Women’s work, ‘Curated Cocktails,’ Met Gala: News from around our 50 states
Montgomery: The state has temporarily paused giving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine out of an “abundance of caution” while federal officials investigate reports of rare blood clots, the state health officer announced Tuesday. Dr. Scott Harris cautioned people to remember those were just six incidents out of 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine that have been given across the nation. “COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for Alabama. It is important to know that the adverse effects potentially stemming from the Johnson & Johnson shot have been extremely rare in the country, but out of an abundance of caution, Alabama is temporarily pausing these shots until we know more,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement. Some vaccine appointments were likely canceled this week, Harris said. But he said the J&J vaccine makes up a small portion of the shots given in the state, so it should not have a large effect on availability. Alabama has so far distributed about 71,000 J&J doses. Harris said the state has another 88,000 or so that will sit on shelves during the investigation but will remain viable until June. Harris said officials had hoped to use the one-shot vaccine for harder-to-reach populations, such as those who are homebound.
Anchorage: The city will lift all limits on outdoor gatherings in a new coronavirus emergency order set to take effect Friday night. Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson announced the emergency order Monday, a day before the Anchorage Assembly was scheduled to decide whether to extend the city’s emergency proclamation, which gives the mayor the power to issue emergency orders. The Assembly must renew that proclamation, or all emergency orders will be nullified after Friday. The new order will remain in effect until either it is revoked or the city’s health department certifies that 70% of eligible Anchorage residents are fully vaccinated. The order said about 36% of residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated. Outdoor gatherings will no longer have capacity restrictions, though mask and social distancing mandates will remain. Many rules regarding indoor gatherings will remain the same, including restricting gatherings with food and beverages to 25 people. Indoor gatherings without food or drinks will remain capped at up to 35 people. But large ballrooms or conference spaces will soon be able to hold seated events with up to four times the current indoor gathering limits, as long as 6 feet of space is maintained between tables, the Anchorage Daily News reports.
Phoenix: What began as a state contract with Arizona State University for $12.7 million has grown to $90.8 million and is expected to grow by millions more as the university plays an increasingly large role in the pandemic response. The Arizona Department of Health Services’ COVID-19 contracts with two state universities set a spending cap of more than $100 million for the state to reimburse the schools for operating vaccine and testing sites. The state has a COVID-19 contract with the University of Arizona worth $20 million, records show. ASU had spent and been paid back less than one-third of what the contract allows – $23.6 million of the allowable $90.8 million, as of April 8 – ADHS spokeswoman Holly Poynter wrote in an email. The contract is set to expire July 6. That contract is expected to grow by an additional $44 million or so for vaccine site costs, to a total of $135 million, according to ASU. The contract terms indicate the state-operated vaccine sites will be closing June 30 or sooner. State health officials say the plan is to operate the state sites through the end of June, but that could change depending on the status of the coronavirus, how many people still need vaccines, and how accessible they are at places like doctors’ offices and pharmacies.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday encouraged high school students to get vaccinated against COVID-19. “Our vaccine numbers are increasing, but we must do more,” the Republican governor said in a news release. “If you are 16 and older then you are eligible for the vaccine. It is important that our eligible high school students get a dose.” Over 31% of Arkansas residents have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot, while 19% are fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Arkansas Department of Health on Monday reported 69 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in the state has decreased by 25, a drop of 13.7%, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. State health officials said Monday that 156 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized, seven fewer than the day before. There were four additional deaths reported, bringing the state’s death toll since the pandemic began to 5,665, state officials said.
Los Angeles: The state on Monday lifted its limits on indoor worship services in the face of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that struck down the coronavirus public health mandates. However, the state Department of Public Health guidelines still said indoor gatherings were “strongly discouraged” and advised limiting the numbers to 25% of a building’s capacity for the two highest levels of the state’s four-tier COVID-19 restrictions. The recommended capacity for the two lower levels – those areas with moderate to minimum spread – is 50% capacity. “Location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory, but are strongly recommended,” the new guidance said. The Center for American Liberty, which had filed a string of lawsuits against Gov. Gavin Newsom on behalf of churches, applauded the move. “For over a year, the state of California has targeted the faith community for discriminatory treatment depriving them of their fundamental right to worship,” said a statement from Harmeet K. Dhillon, the center’s founder. State or local restrictions on indoor worship had been in place for most of the pandemic. Most religious organizations had followed the restrictions, but some churches fought them on grounds that they violated the constitutional freedom of religious expression.
A cliff diver makes a swan dive into a pool 30 feet below during a show at Casa Bonita. The restaurant also has magic shows, and gorillas occasionally pop up to surprise diners. (Photo: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY)
Denver: A well-known restaurant that has been closed since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March 2020 has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Casa Bonita in Lakewood – famous for its cliff divers, a 30-foot waterfall and festive decorations – filed for bankruptcy protection April 6, according to documents. The restaurant was the subject of a 2003 episode of the TV show “South Park,” and the Denver Broncos announced some of their draft picks there in 2018, Denver news station KUSA-TV reports. A GoFundMe created last month for the 46-year-old restaurant had raised more than $15,000 as of Monday. While its future appears uncertain, Casa Bonita’s website said it will be reopening soon. Representatives from the restaurant did not immediately respond to the TV station’s request for comment.
Hartford: The state plans to allocate millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds toward education programs designed to help make up for learning lost by schoolchildren during the pandemic. Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that $10.7 million of Connecticut’s federal pandemic recovery funding will pay for an initiative he’s calling the Learner Engagement and Attendance Program, which will be a partnership between the state Department of Education and six regional state Education Service Centers. Among other things, LEAP will send people directly into homes to work with families who have been struggling with absenteeism and remote learning in 15 particularly hard-hit school districts. The money also will help fund summer camps and other educational experiences, which Lamont said the state will encourage students to attend before school resumes in the fall as a way to make up for lost time in the classroom. “I want to make sure that we can provide that to kids at virtually no charge and no cost to every kid that wants to go,” Lamont said during an education roundtable in Meriden. “I want to put a youth corps together so that these kids have a friend, a mentor; that they get free access to museums and aquariums and libraries – all different ways that our kids can hit the ground running in September.”
Wilmington: Residents 16 and older can now get vaccinated through any provider, the state announced Tuesday. Delaware expanded COVID-19 vaccinations to everyone 16 and up last week, but medical providers – including hospitals – were instructed to continue vaccinating only people with high-risk medical conditions and disabilities. Now, medical providers can vaccinate anyone regardless of medical condition. The state held medical providers back to honor its commitment to giving priority to people at increased risk of severe disease. Delaware is also vaccinating essential workers through state partnerships at workplaces and state-run vaccination events. The state said employees should check with their employers for more information. All residents can request an appointment through the state at vaccinerequest.delaware.gov. After requesting an appointment, they will be added to the state’s waiting list and eventually offered a slot at a state-run event. Delaware will continue prioritizing risk factors and age when offering appointments to those on its waiting list. People can also sign up for a shot directly through pharmacies, where appointments are required.
District of Columbia
Washington: Local leaders on Monday announced rental, mortgage and utility assistance through the new STAY DC program aimed at helping residents struggling because of the pandemic, WUSA-TV reports. Those who apply for rental assistance through STAY DC could be eligible to receive money covering up to 12 months of back rent and utilities, three months forward of rent and utilities, and extended housing support for up to 18 months. A total of $350 million in federal funding will go to STAY DC to address housing instability for residents, Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a news conference. “We have a big bucket of money to assist with rent, but we are not seeing the tenants take advantage of it,” said Anita Bonds, at-large council member, referencing the state of evictions in the city. Bowser said people should not wait, urging residents to take advantage of the funds now. Officials said dozens of people have already started to apply, and landlords can apply on behalf of their tenants. The city is partnering with landlords to get relief to the community.
A 29-year-old Central Florida resident eyes the needle as a medical worker prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccination at the Florida Department of Health drive-thru site at the Orange County Convention in Orlando, Fla., on April 5. (Photo: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Orlando: The home of Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World is making plans for reducing some COVID-19 restrictions now that more than a fourth of its residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The eagerness of Orange County officials to prepare for an end to the pandemic comes even as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that it’s too soon to relax restrictions, given troubling indicators of another wave of infection. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the plan may be announced this week and could reduce occupancy restrictions on some businesses and loosen social distancing and mask requirements, but it won’t wipe out his executive order requiring masks in public, the Orlando Sentinel reports. “I think we’re a few months away from that,” he said. Demings said the plan is being crafted with advice from local epidemiologists, the CDC, and public health data on vaccination and infection rates. However, the CDC data for Orange County shows that over the past seven days, new cases have increased by 14%, and deaths have jumped by 44%. The testing positivity rate rose slightly to 6.7%, even as fewer people got tested, with testing volume dropping by 7.5%.
A graduate assistant sits in an empty auditorium during an online lecture on the first day of classes Aug. 17, 2020, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. (Photo: Jeff Amy/AP)
Atlanta: The 340,000 students at the state’s public universities and colleges won’t pay more for classes next fall, with regents on Tuesday approving flat tuition and fees for the 2021-22 academic year. Officials say they were able to hold tuition flat at the 26 schools for the second year in a row – and the fourth year out of six – thanks to federal pandemic relief money and a small increase in state funding. The typical Georgia undergraduate was charged $7,142 in tuition and mandatory fees this year, according to the Southern Regional Education Board. Tuition and mandatory fees for two full semesters will range from as high as $12,852 at Georgia Tech to $3,806 at East Georgia State College. Fernando Tirado, a freshman from Union Point studying at Georgia State University, said his family has lost a little income during the pandemic, and flat tuition would help more students attend 53,000-student Georgia State, where the sticker price for four-year students will remain $11,076 a year. “It would honestly help a lot,” said Tirado, who has soldiered through a freshman year on campus with few people around and few in-person classes. “It’s difficult to apply here and come here during these times.”
Honolulu: Gov. David Ige on Monday signed legislation that would make the state the latest to allow some nurses to perform abortions. Hawaii law previously said only physicians could perform early, in-clinic abortions. But because of a doctor shortage, several smaller islands lack abortion providers, which forces residents of those islands to fly to Honolulu if they need the procedure. “This act will enable people who desperately need reproductive health care services to receive health care from very high-quality health care providers, including advanced practice registered nurses, where they need it, when they need it and … in their own communities,” Laura Reichardt, the director of the Hawaii State Center for Nursing, said at a bill-signing ceremony. The state’s doctor shortage means the islands of Kauai, Molokai and Lanai have lately lacked local abortion care providers. On the Big Island, abortion has only been available in Hilo but not on the west side. On Maui, a provider has had to fly in from another island twice a month. Early in the coronavirus pandemic, doctors weren’t able to fly to Maui, and abortion care was unavailable on the island for several months, said Dr. Reni Soon, the chairperson of the Hawaii Section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Boise: A state House panel on Tuesday approved Senate changes to a bill trimming a governor’s powers during declared emergencies while increasing the Legislature’s power. The House State Affairs Committee approved two modest changes to the bill made in the Senate as the two chambers seek to significantly reform how state government functions during emergencies. Lawmakers are taking aim at rules intended to stem the coronavirus pandemic, such as limiting gatherings and nonessential travel, as well as a governor’s authority during localized natural disasters such as wildfires and floods. Republican Rep. Jason Monks told his colleagues on the House panel that the changes made in the Senate were small and left the intent of the bill unchanged. “The amendments aren’t actually too terrible,” he said. If approved by the full House, the bill will go to Gov. Brad Little. Lawmakers have said they expect the GOP governor to veto both bills, likely leading to override attempts in both chambers. Under the bill, a governor’s emergency order couldn’t prevent people from going to work or gathering, including for religious services. An order also couldn’t quarantine healthy people.
Springfield: Public health officials on Monday reported 2,433 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases in the state and 18 related deaths. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported the preliminary seven-day statewide test positivity rate April 5-11 is 4.9%. Under rules enforced during the fall surge of COVID-19 cases, a rolling test positivity rate of 8% or higher for three consecutive days triggered tighter restrictions. Also Monday, a member of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s staff tested positive for the virus during routine testing, according to a governor’s office spokeswoman. The staff member did not have close contact in recent days with Pritzker, who received a one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine last month. There have been 1,282,205 coronavirus cases, including 21,523 deaths, in Illinois since the start of the pandemic. Public health officials say a total of 7,243,383 vaccines have been administered in the state as of late Sunday. There were 1,998 patients in Illinois reported hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 418 were in intensive care units, with 177 on ventilators.
Indianapolis: The state’s numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and newly confirmed infections continue growing in trends that have continued for at least three weeks. The health department’s latest COVID-19 tracking update showed Indiana hospitals treating 909 people for coronavirus illnesses as of Sunday to reach the highest level since mid-February. Those hospitalizations have gone up about 65% since March 21. Gov. Eric Holcomb cited the state’s steep drop in hospitalizations from more than 3,000 most days in December as among the reasons for dropping the statewide mask mandate and other coronavirus-related restrictions as of April 6. Some health experts warned it was too early to take that step because not enough of the population was vaccinated yet. Concerns have also grown about a surge of coronavirus infections in neighboring Michigan. Indiana’s new COVID-19 infections have reached a seven-day average of 1,145, up about 50% since mid-March. The state’s daily average of coronavirus-related deaths has remained below 10 since mid-March after that average peaked at more than 100 a day in December. The state health department has recorded at least 23 such deaths for last week, pushing Indiana’s pandemic death toll to about 13,150.
Suzanne Eagan, a University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics pharmacy technician, prepares one of the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 14, 2020, at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital in Iowa City. (Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen)
Des Moines: Health care workers are more likely to develop COVID-19 if they’re exposed to the coronavirus at home than if the exposure happens on the job, a new University of Iowa study suggests. The study, published this week in the journal Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, tracked 1,749 University of Iowa health care workers who reported from June 10 to Nov. 30 that they’d had an exposure to the coronavirus. Exposures were defined as being in close contact, without a face covering, for at least 15 minutes with a person diagnosed with COVID-19. Each participant in the study was tested at least once within two weeks of the exposure to see if they’d developed an infection. Of those who reported being exposed at home, 26% wound up testing positive for the virus, compared to 18% of those who were exposed in the community and 10% of those who were exposed in the workplace. Dr. J. Brooks Jackson, who helped write the paper, said he was surprised the rates of illness in all three groups weren’t higher. “A lot of people thought if you’re exposed, you’re likely to be infected,” said Jackson, who is a university vice president, dean of the UI medical school and an expert in viral diseases. He suggested the length of exposure and diligence about precautions at hospitals likely played a factor.
Overland Park: The state’s largest community college is paying staff members to get COVID-19 vaccinations, and one of its largest public school districts is making in-home coronavirus testing kits available to students who want them. Johnson County Community College is offering employees $250 to get inoculated in the hopes of bringing more students back to campus in the fall, KMBC-TV reports. Spokesperson Chris Gray said the college sees it as “an innovative way to reinforce healthy decisions.” He said Johnson County Community College hopes to have half of its nearly 14,000 students back on campus. “Fatigue is there, and it’s fatigue of staring at a screen constantly,” Gray said. Meanwhile, the 22,400-student Blue Valley school district in Johnson County began a voluntary virus testing program Monday that sends rapid-testing kits home with students who sign up for them, KCTV reports. District officials said they are hoping to get a snapshot of how prevalent the coronavirus is within its schools. The district has seen a decrease in cases during the winter, with 13 positive cases reported the week of March 31, compared with 107 during the week of Jan. 13.
Frankfort: The governor stood aside and let a bill become law that protects an array of businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. But he warned Monday that the measure is likely to draw a court challenge. The measure, backed by business interests, became law this past weekend without Gov. Andy Beshear’s signature. A veto would have killed the bill since the legislative session has ended. The Democratic governor pointed to the efforts of Republican House Speaker David Osborne to allay concerns about the bill as a reason he allowed it to become law. “He actively worked with those that would have typically opposed this type of law and significantly narrowed it,” Beshear said at a news conference. A former state attorney general, Beshear said that despite the last-minute changes, the new law is likely to be challenged on constitutional issues. “Now do I think there will be a court challenge? Yes. Do I think the law now could be potentially thrown out in a court challenge? Yes. But I do believe, especially on the House side, there was a real effort to hear voices on both sides and to try to get the law into a better place. And I did want to recognize that, knowing the rest of this will ultimately play out in the court system,” he said.
Lake Charles: After one of the worst years in the airline industry, the local airport is starting to see hopeful signs that air traffic is picking up. The director of the Lake Charles Regional Airport, Heath Allen, told the American Press newspaper that the airport saw 36% more passengers in the first four days of April than it saw in all of April last year. April 2020 was the first full month after lockdown measures instituted across the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus kept people at home and decimated the travel industry. Allen said he thinks the traffic is due to an increase in leisure travel. He’s anticipating that as more people get vaccinated, that increase will continue into the summer. “I’m very optimistic by June or July, we could be looking at numbers that might exceed 2019 levels,” Allen said. “Looking at how things are trending right now, it’s looking really good.” However, business travel is taking longer to recover because companies still have restrictions on work-related travel, Allen said. He also said safety protocols designed to curb the spread of the virus at airports and planes will stay in place for the foreseeable future. Those guidelines are mandated by the federal government.
Augusta: State House Speaker Ryan Fecteau criticized a Republican lawmaker for calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” but he has no plans for formal reprimand. Fecteau said the descriptor used by Rep. Michael Lemelin in an email to an educator is “a racist trope” that was “offensive and wrong,” but it’s ultimately voters’ responsibility to hold lawmakers accountable. Lemelin – whose district includes Chelsea, Jefferson, Nobleboro and Whitefield – appeared to downplay the seriousness of the virus, noting that no one was concerned when a quarter of Erskine Academy was supposedly sickened by an unnamed virus in 2019. “People need to stop running to the doctor and getting tested at the first sign of illness,” he said. He told the Portland Press Herald that he was simply referring to the origin of the virus in Wuhan, China, and that he didn’t downplay the virus’s seriousness. He referred a reporter from NewsCenter Maine to a Biblical verse and added: “It is a wise man who rules COVID, and a fool who is ruled by COVID,” Lemelin wrote. “We are being ruled by COVID.”
The Maryland Senate meets on the last day of the state’s 90-day legislative session Monday in Annapolis, Md. Senators have been working inside enclosures around their desks as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Brian Witte/AP)
Annapolis: Lawmakers have adjourned their legislative session that focused largely on COVID-19 recovery, expansive police reforms and long-standing disparities that have been worsened by the pandemic. State Senate President Bill Ferguson said lawmakers prioritized responding to concerns about health, education and economics raised by the upheaval of the past year. “I think one of the biggest lessons that we’ve seen from this pandemic is that the gaps that existed in our society – the racial gaps, the wealth gaps, the foundational breakdowns of our social contract – they existed before the pandemic, but they were put on wide display, on a billboard, for just how bad these gaps are,” said Ferguson, D-Baltimore. Gov. Larry Hogan, speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, highlighted bipartisan agreement on pandemic relief earlier in the session and noted tax breaks that helped small businesses. The Republican governor also underscored bipartisan agreement on how the state will allocate $3.9 billion in federal pandemic relief. The state’s plan expands a tax credit for low-income residents by an estimated $478 million over the next three tax years. And lawmakers passed a bill to extend the credit to include immigrants, including some living in the country illegally, who work and pay taxes in the state.
Boston: As many as 2 million residents could be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the week, Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday. Already nearly 1.8 million residents have received first and second doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires just one shot. The state paused administration of the J&J vaccine Tuesday but had expected a temporary shortage of it this week, anyway. The state has the infrastructure needed to administer several times the amount of vaccine it is being provided by the federal government, the Republican governor said. Beginning next Monday, anyone 16 and older will be allowed to preregister. Baker also defended the phased-in approach the state has taken with vaccines, focusing first on the most vulnerable populations. That has translated into plunging hospitalization and death rates among older residents, who are among the most vulnerable to serious outcomes if infected with the disease caused by the coronavirus, he said. Baker made the comments during a visit to a Worcester health center, where he also marked the 15th anniversary of the state’s landmark health care law that has expanded health care access to about 97% of Massachusetts’ population.
Lansing: State health officials on Monday urged parents to make sure their children are caught up with non-COVID-19 vaccinations, which have slipped below a 70% rate during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the reasons parents gave for not keeping kids’ vaccinations current over the past year have been concerns about the safety of going to health care facilities amid the virus threat, as well as a lack of transportation and child care options, doctors said during a virtual news conference. The state’s largest city, Detroit, and one of its least populous counties, Oscoda County, have the lowest childhood immunization rates, with each dropping below 50%, said Bob Swanson, Immunization Division director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The state largely missed out on flu outbreaks during the past year because of social distancing, and there have been fewer vaccine-preventable diseases. But once people start traveling and dropping their guards, Swanson said he fears for populations that have been left vulnerable by low vaccination rates. “We know how communicable things like measles or pertussis are and how quickly they can spread to anybody who’s not vaccinated. So it just takes one case to get into a susceptible population that we’ll see that spread,” Swanson said.
Minneapolis: Health officials are urging those who attended a recent Minnesota youth wrestling tournament held in South Dakota to get tested for the coronavirus after a number of wrestlers contracted it. Officials have been concerned about youth sports fueling an increase in cases and hospitalizations. Infections have been found in 16 of the 2,000 wrestlers plus spectators from Minnesota who were in Sioux Falls for a state meet held by the Northland Youth Wrestling Association on March 31-April 3, the Star Tribune reports. The tournament, which involved wrestlers from 52 Minnesota counties, was moved from Rochester to Sioux Falls, where coronavirus restrictions for sporting events are less stringent. The arena venue encouraged masks and social distancing but did not require them. TV coverage showed unmasked athletes and spectators packed tightly together during the tournament. While children rarely suffer severe COVID-19 symptoms, they can pass the virus to adults, said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. That is especially true now that a more infectious B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus is believed to be the cause of as many as 60% of new infections in the state.
Jackson: The state’s top public health official said Tuesday that he’s telling health care providers to refrain from using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine while federal agencies investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. Dr. Thomas Dobbs said providers should wait for “additional guidance” from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. He said physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and other providers who have more than 40,000 unused J&J doses on hand should hold onto them. “Patients who have already Johnson & Johnson should not be overly concerned but just be aware,” Dobbs said during an online news conference. He said none of the six cases of clots was in Mississippi. State epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said most of the J&J doses in Mississippi have been administered in clinics. Doses have also been sent to hospitals, prisons and pharmacies, and some have been used at Health Department events. Byers said 54% of those vaccines in the state have been given to women. More than 65% have been given to people 50 or older, which is above the age range in which the unusual clots have been found. Byers also said 54% of the doses have gone to white people, and 37% have gone to Black people. Mississippi has about a 38% Black population.
Jefferson City: The state House on Monday advanced a bill that would ban private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from employees or customers. The GOP-led House voted 88-56 to tack the provision on another bill. The action comes amid backlash to the concept of so-called vaccine passports, documentation showing travelers have been inoculated against COVID-19. The Missouri bill advanced Monday goes further by banning private businesses from requiring proof of any vaccination, not just those aimed at the current pandemic. A group of Democrats and some Republicans criticized the bill, arguing that businesses such as nursing homes should be allowed to require employees or visitors to show they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, said he doesn’t want businesses to demand vaccination records, but owners have that right. “If we don’t like what it is they’re doing with their private property, well you know what, we don’t have to shop there,” Lovasco said. Gov. Mike Parson last month said he won’t require vaccine passports but is comfortable with private companies adopting them. The Republican-led Senate last week passed a less restrictive bill that would only ban the state and local governments from requiring proof of vaccination to travel.
Helena: Correctional facilities are scheduled to reopen for visitors and volunteers later this month after more than a year of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s new corrections director, Brian Gootkin, said in a statement Friday that the department’s medical staff consulted with public health officials to create its reopening plan. “We are thrilled that we can reopen visitation for the inmates in our secure facilities,” Gootkin said in an email. “COVID-19 has thrown many challenges at our facilities and staff, and I’m so proud of the work they have done to keep each other and our inmates safe. Now, it’s time to reunite families with their loved ones.” The Montana Women’s Prison in Billings will allow visitors starting April 24, followed by the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge and the Pine Hills Correctional Facility on April 29, the Montana State News Bureau reports. Visitors and inmates will both be screened with a temperature test prior to a visit. If the screening produces a high temperature or any other symptoms, the visit will be denied, said the Department of Corrections. The Montana State Prison reported its most recent virus cases in March, with six inmates who were screened and seven staff members testing positive for the coronavirus.
Omaha: Nearly 3,000 students who attend one of Nebraska’s state colleges will be eligible for up to $3,000 in additional aid because of the pandemic. Full-time students who attend Chadron, Wayne or Peru state colleges during the 2021-22 school year and who are eligible for federal Pell grants will qualify to receive the money that is part of the federal stimulus bill approved last month by Congress and President Joe Biden. The Nebraska State College System expects to receive more than $14 million from the federal government, with half that money earmarked for students and the other half set to go to the colleges, spokeswoman Judi Yorges told the Omaha World-Herald. More than 2,800 students will qualify to receive the money, which can be used for any of their education costs or for emergency costs related to the coronavirus pandemic. These grants are in addition to whatever scholarships and financial aid students already receive.
High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, Nev. The Nevada Sentencing Commission twice declined to recommend that Gov. Steve Sisolak depopulate prisons to minimize the spread of coronavirus. (Photo: John Locher/AP)
Las Vegas: At least 55 state prison inmates have died after contracting COVID-19 during the pandemic that began more than a year ago, according to a newspaper report. The Las Vegas Review-Journal compared records from coroners around the state with March 29 data provided by the Department of Corrections. It found the state Department of Health and Human Services has tallied deaths of 53 inmates and three department employees and was reviewing the prison system’s other two reported cases. Nevada has about 10,000 offenders housed in eight prisons, 10 camps where inmates work on conservation projects, a restitution center, and the Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Facility in Las Vegas, which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America. Northern Nevada Correctional Center has had the most prisoners die after testing positive: 30, according to Corrections Department data. The prison in Carson City has the system’s main in-person medical unit. Sarah Hawkins, a Clark County public defender and president of Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, told the Review-Journal the prison system has “stonewalled” those seeking answers throughout the pandemic. She said activists suspect more than 55 prisoners have died of the virus.
Durham: The University of New Hampshire will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative coronavirus tests for guests attending graduation ceremonies next month. The university plans to hold seven ceremonies to honor graduates from last year and the current graduating class. Those earning graduate degrees will be celebrated May 16, the class of 2021 undergraduates will have their ceremonies May 21-22, and the class of 2020 will be honored May 23. Graduates will be limited to two guests, who will be required to show proof that they are at least two weeks post-vaccine or have had a negative virus test within 72 hours of the ceremony. Officials said plans may change as the dates approach.
Trenton: The American Rescue Plan Act, passed last month, provided $200 million for libraries across the country, with New Jersey slated to receive $3.9 million. Now, the New Jersey State Library is asking librarians around the state what their needs are. As of this week, which is National Library Week, state librarian Jen Nelson has gotten responses from more than 50 libraries. “I got a really good sense of what the needs are,” she said. “What I have less of a sense of in this is how we can use these funds to support some of the needs that have been identified, so we are still in the planning process.” Nelson said when the money is available, it will probably go to fund libraries that do work pertaining to digital equity, digital inclusion and technology access. There is also $165,000 available from the CARES Act, passed last spring, in the form of mini-grants in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 that can be used for libraries to improve access to technology for customers. Libraries can apply for the grants by April 19. Nelson said libraries can email her at [email protected]
Albuquerque: The state has the Southwest’s highest percentage of residents without adequate broadband internet service, a problem highlighted Monday by the Biden administration as it looks to infuse more than $2 trillion into infrastructure projects nationwide. In New Mexico, the federal government estimates 22% of residents live in areas where there’s no broadband infrastructure that provides acceptable internet speeds. Nearly 70% are in areas where there’s only one such internet provider. The coronavirus pandemic highlighted connectivity problems over the past year as schools turned to remote learning and other services were forced to go online only. About 1 in 5 New Mexico households does not have an internet subscription, according to the administration’s summary. Around the Southwest, the percentages of households without subscriptions are much lower – ranging from about 9% in Utah and Colorado to 13% in Arizona and 14% in Nevada. At a hearing last month, U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., who chairs a congressional subcommittee that has been focusing on the digital divide, told the story of a New Mexico middle school student who had to sit in the sun all day to connect to Wi-Fi and ended up with heatstroke.
Lady Gaga attends the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala May 6, 2019, in New York. (Photo: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
New York: The Met Gala, one of the city’s most anticipated annual events, is coming back. The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Monday that the annual high-wattage celebration of both fashion and celebrity – canceled last year because of the pandemic – will return in person, first in September, then again in 2022 in its usual slot of the first Monday in May. The galas, a “more intimate” version Sept. 13 and a larger one May 2, 2022, will launch a two-part exhibition, a survey of American fashion to be on view for almost a year. The first gala in September will be smaller and held in accordance with government coronavirus guidelines. The second next May is intended to be larger, in line with previous galas, which typically hold about 550 guests – traditionally a heady mix of luminaries from fashion, music, film, TV, sports and other arenas. As always, the exhibits will be the work of star curator Andrew Bolton. “Over the past year, because of the pandemic, the connections to our homes have become more emotional, as have those to our clothes,” he said in his own statement. “For American fashion, this has meant an increased emphasis on sentiment over practicality.”
Charlotte: The number of gun purchases in the state is rising, based on an analysis of federal background checks, and some store owners say federal coronavirus relief checks sent to Americans are fueling the surge. The Charlotte Observer reports the FBI in March conducted its highest number of background checks this year on North Carolina firearms buyers. The agency performed slightly more than 90,000 background checks. That’s up from more than 72,000 in February and 86,000 in January. Some gun shop owners say the rise in gun purchases is driven by fear of stricter gun laws and mass shootings. But the latest $1,400 federal checks that went out starting early this spring are also a factor. Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns, said that people think, “ ‘I better get my gun now. I might not be able to get one later.’ ” He said the direct payments to individuals were “the secret ingredient we didn’t have before.”
Fargo: At least 18.4% of state residents reported delaying or not getting medical care in the prior four weeks because of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest Household Pulse Survey, conducted March 3-15. “Since the pandemic was first declared, we’ve seen some concerning trends: People have been hesitant or unable to get in to see their health care providers. That’s been the case for urgent issues like heart attack and stroke symptoms and for routine physicals or health check-ups to manage conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease,” said American Heart Association Midwest Affiliate Board Member Jeffrey Sather, a board-certified emergency physician and medical director of Trinity Health’s Emergency Trauma Center in Minot, North Dakota. “Also, during the yearlong quarantine and isolation, stress has become a part of everyday life. Many people have reported unhealthy behaviors such as lack of exercise, overeating/poor diets, and increased alcohol and tobacco use.” A recent scientific study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart failure were four of the top risks for COVID-19 complications.
Cincinnati: It’s been almost a year since Gov. Mike DeWine promised to disclose the number of Ohio nurses, doctors and other health care workers who had been infected with the coronavirus by hospital. DeWine said last April that he was directing the Department of Health to collect information for health care workers at hospitals, including the name of where they work. “I expect this data to be available very soon,” DeWine said April 20, 2020. “So, to put in plain English, you will be able to see, by hospital, the number of their health care staff that, if any, have come down with COVID-19. We will begin reporting how many health care workers at each hospital are positive for COVID-19, and that will be up, we hope, by next week, just as soon as we can make the changes that need to be made in the reporting mechanism.” But it appears those changes were never made. And in plain English, Ohioans never got to see that data. State officials cited several reasons, including a rickety data system. Others, such as a union representing nurses, saw an effort to “aid and abet” efforts by the health care industry to avoid accountability. The USA TODAY Network requested that data in November 2020. On March 30, 2021, the agency responded that the information was not available.
Oklahoma City: State Attorney General Mike Hunter announced Tuesday that he was suing A&K Distributors, a Pryor, Oklahoma-based pharmaceutical supply company, for failing to deliver an order of ventilators to the Oklahoma State Department of Health at the start of the pandemic. The suit claims the department paid nearly $900,000 for 40 ventilators last April and had only received two by June. When the state canceled the order in October, the company had 21 ventilators delivered and would not refund the state when it returned them, according to the suit. “The state canceled the order, and we want our money back, period,” Hunter said. “That is how business transactions work.” The company didn’t immediately respond to telephone and email messages seeking comment on the lawsuit. Oklahoma reported 109 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and four additional deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 443,882 and the statewide death count to 8,068 since the pandemic began.
Bend: A diner with locations in Bend and Redmond has been fined $35,000 for allegedly violating COVID-19 restrictions. The Black Bear Diner locations allowed indoor dining when Deschutes County was in the extreme risk category due to high coronavirus caseloads, The Bulletin reports. Oregon Occupational Safety and Health officials said the restaurants “willfully” continued to potentially expose workers to the coronavirus, despite a public health order of limited or zero indoor dining. Kathy Degree, the owner of the two Black Bear diners, has hired Salem-based Kevin L. Mannix law firm to appeal the penalty. Degree said she believes she was properly adhering to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rules and regulations for businesses that were permitted to be open at the time. “We felt that we were following all the CDC guidelines of social distancing, face masks, sanitation as all businesses that were open,” she said. “We felt we were entitled to those same parameters. We took the safety of our employees to the highest priority, and the records will show that no employee tested positive for COVID.”
Toni Gomacki performs a coronavirus test on Curtis Morrow, of Erie, outside the John Horan Apartments on Erie's east side Sept. 29. The free tests were provided by Latino Connection, a Harrisburg-based Latino and minority outreach company. The mobile unit, called CATE, provided 100 tests in Erie, and another 100 were available later in the day in Corry. (Photo: [CHRISTOPHER MILLETTE/ERIE TIMES-NEWS])
Harrisburg: The state Department of Health is deploying several RV-style vehicles to vaccinate people in vulnerable and underserved communities, the department’s Acting Secretary Alison Beam announced Monday. “Now all Pennsylvanians who want a vaccination can get one,” Beam said, a day before eligibility expanded to everyone 16 and up. Named CATE, the 40-foot-long Community-Accessible Testing & Education vehicles will fan out to underserved and minority neighborhoods across 66 counties to vaccinate and educate a population that faces multiple barriers in accessing health care. CATE, first deployed last year to conduct coronavirus testing, will travel to grocery stores, bodegas, community events and other locations to allow for in-person registration and education, aiming to make connections with those who don’t have internet access or face a language barrier. Latino Connection, a Harrisburg-based Latino and minority outreach company, and Highmark Blue Shield are partnering to lead the mobile vaccination clinic tour, which launches this week and aims to vaccinate 3,000 people the first week, officials said. A total of 120 “tour stops” are planned across the state in the next few months. The locations are listed on at catemobileunit.com, which is now open for registration.
Providence: About $20 million in federal coronavirus relief funds is being made available to small businesses affected by the pandemic, Gov. Daniel McKee said. The first round of applications for the $5,000 grants will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Thursday. The deadline is April 30. “We know that rebuilding Rhode Island’s economy will depend on rebuilding our small-business economy,” the Democrat said. “Rhode Island small businesses have worked hard to keep their doors open, their customers safe and their workers employed throughout this pandemic. They need our support as we continue the fight against COVID-19 and ramp up vaccination efforts.” To be eligible, businesses must be a for-profit operation based in Rhode Island, have less than $1 million in gross receipts in the 2020 tax year, and have received less than $25,000 in COVID-19-related financial assistance to date from the state. The grants can be used to help cover employee pay, operational expenses incurred to enable the business to remain open, or costs associated with the reopening of a business that was previously shut down due to the pandemic.
Easley: City Council members voted unanimously Monday night to remove a local mask mandate. A new measure from the city encourages but does not require people to wear masks and urges residents to get vaccinated. Pickens County has a lower vaccination rate, 33%, than the state’s 37%. Mayor Butch Womack said businesses are still able to implement their own restrictions. The city’s mandate, instituted in December, had been loosely enforced and carried no penalties. During the meeting, Womack said city officials had not enforced the mandate on an unidentified restaurant after being asked to do so by state health officials. In the past week, Pickens County became the South Carolina county with the highest proportion of COVID-19 cases among residents since the pandemic began. It has recorded 252 cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, according to figures from the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. Only Laurens County has a higher two-week average. The infection rates and death rates for coronavirus cases have dramatically dropped in Pickens County, which for the past month has been at roughly the same level it was during late summer and fall, city administrator Stephen Steese said. The county’s rates have fallen, but more slowly than the rest of the state.
Keystone: Gov. Kristi Noem sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday asking that he intervene and allow a Fourth of July fireworks display at Mount Rushmore. The National Park Service has denied a permit for the fireworks this year, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, tribal opposition and the environment. Fireworks returned to Mount Rushmore last year for an Independence Day celebration that included a campaign stop by then-President Donald Trump. It was the first time Mount Rushmore had hosted a fireworks show since 2009. Wildfire risks had canceled previous Fourth of July displays. Noem’s request comes after the national memorial was recently closed for several days because of a large wildfire at its doorstep. The governor asked Biden to uphold the Memorandum of Agreement between the National Park Service and South Dakota. “We are committed to hosting a Mount Rushmore Fireworks Celebration that is safe and responsible and working closely with the National Parks Service to do so,” Noem wrote. “I respectfully ask that you continue the hopeful message you shared earlier this year and uphold our Agreement to host the event this year.”
Nashville: Gov. Bill Lee is proposing a $100 million, two-week sales tax holiday on restaurants, bars and groceries, as his administration looks to divvy up hundreds of millions of dollars in extra spending due to better-than-expected revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republican’s finance team presented a budget amendment to his $42 billion spending plan in front of lawmakers Tuesday. The proposal includes several other big-ticket spending additions: $55 million for three yet-to-be-named economic development projects; $79.4 million to add faculty, equipment and building renovations at community and technical colleges; and $35 million for new radios for state troopers and a statewide disaster communications system upgrade. The state’s positive revenue picture also coincides with a continued infusion of federal pandemic relief funds. “I’m especially proud to provide tax cuts to get money back to Tennesseans to encourage them to frequent industries that have been disproportionately and negatively impacted this year,” Lee said in a statement. The plan drew scrutiny from the state’s top teacher advocacy group, the Tennessee Education Association, which said now is the right time to include a much bigger investment in public schools.
Austin: Top health officials in the city and Travis County on Tuesday urged residents to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine after thousands of Austin Public Health appointments went unscheduled Monday. Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, and Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden-Howard said about 10,600 vaccine appointments went unused Monday night after Austin Public Health made nearly 14,000 available to the public. Officials said they were unclear on why the slots weren’t snapped up, but Hayden-Howard said health leaders are now discussing plans to focus more on bringing vaccines to harder-to-reach communities if demand continue to drop this week. Escott and Hayden-Howard said some residents may not want or have the means to travel across the city for a shot, so Austin Public Health will consider moving away from mass vaccination sites and instead stand up smaller clinics in underserved areas. Local health leaders think that, in the best-case scenario, the area is about halfway to reaching herd immunity. Escott said data shows that about 46% of adult residents of the county are still vulnerable to the coronavirus until they get vaccinated.
Leslie Powers delivers breakfast plates at Salt Lake City’s Blue Plate Diner on March 12. The owners recently announced they will be closing May 4, after 20 years in business. (Photo: Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
Salt Lake City: Nearly 16% of women across the state have withdrawn in some way from the workplace during the coronavirus pandemic, new data shows. Taking the population into account, that’s “thousands and thousands of women,” said Susan Madsen, founder and director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah State University. Of Utah women surveyed by the project in January, 2.4% left the workforce completely, and 2.8% took a leave of absence, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. Women commonly said they left jobs because their employer had to close or faced some type of financial hardship (4.4 out of 10) or because they had to care to care for children, the elderly or people with disabilities (1.4 out of 10). Some (0.6 out of 10) said they quit because they either caught COVID-19 or were afraid of catching or spreading the virus. Other women downshifted – 4.9% moved from full-time to part-time work, 4.4% switched to less demanding jobs, and 1.4% became independent contractors rather than employees. Meanwhile, 12.2% took on additional responsibility, such as moving from part-time to full-time work or taking on more jobs, the report shows. The survey “just confirms, yes, women in Utah are being impacted in very life-changing ways,” Madsen said.
Montpelier: The state is preparing to welcome the return of Amtrak passenger rail service and intercity bus services to the state, the Agency of Transportation announced. Amtrak service, which was suspended last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, will resume July 19. The resumption of service comes as Vermont is preparing for its post-pandemic reopening. Gov. Phil Scott has announced plans for the state to be largely reopened by July 4, if current vaccination rates continue. Amtrak requires 90 days of notice to resume passenger rail service. The Amtrak Vermonter travels between St. Albans and Washington and runs through Massachusetts and Connecticut. The Amtrak Ethan Allen Express runs between New York City and Rutland, via Albany, New York. Intercity bus services provided by Vermont Translines and Greyhound are also set to resume in July.
Norfolk: A Zoom-based “educational happy hour” through the Chrysler Museum of Art launched last month to introduce people to art amid the pandemic. The virtual program “Curated Cocktails” also introduces the public to the curators and conservators who work outside the spotlight as they spend months, sometimes years, researching and executing exhibitions. Emily Shield, public programs coordinator at the Chrysler, said the event evolved from a “Curator in Your Computer” series last fall that got curators to discuss art and take questions from viewers. It was well-received but pretty academic, Shield said. Spring seemed to warrant something more lighthearted. “We wanted a way that still shows the expertise of our curators but has kind of a fun element,” she said. “Something maybe a little unexpected or a little different than normal.” During each program, a curator or a conservator shares a piece of art and gives its history and social context. Barman Josh Seaburg huddles with the Chrysler team beforehand and selects or invents a drink he feels goes well with the piece. He will mix the cocktail and give instructions during each event. Those who sign up for the free program get a copy of the recipe with their confirmation. This Wednesday’s “Curated Cocktail” will feature Gabriel Argy-Rousseau’s Libations Vase.
Olympia: Three counties will move back to stricter coronavirus restrictions at the end of the week because of rising cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday. Starting Friday, Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman counties will roll back to Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening plan, which means decreasing capacity for indoor dining at restaurants, retail stores and gyms from 50% to 25%. Limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings are also reduced, though some sporting activities, including at the professional and college levels, can continue to operate under the higher Phase 3 limits if they have an approved plan. “These metric trends are driven by the virus and we must continue to do everything we can to sharpen our focus and keep COVID-19 activity down,” Inslee said in a statement. “These are not punitive actions; they are to save lives and protect public health.” Up until this week, all of Washington’s 39 counties had been in Phase 3. Initially, to stay in Phase 3, counties had to meet two metrics related to new cases and new hospitalizations. But Inslee changed the criteria Friday, saying counties would only be moved back a phase if they failed two of the metrics. Previously they could be moved backward by failing to meet one.
Charleston: A popular summer symphony orchestra performance will return this year at a new location after it was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The West Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony Sunday is set for June 6 at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. The symphony said in a news release that details, including a schedule of the event and ticketing information, will be released at a later date. Symphony Sunday performances in previous years were held on the lawn of the University of Charleston along the Kanawha River.
Milwaukee: More than 700,000 of state residents 65 and older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or roughly 70% of that population. That’s key in the fight against the coronavirus because the “risk for severe illness with COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at highest risk,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Age also increases the risk for hospitalization and death. People 65 and up who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine are still encouraged to get it. Multiple locations in southeastern Wisconsin have available vaccine, including health systems, community centers and major retailers. Meanwhile, state health officials on Tuesday reported 922 new COVID-19 infections and 10 more deaths from the disease. The state’s infection rate continues to rise. The seven-day average daily case rate was 794 on Tuesday, up from 329 on March 7.
Cheyenne: The two remaining statewide public health orders related to the coronavirus pandemic are being extended for two more weeks, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. “While we continue to see stable case numbers and hospitalizations in most areas of the state, our overall progress seems to have plateaued,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH. “COVID-19 remains a threat for now, with cases growing in other states.” More than 175,000 residents have received at least one vaccine dose so far when state and special federal counts are combined. Mask use and physical distancing requirements related to educational institutions remain in effect in the statewide orders. Indoor events of more than 500 people may be held at 50% of venue capacity with certain face mask protocols for large indoor events. WDH recommends the continued use of face masks in indoor public places and when commonsense physical distancing cannot be maintained among people who don’t live in the same household.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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