Birmingham: The city on Tuesday extended a mandate requiring face masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19, even as the statewide mandate expires. The City Council voted to extend the mask requirement through May 24. The decision came the same day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Alabama will receive $44 million to expand vaccination efforts. Alabama ranks last in the country for the percentage of people who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, according to CDC data. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said the mask ordinance is needed because COVID-19 continues to be a health threat, and most people in the city and the state have not been fully vaccinated. Woodfin said many local businesses also urged the city to keep the mask ordinance in place. “We will continue to make decisions that we believe will save lives. They may not be popular,” Woodfin said. The mayor urged people to “continue to do their part” during the “fourth quarter of this global health pandemic.” Although Gov. Kay Ivey’s statewide mask order expires Friday, health officials are urging people to voluntarily wear masks.
Anchorage: A judge has ruled that attorneys must be allowed visits with clients in state Department of Corrections facilities, regardless of the inmates’ vaccination status. The recent ruling by Superior Court Judge Una Gandbhir came in a case brought in January by defense attorneys who argued that a continued ban on attorney-client visits deprived defendants of their right to legal counsel, the Anchorage Daily News reports. In March 2020 amid COVID-19 concerns, the Department of Corrections stopped in-person visits at its facilities. Last month, with the growing availability of COVID-19 vaccines, the department said attorney visits could resume but only with inmates considered fully vaccinated – or at least two weeks after their last vaccine doses. Gandbhir wrote that with criminal trials expected to resume soon in Alaska, delays in allowing lawyers and clients to meet “might prove fatal to the liberty interests of countless currently incarcerated Alaskans.” Sarah Gallagher, a corrections department spokesperson, said the agency will comply with the order. Gallagher said appointments must be scheduled in advance, and face coverings must be worn. She also said there will be health and temperature screenings for attorneys when they arrive. Family and friends still cannot visit, according to the department.
Phoenix: The state-run COVID-19 vaccination site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium will move indoors Monday as it relocates to Desert Financial Arena on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, the Department of Health Services announced Thursday. The relocation of the outdoor site in a parking lot near the Phoenix-Tempe border is the latest change in the state’s mass vaccination program to account for rising temperatures. Free parking is available in a parking lot near the ASU arena, which is close to transit routes, the department said. People who already have second-dose appointments scheduled at Phoenix Municipal Stadium for Monday and later are being informed of the new location, the department said. Arizona health officials say they are seeing demand for vaccinations slowing, particularly at large sites. Appointments at state-run sites opened to anyone 16 and older March 24, and thousands of slots were available at sites in Tucson and Yuma as the week began, KTAR reports. “What I think we’re seeing right now is supply starting to meet demand,” Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona Department of Health Services director, said at a press conference Monday. The state’s death toll related to the coronavirus surpassed 17,000 this week.
Little Rock: The state reported 244 new cases of the coronavirus and seven more deaths Wednesday from the illness caused by the virus. The Department of Health said the state’s COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began now total 331,505. The state’s active cases, meaning ones that don’t include people who have died or recovered, increased by 47 to 1,649. The state’s COVID-19 deaths reached 5,660, and hospitalizations decreased by two to 150. More than 27,000 additional COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered, the department said. About 1.3 million of 1.9 million doses allocated to the state have been administered so far. Arkansas last week expanded its vaccine eligibility to everyone age 16 and older. “With COVID-19 cases increasing in other states, we are in a race to get everyone vaccinated,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “This is the key to victory. If you are over 16, let’s get the dose.”
Sacramento: Lawmakers on Thursday advanced what they called commonsense legislation requiring two state agencies to share information aimed at helping stop billions of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment fraud. The measure that cleared its first committee would require the beleaguered Employment Development Department to cross-check unemployment applications with inmate records to identify fraudulent claims. State officials approved at least $810 million in the names of roughly 45,000 inmates, some of them on death row, according to a state audit in January that put the toll at more than double the amount previously reported by the state. Investigators say overall fraud losses will top at least $11 billion. “The notion that this type of fraud occurred simply because two agencies don’t communicate with each other during a global pandemic as we try to figure out how we can help people is actually kind of mind-boggling,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, one of six committee members who advanced the bill without opposition. At least 35 other states were cross-matching unemployment claims against state prisoners as of 2016, and 28 states were checking claims against county jail inmates, the audit noted.
Denver: Health officials have reported an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state, while infections also suggest wider spread of the coronavirus. The state Department of Public Health and Environment said 450 people were hospitalized statewide as of Wednesday with confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections, The Denver Post reports. The last time that many people were in the hospital because of COVID-19 was Feb. 19. Larimer, Adams, Douglas and Pueblo counties saw an increase in hospitalizations, while numbers in most parts of the state remained stable or slowly decreased. Hospitalizations in Pueblo increased 11 of the past 14 days. Health officials have said the relatively steep increase can be a sign that vaccines have not yet chased the virus out of Colorado. State data released Wednesday said there was an 8% increase of active coronavirus outbreaks in the past week, bringing numbers back to the level seen last month. Jefferson, Summit and Pitkin counties have increased safety restrictions as a result of rising case counts. “Unfortunately we are slipping in the wrong direction,” Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director Dawn Comstock said. “None of us want to go backwards on the dial after all of the hard work we’ve put in and sacrifices we’ve made.”
Hartford: Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order Tuesday that will allow people to use the continuing COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to vote by absentee in any election, primary or referendum held before May 20. The Democrat’s latest order related to the public health and civil preparedness emergencies is similar to the order that allowed voters to use absentee ballots during elections in 2020. Lamont’s new order also provides municipalities and regional school boards with additional flexibility in scheduling budget hearings, meetings and votes to account for logistical challenges posed by the pandemic. Meanwhile, the state continues to see new coronavirus cases, with 1,074 confirmed or probable cases added Tuesday. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 25.1%, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 increased by 21 since Monday to 505, while the number of COVID-19-associated deaths increased by seven to 7,930. Lamont on Tuesday visited Hartford’s second walk-up, no-appointment vaccine clinic for Hartford residents 18 and older. The site is located at the Swift Factory, a commercial and community campus. The city held its first no-appointment clinic last week at a Walmart parking lot.
Rehoboth: Rehoboth Beach’s historic boardwalk amusement park is back to its traditional opening date this year, returning May 8, on Mother’s Day weekend. Funland will continue operating under the plan it implemented last year, to include enhanced cleaning and sanitizing, mandatory face masks, and limiting the number of guests in the park through an online booking system. Gone are the days of using those familiar green tickets to access rides. Now, Funland patrons book $20 “ridepasses” online. Each pass offers two hours of unlimited access to 17 rides. A limited number of passes are issued for each two-hour block, so lines are almost nonexistent. “Jungle of Fun” and “SimRider” will remain closed this year, unless and until COVID-19 restrictions are reduced. Ridepasses became available to book online Thursday. There are no refunds, so make sure you check the weather first. Funland’s iconic midway and arcade games are accessible via the boardwalk without a ridepass, and this year, there will be more of them.
District of Columbia
Washington: A CVS offering vaccinations to D.C. residents has drawn complaints about clutter, crowding and patient privacy concerns, WUSA-TV reports. Fed up with the mess outside the store in the Penn Branch Shopping Center in the Southeast neighborhood, Dr. Jalan Burton pulled out her cellphone and took a video showing sheets of plywood inside the front windows and boxes, crates and other construction material cluttered outside. Burton said her concerns were only magnified by what she saw and heard as soon as she stepped inside, with a vaccination line in the store’s small entryway. “They had a representative sitting there with a table – a card table – and a sign that said COVID vaccines, and she was there doing health screenings,” Burton said. She said she cut through the line but could hear private medical information. “You can hear everything. Not only is it unfair from a privacy standpoint, but also from a safety standpoint, right?” she said. “Because if I can touch the people to the right, and I can touch the people to the left, and I have to walk through that line, that is not socially distanced at all.” A CVS corporate spokesperson said the team is working on rearranging the store’s flow. The plywood on the windows was related to a December car crash, the spokesperson said.
Tallahassee: Gov. Ron DeSantis has received a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, his office confirmed Wednesday. He did so out of the public eye even as governors elsewhere across the political spectrum have been vaccinated publicly to reassure Americans that the shots are safe. A spokesperson for the Republican governor initially declined to provide details, including when exactly DeSantis received the dose. But it was later disclosed that the governor received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week. The spokesperson, Meredith Beatrice, acknowledged the governor’s vaccination during an interview. The disclosure came after a DeSantis news conference at the Capitol assailing the TV news program “60 Minutes” for a story airing Sunday that suggested a “pay-to-play” vaccine distribution deal with a supermarket chain that donated to the governor’s political committee. DeSantis had recently said he would be vaccinated soon, but no announcement was made by his office when he received it, and no journalists were on hand. Even some of his top lieutenants said they were unaware the governor had been vaccinated as they continued to urge Floridians to get inoculated against a disease that has killed nearly 34,000 people statewide. More than 2 million people in Florida have been infected.
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp is declaring that “Georgia is open for business” as of Thursday, loosening the restrictions he imposed last year to control the spread of the coronavirus by letting people sit closer together at restaurants and gather in larger crowds. The Republican governor changed the state’s rules despite urgings from federal officials that states should keep curbs on unmasked close contact among strangers. They warn that more infectious virus variants now spreading across the U.S. could cause another spike in cases and deaths. Kemp portrays his new executive order as part of an effort to return to “normal,” continuing to emphasize that economic health is as important as freedom from the respiratory illness that has killed more than 19,000 Georgians. “Many small-business owners are still struggling under the impact COVID-19 has had on our economy,” Kemp said in a video message Wednesday. “And we know hard-working Georgians cannot endure another year like the last.” Federal officials acknowledge “COVID-19 fatigue” but say it’s too soon to stop being careful. Under Kemp’s new order, restaurant tables now must be only 3.5 feet apart without partitions, and there’s no longer a 50-person limit on gatherings when people are closer than 6 feet, which could allow larger indoor concerts and conventions.
Honolulu: Oahu will remain in its current tier for coronavirus restrictions despite a rise in cases that could have triggered a rollback. Under an agreement between Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Gov. David Ige, the island will remain at the current level of business and social restrictions for at least four weeks, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. That means larger gatherings can continue, and businesses like restaurants and bars can operate at a higher capacity. Oahu’s coronavirus case count averaged more than 50 infections per day for the second week in a row which under the current reopening plan would have meant a return to more a restrictive tier. The mayor asked Ige to loosen the criteria for its current level of restrictions to a seven-day average daily case count of 50 to 100, one of the current triggers for the more restrictive second tier. No formal changes to the tier system have been made, but the governor agreed to allow the island to postpone rollback by a month to see what happens with case counts during that period. Noting the “profound impact on our businesses, families and community,” Blangiardi said in a statement that “we are focused on the broader definition of health and I believe moving back to Tier 2 at this point would have had a tremendous negative impact on the overall health and economic recovery, including the impacts on livelihoods, jobs and mental and emotional health.”
Idaho Falls: Idaho Bureau of Laboratories Director Christopher Ball has said concerning coronavirus variants are likely spreading across the state, despite efforts to vaccinate residents. COVID-19 vaccines currently being distributed are believed to be effective against the strains; however, the continued spread intensifies pressure to speed up the vaccination efforts, the Post Register reports. “We are in a race against the variants with our vaccination program,” said Kathryn Turner, the state’s deputy public health researcher. “Every single time that virus is transmitted, it has a chance to mutate. So the faster we get people vaccinated, the better off we’ll be; the fewer variants we’ll have.” Health officials have said variants accounted for four of the more than 100 residents who tested positive for the virus in the past two weeks after receiving their final vaccines. Turner said cases in which people contract the virus after being fully vaccinated are rare, accounting for less than 0.03% of about 320,000 fully vaccinated residents. Data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reveals 95 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been identified as caused by variants of concern. But Ball said official state variant counts don’t show the whole picture.
Chicago: With the state poised to open up eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to residents as young as 16, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that Illinois will make 150,000 first-dose appointments available in the Chicago suburbs. The governor said the shots will be available at 11 state-run mass vaccination sites in the suburbs and at area pharmacies. Starting Monday, residents 16 and older will be able to schedule appointments in suburban Cook County as well as the state’s other 101 counties. Chicago officials have said such universal eligibility will be expanded April 19, meeting a goal set this week by President Joe Biden, but Pritzker said Chicago residents are “absolutely welcome” to sign up for appointments at the state-run vaccination sites. Still, he warned not to expect to get an appointment immediately. “Even with all of these new appointments, there will not be enough vaccine in week one to get everyone that wants to be vaccinated a dose,” he said.
South Bend: The University of Notre Dame says it will require all students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for the fall semester. University officials notified the campus community of the requirement in a letter Wednesday, saying the school will accommodate documented medical or religious exemptions to vaccinations. “Requiring students to be vaccinated for COVID-19 is a new and important addition to our health policies, one that we believe will enhance public health at Notre Dame and in our community, while also contributing to our ability to return to a more vibrant campus environment,” university President the Rev. John Jenkins said. The announcement came in advance of Notre Dame opening a clinic Thursday to administer the Pfizer vaccine to any students, faculty and staff who want a shot. Spokesmen for Indiana University and Purdue University said neither institution is requiring the vaccine yet. Nearly a quarter of Indiana residents age 16 and older are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, state health officials said Wednesday. Meanwhile, the state on Thursday reported 1,397 new coronavirus cases and an additional 16 deaths. Even as the pace of vaccinations accelerates, the state has been seeing the number of new cases rise.
Des Moines: The state must “take a stand” against so-called vaccine passports, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday, while pledging to back legislation or use executive action to restrict their use. The idea of using “vaccine passports” for travel or at entry points to venues has sparked a political divide, and Republican lawmakers and governors in several states are working on proposals to ban them. The White House has said the federal government will not roll out its own system requiring Americans to carry vaccine credentials. At the end of March, New York launched the Excelsior Pass, an app that displays a digital code verifying the person is inoculated against COVID-19. It is accepted at dozens of venues statewide, including Madison Square Garden, and allows people to increase the size of catered events, such as weddings, according to USA TODAY. Reynolds said she believes the shots are effective, and she noted she has been vaccinated. But she said vaccination should remain a personal choice. A passport system would create a “two-tiered society” and have privacy implications, she said during a news conference Wednesday. Reynolds later said she is still looking into the wording of a ban and how broad the measure would be, including whether it would cover efforts by the private sector.
Topeka: A Native American tribe in the state is appealing to President Joe Biden’s administration for $7.5 million from the first round of coronavirus relief funding distributed last year under the CARES Act. The Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, based near Mayetta, filed a lawsuit last June against the U.S. Treasury Department, claiming the department under former President Donald Trump had used improper data to allocate relief money. The federal government then was using an Indian Housing Block Grant data to allocate and divide the approximately $8 billion set aside altogether for tribes. But the data was flawed and undercounted populations, according to multiple lawsuits, and the Treasury ignored data that tribes submitted themselves. The Prairie Band Nation said that mistake meant $7.5 million lost for them. Other tribes in the nation, such as Oklahoma’s Shawnee Tribe, said that mistake meant it would receive virtually nothing, as the Shawnee didn’t participate in the IHBG program. “The Trump Treasury Department used a wholly inappropriate housing-based formula that cost us and other tribes millions of dollars of needed relief,” Prairie Band Nation Chairman Joseph Rupnick said.
Frankfort: A judge has temporarily blocked another attempt by Republican lawmakers to restrict Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd extended a temporary injunction Wednesday to apply to a measure passed over the governor’s veto. It specifies which of Beshear’s pandemic-related orders would remain in place should the Legislature win its legal fight with the governor. House Joint Resolution 77 was a response to Shepherd’s previous order temporarily blocking GOP-backed laws that threatened to invalidate Beshear’s COVID-19-related orders. Shepherd said HJR77 was a mechanism to “terminate a broad range of executive actions in the field of public health that constitute the state’s attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” He said it’s unclear whether the proposed termination of Beshear’s pandemic orders under HJR77 supersedes the governor’s executive authority under public health laws. “Until this issue has been resolved, it would create a great public harm and would undermine effective public health requirements to allow the temporary suspension or termination of the governor’s public health orders,” Shepherd wrote.
Baton Rouge: Plans for $450 million in upgrades to New Orleans’ iconic Superdome have been disrupted because of financial troubles caused by the pandemic, the stadium’s manager told state lawmakers during a budget hearing Wednesday. The coronavirus outbreak temporarily ended concerts, monster truck shows and many other events at the domed stadium and the neighboring arena. Local hotel tax collections that help fund the facilities’ management district plummeted as the virus obliterated tourist travel. Crowds at the Superdome weren’t allowed or were greatly limited for New Orleans Saints games. In response, ASM Global – the company that oversees the Superdome, arena and other facilities in the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District – slowed the stadium improvements and may not complete the full project plans as originally envisioned. “We took a step back from the renovation project,” Evan Holmes, business operations director for ASM Global, told the House Appropriations Committee. “We’re taking it year by year, step by step to make sure we’re not overextending ourselves.” The nearly 50-year-old stadium was supposed to see its ramp system removed and replaced with elevators and escalators, club and suite levels expanded, new entry gates erected, concession stands added and access for people with disabilities improved.
Portland: The state is set to relax attendance restrictions for private events such as weddings and private parties next month. Indoor events have been limited to 50% of permitted occupancy or 50 people, whichever is greater, since late March. The Maine Department of Economic & Community Development said earlier this week that the restrictions will rise to 75% of permitted occupancy or 50 people, whichever is greater, on May 24. The restrictions on outdoor events will rise from 75% to 100% of permitted occupancy May 24. The restrictions are designed to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the state, state officials said. “Group social gatherings such as weddings, celebrations, and similar private events with invited attendees bring people from multiple communities into close contact with each other and have the potential to increase COVID-19 transmission,” the economic development department said in a statement. The number of infections is creeping upward in the state, with the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases up over the past two weeks from 197.29 on March 23 to 310.43 as of Tuesday. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 0.86 on March 23 to 0.57 on Tuesday.
Annapolis: Emergency measures to help struggling businesses pay less in unemployment insurance taxes while simultaneously granting more funding to the unemployed were voted out of the Legislature last week and await a signature from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. Raising from $50 to $200 the weekly amount of uncounted pay that unemployment insurance claimants can receive is among the measures, which come as the Maryland Department of Labor continues to receive thousands of claims each week as the pandemic’s economic effects drag on. The department reported receiving more than 12,000 new and reclassified claims last week, the lowest mark of the month. While this is a notable improvement from the 50,000 claims recorded in the last week of January, the state’s numbers have seesawed for much of the year. Employers pay unemployment insurance taxes to both federal and state governments – payments to the latter are deposited into a trust fund, from which money is drawn to pay out claims. In Maryland, individuals who lose their job through no fault of their own and who are actively seeking work can receive up to $430 per week in unemployment insurance. The amount that claimants receive is partially based on their current weekly wage total.
Boston: Emerson College is temporarily restricting campus activities amid a recent rise in COVID-19 cases. College officials said Wednesday that all in-person student activities and gatherings will be halted, including athletics. The campus fitness center will close, the dining center will offer only to-go meals, and the library will be open for socially distanced study and reserved study spaces only, Erik Muurisepp, the college’s assistant vice president for campus life, said in a message to the campus community. Students are also being asked to leave their residences for a limited number of reasons such as picking up food, seeking medical care, or going to and from employment. Travel is prohibited. The changes will took effect Wednesday evening and will remain in place for at least a week, according to Muurisepp. In-person classes will continue as normal, he said.
Detroit: Officials are putting together plans to knock on doors across the 139-square-mile city to convince residents to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Detroit expects by the end of April to have crews start visiting homes to speak with residents about the importance of protecting themselves from the coronavirus with vaccinations and how to sign up to receive the shots, the Detroit News reports. Despite drive-up vaccinations at a downtown convention center, mass vaccinations at Ford Field and Saturday vaccinations at churches, only 22% of Detroit residents have received at least one vaccine dose compared to 38% for all of Michigan, according to Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services. Ford Field is a federally selected regional mass vaccination site where 6,000 doses a day will be administered for two months. Efforts in Detroit, which is about 80% Black, mirror other parts of the country where African Americans have been more hesitant than white people to get vaccinated. “We’re going to knock on every residential door in the city, making sure every Detroiter knows how to make an appointment,” Victoria Kovari, an executive assistant to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, told the Detroit News. The initial outreach is expected to last six to seven weeks.
Minneapolis: Health officials reported 2,500 new coronavirus infections Thursday as more infectious variants drive case growth across the state. The new cases mark the highest single-day total since January, when the state was coming down from the surge in infections cases late last year. The Minnesota Department of Health reported 14 more people have died due to COVID-19 in addition to the 2,535 new virus cases, bringing the state’s totals to 6,922 deaths and 535,182 cases since the start of the pandemic last year. Hospitalizations have climbed alongside cases, with 565 patients in Minnesota hospitals due to the coronavirus, including 131 in intensive care. Health officials have expressed concern regarding the steady rise in cases and hospitalizations, citing a growing seven-day test positivity rate that indicates community transmission of the virus. Officials have described the state’s vaccination progress as a race against the more contagious virus variants, hoping the state’s efforts to vaccinate populations more susceptible to the virus will prevent a significant spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. More than 3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered as of Tuesday. About 1.9 million Minnesotans have received at least one dose, with more than 1.2 million fully inoculated.
Jackson: Alongside rising COVID-19 vaccinations, the state’s seven-day case average has dwindled from the January peak of 2,400 to 200, Gov. Tate Reeves said during a Tuesday news conference. Hospitalizations have dropped from 1,444 to 163 in the same time span. COVID-19 patients on ventilators have declined from 230 to 35. Within the week, 1,434 new COVID-19 cases were recorded, down by 115 from the previous week. Just 34 people died due to COVID-19, down from 62 the week before. Black residents make up 38% of the state’s population, and total doses administered since vaccines came into the state have gone to 31% of Black Mississippians. As of Thursday, the state had administered more than 1,369,330 shots, nearly 41.5% of which left recipients fully vaccinated. The state reports an overall COVID-19 vaccination rate of 19.1%, similar to the national average of 20%. “Under every circumstance, the vaccine is better than COVID,” State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a news conference last Friday.
Columbia: The state’s Republican-led Senate on Wednesday voted to ban so-called vaccine passports. Senators voted 26-7 in favor of a wide-ranging bill that includes a ban on requiring such documentation to travel in the state. Vaccine passports show travelers have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the coronavirus. Technology companies and travel-related trade groups are developing and testing out vaccine passports to encourage travel. Republican Gov. Mike Parson has said he won’t require vaccine passports, which he emphasized again while speaking on Fox News on Wednesday. “If people want to carry a card, that’s fine. It’s called freedom. It’s called individual rights,” Parson said. “But it’s not government’s place to do that.” The Missouri bill would ban any requirements that travelers show proof of vaccination in order to fly, get a taxi or use public transportation in the state. The bill now goes to the state House for consideration. The state health department on Wednesday reported 2,175 confirmed coronavirus cases over the week of March 29, averaging about 311 per day. Cases are down about 3% from the week prior. Six new deaths were reported in the past week, bringing the total COVID-19 death toll in Missouri to at least 8,509.
Helena: The state is starting a temporary program to allow 15-year-olds to get a learner’s permit without having to take a driver’s education class. About 22,000 students are waiting to enroll in driver’s education, but courses are limited due to COVID-19-related restrictions and a shortage of driving instructors, Attorney General Austin Knudsen said. “Too many families are having to wait for more than a year until their son or daughter can get into a drivers ed class,” Knudsen said in a statement. ”We’re getting bureaucracy out of the way so Montana teenagers can get back on track, start learning to drive safely and save their families money.” Under current law, teens who don’t complete a driver’s education course have to wait until they are 16 to get a learner’s permit. Under this temporary program, 15-year-olds can take the written exam and receive a learner’s permit. Then, over the next six months, they will have to complete 50 hours of driving with a parent or other responsible adult, including 10 hours of nighttime driving, before taking the driving skills test with the Motor Vehicle Division. Students who pass the driving test will receive a graduated driver’s license, which limits the number of passengers they can have and limits nighttime driving.
Omaha: A growing number of younger people are being hospitalized with the coronavirus as more contagious variants spread in the state. Nebraska health officials said the average age of people hospitalized with the virus declined to 51 in March from 61 in January. Officials said the age is also shifting lower because a significant number of older people in the state have been vaccinated against COVID-19. The number of people hospitalized is also growing and hit 161 Wednesday as the state reported more cases of the virus. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases nearly doubled over the past two weeks, going from 246.43 new cases per day March 23 to 491.29 per day Tuesday. So far the state has confirmed 237 cases of different variants of the virus. Officials said Wednesday that Creighton University and CHI Health have begun testing in more cases to determine if they were caused by variants. That testing will supplement similar work that was already being done at the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory and give the state a more complete picture of which variants are causing most of the infections.
Las Vegas: One rural southern Nevada county could step ahead of the state and approve lifting mask mandates and business capacity limits enacted as coronavirus pandemic prevention measures more than a year ago. The Nye County Commission is scheduled to hold a vote April 20 to let businesses return to 100% occupancy and make face coverings optional. Gov. Steve Sisolak’s spokeswoman, Meghin Delaney, did not immediately respond Thursday to questions about the county’s proposal. Current state rules call for mask and social distancing for people in public places and generally limit occupancy for businesses and gatherings at 50%. Nye County commissioners on Tuesday passed a separate resolution asking the Legislature to rescind the state’s pandemic emergency declaration, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. The moves put the county west of Las Vegas in front of the state’s other 16 counties for easing coronavirus precautions. Sisolak’s appointed Nevada COVID-19 Response Task Force is reviewing plans to turn over pandemic mitigation control to local authorities beginning May 1. Several other reliably Republican rural Nevada counties – including Elko, Eureka, Lyon and White Pine – have also chafed at the Democratic governor’s COVID-19 directives.
Concord: More than 20 school districts have asked the state if they can delay returning to full-time, in-person instruction that’s mandated to start April 19. At least one district, Monadnock Regional School District, has decided it’s going to stick with its original target of May 3, WMUR-TV reports. In Manchester, the district applied for a waiver, citing vaccine concerns for staff members and teachers and invoking federal requirements. “A lot of our employees have (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations under federal guidelines,” Manchester Superintendent John Goldhardt said. “They are not allowed to come back until they’ve had their vaccination and have full immunity.” Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu said all K-12 schools must return to full-time, in-person learning as of April 19, although a remote option will still available for parents and students who request it. Schools had already returned to offering in-person learning at least two days a week as of March 8.
Trenton: Supplies of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to the state will plummet next week, but appointments were still available for this week at vaccine sites in Atlantic City and Gloucester and Camden counties, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday. “We’re going to have a couple choppy weeks based on the federal supply,” he said of the state’s effort to vaccinate 4.7 million people by June 30. He urged residents to seize available appointments now, as there will be far fewer openings for the next two weeks. The governor himself, along with his wife, Tammy Murphy, will be vaccinated at the Atlantic City Convention Center vaccination site during a visit Friday, he said. New Jersey will receive 90% fewer doses of the J&J vaccine next week compared with this week – a drop from 131,000 this week to 15,600. That is expected to dwindle further to just 5,200 doses the following week, when all New Jerseyans 16 and older become eligible for vaccination, said state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. Manufacturing problems at a Maryland production facility recently made it necessary to throw out 15 million doses of J&J’s vaccine, causing nationwide supply shortages just as eligibility for the vaccine expands.
Santa Fe: The state that leads the nation in the vaccine rollout is making it easier for senior citizens to get a COVID-19 shot. The Department of Health announced Thursday that people 60 and up can schedule a vaccine appointment without first being offered one by health officials. Since the rollout began, seniors have had priority for the shots. But the system to set appointments was frustrating for them and at times impossible for rural residents. The appointments are offered by text or email on a first-come, first-served basis. They can close within hours of being sent. The locations where shots are offered also could be far from where people live, requiring as much as a four-hour round-trip drive. Under the new policy, New Mexicans 60 and up can register for an appointment online whenever they want. Vaccination sites in their area may be booked, but they don’t have to wait for an invite and can check availability at their convenience. The move effectively gives them first pick at appointments, ending the need for 24/7 access to text messages and emails. It follows a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found New Mexico lagged other states in distributing vaccines to highly vulnerable populations, despite its best-in-the-U.S. inoculation rate, with 31% of residents fully vaccinated.
Albany: In the largest program of its kind, state lawmakers have created a $2.1 billion fund to aid workers who lost jobs or income during the coronavirus pandemic but were excluded from other government relief programs because of their immigration status. The fund, which passed this week as part of the state budget, will give payments of up to $15,600 to workers who were living in the country illegally and weren’t eligible for federal stimulus checks, unemployment aid or other benefits. As many as 300,000 workers might benefit, according to some estimates. Other states have offered aid to unauthorized workers, but nothing on this scale. The creation of New York’s program showed the strength in the state of Democratic Party’s left wing, which has been increasingly emboldened as the state’s leading centrist, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has wrestled with a sexual harassment scandal. The fund will offer much-needed relief to people like Felipe Idrovo, 52, an immigrant from Ecuador who lives in Queens. He lost a job working in food distribution in March 2020 and now owes a year’s rent on his small bedroom. “I cannot jump, but I am really, really happy,” said Idorvo, a board member of Make the Road New York, an immigrant-led advocacy group whose members participated in a 23-day hunger strike in support of the legislation. “My heart is happy but my body is torn down,” he said as he and other activists broke their fast at a rally Wednesday in New York City.
Asheville: COVID-19 vaccine supply, eligibility and providers are reaching all-time highs across the state, and the focus is beginning to shift toward making sure there’s enough demand. More than 600,000 doses were headed to providers across the state this week, not including allocations directly from the federal government to retail pharmacies and other providers. And now, since Tuesday, all adults 16 and over, more than 8 million North Carolinians, qualify for COVID-19 vaccines. State allocations for the week are up almost 56,000 from the week prior and up more than 138,000 from the week before that, according to data provided by the state Department of Health and Human Services. As those numbers keep climbing, North Carolina is approaching the point where supply will outpace demand, Gov. Roy Cooper said in a recent update. “We’re going to have plenty of supply to get every person vaccinated who wants a vaccine,” he said. “Pretty soon, we’re going to be pushing, encouraging people to get it because we do know at some point we will hit that peak of supply exceeding demand, and we need to continue to push up the demand so we can get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
Bismarck: The Republican-led Senate endorsed a measure Wednesday that would prohibit the state from mandating face coverings. Senators approved the bill 30-17 but amended it to give local governments, schools and employers the option of requiring masks. Representatives approved the measure 50-44 in February. It now goes back to the House for review of the Senate amendment. Bill sponsor GOP Rep. Jeff Hoverson and others have argued there was no proof that masks work to slow the spread of the coronavirus and questioned the government’s role in mandating them. The state health officer, backed by Gov. Doug Burgum, imposed a mask mandate in November after months of refraining from such an order, hoping to stem a coronavirus surge that had been among the worst in the U.S. and threatened to overwhelm the state’s hospitals. The Republican governor dropped the statewide mask requirement as well as limits on the number of people who gather in restaurants, bars and event venues about two months later, citing a dramatic drop in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus.
Columbus: The 2021 Ohio State Fair will not be open to the general public this summer due to public health concerns, officials said Thursday. Instead, the Ohio Expositions Commission, which runs the annual event, announced the fair will focus this year on agricultural and educational competitions for exhibitors and their families and friends. “While we are hopeful that we will soon be on the other side of this pandemic, the reality is that cases of COVID-19 remain high, and we just don’t know how things will look in July,” the announcement said. The commission outlined concerns for public health and the financial perils of hosting a fair under current pandemic safety protocols. “Although vaccination rates are improving significantly each day, Ohio continues to fight the battle against COVID-19,” General Manager Virgil Strickler said in the release. “This decision will not only help to protect the health and safety of Ohioans, it will also protect the long-term financial viability of the fair.” The fair, which opens to limited capacity July 19, usually provides rides, concerts, numerous food vendors and other entertainment. The commission said it plans to return to that regular programming in 2022.
Oklahoma City: The number of deaths due to COVID-19 topped 8,000 Thursday in Oklahoma, according to the state health department. The death toll reached 8,023, an increase of 23, and the total number of coronavirus cases rose by 483 to 442,389 since the pandemic began, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said. The rolling average of daily deaths in the state has increased during the past two weeks from 8.9 per day to 245.1, a spike that state epidemiologist Dr. Jared Taylor predicted Tuesday as he said the health department had begun using a new algorithm to confirm some COVID-19 deaths that do not require human review. The rolling average of daily new cases is also rising in the state, from 374.1 daily to 506, after the health department reported about 1,300 additional confirmed cases, most between December and March. Taylor said the additional cases came from one laboratory, which he declined to identify, that thought it was properly reporting cases, but they weren’t recorded in the system the state health department uses to track cases.
Portland: Fifteen inmates who contracted the coronavirus while at Multnomah County’s Inverness Jail are suing the county and Sheriff Mike Reese. The inmates say the county and sheriff were negligent by not taking proper safety precautions, denying testing, and mixing infected inmates and guards with those who were healthy in jail dorms, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. The county’s response to the pandemic was “woefully inadequate,” the suit alleges, noting that 38% of adults in custody in the Northeast Portland jail tested positive by Feb. 17. The jail houses about 5,126 inmates. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chris Liedle on Tuesday declined comment on the pending litigation. On March 23, Multnomah County Public Health declared the coronavirus outbreak at Inverness Jail over, calling it one of the “most challenging periods” at the jail. It was the largest and longest outbreak at either of the county’s two detention centers. The plaintiffs are seeking a court order that will require social distancing, proper testing, sanitation and compliance by county jails with federal and state health guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Oregon Health Authority. It also seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
McKeesport: The state is “winning” the race to contain a recent spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations thanks to its accelerating vaccine rollout, the governor said Wednesday, as officials sought to address what they view as the pandemic’s next big challenge: persuading stragglers to get the shot. The Wolf administration is pushing people to get inoculated as soon as possible, saying vaccines will be what end the pandemic, and has so far shown little appetite for new mitigation measures to address the latest surge in infections and hospitalizations. “It’s a race between the vaccine and the upsurge, this fourth upsurge, and I think the vaccine is winning,” Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday outside Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport, near Pittsburgh, which will host a community vaccine clinic operated by the Allegheny County Health Department. Pennsylvania this week eased restrictions on bar seating, restaurant capacity and indoor and outdoor events, even though the state – along with New York, Michigan, Florida and New Jersey – accounted for nearly half of the nation’s reported infections over a recent seven-day reporting period. But Wolf said an increasing vaccine supply has put Pennsylvania in a much different position than it was in November. He predicted anyone who wants a shot will be able to receive at least an initial dose by the second week of May.
Providence: There will be high school proms and graduation ceremonies in the state this spring as more residents get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Dan McKee said Thursday. “We’re making great progress,” the Democratic governor said, noting Rhode Island is ranked among the highest in the country for how many residents are fully inoculated. “That is good news. I know the schools and all the students are looking forward to that.” McKee said he’s even optimistic the state will enjoy a “real” Fourth of July, complete with parades and fireworks displays. State officials project 70% of Rhode Islanders will have at least one dose of vaccine by mid-May, and 70% will be fully vaccinated by mid-June. Proms and graduations will be allowed as part of new coronavirus safety guidelines state officials detailed Thursday during their weekly coronavirus briefing at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence. Non-catered indoor gatherings such as concerts and commencements are currently limited to 250 people, and similar outdoor gatherings are allowed up to 500 people. After May 15, those limits will double, to 500 people indoors or 1,000 outdoors, state officials said. Dancing will also be allowed at proms, so long as students wear masks and dance only with others at the same table, officials said.
Columbia: The state Senate has unanimously approved a proposal to prevent employers from mandating COVID-19 vaccines for workers. The resolution advanced by senators Wednesday says employers can’t punish or fire their workers for refusing to get the shots. The measure also says the Department of Health and Environmental Control would not be able to require people who refuse to get vaccinated to quarantine or isolate themselves. The proposal does make some exceptions for hospitals and other employers working with populations who are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, such as the elderly or people with certain underlying conditions who have a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19. Employers could still require quarantines for workers exposed to the virus and provide incentives for employees to get the vaccine. Senators have also passed a separate bill that would prevent lawsuits against businesses and other groups by people who contract COVID-19 as long as federal and state health guidelines were being followed.
Sioux Falls: A year after pools stayed closed because of coronavirus concerns, cities across the state are finding it harder than usual to hire the necessary lifeguards to see them open this summer. In Sioux Falls, pools are set to open May 28, but they’re still in need of more than 50 lifeguards to make sure they’re fully staffed, city officials said. Kelby Mieras, the city’s park operations manager, said they’ve been struggling to hire for the city’s pools as the opening date approaches. Recruiting efforts for the positions often include reaching out to past employees, but after the pandemic forced pool closures, that group has shrunk. As of Wednesday afternoon, Mieras said the city was looking for 54 lifeguards and 32 short-term maintenance positions, who could work on pools, athletic fields and parks. A full staff of lifeguards would be 82 full-time positions, but many positions will end up being part time, with well beyond 100 lifeguards likely on staff. If the city is unable to fill the needed positions, Mieras said, officials may have to adjust scheduling at local pools. Justin Weiland, city administrator for Dell Rapids, reported running into similar issues. Officials advertised the lifeguard openings, but not one person applied, he said. “Not being open last year, that pipeline was disrupted,” Weiland said.
Knoxville: Knox County families will have more time to decide if they want to do in-person or virtual learning for next school year, Bob Thomas announced Wednesday evening at a school board meeting. He said the state board of education is meeting Monday to discuss virtual programming that would require students to unenroll in their base school and enroll in a separate virtual school. The district is monitoring that discussion and will keep families informed. This could mean virtual learners would be at a separate KCS virtual elementary, middle or high school. Each school would have a capacity of 1,500 students as required by law. Regardless of what the state board of education decides, Knox County will still offer summer learning camps. The deadline to enroll for these camps is April. Knox County Schools has not announced a new enrollment window, district spokeswoman Carly Harrington said. Families were previously told they had to make a decision between April 15 and April 23.
Austin: In a ruling that was divided along party lines, a state appeals court on Thursday dismissed Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to Austin and Travis County pandemic-related orders that placed a curfew on businesses during the New Year’s weekend. The orders, which barred food and beverage service after 10:30 p.m. amid a surge in local COVID-19 cases, were in place for only one night before the Texas Supreme Court blocked enforcement, making the issue moot, the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 ruling. The court’s lone Republican, Justice Melissa Goodwin, disagreed, arguing that the issue remains live because Austin and Travis County officials continue to “vigorously defend their authority to adopt and enforce the local orders and do not concede that (they) were invalid or unlawful.” The ruling, which can be appealed, thwarted for now Paxton’s hope for a decision affirming Gov. Greg Abbott’s power to issue emergency orders that block local officials from adopting stricter requirements in the name of pandemic safety. Paxton, however, still has a separate appeal pending before the 3rd Court that seeks to block another Austin and Travis County pandemic safety order – this one requiring face coverings in area businesses.
Salt Lake City: The city will continue its mask mandate after a statewide order is lifted Saturday, the mayor said Wednesday, though the rest of the county decided not to require masks, and the city’s rule may violate a new state law. Democratic Mayor Erin Mendenhall said keeping the mandate will protect residents, many of whom have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. “We need to keep doing what has worked: wearing masks,” she said. Keeping the rule also prevents front-line workers from confrontations with customers angry about private mask mandates in stores, said Matt Caputo of Caputo’s Market and Deli, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. Leaders on the Republican-controlled Salt Lake County Council, meanwhile, decided to lift their mandate Saturday along with the rest of the state. Council Chair Steve DeBry cited public health data indicating that many of the most vulnerable residents are vaccinated and that hospitals won’t be stressed beyond capacity. “There’s mask fatigue. There’s COVID fatigue. People want to get back to normal life,” he told the Deseret News. Mendenhall said her decision doesn’t violate a so-called end game law for pandemic restrictions, but its sponsor disagreed. Republican state Rep. Paul Ray said it would be a waste of time to sue the city, but he predicted political fallout.
Montpelier: The Vermont Health Department is asking people to submit their stories – including original videos, photos or written thoughts – about getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Select submissions will be featured in a television ad campaign, and one entry will be picked at random to receive a $500 cash card. Details can be found on the health department’s website. The state says it’s seeking the submissions to show why getting vaccinated is important. The move comes as Vermont is continuing its gradual reopening as more people get inoculated. Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott wants the state to use some of more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 assistance money to help improve access to broadband internet services and other wireless connectivity. Scott on Tuesday outlined plans for spending some of the funds the state is due to receive through the American Recovery Plan. The governor would also like to spend money for housing, climate change mitigation, water and sewer infrastructure, and additional economic development and recovery from the pandemic. Scott calls his proposal a starting point for discussions with the Legislature about how the money, part of the $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 rescue plan approved by Congress last month, should be spent.
Staunton: Mount Salem Baptist Church will be hosting a COVID-19 vaccination event for the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The Rev. Dr. Floyd Miles, pastor of Mount Salem Baptist Church, said it is a great idea for the church to be involved, and he’s excited to help out with the vaccination effort. Miles said the pandemic greatly affected his services, and the church had to go virtual, but he can’t wait to have his services in person and see his community again. Miles said a total of 250 vaccination slots were available. He hoped to fill all the appointments and help people get scheduled for their second doses. “It is a great privilege to be able to offer the church because it is time to get our community, our society and our churches to enjoy life back together,” Miles said. Community members who are interested can contact Margaret Lyle at 540-649-6075. She will be taking vaccine registrations until Friday.
Seattle: The federal government has lowered vaccine supply allotments for the state because of problems at a facility producing Johnson & Johnson vaccine, state health officials said Wednesday. Comments about the decreased supply Wednesday come as state officials prepare to open vaccine eligibility to everyone age 16 and over April 15, The Seattle Times reports. Health officials had expected the state to receive at least 600,000 doses of vaccine through state and federal programs for each week in April, but now Washington expects deliveries of at least 500,000 doses next week. The federal government maintains the expected supply boost will come, but the timeline is not yet clear. “The three-week forecast is a little bit lower than we hoped for,” said SheAnne Allen, the COVID-19 vaccine director for the Washington State Department of Health. “These are estimates; they do change.” About 15 million doses were ruined after employees for a contract manufacturer to J&J mixed ingredients incorrectly. The problem was discovered before any bad doses were shipped. With more people becoming eligible, State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said he hoped vaccine supply would rise in May, if not later in April, “so we can match that demand.”
Inwood: Utilizing life skills learned in their career and technical education program, Musselman High School’s culinary students prepared meals for first responders working local vaccination clinics. Rachel Nauman, the baking and pastry teacher for the career and technical education program, said COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the world, and her course was no different, as she and her students have spent the past several months trying to find a balance between hands-on learning and safety precautions. “It’s put a different spin on the class, but it’s been a good spin,” Nauman said. “This has allowed us to focus on the minor details, to force the students to do more in-depth thinking on what they are doing and what they are serving.” With the goal of service and hospitality in mind, Nauman said she and her students were more than up to the challenge when the school’s principal suggested the students cook and serve meals to Berkeley County first responders. Nauman said she and her students began preparing a menu they felt would be filling yet manageable and transportable, ultimately deciding to serve homemade BLT sandwiches and pasta salad and chocolate caramel brownies alongside packaged chips and drinks.
Madison: The state recorded its highest number of new coronavirus cases in two months Thursday, leading to new warnings from health officials about the growing spread of more contagious variants and a renewed call for everyone to be vaccinated as soon as possible. The seven-day average of new cases was twice as high as a month ago. “There’s a danger of this pandemic getting out of control,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer. State health officials urged people not only to get vaccinated but also to continue wearing masks, frequently washing hands and maintaining social distance to slow the virus’s spread. “We are not ready to go back to life pre-COVID,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “We are not ready for huge mass gatherings yet. We need to be cautious as we move forward.” The Wisconsin Supreme Court last week repealed the statewide mask mandate, but health officials stressed Thursday that face coverings should still be worn even if not required by local ordinances. “The worst thing in the world we can do right now is say no mandate, no mask,” Willems Van Dijk said. Westergaard saying not wearing masks now, just because there is no order, would be a “grave mistake.”
Cheyenne: The outdoor rodeo Cheyenne Frontier Days will continue as planned this year after being forced to cancel last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Republican Gov. Mark Gordon and Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins joined Cheyenne Frontier Days CEO Tom Hirsig on Wednesday during a news conference to make the official announcement, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports. Frontier Days is a rodeo and western festival that draws about 200,000 attendees each July. Its website calls it the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, featuring competing professionals, behind-the-chutes tours, trick riding, a wild-horse race and other activities. Hirsig said the event will take place at maximum capacity and without a mask requirement but will feature a new health and safety protocol focusing on increased sanitization, digital ticketing, cashless payment options and a clear bag policy. The measures are subject to change based on COVID-19 infection rates. Guests are encouraged to cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing with sleeves or tissues followed by immediate hand-washing. People feeling sick or showing symptoms are urged to remain home.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Immigrant aid, lifeguard shortage: News from around our 50 states