Montgomery: The state has averaged more than 100 deaths a day from COVID-19 over the past week, statistics showed Thursday, giving it the nation’s highest death rate over the period even as hospitalizations linked to the coronavirus pandemic continue to decline. Statistics from Johns Hopkins University show 106 deaths were reported statewide daily over the past seven days, although some of those could have occurred earlier because of a lag in reporting. Alabama’s rate of 18 deaths for every 100,000 people over the past week is far above second-place West Virginia, which had 10 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase in deaths come as hospitalizations in the state fell below 1,800 patients for the first time in a month, a change health officials said likely was due both to people getting well and to others dying. While more people are getting vaccinated than before the highly contagious delta strain of the virus took hold, the state still has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, and its chief health officer said still more people need to get shots because the risk of getting infected remains high. Nearly 13,800 people have died of COVID-19 in Alabama, according to state health statistics.
Juneau: Officials outlined plans Wednesday to help hospitals with crisis standards of care if needed amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and announced short-term contracts for more than 400 health care personnel to relieve medical facilities with overtaxed staffs. State health commissioner Adam Crum signed an addendum to a public health emergency order that he said provides guidance to hospitals, care providers and local health authorities if the crisis standards of care are needed. Crisis standards of care provide guidelines for administering care in extraordinary circumstances in which there are insufficient resources to provide levels of care that patients would normally get. Earlier this month, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage implemented crisis standards, with Dr. Kristen Solana Walkinshaw, the hospital’s chief of staff, writing that the number of patients and level of care that they needed were exceeding the hospital’s resources. Alaska has recently had the highest per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases, according to a tracker by Johns Hopkins.
Phoenix: A lawyer for several abortion providers urged a federal judge Wednesday to block a new state law that would allow prosecutors to charge doctors who knowingly terminate a pregnancy solely because the fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome. The law, set to take effect Wednesday, is so vague that it would dissuade doctors from performing an abortion anytime there’s an indication the fetus might have a genetic problem for fear of criminal prosecution, argued Emily Nestler, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “There are women in Arizona whose access to abortion will be eliminated altogether,” Nestler said. “So the burden is more than substantial. It’s absolute for those patients.” A lawyer for the state argued the law won’t block any woman from getting an abortion, though she might have to refuse to tell her doctor why she wants to terminate her pregnancy. “It sends a message to the medical community that the state believes strongly that physicians should not be performing intentionally discriminatory abortions,” said Michael Catlett, a deputy solicitor general in Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office. Catlett argues the law upholds the state’s interest in protecting the disability community from discrimination and upholding the integrity of the medical profession.
Little Rock: An Arkansas man has pleaded guilty to assaulting a flight attendant on a flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Little Rock last year. Leon Anderson, 40, of Maumelle, pleaded guilty Wednesday to interfering with a flight attendant, federal prosecutors said. They said he grabbed a flight attendant several times during the February 2020 flight and made inappropriate sexual comments to him. The flight attendant notified the captain, who notified law enforcement. Anderson faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced.
Sacramento: The state on Wednesday became the first to bar mega-retailers from firing warehouse workers for missing quotas that interfere with bathroom and rest breaks under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that grew from Amazon’s drive to speed goods to consumers more quickly. The measure also bars Amazon, the online retail giant, and similar companies from disciplining workers for following health and safety laws and allows employees to sue to suspend unsafe quotas or reverse retaliation. The bill applies to all warehouse distribution centers, though proponents were driven by Amazon’s dominance. “We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people,” Newsom, a Democrat, said in a news release announcing he had signed the law. The law, AB 701, was authored by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a lawyer and former labor leader. She accused Amazon of disciplining warehouse workers at the direction of “an algorithm” that tracks employees’ activities and can determine that anything not directly related to moving packages is “off-task.” “Amazon is pushing workers to risk their bodies for next-day delivery, while they can’t so much as use the restroom without fearing retaliation,” Gonzalez said when the Legislature passed her bill. Amazon did not respond for requests for comment.
Loveland: A police sergeant who was placed on administrative leave following the rough arrest of a 73-year-old woman with dementia has resigned. The Loveland Police Department announced Wednesday evening that Phil Metzler submitted his resignation amid a disciplinary review. Police Chief Robert Ticer said in a statement that Metzler’s resignation “closes one more chapter of an incident that has tarnished the hard work of the men and women of the Loveland Police Department.” Then-officer Austin Hopp arrested Karen Garner after she left a store without paying for $13.88 worth of items in June 2020. Police body camera video shows that after she turned away from him, he grabbed her arm and pushed her to the ground. A federal lawsuit that Garner filed, which has since been settled for $3 million, claimed he dislocated her shoulder by shoving her handcuffed left arm forward onto the hood of a patrol car. Metzler was captured on body camera footage dismissing a passerby’s excessive force concerns. A working phone number for him could not be found Wednesday evening. Hopp and another officer who responded to help him are being criminally prosecuted for their actions.
Hartford: A high school that recently resumed full in-person learning for the first time since the onset of the pandemic sent students home temporarily for remote learning – not because of the virus but because of issues with misbehavior. New Britain High School, in suburban Hartford, is “hitting the refresh button” and will restart the school year, Principal Damon Pearce wrote in a letter late Tuesday to students and families. Pearce initially said instruction would be done remotely through the end of this week, but the district later notified parents that students would be welcome back Thursday for a half-day. Mayor Erin Stewart said she was told the school made its decision because of difficulties controlling student behavior, particularly vandalism and fighting. “I’m disappointed in this decision, it’s not fair to the majority of students who behave respectfully and want to be in school to learn,” Stewart, a Republican, said in a Facebook post. Many districts across the country have reported issues with behavior, including vandalism apparently promoted by a viral TikTok challenge. The problems at New Britain involve 50 to 60 students, school officials said. A spokesperson for the state Department of Education, Eric Scoville, said the district’s actions conflicted with state guidance that doesn’t recommend a move to full remote learning.
Dover: State officials are offering drivers a chance to settle their toll debts. Anyone with outstanding violations from Route 1 or Interstate 96 from January 2014 to April 2020 is eligible. The one-time amnesty program will allow drivers to settle their debts for a fraction of what they owe, the Department of Transportation said. The department is waiving civil penalties and administrative fees if drivers pay the original toll and an amnesty fee. Starting Oct. 1, drivers with toll violations will be sent a letter offering amnesty, and they’ll have 60 days to settle their debt. Drivers can arrange to make payments on their balance, but they must be paid off by Dec. 31. With various fees and a civil penalty surcharge, an unpaid $1 toll can grow to $88.50 in less than two months. The program aims to collect debts that otherwise might go unpaid. Delaware collects more than $190 million annually from the tolls on I-95 and Route 1, but officials said the state is owed more than $143 million in toll debt.
District of Columbia
Washington: Washington National Cathedral has chosen contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall, renowned for his wide-ranging works depicting African American life, to design new stained-glass windows with themes of racial justice that will replace a set with Confederate imagery that the landmark sanctuary removed in 2017. The cathedral on Thursday said Marshall will design four windows that will tell “a new and more complete” story of the nation’s racial history. Poet Elizabeth Alexander will write a poem to be inscribed in stone tablets alongside the windows, overlaying older tablets that venerated the lives of Confederate soldiers, the cathedral said in a statement. The project is expected to be completed by 2023. The windows will replace a set that had honored two Confederate generals, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, with saint-like reverence and had included a Confederate flag. The cathedral removed them in 2017, prompted by a larger national reckoning over Confederate imagery and white supremacy in the wake of a series of deadly attacks. The window openings have been covered with plywood since 2017. In replacing the windows, the cathedral is acknowledging the need to correct what it called a “false narrative of what America once was.”
Tallahassee: A federal judge has struck down portions of an immigration enforcement law that was a priority of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying in her ruling that the measure was racially motivated. U.S. Judge Beth Bloom on Tuesday rejected sections of the law that ban local government sanctuary policies and require local law enforcement to make their best effort to work with federal immigration enforcement authorities. The office of DeSantis, who signed the bill into law with much fanfare in 2019 as a priority of his administration, said Wednesday that it would appeal. Bloom repeatedly said that the law was racially motivated and that its supporters showed no evidence why it was needed to lower crime. She said the bill’s sponsor was guided by anti-immigrant hate groups such as Floridians for Immigration Enforcement. “Allowing anti-immigrant hate groups that overtly promote xenophobic, nationalist, racist ideologies to be intimately involved in a bill’s legislative process is a significant departure from procedural norms,” Bloom wrote. “This involvement strongly suggests that the Legislature enacted SB 168 to promote and ratify the racist views of these advocacy groups.” Bloom cited numerous communication between Floridians for Immigration Enforcement and staff for state Sen. Joe Gruters, who sponsored the bill and serves as chairman of the Florida Republican Party.
Atlanta: A man who was punched and kicked in the head by police officers during a traffic stop four years ago has filed a lawsuit alleging that the stop was unjustified and that the officers used excessive force against him. Gwinnett County police Sgt. Michael Bongiovanni pulled Demetrius Hollins over in Lawrenceville, just outside Atlanta, on April 12, 2017. Video filmed by a witness shows Bongiovanni punching Hollins as he stood with his hands raised after exiting his car. A second video shows Bongiovanni appearing to yell at a handcuffed Hollins, who then lies face-down in a left-turn lane of a busy intersection. Officer Robert McDonald runs up and immediately appears to stomp on Hollins’ head. Hollins, who was 22 at the time of the traffic stop, said during a news conference Wednesday that he still has “some kind of PTSD from this situation.” The federal lawsuit says Bongiovanni pulled Hollins over without justification and then retaliated with excessive force after Hollins began using his cellphone to record video of the encounter. It says McDonald knew Hollins was not a threat when he arrived on scene but still kicked him in the head and held him down with a gun pressed to his head. Both officers were fired the next day after video of the traffic stop surfaced and were subsequently charged with multiple crimes related to the stop.
Hilo: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has yet to submit a court-ordered management plan for air tours over its public land. The action is required 21 years after the Air Tour Management Act of 2000 was enacted and a year after a federal judge ruled in favor of environmental groups, including one from the Big Island, that petitioned the court to enforce the law, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. The court gave the parks until August 2022 to complete the plans. The law requires commercial air tours over national parks and some tribal lands to obtain federal permits. Federal agencies are also required to include conditions or prohibitions for flying over some wilderness areas. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said in an email to the Tribune-Herald that the National Park Service and Federal Aviation Administration are working on rules for all parks and will release plans in the coming months. Bob Ernst, a founding board member of environmental group Hawaii Island Coalition Malama Pono, fears Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will continue a business-as-usual approach. “National parks aren’t playgrounds,” Ernst said. “They’re not moneymaking venues for private enterprise – especially the designated wilderness areas.” He said companies “can develop air tours that operate offshore with the view of the island.”
Filer: A south-central Idaho school district with about 1,600 students is temporarily closing its schools due to not having enough teachers or substitute teachers. The Filer School District announced on its website Wednesday that schools will close Friday and reopen Oct. 4. The announcement included a note saying that anyone interested in becoming a substitute teacher should contact the district. Aaron Phinney, the school district’s business manager, told The Times-News that COVID-19-related absences are only partially behind the low staffing levels. The Gooding School District with 1,300 students has also been struggling to find teachers. That district’s school board on Tuesday voted to end a mask mandate at schools.
Evanston: Northwestern University announced its largest donation ever Wednesday, a $480 million gift that will be used for many priorities, from biomedicine to the campus football stadium. The money is coming from alumni Patrick and Shirley Ryan and family, who were already the school’s largest supporters, Northwestern said Wednesday. The money will support research in digital medicine, neurosciences, global health and other medical sciences, as well as support programs in microeconomics and the Kellogg School of Management. “Advancing scientific discovery, especially in human health, has been a long-standing priority for our family,” Shirley Ryan said. Northwestern also will redevelop Ryan Field, which is named for the family, whose billionaire status is tied to the insurance industry. “The Ryan family’s new gift will have a profound and lasting impact on faculty and student opportunities, including research and discovery,” President Morton Schapiro said. “Additionally, our student athletes, coaches, fans and the community will benefit from their support of Northwestern Athletics and Recreation for many years to come.” Northwestern said it raised $6.1 billion through its “We Will” fundraising campaign.
Pendleton: A school district was sued Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union after a group that supports LGBT students said it has been barred from promoting its meetings. The free speech rights of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Pendleton Heights High School are being violated along with other laws, the lawsuit alleges. “The differential treatment aimed at Pendleton Heights Gay-Straight Alliance by administrators is unwarranted, and these students must be treated in the same manner that all other student groups are treated,” said Kit Malone, advocacy strategist at ACLU of Indiana. A message seeking comment was left with the superintendent of the South Madison Community School Corp. The principal at Pendleton Heights High has barred the group from advertising on school bulletin boards or anywhere else on school property, according to the lawsuit. The group is “severely hindered in its beneficial function to be a place of shelter, support and education, not just for gay, lesbian, transgender and non-binary students, but for all Pendleton Heights High School students,” the lawsuit states.
Centerville: Volunteers are prepared to serve 26,000 pancakes Saturday in a Guinness World Record attempt for most pancakes served in a single setting during the annual Pancake Day celebration. The town will try to break a world record of 13,000 pancakes set just this June by a Hy-Vee store in Blue Springs, Missouri. Hy-Vee will donate 2,400 pounds of pancake mix to help the town break the company’s own record. Free pancakes will be served from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday on the Centerville town square. Centerville Tourism Director Delaney Evers said realistically 20,000 to 21,000 pancakes will likely be served. “We’re prepared to double the record, if everything works out in our favor,” Evers said. “That being said, this is the Midwest. It’s a bunch of people coming home. We get chatty in line.” Pancake Day started in 1948 as a way for manufacturers around Centerville, including a Pillsbury facility, to show appreciation for their employees by giving them free pancakes on the town square. As manufacturers left Centerville, community members took on the event and turned it into a regional celebration. A parade, petting zoo, magic show and other free family activities will follow the world record attempt. During a regular year, Centerville serves between 17,000 and 18,000 pancakes anyway, Evers said.
Wichita: Former state Rep. Michael Capps has pleaded not guilty to 19 counts that allege he tried to defraud federal, state and county government organizations out of more than $450,000 in coronavirus relief funding. Capps entered the plea Wednesday via video conference from his lawyer’s office during his arraignment hearing, the Wichita Eagle reports. Capps also agreed to surrender his passport while he awaits trial. Federal prosecutors have said the Wichita Republican filed forms inflating the number of employees he had at two businesses and a sports foundation and then applied for loans to pay the nonexistent employees. Capps is charged with multiple counts of making a false statement, bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. The alleged fraud involved the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program and Emergency Injury Disaster Loan programs, which are designed to provide assistance to businesses that struggled during the pandemic. Capps has not been arrested or detained in connection with the case. On Wednesday, a judge allowed him to remain free on a $25,000 unsecured bond.
Frankfort: The coronavirus claimed 52 more lives in the state as the governor warned Wednesday that it’s hitting younger people harder than at any other time of the public health crisis. The latest virus-related deaths in the Bluegrass State included people as young as 34, 38 and 39, Gov. Andy Beshear said. The statewide death toll has reached at least 8,422 since the pandemic began. In eastern Kentucky, a 29-year-old teacher who was fully vaccinated died Monday after battling COVID-19, the district’s superintendent said. Joannie Bartley, a middle school math teacher in the Jenkins Independent district, died at Pikeville Medical Center. “This virus will come for any of us,” the governor said. “Please get vaccinated. It gives you the best protection out of anything out there to make sure that we don’t lose you or your loved ones.” Beshear continued urging people to mask up when indoors in public, away from home. At least 44 Kentucky K-12 schools personnel have died as a result of the coronavirus, according to the educators group Kentucky 120 United. With a few exceptions, school boards across the state voted to keep masks on students and staff while at school as the delta variant drives up coronavirus infections and deaths. The Republican-led Legislature recently shifted masking decisions to local school leaders.
New Orleans: The state reported its 16th child death from COVID-19 on Wednesday. The state health department in Baton Rouge said the victim was between the ages of 12 and 17. No other details were released. It was the seventh pediatric death from the disease since Louisiana’s fourth coronavirus surge began in July. Another child’s death was reported last Friday. “Just five days ago, our hearts were heavy as we mourned the sixth child to lose their life to COVID-19 in this surge. Here we are once more, grieving as another promising young life ends too soon,” Dr. Joseph Kanter, state health officer for Louisiana, said in a news release. The state reported a total of 99 new COVID-19-related deaths Wednesday and 1,906 confirmed or probable cases. Daily hospitalization numbers continue to drop. The latest hospitalization figure was 1,221 – still much higher than the spring and early summer but down from a peak of more than 3,000 in August. Kanter again urged Louisiana residents to take steps to prevent the spread of the disease. “It’s incumbent upon all of us to get the vaccine and wear a mask to protect ourselves and one another, including our children,” Kanter said. Statewide, only about half of all residents have had an initial shot of a COVID-19 vaccine; about 44% have received complete dosages.
Bangor: The highest rates of COVID-19 infections in recent months have been in places with lower vaccination rates, demonstrating a divide between rural and urban centers in the state, the Bangor Daily News reports. Communities with the lowest vaccination rates have seen the highest rates of new coronavirus cases over the past 41/2 months amid the onset of the delta variant, according to the newspaper. Communities where more than 90% of eligible residents are vaccinated experienced nearly 40% lower infections than in communities with inoculation rates below 70%, the newspaper reports. The highest infection rates were previously centered in ZIP codes containing cities like Portland, Lewiston, Biddeford and Kittery but are now in communities like Guilford, Levant, Houlton and Madison. Dr. Noah Nesin, chief medical officer at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor, said the good news is that more people are getting vaccinated as they see the damage inflicted by the delta variant. “It is now a choice between getting vaccinated or getting delta,” Nesin said. “They see this as a very serious disease that isn’t just going to go away.”
Annapolis: Gov. Larry Hogan announced steps to bolster the state’s nursing workforce Thursday as hospitals are once again handling hundreds of COVID-19 patients. The measures aimed at “providing hospitals with maximum flexibility to mitigate staffing shortages” include allowing nurses with out-of-state licenses to provide care in Maryland and early graduation for nursing students. Thursday’s announcement comes as some Maryland hospitals have had to postpone elective procedures. TidalHealth Peninsula Regional in Salisbury and TidalHealth Nanticoke in Seaford paused elective surgeries requiring an overnight stay beginning Sept. 13. Maryland’s state health secretary, Dennis Schrader, outlined options for medical providers dealing with shortages in a letter to state hospital and nursing home leaders. The options include working with local nursing programs to use student nurses as much as possible, recruiting nurses from states that allow their nurses to practice in multiple states, and allowing students to work as certified nursing assistants or physician assistants. Thursday’s announcement also advised medical providers that nurses with active licenses in any state can practice in Maryland “during an emergency situation.”
Boston: A Native American tribe is calling on Boston University to change the name of a dorm that honors Myles Standish, the military leader of the Pilgrims. The Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag said Myles Standish Hall should be renamed Wituwamat Memorial Hall after a leading Native American figure massacred with other tribal members by Plymouth Colony settlers in 1623. “Long celebrated by many as a New England folk hero, Myles Standish is remembered by this lands’ first peoples for the extreme acts of violence he committed against their ancestors,” says a recently launched online petition seeking the name change. According to the tribe’s history, Standish and his men killed Wituwamat and other members of the Neponset Band of the Massachusett Tribe because Standish suspected Wituwamat of plotting against the fledgling English colony. Wituwamat was beheaded and his head displayed atop Plymouth Colony’s meeting house as a warning. The online petition also argues Standish has no connection to the university or the stately Back Bay neighborhood. Instead, the dorm takes its name from the building’s origin as the Myles Standish Hotel. Built in 1925, the elegant brick hotel was located steps from the Charles River and Fenway Park. The university bought it in 1949 and converted it into dorms.
Benton Harbor: The state will provide bottled water and water filters in Benton Harbor, where tests have revealed elevated levels of lead, a spokesman said Wednesday. The action comes less than two weeks after about 20 groups urged the Biden administration to immediately step in. They said local and state officials have not adequately responded since the contamination was discovered three years ago in the Black, mostly low-income community. The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy will provide bottled water and go door-to-door to ensure proper installation of faucet filters, spokesman Scott Dean said. Testing children is also part of the plan. Free water will be available until the filter distribution is completed. The target is Oct. 8. “The state of Michigan remains committed to ensuring every Michigander has access to safe drinking water,” Dean said. A local activist, the Rev. Edward Pinkney, praised the moves but noted that three years have passed since elevated lead levels were revealed. The National Resources Defense Council said the free water should continue beyond early October. “There’s this ongoing issue – as we all saw in Flint – of filter maintenance and of ensuring that the filters are being used properly,” said Cyndi Roper of the NRDC.
Red Lake: The Red Lake Nation is requiring all people who come to the tribe’s northern Minnesota reservation for work or other business purposes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or show weekly coronavirus test results. The Red Lake Tribal Council said the mandate does not apply to pregnant women, people with documented medical conditions, children under 12, and those with certain religious beliefs and practices, according to a resolution that passed on a 9-0 vote. Exceptions will not be approved for philosophical, political or scientific views, the tribe said. Those not following the vaccination mandate are required to be tested on a weekly basis and provide documentation showing the results. The tribe has recorded 693 cases of the coronavirus and 12 deaths since the start of the pandemic and currently has 56 active cases, the Red Lake Nation News reports. The Red Lake Hospital is providing on-demand vaccinations with a $130 incentive for each shot, the newspaper reports. Other tribes around the country have also instituted mandates, according to Indian Country Today.
Pascagoula: A sheriff’s department said it has identified the skeletal remains of a woman found nearly 44 years ago, and investigators believe she was a victim of the now-deceased Samuel Little, the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history. Hunters found the woman’s remains in December 1977 in the small community of Escatawpa in coastal Jackson County, and investigators had referred to her since then as “Escatawpa Jane Doe.” An autopsy determined the woman, who had a distinctive gold tooth, had been dead about three or four months before her remains were found. Sheriff Mike Ezell said in a news release Tuesday that investigators used DNA to identify the remains as those of Clara Birdlong, who was born in 1933 in Leflore County, nearly 300 miles northwest of Jackson County. A relative told investigators early this year that Birdlong went missing from Leflore County in the 1970s. Ezell said Little confessed in 2018 to several killings in the Southeast, including that of “Escatawpa Jane Doe,” although Little said he did not know her name. Ezell on Tuesday released a jail photo of Little that was taken in August 1977 after his arrest on a petty theft charge in Pascagoula, which is in Jackson County. Little died in December in California, where he was serving a life sentence for multiple counts of murder. He confessed to killing 93 people between 1970 and 2005.
Liberty: Officials in a suburban Kansas City school district are investigating after a small group of students posted a petition online calling for the return of slavery. The petition came to light last week after the students at Park Hill South High School posted it during a school-related activity, officials said. Further details about the number of students involved, the specific language of the petition or what might have prompted it were not being released because it is a discipline issue, district spokeswoman Nicole Kirby said Wednesday. Jeanette Cowherd, superintendent of the Park Hill School District, said in a letter to the community Wednesday that the district does not tolerate discrimination or harassment and has specific policies addressing any violations, which could result in a suspension or expulsion. The district also has a policy on civility that prohibits attacks against people based on factors such as race, gender, religion, disability or other personal characteristics. Kerrie Herren, principal of Park Hill South, said a student notified him of the petition last Thursday, and school officials have been working to help students and staff upset by the incident. “I think that a large portion of our population is hurt, mad, outraged and confused and want to use it as way to make Park Hill South better,” Herren said.
Helena: Medical providers and residents with compromised immune systems are challenging the only law in the U.S. that prevents employers from mandating that workers get vaccinated. They argue the new law violates federal requirements for safe workplaces and reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities and want a federal judge to rule that it doesn’t apply to hospitals and other medical providers. The Montana Medical Association, private physician groups, a Missoula hospital and seven individuals filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Wednesday, arguing the law inhibits providers’ ability to “practice ethical and effective medicine” by requiring them to employ unvaccinated workers who are more likely to spread infections and diseases than vaccinated workers. The law – which applies to all vaccinations, not just those for COVID-19 – prevents medical providers from complying “with national standards for the care and treatment of patients, including observing and enforcing infectious disease prevention protocols,” the complaint says. Montana’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law this year that says requiring vaccines as a condition of employment is discriminatory and violates the state’s human rights laws.
Lincoln: Health care officials are lodging complaints about a reopened transfer center intended to help hospitals across the state find places to send patients who need additional care as COVID-19 cases have surged in recent weeks. Officials at Lincoln’s Bryan Health and smaller hospitals around Nebraska have complained that the transfer center has not proven helpful in recent cases in which very sick patients need to get to a larger hospital, the Lincoln Journal Star reports. In some cases, hospital staff reported they got no help from the system and, instead, had to make numerous calls themselves to find an intensive care bed. Gov. Pete Ricketts announced at the beginning of the month the reboot of the transfer center, an around-the-clock call center intended to serve as coordinator for in-state hospitals to try to keep them from getting overwhelmed. The transfer center had first been used last year and was considered a success. But that center focused mostly on finding beds for COVID-19 patients and was run by CHI Health. The new version is being run by Nomi Health, the Utah-based company that ran coronavirus testing operations for the state until earlier this summer. The rebooted system attempts to find beds for any patient needing more intense care.
Reno: The City Council introduced an ordinance Wednesday that would make the use of whips in downtown Reno illegal. The new ordinance, which will amend an existing municipal code on weapons, states that it is illegal for anyone to possess, carry or use a whip in the downtown corridor without a permit. That area also would include Midtown, the Riverwalk District and Idlewild Park neighborhoods. It also states that it is illegal for anyone to crack a whip to “injure, annoy, interfere with, or endanger the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others” within city limits. Lily Baran spoke against the ordinance on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union during public comment at the meeting. She said the homeless community is known for using the whips, and the ordinance will “perpetuate the criminalization of the unhoused.” She said she wished City Council members would spend more time discussing and evaluating community care rather than enforcing laws that displace homeless people. City Council received 19 letters in favor of the whip ordinance. There was no discussion among council members on the issue. They will continue discussing it at a later date.
Concord: Administrators in the Weare school district are covering for school staff members who contracted COVID-19. Superintendent Jacqueline Coe on Monday cited two clusters at Center Woods Elementary School, where at least 10 people tested positive for the coronavirus while in the building last week, WMUR-TV reports. “At this point, very few people in the Weare School District are wearing masks in the building, even though many individuals have been notified that they are confirmed close contacts,” Coe said in a letter to the school community. “Based on our plan and mandates from the Department of Education, we have no intention to shift to remote learning.” In Bedford, Memorial Elementary School is just emerging from a COVID-19 outbreak. Officials said they have been using targeted masking and plan asymptomatic testing soon, starting with staff members. “Once we do that, we will open it up to other groups,” Superintendent Mike Fournier said. “So, sports teams, grade levels, classrooms.”
Woodland Township: The state plans to restore vast tracts of a coastal tree species threatened by climate change and will pay for it with money from polluters of groundwater. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection said Thursday that its plan to restore 10,000 acres of Atlantic white cedar would be the largest restoration effort involving the species in U.S. history. The $20 million project will span 10 years and be paid for from court settlements with manufacturers and distributors of MTBE, a now-banned gasoline additive. “Through this project, we will reestablish once-dominant stands of Atlantic white cedar, but at higher elevations less vulnerable to rising seas and saltwater intrusion, and provide habitat for globally rare plants and wildlife, while capturing and storing carbon and absorbing floodwaters,” said Shawn LaTourette, New Jersey’s environmental protection commissioner. The trees were heavily logged for their desirability as a disease- and pest-resistant wood source. But they also have been falling prey to saltwater intrusion as sea levels rise and more frequent storms push saltwater into the freshwater areas in which the cedars grow. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 also downed many of the trees. Stands of dead cedars haunt New Jersey and other spots along the Atlantic coast, where the bleached-white trees have become known as “ghost forests.”
Albuquerque: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is renewing a push to expand a U.S. compensation program for people who were exposed to radiation following uranium mining and nuclear testing carried out during the Cold War. Advocates have been trying for years to bring awareness to the lingering effects of nuclear fallout surrounding the Trinity Site in southern New Mexico, where the U.S. military detonated the first atomic bomb, and on the Navajo Nation, where more than 30 million tons of uranium ore were extracted over decades to support U.S. nuclear activities. Under legislation introduced Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, other sites across the American West would be added to the list of places affected by fallout and radiation exposure. Eligibility also would be expanded to include certain workers in the industry after 1971, such as miners. The legislation also would increase the amount of compensation someone can receive to $150,000 and provide coverage for additional forms of cancer. A multibillion-dollar defense spending package approved last year included an apology to New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and other states affected by radiation from nuclear testing, but no action was taken on legislation to change and broaden the compensation program.
New York: An inmate on a jail barge died Wednesday after a medical emergency, the city’s Department of Correction said. It is at least the 12th death of a city inmate this year and the second this week amid what some elected officials and advocates have deemed a “humanitarian crisis” in the city’s lockups. The Department of Correction said in a statement that the inmate at the Vernon C. Bain Center, a floating Bronx jail across the East River from the Rikers Island jail complex, appeared to be in medical distress and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said he was “devastated to see that we have yet another death in custody and determined to stop this heartbreaking trend.” The Department of Correction identified the inmate as Stephen Khadu, who had been held on a second-degree murder charge since December 2019. The cause of death is under investigation by the city medical examiner’s office. City officials had conflicting information on Khadu’s age but placed him at being in his 20s or 30s. The Bain Center, a five-story jail stacked on a 625-foot barge, opened in 1992 as temporary relief for crowded city’s jails. Since then, it’s been criticized for overcrowding. The city’s jail system, troubled by years of neglect, has spiraled into turmoil during the coronavirus pandemic with a spike in inmate deaths, violence, self-harm and staff absences. More inmates have died this year than in any of the past three years.
Ahoskie: A funeral home said it has reached out to apologize after two sisters who went to view their mother’s body instead found another woman wearing her clothes inside the casket. Jennifer Taylor and Jennetta Archer had gone to see their mother’s body at an Ahoskie funeral home Sept. 7 when they discovered the mistake, WAVY reports. Archer said there was no resemblance between their mother and the woman who was in the casket. She said the unidentified woman “was swimming in the clothes because she was so small compared to my mother.” The sisters approached workers at Hunter’s Funeral Home, who at first denied the woman was someone else until they went back into the embalming room and saw the body of Mary Archer. The funeral home switched the bodies, and the service continued. The funeral home said it has reached out to the family to apologize, but Taylor and Archer said they had not received a call from the funeral home and were awaiting answers to their questions. An official was not immediately available for additional comment Thursday.
Bismarck: Lawmakers on Tuesday moved to significantly change the threshold on new legislation that limits spending of federal money by a governor-led panel. The law, passed shortly before the Republican-led Legislature adjourned in April, came after the Emergency Commission, headed by GOP Gov. Doug Burgum, largely determined how to spend $1.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief the state received last year. Many lawmakers believed the full body should have that responsibility. The Legislature easily overrode Burgum’s veto of the bill that he said “clearly violates the separation of powers doctrine” and would be unconstitutional. The law, which got wide bipartisan support, caps the Emergency Commission’s spending authority of federal funds to $50 million and to just $5 million in so-called special funds in a two-year budget cycle – a cap that was quickly reached before the last budget cycle ended June 30. Expenditures exceeding the cap need approval of the full Legislature later this year in a reconvened or special session. The commission is composed of the governor, the secretary of state, the chairmen of the state House and Senate appropriations committees, and the majority leaders of the House and Senate.
Columbus: Residents ages 12-25 who receive COVID-19 vaccines can enter a new lottery making them eligible for one of five $100,000 college scholarships and 50 $10,000 scholarships, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday in his latest effort to boost number of people inoculated against the surging disease. Details will be announced soon for the new Ohio Vax-to-College program, aimed at the group of Ohioans with the most room to grow in terms of receiving vaccines, the Republican governor said, with just 46% of Ohioans ages 12-25 having received an initial dose. Getting a COVID-19 shot is the best way for students to continue participating in sports and extracurriculars, he said, reiterating that students who are vaccinated don’t have to quarantine if exposed to someone with the coronavirus. “Keeping our children in school in person is a top priority for the state,” he said. The state has seen more than 42,000 cases of COVID-19 among kids ages 5-17 since mid-August, he said. The Ohio Hospital Association warned of a dire situation caused by increased cases. In mid-July, 1 of every 100 hospital patients was being treated for COVID-19, the group said. Today, that ratio is 1 patient out of 6. Virtually all Ohio patients hospitalized with COVID-19 today are unvaccinated, said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, the state health director.
Oklahoma City: Fans of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder will be required to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to attend games in person, the team announced Tuesday. “As we continue to face serious health challenges from COVID-19, we must remain committed to protecting the health and safety of our community,” Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett said. The policy will be in effect for the first 12 games of the preseason and continuing into the start of the regular season. The team also strongly recommends fans wear masks while attending games. While the state’s coronavirus case numbers and new hospitalizations have declined slightly this week, numbers remain concerning, and the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced a virtual career day Sept. 29 in an effort to hire 70 nurses statewide. “Oklahoma needs more nurses, right now, to assist with COVID-19 vaccinations,” said Amy Gaither, director of nursing service for the department.
Oregon City: After a private blessing and a prayer, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde invited gathered media to watch as an excavator tore into a wall of the old, abandoned paper mill that the tribe says has stood on its ancestral grounds for too long. The tribe held a symbolic demolition event at the old Blue Heron Paper Mill at Willamette Falls on Tuesday, representing a small step toward removing the industrial site and returning it to Indigenous hands, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. Chris Mercier, vice chair of the Grand Ronde Tribal Council, said the tribe has been trying to reclaim as much of its traditional homelands as possible. “This site here is of deep historical and cultural significance,” Mercier said. “The fact that we’ve actually purchased it and own it now is kind of a dream come true for many of us and many of our tribal members because our roots run deep here.” The land around Willamette Falls was once home to the Clowewalla and Kosh-huk-shix villages of the Clackamas people, who ceded the land to the U.S. government under the Willamette Valley Treaty of 1855 before being forcibly removed and relocated, according to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Willamette Falls has long been one of Oregon’s best, least-accessible natural wonders, with public access blocked off by the paper mill that shut down in 2011.
Harrisburg: State senators grilled turnpike executives over their efforts to collect unpaid tolls that amounted to $104 million last year during a hearing Wednesday prompted by an Associated Press report last week regarding some 11 million rides that generated no revenue for the debt-hobbled agency. Transportation Committee Chairman Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, scolded the turnpike brass for not alerting him to the growing problem that he said “should have been a red flag within your department.” Sen. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, called the $104 million figure “just unacceptable.” Turnpike Chief Executive Mark Compton assured the committee the agency takes the issue “very seriously” and is working to lower the amount of “leakage.” Compton said his agency’s 93% overall rate of collection is typical for turnpike operations across the U.S. The turnpike laid off hundreds of toll collectors last year and speeded up its long-planned conversion to a cashless, all-electronic tolling system. Ideas floated by lawmakers during the hourlong hearing included requiring front license plates to make identifying vehicle owners easier, adding tolls on about 30 miles of turnpike at the Ohio border, and lowering the amount of unpaid tolls that trigger vehicle registration suspensions in Pennsylvania, a level currently at $500 over a three-year period.
Burrillville: Not afraid of ghosts and things that go bump in the night? The purportedly haunted farmhouse where the spooky happenings that inspired the 2013 horror movie “The Conjuring” occurred hit the market Thursday for the scary price of $1.2 million. Realtor Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty in its listing called the 14-room, 3,100-square-foot home on 8.5 acres in Burrillville “one of the most well-known haunted houses in the United States.” “Legend has it, the home is haunted by the presence of Bathsheba Sherman, who lived in the house in the 1800s,” the agency said. “To this day, countless happenings have been reported.” The movie wasn’t filmed at the home but was based on the experiences of the Perron family, who lived there in the 1970s. The home last sold in 2019 for $439,000 to a family who described themselves as paranormal investigators, hosted events at the site and rented rooms overnight for people eager for a scare. Before that, the previous owners didn’t complain about ghosts but about fans of the movie who showed up at all hours and trespassed on the property.
Columbia: The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a law preventing anyone from moving a Confederate monument or changing the historical name of a street or building without the Legislature’s permission is legal. But in the same ruling, the justices struck down a requirement that two-thirds of the General Assembly must approve a move or name change. The unanimous decision keeps intact South Carolina’s Heritage Act, which has stopped colleges and local governments from removing statues honoring Civil War soldiers or segregationists even as other areas of the South took them down. The law was passed in 2000 as part of a compromise to remove the Confederate flag from atop the South Carolina Statehouse dome. The rebel banner was moved to a pole on the capitol lawn, where it flew until 2015 when lawmakers removed it after nine Black church members were killed in a racist massacre in Charleston. One of the people who sued lawmakers over the Heritage Act is the widow of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor at Emanuel AME church who died in the attack. Jennifer Pinkney has pointed out that the law’s wording, which also protects monuments from other wars or honoring African Americans and Native Americans, means she couldn’t make changes to a monument to her late husband unveiled this year without asking lawmakers for permission.
Pine Ridge: Oglala Sioux Tribe officials said Wednesday that they’re asking all tribal members on the Pine Ridge Reservation to shelter in place following a spike in COVID-19 cases. The initial stay-at-home order issued earlier this week by Oglala Vice President Alicia Mousseau was approved by the tribal council on a 14-4 vote. The order will remain in place until the tribal council rescinds it. The order only allows essential business to operate and only at 25% capacity. It includes a mask mandate and limits gatherings to no more than 10 people, the Rapid City Journal reports. Tribal health officials said there have been 58 new cases of COVID-19 over a two-week period. There are 64 active cases on the reservation. Mousseau said in a letter that all schools on the reservation will adopt and submit a plan for reopening school buildings and resuming all extracurricular activities, including sports.
Johnson City: East Tennessee State University is seeking volunteers to help sift for fossils in sediment from what was a prehistoric pond that has produced remains of mastodons. The university says the volunteers needed this fall at the the Gray Fossil Site and Museum will be working outside and screening material from the Mastodon Pit area. The school says the pit has been one of the most productive areas in recent years, and excavation there has uncovered fossils of rhinos, alligators, snapping turtles and mastodons. The university says volunteer screeners are essential to keep digging and lab work going. Volunteers should expect to perform minor physical labor and spend at least three consecutive hours working. Those interested must be 18 or older and should visit etmnh.org/support/volunteer.
Dallas: Federal officials made more than two dozen recommendations Thursday aimed at further safeguarding power plants and natural gas supplies to prevent a repeat of the February blackouts that caused more than 200 deaths in the state. Staff at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Reliability Corp. made their recommendations to FERC’s four commissioners while presenting a preliminary report on the February disaster, which left millions of people without power during subfreezing temperatures. “The situation didn’t need to be as bad as it was,” said FERC Chairman Richard Glick. He said changes should have been made after a winter storm caused blackouts in Texas in 2011, when a report called for the mandatory weatherization of power plants. “But somehow that recommendation eventually was watered down to guidelines that few generators actually followed,” said Glick, a former Democratic congressional staff lawyer. In the preliminary report, officials recommended power providers be required to meet tougher standards for protecting their plants from freezing temperatures and be able to seek compensation for the cost of winterizing them. Such a change would make Texas’ deregulated electricity market more like those in other states.
St. George: Zion National Park is transitioning into its new operational schedule this fall, with shorter hours for some activities, some facilities closed or limited, and continued rules in place for the COVID-19 pandemic. Park officials always recommend visitors plan ahead and check the park website before visiting, but coming prepared is especially important this year given the various requirements in place for the pandemic and as a result of recent flooding and other damage from weather. As in the summer, the park’s iconic main canyon remains accessible only by shuttle bus. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive shuttles require all riders to wear masks, and visitors should prepare for occasional waits on busy weekends or other popular days when the lines can get quite long. The park also operates a free shuttle in Springdale. Visitors can leave their vehicles at a hotel or in one of the approved parking areas in town and catch the shuttle to take it into the park. Visitors can also enter the park at the pedestrian bridge at Zion Canyon Village. The South Campground will close for the season Oct. 18, two weeks earlier than usual this year, in order to complete intermediate steps in the design process for the South Campground rehabilitation project, which is scheduled to start construction in 2023.
Montpelier: The City Council has unanimously approved allowing emergency camping on city public property for the homeless because of a lack of affordable housing and shelter beds. The council voted Wednesday to decriminalize such camping. It’s not a long-term solution to homelessness but a short-term step as the city navigates an immediate affordable housing crisis, the policy says, according to mychamplainvalley.com. City employees who find an encampment on public land must tell police and the city manager’s office through email to determine how to respond, the news station reports. People camping in high-sensitivity areas will be asked to move within 24 hours and be connected with overnight shelters at no charge. After 24 hours, those camps could be removed by the city.
Richmond: A monument that honors Virginians who fought against slavery and for freedom has been dedicated in the former capital of the Confederacy. The Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission unveiled its Emancipation and Freedom Monument to a rain-soaked audience at Brown’s Island on Wednesday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Oregon-based artist Thomas Jay Warren created the monument. It features two 12-foot bronze figures, one of a newly freed man with chains broken from his wrists, the other a woman holding an infant in one arm and in her other hand a page that reads “January 1” and the Roman numerals for 1863, the date that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect, freeing slaves in the South. The base displays the names of five Black Virginians who fought against slavery, including Nat Turner and Dred Scott, and five who fought for equality, including the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, John Mitchell Jr. and Rosa Dixon Bowser. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney spoke during the ceremony, saying that Richmond and Virginia have come a long way, and while there’s work left to do, “we are moving in the right direction … moving forward to a more inclusive and more equitable future.”
Everett: Lawsuits have been filed in several western Washington counties claiming auditors used uncertified voting equipment and manipulated thousands of ballots in an unspecified statewide race last year. The Daily Herald reports the lawsuits in Snohomish, Whatcom and Clark counties seek a “full forensic audit” conducted in the same manner as one carried out in Arizona – which has so far yielded no evidence of widespread fraud. The legal pursuits in Washington, expected to expand to more counties, are steered by lead plaintiff Washington Election Integrity Coalition United, whose leader, Tamborine Borrelli of Gig Harbor, has traveled the state in search of residents willing to join the effort. “I’m not personally alleging that there has been any specific impropriety,” said Art Coday of Woodinville, a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate last year. “A forensic audit would go a long ways to reassure people things are as they should be.” The notion of needing to reassure people of the integrity of elections is a mantra of former President Donald Trump – despite a broad coalition of government and industry officials calling the presidential election “the most secure in American history.”
Fayetteville: Parachutists won’t jump off the nation’s third-highest bridge next month due to worries about sufficient emergency health care amid the coronavirus pandemic, an organizer said Wednesday. Marcus Ellison, an organizer for BASE jumpers, told the Bridge Day Commission on Wednesday that the group will not participate in Bridge Day, the state’s largest outdoor festival on the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville. In past years the jumpers have been one of the festival’s main attractions. BASE stands for building, antenna, span and Earth, the fixed objects from which jumpers leap. Ellison cited concerns about available health care in case of an emergency because of the pandemic, news outlets report. “The well-being of my jumpers is the No. 1 priority as an event organizer,” Ellison said. Some hospitals in southern West Virginia have been inundated in recent weeks with COVID-19 patients, with a few saying their intensive care units were at capacity. Ellison said he also is concerned there could be an insufficient number of bus drivers to transport BASE jumpers from the bottom to the top of the bridge. The Bridge Day Committee later scheduled a vote for Sept. 29 to decide whether the Oct. 16 event will continue. Last year’s Bridge Day was canceled due to the pandemic.
Madison: Six Native American tribes have sued the state to try to stop its planned gray wolf hunt in November, asserting that the hunt violates their treaty rights and endangers an animal they consider sacred. The Chippewa tribes say treaties give them rights to half of the wolf quota in territory they ceded to the United States in the mid-1800s. But rather than hunt wolves, the tribes want to protect them. The tribal lawsuit comes three weeks after a coalition of wildlife advocacy groups sued to stop Wisconsin’s wolf hunt this fall and void a state law mandating annual hunts, arguing that the statutes don’t give wildlife managers any leeway to consider population estimates. Hunters blew past their limit during a court-ordered hunt in February. The state Department of Natural Resources set the quota at 119, but hunters killed 218 wolves in just four days, forcing an early end to the season. Conservationists then deluged the department with requests to cancel this fall’s hunt out of concerns it could devastate the wolf population. Agency biologists recommended setting the fall quota at 130. But the agency’s board last month set the kill limit at 300. The tribes have claimed their half, but since they won’t hunt wolves, the working quota for state-licensed hunters would be 150.
Pine Bluffs: A school nurse has resigned over a Laramie County district’s decision to make quarantining optional for students exposed to people with COVID-19, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports. “I just can’t look the other way anymore,” Kay Dersham told the paper, saying she was being asked to follow a policy that was unethical and could jeopardize her nursing license.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cathedral change, whip crackdown: News from around our 50 states