Tuscaloosa: Alabama football has developed a reputation for drawing big crowds to its A-Day spring football game, but even at limited capacity, the 2021 game earned a distinction. Saturday’s attendance of 47,218 is the highest at any U.S. sporting event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Yahoo! Sports. Capacity at Bryant-Denny Stadium was capped at 50%, or a little more than 50,000 fans. Alabama, which traditionally offers free admission to the event, charged $5 for tickets this year so it could control the number of people admitted and allow attendees to socially distance. It came within a few thousand tickets of selling out available seating. According to Yahoo, Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, is the lone large stadium allowing full-capacity crowds. The Texas Rangers drew 38,238 for opening day. Alabama drew an overflow crowd of 92,138 to its 2007 spring game, Nick Saban’s first at UA, and has had attendance of more than 60,000 in every year since. The 2020 spring game was canceled due to the pandemic.
Juneau: Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Friday that COVID-19 vaccines would be made available at key airports in the state starting June 1, in unveiling plans aimed at bolstering the pandemic-battered tourist industry. Dunleavy, a Republican, outlined plans for a national marketing campaign aimed at luring tourists using federal aid money and said the vaccine offering is “probably another good reason to come to the state of Alaska in the summer.” Dunleavy and other state leaders have been pushing to allow large cruise ships to return to Alaska after COVID-19 restrictions kept them away last year, dealing a blow to businesses and communities, particularly in southeast Alaska, that rely heavily on summer tourism. He said the state has not ruled out suing the federal government, as Florida has, over the issue. About 40% of those eligible for a vaccine in Alaska are fully vaccinated, according to the state health department, and health officials have been looking for new ways to encourage more people to get a shot. Alaska was the first state to drop restrictions on who could get a COVID-19 vaccine when it opened eligibility last month to anyone 16 or older who lives or works in the state.
Phoenix: An intense scramble for vaccines that just weeks ago caused frustration, long lines and website problems appears over. While there are still some areas of the state with a steady demand for COVID-19 shots, appointments generally are easier to find and, in some cases, going unfilled. Part of what’s happening is a shift in which doctor’s offices, pharmacies and neighborhood clinics are expected to become the go-to places for vaccines, rather than large-scale sites. Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows nearly 37% of the state had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday, and about 24% of the state was fully vaccinated. “Just a few weeks ago, the idea of being able to hop on to CVS’ site and ADHS’ site and find open appointments would have been unheard of,” said Raymond Embry, CEO of Embry Health, which offers COVID-19 vaccines at clinics across Arizona. Health experts say it will take at least 70% more of the state’s population to get vaccinated in order to reach what’s known as herd immunity, where enough people are inoculated to prevent future outbreaks from occurring. Medical providers and county and state health officials are trying to get the word out that safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are available at no cost at various locations.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson continued to urge residents to get vaccinated Friday, saying his goal was to have 1 million shots administered by this week. “The doses are available to meet current demand, so don’t wait, and get your vaccine as soon as you can,” the Republican governor said in a statement. The state has made COVID-19 vaccines available to everyone 16 and older. Arkansas on Friday reported 237 new coronavirus cases and six more deaths from the illness caused by the virus. The Department of Health said the state’s virus cases since the pandemic began last year now total 333,186. The state’s COVID-19 deaths now total 5,692. The state’s active cases, meaning ones that don’t include people who have died or recovered, rose by 49 to 1,892. Arkansas’ COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased by one to 152. More than 23,000 additional vaccine doses were administered, the department said. More than 1.5 million of the 2.1 million doses allocated to the state have been given so far. About 604,000 people in the state have been fully immunized and nearly 346,000 partially immunized.
Sacramento: Employers across the state added 119,600 new jobs in March, the second straight month of growth following a topsy-turvy year of enormous losses and inconsistent gains during an unpredictable pandemic. New unemployment claims, both for traditional employees and for independent contractors, are at their lowest levels since the pandemic began more than a year ago. Restaurants and hotels, which have weathered heavy losses during a year of stay-at-home orders, accounted for more than half of the 260,600 jobs added in the state since February. Experts said Friday that’s a sign the world’s fifth-largest economy is exiting the pandemic-induced recession and entering what is likely to be a prolonged recovery. “This healthy job number heralds the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” said Sung Won Sohn, a professor of finance and economics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. In San Diego County, the leisure and hospitality industry accounted for more than half of all new jobs in March. That included the 30 new hires at Blue Bridge Hospitality, which operates nine restaurants in the area. Owner David Spatafore said he’s had to increase wages as much as 25% to attract employees and still needs to hire 40 more. “I think it’s going to be like the roaring ’20s when it comes to this summer,” he said. “We’ve got to be ready.”
Greeley: Officials in Weld County plan to promote personal responsibility to stop the spread of the coronavirus now that the state has given counties the power to make decisions on public health rules. In a statement Thursday, the Weld County Board of Commissioners said county government will not issue restrictions or regulations “that hinder an individual’s ability to manage the day-to-day decisions for themselves and their family, or a business’s right to run their establishment in a manner that works best for them and the consumers they serve.” The state announced the shift to local control Tuesday but kept the statewide mask mandate in place along with capacity limits for indoor mass gatherings. At the time, Colorado said it expected many local governments would enact restrictions that go beyond those statewide measures. The change comes as COVID-19 cases rebound in Weld County, the state’s ninth-most populous, and across most of the state, the Greeley Tribune reports. Six public health agencies serving the seven counties in the Denver metro area and representing 60% of the state’s population have announced plans to collaborate on their pandemic response through the Metro Public Health Coalition.
Hartford: The Connecticut Judicial Branch is conducting safety inspections and making modifications at five courthouses where operations have been suspended because of the pandemic, in hopes of reopening the locations by May 17. In a statement released Friday, Chief Court Administrator Patrick L. Carroll III said the goal is to make the upgrades necessary to allow for the safe, socially distanced return of judges and staff at courthouses in Derby, New London, Manchester, Putnam and Rockville. “As more and more COVID restrictions are being lifted or modified and as more and more Connecticut residents are being vaccinated against the virus, the Judicial Branch is now in a position to cautiously and incrementally move forward with plans to further increase the scope and volume of judicial business being conducted by its judges and employees,” Carroll said in a statement. A spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch said all but three courthouses – Geographic Area courts in Enfield and Norwalk and the juvenile court in Waterbury – will remain closed after May 17. Meanwhile, Carroll said the branch is also planning to expand the scope and volume of criminal dockets in all open GA courthouses and reduce the backlog of pending cases.
Dover: Amid a drop in demand for coronavirus testing, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency said it will not be scaling back its community testing sites. The Delaware State News reports officials are encouraging Delawareans to keep getting tested even after they are vaccinated against COVID-19. “The numbers are going down,” DEMA director A.J. Schall said. “We do know with a large percentage of people who at least have one shot, we figured there would be a decrease in testing. However with spring break and people traveling and the increase in our positive rate, it’s important to keep getting tested when you are in situations when you could potentially spread to others.” Delaware averaged 4,981 tests per day during the past week. That number was more than 9,000 tests per day for a good portion of December and at times in January. Health officials say anyone who has traveled out of state should get tested three to five days after they return. Anyone who has been around large crowds should also seek testing. People who are vaccinated should still get tested if they think they may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
District of Columbia
Washington: After shutting its doors last March and canceling more than 1,500 performances, the Kennedy Center is finally preparing to host live shows again, rolling out the red carpet for 86 weeks of theater starting in October. On Tuesday, the Kennedy Center announced its full 2021-22 musical and theater programming, including the return of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway hit “Hamilton,” WUSA-TV reports. Just in time to celebrate the institution’s 50th anniversary, the center plans to fully reopen in September, with the first big show returning in October. “Hadestown,” which won eight Tony Awards in 2019, including best musical, will kick off Oct. 13. Two highly anticipated D.C. debuts originally planned for the 2019-20 season have been rescheduled for May and June 2022: “A Monster Calls” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Broadway smashes “Jersey Boys,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Mean Girls” will also return to D.C. in 2022. Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter said she can still remember the last night of performances in March 2020 when she knew the venue would be closing for at least a few weeks. Rutter believed the shutdown would last about six weeks. It turned to months. In total, the Kennedy Center estimates a loss of $250 million in revenue and donations, with thousands of jobs cut.
St. Petersburg: Gov. Ron DeSantis said Friday that he doesn’t favor raising the state’s unemployment benefits, which are some of the nation’s lowest, but is focused instead on getting people back on the job. At an event in Lakeland, the Republican governor also urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and said employers need workers to get back to a semblance of normalcy. “Increase benefits? Look, no, I think we are getting people back to work,” DeSantis said. “You see and hear these stories about businesses need more; our goal is to get people back to work.” The governor’s comments come as the state Senate is moving a bill sponsored by Republican state Sen. Jason Brodeur that would increase maximum benefits from $275 a week to $375 a week and boost the duration of benefits from 12 weeks to 14 weeks. “We have a moral obligation to provide enough support to help meet some basic needs for Floridians who are out of work, through no fault of their own, and are looking for employment,” Brodeur said recently. Most states, however, provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, and generally the weekly amounts are much higher. The bill was unanimously approved Thursday by the 20-member Senate Appropriations Committee and sent to the Senate for consideration. It could be heard as soon as Wednesday.
Atlanta: The state’s legal community has been getting ready to compete to see who can collect the most money to help stock food banks. The 10th annual Georgia Legal Food Frenzy kicks off Monday and runs through April 30. The campaign went fully virtual last year amid concerns about the coronavirus and is virtual again this year, with lawyers only raising money rather than also collecting food. “During one of the most tumultuous years in our nation’s history, many Georgia families turned to our regional food banks to put food on their tables,” Attorney General Chris Carr said in a news release, adding that the state’s food banks have seen a 50% increase in demand since March 2020. Last year’s competition raised a record $852,090, which is equivalent to more than 3.3 million meals for food banks. The competition is open to all of the state’s lawyers, and there are awards for different categories.
Honolulu: A 24-year-old program that has helped tourists following traumatic events has said it may have to close. The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii said it would not survive beyond this summer if proposed legislative budget cuts take effect, Hawaii News Now reports. The organization was founded in 1997 by the Honolulu Rotary Club because there was no aid organization for visitors. The group had received $370,000 from the Hawaii Tourism Authority in 2020, but that was cut to about $277,000 this year. Now, the Legislature is considering cuts to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Safety and Security Programs that would eliminate most funding for Visitor Aloha Society. The bill is heading for negotiations between House and Senate leaders, Hawaii News Now reports. Jessica Lani Rich, the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii’s president and CEO, said she was shocked the program could lose its funding. “We are in jeopardy of being eliminated,” said Rich, who has led the organization for 16 years after spending four years as a volunteer. She said the program has helped Hawaii visitors who encounter themselves in difficult situations, including events that involving death, crime and other emergencies.
Boise: Gov. Brad Little said he will veto two bills intended to curb the governor’s power to respond to emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic. Little made the announcement Friday, with four of his predecessors also voicing support for the decision. The bills violate the state constitution and threaten the safety and economy of residents, Little said, by handcuffing the state’s ability to quickly take action during emergencies like earthquakes, droughts or floods. “The bills narrow the authority of future Governors to the point where a Governor could not deploy the National Guard to facilitate vaccine administration or repair bridges after a massive earthquake,” Little said in a statement. “These bills are an emotional kneejerk reaction because of anger about the pandemic and some of my decisions during a very uncertain time last year. But I still believe, when faced with difficult decisions and given the information I had at the time, I acted on balance during the pandemic response, and the strength of our economy today proves it.” All of the state’s living former governors – Butch Otter, Phil Batt, Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch – said they support the veto decision.
Chicago: The city announced plans Friday to open a COVID-19 vaccination program at a hospital where vaccine shipments were paused after reports the hospital acted with favoritism in dispensing the treatment. Officials say the Department of Public Health will operate a vaccination clinic at Loretto Hospital starting this week, which will increase vaccine access in the West Side neighborhood it serves. “More than anything, our goal is to get this lifesaving vaccine to the residents of Austin and their neighbors on the West Side who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. “Loretto has acknowledged there were problems with their previous vaccination efforts and apologized for their mistakes.” There are at least six alleged instances in which Loretto vaccinated people connected to the hospital’s executives, including support personnel at Trump International Chicago. Operations at the new site will be managed by the city, with the hospital providing staff to administer the vaccine. Loretto, which largely serves Black and Latino people, was chosen last year to administer Chicago’s ceremonial first COVID-19 vaccination as part of the city’s efforts to encourage residents in West Side neighborhoods to get vaccinated.
Elkhart: The local Amish population faces barriers to getting COVID-19 shots that other groups do not, as Hoosiers generally need to make vaccination appointments online or by phone, and clinics are located in towns and cities, the Elkhart Truth reports. About 26,000 Amish residents live in Elkhart and LaGrange counties, according to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. In Elkhart County, a direct effort to get shots to the Amish has yet to launch, according to county Health Officer Dr. Bethany Wait. First, she said, the county and state are reaching out with information. “We are at the point where they are not ready to choose vaccines. I think we are at the point where they want more information about vaccines. At least that’s the feedback that we’re getting,” she said. Wait said she believes the Elkhart County Health Department, not the state, should be in charge of getting doses to the Amish community when that time comes. “We’re going to have to do that. I think we have the closest relationship, in general, with the Amish population,” she said. But for now, even if members of the Amish community wish to get inoculated, it isn’t easy, Wait said. “I don’t think you can target the Amish population if you’re requiring online registration,” she said.
Des Moines: At least two coronavirus variants are present in the state, with one first identified in Europe now believed to be the most prevalent strain in Iowa, and public officials say they have confirmed a case of the more recent Brazil strain in eastern Iowa. The European variant is believed to be about 50% more infectious that the original strain, but health officials said they are not seeing more severe illnesses from it. They believe the current vaccines are effective in preventing serious illness. The Brazil variant is still under study. The case was found in Johnson County through genetic sequencing done by a state laboratory, which has been doing surveillance for new strains of the coronavirus. The Brazil variant, known as P.1, is more contagious than the original strain and has been spreading across Brazil this year. It may also be more aggressive than the original strain, and health workers have reported patients requiring far more oxygen than last year. The new strains of the virus are in part responsible for a recent increase in cases in Iowa, predominantly among people between ages 18 and 29. State data shows 27% of the new cases in the past week fell into that age group. Overall, Iowa reported 519 new confirmed cases Friday and 13 additional deaths for a total of 5,870 deaths since the pandemic began.
Mission: Some counties are rejecting new COVID-19 vaccine shipments or reducing their orders because of decreased demand for the drugs, worrying health officials who say mass vaccinations are the only path to a return to normalcy. Dennis Kriesel, executive director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, said Friday that the shift occurred in the past couple of weeks. The state opened up eligibility March 29 to all residents 16 and older. That led to an increase in demand in mostly urban areas, but some rural counties already had begun to administer the vaccine to any adult who wanted it, Kriesel said. Nearly four months into the vaccination effort, providers are beginning to run out of takers even though only 35.9% of Kansas residents had been immunized as of Friday, state data shows. Sixty out of several hundred health departments, pharmacies, hospitals and clinics that are administering COVID-19 vaccines in the state asked for a pause in shipments for this week, said Marci Nielsen, a special advisor to Gov. Laura Kelly. She said the results of a newly completed survey found the most hesitant group in Kansas skews younger, female, less educated, lower-income, and slightly more rural than urban.
Frankfort: The state’s Supreme Court has agreed to take up the Democratic governor’s challenge of Republican-backed laws aimed at limiting his authority to respond to the pandemic. The GOP-dominated Legislature passed the measures this year over Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes. He immediately filed a lawsuit, and the new laws curbing his executive powers were temporarily blocked by Franklin County Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd. Both sides in the dispute – which tests the balance of power between the state’s executive and legislative branches – had predicted the case would end up before Kentucky’s highest court. The Supreme Court said it will extend its review to a second pandemic-related case at the same time. In that case, Scott County Circuit Judge Brian Privett temporarily blocked applying some coronavirus-related restrictions to several restaurants and breweries challenging the governor’s actions. The state Court of Appeals last week stayed Privett’s temporary injunction. In signing orders Thursday for the Supreme Court to consider the cases, Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. said the review will be expedited. The court will hear arguments June 10 in both cases. The court decided to hear the cases at the same time as a matter of “judicial economy,” Minton said.
Baton Rouge: Brass bands playing at a 24-hour drive-thru vaccine event. Doses delivered to commercial fishermen minutes from the docks. Pop-up immunization clinics at a Buddhist temple, homeless shelters, truck stops and casinos, with shots available at night or on weekends. And now, door-to-door outreach getting underway in neighborhoods where few people have gotten vaccinated. Louisiana is making a full-court press to get COVID-19 shots in arms, with aggressive – and sometimes creative – outreach to make it as easy as possible to get inoculated, as supplies are surging, but demand is not. The state has enlisted health care workers, colleges, community groups and church pastors to help cajole the hesitant and set up vaccination events. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has thrown open access to anyone 16 or older. The health department has launched a call center to answer vaccine questions and set up appointments for those without internet access or limited tech skills. Civic organizations and faith-based groups working with the state have started using get-out-the-vote tactics, knocking on doors and making phone calls, to pitch the vaccine. State surveys indicate 40% or more of Louisiana residents are hesitant about getting a vaccine or entirely unwilling to do so.
Portland: Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, will deliver the commencement address at the largest private university in the state. Shah is slated to speak to graduates of the University of New England during the school’s May 15-16 commencement exercises. The university said Thursday that Shah will deliver remarks via video at each of the university’s six individual college graduation ceremonies. Shah has been the public face of Maine’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and his regular briefings have earned him a following of admirers online. One such group, “Fans of Dr. Nirav Shah,” boasts more than 38,000 members on Facebook. Shah became director of Maine CDC in June 2019. Shah said he extends “deep gratitude to the entire University of New England community for this honor.” The university is scheduled to award more than 1,800 degrees this year. It’s home to the only medical school in Maine.
Baltimore: Coronavirus cases are spiking in the city, outpacing every county in Maryland. The Baltimore Sun reports cases are also rivaling an infection level not seen since the winter peak. The reasons aren’t entirely clear. But data suggests the pandemic could worsen before it gets better. State and local health officials are urging people to mask up, practice social distancing, and get tested after traveling or if they’ve possibly been exposed. “The recent rise in new COVID-19 cases and fatalities in Baltimore City is deeply concerning, particularly among residents under 70,” said a joint statement from the Baltimore City Health Department and the office of Mayor Brandon Scott. “With a COVID-19 positivity rate above 5 percent, we have reached widespread community transmission, and are currently unable to pinpoint a specific driver for the rapid rise in cases,” the statement said. “The presence of new COVID-19 variants, increased city resident mobility approaching pre-pandemic times, and less vigilance around social distancing and mask wearing all appear to be contributing factors. The pandemic is far from over.”
Boston: The Boston Public Garden’s famous Swan Boats, which took last summer off because the pandemic, are returning next month. The 2021 season will open May 8, acting Mayor Kim Janey said in a statement Thursday. Masks will still be required, and passengers will be safely spaced both in line and on the vessels themselves. The Paget family, which has run the iconic Boston tradition since 1877, said last summer was the first time the entire season had been canceled. Each Swan Boat weighs 3 tons fully laden and is powered by the driver using a foot-propelled paddle wheel. Meanwhile, the state fell just short of a prediction by Gov. Charlie Baker that 2 million residents would be reported fully vaccinated by Friday. On Monday, the Republican said the state was on track to cross the 2 million mark by week’s end in inoculating residents against COVID-19. On Friday, the state reported 1.95 million residents had been fully vaccinated, just shy of the goal. Baker had made the prediction before the state, on the recommendation of federal health officials, placed a pause on the use of Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The state also reported Friday that more than 4.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts.
Lansing: The state on Friday extended by five weeks a pandemic order that limits business capacity and requires masks in public, even for young children in day care, as Michigan battles the country’s highest daily coronavirus infection rate. The measure, which was expected and replaces one that had been due to expire Monday, says that in addition to existing measures, child care facilities and camps must make a “good faith effort” to ensure children ages 2 to 4 wear face coverings starting April 26. That age group was previously exempt. The revision aligns with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the state health department said. Conservatives criticized putting masks on 2-year-olds. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has resisted tightening restrictions that were in place during two previous COVID-19 surges, including prohibitions on indoor restaurant dining, in-person high school instruction and youth sports. She instead is urging a voluntary pause on the activities and pushing vaccinations and treatments. The order, which goes through May 24 and was signed by Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel, keeps intact mandatory regular testing of teen athletes.
St. Paul: State health officials say more than 3.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered and 1.5 million people fully vaccinated. Almost half the eligible population, age 16 and older, has gotten at least one dose of vaccine, the Minnesota Department of Health said. State health officials reported six more COVID-19 deaths Friday and 2,299 infections, bringing the state totals to 6,995 deaths and 552,117 infections. “We continue to say, we really are in a race against time to get Minnesotans protected,” said state health commissioner Jan Malcolm. State data shows the vaccines appear to be highly effective in Minnesota, but a tiny percentage of fully vaccinated Minnesotans contracted COVID-19. Of the 1.5 million people fully vaccinated in the state, 561 contracted the coronavirus, with 66 needing hospitalization, nine requiring intensive care and six fatalities, the latest data from the Department of Health showed. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were effective at 90% after two doses, the Centers for Disease Control reported recently after a real-world study beyond the controlled studies. State leaders urged residents to continue wearing masks and socially distance in public, as well as staying home when sick, to reduce transmitting the virus.
Jackson: The state’s top health official said he does not think political party affiliation has an impact on people’s willingness to get a COVID-19 shot. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said he talks with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans who are unsure about getting vaccinated. What he does see making a difference are socioeconomic status and education. “It seems to be that folks who are more educated and have higher incomes are way more likely to want to get it,” Dobbs said Friday during an online conversation hosted by the Mississippi State Medical Association. “If you’re in the top income bracket, and you’re in the top education bracket, you’re like 95% going to get vaccinated.” There are many factors that could inhibit vaccine access: lack of transportation, a prohibitive work schedule, no available child care. All of those issues are more likely to affect poorer Mississippians. Dobbs said recently that the state Health Department is beginning “an aggressive push” in the 18 most under-vaccinated counties, all of which have high poverty levels. He said officials are planning pop-up vaccination events and mobile clinics, as well as going door-to-door with vaccination information.
St. Louis: A chiropractor and his company are facing a federal complaint over their claims that zinc and vitamin D products were more effective than vaccines in treating or preventing COVID-19. The Federal Trade Commission said Thursday that it had filed a complaint seeking to block further sales by Eric Anthony Nepute and his company, Quickwork LLC, which does business as Wellness Warrior. It is the first action brought by the FTC under a new COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, which makes it illegal “to engage in a deceptive act or practice that is associated with ‘the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID-19,’ ” the agency said. Nepute continues to make the false claims despite earlier warnings to stop, the commission said. He and his company could face civil penalties, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The claims made by Nepute and his company exploit fears caused the pandemic and pose a “significant risk to public health and safety,” the commission said. Nepute promoted his bogus health claims in video monologues on social media that have been viewed millions of times, the FTC said. Other videos by Nepute claim that masks can be harmful and that coronavirus death statistics have been inflated.
Great Falls: After Cascade County canceled the 2020 Montana State Fair due to concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19, the event will be returning this year to celebrate its 90th anniversary. The fair announced its lineup Thursday morning, with country duo Big & Rich – known for their hit “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” – slated to be the first entertainer to hit the stage during the weeklong festivities. Musical and comedic acts will also include two winners of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” ventriloquist Terry Fator and singer Kodi Lee, who will close out the week’s concert series. Singer-songwriter Travis Tritt and rock trio Chevelle are also among the announced performers. Tickets will go on sale May 1 at tickets.goexpopark.com. The 2021 Montana State Fair will run July 30- Aug. 7 at the Montana Expo Park.
Lincoln: State health officials say the highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first found in South Africa, known as B.1.351, has now been found in Nebraska. The state’s first case of the variant was recently confirmed in a Lancaster County resident, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release Friday. News of the discovery of the variant came as about 524,000 state residents, or just over 35%, had been fully vaccinated by Friday, the agency said. Everyone 16 and older in Nebraska is now eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The state’s virus-tracking dashboard on Friday showed nearly 215,800 cases of the virus have been confirmed in the state, and 2,205 people in Nebraska have died from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic last year. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska decreased over the past two weeks, going from more than 381 new cases per day March 31 to nearly 314 new cases per day Wednesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Las Vegas: Citing a drop in requests for COVID-19 vaccination appointments despite a rising number of new cases across the state, health officials in the city say they’ll close the mass vaccination site at Cashman Center on May 5. Meanwhile, demand for shots remains high in Washoe County, where a new permanent vaccination and testing center is being built at the Reno Livestock Events Center, partly in anticipation of the need for follow-up booster shots in the future. On Friday, state officials confirmed the Nevada resident among the six people who have suffered serious blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is an 18-year-old woman who was vaccinated in Clark County. About 7 million people nationally have received the J&J vaccine. The Cashman Center site that’s being closed doesn’t administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But incident commander Greg Cassell said the decline in numbers there might be partly attributable to concern about vaccine safety. Health officials have paused use of the J&J vaccine while the rare but serious reactions are reviewed. Dr. Michael Gardner of UNLV Medicine said the decline in appointment requests is primarily due to a large percentage of the population simply not wanting to get vaccinated.
Concord: A statewide mask mandate has been lifted, but local ordinances requiring the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus remain in place in several communities. Nashua was the first city to enact an ordinance requiring masks in May. The rules remain in place while the city’s board of health develops criteria for removing them, according to the city’s website. Similar ordinances were enacted in Concord, Portsmouth, Keene and Durham. Concord’s ordinance is set to expire June 1, Durham’s expires June 5, and Portsmouth’s ends June 30, though they could be renewed. “The lifting of the statewide mandate by the governor does not diminish the importance of wearing a face mask,” said Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig. “The threat to public health from COVID-19 is real.” New Hampshire was the last state in New England to adopt a statewide mask mandate in November and was the first to lift it. In addition to dropping the mask requirement, the state also will eliminate remaining restrictions on businesses and replace industry-specific rules with universal safety recommendations May 7.
Trenton: When every school in the state reopens for on-site instruction this autumn, as expected, students and teachers will be walking into intentionally drafty buildings where windows are kept open and HVAC systems are constantly running to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. School officials throughout the state are already preparing their buildings to be at full capacity once again. Billions of dollars of federal relief money are flowing into Garden State schools this year, to pay for everything from ensuring new filters in classroom vents to overhauling outdated heating and air conditioning systems to bring more outdoor air inside. “We’re seeing this work being done across the U.S. but especially in the Northeast in New York and New Jersey because they were hit early and hardest by COVID,” said Mark Davidson, a manager for air filter manufacturer Camfil, based in New Jersey. The good news is that in-person learning has not appeared to be a major source of COVID-19 transmission so far, health officials say. The bad news is that coronavirus particles spread much more rapidly indoors. And the vast majority of schools haven’t been at full capacity since March 2020.
Las Cruces: A high school returned to remote learning Friday as the city’s school district investigates a recent off-campus “secret prom” that officials said violated state mandates intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus. A complaint submitted to the governor’s office said hundreds of Mayfield High School students may have attended the event held April 10, according to a Las Cruces Public Schools statement released Thursday. While the event is investigated, Mayfield will go remote through April 26, the district’s statement said. Students who attended could face repercussions ranging from academic suspensions to being barred from school events such as graduation, district spokeswoman Kelly Jameson said. “We understand that … students have certainly missed out on an awful lot this last year,” she said. “But anything that threatens their own safety and welfare is something that could potentially impact others, and the district sees that as irresponsible at this point.” Josh Ziehl of Owl Cartel Event Productions said he was hired as a DJ for the event. He estimated 100 to 150 students attended, wearing masks, but many did not keep them on the whole time. Approximately 20 adults supervised the event, “trying to keep … social distancing as best as they could,” he said.
Albany: A new law requires internet service providers in the state to provide high-speed internet plans to low-income households for $15 per month. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday signed the legislation mandating the affordable broadband packages be made available statewide. The Legislature approved it as part of the state budget earlier this month. New Yorkers qualifying for the internet access program include households who are currently eligible for or receiving free or reduced-price lunch, supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits, Medicaid, the senior citizen or disability rent increase exemptions, or an affordability benefit from a utility. “For America, broadband holds great power. It will be either the greater equalizer for society, or it will be the great divider,” Cuomo said during a press briefing in Buffalo. New York’s law is the first of its kind in the nation to provide access to affordable high-speed internet, Cuomo said, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to work and learn from home, which increased the need to ensure everyone has reliable internet connections to curb racial and economic inequality.
Kill Devil Hills: Gov. Roy Cooper and state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen visited the Youth Center at Family Recreation Park on Friday and witnessed a vaccination clinic, highlighting Dare County’s efforts as leading the state in the fight against COVID-19. Dare County Health Director Sheila Davies, Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert L. Woodard and other county commissioners greeted the governor during his visit. The operation was expected to vaccinate 900 people Friday. The facility and the system are able to inoculate up to 1,600 people a day. The partnership between Dare County Department of Health and Human Services and the county’s emergency management department was evident in the first- and second-dose clinic. The governor toured the setup and experienced what Dare County residents have been raving about: courteous, smiling health professionals, easy-to-follow instructions and speedy delivery. At one point during the tour, Cooper said that North Carolina had vaccinated more than 70% of people 65 and older. Davies commented that the county had vaccinated 91%. “Dare County is leading the way,” Cohen said during a media conference after the tour.
Bismarck: Efforts to reduce prescription drug prices in the state saw mixed results this legislative session. One proposal was a price transparency bill under which a drug manufacturer would be required to explain why a planned price hike exceeds 10% over one year or 40% over five years. The bill has cleared hurdles in both chambers and is expected to go to the governor. Josh Askvig, state director for AARP North Dakota, testified in support of the measure, saying it puts the issue out in the open. “I think that could potentially put some pressure on them to not raise that by those percentages and prices,” Askvig said. Another plan advanced calls for a study of prescription drug costs and the implications of importing more affordable medications from Canada. Separate legislation surrounding a wholesale importation program did not advance. The bills saw opposition from groups such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, citing drug safety concerns. Askvig said his group was disappointed those measures didn’t pass, but with the mandatory study, it’s hopeful enough awareness will be raised about the rising costs of medication and the difficult choices seniors are making. “ ‘Do I make a rent payment, or do I pay for my medicine?’ ” Askvig asked. “And that shouldn’t be the case.”
Columbus: More than $2 billion in federal aid to schools, businesses and renters is nearing final approval at the Statehouse, where both legislative chambers have now cleared the spending in some form. The Ohio House approved its final piece of the legislation Thursday. Multiple bills in both chambers must next be reconciled and sent to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature. The pools of funding come from federal coronavirus relief passed last spring and earlier this year. Ohio’s distributions include $857 million for public and private schools and other educational services; $465 million in emergency rental assistance; and $240 million for child care services and providers, veterans’ homes, and fairs. Business relief includes $150 million for a small-business grant relief program; $100 million for bars and restaurants; $25 million for the lodging industry; $20 million for indoor entertainment venues to recoup lost revenue; and $10 million for grants to new businesses opened after Jan. 1, 2020. Also included is $173 million for coronavirus testing and COVID-19 vaccine distribution by the Ohio Department of Health and $8 million for the adjutant general to support the Ohio National Guard response to the pandemic.
Oklahoma City: Coronavirus-related claims for unemployment benefits, including initial and continuing claims and the four-week moving average, have increased in the state, according to the Employment Security Commission. Commission director Shelley Zumwalt said the increase is due to people who lost jobs at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago reapplying, as required, after 52 weeks. “Last week, we saw a significant increase in initial unemployment claims, which is largely due to a number of claimants refiling for unemployment after their benefit year expired,” Zumwalt said in a statement Thursday. Initial claims for the week ending April 10 totaled 17,997, or 4,145 more than the previous week’s total of 13,852, according to the commission. Continuing claims rose by 1,367 to 25,593, according to the commission report, and the four-week moving average of initial claims rose by 2,771 to 11,956.
Portland: As states around the country lift COVID-19 restrictions, Oregon is poised to go the opposite direction – and many residents are fuming about it. A top health official is considering indefinitely extending rules requiring masks and social distancing in all businesses in the state. The proposal would keep the rules in place until they are “no longer necessary to address the effects of the pandemic in the workplace.” Michael Wood, administrator of the state’s department of Occupational Safety and Health, said the move is necessary to address a technicality in state law that requires a “permanent” rule to keep current restrictions from expiring. “We are not out of the woods yet,” he said. But the idea has prompted a flood of angry responses, with everyone from parents to teachers to business owners and employees crying government overreach. Wood’s agency received a record number of public comments, mostly critical, and nearly 60,000 residents signed a petition against the proposal. Opponents also are upset government officials won’t say how low Oregon’s COVID-19 case numbers must go or how many people would have to be vaccinated to get the requirements lifted in a state that’s already had some of the nation’s strictest safety measures.
Harrisburg: A growing number of unfilled appointments and low uptake among nursing home workers are early signs that vaccine hesitancy is becoming an issue in the state, prompting officials to sound the alarm Friday and urge residents to get their COVID-19 shots as quickly as possible. After months of demand outstripping supply, vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are more readily available, and the Wolf administration said the challenge now is to assuage the concerns of people who are reluctant to get it. Gov. Tom Wolf and state health officials on Friday toured a community vaccination clinic in Hershey that had openings. In nearby Lebanon County, a mass vaccination clinic reported hundreds of available slots – something that might have been unthinkable weeks ago, when providers were swamped with requests but didn’t have enough doses to give out. “The appointment availability does give us cause for concern because it’s indicative of hesitancy, which really is the challenge to come,” said Alison Beam, the state’s acting health secretary. She said the fact that nearly half of Pennsylvania’s nursing home workers have declined the vaccine is further evidence of “how far we have to go and how much of a challenge overcoming this vaccine hesitancy will be in the near future.”
Bristol: The Rhode Island Veterans Home is getting an infusion of $840,000 in federal coronavirus relief funding, and more money is on the way, officials said Friday. The funding stems from a $100 million emergency payment to state veterans homes nationwide from the second of three federal pandemic aid packages, which was signed into law in December, according to a statement from U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Gov. Daniel McKee. It is critical for veterans and their caregivers at the Rhode Island Veterans Home to have continued access to lifesaving supplies and resources during the pandemic, they said. More help is on the way for the home and for veterans across the state as a result of the latest federal relief package, which set aside $750 million for construction grants and payments to veterans homes around the country, the statement said. The $121 million state-run veterans home in Bristol opened in 2017 and can accommodate about 200 residents. It provides nursing and residential care to military veterans from across the state, including social, medical, nursing and rehabilitative services.
Pickens: Pickens County is opening a new vaccine clinic as the county continues to lead the state in new cases of COVID-19. The clinic will be open from 7 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting this week and running at least through the middle of May. Appointments are required and can be made by visiting https://vaxlocator.dhec.sc.gov or calling 866-365-8110. The clinic will be located at the Sheriff’s Office, and shots will be administered by county EMS staff. Pickens County has recorded 266 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, the highest rate in the state, and it has continued to rise in the past week. Laurens County had the second-highest rate, 222 cases per 100,000 people. Greenville and Oconee counties were among the six counties with more than 200 cases per 100,000 people. Spartanburg County had 152 and Anderson County 110. Outside of the Upstate, South Carolina has seen a dramatic improvement in cases since the peak in January. Deaths statewide are at their lowest level since summer.
Sioux Falls: State health officials are hoping more young people get COVID-19 shots, but the vaccination effort is being met with growing disinterest, according to an analysis of data, even after opening vaccination to anyone 16 or older. At the start of the month, the state was averaging more than 7,500 vaccine doses administered per day to more than 4,100 unique people. With Friday’s latest numbers, new doses have fallen below 6,000 a day over the past week to an average of fewer than 2,800 people. The slowdown has been reflected in national data. South Dakota remains a leader in vaccinations, but the state has begun to fall in the rankings as others vaccinate a higher percentage of their populations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. David Basel, vice president of Avera Medical Group Clinical Quality, said the state was right to create a plan that focused on older, more vulnerable populations, as those groups were highly motivated to get vaccinated. But people in their teens and 20s are driving the disease at this point. Those age groups can still suffer severe cases, even if deaths are lower. “That’s where the virus is circulating right now, within those age bands,” he said.
Memphis: Officials aren’t seeing many takers for vaccines among the incarcerated. Only 190 inmates at the Shelby County Jail – commonly known as 201 Poplar – received a COVID-19 shot Thursday, out of a total count of 1,936 inmates at the facility at the beginning of the day, according to Lt. Dallas Wolfe, public information officer for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. Although 333 initially signed up for the vaccine, many changed their minds or declined, Wolfe said. Inmates were not asked why they declined to receive a shot. Detainees will be asked upon entering the facility if they want to be vaccinated. Those who initially declined will also be able to change their minds. At the Shelby County Division of Corrections, which includes the penal farm and Jail East, approximately 1,200 inmates have received the vaccine – about 40% of the population, according to Anthony Alexander, director of the division. The Corrections Division was in the process of concluding the first dosage of the second phase Thursday. “In regards to vaccine hesitancy, we are hearing the same rationale commonly stated in the general public; fear of the unknown, waiting to see how others react to vaccine,” Alexander said in an email. “Vaccinating offenders will be an ongoing process.”
Austin: The two-week rolling average of coronavirus cases in the state is increasing, according to data from Johns Hopkins University on Saturday. The average number of new cases per day has risen from 3,286.4 on April 1 to 3,458.9 on Thursday, an increase of 5.2%, according to the Johns Hopkins data. There were a reported 2,430 newly confirmed or probable cases in Texas on Saturday and 65 additional deaths, according to the state health department. The rolling average of daily deaths in the state has decreased from 93.1 per day to 55.6, based on the data from Johns Hopkins. Nearly 50,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Texas so far, ranking the state third nationally, Johns Hopkins reported. The state had an estimated 64,125 active cases and 2,929 people hospitalized, according to the state health department. The federal Centers for Disease Control reports 34.8% of Texas residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 20% are fully vaccinated.
Salt Lake City: Despite concerns that the pandemic would drive many teachers away and exacerbate a long-standing teacher shortage in the state, more teachers stayed in their jobs this year than they have over the past five years, according to data from the Utah State Board of Education. Malia Hite, educator licensing coordinator with USBE, told KUER-FM the retention rate between the 2019-20 and current school years was 93%, compared to 90%-91% in previous years. “That is significant,” Hite said. “The theory that everybody is leaving is actually not supported with data at all.” Teachers have left the profession during the pandemic. A February USBE survey of public school districts found more than 1,000 teachers retired during the 2019-20 school year, and nearly 2,400 resigned, though those numbers are on par with previous years, and it’s not known how many of those are directly related to the pandemic. Still, many teachers have at least considered leaving over the past year as adjusting to online learning, increased workloads teaching online and in person, and concerns about contracting COVID-19 in the classroom have added more stress than ever. Some districts have also been affected more than others, so the overall data does not account for wide variations between schools.
Montpelier: Gov. Phil Scott will allow a coronavirus relief bill to become law without his signature, saying it contains “urgently needed” funds for Vermonters but encourages “unwise” use of American Rescue Plan Act and school emergency funds. The Republican governor, in a statement to legislators released Saturday night, said the bill started out in January by funding urgent pandemic needs, but over the next two months, it evolved into a more complex measure. Scott highlighted “valuable relief” provisions in the bill, such as $47 million for budget initiatives for which he advocated, including economic aid to businesses, emergency housing needs and environmental cleanup. Money also is going to foreclosure prevention and mental health services. However, Scott said the bill “includes policy and spending choices that suggest we have very different opinions about how best to deploy the federal recovery and economic stimulus funding.” Scott said he doesn’t support deploying the federal coronavirus relief aid “in a piecemeal fashion across a hodgepodge of bills and programs.” Vermont reported nearly 150 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, for a statewide total since the pandemic began of more than 22,000. A total of 26 people were hospitalized with five in intensive care.
Richmond: Five women are suing the leader of the state agency that handles unemployment benefits, alleging “gross failures” to provide needed help as required by law amid the coronavirus pandemic. The class-action lawsuit was filed Thursday morning in federal court in Richmond on behalf of the plaintiffs by several legal aid groups and their pro bono partners. Named as the defendant is Ellen Marie Hess, head of the Virginia Employment Commission. The lawsuit alleges the commission has violated the rights of Virginians who have either applied for benefits and gotten no response or had their benefits abruptly halted and faced lengthy delays in having their case adjudicated. The lawsuit does not allege that everyone who files a claim with the VEC is entitled to benefits, the groups bringing the suit said in a news release. “But every Virginian who files a claim for benefits is entitled – by law – to a prompt response from the VEC. And everyone who has begun to receive benefits is entitled – by law – to continue receiving benefits until a VEC deputy decides otherwise,” the news release said. The agency has been swamped with an unprecedented flood of applications for benefits since the start of the pandemic. But problems have persisted for over a year, leading critics to say Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration has not done enough.
Olympia: Health benefit plans would have to reimburse health care providers a set amount for personal protective equipment for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic under a measure signed Friday by Gov. Jay Inslee. Some providers in the state, including dentists, have been billing insurance for the extra protective equipment they’ve had to use during the pandemic. But not all insurers cover the fee, which means the extra cost falls to patients. Under the measure, which was unanimously approved by both the Senate and the House, providers who bill insurance for protective gear as a separate expense must be reimbursed $6.57 per patient encounter. However, it doesn’t specifically prevent providers from billing patients for any costs that exceed that amount. The law does not apply to health care services not provided in person. Because an emergency clause was part of the bill, the law took effect immediately upon Inslee’s signature. The law will expire once the COVID-19 federal public health state emergency is declared over by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Charleston: The state’s vaccination drive is slowing down as fewer people come forward to get shots, the governor said Friday. The administration rate of vaccine supply in the state is about 85%, down from early in the year, when West Virginia momentarily led the nation in most people vaccinated. “That is incredibly low as a percentage,” Republican Gov. Jim Justice said at a news conference. “And I will promise you state after state is running significantly ahead of us because we don’t have arms to get it in people right now.” All five states that border West Virginia now have a higher rate of doses administered per capita, according to federal data. State data shows 38.1% of West Virginians have received at least one dose. Nearly 27% are fully inoculated. Two months ago, demand for vaccines in the Mountain State outstripped supply, and Justice was pleading to the federal government for more doses. Justice on Friday acknowledged a divide between conservative and liberal states on vaccine progress. “There are more people in red states that are hesitant,” he said. “We really need to be listening to the experts.” A high school girls basketball coach, Justice said he was “dumbfounded” to learn no one on his team took up the offer to be vaccinated when recently offered. Then, he said, a freshman was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Darien: A worker is suing ConAgra Foods Packaged Foods, alleging he got infected with COVID-19 at work and passed the disease on to his wife, who died of it. Beloit resident Rigoberto Ruiz alleges the company, owned by Conagra Brands, didn’t enforce any policy to ensure that employees wore masks in its Darien plant, where he worked and which processes Birds Eye frozen vegetable products. The lawsuit says many employees failed to wear masks in the plant within the view of supervisors, who failed to take corrective action. “As a result, an outbreak occurred at the plant which required the plant to close and which resulted in Rigoberto Ruiz becoming infected with Covid-19,” the complaint says. Ruiz’s wife, Martha Amador De Ruiz, “suffered greatly from the Covid-19 virus until it ultimately caused her death on May 5, 2020,” the complaint says. The suit says the company was negligent because it failed to adopt and enforce policies required by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and indicated by generally understood medical advice to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. Ruiz’s lawyers filed the complaint in February in Walworth County Circuit Court, but Conagra is asking the federal Wisconsin Eastern District Court to hear the case instead.
Gillette: Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the local real estate industry has experienced an uptick in out-of-state buyers drawn to the state for its wide-open spaces, relatively low cost of living and, in many cases, social landscape different from other more politically and socially polarized parts of the country, the Gillette News Record reports. “We have seen an influx in buyers coming from multiple parts of the country, moving to Gillette and Campbell County for a multitude of reasons,” said Audrey Lubken, a loan officer for First National Bank of Gillette. Several out-of-state buyers and those in the industry said one of the primary reasons for the surge in Wyoming’s popularity seems to be people seeking to get away from the social and cultural climate that escalated this past year with the pandemic. “We’re not looking for everybody to agree with us; we just want to be left alone,” said Stephen Cannon, who moved with his family from North Carolina last year. In September 2019, there were 281 residential homes listed in Gillette, said Realtor Pat Avery of Pat Avery Real Estate. As of March 15, there were just 141 homes on the market, 111 of which were under contract, according to data from Re/Max.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Crowd record, ‘secret prom’: News from around our 50 states