Mobile: Its 2021 Mardi Gras celebration all but a bust because of the coronavirus pandemic, the city is considering staging a Carnival-style parade in May after the state’s mandatory mask rule expires. Mayor Sandy Stimpson discussed the possible parade with City Council members during a meeting Tuesday, news outlets reported. The event would be held May 21 to coincide with the commissioning of the USS Mobile, a Navy ship built in the city. Gov. Kay Ivey has said she would let the statewide mask order expire on April 9 because cases of COVID-19 have fallen dramatically and the pace of vaccinations is increasing, although health officials said everyone – particularly people who haven’t been fully vaccinated – should continue wearing masks. Ivey’s office announced Wednesday that Alabama’s Capitol and Governor’s Mansion were reopening immediately in Montgomery for tours, but masks still would be required.
Juneau: The state Senate voted Wednesday to allow leadership to restrict access to the Capitol by Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold, who fellow lawmakers said has refused to follow measures meant to guard against COVID-19. The 18-1 vote, allowing leadership to enforce COVID-19 mitigation policies on members “until they are fully compliant” came 51 days into a legislative session throughout which Reinbold has worn a clear face shield that legislative leaders said runs afoul of masking rules. This week marked the first apparent public signs of pushback against the face shield by leadership. Senate Rules Chair Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, said Reinbold also is not following testing protocols or submitting to temperature checks and questions that are standard for admittance to the building. “Inordinate” amounts of time have been spent “trying to reason” with her or provide masks that meet U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, he said. Reinbold of Eagle River did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. On social media, she said she is under “intense pressure by Senate leadership to follow controversial and arbitrarily applied” rules, and said she does not like “anyone to be forced to disclose health issues or test results,” citing privacy concerns. She said she took a coroanvirus test this weekend “under pressure” and conveyed, “begrudgingly,” the negative result to leadership. Her actions “are to protect my constitutional rights, including civil liberties and those who I represent, even under immense pressure and public scrutiny,” she said.
Phoenix: Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, said laboratory data showed a recent rise in the rate of positive tests that have a coronavirus variant first identified in Britain. It peaked on March 8, with 20 out of every 100 positive tests showing a genetic pattern for that variant.Public health experts said the variant first found in the United Kingdom is more contagious and might carry a higher risk of death. LaBaer said the variant is not predominant in Arizona but it’s a minority strain that’s growing. “It’s a little bit of a race between getting vaccines in arms and seeing that variant emerge,” LaBaer told reporters. He said the latest figures indicated only about 10% of Arizona’s population has been fully vaccinated. But with vaccine supply ramping up, LaBaer said he thinks it’s possible that by mid-July the state could reach “herd immunity,” when enough people are protected through infection or vaccination to make it difficult for the virus to keep spreading.
Little Rock: The number of COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization fell to its lowest number Wednesday since the summer as the state reported 317 new cases. The Department of Health said COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state dropped by 16 to 301. It’s the lowest number of such hospitalizations the state has reported since 285 on July 3. The state’s total COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began rose to 325,700. The state’s active cases, which don’t include people who have died or recovered, dropped by 234 to 3,227. Arkansas’ COVID-19 deaths rose by 25 to 5,382, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson said 16 of the deaths occurred in January and were reported late. The department said nearly 772,000 of the roughly 1.3 million coronavirus vaccine doses allocated to the state had been given so far.
Los Angeles: Two U.S. Postal Service window clerks were arrested Wednesday on charges that they misused their positions to secure about $200,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits in a scam using debit cards obtained from the state with stolen identities. Christian Jeremyah James of Los Angeles and Armand Caleb Legardy of Inglewood are accused of using 10 debit cards issued in other people’s names by the California Employment Development Department. The Bank of America cards were obtained from the state by unnamed people who filed phony claims of joblessness stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said. The arrests of James, 31, and Legardy, 32, are the latest sign of California’s failure to screen out fraudulent claims as it has paid out more than $120 billion in unemployment assistance in the year since the pandemic devastated the state’s economy. The state estimates that it paid at least $11.4 billion in fraudulent benefits, including hundreds of millions in claims improperly filed in the names of prison inmates. James, a clerk at Culver City’s main post office, and Legardy, who worked at the La Tijera post office in Los Angeles, used their positions to buy and cash postal money orders with the fraudulently obtained debit cards, according to Ana Ptaszek, an agent with the Postal Service’s inspector general’s office. James’ attorney, Neha Christerna, declined to comment. Legardy’s attorney, Charles Brown, could not be reached.
Denver : Gov. Jared Polis and state lawmakers said Wednesday they plan to spend $700 million on job-creating transportation projects, sustaining a multibillion-dollar agriculture industry and delivering crucial aid to small businesses battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Polis and top Democratic and Republican lawmakers outlined their spending vision at a news conference. The $700 million comes from unexpected state revenue that surpassed expectations after lawmakers cut more than $3.5 billion from the state budget last year. The one-time spending over the next 18 months is intended to sustain small businesses, a farming economy battered by uncertain markets, the pandemic and sustained drought, worker training for those losing jobs in fossil fuel industries and in long-delayed infrastructure projects, Polis said. It follows $300 million in emergency spending the legislature authorized during a special session last year. It doesn’t take into account – for now – billions of dollars worth in federal funds that are forthcoming to Colorado under a $1.9 trillion relief package passed by Congress on Wednesday.
Hartford: More than 100 workers at long-term care facilities blocked traffic in Hartford on Wednesday to demand better wages and benefits, as well as a solution to the staff shortages that are affecting an industry hit hard by the pandemic. According to the health care union District 1199 New England, SEIU, 18 unionized long-term care workers have died from COVID-19 and more have lost loved ones to the disease or have suffered permanent damage. Meanwhile, workers continue to risk death or serious illness on a daily basis, the union said. “Returning to normal is simply not an option,” said the union, which is demanding the state set aside more funding in the new two-year state budget to ultimately provide the workers with higher wages they can live on, access to affordable health insurance, retirement options and paid time off. “Long-term workers have gone beyond the extra mile to continue providing services during COVID-19 at great risk to themselves and their families,” the union added. The workers blocked traffic outside the Department of Social Services offices.
Dover: The state Delaware is expanding COVID-19 vaccinations to more essential workers. The Delaware State News reported Tuesday that the Division of Public Health will add in the coming weeks front-line workers in food manufacturing, agriculture and grocery stores. The state will also add front-line workers in public transit, postal service, higher education and pharmaceutical manufacturing. DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said the state is focusing on workers in those industries who are unable to socially distance from fellow workers or members of the public. Workers in the Phase 1B distribution group who are already eligible for the vaccine include first responders, correctional officers, teachers, education staff, child care providers and poultry workers. Delaware has reported that an estimated 104,000 residents are fully . That’s about one-tenth of the state’s population. Roughly 170,000 other people have received their first of the two-dose vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. And about 5,000 Delawareans have received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Dr. Rattay said DPH will continue to work its way through a vaccination waiting list. “We know that you’re there, we know that you’re getting tired of waiting on the wait list and we know we have individuals who are in their seventies still on the wait-list,” Dr. Rattay said.
District of Columbia
Washington:After weeks of neighbors advocating, D.C. is adding a Ward 6 zip code to the vaccine priority list this week, according to council member Charles Allen, WUSA-TV reported. For the past month, D.C. has been releasing some of its weekly round of vaccine appointments based on priority zip codes — which have focused on wards 5, 7 and 8. Ward 6 falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to the number of COVID-19 cases it has reported. The zip code now added to the list, 20003, encompasses the southeastern portion of Capitol Hill, Hill East and Navy Yard. D.C. Health data reported 5,454 coronavirus cases in Ward 6. Capitol Hill residents accounted for 492 of those cases, and Hill East had 513. However, D.C. data showed a disparity in each of those neighborhood’s vaccinations. According to data last updated on Saturday, 697 adults 65 or older who live in Capitol Hill have been fully vaccinated. That’s more than three times as many older adults in Hill East, which has 196 residents fully vaccinated.
Miami: A couple claiming to be farmers working the land on two tiny suburban lots as they raked in federal COVID-19 relief funds pleaded guilty Monday to a fraud scheme. Latoya Stanley and Johnny Philus hauled in more than $1 million in Small Business Administration loans while lying that they were struggling to operate not only a couple of nonexistent suburban farms but also a beauty supply store and an auto leasing business, according to authorities. Their SBA loan applications were a fiction, the North Miami couple admitted in federal court. Each faces up to five years in prison when they are sentenced June 2 in front of U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke. Stanley, 38, and Philus, 33, were arrested in August and charged with committing wire fraud and making false statements when they applied for SBA loans under a federal program that provides financial assistance to businesses ailing from the impact of pandemic.
Atlanta: Georgia will expand COVID-19 vaccine criteria starting Monday to everyone 55 and older, plus younger adults who are overweight or have serious health conditions, making more than two-thirds of Georgians who are 16 and older eligible for vaccination. Gov. Brian Kemp made the announcement Wednesday as Georgia continued to post worst-in-the nation vaccination rates, raising questions about the effectiveness of the state’s efforts to put shots in arms. “We will continue to encourage all eligible Georgians not to wait to get their dose,” the Republican governor said. “This vaccine, as we have said many times, is safe, is effective, and it’s our ticket back to normal.” Only 17.5% of Georgia’s population has been given at least one dose of the vaccine, the worst in the nation, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same data showed Georgia has administered the lowest share of doses delivered among states, with more than one-third of doses still awaiting injection. Georgia disputes that second number, saying it has given 74% of doses shipped.
Honolulu: The state Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that would increase the income tax paid by Hawaii’s top wage earners to 16%, which would give the islands the highest state income tax rate in the nation. The Senate voted 24-1 in favor of the bill, which cited a need to maintain essential government services at a time when the pandemic and subsequent drop in tourism led state tax revenue to shrink. There was no discussion or debate on the Senate floor regarding the measure. The legislation also hikes the capital gains tax, corporate tax and taxes on luxury real estate sales. The bill will now go to the House for consideration. House lawmakers have passed their own legislation raising the capital gains tax. California is currently the state with the highest income tax rate in the nation, at 13.3% for individuals earning more than $1 million a year. Hawaii’s 16% rate would apply to those earning more than $200,000 a year. The rate would revert to the existing rate of 11% after 2027. Lawmakers said they want to avoid budget cuts recommended by Gov. David Ige to cope with the shortfall, including those that would subtract funds from public schools, sex abuse treatment, plant and pest disease control and family planning services.
Boise: At least a hundred people gathered at the front of the state Capitol on Saturday to burn masks in a protest against measures taken to limit infections and deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Some groups said mask mandates are a restriction of their freedoms. Health experts said they help slow the spread of the disease. Videos posted on social media showed adults encouraging children to toss masks into a fire. Gov. Brad Little has never issued a statewide mask mandate, but seven counties and 11 cities have such mandates in place. Visitors to the Capitol are asked to wear masks, but they’re not required and few Republican lawmakers wear them. A Republican lawmaker on Wednesday introduced legislation to prohibit mask mandates. More than 170,000 Idaho residents have been infected with the virus, and nearly 1,900 have died.
Chicago: Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned the city’s aldermen on Wednesday not to produce wish lists now that Congress has passed a COVID-19 relief package that will send nearly $2 billion to the city. The $1.9 trillion package passed Wednesday by the U.S. House and headed for President Joe Biden’s desk is expected to deliver about $7.5 billion to state government and about $6 billion for local government. Lightfoot said the money headed to Chicago will have strings attached to how it can be spent. “So I want to disabuse people out there and my colleagues in the City Council,” Lightfoot said. “This is not $1.9 trillion of a slush fund that we can use every way that we can.” Lightfoot said she expects the city will get money to help with the cost of vaccinating residents and to address affordable housing and homelessness. She said although the city is likely to also get relief funds next year, it won’t be able to use it to reduce taxes or bankroll city employee pensions.
Indianapolis: Teachers and other school employees will be able to get COVID-19 vaccinations through Indiana’s shot clinics across the state starting next week. State health officials said Wednesday that the eligibility expansion comes at the direction of the Biden administration, which earlier allowed teachers to be vaccinated at pharmacies taking part in a federal program. Indiana is allowing anyone aged 50 and older and those with at-risk health conditions to make vaccine appointments. The expansion for teachers starts Monday and includes other school workers such as classroom aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and substitute teachers. Gov. Eric Holcomb and top state health officials had repeatedly said they believed that targeting vaccinations to older age groups and health care workers, rather than school employees, was more effective at preventing serious illnesses and deaths.
Johnston: As Iowa ramps up vaccinations to include everyone between age 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions, state officials acknowledged Wednesday they would rely on an honor system with no validation required when someone claims to qualify for a shot because of a health issue. The state is allowing adults to get vaccinated if they have any one of several conditions the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention considers higher risk for severe illness if they get infected. The list includes cancer, heart conditions, lung disease, pregnancy, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Smokers also qualify. Iowa Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia acknowledged Wednesday the system is relying largely on Iowans being honest about their health conditions when scheduling a vaccine. Gov. Kim Reynolds was asked Wednesday why the state doesn’t allow all adults to get vaccinated since the current system has no way to confirm whether someone has a qualifying health issue, making it possible for anyone willing to be untruthful to get a shot. “I think we have a good process in place. As we see those numbers continue to increase and we continue to open up and vaccinate more and more Iowans we’ll take that next step,” she said.
Topeka: Senate Health Committee Chair Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, outlined a measure Wednesday that would overturn Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s policy of withholding doses of COVID-19 vaccines from counties wanting to move to a new phase of inoculations before the rest of the state. Hilderbrand called the policy “blackmail or extortion.” The state Department of Health and Environment called withholding vaccine doses an “enforcement mechanism” and Kelly said the goal is to “keep the train running as smoothly as we possibly can.” Hilderbrand’s bill would allow counties to set their own vaccination schedules. It follows several months of widespread criticism of Kelly from the GOP-controlled Legislature over what they viewed as a slow administration of shots. “Counties that are doing it right and doing it the right way should be able to have some leeway,” Hilderbrand told the Associated Press.
Frankfort: Kentucky’s government is forecast to receive about $2.4 billion from the latest round of federal pandemic relief, state Budget Director John Hicks told lawmakers Tuesday. The state’s share gives lawmakers more funding opportunities but little time to decide how to incorporate any of it into the state budget for the coming year starting July 1. Top lawmakers are putting together a final spending plan to be presented to the legislature in coming days. A separate infusion of about $1.6 billion from the federal aid package is expected to go to local governments in Kentucky, and Kentuckians are expected to receive about $5 billion in direct payments under the relief measure, legislative budget negotiators were told. The massive package could be approved by congressional Democrats by midweek over Republican opposition.
New Orleans: Live indoor music can resume in New Orleans beginning this weekend, city officials said Wednesday, but dancing will remain prohibited, and venues, performers and audiences will be under strict requirements to employ measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. The new rules take effect Friday morning, in response to a decline of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the city. It was not immediately known how many bars and other live music venues will be able to meet them and begin holding live entertainment again in a city where music is ingrained in cultural history and vital to tourism. Brian Greenberg, general manager of Tipitina’s, said he thinks the historic music club and bar might be able to pull it off, although not right away. “We have a floor plan that we’ve already mapped out,” he said. “We’re a big room, so we have that advantage.” Dancing is ruled out under the regulations, which also noted that patrons must “refrain from cheering or singing along.” Limits are still in effect. St. Patrick’s Day parades, and block parties remain forbidden in the city even as officials ease limitations on crowds. Starting Friday, indoor gatherings will be limited to 75 people and outdoor gatherings to 150. Most businesses in the city will be open at 75% capacity, and bars and gyms will operate at 50%.
Portland: More than two dozen COID-19 vaccination clinics are set to open in Maine in the coming days. The Department of Health and Human Services said the state is working with more than 25 health care organizations to offer the dedicated clinics. The department said the clinics will be held on Friday and over the weekend, and a few will happen the following week. The dedicated clinics are for school staff and teachers who are age 60 and older. The health department said every school district will notify eligible teachers and staff members about where they can sign up for the clinics. Maine has extended eligibility for coronavirus vaccines to teachers, school staff members and people who are age 60 or older. The health department said teachers and school staffers of younger ages can get the vaccine at Hannaford, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies dependent on availability.
Ocean City: The city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities and parade were canceled in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the nation and into Maryland. For businesses, the holiday would go on to mark the beginning of a year of hardship. Despite the parade being canceled again this year, tourism and hospitality business owners in town are cautiously hoping for a stronger tourism season. St. Patrick’s Day is typically a weeklong celebration at Duffy’s Tavern, but when the parade was canceled last year, sales slowed dramatically, said owner Matt Bayline, who added he is cautiously optimistic about the spring and summer. Mask-wearing and restrictions might still be in place, but “we’re getting closer to normal,” he said. On Tuesday Gov. Larry Hogan lifted capacity restrictions on all restaurants, taverns gyms, houses of worships and other facilities. Masks and social distancing will still be required, but Hogan called the move a “prudent, positive step in the right direction and an important part of our economic recovery.”
Worcester:St. Vincent Hospital management touted nurses who crossed a picket line, while the union representing striking nurses at the hospital countered by saying that community support was on their side, as the nurses’ strike at the hospital entered its second day. “We want to thank all our caregivers, including the nurses who made the decision to put patients first by crossing the (Massachusetts Nurses Association union) picket line to take care of our community,” St. Vincent CEO Carolyn Jackson said in a statement Tuesday morning. MNA spokesperson David Schildmeier acknowledged that some nurses crossed the picket line, but pushed back against any suggestion that the strike was weak. “We are still evaluating how many crossed; we expected some nurses to cross,” Schildmeier said in an email Tuesday. “From what we have seen it is minimal, and even their claim makes it clear that the 89% strike vote is holding.” Meanwhile, a second union representing patient care attendants, housekeeping staff and others at the hospital announced that it planned to hold an informational picket on Saturday. Tenet Healthcare and St. Vincent Hospital nurses had been unable to come to an agreement during months of contract negotiations, prompting nurses to go on strike at 6 a.m. Monday. There are approximately 800 nurses at the hospital.
Lansing: The coronavirus pandemic made 2020 Michigan’s deadliest year, driving a 17.9% increase in deaths over 2019, according to preliminary data. It was the largest annual percentage jump on record, surpassing a 15.6% increase in 1918, when the Spanish flu pandemic struck. More than 115,300 people died in Michigan last year, up from about 97,800 the year before, according to an Associated Press analysis of provisional data kept by the state’s vital records division. COVID-19 has been linked to nearly 16,700 deaths since February 2020. The toll was highest in April and then December.
Duluth: A veteran Iditarod musher from Duluth was removed from the race Wednesday after he tested positive for the coronavirus, organizers said. Gunnar Johnson, 52, was withdrawn from the event at the McGrath, Alaska, checkpoint, the organizers said in a news release. Iditarod Race Marshal Mark Nordman, working with epidemiologist Dr. Jodie Guest, made the decision to remove Johnson, who is asymptomatic, based on the rules set in the race’s COVID-19 mitigation plan. Johnson is incredibly disappointed and felt his dog team looked great, the organizers said. Johnson had 14 dogs racing with him. After the positive test, Johnson was removed from the checkpoint area and taken off the trail, the organizers said. Johnson, a former city attorney of Duluth who was participating in his third Iditarod, did not come into close contact with race personnel or community members, and he did not enter any buildings or community spaces in McGrath, the organizers said.
Jackson:The State Department of Health reported 437 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday. Since the virus hit the state in March 2020, a total of 298,445 cases and 6,845 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported. There were 50 outbreaks at Mississippi nursing homes as of Wednesday. There have been 10,406 cases of the coronavirus in long-term care facilities and 1,963 deaths reported as of Wednesday. Residents between the ages of 25 and 39 represent the largest portion of the infected population in the state, with 65,745 cases reported Tuesday. Among patients under 18, children between the ages of 11 and 17 have the highest infection rate, with 22,922 cases identified. The 65-and-older age group has the highest total number of deaths with 5,251 reported.
Clayton: Weeks after the faster-spreading British variant of the coronavirus was found in 15 Missouri wastewater systems, new testing has found it only in one. The Department of Health and Senior Services has been testing wastewater across the state for clues about the spread of COVID-19. The latest results, released Tuesday, found that testing could be done only at 10 wastewater systems in Missouri because of declining levels of COVID-19 particles. Of the 10 tested, only the Coldwater Creek system in St. Louis County indicated the presence of the U.K. variant, the health department said. In February 15 of 23 systems tested across Missouri showed evidence of the U.K. variant, which was first detected in the U.S. in December.
Great Falls: The state reported 46 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing Montana’s total to 100,959. There are 63 people who are hospitalized, according to the state website covid19.mt.gov. A total of 1,381 deaths related to the respiratory illness have been reported in the state, according to the report. Flathead County topped the state and accounted for nearly 28% of all new cases with 13, bringing the county to 164 active reports out of 11,169 total. The county has the second-most active cases in the state. Missoula County reported nine new cases and now has 106 active reports. To date, a total 308,745 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered and 115,390 residents are now fully vaccinated.
Omaha: More than 250,000 people have signed up for a COVID-19 vaccination on Nebraska’s official registration website, but state officials said Wednesday they want more and urged residents to add their names. State officials asked residents to sign up online or through a toll-free hotline as local health districts prepare to move into their next vaccination phase in the next few weeks. The state is working to vaccinate residents who are at least 65 years and older, but the next phase will focus on people ages 50 to 64 and those with certain underlying health conditions. Lori Snyder, chief information officer for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said registering on the state’s website, vaccinate.ne.gov, will allow residents to get their shot faster than if they signed up on a local public health department’s website. Residents without internet access can register by calling (833) 998-2275. Nebraska has fully vaccinated 12.6% of its 1.48 million residents who are at least 16 years old, according to the state’s online tracking portal.
Las Vegas: Coronavirus management officials said some vaccination appointment slots are going unused in Las Vegas, and that more doses are available than are being administered at the area’s two largest mass vaccination sites. However, state COVID-19 response chief Caleb Cage did not promise immediate changes or say during a conference call with reporters that the recipient pool would soon expand statewide to people 55 and older. People 65 and older became eligible for vaccinations last month, and a group of front-line workers became eligible last week. Cage said the statewide coronavirus playbook is being shaped with local health districts, elected leaders and emergency managers according to the varied economies and workforces in the north, south and rural areas. Public vaccine sites at the Ashman Center conference hall near downtown Las Vegas and at the Las Vegas Convention Center near the Strip can each deliver up to 4,000 doses per day. But Dr. Fermin Leguen, Southern Nevada Health District chief health officer, told the Review-Journal that neither site regularly sees 3,000 appointments a day. Doses are not being discarded unused, Leguen said but volunteers, employees and Nevada National Guard members sometimes sit idle. In Reno, chief health officer Kevin Dick told reporters that vaccination efforts are keeping up with an increase in shipments of vaccines to Washoe County.
Concord: There have been no reported COVID-19 cases from two in-person House sessions held last month, Speaker Sherman Packard said. “Careful and cautious management has led to good results, and that’s exactly what we have done with the legislature,” Packard said in a statement Thursday. “We can lead in a responsible way, and we are getting our business done in a responsible way.” Seven Democratic lawmakers sued Packard, a Republican, last month, arguing that holding in-person sessions without a remote option violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state and federal constitutions, and forced them to either risk their lives or abandon their duties as elected officials. They sought a preliminary order requiring remote access, but a federal judge denied their request. The Democrats have filed a notice of appeal to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the 400-member House has met several times at the University of New Hampshire ice arena, outside on a UNH athletic field, and – after former Speaker Dick Hinch died of COVID-19 – from their cars in a parking lot. They met last month in a Bedford sports complex.
Trenton: Restaurants, gyms, salons and other indoor recreational activities can boost their capacity to 50%, up from 35% starting March 19, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday. The state’s coronavirus figures have been tracking in the right direction, Murphy said, although hospitalizations ticked up slightly this week. Murphy also said that outdoor gatherings would climb to a 50-person capacity, up from 25. That also takes effect March 19. The 25-person limit didn’t apply to weddings, church services or political events, among a few others. New Jersey has fully vaccinated about 899,000 people or just over 10% of the population. That’s just slightly higher than the 9.9% national rate.
Albuquerque: New Mexico is expected to receive an estimated $9 billion from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package recently passed by Congress, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and fellow state Democrat leaders said. Beyond the vaccine rollout and grants for small businesses, they said the funding will go toward everything from direct payments for individuals to investments in broadband and clean water projects, debt relief for Hispanic and Native American farmers and an expansion of the child tax credit. Tribal communities and public schools will see more than $1 billion each, and state and local governments will share about $2 billion. The Democrats billed the aid package as an answer to poverty, saying it will address inequities that were brought to light during the pandemic by creating universal benefits and lifelong assistance. Lujan Grisham said about one-quarter of New Mexico families would immediately be “lifted out of poverty” because of the economic assistance and tax credits included in the legislation.
Albany: Travelers to New York from other U.S. states will no longer be required to quarantine starting April 1, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, adding the two-week quarantine for domestic travelers will be recommended but no longer mandated. International travelers will still be required to quarantine, he said. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said city officials were not consulted about the move to end the quarantine requirement, and he questioned its wisdom. “I believe in local control, and here’s another case where New York City was not consulted even though we’re one of the biggest cities in the world and 43% of the state’s population,” de Blasio said at a virtual coronavirus briefing. He added, “Of course I have concerns about this.” Dr. Jay Varma, senior health adviser to the mayor, said the city is still “at a very tenuous point” despite rising vaccination levels because highly transmissible variants of the coronavirus now account for more than half of new infections.
Raleigh: Duke University said it is considering ending in-person classes as an uptick in COVID-19 cases over the course of five days worsens and students continue to violate health guidelines. Of the 102 undergraduate students who tested positive for the coronavirus from March 5-9, Duke said most “either have a known Greek affiliation and/or are first-year male students in the Class of 2024.” Duke linked the cases to rush activities and off-campus parties hosted by fraternities, including Greek organizations that recently severed their affiliations with the university. Campus officials warned in a message to students that those who hold parties and flagrantly violate safety protocols could be suspended or expelled as a result of their actions. Duke has been widely praised for its reopening procedures since the start of the pandemic and having fewer cases this semester than some of its nearby peers, including North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Bismarck: State officials want to use another round of federal stimulus money to continue testing wastewater for coronavirus variants. The wastewater testing began in July 2020 and would end in June if funding isn’t continued. Twenty-one communities are participating in the testing statewide. Wastewater from those cities is analyzed at a North Dakota State University lab where researchers look for the virus contained in the fecal matter of people who are infected. David Bruschwein, director of the Division of Municipal Facilities for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, said wastewater analysis is helpful in pinpointing communities that might need more regular virus testing, given that far fewer people are opting for tests now than at the height of the pandemic, the Bismarck Tribune reported. The state House last month approved and sent to the Senate a bill to require a public hearing and a vote before local officials decide to participate in such testing. The House killed a bill to ban wastewater testing.
Columbus: Republican lawmakers’ latest in a yearlong attempt to rein in Gov. Mike DeWine’s authority to issue public health orders during the pandemic passed Wednesday in the House and faces a likely veto by the governor. A bill that would allow lawmakers to rescind public health orders issued by the governor or the Ohio Department of Health was fast-tracked out of committee one year to the day from when the pandemic began in Ohio and moved onto the House floor where it passed on party lines. “This body has given the administrative branch of government a lot of power, and it’s time to review that power and it’s time to review it now,” Republican Rep. Scott Wiggam, a supporter of the bill, said before its passing. Wiggam and the majority of his GOP colleagues have reiterated how the actions that were taken by DeWine and the health department over the past year have been overreaching and detrimental to the freedom of Ohioans. In recent committee hearings, GOP lawmakers made several changes to the Senate bill that would close loopholes for future governors and local boards of health to issue emergency orders. Last year, DeWine, a Republican, had indicated he would veto any bill that would make it hard for him or the health department to issue emergency orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus. He made good on that promise in December when a similar Senate bill moved through the House and Senate and landed on his desk. In the past few weeks, it appeared that the governor and members of his party were making compromises on the bill, but none of them appear to be in the final proposal.
Oklahoma City: The number of Oklahoma COVID-19 cases has surpassed 430,000, with 818 new cases reported Wednesday by the state health department. According to the Department of Health, there have been a total of 430,250 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began last year. The state ranked 12th in the U.S. with 21.2% of the population having received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also reported that 12% of the state’s population had received two vaccine doses. Oklahoma was 26th in the nation in the number of new cases per capita with 233.83 per 100,000 population, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Salem:Oregon reported far fewer coronavirus cases in the week ending Sunday, adding 1,688 new cases. That’s down 39.3% from the previous week’s toll of 2,779. Oregon is among the states with the slowest spread of COVID-19 – the state ranks 49th where the disease was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data showed. The worst weekly outbreaks on a per-person basis were in Coos, Lake and Baker counties. Adding the most new cases overall were Washington County, with 189; Jackson County, with 187; and Marion County, with 172. Weekly
York:Convenience store chain Rutter’s, which began paying hourly employees a hazard bonus of $2 an hour and store managers an additional $100 a week in April 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, has decided to make the increases permanent. That means the starting hourly wage sits at $12.50, which increases to $13 after three months. The additional pay, along with performance increases, led Rutter’s to increase total wages by 15% for 2021, according to a company release. Rutter’s, which was recently named one of Forbes’ top midsize employers for 2021, plans to give back to their communities by donating $1 million through Rutter’s Children’s Charities and additional charitable giving.
Providence: The state has fully vaccinated more than 100,000 people, or nearly 10% of its population, the Department of Health said Thursday. About 147,000 other people have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The department also reported more than 500 new confirmed cases of the disease and four more virus-related fatalities. Of the new cases, about 430 were first-time positive tests from Wednedsay and about 100 were first-time positive tests from previous days. There have now been more than 130,000 known cases and 2,563 virus-related deaths in the state. The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 as of Tuesday dropped slightly from the previous day to 141.
Columbia: State officials updated visitation guidelines Wednesday for nursing homes and residential care facilities. Most of the state’s nursing homes will have to allow in-person, indoor visitation after federal authorities approved the changed guidelines, the Department of Health and Environmental Control said. “Too many South Carolinians have been prohibited from visiting their loved ones in long term care facilities because of overburdensome federal guidelines,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement. “Prioritizing the physical health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens is critically important, but we must also protect their mental and emotional health.” Under the new criteria, facilities must let visitors indoors if community spread of the virus is low in the county where the facility is located, no residents or staff have contracted COVID-19 in the past two weeks, and the facility is following other virus prevention measures. These facilities will continue to require visitors to wear masks and practice social distancing. They also must limit the number of visitors and the length of visits.
Sioux Falls:Active COVID-19 cases in South Dakota continued to slowly rise Thursday, with another 203 new cases reported by the state health department. One person, a man in his 70s, died from COVID-19, the health department reported, pushing South Dakota’s death toll from the disease to 1,905. The man was from Grant County, where there have now been 39 virus-related deaths, according to the state. There have been 89 deaths in Brown County since the start of the pandemic and 77 in Codington County. Active cases statewide increased by 17 to 2,131, and hospitalizations decreased by six to 67.
Nashville: A state House panel rejected a push to remove a judge for expanding absentee voting in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, siding with prominent attorneys who warned the ouster would be an unprecedented breach of judicial independence. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee squelched the effort by voting down a resolution to initiate removal hearings against Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle. The subcommittee didn’t grant a request from Republican sponsor Rep. Tim Rudd to delay consideration of the resolution for several weeks. In the House, 65 of 73 Republicans had signed on in support of the proposal, which called for creating a House-Senate panel to make a recommendation on the judge’s removal. If the panel voted in favor, a two-thirds vote in each chamber would then have been needed to remove Lyle. The prospects looked less favorable in the Senate, where a version of the resolution had not drawn any co-sponsors. Lyle’s ruling in June to expand absentee voting was overturned by the state Supreme Court, but only after the state changed course to promise to allow people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications and their caretakers to vote by mail. Later, Lyle extended absentee voting to all those living with a person at high risk of complications from COVID-19, ruling that the state had promised the Supreme Court that they could vote absentee as well. Lyle’s rulings in the case were harshly criticized by Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Attorney General Herbert Slatery, both Republicans.
Austin: City and Travis County officials have imposed their requirements people wear masks in public in apparent defiance of Gov. Greg Abbott’s order lifting the state mandate, which took effect Wednesday. The mandate announced Tuesday by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Andy Brown prompted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to threaten a lawsuit Wednesday if the Austin-area officials don’t reconsider their move. Adler and Brown announced the new mask mandate Tuesday after consulting their top health officials. Abbott’s order lifting the state mask mandate took effect Wednesday, leaving the decision on requiring masks to property owners.
St. George:The pandemic hasn’t stopped local high school students from using their shared love of debate to keep learning and connecting with each other. Their dedication recently led to several local high schools qualifying for the state debate tournament, including Hurricane High School and Cedar High School. The regional debate tournament was held in-person at Hurricane High School from Feb. 26-27, with participants wearing masks, practicing social distancing and being tested for the coronavirus beforehand. “(Students) learn that we can disagree, fundamentally disagree, and still be friends,” Hurricane High School debate coach Tara Tanner said. “We can understand someone else’s point of view and build empathy. And that is a gift.”
Burlington: Ten new cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the state prison in Newport, the Department of Corrections said. Testing done Monday found nine new positive cases among inmates at the Northern State Correctional Facility and one new case among the staff, the department said. “We are fully prepared to handle new positive cases at our facilities and it’s encouraging to see the spread slowing in Newport,” said Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker. The outbreak began after testing on Feb. 23. There are 115 cases among inmates and 12 among the staff. By Friday, 106 inmates who tested positive are expected to be medically cleared to leave isolation. At that point, the total number of positive cases among inmates will be 13. The prison remains on full lockdown. All other Vermont prisons are on modified lockdown.
Roanoke: An estate that holds outdoor weddings has filed a lawsuit over Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID-19-related restrictions. The Roanoke Times reported Wednesday that the suit was filed by Belle Garden Estate in Franklin County. The venue claimed that it will lose business in the spring wedding season because of limits on the number of people who can gather together for a wedding. A hearing has been scheduled for March 24 at a federal court in Roanoke. A judge will be asked to issue a preliminary injunction that would invalidate the prohibition on outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people at events such as weddings. “Anxious brides trying to have a wedding planned months in advance are being told they cannot have their wedding,” the lawsuit stated. The lawsuit claimed that Northam’s order violates the First Amendment right of free assembly and the 14th Amendment right of equal protection. Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky declined to comment on pending litigation.
Seattle: Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle-area leaders on Wednesday touted the opening of a new mass COVID-19 vaccination site at an event center between the city’s two sports stadiums – a site authorities hope can soon be vaccinating more than 20,000 people a day, seven days a week. The site at the Lumen Field Event Center is a partnership between the city, Swedish Health Services and the company that operates the facility, First & Goal Inc. It will open Saturday and initially be operational two to three days a week, distributing about 5,000 doses a week. As more vaccine doses become available, officials said the Lumen site will be able to operate seven days a week and innoculate 22,000 people a day. Mayor Jenny Durkan said when it is operating at full capacity, the operation will be the the largest civilian-run vaccination site in the country. Inslee said the site is designed to help people who have had trouble getting vaccinated – either because they lack access to the Internet or other reasons – get their shots. For now vaccination eligibility is limited to people over 65, teachers and licensed child care providers.
Charleston: Democratic U.S. Sen Joe Manchin told state officials the new federal stimulus package will include $677 million in funding to local governments in the state. The money is broken up into $176 million for metropolitan cities, $153 million for smaller cities and $348 million for the state’s 55 counties. The state government separately will receive $1.25 billion. Manchin said local officials can use funding to pay expenses related to the pandemic, including covering lost revenue and investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. Half of the funds will be distributed within 60 days of the legislation being signed by President Joe Biden, and the second half will go out one year later.
Madison: The state is expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to at least 2 million more people later this month, including anyone 16 or older with common preexisting medical conditions, such as being overweight, pregnant or having high blood pressure, health officials said. People who don’t have preexisting conditions that would qualify them as of March 29 or who haven’t otherwise qualified yet to get vaccinated are expected to become eligible sometime in May, the Department of Health Services said. The long list of newly qualifying conditions to get vaccinated includes asthma; Type 1 or 2 diabetes; cancer; cerebrovascular disease; chronic kidney disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; cystic fibrosis; Down syndrome; heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies; a weakened immune system from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines; liver disease; and neurologic conditions, such as dementia. Those conditions were chosen because they increase the risk for severe illness, hospitalization or death from COVID-19, Willems Van Dijk said.
Cheyenne: The total number of coronavirus cases in Wyoming grew by 42 on Wednesday, with the number of confirmed cases rising by 37 and the number of probable cases rising by five, according to the Wyoming Department of Health’s daily update. There are new confirmed cases in Campbell, Laramie (16), Lincoln (four), Natrona (two), Sheridan, Sweetwater (three), Teton (nine) and Uinta counties.