Montgomery: A different take on “Masks We Wear,” an original, contemporary piece that has previously offered a Mardi Gras flair, dances its way into downtown Saturday. Montgomery Ballet has a one-night performance at Commerce BeerWorks, as well as one a week later Feb. 27 in Pike Road at The Chapel at the Waters. Tickets for each are $50. “Masks We Wear in the Neighborhood” features choreography by the ballet’s artistic and executive director, Danny Mitsios, and music from composer Jake Pugh. For those who have seen previous “Masks We Wear” performances, Mitsios said this is a completely different ballet with new music, new storylines and new metaphors. “The idea is that this year, instead of the Mardi Gras party scene, we’re doing the masks that people wear in their neighborhoods,” Mitsios said. “Outside their house, they show one thing, but inside their house it’s a different story.” Tickets are on sale now at montgomeryballet.org but are limited because of coronavirus restrictions.
Juneau: The state had 24,100 fewer jobs in December than a year earlier amid economic repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the state labor department. Karinne Wiebold, a department economist, said there weren’t many bright spots to glean from the December jobs report. “One possible glimmer is that we think oil and gas employment has bottomed out, so while the year over year losses are still steep, it should not get much worse,” she said by email. That sector reported about 6,800 jobs in both November and December, but the department said there was no sign of a “bounce.” Leisure and hospitality recorded the largest losses, with much of the December drop attributed to bar and restaurant restrictions in Anchorage aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, the department said. The sector had 8,600 fewer jobs than in December 2019, according to the labor department report. State government gained 500 jobs in December, compared to a year earlier, primarily due to pandemic-related hires, such as contact tracers and additional staff to help process unemployment insurance claims, the department said.
Luke Air Force Base: As production of the COVID-19 vaccine ramps up, the next focus for officials needs to be ensuring people want to get the shot, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly said Tuesday. The recently elected Democrat said he’s working to boost vaccine supplies in the state, making a case to the White House that Arizona’s population swells in the winter with snowbirds. The state has made it past early problems with vaccine distribution, which led to thousands of doses waiting in freezers, and the issue now is there aren’t enough doses available to meet the demand, Kelly told reporters during a stop in the West Valley. “We built the distribution system. Now we’ve got a supply problem,” Kelly said. “What’s probably coming next is we’re going to have a customer problem.” Surveys indicate that not enough people are interested in being vaccinated, he said. “So at some point down the road here we’ve got to look ahead to this. We’ve got to convince people to show up and get vaccinated and get their families vaccinated when it’s available to them,” Kelly said.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson lifted some restrictions Tuesday on smaller indoor events and school sports as the state’s coronavirus cases continued trending downward and as vaccine distribution ramps up. Arkansas reported 177 new cases of the virus Tuesday, but testing was greatly decreased because of winter weather that hit the entire state a day earlier, Hutchinson said. But beyond the weather-related decreases, Arkansas’ rolling average of daily new cases over the past two weeks has dropped by nearly 50%, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. On Tuesday, the Republican governor lifted a temporary restriction that required any indoor event of 10 people or more to obtain state approval in advance. Indoor events with 100 people or more still require approval under restrictions put in place last fall. Planning smaller events such as weddings would be simpler now, the governor said. “This is not opening up the Wild West,” Hutchinson said. “It’s not acting without department approval on major events.” Also Tuesday, the governor lifted a restriction that prohibited schools from holding sports competitions with more than two teams.
Los Angeles: The state is moving toward easing restrictions on businesses now that it has emerged from the deadliest surge of the pandemic and is seeing rapid declines in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. “The good news: Parts of the state are already beginning to open back up,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday, adding that he expects to allow more counties to reopen next week. The governor spoke at the site of a new federally supported mass vaccination site in Los Angeles, which opened Tuesday along with a similar facility in Oakland. The two locations are expected to get about 6,000 doses of vaccine a day and are intended to vaccinate people in communities hit hard by the pandemic. About 3.5% of people being tested for coronavirus are getting back positive results, Newsom said, a rate that’s dropped precipitously in recent weeks. The numbers of people in hospitals and intensive care units and case rates are declining – all factors in determining when counties can begin further reopening. Meanwhile, California got about 1.08 million vaccine doses from the federal government this week, the governor said. The state expects 1.28 million doses next week and 1.31 million after that. The slow increase in supply continues to frustrate local and state officials.
Woodland Park: The mayor has died weeks after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, officials said. Woodland Park Mayor Pro Tem Hilary LaBarre said Tuesday that Val Carr, who was less than a year into his mayoral term, had been battling COVID-19 for about two months, The Gazette reports. He was 71. LaBarre said he had been hospitalized in Colorado Springs. Carr, who was a fixture in the Woodland Park community for more than 20 years, was elected mayor in April. He served on the City Council for four years before winning the election. “He also served as a volunteer on many boards,” LaBarre said. “He loved Woodland Park.” Residents and acquaintances left messages of sorrow and condolence on social media after the announcement. LaBarre said Woodland Park will remember his dedication to public service. “And he had a great sense of humor,” she said. Carr is survived by his wife, Sherry.
Hartford: Essential workers, including teachers, and people with underlying medical conditions should learn in about 10 days when they can begin making their COVID-19 vaccination appointments, Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday. The state is finalizing plans for the next stage of Phase 1b as vaccinations continue for people 65 years and older. So far, 66% of people 75 years and older and 23% of people 65 to 75 have gotten at least one dose. “The hospitals are going to be thinking about calling out their patients who have a particular need, get them in, get them prioritized in terms of getting vaccinated,” the Democrat told reporters. Josh Geballe, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said Connecticut has been trying to phase in groups of people to avoid problems seen in neighboring states, such as people driving hours to get a shot because they can’t find closer appointments through official channels. “Some other states have thrown a lot more people into the eligibility pile at once. But there’s a big difference between being eligible and actually having appointments to be able to get vaccine. So what we’ve tried to do is really prioritize and phase it in,” he said.
Dover: State officials are partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to open a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site for six days beginning Saturday. Officials said FEMA will provide resources, staffing and operational support at the vaccination site at Dover International Speedway. State officials requested federal assistance to establish a vaccination site to provide second doses of vaccine to up to 3,000 Delawareans a day. The second-dose appointments will be available only for those who received first doses at one of four state-run mass vaccination events last month. On arrival at the site, people will have to provide confirmation of their appointments and vaccination card with proof of their first COVID-19 vaccine shot. Public health officials will initially schedule appointments for the first five days, Feb. 20-24, and will open the sixth day as needed. A spokeswoman for the Division of Public Health said the state has reserved doses specifically for the FEMA events. Delaware’s vaccine website showed about 7,500 doses remaining as of Tuesday afternoon. Officials said nearly 16,000 of the roughly 30,000 doses allocated to Delaware this week will be distributed for first-dose administration.
District of Columbia
Washington: Mayor Muriel Bowser signed an executive order Wednesday to declare gun violence a public health crisis following the rise in shootings in the city, WUSA-TV reports. The new order comes as recent data shows D.C.’s gun violence led to 922 people shot and 198 homicides in 2020. As of Wednesday, homicides are up by 14% compared to this time last year. Of those killed in shootings, Bowser said data shows 95% of the victims were Black, with an increase in the number of female and juvenile victims. The district will make a $50 million donation to jump-start an initiative with the Building Blocks D.C. organization, a citywide effort to reduce gun violence. The organization plans to partner with community members to help residents affected by gun violence with housing, employment and support within their communities. The strategy is to use block-by-block analysis and data to help communities that have a gun violence problem, launching first in Anacostia. According to Bowser’s violence prevention presentation, 151 city blocks represent about 2% of all the blocks in the district but comprise 41% of violent offenses with shots fired.
Tallahassee: Restaurants would be able to sell alcohol for takeout and delivery under a bill approved by a state Senate committee Tuesday that would would make permanent a suspension of rules that the governor allowed during the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order last year allowing alcohol to go to help restaurants that were losing business as people stayed home and capacity restrictions were enforced. While DeSantis has since lifted capacity limits, he has expressed support for allowing the businesses to continue takeout and delivery of cocktails, wine and beer. The Senate Regulated Industries Committee unanimously approved Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley’s bill. “COVID-19 has created a tremendous stress on the restaurant industry,” Bradley said. “The current executive order has been a lifeline. It has helped restaurants accomplish a goal of being successful while also providing a convenience for consumers.” The bill would limit to-go alcohol to restaurants whose sales are at least 51% food. Containers would have to be sealed and placed in a locked compartment or the backseat of a vehicle out of a driver’s reach.
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp faces a renewed political battle over his plan to revamp Medicaid in the state after President Joe Biden’s administration put the proposal on hold a few months after it had won approval under Donald Trump. Georgia officials got word from the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Friday that the status of the state’s plan had been shifted from “approved” to “pending.” Elizabeth Richter, the agency’s acting administrator, said in a letter that the plan’s eligibility requirement that recipients work or perform some related activity, such as attending college full time, would be “unreasonably difficult or impossible” to meet during the pandemic. In a statement Monday, Kemp’s office accused Biden of attempting to “take away healthcare options for low-income Georgians hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Kemp and fellow Republicans have touted their Medicaid proposal, called Georgia Pathways, as a more narrowly tailored, fiscally responsible alternative to a full expansion of Medicaid services under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats have criticized Kemp’s plan for doing too little, saying it would leave at least 350,000 adults uninsured because they don’t meet the threshold requirements.
Wailuku: The state Department of Health said suicide rates decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with previous years. Data for 2020 provided by the department did not indicate a significant connection between suicide and the pandemic, The Maui News reports. The average number of deaths by suicide was higher in February, just before the pandemic hit, and lowest in April, June, September and December, the department reported. “(The) conclusion was no apparent increase in deaths by suicide in 2020 compared to previous years, in any county,” said Dr. Dan Galanis, a state epidemiologist in the health department’s Injury Prevention Branch. It’s possible that economic hardship was reduced by temporary state and federal assistance, such as unemployment benefit extensions, business loans and a ban on evictions. But financial or employment issues are not commonly documented as suicide triggers, Galanis said. Preliminary data shows there were 124 suicides from April through December 2020 – lower than the 150 suicides in the same nine-month periods from 2015 to 2019 and the 138 suicides in those months from 2010 to 2014, the health department said. However, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34 last year, the state said.
Boise: Lawmakers passed legislation Tuesday to trim a governor’s powers and increase their own during declared emergencies such as the pandemic. The state House voted 49-20 to send to the Senate the legislation spurred by anger with Republican Gov. Brad Little’s response to the pandemic and lawmakers’ frustration with their inability to do anything about restrictions he imposed. The vote total is notable because it’s enough to overcome a potential veto by Little. “This provides clarity, and it provides protections, and it allows the state to respond to emergencies,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jason Monks, assistant majority leader. Little issued a temporary stay-at-home order in late March as COVID-19 patients overwhelmed some hospitals and as health care workers became sick. Health care facilities feared running out of protective equipment. The lockdown allowed the situation to stabilize and the state to bring in masks and other equipment. But the restrictions angered lawmakers, as did the classification of some workers as “nonessential” and the banning of gatherings, particularly at churches, that had the possibility of turning into super-spreader events. All restrictions are currently lifted, though the governor recommends limiting gatherings to 50 or less.
Springfield: The area’s first mass vaccination site to inoculate against COVID-19 opened Wednesday on the Illinois State Fairgrounds for people 65 and older and others in the state’s high-priority groups. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office confirmed that the Illinois National Guard would work with the Sangamon County Department of Public Health to operate the appointment-only site inside the Orr Building on the fairground for the foreseeable future. Appointments for an initial 600 doses per day were available for people in the state’s 1A and 1B priority categories, which include people 65 and older and people younger than 65 who serve as “essential workers” in places such as grocery stores and factories. Vaccine recipients don’t have to live or work in Sangamon County, and appointments can be made by calling 217-210-8801 or going online at scdph.org, according to state officials. The Springfield site is one of three new mass vaccination sites opening this week as part of the state’s effort to build capacity. The other two mass vaccination sites are at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and at the Carbondale Civic Center.
Indianapolis: With the state’s rates of new coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths continuing a steep decline after peaking in early December, health officials have lowered the risk level for COVID-19 spread in more counties. The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported 933 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of Hoosiers known to have the virus up to 651,453. Health officials also added 20 recent coronavirus deaths to the statewide total, pushing it to 12,250 fatalities including both confirmed and presumed COVID-19 infections. The health department reported 955 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday at Indiana’s hospitals. That marks the first time since Oct. 4 that fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 patients were recorded. The state Department of Health’s weekly tracking map updated Wednesday labeled no counties in the highest-risk red category for the first time since late September. That is down from 73 of the 92 counties in that category last month. This week’s map lists eight counties in the next-riskiest orange category, a drop from 40 one week earlier.
Des Moines: Republicans in the state Senate advanced a bill Tuesday that would broaden exemptions for childhood vaccinations, forbid Iowa employers from requiring their employees to be vaccinated and provide other protections for people who decline to be vaccinated. The bill passed through a Senate subcommittee after more than 90 minutes of testimony, with Republican Sens. Jim Carlin of Sioux City and Mark Costello of Imogene supporting it and Democratic Sen. Pam Jochum of Dubuque opposed. It is now eligible for consideration by the full Senate Human Resources Committee, although the GOP senators suggested parts of the measure could be rewritten. Carlin, one of the bill’s sponsors, said he wants to balance concerns about public health and safety with the interests of people who want the freedom to refuse vaccinations. Parts of the subcommittee hearing, held via a Zoom call, focused on the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer, which Iowans are lining up to receive as more supplies become available. But at other times, Carlin, who chaired the subcommittee, asked public health professionals on the call questions about vaccine safety. Several medical professionals and public health experts said vaccines are generally safe and “lifesaving.”
Topeka: The state is likely to have pockets of a new, more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, and public health officials believe it could become the state’s dominant strain, the head of the state health department said Tuesday. Dr. Lee Norman also said winter weather across the central and eastern U.S. has created a “brief speed bump” in the second phase of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Norman said the shipment of some vaccine doses from the federal government has been delayed a few days, and below-zero temperatures prompted the Shawnee County health department to cancel a vaccination clinic. The first recorded Kansas case of the U.K. coronavirus variant was in Ellis County earlier this month, infecting a student-athlete at Fort Hays State University “who never was particularly very ill,” Norman said. The state health department said Monday that a second case had been identified in Sedgwick County, home to Wichita, and Norman said the person infected was a “young man” who had traveled out of state. “We are getting the feeling that it will become a dominant strain because it is more infectious,” he said during an online briefing with University of Kansas Health System officials. “I’m sure there’s going to be pockets of spread in local regions.”
Frankfort: Bourbon tourism slowed to a trickle last year as the pandemic led to the first drop-off in visitors in more than two decades. Total attendance at Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries plummeted in 2020 amid coronavirus-related restrictions, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association said Tuesday. Visitors took a total of 587,307 tours last year at distilleries located along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and included in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, down 66% from 2019, when stops topped 1.7 million, KDA said. Kentucky Bourbon Trail attendance surged by 315% from 2009 through 2019, with more than 70% of visitors coming from outside the state, the trade group said. Until the pandemic hit, total attendance had never dropped in the tour’s 21-year history. “Bourbon has become not just a drink, but a culture, a lifestyle and a main economic and tourism driver,” said Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory. “All that suffered under COVID.” Bourbon is an $8.6 billion industry in Kentucky, where 95% of the world’s bourbon supply is crafted, according to the association. Distillery tours in Kentucky closed under government orders from March through June, Gregory said. Several distilleries are still closed for tours, while others reopened with sharply reduced capacity, he said.
New Orleans: Music blared from the courtyard of a French Quarter restaurant with nobody there to hear it for much of Mardi Gras morning. Coronavirus-related restrictions in the city included canceled parades, closed bars and a near-shutdown of rowdy Bourbon Street. That and unusually frigid weather prevented what New Orleans usually craves at the end of Mardi Gras season: streets and businesses jam-packed with revelers. To be sure, some hardy lovers of the season braved the cold. Knots of people, some in costume and some carrying cups of hot coffee – sales of alcohol to go were prohibited – wandered the French Quarter. On St. Charles Avenue, houses decked out as stationary “house floats” with giant mythical figures, circus animals or dinosaurs drew handfuls of people snapping photographs. WDSU-TV captured a group of Mardi Gras Indians – African American organizations that for generations marched in brilliantly hued hand-beaded and feathered costumes – on a brief march through one neighborhood. And satire survived. A group of masked revelers in one neighborhood, poking fun at the tight restrictions, pulled around a giant voodoo doll with Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s face and dubbed her “Queen Destroya.”
Portland: The state’s attorney general has issued a warning to health care providers against administering COVID-19 vaccines to ineligible people. Attorney General Aaron Frey said Tuesday that he issued the advisory in response to reports of improper administration of vaccines. Officials including Democratic Gov. Janet Mills recently chastised MaineHealth for providing vaccinations to out-of-state consultants hired to fight an effort to unionize nurses. MaineHealth has called its decision to vaccinate the consultants a mistake. Frey said providers are required to follow the state’s protocols about who is eligible for doses. Maine is still in an early stage of rolling out vaccines and is focusing on older residents and health care providers. “The Office of the Maine Attorney General will consider seeking legal and administrative sanctions against providers who administer the COVID-19 vaccine to persons who do not meet applicable eligibility criteria,” Frey said. He said providers who ignore the state’s protocols risk hurting the public trust in the response to the pandemic.
Annapolis: Proposed legislation would allow deductions of up to $1,000 from state income tax for donations of diapers or feminine products to a qualified charitable organization starting in tax year 2021. The coronavirus pandemic has brought a heightened demand for diapers and feminine hygiene products, which are typically the first items to be out of stock at distribution centers, advocates said. Anyone will be able to claim up to $1,000 against their Maryland income tax if they donate or give money for these specific items, according to the bill. Del. Dana Jones, D-Anne Arundel, the legislation’s House sponsor, believes adding the monetary incentive will raise awareness of hygiene inequity and urge people to donate. “I do think this is the best way to engage and bring awareness, as well as encourage people to give,” Jones told Capital News Service. The Maryland Diaper Bank, founded by Shelly Tucker, is a nonprofit that works with at least 10 partnering organizations, delivering diapers to local communities. The pandemic has increased the demand for diapers by about 400%, Tucker told Capital News Service.
Boston: Residents 65 and older can now begin booking appointments for COVID-19 vaccines, state health officials said Wednesday. People with two or more serious medical conditions, including asthma, can also start booking appointments. Both groups can start receiving shots beginning Thursday. The expansion means an additional nearly 1 million Massachusetts residents are newly eligible for vaccine shots. With high demand for appointments and limited vaccine supply, it could take more than a month for all eligible individuals to get an appointment unless federal supply significantly increases, state health officials said. Massachusetts has been receiving approximately 110,000 first doses per week from the federal government. The state has created a COVID-19 vaccine finder website to help residents locate and book appointments. Besides asthma, other serious medical conditions include cancer; COPD; Down syndrome; heart conditions like heart failure and coronary artery disease; immunocompromised state from solid organ transplant; obesity; pregnancy; sickle cell disease; smoking; and type 2 diabetes. Those who can’t book an appointment via the internet can call 211 for appointments.
Ionia: Ninety cases of a coronavirus variant believed to be more contagious have been found in inmates and staff at a western Michigan prison, and dozens of test results are pending, officials said. Daily testing began at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility, in Ionia, after a prison employee was found to have the B.1.1.7 variant, which first emerged in the United Kingdom, officials said. Testing on 95 people found that 90 individuals – 88 of them inmates – had the variant, with the two other cases among prison employees, Michigan State Police announced Tuesday. Results are pending on more than 100 lab tests conducted on others at the prison. Michigan has 67 other cases of the B.1.1.7. virus variant. The state’s 157 cases rank it third nationally for the most cases of that variant, behind Florida’s 379 cases and California’s 168 cases, The Detroit News reports. There are 1,173 cases of the variant known in 40 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Minneapolis: Citing progress on the vaccination front, Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday announced plans to let more middle and high school students return the classroom for in-person learning as early as Monday. Elementary schools are already allowed to open with proper safety precautions in place. Under the governor’s updated plan, all middle and high school students could return to their schools for hybrid or in-person learning starting Monday if safety protocols are in place, while he expects all schools to offer their students some form of in-person learning by March 8. Key decisions would be up to school districts. Families could still choose distance learning as an option. “It’s time for students to be back in the classroom,” Walz said in a statement. “We aren’t out of the woods, but our relentless progress with vaccines and Minnesotans’ vigilance has put us closer than ever to the end of this pandemic.” The governor’s statement said nearly 25% of teachers have now been vaccinated against COVID-19, while other important trends are also improving. Republicans called on Walz to simply let schools reopen immediately. Rep. Ron Kresha, of Little Falls, said the governor’s own data shows only minimal infection rates for teachers who’ve returned.
Oxford: A festival that usually attracts thousands of people is being canceled for the second year in a row because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Double Decker Arts Festival usually takes place in downtown Oxford on the final weekend of April. Visit Oxford announced the festival’s cancellation Tuesday. The executive director of the tourism promotion group, Kinney Ferris, told The Oxford Eagle that an executive order from Gov. Tate Reeves limits the size of gatherings. “While we know that these executive orders and restrictions may change between now and April 23, we don’t feel that there will be enough of a shift to allow us to host an event of this magnitude safely,” Ferris said. “We do feel it is best to support other events throughout the community that are of a smaller scale that can promote our unique food, music and arts scene.”
O’Fallon: Rural counties are both the most and least successful at getting COVID-19 vaccines into residents’ arms, according to data from the state’s coronavirus dashboard Wednesday. Shelby County, with just 6,400 residents in a remote area of northeast Missouri, has provided at least one dose of vaccine to 20.7% of residents. Atchison County, with just under 6,000 residents in Missouri’s far northwestern corner, has vaccinated 20.2% of residents, followed by Worth County at 18.2%. Among the top 15 counties for vaccinations, just one – Cape Girardeau County – has more than 50,000 residents. It’s tied for fourth with Gasconade County, where 17% of residents have received a dose. Pulaski County, which is home to Fort Leonard Wood and has 52,000 residents, has the lowest vaccination rate at just 4.2%, followed by other outstate counties – Newton at 4.4%, McDonald at 4.7%, Crawford at 5.2% and Pemiscot at 5.5%. Overall, 10.6% of Missourians have received at least one dose, and data shows the two urban areas lag behind. Some St. Louis-area leaders have raised concerns that the region is not getting its fair share of vaccine, prompting an angry rebuke from Gov. Mike Parson.
Browning: Blackfeet Community College is offering a free online Piikani language course to revitalize and preserve Blackfoot language and culture. The course, which is open to the public, will provide an introduction to the language, culture and philosophy of the Piikani people, according to a Facebook post from the college. The class will be taught by Leonard Bastein-Weasel Traveller, a language scholar and esteemed elder. During the 1800s and 1900s, Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they were physically and emotionally abused for speaking their Indigenous languages. While many people stopped speaking Native languages, tribal elders today preserve this knowledge, which, in many cases, is not written down. But COVID-19 has put elders – and their knowledge – at risk because older people are particularly vulnerable to complications from the respiratory illness. College President Karla Bird called the moment a “critical time for the Blackfeet Nation as COVID-19 has posed a direct threat to our people, language and culture” but also said it’s “a revolutionary time, where technology is helping the Blackfoot nation to connect across landscapes.”
Lincoln: The state is likely to receive more than 60,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week. The state Department of Health and Human Services said it expects to receive 59,450 doses of the vaccines this week as officials continue to focus on vaccinating everyone 65 and older across Nebraska. It’s not yet clear how many doses will be allocated this week to a new federal program that is distributing some shots through select Walmart stores and community pharmacies. Last week, that program received 5,700 doses of the vaccines. The state said nearly 200,000 Nebraskans so far have registered to be notified when they are eligible to receive the vaccine. Nebraska officials estimate 6.5% of the state’s population has received both required doses. Nebraska reported 299 new coronavirus cases and 14 deaths Tuesday to give the state 197,746 cases and 2,018 deaths since the pandemic began. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska decreased over the past two weeks, going from 520.57 new cases per day Feb. 2 to 468.14 new cases per day Tuesday.
Carson City: A crowd of teachers rallied Monday at the Legislature for lawmakers to find new revenue streams to help fund schools – regardless of the pandemic and the state’s budget problems. Schools are open for in-person learning in 16 of Nevada’s 17 counties. The Clark County School District remains closed. Meanwhile, the Legislature has been closed to the public since it reconvened Feb. 1. Last week, lawmakers approved $477 million in emergency relief for elementary and secondary schools from federal coronavirus aid. Nevada State Education Association President Brian Rippet said the funding would help during the pandemic but not solve the long-term problems facing students and teachers from lack of funding. “We are seeing a downturn with state revenue from the pandemic. But the fear is that the legislators are hiding behind that as a way to just kick the ball down the road again,” said Rippet, a science teacher. Teachers say the pandemic has added strain to school social workers and mental health support staff trying to help students cope with deaths in the family, economic anxiety and social isolation. Large class sizes make the logistics of returning to in-person learning difficult, and enforcing mask mandates has added additional work for teachers trying to be as effective as they were before the pandemic, teachers say.
Concord: Plymouth State University is the latest higher education institution in the Granite State to go back to online classes because of a growing number of student COVID-19 cases. The university said Tuesday that it has just about run out of quarantine and isolation space. All campus events, including athletic competitions, have been canceled, and all gatherings have been limited to no more than six people. On-campus dining services are limited to takeout only, and on-campus students may not visit residence halls where they don’t live. All restrictions are in place until at least Sunday. The University of New Hampshire, which enacted similar restrictions due to a spike in cases there, reported 428 infected students Tuesday and five faculty or staff. Nearly 630 others were under quarantine.
Trenton: Businesses with 100 or fewer workers can get a 65% discount on personal protective equipment starting Tuesday through a state development authority program. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority said in a statement that state-based companies with 100 or fewer employees can get the equipment at reduced cost by applying online at ppe.covid19.nj.gov. The discount program has a cap of $800 for all eligible businesses and $1,000 for businesses in one of the state’s 715 census tracts designated as Opportunity Zones. The authority first offered the discount program last year and brought it back this year, declaring 2020’s efforts a “success,” according to CEO Tim Sullivan. The authority, an independent state organization whose top leadership is appointed by the governor, runs programs aimed at boosting the state’s economy, including through partnerships, loans and tax credits.
Albuquerque: The world’s largest powwow has been canceled for a second consecutive year because of the pandemic. The Albuquerque Journal reports the Gathering of Nations Powwow, typically held in Albuquerque, will be entirely online. Gathering of Nations founder Derek Mathews said organizers can’t hold the live event until the state opens up for large gatherings. He was told the powwow likely won’t be possible until April 2022. He also said it wouldn’t be right to risk people’s safety, especially considering how COVID-19 has devastated tribal communities. Normally each spring a string of powwows hosted by Native American tribes and universities would be underway across the U.S., with tribal members honoring and showcasing their cultures through dancing and singing in traditional regalia. In 2019, the Gathering of Nations Powwow drew about 91,000 people from across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It also led to an economic impact of $22 million for Albuquerque. The virtual powwow will be held April 23-24 with dance performances and competitions livestreamed from various places.
Albany: The state is suing Amazon, claiming the company failed to provide workers with a safe environment at two warehouses in New York as COVID-19 infections surged nationwide. The suit from New York Attorney General Letitia James landed just days after Amazon preemptively sued to block the suit over its coronavirus safety protocols and the firing of one of its employees who objected to working conditions. In the suit filed late Tuesday, New York claims Amazon showed a “flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements” and retaliated illegally against employees who raised alarms. James opened an investigation into Amazon in March following complaints about the lack of precautions taken to protect employees amid the pandemic. The investigation concentrated on two facilities – one in Staten Island and one in Queens – with a combined workforce of more than 5,000 people. At the time of the complaints, New York City was the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic. The investigation found evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law with respect to cleaning and disinfection protocols, contact tracing, and allowing employees to take precautions to protect themselves from the risk of infection.
Raleigh: Children who have struggled to adapt to virtual learning during the pandemic would be greatly helped by a summer school program designed to target K-12 students at risk of academic failure, House Speaker Tim Moore said Tuesday while unveiling the proposal. Moore and other House Republicans are backing legislation that would require each local district to offer the in-person, six-week “school extension learning recovery and enrichment program.” Teachers and other staff who want to work in the summer would be hired temporarily beyond their usual school-year contracts. At-risk students who have fared poorly on year-end tests would get priority seating in the program, although enrollment would not be mandatory. Other students could participate if there is capacity, but Moore said he anticipates there will be instruction for any student whose parent wants it – he cited $1.6 billion in additional federal funds that were approved last week and are being distributed to districts to address COVID-19 challenges. “There’s a lot of children who are going to be getting tested, and they’re not going to be at grade level,” said Moore, R-Cleveland County.
Bismarck: The North Dakota Department of Health on Wednesday announced that a new variant strain of the coronavirus first detected in the United Kingdom was identified by genomic sequencing in positive specimens from two individuals in the state. Both cases were identified by the NDDoH Public Health Laboratory, with the results confirmed Tuesday. One individual had recently returned from domestic travel before becoming ill, and the second was a close contact of the first. Both were interviewed by contact tracers at the time their initial positive results were received, and close contacts were identified. One additional case is suspected to be the U.K. variant and is under investigation. “This variant strain is thought to be more contagious, which reinforces the importance of continuing to wear a mask, physical distancing, staying home when you’re sick, getting tested, and quarantining when you’ve been exposed to someone who has tested positive,” said Kirby Kruger, disease control director for the NDDoH. “Getting the vaccine when it’s your turn is another great way to prevent the spread of the variant strain.” Preliminary studies have indicated the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are effective against the U.K. variant.
Columbus: Although many nursing homes continue to accept new residents, the state’s two homes for veterans still aren’t accepting additional patients nearly a year after the coronavirus pandemic first hit the state. The waiting list for the veterans home in Georgetown in southern Ohio stands at 43 for both nursing home and memory care residents, with less than half of its 168 beds currently filled. The waiting list is 88 at the home in Sandusky for nursing home residents and 30 for the independent living unit. About two-thirds of Sandusky’s 633 beds are filled. Occupancy rates were above 90% pre-pandemic. The decision to stop accepting new residents last March was safety-related, said Jeff Rapp, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Veterans Services. The agency reduced entry points to the facilities, added screening for everyone who enters, improved air flow, and reconfigured some areas to create quarantine units for symptomatic COVID-19 patients, among other measures. The Sandusky facility has seen 157 cases and 44 confirmed and probable deaths, with 82 cases and 17 deaths at the Georgetown facility. Veterans Services is looking at the possibility of allowing new admissions again with nearly all residents having had at least one vaccine dose and both facilities now free of COVID-19 cases, Rapp said.
Oklahoma City: Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne spent much of March 11, 2020, enveloped in one of his signature “Space Bubbles” and walking across an Oklahoma field to film a music video. On March 11, 2021, he’ll be back in his oversized inflatable orb, as will his bandmates and a few hundred of their fans. “It’ll be exactly a year on March 11. That was the night that, you know, the Thunder game (that was canceled) happened here, and Tom Hanks announced that he had (COVID-19). … The very next day, on March 12, we went into quarantine,” Coyne recalled. After pulling off “the World’s First Space Bubble Concerts” in January in Oklahoma City, the Flaming Lips will be back in their individual plastic spheres as the art-rockers roll their distinctly socially distanced concert concept into spring. It’s adapted from a signature spectacle at the Lips’ famously spectacular concerts: Coyne rolling through cheering crowds in a giant, clear Space Bubble. In the pandemic-era shows, each Space Bubble accommodates up to three people. Helpers in the audience assist fans who need to go to the bathroom or want a blast of cool air courtesy of a leaf blower – which they can indicate with signs – and the orbs are cleaned between shows with sanitizing fog.
Portland: About a dozen police officers guarded dumpsters filled with perishable food outside a Fred Meyer on Tuesday as people attempted to take items that were discarded when the store lost power. The Oregonian/Oregon Live reports employees threw out thousands of items that were deemed no longer safe for consumption because the store was one of many that lost power following a weekend winter storm. In a statement sent to KOIN, Fred Meyer said the food was thrown away “out of an abundance of caution.” The Oregon Health Authority also has requirements for licensed facilities during a power outage in order to prevent foodborne illnesses. Images on social media showed piles of unopened packaged meat, cheese and juice in the store’s dumpsters. “We appreciate people speaking out against hunger. We get it, throwing away food is never a good thing,” the Fred Meyer statement said. “Unfortunately, some perishable food that requires refrigeration at our Hollywood store was out of temperature for a protracted period of time.” People at the scene said police threatened to arrest them for trespassing. Eventually, officers left the area, and people jumped into the dumpsters to take items.
Roaring Springs: A paper mill that has been operating since 1866 will be closing its doors, idling nearly 300 workers, and cited the coronavirus pandemic as a key factor. The (Altoona) Mirror reports Appvion Inc. officials announced Monday that the company’s Spring Mill will be shutting down this spring, affecting 293 workers. Stephen McKnight, president and chief executive officer of Altoona Blair County Development Corp, said the company has confirmed it will cease operations in late March or April. He said the news would be “devastating” for the local workforce and the community in the best economic times, but in the current global climate, “it’s even worse.” “We are shocked and simply at a loss by this sudden announcement,” McKnight said. He said company officials told him that the pandemic and ensuing restrictions had “wreaked havoc in an already volatile and competitive carbonless paper market.” Mitchell Becker, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 10-00422, said the plant employs 243 hourly and 50 salaried employees. He said he had worked there for a quarter-century, and “this is not the way I wanted to end up my papermaking career.”
Providence: The state on Wednesday started taking appointments for eligible residents 75 and older to get COVID-19 vaccines at one of two mass vaccination sites scheduled to open this week. The state-run sites at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence and the former Citizens Bank headquarters in Cranston are scheduled to open Thursday, state Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said. The state also announced that starting Monday, residents 65 and older can make an appointment, either online or by phone in English or Spanish. Shots are available at first on a first-come, first-served basis. No walkups will be accepted. The Providence site will have an initial capacity to administer 500 shots per day, while the Cranston site will be able to give 900 daily shots at first. Rhode Island’s vaccine rollout has been consistently ranked as one of the slowest in the nation, but state officials have blamed a limited vaccine supply and the state’s targeted approach to first inoculate health care workers, along with residents and workers at nursing homes. That has led to a 46% decrease in hospitalizations in the state in the past month, compared to 32% nationally, the department said.
Columbia: Lawmakers agreed Tuesday to spend up to $208 million to bolster vaccination efforts across the state. The House approved a plan to put the money toward the costs of administering vaccines and testing, personal protective equipment and other expenses associated with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The relief proposal would also establish a vaccine allocation plan statewide, directing the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to distribute supplies across the state’s four regions. Those allocations would be on a per capita basis, with consideration for factors including age and poverty. Gov. Henry McMaster intends to sign the bill, according to a spokesman from the governor’s office. The bill would send $63 million to the Department of Health and Environmental Control and $45 million to the Medical University of South Carolina. Another $100 million would be placed in a reserve account to help hospitals and other vaccine providers offset costs. Lawmakers are also considering other measures to improve or otherwise alter the state’s vaccine plan, including a hotly debated proposal to inoculate teachers even though the state is still short on vaccine supplies for seniors.
Sioux Falls: The state Department of Health will be lowering the age for COVID-19 vaccinations to those who are 65 and over, officials said Wednesday. Health officials said those who qualify in that age bracket should be eligible for shots beginning Monday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports South Dakota has received more than 189,000 doses of vaccine and administered nearly 163,000 of those, or about 18,500 doses per 100,000 people. That is one of the top rates in the country, according to the CDC. About 16% of South Dakota’s population has received at least one dose, and more than 7% has received two shots, according to state figures. South Dakota’s weekly federal vaccine allocation will increase next week by nearly 14%, to 17,660 doses., state health officials said. That does not include doses targeted to Veterans Affairs and Indian Health Services. The state reported 92 new coronavirus cases in the past day, increasing the total number to 110,685 since the start of the pandemic. The death toll remained unchanged at 1,844. Hospitalizations fell by three, to 94.
Nashville: The state is expanding eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations to teachers, as well as people at least 65 years old, beginning Monday. Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey announced the change in a virtual news conference Tuesday, noting some counties have already begun vaccinating those groups. She said some of the larger metro areas are moving slower on vaccinating their populations. With vaccines allocated by population, Piercey said some rural counties have a much lower rate of people wanting shots and are developing a surplus. Asked why the state doesn’t allocate some of the unwanted vaccine to the urban areas, she noted that Tennessee’s distribution plan was named one of the most equitable by former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and former Vice President Mike Pence. In addition to the expanded age-based eligibility, people in the 1b priority phase become eligible Monday. That includes K-12 teachers and child care workers. Dispatchers and administrative personnel at first responder agencies are also included, as are airfield operations personnel, including air traffic controllers. The state is also working to make scheduling easier and rolled out an online scheduling platform Monday to schedule vaccinations at county health clinics.
Austin: The state reported 52 more deaths Tuesday from the coronavirus, but COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to fall. The Texas Department of State Health Services said the state’s COVID-19 deaths now total 40,645. The state’s confirmed and probable coronavirus cases rose by 3,735 to 2,567,297, an estimated 250,233 of which are active. Of those, 7,661 required hospitalization as of Monday, the most recent total made available by the state. That was down from 7,824 the day before and continued a downward trend. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases in Texas has fallen by 11,391, a decrease of 55.7%, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, vaccination efforts have been halted across most of the state by a rare winter storm that brought frigid temperatures, snow and widespread power outages.
Salt Lake City: A snowstorm delayed business hours, closed doors for the day and postponed coronavirus testing Wednesday, weather officials said. The snow was expected to drift off in the afternoon, but several inches were expected to drop across the Wasatch Front, in the north-central part of the state. The Utah Department of Transportation warned drivers to stay off the roads and avoid traveling. The Utah Department of Health said winter weather conditions forced several free virus testing sites and some partners to cancel or delay opening, KUTV-TV reports. Officials said the shuttered facilities included 5-C Freeport West in Clearfield and the Maverik Center in West Valley City. The Cannon Health Building in Salt Lake City and the Central Utah Public Health Department announced delayed openings, officials said. It was unclear how the department expected to handle missed scheduled appointments.
Montpelier: The state’s congressional delegation says the vendor picked for the latest round of a federal food distribution program in Vermont is failing to meet the needs of hungry residents amid the pandemic. Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack on Friday saying that New Jersey-based Global Trading Enterprises LLC, which won the contract for the latest round of Farmers to Families Food Box Program, “submitted a bid that is seemingly too low for them to deliver food boxes to the areas promised under the contract.” Global Trading Enterprises is only delivering food boxes to seven locations in just five of the state’s 14 counties, the delegation said. “This will leave nearly 250 towns, and hundreds Vermont families, without the food assistance they were promised under this federal program,” they wrote in the letter. The delegation also asked Vilsack to investigation any violations and to award a new contract for March and April to a different vendor.
Richmond: The state agency that handles unemployment insurance estimates it has paid out more than $40 million in benefits to individuals who submitted claims on behalf of inmates, according to a federal court filing. The disclosure, first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, was made in a criminal complaint filed in federal court last month against two former Virginia inmates. Candice Lee Pearce, 30, and John Paul Tierney, 35, are charged with fraud and conspiracy for allegedly getting approval and payment for nearly $75,000 in unemployment benefits. A little over $51,000 of that money was to be paid to five ineligible inmates, according to an affidavit written by a special agent with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Investigations-Labor Racketeering and Fraud. The complaint notes that the case is part of a broader investigation into a scheme that resulted in the Virginia Employment Commission paying an estimated $40 million in unemployment benefits to people who submitted claims on behalf of ineligible inmates. The agency has dealt with an unprecedented surge in unemployment applications amid the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.
Seattle: A rare winter storm that dumped a foot of snow on Seattle couldn’t keep a 90-year-old woman from her first appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine. The Seattle Times reports Fran Goldman walked 6 miles round-trip to get her shot. “I have been calling to get an appointment anywhere, every morning, every afternoon, and often I’ve been online at night,” Goldman said. She finally secured a slot for Sunday morning, but a strong winter storm moved through the region Friday and Saturday, turning the city’s normally rainy streets into a winter scene of snowdrifts. Goldman dressed in fleece pants and a short-sleeved shirt so that the nurse could get to her arm easily. Over that, she layered a fleece zip-up, then a down coat, then a rain jacket. She put on snow boots, took out her walking sticks and ventured onto the snowy streets. “It was not easy going; it was challenging,” she told the newspaper. Still, Goldman made it to her appointment, just 5 minutes late. Her daughter Ruth Goldman, who lives in Buffalo, New York, wasn’t surprised by her mother’s actions. “We’re outside people,” she said. “We love being outside. I was out yesterday at Lake Ontario with a wind chill of 6 degrees.”
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice called the state’s sharp decline in coronavirus deaths “amazing” Wednesday. Weekly deaths from mid-January to the week ending last Sunday dropped 60% to 81 fatalities. There have been 13 deaths reported so far this week. “It is amazing what has happened in West Virginia,” the Republican governor said about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, credited with bringing down deaths and hospitalizations. Cases have also declined. Nearly 137,500 residents ages 65 and over have received at least one vaccine dose. In total, 14.2% of the state’s 1.78 million population has received a first dose, and 8.2% of people are fully vaccinated – one of the highest rates in the country. Both vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require two doses taken a few weeks apart for full effectiveness. The state expects to receive about 40,600 first doses from the federal government next week, said James Hoyer, a retired major general leading the state’s coronavirus task force. That would be a jump from its initial allocation of 23,600 doses from January. “We continue to see steady progress and growth,” Hoyer said. Winter weather, though, has slowed down some vaccinations and delivery of doses this week.
Milwaukee: As President Joe Biden prepared to pitch his coronavirus relief package Tuesday night at the Pabst Theater, activists with Voces de La Frontera gathered at City Hall to call on him to address issues related to immigrant workers in the plan. That included the inclusion of all immigrant taxpayers – including undocumented ones – in pandemic relief and the legalization of essential workers in a follow-up bill. A historic 74% of eligible Latino voters in Wisconsin voted for Biden in November, said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of the group. She said they were inspired by the hope of economic relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as permanent protections for undocumented immigrants, as they continue to work in high-risk jobs with no federal assistance. Eduardo Perea, who has lived in Milwaukee for 30 years, is one of the 4 in 5 undocumented essential workers in the U.S. who has worked through the pandemic without receiving any federal assistance or support. The construction worker wakes up at 4 a.m. to get ready for work, as he’s been doing since he got to Milwaukee to support his wife and four kids. “I’m proud to do so,” Perea said. “But it’s just totally disappointing to hear that I don’t deserve or that I don’t qualify for any relief or any assistance.”
Cheyenne: Another 15 residents who tested positive for the coronavirus have died, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Deaths are added to the state’s total based on official death certificate information and location of permanent residence. If death certificates do not describe COVID-19 as either causing or contributing to a death, those deaths are not included in the WDH count. Nearly all those whose deaths were reported Tuesday were described as “older” and with health conditions that put them at higher risk for complications from the coronavirus. Among Wyoming residents, there have now been 662 COVID-19-related deaths, 45,387 lab-confirmed virus cases and 7,964 probable cases reported since the pandemic began.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports