Coal miners, crawfish offer, full-capacity Opry: News from around our 50 states

·49 min read

Alabama

Montgomery: Public health officials are urging people to get COVID-19 shots as soon as possible, after the White House informed governors last week that it might reallocate supply from states with decreasing demand. Distribution has been in steady decline for several weeks, according to Alabama Department of Public Health data. “Y’all, we want shots in the arms and off the shelf,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “If you have not made it a priority to schedule a vaccine, I encourage you to go get the shot as soon as you are able. If you are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, please speak to a physician you trust and ask if he or she would recommend it for you. If we don’t use it, we could lose it. This is our ticket back to normal. The vaccine is free and could possibly save your life.” In the early stages of the vaccine rollout, the Alabama Department of Public Health heavily targeted vulnerable areas, particularly those with large minority populations that have been historically underserved medically and seen disproportionately severe, deadly COVID-19 outcomes. The strategy paid off, with Alabama outperforming its neighbors earlier this year at reaching its most vulnerable citizens. The state’s highest county vaccination rates are in the Black Belt. But Alabama is now running into serious “vaccine hesitancy.”

Alaska

Anchorage: Officials have reported that the city’s sewer system is clogging up because people are flushing wipes and other items – a problem worsened by the pandemic as people continue to spend more time at home. Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility spokesperson Sandy Baker said up to 6,000 pounds of wipes have entered the sewer system daily since the coronavirus pandemic started, Alaska’s News Source reports. “We saw a small uptick in wipes when the pandemic started,” Baker said. “But this is a year-round problem for us.” The wipes combine with grease, oils and fats, which can block pipes if not removed and even cause sewage to back up into residential neighborhoods and homes. Baker said the problem, in part, is that many brands of wipes claim to be flushable on their packaging but for practical purposes are not because they “don’t break down” after flushing. Crews have also retrieved masks, gloves, dental floss, hair and other items from sewer pipes, Baker said. “We had a surprising number of people doing extensive cleaning with toothbrushes and then flushing toothbrushes,” she said. “We had a lot of that showing up … and those are horrible for our system.” Baker urged people to be mindful of what they flush down toilets and remember the three P’s – “pee, poo and toilet paper.”

Arizona

Phoenix: An elected utility regulator has shared discredited conspiracy theories while trying to persuade energy and power providers not to require their employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Arizona Corporation Commission member Jim O’Connor said the government and news media are covering up the shots causing numerous deaths and people becoming “human vegetables,” but there’s no evidence of such problems. O’Connor, a Republican, was elected last November to his statewide office as one of five commission members. He served as a presidential elector for then-GOP nominee Donald Trump during his successful campaign in 2016. O’Connor said one source of his information was Ryan Cole, an Idaho physician who has made false and controversial statements about COVID-19. The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania debunked several of Cole’s claims about COVID-19 vaccines on its website. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that the vaccines are safe. Besides mild side effects such as soreness and fever, the only serious side effects so far are very rare blood clots associated with one of the three vaccines and even rarer allergic reactions.

Arkansas

Little Rock: Sluggish COVID-19 vaccination rates for prison workers are raising concerns about the state prison system’s ability to ward off disease during the pandemic’s next phase and against more-contagious variants, according to public health and incarceration experts. About 42% of the more than 4,700 employees of the Arkansas Department of Corrections have received at least one shot, an agency spokeswoman said. The corrections department set a goal of vaccinating 80% of employees after shots were offered Jan. 5, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. More than 11,300 people in Arkansas’ custody have contracted the coronavirus, and at least 49 have died, according to Department of Health data. As of May 1, Arkansas’ infection rate among prisoners was the third-highest among states, according to data compiled by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit criminal-justice news outlet. State prisons continue to see new virus cases, with five sites reporting new cases since April 15. Department of Corrections communications director Cindy Murphy didn’t answer questions from the newspaper about why officials think COVID-19 vaccinations lag among workers. In a statement, she said the agency has been affected “more than most” institutions in the state, and workers had “stepped up once again” to get shots.

California

Los Angeles: Residents will no longer need an appointment for COVID-19 shots at city-run inoculation sites, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Sunday. The city is prepared to administer over a quarter-million vaccinations for the second week in a row, the mayor’s office said. Last week, Los Angeles stopped requiring appointments for some walk-up and mobile locations. As of Monday, appointment-free options are available at all vaccination sites. People can still sign up ahead of time if they prefer. “We stand at a critical juncture in our fight to end this pandemic, and our City will keep doing everything possible to knock down barriers to vaccine access and deliver doses directly to all Angelenos,” Garcetti said in a statement. In addition, the city will provide nighttime appointments at three locations so residents can get vaccinated after work, officials said. At the city’s first night clinic last week, 62% of first doses were given out after 2 p.m., Garcetti’s office said. So far, 48.4% of Los Angeles County residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 34.8% are fully vaccinated, according to the Los Angeles Times’ vaccination tracker.

Colorado

Denver: A former Amazon warehouse worker has filed a complaint with the state Department of Labor and Employment against Amazon over its COVID-19 policies and allegations that her firing was retaliatory. Linda Rodriguez alleged in her complaint filed Thursday that Amazon fired her in 2020 because she raised concerns about the company’s policies and practices. She said they put Thornton, Colorado, warehouse workers at risk amid the spread of the coronavirus, according to the complaint sent to the agency’s Division of Labor Standards and Statistics. The complaint said Rodriguez was fired “for speaking out” after she raised concerns that Amazon was providing health information only in English even though many workers in the facility only speak Spanish and “felt extraordinary pressure to continue coming to work every day, even if they were sick.” In response to the complaint, an Amazon spokesperson said Rodriguez was not fired for speaking publicly but for “timecard fraud” or “time theft,” which they said was confirmed by time records and video footage. Amazon also said that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency that regulates companies to ensure safe working conditions, confirmed Rodriguez withdrew a complaint filed with the federal agency in early December 2020.

Connecticut

Hartford: Of the more than 1.4 million residents who are now fully vaccinated, 242 later became infected with COVID-19, according to data released Friday by the state Department of Public Health. Among the 242 so-called vaccine breakthrough cases, 109 people had no symptoms of the disease. DPH reported three deaths among vaccinated individuals who were confirmed to have had underlying medical conditions. All were over 55 years old. Nationally, there have been 132 vaccine breakthrough deaths, DPH said. “The main takeaway is that COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective and cases of infection after a person is fully vaccinated are very rare,” Dr. Deidre Gifford, the state’s acting public health commissioner, said in a statement. The percentage of cases of COVID-19 in fully vaccinated individuals in Connecticut is less than 0.1%, according to the DPH data. “The best protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19 is vaccination, and I strongly urge all eligible Connecticut residents who have not yet gotten vaccinated to do so,” Gifford said. Release of the breakthrough case data comes as more than 50% of Connecticut residents age 16 and older are now fully vaccinated.

Delaware

A banner on the side on a new Target location in the Prices Corner Shopping Center advertises that the business is hiring for its grand opening.
A banner on the side on a new Target location in the Prices Corner Shopping Center advertises that the business is hiring for its grand opening.

Wilmington: As demand returns for activities that were put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses say they are struggling to hire workers. “What we are hearing, of course, are a need for workers to fill unfilled jobs,” said Rachel Turney, deputy secretary at the Delaware Department of Labor. The pandemic-era unemployment system could be contributing to the lack of job-seekers for lower-paying positions thanks to Congress extending extra federal unemployment benefits and the state labor department halting the requirement that beneficiaries actively look for work. Office of Occupational and Labor Market Information Chief Thomas Dougherty said businesses struggling to hire could raise wages in order to compete with unemployment benefits. “When you have the wage going up, you also attract more workers to either enter the labor market or ... attract them from another industry, or maybe attract them from another state,” he said. “If I’m making such and such money from unemployment insurance, I’m reluctant to take a job that pays the same or less.” Democrats in the General Assembly are trying to pass a $15 minimum wage, gradually raising it from the current $9.25 over the course of several years. But many business representatives oppose the measure.

District of Columbia

Washington: D.C. will lift most COVID-19 restrictions and capacity limits starting May 21 following “dramatic” improvements in health metrics in the city, WUSA-TV reports. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that restrictions on public and commercial activities – including capacity limits, types of activities and time restrictions – will be lifted across the city May 21. But the loosening of restrictions excludes bars, nightclubs, and large sports or music venues, which will operate at 50% capacity. Bowser said starting June 11, restrictions will be lifted for all establishments and venues in the district. D.C. will continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask guidance. That means wearing masks will still be required, Bowser said. City health officials said community spread of the coronavirus is decreasing after peaking in January. She said the district is going in the right direction when it comes to COVID-19 cases and vaccinations., and residents and businesses have outperformed the metrics. “I am proud of D.C. residents who have followed health guidance, and we see it in the numbers,” Bowser said.

Florida

Tallahassee: Local vaccination clinics have noticed a slowdown in demand for COVID-19 shots. “People who were eager to get vaccinated have been vaccinated,” said Dr. Temple Robinson, CEO of the Bond Community Health Center. “Now we really need to turn our attention to (the) people who are still deciding when or if they want to get vaccinated.” Leon County health officials say the observed vaccination fatigue is concerning and concentrated among young adults. Included in that demographic are nearly 70,000 students who attend local colleges. Despite students residing in Tallahassee for school, they are counted among Leon County’s population for COVID-19 statistics, according to the Florida Department of Health. This pattern holds true across the state. Florida has fully vaccinated about 31% of its adult population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “My concern is the 18-35 population is showing a little more hesitancy than I would have expected early on,” Robinson said, adding that the 65-and-older population has been more eager to get vaccinated. Of the more than 93,000 locals vaccinated, state data shows that only about 8,240 are between the ages of 16 and 24.

Georgia

Atlanta: The state’s elected labor commissioner said he intends to reinstate the requirement that people must actively search for work to receive unemployment benefits “in the next few months.” Republican Mark Butler didn’t say exactly when the job-search requirement would return. Butler said last week that those getting benefits would get notice of the change. Georgia and most other states suspended job-search requirements to cut down on COVID-19 exposure. Butler said his department is shifting its focus from paying benefits to encouraging recipients to find new jobs. He said employers have 240,000 jobs listed with the state, and the department provides job-search assistance, career counseling and skills testing. “I hear every day from employers who have been forced to reduce business hours, refuse large deliveries, and turn down economic opportunities due to the simple fact that they did not have the staff to support them,” Butler said in a statement. He said hotels and restaurants have particularly critical labor needs. Some officials and business owners have called for ending a $300-a-week federal unemployment supplement, saying it allows too many workers to afford to stay home. However, defenders of the measure say the labor market is still disrupted by COVID-19, particularly among those with children.

Hawaii

Honolulu: The state is leading the nation in vaccinating its adult population against COVID-19, HawaiiNewsNow reports. Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the outlet that with 70% of residents 18 and up having received at least one dose of a vaccine, Hawaii is ahead of the rest of the United States, taking the No. 1 spot. The state has been seeing daily new coronavirus cases in the high double-digits but expects to see that number drop further as the Aloha State pushes further toward herd immunity, Green said.

Idaho

Boise: The state Department of Health and Welfare is offering funding to groups to establish and operate mobile, off-site, walk-in and special COVID-19 vaccination clinics in underserved populations. That includes communities of high social vulnerabilities, racial and ethnic minority populations, and rural communities, among others. A total of $9 million is available on a first-come, first-served basis to enrolled vaccine providers, who can apply for funding online. Grant money can be used for any COVID-19 vaccine services the recipient provides outside their usual, appointment-based clinics. Examples include, but are not limited to, in-home vaccination for homebound individuals; clinics joined with community and job fairs; and walk-up sites at pharmacies, shopping centers, places of worship, colleges and universities, salons, and other locations. An initial funding cap of $500,000 per applicant will apply for the funding opportunity. Eligible applicants must either be currently enrolled as an Idaho COVID-19 vaccine provider or partner with an enrolled Idaho COVID-19 vaccine provider to administer the clinic.

Illinois

Springfield: State public health officials on Sunday reported 1,741 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, including 30 additional deaths. The Illinois Department of Public Health is reporting a total of 1.35 million coronavirus cases in Illinois, including 22,223 deaths, since the start of the pandemic. As of late Saturday, 1,870 people were hospitalized in the state due to COVID-19. Of those, 452 were in intensive care units, and 232 were on ventilators. The preliminary seven-day statewide test positivity rate is 3.4%. A total of 9,908,489 vaccines have been injected into the arms of Illinois residents since mid-December, and 35% of the state’s population, about 4.5 million, is fully vaccinated, according to the public health department.

Indiana

Duane Zenn visits his mother, Mary Ellen Zenn, during a nursing home window visit Friday, April 23, 2021, at Prairie Lakes Health Campus in Noblesville, Ind. Zenn says the window visit is due to a COVID-19 case inside the nursing home but should be able to visit his mother in person in four days. Mary Ellen was a resident at another nursing home earlier this year, Miller's Senior Living Community in Castleton, when a bedsore on her heel sent her to the hospital. The sore was so badly infected that gangrene had set in, and her right leg had to be amputated above the knee.
Duane Zenn visits his mother, Mary Ellen Zenn, during a nursing home window visit Friday, April 23, 2021, at Prairie Lakes Health Campus in Noblesville, Ind. Zenn says the window visit is due to a COVID-19 case inside the nursing home but should be able to visit his mother in person in four days. Mary Ellen was a resident at another nursing home earlier this year, Miller's Senior Living Community in Castleton, when a bedsore on her heel sent her to the hospital. The sore was so badly infected that gangrene had set in, and her right leg had to be amputated above the knee.

Indianapolis: Advocates for nursing home residents say they worry a new state law expanding COVID-19 liability protections for health care providers will effectively block many lawsuits over neglect and substandard treatment that weren’t caused by the pandemic. The law, which applies retroactively to when Indiana’s first COVID-19 infections were reported in March 2020, was sought by the nursing home industry, which argues it will keep facilities financially viable by shielding them from a potential flood of coronavirus-related lawsuits. Critics of the law, however, maintain it lets nursing homes escape responsibility for deaths and injuries caused by problems that preceded the pandemic, such as inadequate staffing. The new law protects health care providers against any claims “arising from COVID-19.” The definition of that phrase includes the reallocation of staff, delaying or modifying nonemergency medical services, and reasonable nonperformance of medical services due to COVID-19. The measure doesn’t prevent lawsuits over “gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct,” but trial lawyers warn those are virtually impossible to prove. Jody Madeira, a professor who teaches medical law at Indiana University, said the law provides a way for nursing homes to make mistreatment claims go away.

Iowa

Marshalltown: Gov. Kim Reynolds has removed the chief executive of the state’s nursing home for veterans and their spouses, months after praising his response to the coronavirus pandemic, her office said Monday. Reynolds’ spokesman, Pat Garrett, said Timon Oujiri was “relieved of his duties” as commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown last week. He offered no additional information on the leadership change at the facility, which is Iowa’s largest nursing home. Reynolds appointed Oujiri as commandant in 2017, and the Iowa Senate confirmed him in 2018. In his role, he oversaw one of the nation’s largest state-owned nursing homes for veterans, with about 500 residents and 900 employees. In December, the governor appeared with Oujiri at one of her news conferences and praised the work he had done protecting the home’s staff and residents during the pandemic. “You and your team have done such an outstanding job,” Reynolds said. “Job well done.” Oujiri, 63, returned the support, saying the governor had ensured the home had adequate personal protective equipment and testing supplies. He said then that 21 of the home’s residents tested positive for the coronavirus in 2020 and that five of them died.

Kansas

Wichita: Identity theft rose sharply last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and no place was hit harder than the Sunflower State. The Wichita Eagle reports that 43,211 Kansans alerted the Federal Trade Commission in 2020 that someone had stolen or tried to steal their identity. That was 2,272 more cases than in 2019. Kansas’ 1,802% year-over-year increase was the highest among the states and more than three times the national average. Rhode Island was next, with an increase of 1,002%. Of all the 2020 identity theft reports in Kansas, 88% were classified as government documents or benefits fraud. The Kansas Department of Labor has cited a barrage of fraudulent unemployment claims since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Kentucky

Louisville: Those who get a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a Kroger or Walmart may be able to get in on a major cash prize. The Kentucky Lottery announced Monday that, starting immediately, people 18 or older who get a first or second dose of the vaccine at more than 170 Kroger and Walmart locations across the state will receive a coupon for a free CashBall 225 ticket. The top prize in the nightly CashBall game is $225,000, according to the Kentucky Lottery. This announcement comes as public officials in the Bluegrass State continue to urge Kentuckians to receive a COVID-19 shot. As of Sunday, 1,867,037 Kentuckians – or 42% of the commonwealth’s population – have been vaccinated. At recent press briefings, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, has said that he will be announcing incentives to encourage people to get the vaccine.

Louisiana

New Orleans: A pound of crawfish is being promised to lure people to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The city is partnering with the local nonprofit Go Propeller to give the vaccines and crawfish from The Original Cajun Seafood on Thursday, WVUE-TV reports. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be available during the event, along with food, music and gift card giveaways, officials said. The crawfish giveaway is one of many different ways health officials and businesses have been encouraging people to get vaccinated. In recent weeks various bars have held “shots for shots” events where people who get vaccinated can get a free shot of booze, while other events have featured music or fish fry giveaways.

Maine

Portland: A proposal from a group of Republicans to ban mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for five years is up for consideration by a legislative committee this week. The lawmakers, led by Rep. Tracy Quint, R-Hodgdon, have based their proposal in part on the theory that the vaccines cause reproductive harm. Numerous medical authorities have said the claim lacks merit, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there is “no evidence that any of the COVID-19 vaccines affect future fertility.” The proposal is slated for a work session before the Legislature’s Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services on Tuesday. The bill says it “prohibits mandatory vaccinations for coronavirus disease 2019 for 5 years from the date of a vaccine’s first emergency use authorization by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration in order to allow for safety testing and investigations into reproductive harm.” Maine authorities are not currently considering any proposals that would make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for residents. More than 52% of the eligible people in the state have been fully vaccinated, state officials said Monday. Maine was one of the first states in the country to surpass the 50% threshold.

Maryland

The James Shaull Wagon Train makes its way east on U.S. 40, near Spickler Road east of Clear Spring, on May 18, 2019.
The James Shaull Wagon Train makes its way east on U.S. 40, near Spickler Road east of Clear Spring, on May 18, 2019.

Hagerstown: While taking note of current health threats, a bit of the past will roll through Washington County next weekend. After missing last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Pike Festival and James Shaull Wagon Train will return. “This year, obviously, is going to be different,” said Chad Walker, the organization’s secretary and treasurer. Even though it’s an outdoor event, face coverings will be required because of ongoing COVID-19 concerns. Visitors will be able to pet horses at the stops, Walker said, but they should wear masks. “As well, we’re going to practice social distancing where possible,” he said. The event celebrates the past and tries to educate people about what life was like when it took an hour or so just to hitch up a buggy and prepare for a trip to town. The National Pike Festival commemorates what was once the major route west. Different communities celebrate in different ways. The James Shaull Wagon Train is a nod to Shaull, who farmed with Belgian horses and participated in annual wagon trains and parades. He died in a tractor accident. “He thought it was important to educate the public on how it was to live back then,” Walker said. The wagon train will set off Friday afternoon from Plumb Grove and end Sunday morning in Boonsboro.

Massachusetts

Boston: The city’s famous Swan Boats are again offering rides after being sidelined last year because of the pandemic. Acting Mayor Kim Janey took her family on one of the foot-powered boats Saturday to celebrate their reopening at the Boston Public Garden. Janey called it “a great way to celebrate our recovery from the pandemic.” “We welcome Bostonians and visitors back to our historic park to enjoy this joyful attraction in keeping with current health guidelines for a safe ride with family and friends,” she said in a statement. Masks are required on the boats, and passengers are being spaced apart in line and on the vessels. 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. The oldest boat in the fleet just celebrated its 111th season. Each Swan Boat weighs 3 tons fully laden and is powered by the driver using a foot-propelled paddle wheel.

Michigan

Lansing: The state said late Friday that 54% of residents ages 16 and up have gotten at least one COVID-19 shot, a roughly 2.5 percentage point jump after factoring in people who were vaccinated outside the state or at federal facilities. The addition of nearly 227,000 residents to the state’s count put Michigan close to a 55% benchmark Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said is needed to allow in-person work in all sectors, including offices. The reopening step will occur two weeks after the milestone is reached. State officials said a new tracker uses data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which can access data from out-of-state providers and federal entities like veterans hospitals. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, said the “Vacc to Normal” tracker provides the most complete vaccination estimate. Nearly 4.4 million Michiganders, 53.9%, ages 16 and older have received one dose. That is higher than 51.5% that was shown on the state’s regular vaccine dashboard Friday. The state health department urged people who were vaccinated in another state to bring their card to their next doctor’s appointment or to their local health department so that their immunization information is updated in the Michigan Care Improvement Registry.

Minnesota

Minneapolis: Health officials are trying a range of strategies in an attempt to get people vaccinated and slow the spread of the coronavirus. Volunteer physicians are working with a brewery in St. Paul on a pop-up event that rewards those who get shots with a free beer. Vaccinations are being offered in the downtown bus depot in Duluth. An Elk River clinic is offering shots to patients who are seeking help for other health care needs. Officials are hoping the creativity pays off. Since early April, the statewide average for first COVID-19 vaccine doses administered has fallen from about 40,000 per day to fewer than 14,000 at the end of last week, the Star Tribune reports. “We’re seeing a shift now from the earlier phases of vaccination, where there were folks very eager to get the vaccine and able to go to, sometimes, pretty extraordinary lengths to go find the vaccine wherever it was,” said Jan Malcolm, the state health commissioner. “Now we’re in a situation where we’ve got plenty of vaccine supply, and we need to reach those folks and make it more convenient for them.” Gov. Tim Walz has announced the state’s indoor mask mandate will end July 1 but said it could be lifted sooner if 70% of those age 16 and older receive first doses. That would equal more than 3 million people.

Mississippi

Bay St. Louis: A hospice care center is working to brighten patients’ pandemic-darkened days with good deeds. Wishing Well Project was started at SouthernCare Hospice in Picayune. “If there’s something specific that will just brighten their day, cheer them up and give them a couple of good memories is what we try to do,” Coordinator Rebecca Silvia told WLOX. The TV outlet reports Nola King of Bay St. Louis just had her garden restored. When she was younger, she used to spend all her time in the garden. “I got garden of the month twice,” King told WLOX. “I’ve had a lawnmower; I weeded my flower beds; I made my flower beds. I’ve done it all.” But lately, King said she has not been able to work in her garden at the house where she’s lived for more than 70 years due to her health. “I miss it so much,” King told the television station. “Gardening helps you grow. I’ve read that plants are the best thing you could do when you’re older.” Silvia said the organization relies on volunteers to complete patients’ wishes, and they’re always looking for more. “I’m always a little surprised at the turnout,” she said. “When you reach out to the need of folks, especially in Bay St. Louis, they just turn up. Especially after a tough year of COVID, it’s nice to see people being nice.”

Missouri

Charlee Crawford, a student at Cowden Elementary, searches for critters with a net at the Watershed Center at Valley Water Mill Park during summer school on July 13.
Charlee Crawford, a student at Cowden Elementary, searches for critters with a net at the Watershed Center at Valley Water Mill Park during summer school on July 13.

Springfield: Springfield Public Schools’ summer program is finding a new balance this year. Explore’s offerings for elementary and middle school will largely resemble the courses before the pandemic, with a few changes and extra precautions. High school courses will be almost entirely online. Dana Hubbard, director of summer learning and student experiences, said seated or in-person learning will be an option for kindergarten through eighth grade. “We are really hopeful that we can get our families reengaged in that way,” she said. In a nod to the pandemic, there will also be a virtual learning option for elementary and middle school students. “The new thing we bring with us, after a year of COVID and shifting, is we will also have – starting with first grade all the way through eighth grade – online options for courses,” she said. Elementary courses, in-person and virtual, include “Route 66 Road Trip” and the Earth Explorers. The seated-only courses include Explore Diversity, Life Lab, and the STEAM Works. Hubbard said Central High School will have in-person classes for students with special needs, students with limited English skills, and individuals significantly lagging behind their peers academically. The district will offer two sessions of Explore, one June 7-30 and the second July 7-30.

Montana

Billings: A nonprofit plans to open a slaughterhouse that will kill and process cattle donated for food banks. The $2.5 million Producer Partnership plant outside Livingston will be able to process 300 animals per month by next year, the Billings Gazette reports. Ranchers who donate cattle for food banks will have access to the processing plant for their own retail sales. The Producer Partnership formed last year to help struggling communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership has donated 80,000 pounds of hamburger in the past year and is shooting for 140,000 pounds a year. The group has struggled to secure space at slaughterhouses, however, limiting how many donated animals it can accept. “We’ve been trying to get kill dates at different plants. That proved to be hard to find a kill date in the first place, and then we wound up with so many animals donated that we couldn’t find enough dates,” said Mayzie Purviance, Producer Partnership program administrator. The processing plant will be federally inspected, meaning ranchers who choose to use the facility for direct retail sales will be able to ship meat out of state, Purviance said.

Nebraska

Lincoln: The state will issue emergency payments Tuesday to residents who received food stamp benefits in April as part of the federal pandemic assistance law, state officials said. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said it will issue the payments through Sept. 30 to comply with the American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law earlier this year by President Joe Biden. Recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will not have to take any action to get the extra support because the increased benefits will go directly to their EBT cards. Under the law, all SNAP households must receive a minimum of $95 in emergency allotments.

Nevada

Las Vegas: Casino giant Caesars Entertainment Inc. is postponing plans to sell one of its eight Las Vegas Strip resorts until the market further rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps next year, the Las Vegas Sun reports. Caesars officials have said since the company’s merger with Eldorado Resorts that they plan to sell a Strip asset. “We remain convinced that it does not make sense for us to market an asset until we can market it off the cash flow that we’re doing with it, not off a bridge to what we think we can do with it,” Caesars CEO Tom Reeg said. He said it’s possible a sale could happen in 2022. A potential buyer, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, looked at a Strip property before coming to terms on a $650 million deal announced last week to buy the Palms, according to its CEO, Laurens Vosloo, who declined to say which Strip property the band was considering. Caesars posted a net loss of $423 million for the first quarter of the year after collecting $1.7 billion in net revenues for the three months that ended March 31. The company recorded a net loss of $173 million during the first quarter of 2020. Caesars officials said they expect business in Las Vegas will continue to improve as the year goes on.

New Hampshire

Concord: State officials expect spending on summer tourism to rebound to near 2019 levels. The state Division of Travel and Tourism Development is predicting there will be nearly 3.5 million visitors to New Hampshire this summer, with spending reaching $1.8 billion. Summer is typically the busiest season for tourism in the state. Last summer, visitation dropped 15% because of the pandemic. But officials expect a rebound based on pent-up demand for travel and the state’s high vaccination rate, strong economy and tourism assets. The state is launching a summer advertising campaign targeting Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, said Lori Harnois, state tourism director. She said the emphasis will be on hiking, boating, camping and family fun. “We expect this to be a summer of discovery and rediscovery for visitors,” Harnois said. “Our message is to come, explore everything we have to offer, and Discover Your New in New Hampshire.”

New Jersey

Trenton: Gov. Phil Murphy will set aside $275 million to help small businesses and individuals affected by COVID-19, including $40 million in federal funds for undocumented immigrants and others left out of previous pandemic relief. Murphy announced the funding in a statement Friday and said much of the $235 million in small-business assistance would go toward bars and restaurants, child care centers and others hard hit by a year of coronavirus lockdowns. State lawmakers would still have to approve that pot, but Murphy said legislative leaders are already on board. Cash payments for individuals, meanwhile, would come out of federal stimulus funds over which Murphy has control, the administration said. The money would help New Jerseyans who suffered relatively short periods of unemployment as well as undocumented immigrants, who’ve been largely ineligible for trillions of dollars in federal relief payments as well as state unemployment over the past year. “COVID-19 has created unimaginable challenges for our economy over the past year,” Murphy said. “As we emerge from this pandemic, we need to make targeted investments in both our small businesses and our workforce to lay the foundation for a stronger and fairer future that works for everyone.”

New Mexico

A oil rig operation is pictured near the future site of the Holtec nuclear waste facility on Monday, April 12, 2021 in Lea County, New Mexico.
A oil rig operation is pictured near the future site of the Holtec nuclear waste facility on Monday, April 12, 2021 in Lea County, New Mexico.

Albuquerque: The state has set a record for the highest monthly royalty earnings from oil and gas leases, according to state officials. The State Land Office reported that nearly $110 million was earned in April – more than any month in state history. The previous record was nearly $109 million in February 2020, just before a global price war and pandemic market forces disrupted the oil industry. Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard said the revenue boon will benefit public schools, hospitals and other programs that are funded by drilling and other development on state trust land. Revenue from activities on trust land on average saves the typical New Mexico household an estimated $1,500 per year in taxes that would otherwise be needed to fund state operations, Garcia Richard said. “This is a huge monetary relief for hard working New Mexico families, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic,” she said in a statement. While oil and gas is a driving force of New Mexico’s economy and the state budget, the Democratic land commissioner said the resources are finite and aren’t a stable long-term budgeting tool for the state.

New York

New York: A political candidate who led protests against coronavirus restrictions in Brooklyn last fall will avoid jail time after pleading guilty Friday to a charge of inciting a riot. Harold “Heshy” Tischler was sentenced to 10 days of community service for egging on a crowd of men that chased and trapped a journalist during the Oct. 7 protest in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park. Video showed the men surrounding, jostling and taunting Jacob Kornbluh, who had been reporting on resistance to social distancing in the neighborhood. Tischler, not wearing a mask, could be seen screaming in Kornbluh’s face. Kornbluh, who is also an Orthodox Jew, said he was struck and kicked during the incident. Kornbluh was reporting for Jewish Insider at the time and now writes for the Jewish newspaper The Forward. Tischler, an activist and City Council candidate, posted a video on Twitter after his court appearance praising his lawyers who “saved me” and showing himself behind the counter with supporters at a local pizza parlor. Kornbluh tweeted that he welcomed Tischler’s acknowledgment in court “that he incited a riot against me and has been held accountable for his actions. I am looking forward to continuing my work in journalism undeterred.”

North Carolina

Raleigh: Lawmakers are pressing to ensure that patients at health care facilities can receive visits from family member and clergy, especially during future emergencies. Last week the state Senate and House approved separate measures designed to address situations where patients lacked access to a minister or visits from family during last year’s COVID-19 restrictions and later died. The Senate’s “No Patient Left Behind” bill, approved on a 40-9 vote, tells hospitals and hospice care, nursing home and residential treatment facilities to allow patients to receive visitors to the fullest extent permitted by federal Medicaid and Medicare rules and regulations. If they don’t, the health care facilities will receive a warning. Those who don’t allow visitors within 24 hours of the warning will face minimum daily fines of $500 per incident. Similar rules apply to adult care homes. The House voted 98-19 for a measure directing state-licensed hospitals to allow a clergy member to visit any patient who requests one. A cleric may be subject to health screenings and could be turned away if he or she fails to pass that screening or tests positive for an infectious disease. Each bill still must pass the opposite chamber before being sent to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk.

North Dakota

Bismarck: An annual report using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the state’s rate of workplace deaths remains among the highest in the country. The annual report released by the AFL-CIO shows that 37 North Dakota workers died in 2019 due to on-the-job injuries. The rate of 9.7 deaths per 100,000 workers was the third-highest in the nation, behind Alaska and Wyoming, the Bismarck Tribune reports. “This year’s report is yet another reminder of the dangers facing working people in North Dakota every single day,” North Dakota AFL-CIO President Landis Larson said in a statement. “Now with COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to protect working people.” Nationally in 2019, 5,333 workers were killed on the job, and an estimated 90,000 died from occupational diseases. The overall rate of fatal job injuries was 2.8 per 100,000. according to the labor union federation. It’s the the 30th year the AFL-CIO has released the findings on the state of safety and health protections for workers across the country. North Dakota’s ranking has changed little in recent years. In 2016, the state had 28 workplace deaths and ranked fifth in the nation; in 2017, the state had 38 deaths and ranked second; and in 2018, it had 35 deaths and ranked third.

Ohio

Cincinnati: The state will take only 20% of the COVID-19 vaccine doses allocated to it this week amid slumping demand. Ohio was allocated 324,960 first doses this week. The state has ordered just 65,370 first doses to arrive this week, an Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman said Monday. More could be used this week: The state is banking 139,230 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for use in children ages 12 to 15, once the vaccine receives emergency approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration. That’s expected as soon as this week. Those doses will be stored with the rest of Ohio’s stockpile at the federal level. As of last week, Ohio had stockpiled 480,180 first COVID-19 vaccine doses – about 10% of the total number of first doses administered statewide. “Vaccine is precious,” health department spokeswoman Alicia Shoults wrote in an email. “Many providers in Ohio have adequate vaccine supply on hand and requested that additional doses not be shipped to them the week of May 10.” Last week, White House officials said states could request a smaller or larger number of doses than what was allocated to them. Unordered doses could be contributed to a national pool to divert to states and programs in need of more vaccine.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: The latest flu season has been especially mild, and experts say COVID-19 precautions likely played a role in keeping the numbers down. Across the state, 221 flu-associated hospitalizations and 10 deaths were reported so far during the 2020-21 season – the lowest numbers in years, aligning with trends across the country. During the previous flu season, 3,580 hospitalizations and 85 deaths were reported, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Masks and social distancing were likely a major factor in keeping the flu at bay this year, said Dr. David Chansolme, medical director of infection prevention with Integris Health. “As people have really questioned the science behind masks, to me, the lack of a significant flu season is the most verification that you need,” Chansolme said. During a presentation at a recent Healthier Oklahoma Coalition news conference, MyHealth Access Network founder and CEO Dr. David Kendrick said there was a significant difference in flu positivity rates in communities where masks were required versus where they weren’t. There are likely other factors, too, Chansolme said: a relative lack of crowds, more people working from home than usual – even fist-bumps versus handshakes.

Oregon

Portland: The city’s mass vaccination site is expected to close June 19 after giving hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 shots, organizers said Monday. The All4Oregon site, which was set up by four of Portland’s major hospitals in a joint vaccination effort, has been running since Jan. 20 at the Oregon Convention Center. The site began offering self-scheduling and walk-in appointments for the first time last week, but organizers said a drop in volume made it clear that demand for a mass vaccination site is waning as shots become more widely available elsewhere. Many retail pharmacies now offer walk-in appointments, and health providers are shifting their focus to smaller neighborhood- and community-targeted vaccination efforts as supply begins to outstrip demand for the doses. All4Oregon will offer stop offering first doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine May 27 and will offer second doses only in June. It expects to close completely June 19. The clinic only offers Pfizer. As of Friday, the site had administered 465,000 shots. Oregon has now administered more than 3.3 million doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines statewide, and nearly 2 million Oregonians have received at least one dose, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Pennsylvania

Harrisburg: As federal agencies stand poised to approve COVID-19 vaccines for children 12 to 15, a Montgomery County state legislator is planning to introduce a bill that would allow those 14 and older to consent to receiving federally recommended immunizations without parental approval. Democratic state Sen. Amanda Cappelletti said in a co-sponsorship memo circulated that the legislation would mirror the state’s mental health law that allows minors 14 and older to consent to inpatient mental health treatment. Cappelletti wrote that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended immunizations for children and adolescents that include “vaccines that have been proven to be safe, effective, and necessary to protect and promote public health” and that minors should be able to consent to receive them. According to the CDC, everyone 16 and over is now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Cappelletti offered statistics from the World Health Organization that showed vaccinations prevent 2 million to 3 million deaths annually, and 1.5 million more deaths could be prevented if vaccination numbers are improved.

Rhode Island

Providence: The mental health and education of the state’s children suffered greatly last year during the coronavirus pandemic, and children of color were the hardest-hit, according to data released Monday by Kids Count, the national child advocacy nonprofit. “Unacceptable gaps continue to exist between children of color and white children in nearly every Factbook indicator,” Rhode Island Kids Count executive director Elizabeth Burke Bryant said. “These gaps have persisted because of systemic racism and barriers to opportunity that must be addressed and dismantled to ensure that every child can succeed. The COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on stark economic, education, and other disparities and challenges to children’s success.” The number of calls to Kids Link RI, a 24-hour emergency mental health and behavioral referral network, was up 22% in 2020 from the previous year, the organization said. The number of children enrolled in kindergarten, considered a critical first step toward fluency in reading and writing, dropped 11% in 2020 from the previous year, similar to national trends as families kept their youngest home or waited for schools to open in person.

South Carolina

A garbage truck collects trash from a residence Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.
A garbage truck collects trash from a residence Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.

Pickens: Pickens County is planning to pay charities and civic groups $250 a mile for cleaning up litter. The county has set aside $75,000 in COVID-19 relief funding for the program, enough to clean up 300 miles, said County Councilman Roy Costner III. The program is designed to help struggling groups that have been unable to do their usual fundraising during the pandemic, Costner said. It would also be a way to use relief money aimed at helping communities, without having officials pick and choose which organizations get the relief, he said. The program aims to clean up at least 25% of the county’s roads while supporting local organizations and businesses, said Jamie Burns, a spokeswoman for the county. It’s a big step in a years­long effort to fight litter, said Chris Bowers, council chairman. Pick Up Pickens is believed to be the first program of its kind in the state, and using pandemic money for this could be a first in the nation, Burns said. Political groups and candidates aren’t eligible, before-and-after photos must show that the area was cleaned, and there would be a limit on how many miles each group handles. The plan is promising and could serve as a model for other counties in the state, said Sarah Lyles, executive director of Palmetto Pride, the state’s anti-litter organization.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: Two state agencies, the Department of Labor and Regulation and the Department of Tourism, are partnering together to help fill jobs in the tourism industry. Businesses are encouraged to post their job openings on SDWORKS, according to a news release. The database has more than 23,000 job openings. “The success of our tourism industry is a major factor in South Dakota’s economic health,” Gov. Kristi Noem said in the release. “South Dakota’s economic success has led to the lowest unemployment rate in America. While that is excellent news, we have more job openings than workers to fill them – especially in travel and tourism.” Noem initially announced the tourism workforce recruitment campaign at a press conference at Mount Rushmore on May 3 to kick off National Travel & Tourism Week. In 2020, a total of 49,500 jobs were supported by the tourism industry, representing 1 in 12 jobs in South Dakota, the release said. Those jobs include full-time, part-time and seasonal positions. South Dakota expects an increased amount of visitation to the state in 2021 due to a demand for travel and the state remaining open for business amid the pandemic, the release said.

Tennessee

Lorrie Morgan performs at the Grand Ole Opry during the Opry's 95th anniversary celebration which included a 500-person live audience Saturday, October 3, 2020.
Lorrie Morgan performs at the Grand Ole Opry during the Opry's 95th anniversary celebration which included a 500-person live audience Saturday, October 3, 2020.

Nashville: Two major venues will soon lift capacity restrictions as the city continues to reopen from limitations implemented on businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. News outlets report that Nashville Soccer Club will open at near capacity for its May 23 match. Face coverings will still be encouraged but not required for outdoors. Meanwhile, Grand Ole Opry will begin weekly performances at full capacity Friday for the first time in more than a year. The indoor mask mandate will remain in place. That night’s show will include Opry members Lorrie Morgan and the Oak Ridge Boys. Earlier this year, Nashville officials announced that on May 14 the city would lift all COVID-19 restrictions, except for an indoor mask mandate. The city decided to ease the limits after the COVID-19 vaccine had been available to all adults for several weeks.

Texas

Austin: Republican Don Huffines, a former state senator from Dallas who has sharply criticized the state’s handling of the pandemic, said Monday that he will challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022. Huffines is a wealthy businessman who has spent the past year rallying with conservative activists around Texas, including outside the governor’s mansion in October. Abbott, who did not have a serious primary challenger in his first two campaigns for governor, has faced pressure from within his party over COVID-19 closures and a statewide mask mandate. Huffines, who served one term in the Senate before losing his seat in 2018 to Democrat Nathan Johnson, did not mention Abbott in his announcement. “Plain and simple, our politicians aren’t getting things done, and Texans have rightfully run out of patience,” Huffines said. Abbott reported having nearly $38 million in his campaign account in January, and his prolific fundraising has been a major obstacle for previous challengers. A Democratic challenger to Abbott next year has yet to emerge, although former congressman Beto O’Rourke has not ruled out running. Actor Matthew McConaughey is also flirting with a run for governor.

Utah

Salt Lake City: The state reported 2,340 new coronavirus cases in the week ending Sunday, down 9.3% from the previous week. Utah ranked 31st among the states where the virus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Across Utah, cases fell in five counties, with the best declines in Salt Lake, Utah and Tooele counties. Meanwhile, the state ranked 34th in the nation in share of people receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 40.9% of its residents at least partially inoculated. The national rate is 45.8%, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. In the week ending Sunday, Utah reported administering another 95,682 vaccine doses, including 37,389 first doses. In the previous week, the state administered 132,249 vaccine doses, including 56,176 first doses. In all, Utah reported it has administered 2,263,595 total doses. Within Utah, the worst weekly outbreaks on a per-person basis were in San Juan, Davis and Summit counties. Adding the most new cases overall were Salt Lake County, with 855 cases; Utah County, with 460 cases; and Davis County, with 296. Across the state, 20 people were reported dead of COVID-19 in the week ending Sunday. In the week before that, 22 people were reported dead.

Vermont

Vernon: The town is planning to hold its annual town meeting outdoors this year. Earlier this year the Vernon select board moved the community’s town meeting, which is usually held in March, to May 23 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The whole process will be new, but as far as what they’re voting on, should be pretty much the same,” said interim town administrator Wendy Harrison. The Brattleboro Reformer reports the meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 23 on the lawn outside the town hall. In addition to masking, participants will answer health-related questions upon checking in. Social distancing rules also will be applied. No food sales or table leafletting will be allowed. At the meeting, townspeople will decide a number of economic issues for the community.

Virginia

Petersburg: Petersburg Area Transit riders can expect free fares for at least the next year, officials say. The influx of federal funding from the coronavirus relief package passed in March 2020 and other federal dollars allow PAT to ensure free rides until the end of the 2021-22 fiscal year. “We’ve already balanced our budget without the revenue from free fares,” said Charles Koonce Jr., transit general manager for PAT. Free bus fares have been offered since March 2020. Ridership has decreased about 40% since the start of the pandemic, according to Koonce. Nearby localities have followed suit in providing free fares for riders in efforts to protect everyone on board. Greater Richmond Transit Company will operate under free fares until the end of the next fiscal year and hold a board meeting to see whether to continue the free fares the following year. Charlottesville promised its residents zero fares for the next three years. The Commonwealth Transportation Board allocated $3.5 million of the $456 million it received from the first pandemic relief package passed by Congress. A portion of the funds went into purchasing personal protective equipment for all employees and increasing custodial operations.

Washington

Seattle: More people in the state died of drug overdoses in 2020 than any other year in at least the last decade, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Health. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic likely led to a surge in drug use, the department said. The Seattle Times reports fatal drug overdoses increased more than 30% last year compared to 2019, according to the data, marking an increase more than twice as large as any other year in the past decade. Deadly opioid overdoses – from prescription painkillers, heroin, fentanyl and other similar substances – increased even faster, by nearly 40%, according to the data. That represented more than triple the rate of any other increase in the past decade. The Department of Health is still analyzing the preliminary data and causes of death in specific cases, and state health officials expect the number of overdose deaths to grow even higher. “It is reasonable to believe the psychological, social and economic impacts of COVID-19 led to an increase in drug use,” said Kristen Maki, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health. In 2020 the health department reported 1,649 drug overdose deaths, compared with 1,259 the previous year. Many more people reached out for help with drug or alcohol problems during 2020, according to state data.

West Virginia

Kanawha County: A clinic formed in 1973 to care for and serve families in the region’s mining communities has been working to vaccinate coal miners against COVID-19. Dr. Jessica McColley, head of medical services at Cabin Creek Health Systems, said she and her colleagues show up at the mines between shifts and catch workers coming and going, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. McColley called the working environment for coal miners “great for an airborne virus.” Underground miners often work in small, low-airflow areas with several other people for extended periods of time. Researchers are learning more about the coronavirus and its variant strains every day, but they agree the lungs are often the main organs affected. “That’s one of the most significant effects we’ve seen from COVID-19,” said Dr. Rayan Ihle, a critical care pulmonologist with Charleston Area Medical Center. Many coal miners already suffer from preexisting lung conditions, such as black lung disease or COPD, Ihle said. COVID-19 poses a serious health risk to miners, Ihle said, and the best protection is a vaccine. “Coal miners ... should really be on the forefront and standing in the front of the line to protect themselves,” Ihle said. “But vaccination not only helps that individual patient not contract (the virus); it protects others. It’s almost a civic duty.”

Wisconsin

Appleton: The Fox Cities Exhibition Center vaccine clinic is partnering with three local breweries – Appleton Beer Factory, McFleshman’s and Stone Arch Brewpub – to launch a “Shot and a Beer” campaign to encourage people to get immunized against COVID-19. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the clinic will administer the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. People who get their shot will also get a coupon for a free beer at one of the breweries. The coupon may not be redeemed until June, as it takes about 15 days after the J&J vaccine for people to build full immunity to the disease caused by the coronavirus. Those who are under 21 can redeem the coupon for a free root beer or other soda. Residents can make an appointment online at foxcitiescovidvaccine.com or walk in to the clinic without an appointment. The exhibition center clinic will close at the end of May.

Wyoming

Casper: The state is reopening nine rest stops that were closed last year due to budget cuts, Gov. Mark Gordon said. The state plans to open the locations before the Memorial Day holiday weekend and keep them open at least through this year’s tourism season, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. “With the summer season just around the corner, I’m glad we will be able to reopen these facilities to travelers,” Gordon said in a statement Thursday. “We are glad to have this chance to find a temporary solution.” The rest stops were closed last June in the first budget cuts enacted amid declining revenues caused by the energy slowdown and the COVID-19 pandemic. The closures were expected to save the state more than $700,000. Gordon said he would work to get federal money to reopen the rest areas. The rest stops that are reopening are near Lusk, Guernsey, Greybull, Moorcroft, Star Valley, Sundance, Upton, Orin Junction and Chugwater. Wyoming has 37 rest stops.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coal miners, crawfish offer: News from around our 50 states

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting