Montgomery: There will be new rules in place for street drinking in the city’s two entertainment districts when bigger crowds return later this summer. The Montgomery City Council unanimously approved the changes Tuesday, authorizing a new approach that Mayor Steven Reed said is geared toward creating a safer, more pedestrian-friendly environment. “It may not all happen tomorrow or this weekend, but those are some of the measures that we plan to implement going forward,” he said. People are currently allowed to drink from open containers in portions of downtown and in Cloverdale, but only after buying those drinks within those designated areas. Starting Aug. 1, they’ll need to drink from a standard cup provided by restaurants and bars, described in the ordinance as “an apple green disposable cup of any size.” They’ll also need to carry a receipt, part of an effort to stop people from bringing their own alcohol to the districts. City leaders said the details could still change before it goes into effect. “This is a work in progress as we deal (with) coming out of COVID,” Reed said. But he said the city wants to roll out improvements along the way and mentioned the possibility of big crowds by Independence Day. “That’s the hope, and we certainly want to be prepared for that,” Reed said.
Anchorage: Norwegian Cruise Line has resumed ticket sales for voyages to the Last Frontier after the U.S. Senate passed a bill last week that could help save the state’s upcoming cruise season. The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act that passed unanimously would temporarily allow large cruise ships to skip required stops in Canadian ports while traveling between Washington and Alaska. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also last week issued updated guidance on mask mandates for vaccinated people, allowing them to go without masks and distancing in most places. “We remain optimistic that by working with the CDC and local port and government authorities in the destinations we visit that we will be able to resume safe cruising in the U.S. this summer,” a Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson said in an email to Alaska’s News Source. Tickets are on sale for trips on the company’s Norwegian Bliss ship for August through the end of the season. The statement from the cruise line did not specify what the end of the season would be. Ships in past have visited southeast Alaska into September. Tourism is an important industry in Alaska, particularly for many southeast Alaska communities heavily reliant on cruise ship passengers. The tourism sector was hard hit by the pandemic last year, with sailings canceled.
Phoenix: Health officials are hoping for a spike in COVID-19 vaccine demand with doses now available for children ages 12-15. A pop-up vaccination clinic for children is planned Saturday near downtown Phoenix, including much of the largely Latino Maryvale neighborhood. The Arizona Department of Health Services said people also will be going door-to-door to educate residents about vaccines and distribute yard signs. More than 5.6 million vaccine doses have been administered in Arizona. Nearly 3.2 million people, or 44.3% of the state’s eligible population, have received at least one dose. Nearly 2.7 million are fully vaccinated. Arizona reported 590 new cases of the coronavirus and 12 new deaths. The data posted on the state dashboard Thursday brings the totals since the pandemic began to 875,195 cases and 17,509 deaths. The number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 deviated little from the past few days at 591. Of those, 174 were in intensive care units.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday that he won’t seek another extension of the emergency he declared because of the coronavirus pandemic, allowing it to expire at the end of the month. Hutchinson said the declaration that he first issued March 11, 2020, will expire May 30. “The public health concerns remain, and everyone in Arkansas needs to continue to take the virus seriously and to act accordingly,” Hutchinson said at a news conference. “The fact that I’m ending the public health emergency should not diminish anyone’s intensity on the need to get a vaccination or the need to protect from the virus that is still remaining in parts of our communities.” The Republican governor had already lifted the restrictions he’d issued because of the virus, including a mask mandate. Lawmakers this year also placed new limits on his emergency powers, expanding their ability to end his declarations and orders. Hutchinson noted that several executive orders he had issued in response to the pandemic, including loosened restrictions on telemedicine, were written into law by the Legislature this year. Meanwhile, he announced a $6.4 million ad campaign and another $2 million campaign aimed at minority communities in a bid to increase the state’s COVID-19 vaccination rate, one of the lowest in the U.S.
Simi Valley: After being closed for 14 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, the museum portion of the Reagan Presidential Library will reopen to the public next week. “We couldn’t be more pleased to reopen our doors to the community,” John Heubusch, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, said in a statement Monday. “When President Reagan opened his library thirty years ago, I’m sure he never imagined it would be shut down for one day, let alone for 14 months.” The museum is scheduled to reopen May 26, initially with limited hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It will be open Monday, May 31, for Memorial Day. The library, which archives documents for researchers, remains closed with no scheduled reopening date, said library spokesperson Melissa Giller. In keeping with the latest federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, museum visitors who are fully vaccinated will not need to wear masks, museum officials said. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot in a two-dose series or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, according to the CDC. Proof of vaccination will not be required; the museum will work on an honor system, Giller said.
Fort Collins: After a COVID-19 pause, the adult mental health diversion program has resumed in the 8th Judicial District, with the goal of directing people with mental health needs away from the criminal justice system and toward treatment. Since March, the program has added flexibility on who can qualify and an expanded referral program in hopes of making a bigger impact in the community, 8th Judicial District Attorney Gordon McLaughlin said. A pilot of the adult mental health diversion program in Larimer County launched in June 2019. In March 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions on the courts, the program stopped accepting new referrals while still working with people who were already undergoing treatment, said Carrie Bielenberg, 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office diversion coordinator. The state funding for the program was cut in June 2020. A grant from the county’s Behavioral Health Services reopened the program to new referrals March 1. Without the state funding restrictions, the program was able to expand who qualifies for the program, giving it the potential to serve more people.
Hartford: On a bipartisan vote, the state Senate passed wide-ranging legislation Tuesday that declares racism a public health crisis, an issue proponents contend was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and needs to finally be addressed given the long-standing health care disparities in Connecticut. The legislation, designated Senate Bill 1 to underscore its importance to the Senate’s majority Democrats, passed on a 30-5 vote. It now awaits action in the House of Representatives. “This past year illuminated the inequities within our health systems,” said state Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport. “And I intentionally used the word ‘illuminate’ because they’ve always been there. But perhaps they existed because they were acceptable practices. But COVID-19 was the equalizer. And when we address these inequities, we make the systems better for all.” The bill creates a new state commission that will be charged with documenting the effect of racism on public health in Connecticut and coming up with its first strategic plan by Jan. 1, 2022 to begin eliminating health disparities and inequities in areas ranging from access to quality health care to air and water quality.
Wilmington: The state’s first lawsuit seeking to hold long-term care facilities accountable for how they cared for patients in the early days of the pandemic has been filed against a Wilmington nursing home. It’s likely to be the first of several lawsuits in Delaware that claim wrongful death and gross negligence against a long-term care facility. In the early weeks of the pandemic, about one-third of nursing homes in the state failed to follow protocols to slow the coronavirus’ spread. More failed inspections in recent months. Americans have been grappling with how the virus ravaged nursing homes. Unlike other states, Delaware has not granted long-term care facilities immunity during the pandemic, so they are not protected from lawsuits. This suit was filed March 23, nearly a year after the first Delaware nursing home resident died of COVID-19. At the center are two Brandywine Nursing and Rehabilitation Center residents who were considered high-risk for COVID-19 and died in April 2020. The facility, according to the lawsuit, provided “sub-standard care by allowing an environment to be created which exposed the Plaintiffs to an extremely dangerous and infectious disease, after being put on notice by (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid) that there was an imminent threat to the wellbeing of its residents.”
District of Columbia
Washington: The Washington Nationals announced Wednesday afternoon that starting June 10, Nationals Park will be open to 100% capacity, and starting this Friday, fully vaccinated fans will not be required to wear masks at games, WUSA-TV reports. The Nats’ announcement comes just after D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the loosening of mask restrictions, following last week’s change in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The health and safety of our fans will remain our top priority as an organization, and our close collaboration with health experts and the Government of the District Columbia to maintain a safe ballpark environment will continue,” the organization said in a release. Ticketed fans who are not fully vaccinated will be required to wear an approved face covering at all times, except when actively eating or drinking in their seats.
Miami: Baseball fans won’t be required to wear masks the next time they watch the Miami Marlins or the Tampa Bay Rays play at their home fields. Both teams updated their coronavirus mask policies Wednesday following recent changes to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The Marlins’ new policy says no fans will be required to wear masks, though those who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 are strongly encouraged to wear one. Vaccinated fans attending Rays games can leave their faces uncovered, but the team’s announcement says unvaccinated fans must wear masks at the ballpark. It wasn’t clear how park staff would determine who was vaccinated or how the rule would be enforced. The CDC last week said people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask indoors or outdoors and can stop social distancing in most places. The next Marlins home game is Friday against the New York Mets. The Rays return to Florida on Tuesday to face the Kansas City Royals.
Augusta: Rural counties in general have had a tougher time getting residents vaccinated against COVID-19 compared to urban or suburban counties, a recent study found. But the Augusta area is bucking the trend, with most of the surrounding counties outperforming the urban center in Richmond County. Rural counties have been hit especially hard by the pandemic and surpassed urban counties in terms of cases per population last September, in part because of lower levels of health insurance coverage and higher rates of comorbidities that put people at greater risk, according a report this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But in terms of getting people vaccinated against the disease, urban counties fared better across the nation, with 45.7% receiving at least one dose of vaccine compared to 38.9%, the CDC study found. In Georgia, it was 20.7% in urban areas vs. 12.9% in rural counties, according to the study, which included data through April 10. In the Augusta area, it is almost the opposite. According to an analysis of Georgia Department of Public Health data, only Glascock and Jenkins counties among those surrounding Augusta had lower vaccination rates and a smaller number of vaccines given per 100,000 population than Richmond County. Most in fact, fared far better.
Honolulu: Retailers say the state’s mask mandate is creating confusion and conflict among customers, many of whom come from different states to vacation in the islands. Hawaii still requires people to wear masks – whether vaccinated or not – at all indoor public places as well as outdoors when physical distancing is not possible. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its mask recommendations for vaccinated people, state laws still apply, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. Tina Yamaki, president of Retail Merchants of Hawaii, said enforcement has been a struggle throughout the pandemic, but it’s becoming harder now. “Now we’re having more visitors who say, ‘Well, we don’t have to wear masks in our state, and the CDC said,’ ” Yamaki said. “The CDC offers guidelines. It’s not the law. It’s a recommendation, and we have to follow the state law.” She said it puts retailers in a tough spot. “People are confrontational now,” Yamaki said. “We’ve had confrontations, and that’s the sad part about it. No. 1: We’re not doing it because we want to make your life harder. It’s the law. No. 2: We want to make sure everybody is safe.” Violations of the mask mandate can result in fines for the violator as well as for the retail business, Yamaki said.
Idaho Falls: Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin announced Wednesday that she is running for governor, aligning her campaign with an emphasis on individual liberty, state sovereignty and traditional conservative values sure to play well in the deeply conservative state. McGeachin has strongly contested fellow Republican Gov. Brad Little’s coronavirus mitigation strategies throughout the pandemic and took them on again in her campaign announcement. “You will certainly not be required to wear a mask” in the governor’s office if she wins. “Simply put, the status quo has got to go,” McGeachin said. “Idahoans are tired of being ignored, shut out of the process, declared nonessential and discriminated against by the state.” Little never issued a statewide mask mandate, but early last year he issued a stay-at-home order and declared some jobs nonessential as COVID-19 patients threatened to overwhelm the state’s hospital system. The move was credited for bringing down the coronavirus caseload, but unemployment rose. Infections then surged again in the summer after Little lifted the restrictions. In her speech, McGeachin frequently criticized those orders as evidence of an out-of-control government. She did not mention the 190,000 Idaho residents who have been infected with the virus or the more than 2,000 who have died.
Springfield: COVID-19 cases in the state are continuing to decline, another sign of progress as Illinois nears full reopening in June. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 1,542 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, a decrease of 20% over the previous week and 61% since April 9, when the spring spike hit a high of 4,004 cases. The statewide coronavirus test positivity rate remains steady at 2.7%, while the rate as a percentage of total tests has ticked down to 2.2%, the lowest since March 15. IDPH also reported 42 deaths. Illinois vaccination numbers, meanwhile, continue to increase. IDPH reported 47% of all adults – 4.9 million people over age 18 – have been fully vaccinated, and 64% of adults – 6.3 million people – have received at least one dose. Thursday’s numbers weren’t at the peak levels of March and April, but IDPH reported 89,832 new doses, with the seven-day average moving up to 65,998 vaccinations per day. Overall, the state has provided 10,640,990 doses of the vaccine since beginning the vaccination program in December, with 4,935,680 people having been fully vaccinated, making up 38.74% of the total population.
Indianapolis: The National FFA Organization is bringing its annual convention back to Indianapolis this fall – another sign of the city’s return to normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic. The organization, which promotes and supports youth education in agriculture, announced Wednesday that it will host its 2021 convention and expo in person Oct. 27-30 at the Indiana Convention Center. The 94th convention and expo also will have a virtual component. The National FFA annual convention has traditionally drawn 65,000 attendees and is one of the larger tourism events held in Indianapolis. “We are excited to come back to the great city of Indianapolis that has been such a gracious host to us in years past,” Mandy Hazlett, associate director of convention and events at the National FFA Organization, said in a news release. “We know the convention will look a bit different this year, but we are excited to offer this opportunity to our student members once again.” A spokeswoman for the organization said the National FFA is working with local health officials and the venue on capacity limits. “We are estimating more than likely half of the normal attendance,” said Kristy Meyer, communications manager. “The health and safety of our members are always at the forefront of our decisions.”
Des Moines: A new law barring local governments and school boards from enacting mask mandates stricter than what the state has in place shows “the willful ignorance” of its backers, an infectious disease doctor said Thursday. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill, introduced on the final day of the session, into law in the middle of the night as witnesses to the ceremony clapped, according to video posted by Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley. Des Moines infectious disease Dr. Rossana Rosa, who has been critical of Reynolds’ pandemic response, said the law makes no sense for coping with public health during the COVID-19 pandemic or other threats that may arise. The coronavirus spreads through community interactions, and a mask primarily protects other people, not the person wearing it. “What happens to one individual is actually linked to what happens to other people in the community,” Rosa said. The new law “is completely wrong. It is so wrong, so unscientific to say that (this is about individuals). It just shows you the willful ignorance of those who put this into law.” In a statement about the bill signing, Reynolds wrote that the law “is putting parents back in control of their child’s education and taking greater steps to protect the rights of all Iowans to make their own health care decisions.”
Topeka: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is facing increasing pressure from companies, business groups and prominent Republicans to have the state stop paying an extra $300 a week in benefits to unemployed workers. The top three Republicans in the Kansas House on Wednesday called on Kelly to end the additional benefits. Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., of Olathe, Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, of Ottawa, and Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, of Wichita, issued a joint statement calling the extra benefits “counterproductive,” in response to a letter Tuesday to Kelly from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and 180 organizations arguing that many businesses forced to restrict operations during the pandemic now are having problems hiring enough workers “to return to full capacity.” Many Republicans argue that the additional benefits discourage people from accepting employment. An analysis by Bank of America economists found that people who had earned $32,000 or less at their previous jobs can receive as much or more income from jobless aid, and some unemployed workers say the extra benefit has allowed them to take more time to look for work and puts pressure on employers to raise wages. In Kansas, the minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour since 2009, or about $15,000 a year full time.
Louisville: Louisville Metro Government plans to begin requiring city employees to provide their COVID-19 vaccination status as it prepares to fully reopen all its facilities. Proof of vaccination won’t be required, but if a worker does not have a vaccination card on file, they must provide a declination form “without exception,” according to a memo sent to city employees Friday, said Jean Porter, spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office. Ernestine Booth-Henry, Louisville Metro’s human resources director, said the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office reviewed the possibility of mandatory vaccinations and said there are “significant legal concerns” that should be resolved before Metro considers such a mandate. “Our focus is on encouraging all Metro employees to receive the vaccine, removing barriers that might keep them from it, including education and greater access, along with the vacation incentive we discussed,” Booth-Henry said in a statement. About 47% of Jefferson County residents were vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to state data. That’s slightly higher than the statewide rate, with 44% of Kentuckians having received at least the first dose of a vaccine. Just under 48% of the entire United States population has received at least a first vaccine shot, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Lafayette: The state’s vaccination rates largely mirror 2020 voting patterns and education lines, with parishes that voted for President Donald Trump in 2020 and where residents have low rates of college degree attainment less likely to get vaccinated, data shows. About one-third of Louisiana residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, data from the Louisiana Department of Health shows. But in some parishes, less than a fifth of residents have received a dose. COVID-19 vaccination has been politically polarized since the shots began rolling out. The 2020 Louisiana Survey found a significant difference in the number of people willing to get the vaccine along party lines. “There is a stark partisan divide in thinking about vaccination against COVID-19,” the survey said. In early March, 17% of adults in Louisiana had received a COVID-19 vaccine, the survey found, with another 41% saying they would get the vaccine when it became available. But there was a wide gap between Republicans and Democrats, the survey found. About half of Republicans – 49% – said they had gotten the vaccine or intended to, but another 43% said they would not get the vaccine. Among Democrats, 78% said they had been or intended to be vaccinated, and 13% said they would not get the vaccine.
Augusta: The Legislature gathered Wednesday for what could be the final time at the Augusta Civic Center as legislative leaders contemplated moving business back to the State House. Lawmakers have been meeting at the civic center because there is plenty of space to distance themselves as a precaution against the coronavirus. But Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is easing restrictions on indoor gatherings effective next week, and legislative leaders are considering moving back to the State House. There has been no session at the State House since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. There’s no shortage of work to be done. With less than a month before the session ends, lawmakers face a Friday deadline for finishing committee work. Lawmakers who are meeting in special session still have to address the governor’s second budget proposal and a bond package, along with bills targeting a hydropower corridor in western Maine and a proposal to create a consumer-owned electric utility. The goal is to wrap up work by the statutory deadline of June 16, though that date is not set in stone because lawmakers are in a special session.
Annapolis: The Maryland Lottery is giving away $2 million in 41 consecutive lottery drawings for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 – the state’s latest promotion to encourage people to get inoculated. Starting Tuesday, the Maryland Lottery will hold the first of 40 consecutive daily drawings for a $40,000 prize. On July 4, the drawing will be for $400,000. “Get your shot for a shot to win,” Gov. Larry Hogan said on the lawn of the governor’s residence, with a man dressed as a large lottery ball standing by him. To be eligible, a participant must be a Maryland resident who is 18 or older and has been vaccinated in the state. Everyone who has gotten a shot will be automatically entered into the drawing. “If you’ve not been vaccinated yet, the sooner you do so, the sooner you get your shot, the more lottery drawings you will be eligible for,” Hogan said. “All winners will be notified by the Maryland Department of Health, and all funding is being provided from the Maryland lottery’s marketing fund.” Gordon Medenica, Maryland’s lottery director, emphasized that privacy will be maintained. Maryland does not require lottery winners to publicly disclose their identity.
Pittsfield: A man claims that a national addiction treatment program with offices in Pittsfield and Cummington failed to take precautions to protect him, fellow staff members and residential clients from COVID-19 infection. Stephen Seward and four co-workers filed a lawsuit in Hampshire Superior Court against Vertava Health LLC alleging that prior to February 2021 the company had no clear protocols on how to prevent or manage a COVID-19 outbreak, the Berkshire Eagle reports. Michale Aleo, the attorney representing the five employees, told the publication that when the plaintiffs would raise concerns about how the company is handling a potential outbreak, “they were either ignored or, worse, fired.” “Given this last year that we have collectively struggled through, such conduct by the facility, as the plaintiffs have alleged, is simply unconscionable,” Aleo wrote in an email. A Vertava executive declined to comment on the lawsuit and said that the company is “committed to the safety and well-being of our staff and maintaining the highest level of quality and care for our patients.”
Lansing: The state’s health department will urge schools to continue making students, teachers and other staff wear masks for the rest of the academic year even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration recently lifted a mask mandate for people who are outdoors – regardless of their vaccination status – and exempted those who are fully vaccinated from an indoor mask requirement. The move came a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines that essentially work on the honor system, leaving it up to people to do the right thing. Whitmer spokesman Bob Wheaton said the forthcoming state guidance will “keep students and families safe.” About 31% of residents ages 16 to 19 have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot. Roughly 7% of those ages 12 to 15 have received one dose of a vaccine since that group became eligible nearly a week ago.
St. Cloud: There were eight new COVID-19 deaths reported across the state Thursday and 874 new cases, according to a report from the Minnesota Department of Health. Statewide, the number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic reached 597,052 on Thursday, and 7,333 people have died, according to the health department. Over that same time, 31,642 people have required hospitalization for COVID-19 in the state, and 6,434 have required intensive care, according to the report. As of Tuesday, more than 2.7 million people in the state have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and over 2.4 million have completed all doses in their series, according to the health department.
Jackson: Campbell’s Bakery in the Fondren neighborhood is still open for business, but back in February, owner Mitchell Moore wasn’t sure how long that might be the case. The COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the American economy in 2020 had come home to roost, and it had already closed two of his other bakeries in the Belhaven neighborhood and Madison. It was only thanks to the kindness of strangers and the local community that he made it through the worst of it. A GoFundMe campaign helped Moore raise thousands, and more customers came by with checks to help support him even as the pandemic forced some in the restaurant business into dire straits. According to an April report from the Federal Reserve System, economists believe there may have been a 25%-30% increase in business closures in 2020 due to the pandemic. Though Moore said he doesn’t have the same level of business he once enjoyed, the fact that he’s able to work at all is something he’s thankful for. “Business is still weird,” he said. “We’re certainly busy where we’re doing as many cakes as we possibly can; the cakes are all just smaller. But things are definitely looking up.” And thanks to a new federal fund aimed at helping struggling restaurant owners, more help could be on the way.
St. Louis: Busch Stadium will return to full capacity starting June 14, the St. Louis Cardinals announced Wednesday. The news came a day after the cross-state rival Kansas City Royals announced that Kauffman Stadium would go to full capacity May 31. Major League Baseball reduced its regular season to 60 games last season due to the coronavirus pandemic, and no fans were allowed in the stands. Stadiums reopened this season with limited capacity, but the increasing numbers of vaccinated Americans combined with declines in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths have prompted ballparks to gradually increase the number of fans allowed at games. The Cardinals announced May 14 that fully vaccinated fans were no longer required to wear masks inside the stadium. Some protocols will remain in place. The Cardinals will use mobile-only ticketing. Concession stands and kiosks will not accept cash. No bags will be permitted inside the stadium, with some exceptions such as diaper bags.
Helena: The state’s head of public instruction wrote a letter to school superintendents Wednesday strongly recommending that districts end their mask mandates and make face coverings a personal choice starting in the fall. State Superintendent Elsie Arntzen’s letter also offers support to schools that decide to lift mask requirements for the remainder of the school year and for summer programs, KULR-TV reports. “We cannot enter another school year subjecting our students to any additional loss of instruction time,” Arntzen wrote. “We also cannot perpetuate the notion that masks will be a permanent feature in our state’s classrooms.” In February, Gov. Greg Gianforte issued an executive order urging schools to make reasonable efforts to follow guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Montana Office of Public Instruction, Arntzen noted in her letter. The CDC still recommends wearing face coverings in schools. The Montana Federation of Public Employees, which has teachers among its members, said masking decisions should be made locally. “MFPE celebrates the fact that many Montanans are ready to get vaccinated and unmask,” MFPE President Amanda Curtis said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that our superintendent of public instruction either doesn’t understand or doesn’t honor the local control system of Montana public education established in our constitution.”
Omaha: Mask mandates are expiring in several of the state’s largest cities as more people get vaccinated against COVID-19. Lincoln’s mask mandate was set to expire at the end of Thursday, Omaha’s will disappear at the end of next Tuesday, and in the Omaha suburbs, Ralston ended its mandate earlier this week, the Omaha World-Herald reports. The state has seen infection rates come down as vaccinations have become ore widely available. “Overall, we’ve been winning the race between infections and injections,” Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez said. The end to several mask mandates in Nebraska comes after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its mask-wearing guidance for people who have been fully vaccinated, allowing them to stop wearing masks in many settings. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska decreased over the past two weeks, going from 198.71 new cases per day May 3 to 100.14 new cases per day Monday. In another sign that coronavirus infections are going down, the state said the number of people hospitalized with the virus in the state slipped below 100 over the past week and hit 91 on Wednesday. Nebraska health officials also said 52.4% of the state’s population over age 16 has now been fully vaccinated.
Las Vegas: The Malaysia-based owner of one of the biggest casino projects ever on the Las Vegas Strip won regulatory approval Thursday to deal cards, roll dice and welcome gamblers when Resorts World Las Vegas opens June 24. With praise for the $4.3 billion development and the boost it could provide in a pandemic-battered economy, the Nevada Gaming Commission granted licenses to Genting Group, based in Kuala Lumpur, and its publicly traded subsidiary, Genting Malaysia Berhad. “We look forward to seeing it open and running,” Commission Chairman John Moran Jr. said after the unanimous vote. Scott Sibella, president of Resorts World Las Vegas, said the project six years in construction was being completed “on time and on budget.” “We want to be the most sophisticated, state-of-art casino in the world,” Sibella declared as he spoke about technological advances built into what will be the first new resort to open in more than a decade on the Strip. It will incorporate natural outdoor light in many restaurant and convention areas and a ventilation system that Sibella said was designed to produce “the best air quality money can buy.”
Littleton: A celebration in honor of an orphan girl who remains optimistic in spite of the many challenges she faces is back on schedule after it was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. “Pollyanna Glad Day” is a go for June 12 in Littleton, paying tribute to classic 1913 children’s book “Pollyanna” and author Eleanor Porter, who was from Littleton. “We’re mostly celebrating that we made it through a rough year,” Veronica Francis, owner of Notch Net and the Go Littleton Pollyanna Glad Shop on Main Street, told the Caledonian-Record. “There will be a celebration all around downtown. We’re ready. It’s been a tough year, and it’s fine to celebrate.” There will be music, food and souvenirs, such as a “Pollyanna Power” T-shirt depicting Pollyanna as a superhero in a cape. “We are stressing the fact that Pollyanna Day is a good day to reset gladness and reset your optimism,” said Karen Keazirian, executive director of Pollyanna of Littleton Inc.
West Orange: The state’s largest private employer, the RWJBarnabas Health system, will require supervisors and higher-level staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by the end of June – a decision it said Thursday will eventually be extended to all 35,000 members of its staff. The 11-hospital system is “committed to providing a culture of safety,” said Barry Ostrowsky, its president and CEO. “We have an obligation to do all we can to protect our patients and the communities we serve.” About 500 members of the supervisory staff are currently unvaccinated, an RWJBarnabas spokeswoman said. The policy for those who do not comply “is being finalized over the next several days,” she said. The health system appears to be the first major employer in New Jersey to require at least some of its staff to be vaccinated. No other major New Jersey company has made such a requirement, said Tom Bracken, CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “Our position is if employers want to do it, they can do it,” he said. “We’re very much in favor of getting the workforce vaccinated. It creates a safer work environment. It helps open the economy up and gets us back to where we want to be.” Gov. Phil Murphy was pleased with the decision as well, according to a spokeswoman.
Santa Fe: State education officials are budgeting up to $10 million in pandemic relief money to create internships for high school students, while nonprofits and school districts are bringing back summer enrichment opportunities to meet rising demand. As many as 2,600 students across New Mexico could participate in the internship program, according to the Public Education Department, which announced the program Tuesday. The agency started developing the program last year and is in the process of hiring up to 150 part-time adult coordinators. Seven tribal and 18 county governments have signed up to coordinate internships in their offices or at partner nonprofits, including summer camps. “I think there’s a lot that they can do in our summer program setting,” said Colby Wilson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Central New Mexico, which is planning on placing some of the interns through a partnership with county officials. Some parents are unsure about sending kids to group activities, and Wilson said registrations have been a little slower. Summer program sign-ups coincide with a vaccine rollout for children 12 and up, and demand could return to normal. On Wednesday, state officials said that more than 50,000 residents ages 12-18 registered for COVID-19 vaccines during the first week of May.
Albany: Anyone who gets vaccinated at select state-run sites next week will receive a lottery scratch ticket with prizes potentially worth millions, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo tries to boost slowing vaccination rates. The pilot program will offer prizes from $20 up to $5 million and run from Monday, May 24, to Friday, May 28, at the 10 state-run sites, Cuomo said Thursday. “It’s a situation where everyone wins,” he said at a press conference in Buffalo. The governor said there’s a 1 in 9 chance of winning a scratch ticket prize in New York, which is joining other states, including Ohio, with similar lottery incentives. Only residents 18 and older are eligible, according to a press release. New York also plans to set up pop-up vaccination sites at seven airports across the state for U.S. residents, including airport workers. New York has fully vaccinated about 43% of its 20 million residents, above the national average of 37.8%. Still, Cuomo said the pace of vaccinations has slowed: New York has recorded an average of 123,806 daily shots in arms over the past 14 days. That’s down 43% from 216,040 as of April 12.
Raleigh: Unemployment benefit recipients could get bonuses of $1,500 if they return to work soon under a measure unveiled Thursday by Republican legislators. A Senate committee discussed but did not vote on the proposal, which is designed to get people off unemployment benefits that are boosted by supplements from the federal government. Employers are struggling to fill job vacancies as the post-coronavirus economy surges. Under the measure, the supplements would be used to give $1,500 to benefit recipients who start a new job by June 1, with the bonus lowered to $800 if they begin a job by July 1, according to media reports. “It goes against the grain to me that we got to pay people to go to work,” said Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond County. “But we don’t have a choice.” McInnis said he recently spoke to a factory operator who may be be forced to fill an upcoming order overseas if he can’t find enough workers at home. The proposal also tightens unemployment benefit rules that had been loosened over the past year. Benefits would be eliminated if a person refused to take a job that pays at least 120% of the person’s state benefit, not counting federal supplements. The unemployed also would lose benefits if they fail to make three weekly job contacts or show up for interviews.
Bismarck: The North Dakota Department of Health is partnering with Taxi 9000 to provide free transportation to Bismarck and Mandan COVID-19 vaccination sites. Krissie Guerard, health equity director for the NDDOH, said the initiative “is one more way to increase uptake in COVID-19 vaccinations to individuals that do not have access to other forms of transportation.” The service is available through June 30. To schedule a ride, an individual can call Taxi 9000 at 701-223-9000 between 5 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., seven days a week. “As a business, we want to do our part to protect our patrons,” said Gary Schumacher, proprietor of Taxi 9000. “We are already in the business of transporting our community to and from medical appointments; this is another avenue to help. As a community, we are all in this together to stop the spread of COVID-19.” Those needing assistance scheduling a vaccination can call the NDDoH COVID-19 hotline at 866-207-2880 (press 2) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Hours may vary on holidays.
Columbus: The state made about $2.1 billion in unemployment insurance overpayments during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Ohio’s human services agency. That figure includes overpayments that were the result of fraud or errors, Matt Damschroder, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said Monday. Errors could involve mistakes by businesses – such as late reporting of an employee’s wages – by individuals filing for unemployment, or by the state, Damschroder said. The overpayments came in both the traditional state unemployment insurance program and the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. The largest amount of nonfraud overpayments came in the federal aid program that covers self-employed individuals, at about $1.2 billion. The largest amount of overpayments due to fraud involved the same federal program, with about $440 million. Ohio is working on a program that could establish waivers of the overpayments for individuals who received them through no fault of their own, Damschroder said. In the past 60 weeks, the state distributed more than $9.8 billion in unemployment compensation payments to more than 997,000 Ohioans and more than $10.8 billion in federal pandemic payments to more than 1 million residents.
Tulsa: The Tulsa Health Department is contacting 1,150 people who received improperly stored doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, according to city and state health officials. The vaccine was kept in cold storage for up to two weeks longer than the recommended maximum of 14 days, Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart said Wednesday. The improper storage does not present a health risk, according to Dr. Gitanjali Pai, chief medical officer at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “There is no medical risk to the individuals who received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine that had been in storage for longer than 14 days,” Pai said. “However, past this 14-day mark, the vaccine may not be as effective at protecting you from COVID-19. For this reason, we are asking these individuals to receive another dose of the vaccine.” The doses were administered May 3-17 at the James O. Goodwin Health Center, the Central Regional Health Center, the Sand Springs Health Center, and the North Regional Health and Wellness Center. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends pregnant women not receive a third dose because of a lack of data but says all others should get another vaccination.
Portland: The city said Wednesday that it will increase the number of urban homeless camps it removes because of public health and safety risks beginning Monday. The “more assertive approach” from the city’s Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program comes after officials said the number and size of the encampments have increased since the coronavirus pandemic began, KOIN-TV reports. Before the pandemic, about 50 campsites were removed every week. But for the past year, amid altered health and safety guidance, the city removed an average of five campsites each week, leaving a buildup of trash, needles and other biohazardous waste, officials said. Eviction notices at campsites could be posted starting Monday for reasons including untreated sewage, biohazardous materials, blocked ADA access, violence, fire risk and impeding school operations, among others. Meanwhile, Gov. Kate Brown signed a measure into law Wednesday that gives tenants facing financial struggles amid the pandemic more time – until Feb. 28, 2022 – to pay their past-due rent. “Everyone deserves a warm, safe, dry place to call home – and during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been particularly critical that Oregonians be able to stay in their homes,” Brown said.
Harrisburg: The state marked a milestone Thursday, with half of adult residents now considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The Wolf administration has said it will lift an order requiring unvaccinated people to wear masks in public once 70% of Pennsylvanians 18 and up are fully vaccinated, meaning at least two weeks beyond the last required dose. That percentage stood at 50% on Thursday, according to federal data, while 68% of adults had at least one shot. The pace of vaccinations has been slowing for weeks, with most people eager to get the shot already having done so. Health Department data shows Pennsylvania ordered only about a quarter of the vaccine doses to which it was entitled last week, signaling a steep drop-off in demand. More than 65,000 people a day are getting vaccinated in the state, according to the Health Department, down from an average of more than 100,000 a month ago. That does not include Philadelphia, which runs its own vaccination program and is also reporting lower demand. The good news: Newly confirmed coronavirus infections are falling rapidly in Pennsylvania – down almost 50% in two weeks – as the weather warms and more people get vaccinated. Hospitalizations are down, too. Gov. Tom Wolf plans to lift nearly all remaining pandemic restrictions on Memorial Day.
Providence: Brown University will require employees to get COVID-19 vaccinations, the Ivy League school announced Thursday. Brown, which previously announced that students will need to be fully vaccinated to participate in on-campus activities this fall, said all faculty and staff will be required to be fully vaccinated by July 1. In addition, students participating in on-campus summer programs will be required to be fully vaccinated by that date. Evidence shows that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, university President Christina Paxson said. “Based on discussions with Brown’s public health and medical experts, it is clear that our priority should be to achieve near-universal levels of vaccination – 90% or greater – in the Brown community,” Paxson said in a letter to the campus community. “The sooner we can achieve near-universal vaccination, the sooner we’ll be able to lift public health restrictions on campus and return to a more normal environment for teaching and research, with full confidence that the health of the community is being protected.” Medical and religious exemptions will be granted.
Columbia: The University of South Carolina announced Wednesday that it is planning to have full capacity and normal tailgating at Williams-Brice Stadium for the 2021 football season. The school arrived at the decision in consultation with local and university health officials. Masks will no longer be required at home football games. The Gamecocks open Sept. 4 at home against Eastern Illinois. USC previously announced it is allowing full capacity at a home baseball game for the first time this year for Thursday’s start to a three-game series against Tennessee that closes out the regular season. “There is nothing like Gamecock game day and we are excited to welcome back all of our great fans to Williams-Brice Stadium,” athletics director Ray Tanner said in a release. “Fans will be able to enjoy all of the game day traditions as in previous years.” COVID-19 concerns forced very limited attendance this past season. Improvements to the stadium prior to the 2020 season include four new club spaces, which provide access to air conditioning, a full bar and other fan-friendly amenities for more than 8,000 attendees each game. The 2021 ticket plan features “throwback pricing” to the 2010 cost of $320 plus an applicable seat donation.
Sioux Falls: The state’s pandemic death toll surpassed 2,000 on Thursday as health officials reported seven new deaths from COVID-19. The state’s 2,001 total deaths are the eighth-fewest among U.S. states but the eighth-highest in terms of deaths per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. However, the rate of deaths has slowed significantly since peaking late last year. Health officials said they expect both hospitalizations and deaths to continue to drop as the number of coronavirus cases decreases with widespread vaccination against the disease. “We are looking at seeing those decrease with our decrease in case counts,” state epidemiologist Josh Clayton said last week. Clayton has said there is a lag between when someone dies from COVID-19 and when their death is reported. Health officials also reported 55 people who had tested positive for the virus. The number of new cases has declined steadily in recent weeks, according to the Department of Health. However, the state continued to see severe cases of the virus, reporting that 57 people are currently in the hospital. That was an increase of four from Wednesday, when the state saw the fewest number of people in the hospital since August last year.
Nashville: The Tennessee Department of Correction has announced that it will soon implement pay raises for probation and parole officers after the salary increases were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency announced Wednesday that the 7.5% pay bump will become effective July 1. Gov. Bill Lee and the General Assembly approved the raises in 2019, but the coronavirus outbreak caused significant delays to the approval and implementation. “Our probation/parole staff supervise more than 70,000 people in our communities,” Commissioner Tony Parker said in a staff memo. “Each day, they carry out our mission of effective community supervision by ensuring those under our correctional control are compliant with following directives.” In April, the correction agency began offering $5,000 hiring bonuses for newly hired correctional officers. The agency also began offering a $4,000 retention bonus to correctional officers in order to boost retention in Tennessee’s prisons.
Austin: The Austin City Limits Music Festival is coming back in 2021. ACL Fest, returning after a pandemic year off from in-person performance, on Thursday morning announced the artists coming for its two October weekends. The lineup includes the first ever appearance of Texas country legend George Strait at the fest, plus young pop phenoms Billie Eilish and Miley Cyrus, Grammy-winning Houston hip-hop act Megan Thee Stallion (who infamously was a no-show for her 2019 set), and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Stevie Nicks. Rounding out the top acts on the bill are Dallas neo-soul queen Erykah Badu, hot hip-hop artist DaBaby and electronic dance act Rufus Du Sol. Other popular music artists set to perform include Texas-bred alt-rocker St. Vincent, viral hitmaker Doja Cat, indie fave Modest Mouse and ascendant indie singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers. Set for Oct. 1-3 and Oct. 8-10 on eight stages in Zilker Park, the fest will be held at full capacity. In a press release accompanying the announcement, organizers noted that they “are in regular communication with local health and public safety officials and will follow current recommendations and guidelines at the time of the festival.”
Salt Lake City: The Legislature passed a measure Wednesday that would bar public schools and universities from implementing mask mandates, in a move that Democrats and Republicans argued would increase unnecessary governmental oversight. Republican Rep. Val Peterson, who sponsored the bill, said county officials would still be able to invoke mask orders in consultation with local health officials in schools that have coronavirus outbreaks. The legislation only applies to COVID-19 and would not prevent people from wearing face coverings. “At some point this has to end,” Peterson said. “What this bill is really about is making sure we have those assurances to our students that they can go forward next fall and get right into the school year without the thought of masks and what that might mean.” Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, a Democrat, argued that waiting to require masks until an outbreak occurs could still put children’s lives at risk. “For me, a single dead child is a child too many,” she said. “The problem with the way this is set up is, absent an actual outbreak, we can’t ask students to wear masks, and the whole point of a mask is to prevent an outbreak.” Republican Gov. Spencer Cox announced last week that Utah would not require masks in K-12 schools for the last week of the academic year.
Burlington: A new program in the state will replace a federal food assistance program that started during the coronavirus pandemic to help people in need and is ending in two weeks. The USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program supplied tens of thousands of food boxes to Vermonters during the peak of the pandemic, mychamplainvalley.com reports. “A lot of people suffered a pretty big economic shock,” said Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles, who estimated the program served one-third of the state’s residents. “A lot of those folks, this is the first time that they’ve really had to access things like food assistance.” Full Plates VT will start in early June and supply individual boxes of federal emergency assistance food to 19 sites around the state. They will contain produce, frozen protein and shelf-stable items. Beneficiaries will be required to meet an income requirement. The program starts June 3 and will run through the end of September. People can start registering Monday on the Vermont Foodbank’s website or by calling 1-833-670-2254. Meanwhile, the state has lifted the residency requirement for people eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines in the state. Now non-residents ages 12 and older can get vaccinated.
Richmond: The Virginia Department of Health announced its COVID-19 vaccine data dashboard, at vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus, has been updated to reflect federal doses administered in the total number and percentage of Virginians vaccinated, as well as the number and percentage of adults vaccinated. The addition could help residents keep track of the slow march toward herd immunity. VDH previously reported the number of vaccines administered by the federal government in Virginia in a separate tab of the vaccine summary dashboard, but those doses were not included in the total doses administered and percentage of the population vaccinated. As of Wednesday, nearly 385,000 doses administered by the Department of Defense, Veterans Health Administration, Bureau of Prisons and Indian Health Service were added to the totals. The federal doses will not be reflected in the locality or demographic data because the federal government does not provide states those details, according to VDH. The department has also added new metrics showing the number and percentage of people 18 and older who are vaccinated so Virginians can track the commonwealth’s progress toward meeting President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of adults receive at least their first dose of a vaccine by July 4.
Seattle: Four counties that had been in a more restrictive second phase of the state’s current COVID-19 reopening plan joined the 35 other counties in Phase 3 as of Tuesday. Cowlitz, Ferry, Pierce and Whitman counties were previously in Phase 2. In Phase 3, restaurants, bars and gyms can operate at 50% indoor capacity. The decision last week to move all counties to Phase 3 and announce the tentative June 30 full reopening plan comes amid declining COVID-19 case counts and a push to increase vaccination rates, Gov. Jay Inslee and health officials have said. State Secretary of Health Umair A. Shah said in a statement Tuesday that about 59% of Washingtonians age 16 and up have now gotten a first vaccine dose. When that number reaches 70%, officials have said the economy can fully reopen. “We are happy to see the beginning of declining disease activity in Washington and more people getting vaccinated,” Shah said. “However, we need to continue to focus on our vaccination efforts.” State health officials have said if statewide intensive care unit capacity reaches 90% at any point, phase rollbacks could happen again. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said Tuesday that in-school vaccinations will be offered at Seattle Public Schools middle and high schools through the end of the school year.
Charleston: The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped slightly to 5.8% in April, officials announced this week. The rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point to the lowest rate since March 2020’s 5.3%. The rate jumped to a high of 15.6% in April 2020 as employers temporarily closed their doors during the pandemic but has fallen steadily since. In an effort to spur more people to go back to work, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said the state will end its additional pandemic-era boost for unemployment benefits June 19, including the additional $300-a-week federal supplement for those without a job. He said the state is considering a program that would pay a $1,000 bonus for unemployed people who go back to work. It would require the employer agreeing to pay half of the bonus, with the state covering the other half. The number of unemployed West Virginians fell by 1,500 in April, a lower number than in March. There are 45,800 unemployed state residents, WorkForce West Virginia said in a statement. Employment gains were led by 1,400 in leisure and hospitality, up from March. There were employment declines of 200 in construction; 400 in trade, transportation and utilities; and 100 in education and health services.
Madison: Republicans voted Thursday to reject more than $70 million in funding to combat homelessness in the state, a move that Democrats called a missed opportunity to address a problem worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Tony Evers had proposed spending about $73 million over two years on a variety of initiatives designed to help homeless people, including more affordable housing. The Republican-controlled budget committee voted 12-4 along party lines to increase funding for a housing assistance program by just $1.2 million over two years. But it turned down spending about $70 million more that Evers and advocates for the homeless had wanted. Before the vote, Joe Volk, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, urged lawmakers to immediately release $5.5 million in available money to combat homelessness. Volk said the coalition estimates that every night 20,000 people in Wisconsin have no adequate place to sleep. Republicans defended their action, saying funding for homelessness initiatives will be considered in separate bills making their way through the Legislature. Republican Sen. Duey Stroebel also noted the $2.5 billion in federal stimulus funding coming to Wisconsin can be used to target homelessness.
Casper: Gov. Mark Gordon has announced plans to allocate recently received federal coronavirus relief aid toward education, health and social services, and economic diversity and development. The Republican governor has accounted for about $1 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. More than half of the amount was based on unemployment statistics. Wyoming will also receive $360 million for education and $9 million for community health centers that cannot be reallocated. Unlike the federal relief aid from last year that had to be spent within months, states have more than three years to spend funding from the American Rescue Plan. The package provides additional funding specifically for organizations such as schools, child care providers, community health centers and others. The governor’s office said in a statement Monday that a more detailed plan will be released in June that includes “proposals for initiatives or new programs for consideration by the Legislature.”
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: In the ballpark, more vax lottos: News from around our 50 states