Montgomery: The city will offer 100 $50 Walmart gift cards each at four neighborhood COVID-19 vaccine clinics in an attempt to combat declining numbers in the state. The clinics will not require an appointment, insurance or identification. “Our goal has always been to protect the lives and livelihoods of everyone in Montgomery,” Mayor Steven Reed said in a statement. “The COVID-19 vaccines are our best chance to do so.” The city is also organizing free rides to and from the clinics for those without transportation. People can call 211 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays to schedule private transportation. Montgomery has also partnered with Uber on the initiative, and residents can use promo code 10MVMONTGOMERY to schedule a ride through the app. COVID-19 vaccine uptake in Alabama continues to decline rapidly, with the state still trailing every state but Mississippi. Though 14 counties have reached vaccination rates of at least 40%, with the vulnerable Black Belt counties consistently reporting the state’s highest rates, just 26% of Alabama’s total population is fully vaccinated. “I think for the group of people who are anxious to get the vaccine, they were able to get the vaccine anywhere, anyhow,” said Dr. Beverly Jordan, a family medicine physician in Enterprise.
Ketchikan: Restaurants, bars and gyms in this port town have been asked to close as officials attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus after the city’s pandemic risk level was raised to its highest level. Local public health officials reported 15 new cases in the community Tuesday, bumping the total number of active cases to 77 as of that evening. Officials said one person was in the COVID-19 unit at a hospital. Ketchikan’s test positivity rate was an all-time high of 4.43% on Tuesday, up from 4.14% on Monday. Two schools were set to close to in-person learning for the rest of the week, and many public facilities were also shuttered. Local fields were closed to organized sports, and events with more than 20 people were discouraged. Officials also asked restaurants, bars, personal services and gyms to close, but the recommendations were not mandatory. At least three COVID-19 clusters are driving the increased transmission, including one centered on the high school, according to authorities. Cases increased in connection with an outbreak at a wrestling tournament held at Ketchikan High School in April that brought athletes from seven different schools across the region. Officials issued a warning to the school involving the wearing of masks and the testing of competitors.
Phoenix: Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday joined a growing number of Republican governors who are stopping payment of an extra $300 a week in pay for unemployed workers as a way to force people to return to work. The governor’s action ends of use of federal coronavirus relief funds for that payment and goes into effect July 10. It means unemployed Arizonans will again get $240 a week, the second-lowest weekly rate in the nation. Ducey is continuing federally sponsored programs that extend the standard 26 weeks of pay by another 29 weeks and allow gig workers such as Uber drivers to qualify for unemployment pay, although those payments will also be reduced by $300 a week. He is also throwing in a sweetener for people who decide to return to work: a $2,000 bonus paid to workers who get and keep a full-time job for at least 10 weeks. Part-time workers will get $1,000. Ducey is allocating $300 million in federal relief cash on a first-come, first-served basis to pay for the bonuses. A worker who gets a job earning more than $25 an hour does not qualify. Ducey slashed unemployment checks by more than half despite celebrating the health of the state’s economy throughout the pandemic, noting the state shed fewer jobs than most.
Springdale: Poultry giant Tyson Foods Inc., the state’s third-largest employer, reported 2,866 COVID-19 cases at its workplaces – nearly one-third of the state’s 9,065 sickened workers across all industries – from May 19, 2020, to April 8, 2021, according to an Arkansascovid.com analysis of Arkansas Department of Health data. The state health department publishes COVID-19 occupational illness reports that show businesses with five or more active cases. In less than one year, Tyson had 281 appearances in these reports. Comparatively, Walmart Inc., the state’s largest employer, had two appearances totaling 12 sick workers. In working conditions that stress a quick turnaround on products and have close contact between employees, workers told Arkansascovid.com they were put at risk for catching COVID-19. Legal-aid attorneys and worker-advocacy groups said the state regulatory structure was overwhelmed by the pandemic. Combined with a weak union presence, that led to a failure to provide adequate protections for struggling workers. “We got a fair number of calls from workers who were really worried about going back to an unsafe working condition,” said Kevin De Liban, director of advocacy for Legal Aid of Arkansas. The state does not have many protections for low-wage workers, which has led to employers taking advantage of their staff, he said.
Los Angeles: The city is launching a bilingual campaign featuring Latino artists encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations. The public service announcement unveiled Thursday is called “Vacunate Ya, Los Angeles / Get Vaccinated, L.A.” and features artists Angelica Maria, Danny Trejo, Pepe Aguilar, Angela Aguilar and Leonardo Aguilar. “The goal of this campaign is simple: to get our hard-hit Latino community vaccinated – and help our city and country defeat this pandemic once and for all,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. The 30-second public service announcements will air on local TV news, starting with the Spanish-language version this week and followed by the English version next week. The PSAs will also appear on social media.
Morrison: Frustrated by an increase in dangerous street racing amid the pandemic, Denver police have deployed the department’s helicopter to track races, closed lanes in areas often used by racers, and sent officers to places where the groups meet. But law enforcement also has shifted gears to tackle the problem by using a racetrack in the foothills west of the city to provide a safe venue for those who feel the need for speed. The Colorado State Patrol has teamed with Bandimere Speedway to lure racers from public areas to a more controlled environment, even allowing participants to race a trooper driving a patrol car. On a recent day, dozens of drivers lined up to race at the speedway, revving their engines and squealing their tires before hurtling down the quarter-mile track. Most drove highly tuned vehicles, but there was the occasional stock SUV or pickup. “This is a great alternative to street racing. You can bring out whatever you have, be it a supercar or mom’s minivan, grandpa’s Buick. We want to see them all out here. … And you can race a cop, and do so legally,” said State Trooper Josh Lewis, who beat a Toyota SUV in his first race last week by topping out at nearly 89 mph.
Fairfield: Fairfield University is partnering with the state to train about 500 college-age students to teach in summer education enrichment programs and camps for children across Connecticut. It’s part of the state’s plan to combat learning loss among those in kindergarten through high school during the pandemic. Fairfield President Mark Nemec said the training of the “Connecticut College Corps” will take place in early June. All undergraduate college students who attend Connecticut colleges and universities are eligible to apply, including those who will be freshmen in the fall. Fairfield graduate students will monitor their work and serve as mentors to corps members over the summer, he said. The College Corps members will be paid a $4,500 stipend to work in the programs and camps. Charlene Russell-Tucker, the state’s acting education commissioner, said about 240 organizations have applied for grants to the run the camps and summer educational enrichment programs.
Dover: Democrats in the Legislature are trying to protect people who may face eviction amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Senate Bill 101 by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, would give the right to free legal counsel to people whose income is no more than twice the federal poverty guideline, which is determined and updated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The bill would also create a diversion program to resolve most landlord-tenant disputes before they result in legal action. Another measure would set a floor on the money owed that can result in eviction proceedings: No action may be filed where the amount of rent owed is one month’s rent or less than $500, whichever is greater. It would also let tenants stay in their homes if all back rent, fees and costs are paid before an eviction. The bill would create a “Right to Counsel Coordinator” position appointed by the attorney general. The coordinator would be able to contract with nonprofits offering legal representation to qualifying tenants facing eviction. Thousands of Delawareans are expected to face eviction proceedings once Gov. John Carney lifts his COVID-19 state of emergency, according to a Senate press release about the bill. It’s unclear when Carney would lift the state of emergency he put in place more than a year ago.
District of Columbia
Washington: The Smithsonian National Zoo is opening online reservations for free entry passes at 12:25 p.m. Friday in advance of its reopening May 21, WUSA-TV reports. The zoo has been closed since Nov. 23, 2020, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Zoo admission is free, but entry passes are required. Those passes do not include admission to Asia Trail and the giant panda exhibit. Guests must reserve a free, timed Asia Trail/Panda pass on site on the day of their visit. However, members can reserve Panda Passes in advance online. For the safety of visitors, staff and animals, a limited number of Panda Passes are available each day. Face coverings are required for all zoo visitors ages 2 and up. Animals newly on view include giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji, Amur tiger Metis, Przewalski’s horse mother-son duo Barbie and Cooper, Komodo dragon juvenile Onyx, Andean bear Brienne, American bison Lucy and Gally, California sea lion Charger, North American beaver Poplar, a new wallaby joey and a kudu calf. The Reptile Discovery Center will be open on Saturdays and Sundays.
Tallahassee: Restaurants will be able to sell cocktails along with delivery and takeout food orders even after the coronavirus pandemic ends under a bill signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday. The governor lifted restrictions on to-go alcohol early in the pandemic as a way to help restaurants when they were temporarily ordered not to seat customers. Later, capacity restrictions were put in place before all restrictions were lifted. But alcohol to go continues under an emergency order DeSantis signed, and the idea proved popular with customers. “It worked well, people liked it, there was a good response, so we said this should be something that we just make permanent,” he said. DeSantis held a bill-signing ceremony at an Ormand Beach restaurant. He said there were a number of examples of restaurants being able to survive the pandemic because of to-go alcohol sales.
Atlanta: The state is cutting off federal unemployment programs that provide a $300-a-week boost to people on the jobless rolls, as well as programs that pay federal money to people who are not usually eligible for state unemployment or have been on jobless aid for longer than the state provides. The move could reduce the incomes of 250,000 jobless Georgians. Gov. Brian Kemp and Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced the decision Thursday to quit the programs as of June 26. Both of the elected Republicans had indicated worker-hungry employers are demanding the state do more to force people into the workforce. “We’re not doing away with regular unemployment,” Kemp said in an appearance on Fox News. “We’re just taking away this federal subsidy that’s encouraging people not to get in the workforce.” Advocates for keeping the benefits say that it’s still too soon to remove extra support for the unemployed and that the labor market remains deeply disrupted, especially among women who are struggling to provide child care to children who are neither in school nor in child care five days a week. About 32,000 Georgians filed new unemployment claims in the week that ended May 8, a number that remains well above pre-pandemic levels.
Honolulu: A state program that eases inter-island travel for fully vaccinated residents has seen strong interest, despite some verification delays, officials say. Hawaii News Now reports the effort that launched Tuesday on the Safe Travels app lets Hawaiians who are at least two weeks past their final COVID-19 shot travel between the state’s islands without coronavirus testing or quarantine requirements. “We’ve had over 80,000 people make uploads with their cards into the system already, so we know it works and it’s working well,” Doug Murdock, the state’s chief information officer, told the news outlet. The only issue has been that screeners must check each applicant’s vaccination record manually, but officials are looking into ways to automate the verification process. Democratic Gov. David Ige said he’s hopeful vaccine passports for out-of-state travelers can be integrated into the system by next month if the verification problem is fixed, according to Hawaii News Now.
Boise: Gov. Brad Little has signed four watered-down versions of previous bills that he vetoed on limiting a governor’s powers during declared emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic. The Republican governor signed all four bills Monday and took the rare step of sending transmittal letters to the Legislature explaining his reasoning. Little wrote that the bills he signed, unlike the bills he vetoed, do not impair a governor’s ability to protect Idaho residents. Lawmakers are angry at actions Little took last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, including a temporary stay-at-home order as COVID-19 patients threatened to overwhelm hospitals. Lawmakers were incensed that the order prevented church gatherings and that some workers were declared “nonessential,” a term lawmakers found objectionable. Lawmakers also said they should have played a role in spending the $1.25 billion that the state received early last year from the federal government in coronavirus relief money. Three of the bills signed by Little originated in the House and one in the Senate. The Senate bill dealt with “extreme” emergencies that, if involving 12 or more counties and lasting longer than 90 days, would require the involvement of the Legislature. The three House bills focused on more localized emergencies such as wildfires and floods.
Springfield: After weeks and months of waiting, the state will enter the bridge phase of the Restore Illinois reopening plan Friday. The newest phase is intended to be a slow and steady ramp-up to Phase 5, the most permissive level of reopening with no capacity limits, arriving June 11 at the earliest. Seated areas will be unchanged throughout the bridge phase, with the 6-foot distancing limit remaining in effect and masks still required. Standing areas, such as bars, will see upticks in capacity. Outdoor areas will be allowed to reach half-capacity, while indoor areas will rise to 30% capacity. The limit had been set at 25% during Phase 4. Gyms and other fitness centers will be allowed 60% capacity, up from 50% in Phase 4. However, limits on group fitness classes will be unchanged, with 50 or fewer permitted indoors and 100 or fewer allowed outside. All guests must wear a mask inside. Office spaces, personal care facilities, retail stores, theme parks, water parks, museums and zoos may also go to 60% capacity. Festivals and outdoor farmers markets can now host 30 people per 1,000 square feet, up from 15 per 1,000 square feet in Phase 4. Outdoor social events will be allowed 500 people, while indoor events will have a limit of 250 people.
Indianapolis: An outside investigation into the death of a Black doctor while she battled COVID-19 has found that the treatment she received at a suburban Indianapolis hospital did not contribute to her death, its parent organization said Wednesday. However, the review by a panel of six outside experts concluded Dr. Susan Moore suffered from a lack of cultural competence on the part of those treating her at IU Health North in Carmel, parent IU Health said. In a statement, IU Health acknowledged a “lack of empathy and compassion” was shown in the delivery of her care. Moore, 52, a family medicine physician who had practiced in the state since 2009, died Dec. 20, about two weeks after she was released from IU Health North and then admitted to a different hospital. In a Dec. 4 Facebook post, she said she had to repeatedly ask for medication, scans and routine checks while admitted to IU Health North. She said a white doctor in particular seemingly dismissed her pain, and Moore said she didn’t trust the hospital. IU Health did not specify the “empathy and compassion” issues. “We owe it to our patients to always show up for them, to treat them with dignity and respect, to appreciate their perspectives, and to validate their feelings when they are in our care,” IU Health CEO Dennis Murphy said in a statement.
Des Moines: With half of the state’s adults fully vaccinated against COVID-19, hospitalizations due to the disease down 90% from their height, and viral activity lower than it has been in nearly a year, “it is time to lean further into normal,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday. The Republican governor spoke Wednesday from the Food Bank of Iowa warehouse, where officials announced the “scaling back” of the Feeding Iowa Task Force, formed at the start of the pandemic to connect food producers, nonprofits and state agencies to help Iowans facing food insecurity. Reynolds also emphasized her decision to end Iowa’s participation in the federal government’s supplemental unemployment insurance program. The extra $300 in weekly unemployment pay was needed at the beginning of the pandemic, she said, but now Iowa needs workers. “There’s no reason for us to continue to fear COVID-19 any longer,” Reynolds said. “We know how to manage it and that individuals can be trusted to make decisions that will keep us on a path forward.” The state will continue to offer help with food through existing programs and bolster those with federal money, Reynolds said. Iowa Food Bank Association Executive Director Linda Gorkow, a member of the task force being phased out, said she expects demand at food banks to remain elevated.
Topeka: State government offices will return to normal operations in mid-June after more than a year of having many employees work remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Wednesday. But Kelly said state employees and visitors to their offices still will be required to wear masks and to maintain social distancing. She also said agency directors can allow people to work from home, particularly when social distancing is not possible, provided “there is no disruption to agency operations.” The changes take effect the week of June 13. The governor directed most state employees to work remotely last spring. Her administration did not have a number or percentage for how many of the 17,500 employees directly under her control still are not working in their offices at least one day a week. DeAngela Burns-Wallace, head of the state Department of Administration, said in a memo to other agency heads and human resources directors: “We should start from the stance of having state employees working in our offices still is a preferred norm.” She said in her memo that the state could move ahead because of widespread availability of rapid and accurate coronavirus testing and the ability of all state workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of this month.
Frankfort: After the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed indoor masking and social distancing guidelines for fully vaccinated people, Gov. Andy Beshear said the commonwealth will “immediately follow” the new rules. “Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.” Beshear said in a video tweeted Thursday afternoon that the update is “great news from the CDC we have all been waiting for.” “This is outstanding,” the Democratic governor said. “It means that we are so close to normalcy, and we’re going to be changing Kentucky’s mask mandate to be the same with those CDC guidelines.” The rules will still call for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings such as buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters but could ease restrictions for reopening workplaces and schools. In addition, the agency will no longer recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks outdoors in crowds, possibly allowing for bigger capacities at sporting events.
Baton Rouge: Republican state House lawmakers on Thursday began advancing a proposal to offer residents receiving unemployment up to $1,000 to go back to work – if they give up their right to claim jobless benefits for six months. GOP lawmakers on the House labor committee added the language pushed by Rep. Mike Echols into a separate measure that sought to modestly increase the maximum weekly unemployment benefit offered in Louisiana. The vote to add the incentive provision was 6-5, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats in opposition. The idea of a one-time bonus payment stems from Republican claims that expanded federal jobless benefits have depressed people’s interest in returning to employment, leaving businesses with difficulty finding workers as they dig out of the pandemic’s damage. The payments to people who leave unemployment and gain jobs would be paid with federal coronavirus relief aid. People who return to work for 10 to 20 hours a week would be eligible for a $500 incentive payment. Those who return to work for an average of 30 hours or more a week would be able to receive a one-time lump sum of $1,000. The incentive payments would only be available to workers until July 1 and only to those whose wages don’t exceed $75,000.
Cape Elizabeth: One of the state’s most beloved road races will again be a virtual event this year. Organizers of the TD Beach to Beacon 10K are concerned about holding the race during the coronavirus pandemic and have chosen not to have an in-person event this year, the Portland Press Herald reports. The race typically takes place on the first Saturday of August. This year’s virtual event will allow participants to run 10 kilometers on the route of their choice in late July or early August. An in-person event would have required changes that prevented the event from being “the celebratory, gala event that people are accustomed to,” race president David Backer said in a Thursday statement. Olympic gold medal winner Joan Benoit Samuelson founded the Cape Elizabeth race, which began in 1998.
Annapolis: Indoor and outdoor venues, including restaurants, can resume normal operations this weekend, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday. The governor also said the state’s indoor mask mandate will be lifted when 70% of Maryland adults receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. As of Tuesday, the governor’s office said, 65.4% of adult residents had been vaccinated. The governor said he expected the state would reach the 70% mark before President Joe Biden’s national goal of hitting it by July 4. “Here in Maryland, our plan is to get everything back to normal by Memorial Day,” Hogan said at a news conference. “We are making amazing progress towards that goal. In fact, we’re just 4.6% of our vaccinations away from reaching it.” All remaining capacity and distancing restrictions that have been in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be lifted on indoor and outdoor dining Saturday, the Republican governor said. Indoor and outdoor venues will be able to resume normal operations, Hogan said. Remaining capacity restrictions will be lifted on indoor entertainment venues and conventions, as well as all outdoor entertainment, art and sports venues, with masking protocols in place.
Boston: Employers who want to help their workers get COVID-19 shots can take part in the state’s new Employer Vaccination Program, the Baker administration announced Wednesday. The program offers two main options. The first allows group appointments at mass vaccination sites starting May 17. Employers can request a block of appointments, with a minimum of 10 and no maximum, at any of the state’s seven such sites. Registration requires demographic information. Insurance and identification are not required at the time of registration or appointment if not available. Employers can set up a table at the site to have an on-site presence for employees that can be coordinated with the site operator. Sites are available seven days a week. Most vaccination appointments take less than 30 minutes, including the 15-minute observation period. The second option allows employers to request a visit by a mobile on-site employer vaccination clinic. The option is limited to companies who have 35 or more confirmed workers who will obtain an inoculation at an on-site pop-up clinic. A vaccination provider will come to the employer host-property to administer shots and return three to four weeks later to deliver second doses. Employers in communities with vaccination rates below the state average will be prioritized.
Detroit: Keenon Carreker walked up to the Salvation Army mobile soup kitchen parked in one of the poorest areas of the city for the big hot dogs that came inside bags of food passed out to the needy. He left with a meal and his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. “It helped being right here in my neighborhood,” said Carreker, 52, who otherwise was in no hurry to get a shot. In a program designed to reach those who have little to no access to vaccination sites, mobile care teams consisting of nurses and a peer support specialist accompany Bed & Bread trucks as they cruise Detroit, which lags far behind the state and nearby communities in vaccination rates. Only about 33% of Detroit residents 16 and older have been immunized compared to more than half statewide. To reduce that gap, Detroit’s health department also is going door-to-door to encourage residents to get vaccinated at sites near their homes. “The timing and the need could not be greater,” said Jamie Winkler, the Salvation Army’s Eastern Michigan Harbor Light System executive director. The Salvation Army Detroit Harbor Light center is working with Central City Integrated Health and Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services to take vaccines to those most in need. Second doses will be available when the trucks return to the neighborhoods.
Sartell: After a cancellation in 2020 because of the pandemic, this year’s Sartell SummerFest will have an abbreviated schedule in June and a name to match: Slightly Summerfest. The SummerFest volunteer committee announced the June 9-13 event this week. This years festivities will include a citywide garage sale, the 5K Diaper Dash, mini-golf and other small events. Additional activities will be shared through social media, a flyer mailed to residents and online at sartellsummerfest.com, according to a press release. “As the months passed, it became obvious that loosening of executive orders was not going to be announced with enough time for us to coordinate, plan and execute our traditional SummerFest event. If we had known several weeks ago exactly what the conditions would be on June 12, we would’ve done everything possible to keep it ‘normal’ for our community,” the volunteer committee said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that did not happen, and several factors required us to put our heads together and figure out some fun, smaller events sprinkled around that weekend. We are confident that ‘Slightly SummerFest’ will provide some great options for our community to get out and have fun.”
Meridian: A popular arts festival will return this weekend after being canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Threefoot Festival will be held Friday and Saturday in downtown Meridian, The Meridian Star reports. Events include live music and a parade of cars that have been artistically decorated. The Budweiser Clydesdales will also lead the parade Friday, organizers said. On Saturday, about 150 artists will display their work, which varies from fine art painting to handmade rocking chairs.
Springfield: The city’s masking mandate could be on its way out after federal infection-control experts updated their guidance Thursday for fully vaccinated Americans. The City Council held a special daytime meeting the same day to begin its own debate on the next phase of dealing with COVID-19. As he gaveled Thursday’s proceedings to a close, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure called it a “momentous day.” An hour later, the White House tweeted that fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear a mask anymore, “in most settings.” At its next regular Monday meeting, City Council could decide to adopt an emergency bill to “immediately” end the city’s remaining outdoor masking requirements, a move recommended by Springfield-Greene County Acting Health Director Katie Towns. Towns said the city-county health department also recommends maintaining the city’s current public health ordinance, including indoor masking requirements, through 11:59 p.m. May 27, to match the repeal timeline to the end of the year for Springfield Public Schools. “This will allow children not yet eligible for the vaccine to continue to be protected with masks through the end of the school year, while we continue to boost our vaccination rates,” she said.
Billings: Multiple groups have asked the federal government to rename three of the state’s geographic features that are currently named after a Confederate Civil War leader and proponent of slavery. The groups – the Montana Racial Equity Project, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Montana Human Rights Network and several others – asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to rename Jeff Davis Peak and Jeff Davis Creek in Beaverhead County and Jeff Davis Gulch in Lewis and Clark County, the Yellowstone Public Radio reports. Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederated States during the Civil War. Instead of honoring Davis, the groups recommend honoring Chinese immigrants who built the state’s mines and Native Americans. The group suggested changing Jeff Davis Peak to “Three Eagles Peak” in honor of Salish Chief Three Eagles; Jeff Davis Creek to “Choos-wee Creek” in honor of the Salish word for Chinese people; and Jeff Davis Gulch to “In-qu-qu-leet Gulch.” The process could take years before a decision is made.
Omaha: Republican incumbent Jean Stothert sailed to a third term as mayor, capturing the vote 2-to-1 over Democratic challenger and commercial real estate broker RJ Neary in Tuesday’s city election. Stothert declared in her victory speech that she would be focused on continuing the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and making the city more inclusive and safe. In her first two terms following her 2013 election, Stothert has touted her administration’s improvement of city services, annexation of abutting neighborhoods and communities to grow the city’s population and tax base, and increased funding to increase the size of the city’s police force to 900 officers. Stothert, 67, pushed through her campaign following the death of her husband of 40 years in March from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Dr. Joseph Stothert was a critical care physician. The mayor has said his death highlights the importance of health care workers getting mental health treatment, especially as they deal with the pressures of the pandemic.
Las Vegas: The Las Vegas Monorail will resume operations at the end of the month after remaining closed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced Tuesday that it will begin selling tickets for the monorail, which is set to reopen May 27 at 7 a.m. The authority purchased the elevated electric transit system out of bankruptcy in December for about $25 million. It runs about 4 miles from MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino to SAHARA Las Vegas. The authority purchased the system because it needed reliable transportation to the Las Vegas Convention Center from the Strip, and it needed control of a noncompetitive agreement held by the monorail company to enable Elon Musk’s Boring Co. project to establish a 15-mile underground network of tunnels in the city. “Resuming monorail operations is an important milestone as Las Vegas moves forward, offering visitors and convention-goers an efficient way to navigate throughout the destination,” authority President and CEO Steve Hill said in a statement. Passengers will be required to wear face masks, maintain social distancing when possible and take additional safety precautions, such as hand sanitizing.
Concord: The state Senate met in person Thursday for the first time during the current legislative session. “Congratulations for working together to make today happen,” Senate President Chuck Morse told his colleagues at the Statehouse. The Senate was meeting in Representatives Hall – traditionally the home of the New Hampshire House – as it had last year. The House has been meeting at a sports complex in Bedford this session. Senate members were observed wearing masks and social distancing. Earlier this month, the Republican-led Joint Facilities Committee voted to remove a requirement that masks be worn to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the Statehouse and legislative office building. The Statehouse remains closed to everyone but lawmakers and staff. Among its actions Thursday, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would delete a requirement that a private school be nonsectarian in order to be approved as a school tuition program. Supporters said the bill relates to towns that don’t have all grade levels and allows parents to be more involved in their children’s education. Opponents said the bill, which originated in the House, would authorize public funds to send children to religious schools, which violates the state constitution.
Trenton: The state on Thursday did not appear ready to embrace the newest federal guidance to allow fully vaccinated people to stop wearing face masks indoors. Gov. Phil Murphy did not say in an MSNBC appearance Thursday afternoon whether he’d drop New Jersey’s indoor mask requirement – he wasn’t asked – and his office did not respond to a message seeking comment. A Murphy spokeswoman, Alexandra Altman, said that the governor and health department would review the guidance and keep their focus on vaccination efforts. More than half of the state’s population is not vaccinated. Murphy’s goal is to get COVID-19 shots to 4.7 million adults, or 70% of the adult population, by July. As of Thursday, 3.58 million residents were fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health. The new guidance is a significant step toward a sense of normality after 14 months of social distancing, business restrictions and mask-wearing. Masks are required in New Jersey in indoor settings and outdoors when social distancing is not possible. Murphy has been hesitant to lift the indoor mask requirement, saying last week that it’s “a big step.”
Santa Fe: The state has joined the chorus of reinstating the work-search requirement for people who receive unemployment payments. Starting this week, state labor officials said claimants must verify that they have made at least two work-search contacts per week to continue receiving the jobless payments. They must provide information on when they contacted employers about prospective jobs, what type of job it was and other details. The requirement had been waived during the pandemic as unemployment rates surged due to businesses closures and cutbacks to meet the state’s public health restrictions. The change came as all but two New Mexico counties are now operating in the categories with the least COVID-19 restrictions. “Help wanted” and “hiring now” signs are posted outside gas stations and at grocery stores and fast-food drive thru windows around the state as business owners scramble to find workers. Michael O’Donnell, the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research acting director, told television station KOAT that the idea behind reinstating the work-search requirement is to give people an incentive to look for a job. New Mexico’s unemployment rate stands at 8%, one of the highest in the country, and officials are hoping the change will help.
Albany: Despite a massive vaccination campaign, nursing homes are still reporting hundreds of COVID-19 infections a week, as some residents and staff have skipped getting the shots. Nursing facilities across the state reported 782 infections among staff and residents in the 14 days ending April 25 – the most in the nation. Only 55% of staff at New York’s nursing homes are fully vaccinated, nearly five months since the vaccination campaign launched, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by the state Department of Health. Rates among patients are better: 79% of residents are fully vaccinated. But some areas lag. Only 40% of staff and 63% of residents at nursing homes in Brooklyn are fully vaccinated. A few facilities stand out for lack of progress. At the Sea Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn’s Coney Island, only 25% of residents and 28% of staff have been fully vaccinated, according to state data – among the worst rates in New York. Patients there continue to die of the coronavirus. Ten died from COVID-19 during the four weeks ending April 25, according to federal data. As of Sunday, 30 residents had active COVID-19 infections at the home, according to the nursing home’s website.
Raleigh: Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration failed to thoroughly monitor how $3.1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds it oversaw last year was being used, increasing the risk for misuse, a state audit said Thursday. The report from State Auditor Beth Wood’s office focuses on federal funds that the state received toward COVID-19 aid in the spring of 2020. The Legislature proceeded to pass laws directing how $3.6 billion should be given to state agencies, education, local governments, hospitals and nonprofits for a host of medical, economic and recovery needs. The Office of State Budget and Management and a new temporary state Pandemic Recovery Office were charged with carrying out the laws, reporting how money was being used and ensuring that the spending followed U.S. Treasury Department rules. But auditors determined that the Pandemic Recovery Office failed to design procedures to ensure the money was being spent the way the Legislature required and was achieving the anticipated results. The audit says the offices performed “limited monitoring” of the funds by failing to independently verify the monthly expenditure reports of recipients until November, when the majority of funds were already spent.
Bismarck: Taxpayers are on the hook for nearly $3 million in rent over the next two years for unused office space for a state agency that intends to allow most of its more than 400 employees to work from home indefinitely. The North Dakota Information Technology Department’s 85,000-square-foot leased space in a newly remodeled privately owned office building in north Bismarck is unoccupied, except for about a dozen employees, said Greg Hoffman, the agency’s director of administration. It is the largest and most expensive leased office space in the state, North Dakota Capitol Facilities Manager John Boyle said. Most state employees have returned to their offices since being told to work from home last spring as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S. Gov. Doug Burgum allowed most state government offices to reopen to the public in a limited capacity last May. Burgum had said some 7,000 state employees at about 1,600 facilities across North Dakota had been part of a “remote workforce” under his orders since March 2020 due to COVID-19. Hoffman said the agency favored “teleworking” even before the pandemic hit and will continue to do so. The agency began allowing people to work remotely while its rented space underwent a two-year renovation, beginning in 2018.
Columbus: Gov. Mike DeWine is offering big lottery incentives – including a $1 million prize and college scholarships – in a last-ditch effort to get people vaccinated before the state’s mask mandate and most other coronavirus-related state orders end, he announced Wednesday. All COVID-19 orders except those applying to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will end June 2, the Republican governor said during a primetime address. However, DeWine noted that stores and businesses still may require customers to be masked. The money for the million-dollar prizes and scholarships will come from existing federal pandemic relief dollars, DeWine said, and the Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings. State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, questioned the use of federal funds. “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis,” she said. DeWine acknowledged the unusual nature of the financial incentives. “I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’ ” he said. But the real waste, when the vaccine is now readily available, “is a life lost to COVID-19,” the governor said.
Oklahoma City: Some students, faculty and staff at the University of Oklahoma will be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine beginning June 1, officials said. Those who interact with patients at the university’s medical centers and those who study abroad are required to be vaccinated, and others are encouraged to do so, according to OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “Based upon the information available at this time, we do not believe requiring vaccination for all of our students is necessary,” Harroz said Wednesday. “We do strongly urge them to consider being vaccinated if they haven’t already.” OU is also reducing its social distancing guidelines from 6 feet to 3 feet except in patient care settings and designated indoor eating areas and is easing masking requirements for certain outdoor activities, using federal Centers for Disease Control recommendations. Vaccinations are now available for children 12 and up after federal health advisers endorsed use of the Pfizer vaccine in those age groups, according to the state health department. The Oklahoma City-County Health Department said it and Oklahoma City Public Schools will host a vaccination site Saturday at John Marshall High School. Those 17 and younger must have approval from a parent or guardian to receive a shot.
Portland: A city audit has found that Portland failed to create a fair and transparent grant selection process, interpreted eligibility criteria loosely and didn’t protect against misuse of funds in its haste to get pandemic relief money to small businesses. The audit released Wednesday evaluated the success of Prosper Portland’s Small Business Relief Fund, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. The fund provided $12.4 million in city and federal dollars to 1,209 small businesses during two rounds of funding last year. The money supported about 9% of the nearly 13,000 businesses that applied for relief. The city’s economic development agency was supposed to prioritize businesses owned by women and people of color who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The audit found that race was given priority, but women were not prioritized. The audit also found that Prosper Portland did not document how it weighed various factors or why specific businesses received grants over others. The agency also gave $223,000 to 21 businesses that conduct business in Portland but are based outside the city, despite eligibility rules that required businesses be based there, according to the audit.
Harrisburg: The state’s attorney general said Wednesday that his agency has begun looking into a breach of coronavirus contact tracing data that may have compromised private information of some 72,000 people. “Any allegations of sensitive personal information being mismanaged or leaked is a serious matter,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said in a statement. “My office has opened investigations into this data breach on multiple fronts, and as such we will have no further comment at this time.” The state Health Department disclosed two weeks ago that employees of a contact tracing vendor ignored security rules and created unauthorized documents outside the state’s secure computer systems. The company, Atlanta-based Insight Global, acknowledged it mishandled sensitive information and apologized. It said workers had set up unauthorized Google accounts for sharing information, including the names of people who might have been exposed to COVID-19, whether they had any symptoms, how many people lived with them and, in some cases, their email addresses and phone numbers. The state has paid Insight Global about $28.7 million since March 2020. The Health Department has said the breach did not include financial account information, addresses or Social Security numbers.
Providence: More high school athletes will be allowed to unmask this spring, according to the governing body of scholastic sports in the state. Golf and tennis won’t require masks at all, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League posted on its website Wednesday. For baseball and softball, catchers, batters and home plate umpires will be required to wear face coverings. Everyone else may remove them during games. In track and field, masks will be required only at the start of the 800-, 1,500- and 3,000-meter races. Athletes in all other events will not be required to wear masks. Participants in wrestling, lacrosse and volleyball will be required to wear face coverings at all times because those athletes cannot “easily, measurably and continuously maintain 3 feet of distance” during competition.
Columbia: The Legislature ended its regular session Thursday, ceremonially wrapping up its duties but expecting at least several returns later in the year to handle more work, including how to spend federal funding related to the pandemic. How to deal with allocations from federal COVID-19 relief money will be atop the list. State senators last month approved a $10 billion spending package, which included an infusion of $1.7 billion in federal money and economic growth that was not previously part of a House-approved measure. On the floor Wednesday, Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey said lawmakers could come back for several weeks in June to allow the House to complete its expanded budget work, as well as for chambers to consider conference reports. This summer, they’ll return again to handle any vetoes Gov. Henry McMaster may issue on their budget. Lawmakers will also plan to resurface in Columbia in the fall to wrangle with the redistricting following last year’s U.S. Census Bureau count. On the session’s penultimate day, House lawmakers signed off on changes to a bill allowing people with concealed weapons permits to carry their guns in the open, sending the measure to McMaster, who has said he will sign it.
Sioux Falls: The state is ending its transfer of the federal government’s pandemic-related unemployment assistance programs three months early, citing a recovering economy. Effective the week ending June 26, three major federal unemployment programs will end for South Dakotans. State claims will still be paid. About 5,000 residents are on unemployment insurance now, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics published Thursday. Notably, the state will no longer issue weekly $300 supplemental payments to those receiving unemployment, the South Dakota Department of Labor and Gov. Kristi Noem announced Wednesday. The coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Joe Biden this year extends expanded jobless benefits through Sept. 6. Multiple recovering states are rescinding the benefits early. As the sole state not to apply for federal Lost Wages Assistance and one that did not opt into the federal Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation in December, South Dakota’s Department of Labor and Regulation will have fewer programs to choose from. “DLR’s online jobs database SDWORKS has averaged over 23,000 job openings daily,” state Labor and Regulation Secretary Marcia Hultman said in a press release Wednesday.
Memphis: Nearly a year after requiring people to wear face masks in many public settings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the city will stop enforcing the mandate Saturday, Mayor Jim Strickland said. People must still wear a face mask if they are inside a city facility, and city government will continue to follow guidelines recommending masks in public settings indoors, Strickland tweeted Thursday. He said private businesses and churches may continue to require masking, and the city encourages people to mask in public until 70% of the Shelby County population is vaccinated. The city doesn’t have stand-alone authority to mandate masks, he said. Gov. Bill Lee recently ended his declaration of a statewide public health emergency, and the Shelby County Health Department lifted its mask mandate. Lee declared last month that COVID-19 is no longer a statewide public health crisis. He removed the option for most local governments to mandate masks in public and urged a few big counties with restrictions like mask requirements to remove them on their own by Memorial Day.
Austin: Students in the city’s school district can now opt not to wear a mask while social distancing and can participate in end-of-year ceremonies as long as they’re outdoors, the district announced. The Austin Independence School District eased COVID-19 protocols beginning Wednesday “because rising vaccination rates and precautions such as masking and social distancing have resulted in low COVID-19 infection rates,” Alexandra Copeland, the district health director, said in an email. The district will no longer require masks during outdoor activities, such as recess, so long as social distancing, now a minimum of 3 feet for students, can be maintained. Parents or guardians must fill out consent forms for their children to unmask outdoors. Consent forms will be sent electronically by schools and made available at campuses, the district said. The district is also allowing outdoor ceremonies to celebrate the end of the school year, as well as campus tours and visits for educational purposes with prior approval and COVID-19 screenings, including temperature checks.
Salt Lake City: The state will terminate its participation in the federal government’s pandemic-related unemployment assistance program, Gov. Spencer Cox announced Wednesday. A range of states are ending the $300-a-week federal benefit paid on top of state benefits. Cox, a Republican, said those extra federal benefits will end in Utah on June 26. “With the nation’s lowest unemployment rate at 2.9% and plenty of good-paying jobs available today, it makes sense to transition away from these extra benefits that were never intended to be permanent,” Cox said. About 28,000 Utah residents are receiving the $300 supplement, his office said in a statement. There are at least 50,000 job openings in the state, according to the Department of Workforce Services. Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, applauded the decision and said there is a significant need for new employees in industries across Utah. But labor experts say the shortage is not just about the $300 payment. Some unemployed people have been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the coronavirus. Others have found new occupations rather than return to their old jobs. And many parents, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.
Montpelier: The state House of Representatives passed a resolution Wednesday declaring that racism is a public health emergency. The House voted 135-8 in favor of the nonbinding resolution, which still must be passed by the Senate to be adopted. The resolution says systemic racism affecting public health affects economic, employment, education, housing and health opportunities and outcomes of minority populations. It also says the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened those inequities, and Black and Latino people are three times as likely as white people to die of the disease. “This legislative body commits to coordinating work and participating in ongoing action, grounded in science and data, to eliminate race-based health disparities and eradicate systemic racism,” the resolution says. State Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie, D-Hartford, who is Black, said the discussion is emblematic of change that is taking place in Vermont. But he said every day when he leaves his home, he doesn’t know what to expect, and how he dresses will affect how he is treated. “I know how these affect me as a person of color even here in Vermont,” Christie said during the online debate. He said he’s spent the 48 years he’s lived in the state working to help his colleagues, friends and fellow Vermonters understand his experiences.
Richmond: The combination of robust state revenues and unprecedented federal aid is giving Gov. Ralph Northam and Democratic legislative leaders an opportunity to reinvigorate the state’s economy after the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Northam and the Democratic leadership outlined priorities Wednesday for the state’s share of $7.2 billion in federal money from the pandemic relief package signed by President Joe Biden in March. Counties, cities and towns across Virginia will receive $2.9 billion. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that priorities include boosting underfunded state and local public health systems; helping small businesses; and bolstering the Virginia Unemployment Commission, which has struggled with outdated technology and limited staff to resolve thousands of disputed claims for unemployment benefits. They also want to repair and modernize public school buildings and accelerate Northam’s goal for deploying affordable access to broadband telecommunications across the state. “This is a unique opportunity to invest in Virginia’s long-term future,” Northam and the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
Olympia: Authorities said Thursday that all schools in the state must provide full-time, in-person education for the 2021-22 school year and that students and staff will still be required to wear masks. The Washington Department of Health released guidelines that included mitigation efforts they said were designed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The mask directive could prove controversial, as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday moved to ease indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people. The new federal guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters but will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues – even removing the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated. Currently, people over age 12 are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in the state. About 1.1 million students attend public schools in Washington. “Schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being. They provide children with academic instruction, support for developing social and emotional skills, safety, reliable nutrition and more,” said Dr. Umair A. Shah, the state’s secretary of health.
Charleston: The state will receive nearly $1.4 billion from the federal government to offset economic setbacks from the coronavirus pandemic, but likely not all at once. An additional $516 million is earmarked for every county and some larger cities. Because West Virginia’s current unemployment rate is not significantly higher than its pre-pandemic level, the state is eligible to receive just half of its allotment from the latest congressional relief package immediately, with the rest being provided one year later. West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped from 5.3% in March 2020 to 15.6% in April 2020 as employers shut their doors at the start of the pandemic. The rate has fallen steadily since, hitting the lowest mark in a year in March to 5.9%. Along with the funding for the state, an additional $348 million will go to West Virginia’s 55 counties, ranging from $1.1 million for Wirt County to nearly $35 million for Kanawha County. Calhoun County, which had the highest unemployment rate in the state at 14.9% in March, will receive $1.4 million. Direct cash payments totaling $168.2 million also are heading to nine of West Virginia’s largest cities, including $36.8 million for Charleston and $40.6 million for Huntington.
Madison: Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday that the federal government’s decision to send the state $700 million less in coronavirus relief dollars than first estimated could mean there will be less money for broadband expansion and the state’s pandemic response. Evers’ administration had expected $3.2 billion in federal aid. But the administration learned Monday that it will receive only $2.5 billion in two payments a year apart. The governor and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin have asked the U.S. Treasury to consider giving the money to the state in one lump sum. Democratic U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, Ron Kind and Gwen Moore sent their own letter to the Treasury on Wednesday opposing the reduction and asking for a lump sum. Evers originally said he wanted to spend $2.5 billion on economic relief for families, tourism, workers and small-business owners, as well as $500 million on the continued pandemic response and $200 million on infrastructure, including broadband. Evers’ spokeswoman, Britt Cudaback, said the governor still plans to follow through on his pledge to spend about $620 million of the stimulus money on grants for small businesses, organizations working to eliminate racial disparities, tourism and mental health programs for children. But she said other amounts could change.
Cheyenne: Statewide COVID-19 public health orders will remain in place through the end of the month, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Mask use and physical distancing requirements related to educational institutions remain. Indoor events of more than 500 people may be held at 50% of venue capacity with specific mask protocols for large indoor events. WDH recommends masks in indoor public places for people who aren’t fully vaccinated when common-sense physical distancing cannot be maintained among those who don’t live in the same household.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Racing a cop, ditching the mask: News from around our 50 states