencement being held in that first week of May is going to be just for the graduates now. So the graduates will march into the Memorial Stadium, will continue our masking and distancing protocols. And so we feel like, with those kinds of precautions in place, the students know how to do this, they're used to it by now, and we've, I think, had almost 4,000 of our students that have RSVPed saying that they do want to participate. So it is being well received and we're glad that we're able to do at least this and keep people safe at the same time. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We've had a question as well about - we'll get back to some of that, but we've had a question about what fully vaccinated people can do. Doctor Handel, after someone is fully vaccinated, what do you think it's safe for them to do? 

>>DAN HANDEL: I recommend people take a look at the CDC because, I mean, this is, like many things with this endemic, an evolving conversation. The safest thing for anyone is to, not only them be vaccinated, but the people they are in immediate proximity to to be vaccinated as well. So, for example, you know, Bob, you and I have talked about where both and I are - both you and I are fully vaccinated at this point, so we would be safe to be in close distance with each other. The problem is because we still have not reached that critical mass of people in the population being vaccinated that, even if you're fully vaccinated, you need to still continue to wear the mask, the social distancing and hand hygiene and so forth. More studies are coming out now that people who are fully vaccinated have a very low risk of being asymptomatic spreaders of the virus, but there still needs to be some more data to support that. So until we reach that herd immunity, we need to continue all the public health practices that we've had in place for the past year. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Do you think - both you and Kirk have alluded to this, but we're learning new things all the time, right? I mean, it's - all right. 

>>KIRK WHITE: Bob, I would add that IU has updated its guidance on quarantine. If you've been fully vaccinated, then after the two weeks of full effect, we're not requiring quarantine for our students, faculty and staff if they have been fully vaccinated and show no symptoms. So that's one policy that we've changed to line up with the CDC. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. We're still taking your questions. I know Sara has some more that we can ask, but we're still taking your questions. So you can send them to us at You can also follow us on Twitter at @NoonEdition. Sara, do you have anything that has come in? So we do have a question about - sorry, Sara, I guess I put you on a spot there. We have a question that just came in. It says, if you've been sick with COVID, is it OK to go get the vaccine right after that or is there a certain amount of time that you need to wait after you've been infected? Anybody have - Dr. Handel? Or Amy? 

>>DAN HANDEL: I saw - go ahead, Amy. 

>>AMY MEEK: Sure So if you've been infected with COVID, you should have antibodies for up to 90 days. So possibly longer than that, but it's considered safe, at least for 90 days, to think that you have antibodies. It's safe to get vaccinated as long as you are past your quarantine time. You don't have to wait those 90 days. But you should already have antibodies for a while. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Dan, anything else? 

>>DAN HANDEL: Yeah, no, I - Amy's exactly right. It's - there is not an urgency, after you've gotten through the acute infection, to get it. You know, we typically want people to wait, you know, several weeks to a month after their active infection and they're still in that safe window to get it after that. But it's - I mean, we're still encouraging - the most important thing is we're still encouraging people, after they've been infected, to go get the vaccine because we're seeing better data that the immunity lasts longer with the vaccine versus people having the natural infections. It's almost a booster, if you will, after the initial infection to sustain their immunity against the virus. 

>>AMY MEEK: It looks like we have - another question just came in for Kirk that says, how is the university thinking about travel for professors on sabbatical, student trips, things like that? 

>>KIRK WHITE: We're still discouraging travel at this point in time. The - I'm just going to check to make sure that I'm on track here, but we're - our policy that we've had for this spring and we'll, I believe, at this point at least, continue into the summer is we're restricting non-essential travel. We're asking to restrict the use of university funds for business travel, internationally or domestically. And if - anybody returning to campus should minimize non-essential activities for at least the first 10 days after their return, and we're even really asking people to refrain from personal travel as much as possible. And I think, you know, the reason for this is, as I said earlier, this is an evolving pandemic still. And as we look at the CDC map this week that Florida has the largest concentration of the U.K. variant in the country, over - I believe that's up to 700 cases of the U.K. variant. And so as people think about spring break, that's one thing. But travel to other parts of the country and the world, bringing variants back, exposing yourself to those variants that you may not have any immunity to is not a good idea. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: And Kirk, let's just clarify this. The university essentially canceled spring break, right? 

>>KIRK WHITE: Yes, we did. We're - we don't have a spring break. We put three study days in place in February, March and April, on a Tuesday, Wednesday and a Thursday, one each month for - really for students to have a day without classes that they can rejuvenate a bit. And we think that that's been helpful. We've had pretty good feedback from those. Some, of course, would still like to take spring break. But as I mentioned, there are a lot of good reasons to stay here and stay safe. Frankly, being in one of our classrooms right now is one of the safest places you can be. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Kirk, can you talk about just some of the costs that the university has incurred in responding to the pandemic? 

>>KIRK WHITE: Well, I don't have the latest numbers, but I can tell you that there are really two types of costs in dollars at least. And that is the direct costs that we've spent on our massive testing operation. Those tests at one point were costing us over $100 a piece. When we stood up our own labs here in the Bloomington campus and another set of labs up in Indianapolis, that dropped the cost considerably and gave us the ability to have test results a lot faster. So there's the cost of the testing. Then cost of PPE, cost of our quarantine and isolation operation, and then there are the costs of what we're missing out on - and not able to have full capacity in the residence halls. And our dining operation curtailed the hotel more or less closed. And the list goes on. And then finally, there's just the the human cost of of of all of of this and particularly with some of our employees that have had to suffer from furloughs and this type of thing. So this has been - it's costs millions of dollars to the university. And we'll be adding all that up down the road because we're hoping to get some relief from it. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Yeah, can you talk just a little bit about what fall on campus might look like for students, for example, people have dorm mates and also just for faculty and staff who's maybe been working from home all this time. What's that going to look like? 

>>KIRK WHITE: Well, I think you'll find that fall will look pretty close to fall of 19. We've had to make that decision because of - from the timing, it looks like we're going to be in a pretty good situation vaccine wise with our populations. And frankly, students need to start registering for fall classes. And so we had to decide how to utilize classroom space and things like that. So we'll be back close to normal as possible with in-person classes as we normally would. We'll still be encouraging. I think we'll still be in a masked situation with the protocols of that we've seen with hand washing and distancing. But with many of our classrooms, you're able to to keep some distance already. So we're maybe different as well with some of our larger events. Those will be looked at a little more closely as we get closer to knowing what our infection rates are at that time. But looking good for the fall. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Dr. Handel I want to ask you, I've heard some experts saying that there might be another wave of the virus. Can you speak to that at all in what you think? 

>>DAN HANDEL: I think until we reach a herd immunity state, you know, in terms of 70 plus percent of the population being immunized, there are still not only the the original covid, but also the variants out there. So we got that is the way people are worrying about, particularly on certain states, start relaxing their restrictions that we can't let off yet until we get to that tipping point, if you will, to really squash the transmission of the virus. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah. I wanted to follow up on on that with you and our other public health representatives here about the idea that some states are deciding to reopen, you know, to 100 percent and from where you are. And I'm going to ask Amy first. I mean, from where you are in a public health setting, is that a wise thing to do? 

>>AMY MEEK: So we definitely want to encourage everyone, even if they are vaccinated, to continue the course, stay socially distant and very maskin, all of those things. And as Dr. Handel said, until we get her immunity, is just going to be really important for all of us to do those things and not get too comfortable. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Carol, anything to add to that? I know, you know, it gets kind of sticky areas because, you know, there's public health and then there's public policy and politics. And in some ways, you know, they they sort of overlap. 

>>CAROL WEISS-KENNEDY: Right in. I agree with Amy and Dan, and we all need to continue to wear masks and a social distance and, you know, I think one key thing to remember is the health care in the public. Health professionals have been in this now a year. And they're tired and, you know, some have lost family members, some have, you know, just really it's just been a pull and a drain on everyone and continuing to support the guidelines that are being asked of everyone even after being vaccinated. It's really important to be respectful to those that are taking care of everyone. And for that reason, I would continue to put health first aside of politics and other things. Put your health first. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: And we just got a question in on Twitter and Dr. Handel, you're probably best to take this one. The question is, I take care of my health and my immune system. I get lots of fresh air, lots of sleep. I've not gotten covid yet. Do I really need to get the vaccine? 

>>DAN HANDEL: Yes. I mean, we continue to have otherwise young, healthy people who have to get admitted to the hospital. There is nothing in terms of people's age or other medical conditions that prevents them from being at risk for significant illness from this virus. You know, I think the other thing kind of follow up with what Amy and Carol talking about is, you know, we're still seeing higher number of daily positive rates in the state of Indiana than we did in June of twenty twenty. And we're not even close to getting down to really low numbers to really feel comfortable about moving forward. So yes, we're not as bad as we were in December or January, but we still have a long way to go. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: And I think the follow up to that last question that Sarah asked, I mean, Dr. Handel, you you work in the emergency room and you've seen some people who've had and you've worked with a lot of a lot of people who have had to work with people who were either very sick or dying from covid. So, you know, the idea that of getting a vaccine that can can protect you from this. I guess I'm just asking us to revisit the idea of what covid-19 can do to a person if they get it. 

>>DAN HANDEL: Yeah, I mean, if we have a vaccine or even better, a series of vaccines that are 100 percent effective at preventing people from having to get hospitalized or dying from the virus, why wouldn't you get? You know, in my mind, it's a no brainer. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Another follow up to that, Dr. Handel, do we know how long the vaccine might last? Is it going to be like a flu where it could last the whole season? 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: The best data we've seen so far is at least three months. You know, obviously, as more data comes out, the CDC and other organizations like (unintelligible) are going to revise those. I anticipate and this is just me as an individual speaking because of the number of variants that are coming out. Typically with any virus, this is going to become part of a seasonal or a yearly vaccination campaign like we do for flu. And the nice thing about particularly the emerging technology, is that it's fairly easy for them to reprogram their production lines based on variants to meet the needs from a spike protein and so forth and immunities in point. So I have not heard anything clear about a yearly vaccination campaign. I think (inaudible) for that but I would not be surprised if we start hearing about that over the next few weeks. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: One of the things we've talked about quite a bit in the last few weeks has to do with a different kind of vaccines and the different requirements for keeping those vaccines. And I know I think it was last week or the week before, Dr. Handel, you talked about your your hope that at some point the one shot vaccine might just be available and doctor's offices, so that when you go in for your annual flu shot or your annual physical, you could get covid-19 vaccine. 

>>DAN HANDEL: Absolutely. Because, I mean, I think it's - you know, it just becomes part of our regular vaccination routine. It's encouraging, particularly at the Johnson and Johnson, since it's much easier to store and much easier to transport that, you know, as Carol and Amy and their teams really try to reach out to the community is having something like that. That's easy to spread. And it just - it can become part of the preventive care we do for all of our patients. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Amy and Carol, what is the most recent data, I guess, on how cold you have to keep these vaccines? And I think I've read maybe somewhere that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine can just be refrigerated like normal. I know the FDA had to be at 70 degrees below zero. I think The Moderna had to be at 20 degrees below zero. What's the latest on those? 

>>AMY MEEK: So Doctor Handel is right. It is a little easier with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine has a lot of of handling issues, and that's why it's wonderful that our hospital is giving that. And I you get the Pfizer vaccine. They're set up to do that as well. Just having those your freezers is not something that everyone has. Moderna vaccine's a little easier than the Pfizer vaccine. It goes in a regular freezer and from there installed on a regular refrigerator. So that's a little easier to handle. But then the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is even easier yet. So it's in a normal vaccine storage refrigerator. And once we draw that up, you know, we have to use five doses as opposed to 10 doses in the middle of a vaccine. So it's easier to have people lined up to get that Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But certainly all of those are manageable. 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Carol, what was IU's communication strategy at the start of the pandemic and how it was how it was going to get information out to the community? 

>>CAROL WEISS-KENNEDY: In terms of vaccination? 

>>SARA WITTMEYER: Yes, and well honestly, just the information about - because as we kept learning more and more about the virus. 

>>CAROL WEISS-KENNEDY: Sure, we had - so like IU, we had our own intel and marketing was involved in that daily meeting, talking about messaging and where and how those that information was to go out. So it was very, I would say, planned as much as we could, but it was discussed and you know, vetted among the a group of leaders across IU health, of course, as a system, we had a lot of guidance and a lot of support from the system as well currently. Today, we're using social media a lot to promote the vaccine clinic and to promote the safety of the clinic and our kind of hallmarks as we reach certain numbers of vaccination using social media. And that has been very helpful. The other thing that's been very helpful is word of mouth, you know, and people just sharing their experience, their good experience and then community partners. That's always been, I think, our failsafe, you know, partnering with community agencies and sharing information and asking for their help and dispensing information. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Kirk, I know the university has plans to open a vaccine site at Assembly Hall. What's that going to look like? And why have you, you know, what's that going to do to to move things forward for us? 

>>KIRK WHITE: I think it'll it'll be a big help for the community. And when we looked at it, we said w e had a chance to practice this with the huge flu vaccine clinics that we did last fall, as well as the arrival testing where we did most of that outdoors, that we had tents set up at an athletic complex and did it as a as a drive thru. So we looked at the big picture and said we can help the county. The convention center is going to need to come back online to host events. We've got plenty of capacity at Assembly Hall and at the athletic complex to do an indoor site. And so we started working with the county health department and the state and realized that we can easily we can easily do the volume that is currently being done at the convention center. But if we needed a surge and we had the the supply, we could vaccinate over two thousand people a day at Assembly Hall. This will free up the county staff to do the the outreach clinics and other things that they've been talking about here earlier this afternoon. So we're very excited about opening this up on March the twenty ninth here. In the next few days, you'll be able to start making reservations on the state's our shot website. And as we fill up those slots, we're going to ask the state for even more vaccine. And the more we get, the more we're going to open up more positions and and and really be a regional resource for people to come to assembly. We all get their shot and and drive on and we'll be able to do Fizer because we've got the ultralow cold storage. And so that's been a help to the state as well, they told us. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Dr. Handel, the the president, President Biden has said he wants to have vaccinations available for everybody by May 1st? You see that happening? 

>>DAN HANDEL: I think it depends how quickly the production ramps up. I mean, if we - if you look at an upward slope of our current vaccination rates, it doesn't it goes well into late summer, early fall. But obviously, if that production rate increases dramatically over the next week or two, obviously the slope of that would go up dramatically. I'm cautiously optimistic. You know, that is a month and a half away, which will sneak up on us much quicker than we would like. So I think and it's also getting people scheduled. So the question is how far out are people scheduling, you know, so that maybe a couple of weeks time from the start of May to actually when people get (inaudible). 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We have just about two minutes to go. So if there's any last message that Carol, Amy Kirk or Dr. Dan Handel have, now's the time. So, Kirk, how about you? Any last minute message you want to give to our listeners? 

>>KIRK WHITE: Well, I just say that, boy, we've had success with such great team effort by our our citizens, our health community and the university. We just got to stay the course and and maintain what we're doing so that we can we can get ourselves back to normal. We can we can protect our families and our friends and let's get vaccinated and and get back to business as usual as quickly as we can. Let's stay the course. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, Amy, anything? 

>>AMY MEEK: I would just say that I'm just so proud of our community. We talk about community and that's something this community does the best. And when we say we're in this together, we really are. So I'm just super proud to sit around the table with everyone here on this call and other stakeholders that we've been working with. And we'll we'll get through this and we'll it together like we always have. 

>>KIRK WHITE: 30 seconds, Carol. 

>>CAROL WEISS-KENNEDY: Oh, thank you. I would add to what Amy said with it's just been a pleasure and a great opportunity and privilege to support the vaccine. The stories and the examples of people coming in for their vaccine with what they're looking forward to, it's amazing and very heartwarming and just makes you proud to be a part of it. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: And Dan, 30 seconds. Just finish this off. 

>>DAN HANDEL: There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we're still in the tunnel and we still have a journey ahead of us. So, you know, encouraging people to stay vigilant and vaccinated and working through this together. 

>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. Thank you to Dr. Dan Handel Amy Meek, Carol Weiss-Kennedy and Kirk White for co-host Sara Wittmeyer, producer Bente Bouthier and engineer John Bailey. I'm Bob Zaltsberg. Thanks for listening to NOON EDITION.


A vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine during trials. (Courtesy of Johnson & Johnson)

Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.

It’s been a year since the first known COVID-19 cases cropped up in Indiana, and a vaccine that didn’t exist a year ago is now available to Hoosiers older than 50.

COVID cases have been dropping in recent weeks, which is attributed in part to the fact that many Hoosiers have had COVID, and now have some level of immunity. 

Health officials are pushing to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible, to avoid another potential surge that could come with variants of the virus.

The state's seven-day all-test positivity rate is 3.1%, where it has been for the past few days. 

The all-test positivity rate January 1 was 15.7%.

As of Wednesday, in Monroe County the seven-day all-test positivity rate was 0.4%, which is the lowest it’s been since the start of the pandemic. 

More than 1.1 million Hoosiers have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 744,712 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated. 

Locally, 23,555 people have received a first dose and 15,051 people are now fully vaccinated against the virus.

Institutions like Indiana University have announced plans to return to mostly in-person schedules for fall 2021, after having to make a move to virtual classrooms this time last year.

Join us this week as we talk about where the state and Monroe County are in fighting the spread of COVID-19 and how plans for COVID vaccinations are progressing.

You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at

Note-This week of our guests and hosts will participate remotely to avoid risk of spreading infection. 


Kirk White, assistant vice president for strategic partnerships, Indiana University

Dan Handel, M.D, chief medical officer, IU Health South Central Region

Carol Weiss-Kennedy, director of community health, IU Health Bloomington Hospital

Amy Meek, nurse manager, Monroe County Health Department 

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From