Montgomery: Vaccines for COVID-19 are now widely available, but some people remain hesitant to take the shots, State Health Officer Scott Harris said Friday. After months of struggling with getting an adequate supply into the state, Harris said health officials are now trying to battle some people’s reluctance to sign up for doses. While people can be reluctant to take the vaccine for a variety of reasons, one is the false belief that the vaccine is more dangerous than the coronavirus, he said. “If you can identify one single issue that is a problem, it’s that there are people who are just convinced that the vaccine is somehow more dangerous than the disease,” Harris told reporters. “That’s a false belief we have to try to combat as often as we can. It’s simply not true.” Nearly one-third of Alabama’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. However, that figure ranks the state third from last in the nation, ahead of Mississippi and Louisiana, and Alabama is last nationally in its overall rate of vaccination. Harris said health officials are conducting media campaigns and asking doctors to contact their patients about the benefits of getting vaccinated. He emphasized that vaccination “is the fastest way to get back to normal.”
Anchorage: Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday ended the state’s COVID-19 disaster declaration, saying the state is in such a good position he doesn’t need emergency powers bestowed by the Legislature. “Alaska is in the recovery phase where an emergency declaration is no longer necessary,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “Our systems are fully functioning with vaccine distribution, adequate testing, and health care capacity. It is important our focus remains on getting Alaska’s economy back on track and welcoming summer tourism throughout our great state.” Dunleavy acted on the recommendation of health commissioner Adam Crum, who concluded the emergency disaster declaration is no longer necessary. “While COVID-19 is still present in Alaska, the urgent nature of the pandemic has passed and we are no longer anticipating the widespread emergency that Alaska faced earlier in this pandemic,” Crum wrote in a memo to Dunleavy. The Republican governor also signed a bill that his office says ensures the continuation of COVID-19 federal relief to affected Alaskans and liability protections for businesses in the state.
Phoenix: Numerous doctors’ offices and clinics will be able to directly obtain COVID-19 vaccines starting this week, state health officials said Friday. Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, announced eligible physicians and local health care providers will no longer have to rely on allocations from their county public health department. That means nearly 1,200 providers registered with the state can order up to 200 doses within a two-week period from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They will receive the Moderna vaccine because it has less complex storage requirements. The hope is that being able to go to a primary care doctor for a shot will “be a major driver,” Christ said. “Based on our community listening sessions, people indicated that a recommendation from their health care provider, that would be one of the things that would drive them to get vaccinated,” Christ said. State officials are expecting 100,000 doses to be available for these smaller providers to order directly during the first week. As vaccine demand declines, state health officials have been working with community groups on pop-up vaccination events in underserved areas like Yuma and south Phoenix. Strategies include telephonic town halls, door-to-door canvassing and targeted social media posts.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law legislation banning state and local mask mandates for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, even though the prohibition will not take effect until later this summer. Hutchinson dropped the state’s mandate in March, but cities including Fayetteville and Little Rock were allowed to keep their requirements in place. The bill is the latest measure the Republican governor has signed to curb Arkansas’ pandemic-related restrictions. On Wednesday he signed bills prohibiting the state and local governments from requiring vaccinations against COVID-19 or “vaccine passports” to access services. The mask mandate ban does not prevent businesses from imposing their own requirements, unlike an earlier version of the bill Hutchinson had said he would veto. The new law doesn’t take effect until late July at the earliest. Hutchinson cited the delay in the prohibition taking effect and its exemption of private businesses. “It is important to respect the individual decisions made by private businesses,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “It also does not have an emergency clause, so the law will not go into effect until the current school year ends.” The measure doesn’t apply to state-owned or state-controlled health care facilities, state prisons or facilities operated by the Division of Youth Services.
Los Angeles: Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Friday that the COVID-19 mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium will close by the end of May, part of a trend in California to bring doses closer to where people live as appointments in some places go unfilled. Winding down operations at the stadium marks the transition of the city’s vaccination efforts to appointment-free options and putting more doses into walk-up centers and mobile clinics, the mayor said in a statement. Dodger Stadium became one of the nation’s most prominent sites for coronavirus response, first for testing and then for delivery of vaccines to people waiting in long lines of cars. “Dodger Stadium set the standard for sports franchises and community institutions playing a starring role in our COVID-19 response for the country,” Garcetti said. More than 1 million people were tested at the stadium, and the number of vaccine doses administered there has topped 420,000, according to the city. Orange County’s big vaccination site at Disneyland closed Friday as the theme park reopened to visitors for the first time in more than a year. Similarly, a major site at Six Flags Magic Mountain in northern Los Angeles County recently closed as that park welcomed visitors back. North of San Francisco, Marin County will close two mass vaccination sites in San Rafael by the end of May.
Fort Collins: A little more than a year since schools and all their events shut down, some traditions, like prom, are returning – or, as some schools called them, “prom-like events.” Poudre School District’s four comprehensive high schools – Fort Collins High School, Fossil Ridge High School, Poudre High School and Rocky Mountain High School – hosted proms Saturday night, with a few stark differences from those of years past. At this year’s events, students could choose to wear formal or informal attire, food was not served for safety reasons, and the dances were all hosted outside to allow for social distancing and airflow. Tickets had to be bought ahead of time through an application that allows a school’s COVID-19 response team to perform contact tracing if a student who attended tests positive for the coronavirus. Students also had to register for the dance in a “pod” of no more than 10 and be limited to hanging out with that group for the evening. The district said by having students register in groups, kids within a pod were able to be less than 6 feet away from each other. Students were unable to attend if they had “any illness symptoms or are probable/positive for COVID-19.”
Hartford: Several of the state’s best-known museums have signed on to a proposal by Gov. Ned Lamont designed to combat some of the learning lost during the pandemic by allowing children to visit for free this summer. Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport Museum, Beardsley Zoo, the Connecticut Science Center and the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk have all expressed interest in participating, Lamont said Friday. Under the initiative, all Connecticut children 18 and under and one accompanying adult can visit the museums free of charge from July 1 to Sept. 6. “By participating in this program, we hope to provide more children access to a fun and educational destination and instill a love of the ocean that motivates young audiences to make a difference in our world,” said Dr. Stephen M. Coan, president and CEO of Sea Research Foundation Inc., the nonprofit that operates Mystic Aquarium. The governor’s plan would fund the program with $15 million from the state’s federal recovery funds. “Connecticut has some of the best museums in the region, and they were significantly impacted by the pandemic,” Lamont said. “Investing these recovery dollars into our museums just makes sense.” The Legislature must sign off on the proposal.
Wilmington: The state had the highest foreclosure rate in the country so far this year, according to a nationwide realty data analysis. One in every 1,705 housing units in Delaware had a foreclosure filing in the first quarter of 2021, according to the report from ATTOM Data Solutions. Of the state’s three counties, Kent County saw the highest foreclosure rate at the start of this year, with 1 in every 1,281 housing units seeing a foreclosure filing. New Castle County saw 1 in every 1,691, and Sussex County saw 1 in every 2,094. While the First State ranked first in terms of its foreclosure rate this past quarter, it was 31st in the total number of foreclosure filings, according to the data. The state had 254 filings, showing that even a small change in the small state can have a big impact on its ranking. And some state officials questioned the data. The Delaware State Housing Authority launched a mortgage assistance program in August to help people struggling to make their payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. That program was paused at the end of last year because the state was unsure if the federal government would continue to help fund the program, according to Jessica Eisenbrey Welch, a spokeswoman for the Delaware State Housing Authority.
District of Columbia
Washington: Fully vaccinated people may do more without wearing a mask under a new order from Mayor Muriel Bowser, WUSA-TV reports. People who are fully vaccinated – meaning at least two weeks have passed since their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – may now gather outdoors with a small group of vaccinated and unvaccinated people without wearing a mask, but social distance must be maintained, and people in the group who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks. Fully vaccinated people can visit with a small group of fully vaccinated people only at a private indoor setting without wearing a mask. They may travel within the United States without getting tested for the coronavirus before or after their trip. Those flying into the U.S. from another country still need to show a negative test before boarding and get tested three to five days after their return. Fully vaccinated people may also continue activities after being exposed to someone with COVID-19 without needing to get tested or quarantine, unless they have symptoms or live in a group setting. Businesses and other institutions may ask to see a person’s vaccine card or other proof of inoculation. Employers are also required to provide masks for their employees and can implement mask mandates at the office, according to the order.
Sarasota: Three days a week, Buffy greets visitors at the entrance to Doctors Hospital of Sarasota. If they grant permission, she sniffs their feet, seeking a whiff of active COVID-19 infection. Few decline the offer when they see the yellow Labrador retriever with a wagging tail. People generally don’t love going to a hospital, said CEO Robert Meade, but “who doesn’t love labs?” Buffy was trained by Palmetto-based Southeastern Guide Dogs as part of a four-dog pilot program for scent detection. The original plan was to train dogs to detect heightened levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. The coronavirus pandemic derailed that plan but opened the door to another. Small, early studies on dogs trained to detect the virus in Europe – though still unproven – showed promise. Southeastern decided to give it a shot. The four dogs selected had flunked out of Southeastern’s guide dog training, seen as easily distracted or “a little high-energy,” trainer Laska Parrow said. But “they were dogs that never gave up when a treat was hidden somewhere.” Saliva samples were collected from Doctors Hospital patients with active COVID-19 infections and “inactivated,” rendering them noninfectious. The dogs trained for three months. At the end, Buffy was 95% accurate at detecting the virus samples. Meade said he believes Doctors Hospital of Sarasota is the first hospital in the U.S. with such a pooch.
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp is removing many remaining requirements for social distancing and masked employees from businesses, saying the state’s efforts to control COVID-19 have been successful – even as its vaccination rate lags and as federal officials continue to warn that infection rates remain relatively high. While Kemp was touring the Mexican border in Texas on Friday, the Republican’s office released a new executive order that took effect Saturday and runs through May 30. “Businesses across the Peach State have followed COVID-19 restrictions for over a year to keep their employees and customers safe and will now be able to make informed decisions about how their business operations move forward,” said Mallory Blount, a spokesperson for Kemp. “Georgians know best how to protect themselves and their families, and they deserve to be able to return to normal.” But public health experts fear another surge, possibly driven by more infectious variants of the coronavirus. “Too soon,” Emory University infectious disease expert Carlos del Rio wrote on Twitter, pointing to federal statistics. “We still have ‘substantial transmission’ and our percent of population fully vaccinated is low.” More than 6 million doses of vaccines have been given in Georgia, but the state ranks 44th in doses per capita to people 18 and up.
Honolulu: Gov. David Ige says the state’s mask mandate will remain in place for now. Ige urged people to continue wearing masks despite the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about vaccinated people not having to wear masks in certain outdoor situations, Hawaii News Now reports. “We believe that the basic mask mandate is still appropriate, and we won’t be making changes, or making significant changes, at this time,” Ige said. He said said it would be difficult to determine who has been vaccinated against COVID-19 when it comes to enforcement. Some people at a beach park agreed. “It’s great that he’s not going to change it because how can you tell if somebody’s vaccinated or not?” said Terry Kakazu. “For my own protection, I’m gonna wear it anyway.” And beachgoer Claire Nakamua-Rochon asked: “What are we gonna do, put a ‘V’ on everybody’s arm to let everybody know you’re the vaccinated one?” Ige said he believes masks have helped keep the coronavirus in check in the state. “Hawaii continues to have amongst the lowest per capita infection rates and fatality rates in the country,” he said. “I do believe that our mask mandate is part of that success.”
Boise: Lawmakers hesitant to leave the governor in charge of pandemic decisions after the legislative session are delaying their adjournment, a move that analysts say could cause a government shutdown by threatening the start date of some 200 pieces of legislation. A measure intended to change the effective date of the legislation should be amended to avoid a potential government shutdown starting in June, a legal analysis has determined. The Idaho attorney general’s office sent the analysis Thursday to the Idaho Legislative Services Office, a nonpartisan government entity that supports state lawmakers. The document obtained by the Associated Press said the legislation as written could pass a court challenge, but the consequences for failing could be severe. The 200 bills include 65 critical appropriations bills. They would typically not take effect until at least 60 days after the Legislature adjourns. But the Legislature still being in session pushes their effective date past the start of the new fiscal year, starting July 1. If the bill is found unconstitutional, “some 200 bills, including appropriations bills to fund parts of state government, would not take effect on July 1, 2021,” wrote Chief Deputy Brian Kane, and “there could be funding issues for parts of state government as early as June 12.”
Springfield: Consistent statewide procedures and ongoing drills that target infection response and other emergencies will be routine at Illinois veterans’ homes after COVID-19 caught the LaSalle Veterans’ Home unprepared and claimed 36 lives last fall, said the newly appointed director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Terry Prince, a 31-year Navy veteran and former senior adviser to the U.S. surgeon general, has issued a six-point plan for improving readiness at the state’s veterans’ homes in Anna, Manteno, Quincy and LaSalle. The plan follows a blistering investigative report that laid out a string of miscommunications, lax policy and missed opportunities when the pandemic hit the home in LaSalle, 94 miles west of Chicago. The report by the inspector general of the Illinois Department of Human Services, released Friday, noted that despite escaping all traces of the deadly respiratory illness for eight months after it entered Illinois, little was done to devise protocols for preventing or managing infections. After the first four cases were reported Nov. 1, the virus spread to 60 residents and 43 employees as confused staff operated in an environment that was “inefficient, reactive and chaotic,” the report said.
Indianapolis: Gamblers will have to keep wearing face masks inside the state’s casinos at least through the end of May. Updated health guidelines issued by the Indiana Gaming Commission said operators of the 13 state-licensed casinos decided to keep the mask rule in place to stem COVID-19 spread even though Gov. Eric Holcomb lifted the statewide mask mandate as of April 6. The casino rules require customers to wear masks except when eating, drinking or smoking while seated at a slot machine, bar or restaurant table. Gamblers must wear masks at table games, and employees are required to have masks on at all times. The gaming commission said casinos will review whether to continue the mask requirement past June 1. The state guidelines direct casinos to obtain permission from local health officials before holding any events involving large crowds and continue extra spacing between slot machine players.
Des Moines: Gov. Kim Reynolds said she rejected $95 million in federal money for coronavirus testing in schools because she didn’t think there was a need for the funding. Reynolds, a Republican, announced her decision on a Thursday night Fox News show and criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for offering the money aimed at expanding testing. “I think he thinks that COVID just started,” Reynolds said on the show, which was televised from a forum with other Republican governors in Florida. ”I just returned $95 million because they sent an additional $95 million to the state of Iowa to get our kids back in the classroom by doing surveillance testing. And I said we’ve been in the classroom since August. Here’s your $95 million back.” Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, confirmed later that Iowa had turned down the funding. The Republican Party of Iowa praised Reynolds’ decision, saying the Biden administration had failed in its efforts to return students to in-person classrooms, but “Gov. Reynolds fought back against the teachers unions and succeeded.” Democratic state Auditor Rob Sand questioned the rejection of federal money that would have assisted testing at schools and funded Iowa jobs.
Overland Park: A Kansas City-area high school athletic director is pleading with families to take pandemic safety protocols seriously after instructing about 200 students to quarantine last week. John Johnson, who oversees athletics at Shawnee Mission South High School, said in a message to parents and athletes that “there are more students with positive tests, and that is causing an extreme domino effect of COVID transmission concerns.” He also warned that post-season play could be affected, The Kansas City Star reports. Elected officials in Johnson County voted Thursday to switch the mask mandate to a recommendation, although the decision doesn’t affect schools. Health officials in the county, which is the state’s largest, have warned that while the number of new coronavirus cases is down, the drop in testing makes it more difficult to know how widespread transmission of the virus has become. And they are urging eligible residents to get vaccinated, saying demand has slowed. District spokesman David Smith said it is typical for student-athletes to be quarantined from playing sports after a potential exposure but still be allowed to attend class. “At school, we have protocols, including mask-wearing and social distancing. But when you’re participating in sports, it’s not always possible to do those things,” Smith said.
Louisville: Thousands of spectators gathered in the infield at Churchill Downs on Saturday for the Kentucky Derby, many not wearing face masks required amid the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds stood in lines that were not spaced out to use ATMs or buy food. Unlike some Derby tickets this year that are all-inclusive, infield tickets don’t include drinks or food, so fans have to use cash to make purchases. Sydney Lowe of Columbus, Ohio, said she and her friends were fine with not wearing masks because they were outside and had been vaccinated. “We’re outside; I feel like it’s not that big a deal,” Lowe said. “I wish there were more ATMs and that it wasn’t only cash, that’s one thing,” added her friend Halle Vozar. A recording played over a loudspeaker at the entrance said guests were required to wear masks over their mouths and noses. Ticket-takers reminded people coming in the front gate: “Please have your mask on! Masks on! Masks on!” A sign posted indoors by the wagering windows reminding spectators to wear masks largely went ignored. Others had masks pulled down covering their chins. The crowd at the Downs reportedly topped 50,000 people, which would make the Derby the biggest gathering for a U.S. sports event since the pandemic began.
Baton Rouge: Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed spending $1.6 billion of the state’s $3.2 billion in federal funding from the latest pandemic relief package on Louisiana’s bankrupt unemployment trust fund, tourism and infrastructure to help stand up the economy. “It’s my belief that these are the three most important things we can do right now ... to have a transformative, positive impact on Louisiana,” Edwards said at a Thursday press conference. Edwards, who will need approval from the Legislature, wants to direct $230 million to repay federal loans that have propped up the state’s unemployment trust fund and another $400 million to replenish the trust fund to avoid triggering tax hikes on businesses. “I don’t believe it’s a good thing to increase taxes on businesses when we’re trying to grow the economy coming out of a pandemic,” he said. Edwards is proposing $750 million go toward infrastructure – $400 million to roads and bridges, $300 million to upgrade dilapidated water systems and $50 million for ports. He’s also recommending $125 million for Convention and Visitors Bureaus and other tourism venues and $20 million for the Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. “That’s incredibly important to jump-start our economy,” he said.
Augusta: Cities and towns would be able to get access to federal coronavirus aid under a pandemic law change. The Legislature on Wednesday passed a proposal to set up an account for the state to receive and distribute federal funds for the municipalities via the American Rescue Plan. The proposal, which was a governor’s bill, is now before Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson said the money is important for Maine cities and towns to “work to rebuild local communities and economies.” The American Rescue Plan allocated funds to Maine municipalities based on their populations, the Maine Legislature Office of the Presiding Officers said. Every town in the state will receive money, Democratic Rep. Teresa Pierce said. That will result in more than $600 million going into the communities, she said.
Annapolis: Preliminary data from 2020 reveals a dramatic increase in deaths linked with opioids in the state, particularly fentanyl, and health officials blame the pandemic. The number of unintentional intoxication overdoses – those involving all drugs and alcohol – rose 18.7% to 2,773 in 2020 from 2,379 in 2019, according to data collected by the Maryland Department of Health. In more than 90% of cases, opioids were detected in bodies postmortem. That’s the highest rate recorded in the state’s history of collecting this data. While too early to formally determine the extent to which COVID-19 has influenced this increase, experts agree the pandemic is likely to blame for the widespread increase in drug use. Dr. Aaron Greenblatt, medical director of the University of Maryland Medical Center Addiction Treatment Programs, said pandemic-induced stress is likely a major factor in drug users’ relapses, but COVID-19 restricted treatment options, too. “I think that access to treatment – particularly access to psychosocial treatments – was really significantly impacted by COVID … we haven’t had groups,” Greenblatt told Capital News Service. Outpatient addiction treatment programs are intense and may require patients to visit an office or a clinic to get supervised therapeutic medication dosing up to six days a week.
Boston: The state is pouring $70 million into summer educational programs to benefit students who have fallen behind academically and socially while learning remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Charlie Baker said Friday. “Studies continue to show that amid the school closures, many students did miss out on some fundamental issues around math and reading,” the Republican governor said after touring a Canton middle school. The programs designed for every grade level – including high school seniors graduating this spring – will feature a mix of academic and recreational opportunities at schools, after-school providers, community colleges and recreation sites, he said. Many students were out of school for longer than a year during the pandemic, and some high school students continue to learn remotely. The programs include so-called Acceleration Academies, which will offer intensive instruction in one subject with smaller classes, longer instructional blocks and individualized attention. Under the Summer Acceleration to College program, class of 2021 high school graduates will be able to take math and English courses for credit at no cost at 14 community colleges. Another program is aimed at incoming kindergartners.
Lansing: Republican legislative leaders on Friday welcomed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s metric-based approach to further relaxing coronavirus restrictions, but they questioned what will happen if Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination rate falls below targets. Their comments came a day after the Democratic governor announced four benchmarks that will trigger additional economic reopening – when 55%, 60%, 65% and 70% of people ages 16 and up get at least one shot. About half have done so to date. The state, where the seven-day infection rate remains highest in the U.S. but is dropping, now needs at least 2 of every 5 unvaccinated residents to receive a dose. “I think that we need a little more of a discussion on this metric of vaccines alone. I believe there’s a little more breadth that needs to be taken into consideration there, especially if we run into resistance and reluctance that causes us to plateau below the numbers that have been indicated,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said during a virtual event sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber. It included all four legislative leaders. House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, applauded Whitmer for providing people “some sense of hope” and said both the vaccination rate and vaccine accessibility are important.
St. Cloud: About 100 people gathered at Lake George on Saturday morning to memorialize the nearly 400 area residents who have died from COVID-19 in the past year and to share messages of resilience and hope for the future. The event was organized by St. Cloud Times journalists Nora Hertel and Sarah Kocher. “I had the idea to do something like this in January,” Hertel said after the memorial. “I just thought, how are we honoring these people?” Each death has added to a “huge community loss,” Hertel said, and “I just felt like we needed to reckon with it.” The memorial took place on the deck on the east side of Lake George. Guests were invited to tie strips of cloth, donated by Gruber’s Quilt Shop in Waite Park, to the railing, where they will remain until Friday. Those ribbons fluttered in the breeze behind each speaker during the event. The Rev. James Alberts, of the Higher Ground Church of God in Christ, was the first guest to speak, opting to use his “pastor voice” instead of a microphone. “It’s good to see your faces, in a shared space and to be able to do this together,” Alberts said, before leading the group in prayer. “It’s so important that we recognize the loss of nearly 400 people in our area,” Mayor Dave Kleis said. “I hope there’s a day not too distant in the future where we will celebrate the last case of COVID.”
Jackson: Gov. Tate Reeves on Friday erased most restrictions he had set to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Republican governor left one rule in place: a mandate for students 6 or older to wear masks in schools for the rest of the current academic year. The school year ends within the next few weeks in most parts of the state. Reeves’ new executive order removes capacity restrictions for sports events. Previously, indoor arenas could only fill two-thirds of their seats to allow for social distancing. School sporting events and other activities were limited to 50% capacity for both indoor and outdoor events. Now, both indoor and outdoor school activities are no longer under capacity restrictions. “Getting our kids back in school last August was one of the most important decisions of the pandemic and keeping them in the classroom is one of my top priorities,” Reeves said in a statement Friday. “Even so – our class of 2021 has not been afforded a normal senior year. I want every one of them to attend their graduation and I want everyone in their family to be able to join them!” Reeves had already removed mask requirements in public spaces and all capacity restrictions for restaurants, bars and other businesses.
Reeds Spring: A southwest Missouri school district that dropped its mask mandate last month has decided to reinstate it after several students became infected with the coronavirus, leading to dozens of quarantines. The 1,700-student Reeds Spring district had gone weeks without a case when it decided to make masks optional beginning April 22. Several other districts in the Springfield area also have ditched mask orders in recent weeks. “It’s getting harder and harder to even get kids to keep those masks on as they are seeing people, adults and everyone in the community, not wearing masks,” Superintendent Cody Hirschi said in a video at the time. The change didn’t last long, though, before the district decided to reinstate the mandate starting Friday. “The cases of quarantine are really our biggest concern,” said district spokesman Ben Fisher, noting that six positive tests led to 95 quarantines in several buildings. “We really think it is essential for kids to be able to participate in end-of-year activities, so we decided this was the best option to keep kids in school.” Statewide, the percentage of Missouri residents receiving at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine barely budged Friday, remaining a little above 37% of the state population, KMIZ-TV reports.
Great Falls: The state posted 169 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, bringing Montana’s total to 108,985 confirmed reports. Of the 108,985 cases, 106,324 are recovered, and 1,087 remain active. There are 53 people who are now hospitalized out of 5,021 total COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began, according to the state website covid19.mt.gov. Montana added two deaths overnight, bringing the total to 1,574 fatalities related to the respiratory illness. The state has thus far administered 1,302,221 tests for the coronavirus. The first case of COVID-19 in Montana was reported March 11, 2020. The state’s highest daily total of newly detected cases came Nov. 12, when 1,429 new cases were reported.
Omaha: A community college is using federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay for tuition and books for high schoolers from the state to take courses this summer. The Omaha World-Herald reports officials at the Metropolitan Community College hope their newly approved offer will pull in thousands of students. The college saw about a 15% drop in summer enrollment from 2019 to 2020, said Bill Owen, the college’s vice president for strategic initiatives. “If we’re truly in recovery mode, and we hope we are, we think we’ll see a return to those numbers,” he said. Typically, high school students pay $33 per credit hour – half the full rate – if they enroll in a program called CollegeNow that is designed for high school students to jump-start their college education. While those students will be allowed to attend courses for free this summer, they will be responsible for tools and other required supplies.
Las Vegas: The city has been almost elbow-to-elbow lately with pandemic-weary tourists looking for excitement and entertainment, after casinos rose from 35% to 50% occupancy March 15 under state health guidelines. Capacity limits in Las Vegas casinos dropped again Saturday – allowing 80% occupancy – while person-to-person distancing went from 6 feet to 3 feet. Masks are still required. “People were just yearning to go someplace and let loose,” said Alan Feldman, a former casino executive who is now a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Among the first arrivals were people ages 60 and older who were recently vaccinated with time and disposable income, he said. Analysts said pent-up demand, available hotel rooms and $1,400 federal pandemic recovery checks have contributed to the rush. “People are feeling more comfortable traveling as science appears to be getting ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst at Applied Analysis in Las Vegas. And every Sunday, a nearly 20-mile line of vehicles jams southbound Interstate 15 near the Nevada-California state line. “You have visitors coming throughout the week, all leaving at the same time,” Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Travis Smaka said. “It’s very busy every Sunday.”
Concord: Gov. Chris Sununu says state health officials and private agencies have begun a number of initiatives to encourage residents to get vaccinated. Officials warn that New Hampshire, which has been leading the nation in the percentage of the population that’s received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, is starting to see growth in the number of fully vaccinated residents slow down. WMUR-TV reports many people who are eligible to receive a shot have not signed up for an appointment. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows more than 790,000 New Hampshire residents have received their first dose, about 60% of the population, while more than 351,000 of those people are fully vaccinated, or about 26% of the population. The state says a series of public service announcements and electronic billboards will encourage people who may be hesitant to get vaccinated. Experts say it is important for everyone to get inoculated. “They may not become ill. They may be a transmitter and simply part of an asymptomatic transmission,” said Martha Wassell, director of Infection Prevention at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital. “That could in turn spread this to someone who either was vaccinated, and it didn’t work well, or for whatever medical reason could not be vaccinated.”
Atlantic City: Business, casino and political officials called on Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday to ease coronavirus regulations enough to allow conventions and trade shows to resume in the city. Saying the convention industry generates nearly $2 billion in annual revenue for Atlantic City, the groups asked the Democratic governor to allow meetings to utilize available space at 50% of capacity, as is permitted on the gambling floors of the city’s nine casinos. Michael Chait, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, praised Murphy’s handling of the pandemic but said state-imposed rules are inconsistent and are hurting the convention industry. “I can only have 25 people in a meeting room, but I can have 225 people in a banquet hall,” he said at a press conference on the Boardwalk as workmen attended to the facade of Boardwalk Hall in anticipation of the summer tourism season. “I can have 50% capacity on the casino floor, but I can only take 25 of them and put them into an adjacent meeting room.” Chait said the city would like to be able to host conventions and trade shows at 50% of capacity, using the same safety and distancing protocols the casinos have been using since they were allowed to reopen last July. He said the casino industry has proven it is possible to operate at higher levels without compromising safety.
Santa Fe: A judge has ordered education officials to provide computers and high-speed internet to students who still don’t have them in a landmark ruling that for the first time in the state has set a standard for internet speeds for public school children. The ruling requires state officials to immediately determine which students covered by the sweeping lawsuit are still lacking quality internet or devices and to provide them with what they need, including transportation if they can’t get fast internet from home. “Children who are lacking access to internet and technology for remote learning are not getting much of an education, if at all, let alone one that is sufficient to make them college and career ready,” state District Judge Matthew Wilson said in the ruling Friday morning. It’s unclear how the court might compel state officials to act on the ruling or when it might hold them in contempt. The vast majority of New Mexico schools are open to in-person learning. But school districts serving tribal areas, which were particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 cases and deaths, are still under lockdown orders, and some are still in remote or partially remote learning. About 10% of New Mexico children are Native American and often confront major barriers to online and in-person learning.
New York: Restaurants in New York City can increase their indoor dining to 75% of capacity starting Friday, May 7, in line with the rest of the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday. That will let city eateries fill more of their tables on Mother’s Day, May 9. Cuomo on Friday also said personal services including hair salons and barbershops could expand to 75% capacity starting May 7 as well. Gyms in New York City can go to 50% capacity starting May 15. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio both spoke Thursday about wanting to see coronavirus-related restrictions lifted in the next couple of months. Infection rates throughout the state have continued to fall at a steady pace in recent weeks as more people have become vaccinated against COVID-19. The number of new infections reported daily in New York has dropped 56% since the start of April, even as more and more social activity has resumed. Still, the crisis isn’t over yet. A majority of New Yorkers have yet to receive even a single dose of the vaccine. The state recorded 25,000 positive coronavirus tests in the prior seven days, more than it did in the entire month of September.
Raleigh: Some low-income families missed out on getting coronavirus relief grants last year because of administrative and qualifying hurdles required by the General Assembly, a state audit concluded last week. The legislature in September approved using federal COVID-19 relief funds to give families one-time $335 payments. The “Extra Credit Grant” money was designed to assist with virtual schooling and child care costs during the pandemic but could be used for any purpose. Lawmakers tasked the Department of Revenue with managing the program. More than 1.1 million payments had been sent by the department through December totaling about $375 million, according to State Auditor Beth Wood’s office. They were sent automatically to families who were 2019 tax filers and reported having at least one child age 16 or under. But parents or guardians who didn’t make enough money in 2019 to file a return were required to fill out an application to obtain payments. By the end of 2020, about 25,000 payments had been made to those who had applied, the performance audit said. Wood’s report found that other low-income families didn’t receive payments because of the additional steps the Revenue Department had to complete within a matter of weeks to accept applications and award payments.
Bismarck: The 2021 Legislature reached its finale early Friday in a session marked by a record-high state budget, the first expulsion of a lawmaker and pandemic protocols that greatly dampened public participation at the state Capitol. Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, the state Senate’s presiding officer, hit the final gavel at 12:26 a.m. Friday. House members officially completed their work at 12:18 a.m. after finishing a brief chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” Lawmakers from both sides exchanged handshakes and hugs after a marathon day that came to an end after approval of the spending bill for the Office of Management and Budget, which also serves as Legislature’s last-minute catchall measure. Thursday was Day 76 for the Legislature, just short of the 80-day maximum set by the North Dakota Constitution. The Legislature will use the remaining days later in the year to approve new legislative districts. The Republican-led Legislature has passed record-setting budgets in most of the past several sessions, but the spending plan for the next two-year budget cycle is particularly eye-popping, due in part to federal coronavirus aid. As the session wound down Thursday, lawmakers completed work on a nearly $17 billion, two-year budget, about $2.1 billion more than the current budget cycle ending June 30.
Cincinnati: Teens have been trickling into COVID-19 vaccination clinics ever since Gov. Mike DeWine opened up eligibility to everyone 16 and older March 29. Soon, experts say it’s possible a vaccine will be allowed for children as young as 5. Dr. Robert Frenck, director of the Gamble Vaccine Research Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said that could happen by August or September. Until then, public health officials are working to get more and more eligible teens vaccinated. In some cases, that means bringing clinics to school buildings. Milford High School in Clermont County hosted a vaccination clinic in partnership with Clermont Public Health last month. District spokesperson Wendy Planicka said about 200 people came to the clinic, 150 of whom were students. Milford senior Jack McKenney, 18, said he caught the coronavirus in the fall. He said he didn’t feel very sick, and a sinus infection he had last March was much worse. Still, he went to Milford’s clinic because he’s worried about spreading COVID-19.“I mean, I know if I were to get COVID again, I would most likely be OK, but it’s just I’m relieved that I wouldn’t give it to someone else as easily,” he said. Other school districts are considering hosting vaccine clinics or at least encouraging students to get shots if able.
Oklahoma City: Mask mandates intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus are ending in the state’s two largest cities, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The requirement ended Friday in Oklahoma City and Saturday in Tulsa, although the mandate continues at places such as city offices. Mayors David Holt in Oklahoma City and G.T. Bynum in Tulsa both credited COVID-19 vaccinations for lowering the number of virus cases and hospitalizations. “It is possible we are taking the miracle vaccinations for granted,” Holt said during a Friday news conference. “These proven, safe vaccines are remarkable.” Bynum said residents should also continue wearing masks when in groups of people outside their family. “While we’re in a position to end the city’s mandate that people wear masks in public, that doesn’t mean everyone should have a mask-burning party over the weekend,” Bynum said Thursday. In both cities, private businesses can continue requiring masks if desired. The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Friday reported 448,305 total virus cases since the pandemic began. The seven-day rolling average of new cases in the state has declined from 314.4 daily to 240.7, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Bend: A vaccine clinic set up inside a high school attracted anti-vaccine protesters who heckled teenagers as they entered the site Thursday, prompting the church that provided a parking lot for the event to call police. The Bend-La Pine School District plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines at six different clinics at Central Oregon high schools through June 3 in hopes of stemming an outbreak that’s sickened at least 95 students and staff, The Bulletin reports. Before the school clinics began, Bend-La Pine School Board members received hundreds of angry emails from anti-vaccine activists, said board member Julie Craig. Most had the exact same copy-and-paste wording, but a few were especially nasty, she said. Board member Carrie McPherson Douglass shared emails with The Bulletin that called the school board Nazis for allowing vaccine clinics. In one, a parent promised to “exact cruel and inhuman revenge” if their child was harmed by the shot. “I’m frankly so done with it,” Craig told the newspaper. “I’m so disappointed in community members who feel that is the best way to try and have a conversation, when they don’t agree with something that we’re doing.” In Oregon, teens 15 and up can agree to medical services – including immunization – without parental consent, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Pittsburgh: Light of Life Rescue Mission’s plans to hold a vaccine clinic for homeless people last month were upended about three hours before the event was supposed to start, when news broke that use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been paused, the Tribune-Review reports. The shelter quickly shifted gears and administered the Moderna option instead, said Jerrel Gilliam, executive director. But the development altered Light of Life’s vaccine strategy, as clinicians had to inform patients without consistent housing that they needed to return for a second dose. “It is very frustrating,” Gilliam said. “This was part of our strategy to use in the camps because of the one shot.” U.S. health officials later lifted the 11-day J&J vaccine pause, but many of the challenges facing shelters and the homeless during the pandemic will remain. More than 70% of residents in Light of Life’s long-term program have been fully vaccinated, which provides some peace of mind, Gilliam said. But in a population with so much transience and turnover, he said the shelter can’t let its guard down. Barriers to health care, mental health care, food and other basic needs will remain, even after COVID-19 is resolved. “There is some concern that this population will once again go to the back burner,” Gilliam said.
Providence: The state Department of Health is partnering with nine colleges and universities to make getting a COVID-19 shot as easy as possible for all students, faculty and staff before the end of the spring semester. Under the program announced Thursday, schools will either hold on-campus vaccination clinics or provide free shuttle service from campus to vaccination sites. “Now that vaccine eligibility is open to all people 16 and older who live, work, or go to school in Rhode Island, it’s important that we get our young people who live in congregate settings vaccinated,” Gov. Daniel McKee said in a statement. For example, Brown University is participating at a designated day at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence by providing shuttle service to the clinic. Roger Williams University is partnering with the town of Bristol to host an on-campus clinic. Bryant University, the University of Rhode Island, Providence College, Community College of Rhode Island, New England Institute of Technology, Rhode Island College and the Rhode Island School of Design are also participating in the program. Many colleges are requiring students to be vaccinated before returning to campus for the fall. There is no cost to get a shot, and participants do not need health insurance.
Greenville: Masks continue to be important in schools and many other crowded public settings, state health officials said Friday, after Gov. Henry McMaster last week called masks in schools the “height of ridiculosity.” McMaster criticized the requirements Wednesday, and in a Twitter post he also urged cities and towns to remove mask requirements. Other state officials, from education and health departments, have voiced concern about the Republican governor’s mask recommendations. The South Carolina Department of Education and state Department of Health and Environmental Control have both issued statements saying mask usage is critical to preventing the spread of the coronavirus. South Carolina’s assistant state epidemiologist said Friday in a media briefing that mask mandates in cities and towns continue to be important. Even in cities that have taken away those orders, Dr. Jane Kelly said, “I would urge you to protect yourself, your family and your community by wearing a mask.” She said masks work and likened wearing a mask to wearing a seat belt because once traffic fatalities began to drop, and seat belts were widely adopted, the belts remained, and the fatalities stayed low.
Sturgis: The 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally caused “widespread transmission” of the coronavirus across the United States, finds a new study released Thursday. More than 463 COVID-19 cases across 30 states were directly connected to the Sturgis Rally in August and September 2020. Seventeen patients were hospitalized, and one person died, according to the report by the Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. The information was reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including members of the CDC COVID-19 Response Team, though a disclaimer in the study says the findings “do not necessarily represent the official position.” A total of 649 primary and secondary cases were attributed to the South Dakota event in the study. About 56% of the Sturgis-associated cases were reported in South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. “While the number of cases identified is sizable – 140 cases per 100,000 attendees – it is likely that the true national impact of the Sturgis event is underestimated,” the report says. Some attendees could have been asymptomatic or hadn’t been tested when they returned home from the rally, leading to untraceable infections.
Knoxville: For the second year in a row, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville has recommended no increase in tuition or fees for students. It’s a purposeful decision to help students in a challenging time as families continue to recover from the economic effects of COVID-19, UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said Friday. “The proposed budget with no increase in tuition and fees represents our commitment to provide affordable access to a world-class education, especially as students and families continue to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic,” Plowman said. “We are also grateful for the state support we receive, which helps us keep tuition flat and continue to offer the academic opportunities and college experiences that make our university special.” The chancellor’s advisory board approved the flat tuition and fees for the 2021-22 school year Friday morning, as part of the budget recommendation for the next fiscal year. The budget and tuition recommendations still needs to be approved by the board of trustees later this year. Last year, tuition and fees were kept flat at all UT campuses because of financial hardship caused by the coronavirus. The year before that, tuition increased by 2%. There was no tuition increase in 2018.
Arlington: A runoff for a U.S. House seat is set between Republican Susan Wright, whose husband was the first member of Congress to die after being diagnosed with COVID-19, and Republican Jake Ellzey. Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez was narrowly locked out of the runoff in Texas’ 6th Congressional District, which has long been GOP territory. With nearly all votes counted, Sanchez had trailed Ellzey by 354 votes. She said in a statement Sunday that her campaign “came up short.” “Democrats have come a long way toward competing in Texas but we still have a long way to go,” Sanchez said in a statement. Ellzey is a state lawmaker who narrowly lost the GOP nomination for the seat in 2018 and carried the backing of former Gov. Rick Perry. Susan Wright had already been seen as a favorite in a crowded race to fill the seat of her late husband, who died in February after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was 67. The date of the runoff has not yet been set. Wright will enter the runoff with the backing of former President Donald Trump, who waited until just days before the election to endorse Wright.
St. George: In the past year, lifestyle changes sparked by society’s reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to more time at home, more time in front of a screen and a propensity for more frequent snacking. “We call it the COVID diet,” said Dr. Daniel Cannon, a pediatrician with Red Rock Pediatrics in St. George. “We’ve seen a real uptick in weight gain in a lot of kids.” Although the problem may have increased due to factors related to pandemic-era lifestyles, it’s definitely not the first time medical professionals have seen this problem. “Childhood obesity is basically an epidemic,” Cannon said. The problem stems from an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle in children and adolescents and from behaviors sometimes learned from generations of family obesity, he said. Other causes may include a lack of education on the topic of health, poverty, home environment, and accessibility of health care and healthy nutrition. “We call these ‘social determinants of health,’ ” Cannon said, adding that these determinants and others are screened for and discussed at each well visit in order to identify concerning trends before they become a problem. When it comes to increasing activity in children and young adults, Cannon said it’s best to find something the child is interested in and build activity around that.
Montpelier: The state relaxed its guidance on mask-wearing outside Saturday while also moving to the second phase of reopening that allows larger gatherings, lifts industry-specific guidance for most businesses, and requires them to all follow the same rules about wearing masks, distancing and staying home when sick, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday. Vaccinated and unvaccinated Vermonters will no longer be required to wear masks outdoors if they are able to physically distance themselves. The new rules follow updated guidance last week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Scott said during his twice-weekly virus briefing. Masks will only be required in crowds or with multiple households when distancing isn’t possible, said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. “The science and data show that outdoor transmission is rare; it poses little risk if you follow our guidance,” the Republican governor said. Municipalities and businesses can have stricter policies if they want, Scott said. More than 60% of adult residents are vaccinated, meeting the state’s goal to move to the second phase of reopening, Scott said. If the state reaches 70% of adults vaccinated by June 1, it will be able to take its final step to turn mandates into recommendations in July, he said.
Falls Church: Republican candidates for governor touted plans to reopen schools and lift pandemic restrictions as they made videotaped pitches to the tens of thousands of party delegates who will choose a nominee at a convention next Saturday. Pandemic restrictions on mass gatherings have prevented the GOP from holding a traditional convention, so the party has instead opted to hold an “unassembled convention” in which delegates who preregistered to participate will cast ballots at more than 30 locations to choose a nominee. The convention will use ranked-choice voting to more closely mimic the balloting at a traditional convention, where the field is winnowed in successive votes until one candidate gets a minority. And because the candidates won’t be able to make traditional convention speeches to assembled delegates, the GOP arranged for candidates to submit videos touting themselves on the party’s website, which were posted Saturday night.
Republic: About 10% of the population of this small city in north-central Washington has tested positive for the coronavirus in an outbreak traced to large indoor events last month at the local Fraternal Order of Eagles hall. Ferry County Memorial Hospital officials have confirmed more than 100 cases, with one reported death, since the April 9-11 events, including a membership drive that featured dinner, live music and a 1980s-themed karaoke night. Some patients have had to be transferred to Wenatchee and Yakima because of a lack of capacity at the 25-bed hospital – the only hospital in a 50-mile radius – and other closer facilities. “In Ferry County especially, we’re seeing really sick young people showing up in the emergency room to get care,” Northeast Tri County Health Officer Dr. Sam Artzis said, according to The Spokesman-Review. The county previously had relatively few COVID-19 cases, and many in the conservative, rural community saw mask mandates as infringing on their liberty. Less than one-quarter of the county’s residents have received a vaccine to date, according to the health district, but officials said the outbreak has increased interest in it. The situation should serve as a warning to other communities about the danger of large indoor events with unvaccinated people, they said.
Bluefield: Signs featuring the words “Now Hiring” and “Help Wanted” are an increasingly common sight outside restaurants locally, but surprisingly few people are stepping forward and taking those jobs, business owners and hiring managers say. The COVID-19 pandemic put many people out of work as restrictions kept diners out of restaurants. Adjustments such as more drive-thru traffic, deliveries and limited seating helped, but restaurants cut back on wait staff and other employees. Restrictions are starting to relax, but now they are having trouble bringing new employees in. Jamie Null, executive director of the Mercer County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said local restaurants and service industries have been looking for new employees, but they are not receiving many applicants. Some area restaurants are seeing people ask about jobs, but few are taking the next step from applicant to employee. The Corner Shop in downtown Bramwell has been hiring for months, manager Mandy Fink said. She said she believed some of the people who apply but never follow through are listing applications so they can keep receiving unemployment benefits. “Right now, there’s a lot of people who are able to work,” she said.
Madison: The state Capitol, closed to the public since late March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, will reopen Monday, Gov. Tony Evers’ administration announced Friday. It will be opened for limited hours, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and only on weekdays. Before the pandemic, the building stayed open until 6 p.m. during the week and was also open on weekends. There will be no public tours of the Capitol, but the tour desk will be staffed for visitors to get information. Only one entrance to the building will be open to the public. Capitol staff, including those who work for Evers, lawmakers and the state Supreme Court, have been working out of the building for months. The Legislature has also been holding hearings and floor sessions, which are open to the public. State office buildings that surround the Capitol remain closed, but Evers has said he’s targeting a return to work for many this summer. Republicans have been pushing Evers to move faster to open the offices. As of Friday, more than 43% of people in Wisconsin had received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, while nearly 34% were fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health Services.
Cheyenne: Telephone scammers are trying to take advantage of an accidental Wyoming Department of Health data release affecting over a quarter of the state’s population, agency officials said Friday. Scammers request insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or other financial information and in some cases look like they’re calling from state government numbers, department administrator Jeri Hendricks said in a statement. “No one representing the department will ask you for insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or personal financial information. No one representing the department will call you about the breach unless they are returning a call you made to us first,” Hendricks said. The scammers appear to be targeting residents at random and not through access to phone numbers inadvertently released, department spokeswoman Kim Deti said. A department employee working with computer code accidentally posted coronavirus test results as well as associated names, addresses, birth dates and other information on GitHub.com, an internet-based software development platform. The employee released coronavirus plus flu test results for 145,698 Wyoming residents. Also posted were blood alcohol test results for 18,312 people, mainly from Wyoming but also other states, dating to 2012.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Virus-sniffing dog, Vegas boom: News from around our 50 states