Montgomery: Alabama National Guard troops will begin work later this month administering COVID-19 vaccines in at least 24 rural counties, the state said Tuesday. The National Guard, with two 55-member mobile vaccination teams that can provide 8,000 doses a week, will work with public health and local officials to determine sites and logistics, Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said in a statement. Guard immunizations will start March 23. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed 15.2% of Alabama’s 4.9 million residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine that protects against the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That was lower than any state other than neighboring Georgia, where 13.4% had received at least one shot. Guard teams will rotate through counties to provide shots to more people, the statement said. Ivey asked for patience because the state is still trying to get more vaccine from the federal government.
Juneau: Alaska has become the first state to drop eligibility requirements for COVID-19 vaccines and allow anyone 16 or older who lives or works in the state to get a vaccine, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Tuesday. Dunleavy made the announcement after his own bout with COVID-19, which he described as an inconvenience and said underscored his own desire to be vaccinated. He said he did not become severely ill but did not want “to be laid up in the house again,” impact his family or possibly spread the virus to others. He described expanding eligibility for vaccines in Alaska as a “game-changer,” particularly with the summer tourist season looming and as the state seeks to rebuild its pandemic-tattered economy. Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said officials were seeing open vaccine appointments and wanted to act to allow as many people who want a vaccine to get one. More appointments will be added as vaccine is moved around the state and additional doses come in, she said.
Phoenix: Gov. Doug Ducey and his top health official said Tuesday they are sorry people have struggled to make a vaccine appointment and they are working to make it as easy as possible for people to get inoculated. Ducey and Dr. Cara Christ issued the apology to a man who said on a telephone town hall that vaccine registration has been “a real disaster.” “I apologize for any frustration that you’ve encountered,” Ducey said. “This has been a bumpy time. The demand has been so great for this vaccine from so many of our Arizonans.” The state has worked to increase computing capacity and build a massive vaccination center at the Arizona Cardinals stadium in Glendale, Ducey said. Ducey, Christ and AP Powell, a Black businessman, fielded more than two dozen questions for an audience of about 10,000 as part of an effort to the encourage vaccination in underserved communities, according to the governor’s office. Although Arizona has been near the top of lists ranking states by the rate of vaccines administered, vaccinations haven’t kept pace in low-income zip codes and communities of color.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson credited the state’s ongoing commitment to COVID-19 vaccinations, masking and other mitigation efforts for a continued decline in active cases and hospitalizations. The state Department of Health reported 432 new cases Tuesday, bringing the state’s pandemic total to 325,383. Of those, 3,461 were active, 132 fewer than Monday, and 317 were hospitalized, 21 fewer than Monday. Fourteen new COVID-19 deaths raised the state’s pandemic death toll to 5,357. “We continue to see a decrease in active cases and hospitalizations compared to last week,” Hutchinson said. “Also, an additional 104,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered since last Tuesday. Our continued mitigation efforts, including vaccination, masking, and social distancing, will get us closer to the end of this pandemic.” Hutchinson has said Arkansas residents will be required to wear masks in public through at least the end of the month, in contrast to the swift rollbacks of mask mandates in neighboring states of Texas and Mississippi. State health officials are developing criteria for when to lift the measure aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
Los Angeles: Three of the five largest counties in California could reopen as early as this weekend for indoor dining, movie theaters and gyms at limited capacity under a new metric aimed at getting more shots to those most vulnerable. For Los Angeles County, this would be its first time out of the state’s most restrictive closure orders since Gov. Gavin Newsom adopted a color-coded system in August. The other counties likely to see more reopenings are Orange and San Bernardino, also in Southern California. A new equity initiative announced by Newsom last week allows counties to move out of the most restrictive shutdowns once 2 million shots are administered to people living in ZIP codes that the state deems to be most vulnerable based on household income, access to health care and education levels. Once that threshold is met, state officials will reassess and restrictions could be loosened within two days, said Ali Bay, deputy director of communications for the California public health department. In Santa Clara, County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith said late Monday that his county won’t participate in a state vaccine delivery program administered by insurer Blue Shield because it would not improve speed or efficiency. The governor tapped the insurance company to create uniform rules and increase the rate of vaccinations, especially in hard-hit communities, through a centralized online portal. Smith told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that the contract would not bring in more doses, while adding “another layer of administration” that could delay getting residents being inoculated.
La Junta:Otero Junior College will virtually hold the 26th Annual International Food Night at 6:30 p.m. April 8. International Food Night is a long-standing traditional event held by the OJC International Relations Organization. It serves as the primary source of funding for scholarships that are awarded to international students each semester. A $50 donation will include access to the Facebook Live event, a link to a PDF recipe book with recipes for delicious international cuisine, a link to an international playlist of music and the option to purchase dessert boxes and access to an online silent auction. Donors will also be able to select one or more countries to represent. There are 195 countries from which to choose. Dessert boxes with treats from around the world will also be available for purchase. Each box is enough to serve four people and it costs $25. It is important to reserve boxes in advance to ensure there are enough prepared. Dessert boxes will be available for drive-by pickup from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. April 7 in front of the Humanities Center on the OJC campus. For more information about International Food Night or to reserve your spot, visit OJC’s website or email Maureen.Rikhof@ojc.edu or Darrin.Nielsen@ojc.edu.
Hartford: Chris Tillett said he is still coping with health problems a year after become the first Connecticut resident to be diagnosed with COVID-19, but the experience has brought a new optimism to life. The former Wilton resident tested positive for the coronavirus on March 8, 2020, and spent three weeks at Danbury Hospital, including 10 days in a coma and on a ventilator. He was 45 at the time, with a wife and 4-month-old twin boys. Doctors used experimental treatments, including anti-malaria and anti-HIV drugs, to save his life. He got sick after returning from a professional conference in California. “This has been a tough year,” Tillett, who now lives in Virginia with his family, told WVIT-TV. “I’m enjoying little aspects of life. Even when things go bad, I just choose to laugh at it now instead of letting it get me angry and upset, and like what is that gonna do for me, right? So I’ve just found, yes, definitely a new lease on life.” Tillett told Connecticut Public Radio he continues to experience muscle pain, stiffness and swelling in his legs. He also had to begin taking blood pressure medication, and might have to for the rest of his life. He said red spots still cover his feet, a common lingering symptom of the virus. He said he and his family moved to Virginia to be closer to family. He said he’s not eligible to get a vaccine yet, but plans to when he does qualify.
Dover: The state has hit its lowest total of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in more than five months. The Delaware State Journal reported Sunday that 104 people were hospitalized because of complications stemming from COVID-19. Of those, 13 people are considered to be critically ill. That’s the fewest hospitalizations since the end of October. The Delaware Division of Public Health also added nine COVID-related deaths in its latest update. Each person who died had an underlying health issue. Five of them were in nursing homes. The state has seen a total of 88,354 cases and 1,473 deaths over the past year. More than 268,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered.
District of Columbia
Washington:A new parent-led petition advocates for the safe return to the classroom for more children in D.C. Public Schools, with only 9,000 students out of 52,000 back to in-person learning so far, WUSA-TV reported. The parents’ list of demands indicated the current guidelines limiting classroom size and enforcing 6-feet of social distancing in DCPS are too strict, too outdated and make it impossible to include more students. “The current guidelines are imposing severe space and staff limitations on schools,” said Katerina Savvas, the author of the Change.Org petition, “There’s a lot of science showing that three feet with masks is just as safe.” The parents point to these updated guidelines by the World Health Organization that recommend 3 feet, of distance in classrooms. The parents’ children all attend school in Upper Northwest like Ross Elementary, Janney Elementary, Deal Middle and School Without Walls High School. They said they are aware of the optics and said this isn’t about race or neighborhood so they’re working to get their message out to all DCPS families in all eight Wards. In a statement, DC Health said, “CDC and WHO sometimes have differing recommendations. DC Health follows CDC guidelines for COVID-19 mitigation measures, including physical distancing. To ensure students and staff are safe at school, it is important that layers of mitigation measures are implemented to prevent unnecessary exposures, allowing classrooms to continue to function even if there is a case in a student or staff member. DC Health is reviewing the guidance after the updated CDC recommendations and is in active discussion with stakeholders to implement changes that are consistent with best public health practice.”
Miami: Hundreds of cars streamed bumper-to-bumper into a federally supported vaccination site that appeared to be offering shots to anyone who showed up, breaking from the eligibility requirements set by Gov. Ron DeSantis intended to put seniors at the head of the line. The availability of the vaccine to a wider population sowed confusion – and hope – among those wanting to protect themselves from a disease that has infected more than 1.9 million Floridians and killed nearly 32,000. State officials said they were sorting through the situation. It was unknown what authority state officials might be able to exert on federal facilities. Already, federal sites in Florida are adhering to federally issued guidelines that allow teachers and other school workers to get vaccinated – instead of complying with the governor’s directive that sets an age minimum of 50 for educators and school staff members. Because of initially low demand, another federally funded vaccination site in Florida City last weekend began administering shots to any takers, regardless of age. News spread, and the site was inundated the following day, prompting officials there to reimpose age restrictions. On Tuesday morning, a traffic jam of vehicles formed in a parking lot at Miami Dade College North and a long caravan of cars snaked down a nearby street. People waited hours to get the vaccine. By 10 a.m., officials at the vaccination site announced they had depleted their supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and only the Pfizer vaccine was available.
Atlanta: The state government said it’s developing plans to give out $522 million in federal rental assistance in coming months in 144 of the state’s 159 counties. The Department of Community Affairs said it will administer the program subject to federal guidelines that are still being developed. The department said it will make payments directly to landlords and utility providers. Aid will generally be for 12 months, but some households might qualify for 15 months. The department said the program will not cover people living in Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall and Henry counties. Those larger counties and the city of Atlanta are getting shares of the $25 billion nationwide directly from the federal government. Generally, the state said that to qualify, people must have qualified for unemployment benefits, experienced reduced income or higher costs, or experienced other financial hardship because of COVID-19. People can also qualify if they show a risk of homelessness or have a household income below 80% of an area’s median income. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended its eviction moratorium until March 31. The state said that means no one should be evicted solely for nonpayment of rent until then. Visit GeorgiaLegalAid.org for more information.
Honolulu: The state has detected a new coronavirus variant on the islands, one that first emerged in South Africa. The state Department of Health said Monday the virus, named B.1.351, was found in an Oahu resident with no travel history. Some tests suggest the South African variant might be less susceptible to antibody drugs or antibody-rich blood from COVID-19 survivors, both of which help people fight off the virus. But vaccination offers some hope. Acting State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said in a statement that a study conducted in South Africa where the variant was predominant showed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was effective in preventing serious disease requiring hospitalization and in preventing death. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that as of Sunday, 81 cases of the South African variant have been detected in 19 states and the nation’s capital. Hawaii has already detected eight cases of the U.K., or B.1.1.7, variant, including two more announced Monday. These were in an Oahu resident who traveled to the U.S. mainland and a household contact of this person.
Boise: State public health officials are grappling with how to encourage COVID-19 vaccinations for residents who are hesitant to get the shots, and they’re letting new groups get in line in the meantime. About 55% of residents 65 and older have had at least one shot, Department of Health and Welfare director Dave Jeppesen said Tuesday, and demand among that age group appears to be waning even as the state’s supply of vaccine increases. “This has resulted in some vaccine providers struggling to fill up their available appointments,” he said. Idaho is getting enough coronavirus vaccines for about 45,000 new people every week, and many younger residents are eagerly awaiting their chance at the shots. As a result, the state is speeding up its priority group schedule, Jeppsen said. Many health care providers are expected to start offering vaccinations to the next priority group – those 55 and older – no later than Monday. People with high-risk health conditions will get priority for the first week, and after that, everyone in the age group will be eligible. Those 45 and older will become eligible on March 29, with the first week again focusing on residents with high-risk health conditions. Health leaders are hoping for more buy-in from people still waiting for vaccines, and they’re working on public health campaigns to overcome “vaccine hesitancy,” Jeppesen said.
Springfield: New COVID-19 safety guidelines released Tuesday by the State Board of Education suggested in-person learning should be prioritized over extracurricular activities. The guidelines released in conjunction with the Department of Public Health said capacity limits for in-person learning, and activities like lunch, will be determined by the space’s ability to accommodate social distancing. The board now defines social distancing for in-person learning as 3-to-6 feet for students and fully vaccinated staff, although the board said 6-feet distance remains safest. The health department is no longer recommending school districts perform coronavirus screening on school grounds. However, the Board of Education advised districts can continue to do so if that’s their preference. The board also said students who are at increased risk for severe illness must be provided with the option of remote learning. Education officials said regardless of the level of community transmission, schools are required to use personal protection equipment, including face masks and to conduct contact tracing and isolate those with suspected or confirmed cases. Illinois teachers and school staff are in the state’s 1B vaccination group, and their vaccinations will be prioritized until all teachers and staff have received a vaccine.
Indianapolis: COVID-19 vaccine shots were given to more than 16,000 people during Indiana’s first mass vaccination clinic and all appointments have been filled for two similar upcoming clinics, state health officials said Tuesday. The f our-day clinic at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wrapped up Monday with 16,511 getting shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Those shots mean that about 725,000 people, or about 11% of Indiana’s population, were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 through Monday, according to the state health department. All appointments have been taken for the mass vaccination sites set for Friday and Saturday at Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg and March 26-27 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend. Another mass clinic is being planned for next week at an undetermined site in Gary. The vaccinations come as Indiana’s average of about 10 COVID-19 deaths a day is down from the peak of 103 a day in December. Despite that improvement, the state is recording more coronavirus deaths in less than two weeks than the 119 flu deaths reported over 32 weeks during the 2018-19 influenza season. Indiana has recorded almost 12,800 confirmed or presumed coronavirus-related deaths over the past year.
Mason City: Even though he voted against the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said there were items in it he found favorable for residents of northern Iowa. Grassley said he liked spending that was related and targeted toward people of need, appreciated the help for K-12 schools and hoped it would get more vaccines out. “Two things I don’t like about it is $1.9 trillion on top of $4 trillion we’ve already done, in five bills, that were all bipartisan, over the last 12 months, and the fact that they all passed the Senate with 90 or more votes. So I don’t like the partisanship that’s in this bill,” Grassley said. When asked whether he thought the $28.6 billion in the bill for small restaurants would help food service work in northern Iowa, Grassley wondered if there was a better way of distribution for relief. “I don’t mind targeting just restaurants but I’d rather do all that through the PPP program,” he said. “I’d approach it more from a standpoint of need than just an industry. But I’m not going to find fault with the special needs of service industries because they have been really hard hit.” As for failing to get relief funding for the devastation caused by the derecho in Aug. 2020 into the final bill, Grassley expressed frustration with the process. “Perfect example of where this partisanship shows up. There isn’t a single Democratic senator that doesn’t have some farm that’s been hurt … I thought for sure since it got bipartisanship support out of the House, it would be in the bill but then the rules committee took it out. So I was trying to revitalize but then when all Democrats voted it against it we lost it.”
Kansas City: Kansas could finish immunizing seniors, meatpacking employees and other essential workers and move on to the next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations by next month, top officials said. Dr. Lee Norman, the head of the state health department, said in a webcast Tuesday with University of Kansas Health officials that he anticipated the state would begin the third phase of vaccinations in four weeks or “a little bit less.” The next phase includes people aged 16 to 64 with medical conditions that put them at severe risk if they are infected with COVID-19, including cancer and Type 2 diabetes, as well as workers in critical industries such as information technology and government. He said some rural communities already have finished vaccinating people in the current phase, which is the state’s largest and includes about 1 million people, or about one-third of the state’s 2.9 million residents. The second phase includes those over age 65, workers including firefighters, law enforcement officers, meatpacking employees, grocery store workers, teachers and child-care workers, as well as prisoners. Gov. Laura Kelly said at a new mass vaccination site in a hard-hit area of Kansas City that there was “no drop-dead date” for moving to the next phase but that she anticipated it would happen at the beginning of April.
Louisville: The city is allocating 1,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to its homeless population. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the third COVID-19 vaccine to receive approval from the federal government and requires only one dose, making it a better option for homeless people than the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Louisville’s drive-thru site at Broadbent Arena received its first shipment of the newly approved vaccine last week. Erin Rutherford, a training specialist for the Coalition for the Homeless, said shelters will be targeted first, as outbreaks are more likely to happen in congregated settings. Distribution will begin next week with the Salvation Army and Wayside Christian Mission, which Rutherford said have the highest number of people staying in their shelters. After that, officials will move on to some of the smaller overnight and day shelters and eventually to feeding sites and different homeless camps. Shelter staff and homeless outreach workers were included in Phase 1B of Kentucky’s vaccine distribution plan, which targeted critical workers at highest risk for work-related exposure. Rutherford said Louisville’s workers in that category largely have been through the vaccination process. People living in shelters and congregate settings are also included in that phase.
Shreveport:Caddo Parish Commission President Lyndon B. Johnson said he would like the parish to lead the way in terms of erecting a monument memorializing those who died from the coronavirus. “This has been a pandemic that basically shut down the United States,“ Johnson told the commission during last Thursday’s work session. “Locally we lost a lot of community leaders and people from all segments of life. A bunch of people died so it’s just to remember those who died. You’ll be seeing a lot of these going up, and if Caddo can actually lead the United States in doing this, it would be wonderful.” In addition to commemorating the lives lost, Johnson also envisioned the monument as something people will visit as a tourist attraction. Johnson proposed $75,000 to pay for what he envisioned as a marble monument with the names of those who died. “If we do it first, I think it will be more beneficial than trying to do it later on when everybody else already has it and nobody really wants to put money on it at the end,” he said. The COVID-19 Memorial Ad Hoc Committee took up the issue at its meeting Tuesday.
Augusta: Independent Maine Sen. Angus King wants the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide more information about how it is monitoring variants of COVID-19. King and Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said they sent a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky last week asking for the information. They said the spread of variants throughout the U.S. is cause for concern and greater monitoring. The senators said in a statement they want to know “answers from the CDC on steps being taken to track virus genomes for relevant mutations and assess any increased risk to the American public.” Two coronavirus variants have been located in Maine. One originated in the United Kingdom and the other in South Africa.
Annapolis: The state will ease restrictions on restaurants and other businesses later this week, Gov. Larry Hogan said, citing improving COVID-19 health metrics and increasing vaccinations. Starting at 5 p.m. Friday, capacity limits will be lifted on outdoor and indoor dining at restaurants and bars, though customers will still need to be seated and distanced, the governor said. Capacity limits also will be lifted for retail businesses, religious facilities, personal services like hair and nail salons and indoor recreation establishments like casinos and bowling alleys. Maryland’s statewide mask mandate will remain in effect. It requires face coverings at any public indoor facility, including retail establishments, fitness centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, personal service establishments. Masks also are required in the public spaces of all public and private businesses across the state, and when using public transportation. Larger outdoor and indoor venues will be able to expand to 50% capacity. That includes conference halls, wedding venues, theaters and sporting arenas like Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play. Hogan said the Orioles have been in discussions with the state heath department and the Maryland Stadium Authority about having spectators at games. As for the team’s home opener on April 8, Hogan said they would be able to go to 50% capacity with social distancing and masking.
Boston: All public elementary schools in Massachusetts will be required to open for full-time, in-person learning by April 5, and middle schools will be required to do so on April 28, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said. No reopening date was provided for high schools, but the department said districts would be given two weeks’ notice and should start planning to reopen high schools now. The announcement comes just days after Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley was given the authority to determine when hybrid and remote learning models will no longer count toward student learning hours across the state. School districts can apply for a waiver if they do not think it’s safe to open under the state’s plan, but Riley said they would be given only “for a limited set of circumstances.” Parents will also have the option to keep their children in a virtual learning model through the end of the school year. The Massachusetts Teachers Association has said reopening decisions should be left to local school committees. About 20% of the state’s districts remain in remote-only learning. Gov. Charlie Baker has announced that Massachusetts teachers will be eligible to register for a coronavirus vaccine starting Thursday, but warned that demand far exceeds supply.
Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed at least $2.4 billion in COVID-19 relief spending Tuesday while vetoing roughly $650 million after Republican lawmakers did not negotiate with her and tied other aid to legislation that would have curbed her administration’s authority to order pandemic restrictions. It’s the latest move in a long-running dispute between the GOP-led Legislature and the Democratic governor over her pandemic response. As expected, Whitmer vetoed a bill that would have ceded the state health department’s power to close schools and prohibit sports to local health departments, allowing them to act only if certain metrics were met. Republicans had linked about $840 million in federal K-12 funding to the measure. The fate of that wasn’t immediately known because the governor’s office and the attorney general were conducting a legal review. Whitmer vetoed $87 million in proposed federal funding for private schools and $10 million in federal dollars for parents whose children enroll in summer school until a deal is reached. She also nixed $405 million in state-funded grants to pandemic-affected businesses and a $150 million deposit of general funds into the state’s unemployment account.
Crookston:The Department of Health sent out its situation update with new COVID-19 case information Tuesday and reported 140 new deaths, which was a significant jump over the single- and double-digit deaths reported over the last couple of months. In the update, it was announced that an audit was performed by MDH epidemiologists which included “unverified possible COVID-19 case reports” that identified 891 cases and 138 deaths that were previously unreported to MDH by private labs in violation of a state rule. “These cases and deaths occurred over the course of the last year,” the update said. “The cases will be attributed to the appropriate date in the ‘Positive cases by date specimen collected data table.’ However, deaths will appear as a one-day spike because deaths are represented by the date reported.”
Hattiesburg:Thursday will mark a grim milestone for Hattiesburg, the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 for the city, Forrest County and Mississippi. The city will hold a series of events and displays to remember the Pine Belt lives lost to COVID-19 and to honor those on the front lines who continue to fight the virus through testing, treatment and vaccination. At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Mayor Toby Barker will be joined by local pastors, health leadership and local government officials who will speak to the losses and the grief experienced, but also hope for the days ahead, the city said in a media release. In Town Square Park, more than 220 empty chairs with luminaries will be lined up on the lawn in front of the stage. Each chair will stand for a life lost to COVID-19 in Forrest and Lamar counties. The vigil will be streamed live on the city’s Facebook page.
Jefferson City: A state House committee debated a proposal Tuesday from Republican Rep. Suzie Pollock of Lebanon that would make immunization requirements apply only to public school students. The bill also would allow students to attend school if they can show evidence of acquired immunity from a disease, and would make it easier for Missourians to exempt themselves and their families from immunizations, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “We need to rein in our schools and our health departments,” Pollock said. The debate comes as Missouri ramps up efforts to vaccinate residents against COVID-19. State health officials said Tuesday more than 150,000 people have had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is about 16.8% of state’s population. Of those, 549,485 have received two doses. Garrett Webb, representing the Missouri chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told members of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee the bill would hamper efforts to contain deadly diseases. The Missouri State Medical Association also opposes the measure. But Pollock said an estimated 500 people submitted written testimony supporting the proposal. Proponents believe people should be able to choose whether to receive an immunization and should not be punished if they don’t. Pollock, who is a cardiovascular invasive specialist, introduced a similar proposal last year but it did not advance after the Legislature was interrupted by the pandemic.
Kalispell: Public access to Glacier National Park’s east entrances has been prohibited since March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with tribal, state, local, and federal officials reaching a consensus to maintain the closure even after other areas of the park reopened in order to safeguard vulnerable members of the Blackfeet Nation. That same spirit of consensus will inform when, if and how the famed park’s eastern boundary reopens before this summer, according to park officials. And although public health experts from the National Park Service, Glacier County, the state, the Indian Health Service, and the Blackfeet Tribe have developed a “work group” to identify health and safety benchmarks that, once reached, would allow for a safe reopening, the mood is tense among gateway hospitality businesses who depend on visitation to the park’s eastern entrances as their livelihood. “The strain is pretty intense. Financially, situations don’t get much worse than this for a business, and our business is our home as well as our livelihood,” said Sanford Stone, whose family owns Park Cabin Co., a hospitality and lodging business in Babb, situated on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The Blackfeet Tribe’s health needs are unique during this deadly pandemic partly because of the vulnerability of its elders who, in addition to serving as the gatekeepers of Blackfeet culture, are also the most at risk of contracting and suffering fatal complications from the disease. That vulnerability is underscored by the reservation’s proximity to Glacier Park, which draws millions of visitors each year, hundreds of thousands of whom access the park by crossing tribal lands. The potential for tourism to exacerbate the public-health crisis during the pandemic wasn’t lost on park administrators who agreed to enforce the closure, nor did it escape members of the gateway communities whose economic vitality is linked to seasonal visitation.
Omaha: The state said Monday that five cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom and 14 cases of a variant first identified in California have now been confirmed in Nebraska. Both variants are believed to be more easily transmitted than the original coronavirus but less is known about the California variant. State officials said they expect to receive 82,430 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines this week but no additional doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine as that company works to ramp up production. That might lead to a small drop in the number of people vaccinated in the state this week after officials vaccinated 90,461 people across Nebraska last week. The state said 519,857 doses of the vaccines have now been administered, and 12% of the state’s population has received their required shots.
Reno: The University of Nevada, Reno has announced it will offer primarily in-person classes and student services when the fall semester starts in August. The announcement came Monday after the university said enrollment dropped below 20,000 this semester and most classes have been offered remotely because of the pandemic. University President Brian Sandoval said he is “heartened” by the public health gains the state has seen with the introduction and distribution of vaccinations. UNLV is also planning to offer most of its classes in-person, as well as campus facilities providing in-person services, university spokesman Tony Allen said. Nevada State College in Henderson is aiming to offer about 70% of its fall classes with an in-person component, Provost and Executive Vice President Vickie Shields said in a statement on Monday. The College of Southern Nevada hasn’t yet announced fall semester plans. The University of Nevada, Reno, is not requiring or tracking who gets the vaccine so there is no data on how many employees might have been inoculated or the percentage of employees who have had access to doses. The university expects to have more students in residence halls and the dining hall, continue student activities, expand support services, allow fans at athletic events and hold live performances.
Concord: Dartmouth College has eased some coronavirus-related restrictions on campus now that the number of students testing positive has declined and there have been no major guideline violations, school officials said. The school on Monday reopened the Baker-Berry Library, the alumni gym, fitness center and other buildings for students and employees who are approved to be on campus. Students should continue to refrain from visiting one another in their rooms or gathering in hallways, officials said. Common spaces and kitchens in residence halls remain closed, and “grab and go” dining is still in effect. “Please continue to mask up everywhere, both on campus and in town; face coverings are critically important in reducing disease transmission, even if you have been vaccinated,” the leaders of a COVID-19 task force at the school wrote.
Trenton:The coronavirus pandemic didn’t impede special interests from spending a record $105 million last year to influence policy and public opinion in New Jersey. Issues that drove the spending were the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, but also high-profile measures including marijuana legalization and the restructuring of the state’s largest health insurer, according to annual data released Tuesday by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission. Spending in 2020 grew 3.4% compared with nearly $102 million in 2019. Special interests spent a record amount of moe than $18 million, a 32% increase over 2019, on communications – such as mailers, calls and advertising. Lobbyists homed in not only on lawmakers, who passed 76 COVID-19-related bills, but also on influencing Gov. Phil Murphy, who shepherded the state during the crisis with more than 105 executive orders, according to the ELEC data. Spending in support of marijuana legalization climbed to more than $3.9 million, the highest since New Jersey legalized medical marijuana 11 years ago.
Santa Fe: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday signed legislation that will allow the state to waive annual liquor license fees as businesses struggle to rebound amid the pandemic. The governor said the food and beverage industry is a key piece of the state’s economy. “These businesses anchor so many of our communities – and as we continue to move ever closer to ending the worst of this pandemic, I am confident this state support will help as they bounce back as quickly as possible,” she said in a statement. Under the legislation, the next annual fee for renewed liquor licenses and for all new licenses issued in this year will be waived. With license fees topping as much as several thousand dollars annually, state officials estimated the waivers will save businesses in New Mexico roughly $3.5 million. The governor also has signed other relief measures passed by the Legislature this session, including a bill that makes available $200 million in grants to small businesses, another providing $500 million in low-cost loans and a four-month gross receipts tax holiday for food and drink establishments.
New York City: Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to use $65 million in federal COVID-19 funds to help taxi drivers who were hurting but are in even worse shape after the pandemic. De Blasio said the program would offer zero-interest loans of up to $20,000 for medallion owners to use as a down payment to restructure their debt, creating “a pathway to solvency.” Taxi drivers have asked for help with debt from loans they took out to pay for the medallions that are required to operate a yellow cab. But the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a union for drivers, denounced the plan. “Mayor de Blasio’s response to our debt crisis does absolutely nothing for drivers,” Bhairavi Desai, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “It’s a cash bailout for lenders while drivers are left to drown in debt, foreclosure and bankruptcy.” Asked at a virtual news briefing if the plan was adequate to address the needs of drivers who owe hundreds of thousands of dollars on their medallion loans, de Blasio said, “This is what we believe can be done. The stimulus funds give us the opportunity to do it. And we’re moving forward immediately to help as many drivers as possible.”
Raleigh: Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican legislative leaders announced compromise legislation Wednesday that will mean more K-12 students in North Carolina will return to daily in-person instruction, some almost immediately. The agreement, announced in a rare bipartisan news conference by some of the state’s most powerful leaders, comes nearly two weeks after Cooper vetoed a GOP bill that would have mandated all districts reopen with at least partial in-person instruction. Cooper complained that measure would have kept state and local officials from pulling back classroom teaching should there be unexpected coronavirus outbreaks. Republicans countered that students were suffering academic and behavioral problems in districts that had yet to untether themselves from virtual-only learning, which started in March 2020. More school districts are returning now to some form of in-person instruction as case counts fall and teachers receive vaccinations, but lawmakers said a requirement was necessary. The new bill, largely negotiated by Cooper and Senate Republicans and expected to receive its first votes later Wednesday, would require all K-5 schools hold classes five days a week with no need for physical social distancing, according to elected leaders. Districts would have two options for middle and high schools. They can either adhere to having students separated by at least 6 feet (2 meters), limiting in-person instruction to just a couple days of week due to space constrictions, or move to five days a week like elementary schools.
Bismarck: Gov. Doug Burgum received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. He and his wife, first lady Kathryn, drove through the Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health vaccination clinic with dozens of others to get their first doses of the Moderna vaccine, the Bismarck Tribune reported. When vaccines became available in mid-December, Burgum, 64, said he would wait to be vaccinated until the shots were available to his priority group. COVID-19 vaccines are in limited supply, so North Dakota must prioritize who gets the first doses. The state developed a series of priority phases with the help of a vaccine ethics committee and is now moving into the Phase 1C priority groups. Health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, and older adults were the first to be vaccinated. Before being vaccinated, the first lady asked her husband if he wanted her to hold his hand. Both said they felt no pain with their shots. The governor also described vaccination as part of the plan to return to normal life. He said North Dakota could become one of the first states to reach herd immunity based on vaccination rates and the rate of COVID-19 infection among residents.
Columbus: Gov. Mike DeWine dropped the minimum age eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations, this time to include those 50 years or older. With the state continuing to show progress in fighting the virus, DeWine said the minimum age will be lowered from 60 years-plus as of Thursday. That is one week since the last age reduction in eligibility. Ohio has seen declining rates of infections and hospitalizations. On Monday, the state reported 84 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the previous 24 hours, with a 21-day rolling average of 111 hospitalizations, and 1,245 new coronavirus cases in the prior 24 hours, with a 21-day rolling average of 1,831. The state’s long-awaited vaccine website was also up and running on Monday. The site is meant to provide one-stop searches for available vaccination appointments across the state, relieving people from having to search or call multiple providers seeking appointments. The state’s expanded vaccination eligibility will make another 1.2 million people eligible to be vaccinated. It also will include people with Type 2 diabetes and end-stage renal disease. About 2 million Ohioans have received at least one shot of the vaccine, or about 17% of the population, as of Monday, according to the Health Department.
Oklahoma City: Long-term care home residents now will be allowed visits by loved ones who have completed state-certified essential care training aimed at stopping the coronavirus, state leaders announced Tuesday. Gov. Kevin Stitt and state Health Commissioner Lance Frye outlined the revised COVID-19 guidance for care homes during an afternoon news conference. Stitt had closed the homes to visitors a year ago when COVID-19 began sweeping the state. The governor cited the state’s vigorous COVID-19 vaccine distribution for making the guidance revision feasible. Masked visitors who have been vaccinated will be allowed nonsupervised visits to vaccinated residents after proof of that vaccination is provided to home managers. When either the visitor or the resident has not been vaccinated, proof of a negative COVID-19 test or an onsite test might be required for a nonsupervised masked visit. When visitor and resident are not vaccinated, proof of a negative COVID-19 test or an onsite test might be required for a masked, noncontact, supervised visit. Visitors will be required to complete essential care training the state will provide online that officials said would take about 15 minutes to complete. Still, Frye cautioned care home visitors to follow masking guidelines. Oklahoma does not have a statewide rule requiring face coverings, although some cities, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa, have mask mandates.
Portland: Beginning Friday, only two of Oregon’s 36 counties – Coos and Douglas – will remain in the “extreme risk” level category because of COVID-19 spread in the area. In addition, Multnomah County – the state’s most populous and home of Portland – will improve to the “moderate risk” tier, which allows for increased capacity in restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and stores. “We are largely seeing case rates decline across the state,” Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday, when she announced the updated risk levels. “This should serve as a reminder that when we follow the health and safety measures we know work against this virus, we can truly make a difference in infection spread.” Every two weeks, state epidemiologists assess the risk levels of each county, based on COVID-19 spread in the area, and assign safety measures and restrictions based on that level to decrease COVID-19 cases. Under the “extreme risk” level, generally, indoor dining, indoor exercise at gyms and indoor visits at long-term care facilities are prohibited among other restrictions. For a county to make it to a lower level, the counties with at least 30,0000 residents must have a COVID-19 case count less than 200 per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate less than 10%. The most recent data on the Oregon Health Authority’s website showed that Coos County, which is along the coast, reported 376 cases per 100,000 people. Douglas County, which borders Coos County, reported 243 cases per 100,000 people.
Albion:A COVID-19 outbreak at the State Correctional Institution at Albion has infected at least 242 inmates and eight employees. Two inmates have died from COVID-19 complications since the pandemic started. Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper reported the outbreak last week and said 1,100 test kits would be sent to the prison. Nearly 1,000 of the inmates were tested a few days ago, said Maria Bivens, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Of that group, 219 tested positive and 20 others are still awaiting results. Ninety-six inmates declined to be tested. Of the 242 inmates with active COVID-19 cases, 224 show no symptoms, Bivens said in an email. “All COVID positive cases were isolated and assessed by medical to determine the appropriate level of care,” Bivens said in the email when asked whether any inmates required hospitalization. Since SCI Albion inmates are considered county residents, the county’s number of reported cases rose dramatically Tuesday. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 179 new cases and a total of 17,875 cases since the pandemic started.
Providence: The Department of Health has reinstated the medical license of a doctor who investigators concluded had deliberately exposed his patients and staff to COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Farina Jr.’s license was suspended in January after state health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott determined that he presented a danger to the community for his “overall pattern of unprecedented willful misconduct.” His medical privileges were restored Feb. 23 without explanation, according to department records, The Providence Journal reported Tuesday. The Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline’s investigative committee recommended that Farina’s license be suspended after hearing testimony that he exposed staff and patients to COVID-19 after becoming symptomatic in November. Farina, through his attorney, denied the allegations and said he would never place patients in harm’s way. Farina, whose primary specialty is internal medicine, is listed as the director/president of six medical clinics in the state.
Columbia: The University of South Carolina said it intends to hold in-person commencement ceremonies in the spring. On Wednesday, the school announced graduation ceremonies would be held for spring 2021 bachelor’s, master’s and professional degree candidates between May 7-8 at Williams Brice Stadium. In addition, an in-person recognition ceremony for May and December 2020 graduates will take place on May 15 at the stadium, WCIV-TV reported. Each ceremony will require physical distancing between guests and mandatory face coverings. Each graduate will be allowed to have five guests attend. “We are excited to safely celebrate your accomplishments along with your families and loved ones,” said university President Bob Caslen. “We made this decision in consultation with our public health experts, and each ceremony will be conducted with the proper risk mitigation measures to ensure the safety of our graduates and guests.” More than 8,000 students will be graduating from across the entire university system this May.
Pierre: The Department of Health said the state is expanding the list of people eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. The remainder of individuals in the priority group D who are now eligible include teachers, child-care workers, college staff, college students and funeral workers. “Given South Dakota’s strong position on vaccination efforts and the increased points of access for vaccine distribution and administration, we are happy to fully open up Phase D starting (Wednesday),” Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said. “Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is a significant step in getting back to normal, and I encourage those eligible to schedule their vaccination today.” Health officials said South Dakota has been making significant progress moving down the list of vaccination priority groups. Those that have been eligible include health care workers, long-term care residents, emergency medical service workers, law enforcement, persons aged over 65, high-risk patients and those with underlying medical conditions. Health care providers have administered 262,250 doses of the vaccine. More than 86,000 people have received two doses.
Nashville: Bridgestone said Wednesday it will offer its 33,000 U.S. employees $100 payments to get vaccinated against COVID-19, joining a group of large companies offering incentives for the shots. The tire company is also exploring the possibility of similar programs for employees in Canada and Latin America, according to a news release. Bridgestone has its Americas headquarters in Nashville, with employees spread across the country at its tire and retread manufacturing facilities, research and development centers, and 2,200 company-owned tire and automotive service centers. Bridgestone said it is providing the payments to make it easier for employees to get vaccinated but is not requiring they be vaccinated. A number of other large companies have announced similar programs including Goodlettsville, Tennessee-based Dollar General, which said in January it would give its 157,000 employees the equivalent of four hours of pay if they get the vaccine.
Austin: Williamson County could receive $114.53 million from the federal government to help with recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, County Treasurer Scott Heselmeyer said Tuesday. The county still has $20 million left in CARES Act money it received in April. The county commissioners on Tuesday approved Heselmeyer’s plan to spend $10 million of it on grants to help food service businesses. Heselmeyer said one of the things the county could do with the money is to help smaller towns, “particularly in less affluent areas,” get more access to broadband to help remote workers and children doing schoolwork. There would be a four-year deadline to spend the money, he said. The county previously received $93 million in April 2020 from the federal CARES Act funding for coronavirus-related aid. Heselmeyer said he wanted the county to spend $10 million on grants to food service businesses, including restaurants and bars, because they were the ones most affected by the government’s orders to limit occupancy. Many of them could only cover their payroll expenses for a few months with the money they received from the federal paycheck protection program, Heselmeyer said.
Salt Lake City: All people in Utah age 18 and over will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine on April 1, the governor’s office said Wednesday. State officials expect to have 1.5 million doses by April 10, when Utah’s statewide mask order will be lifted, said Jennifer Napier-Pearce, spokeswoman for Gov. Spencer Cox. Mask orders will remain in place for schools and large gatherings. The announcement came a day after Alaska became the first state to allow anyone 16 or older who lives or works in the state to get vaccines. Utah also reported the first death of a child because of COVID-19 on Tuesday, saying a boy died in Salt Lake County. State officials declined to reveal his age, saying only that he was between 1 and 14. The boy’s death “is a tragic reminder that we must continue to be vigilant about public health precautions,” the state health department said in a statement.
Newport: The Department of Corrections said an outbreak of the coronavirus at the Newport prison appears to be slowing. The department reported six new cases of COVID-19 in inmates and two new staff cases at Northern State Correctional Facility on Monday. The outbreak started after a staff member and 21 inmates tested positive on Feb. 23. Now there are 115 inmates cases and 11 staff cases. Twenty inmates were cleared to leave medical isolation on Saturday, the department said. The prison has been in full lockdown since Feb. 25. More testing was done on Monday. “It’s encouraging to see lower numbers in this round of testing at NSCF, and we’re hopeful this means our mitigation efforts are slowing the spread,” Corrections Commissioner Jim Baker said in a written statement. Statewide, a total of 116 inmates and 14 staff were positive for the virus on Monday.
Richmond: Condolences poured in Tuesday from lawmakers and other elected officials after Virginia Capitol Police announced one of the agency’s most visible employees had died while undergoing treatment for COVID-19. Master Officer Woodrow W. “Buddy” Dowdy III, a 33-year veteran of the force, died Tuesday, the agency said in a news release. He was 60. Dowdy was a mainstay at what is known as Capitol Square’s Post 1, the entrance regarded as the park’s main entry way for vehicles and many pedestrians. “Pam and I are devastated by the passing of Virginia Capitol Police Master Officer Buddy Dowdy. One of the friendliest officers on Capitol Square, his warm demeanor will be deeply missed,” Gov. Ralph Northam tweeted. Dowdy had experienced a period of declining health and died while undergoing treatment for COVID-19 at a local hospital, according to the news release, which said he is survived by a wife and son. State Sen. David Suetterlein tweeted that Dowdy “truly was the face of Virginia’s Capitol.” “Tourists, hurried aides, students on field trips, legislators who just lost a tough vote, and the Governor himself could all count on Buddy for a kind word to brighten their day,” he said.
Seattle: The King County Council has approved $4-an-hour pay raises for grocery workers in unincorporated areas of the county while the coronavirus pandemic continues. The council voted 8-1 to pass the measure on Tuesday with only Councilmember Reagan Dunn voting in opposition. The legislation takes effect March 22 and will apply for workers at up to 10 stores. It will stay in place until the COVID-19 emergency declared by County Executive Dow Constantine ends. Independently owned stores in areas that are historically underserved will be exempt. “For the last year I have visited with, and thanked the checkers, stockers, butchers and deli workers at the grocery stores I shop. I have seen and heard their fatigue, and also their courage and dedication to their customers,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who drafted the legislation. “These extraordinary times call for governments like King County to respond with extraordinary help.” Dunn said grocery workers are essential but he didn’t think it was the county’s place to tell companies how much they should pay their workers, KING-TV reported. Similar pay raise laws have passed in Seattle and Burien. Several California cities including Berkeley have passed similar legislation in recent months. In response to Seattle’s legislation, Trader Joe’s raised pay, temporarily, for all its employees nationwide, while also canceling a much-smaller scheduled midyear raise. Kroger closed two California stores in response to similar legislation there.
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice said an estimated 168 coronavirus deaths went unreported, throwing into question the data that officials used to justify lifting pandemic restrictions. Justice said officials discovered that 70 facilities – mostly hospitals and nursing homes – did not report the deaths to the state’s health department. The Republican governor on Monday had heralded a sharp drop in COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the year, metrics health officials cited to support the governor easing restrictions on businesses. “This is absolutely not acceptable,” Justice said. “I’m really sorry.” Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state’s health officer, said officials are waiting to find out if there are more unreported deaths. She blamed it on facilities not filling out death reports online to the state’s health department in a timely matter. “We are trying to find a way to hold people more accountable and their feet to the fire, because we want numbers faster,” she said. “We do not want to have numbers like these again.” With the prior data, the state was ranked 33rd among states for most deaths per capita, according to Johns Hopkins. That could change once the unreported deaths are counted. The health department’s public data currently shows 2,330 total deaths – which does not include the 168. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations declined over the past two months, according to current state data, which led Justice to lift capacity restrictions on businesses and allow larger social gatherings last week. Amjad said the state has a list of all the facilities that had not reported deaths, which Justice said should be made public.
Madison: As of Tuesday, Wisconsin has administered 1,739,995 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, at an average rate of 20,471 doses per day. Supply is still limited and demand is high. State health officials have asked the public to be patient as they roll out the vaccine program in phases, starting with the front-line health care workers and nursing homes.Each week, the federal government informs states how much vaccine they will receive in the next few days. The doses are then distributed to entities like hospitals or local health departments that have been approved to be vaccinators. State health officials are required to set aside a portion of doses for assisted living facilities, whose vaccination program started in late January.
Cheyenne: Nine more COVID-19-related deaths among Wyoming residents who tested positive for the coronavirus have been confirmed, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Among Wyoming residents, there have now been 691 coronavirus-related deaths, 46,551 lab-confirmed cases and 8,421 probable cases reported since the pandemic began.