Montgomery: The Alabama Education Association is urging the state to give teachers COVID-19 vaccinations following the deaths of at least 39 public school employees from the contagious illness. The group sent a letter Friday to State Health Officer Scott Harris asking the state to direct county health departments to begin vaccinating such workers “as soon as possible.” “Education employees are dying on an almost-daily basis because of COVID-19 and complications therefrom. Other than the closure of schools, the only way to prevent this or slow this is to provide for the widespread vaccination of employees,” wrote Theron Stokes, AEA associate executive director. Alabama is currently giving vaccinations only to health care workers, nursing home residents, people 75 and older, and first responders. AEA said four educators in the Montgomery County Schools system died within 48 hours. Following the string of deaths, Montgomery Schools Superintendent Ann Roy Moore announced Monday that the school system is switching to all virtual learning beginning Feb. 1 and will stay virtual until vaccinations are available to educators.
Anchorage: Fewer Alaskans had routine cancer screenings in 2020 than in the year before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, doctors said. Some medical providers said the screening decrease was likely linked to anxiety related to the virus that has lasted through the pandemic, Anchorage Daily News reports. The decrease could also be related to a temporary ban on elective medical procedures the state enacted in March to preserve personal protective equipment and potentially reduce COVID-19 cases. That elective procedure prohibition was lifted in April, although virus cases surged in the summer and through the fall and winter and kept virus anxiety levels high. Some providers have shifted to virtual medical care, which is helpful for some types of cancer screenings but not all. Routine cancer screening increases the likelihood of survival by speeding up diagnoses. “Anecdotally, from my personal experience, there have been more cases than normal where there’s a clinical change in the person’s status because of logistics related to the pandemic,” said Anusiyanthan Mariampillai, an oncologist at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.
Phoenix: Republican legislators are pushing to cut off broad emergency powers that Gov. Doug Ducey has used to restrict large gatherings and business occupancy during the COVID-19 pandemic. A Senate committee voted Monday to end the public health emergency that gives the state access to millions of dollars in federal funds and expands Ducey’s powers. The Government Committee also advanced various proposals that would make it easier for lawmakers to shut down the governor’s powers during a future emergency. Some Republican lawmakers have been infuriated by Ducey’s decision to unilaterally impose executive orders closing or restricting businesses to limit opportunities for the coronavirus to spread. They say the governor should have authority to immediately respond to a pressing emergency, but eventually the Legislature should have a say in whether restrictive measures are allowed to continue. “Checks and balances are extremely important, even in an emergency,” said Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler. Democrats say involving the Legislature would slow down the state’s response to an emergency and inject politics into crucial life-and-death decisions.
Little Rock: The state reported 44 more deaths from the coronavirus Monday, even as it saw a steep drop in new cases. The Department of Health reported the state’s COVID-19 deaths had risen to 4,650. The state’s new coronavirus cases rose by 636 to 284,702. COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by four to 1,084. Monday marked the lowest increase in cases for the state since Nov. 2, when Arkansas reported 584 new cases. Gov. Asa Hutchinson noted Monday’s drop in cases came as fewer coronavirus tests were conducted than the state normally sees. “An additional 44 deaths and a slight increase in hospitalizations remind us of the challenge we continue to face with this pandemic and what happens if we don’t follow health department guidelines,” Hutchinson said in a statement. The department also reported that 221,602 doses of the 386,750 COVID-19 vaccine doses received by Arkansas have been administered.
Sacramento: The state’s health department on Monday released to the public previously secret projections for future hospital intensive care unit capacity throughout the state, the key metric for lifting the coronavirus stay-at-home order. However, state officials did not explain how regional per capita virus cases and transmission rates that also were released might influence how much intensive care unit space will be available in four weeks. Last week, state health officials told the Associated Press they were keeping all the data secret because it is complicated and might mislead the public. The release of the data points came after coronavirus experts, joined by a public access organization and a business group, said the information should be public. Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist and infectious-diseases control expert at University of California, San Francisco, was among the critics. He applauded the state for being more open. He said it’s “not utterly transparent, but I have a better idea of what’s going on.” It’s not clear if the state ultimately will provide the level of day-to-day detail behind the projections currently available for its existing four-week modeling on hospitalizations, intensive care patients and deaths.
Denver: A medical equipment company is expected to pay Colorado $70,000 after the state alleged the business made misleading claims about masks and respirators sold amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The state attorney general’s office on Monday said Denver-based Nationwide Medical Supply Inc. agreed to the payment, The Denver Post reports. “We must hold irresponsible businesses accountable for deceptive practices, especially those that have the potential to cause direct harm to consumers,” Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement. Weiser’s office said claims against the company included marketing a KN95 mask as an N95 respirator, claiming an N95 respirator and a KN95 mask were approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the European Union, and illegally using the FDA logo. The state also alleged the company inflated prices, a practice known as price gouging, which is prohibited during public emergencies. Nationwide Medical Supply denied the allegations in a statement. Rather than fight the claims in court, the company said it would improve due diligence policies and procedures and continue “to be a trusted source of crucial PPE.”
Hartford: Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday that he plans to ask lawmakers to extend his public health emergency powers until April 20, noting that the state is beginning to see more cases of a highly infectious coronavirus variant. The Democrat’s special executive authority, originally granted by leaders of the General Assembly last year to help speed up the state’s response to the pandemic, has already been extended to Feb. 9. “We think by April 20 we’re going to have a really good handle on where we stand in terms of vaccinations, where we stand on the supply of vaccinations, where we stand on bending the curve, where we stand compared to that super contagious variant of the germ,” Lamont said. He said if lawmakers have issues with any of the dozens of executive orders he has signed, they can always pass legislation that addresses them “on a one-off basis.” The governor said he’d “take a look at” one order that provides legal immunity for nursing homes and hospitals during the pandemic, which has drawn criticism from some families and nursing home advocates, but said it “makes some sense” to keep it in place a little longer as facilities deal with the virus variants.
Wilmington: The state will continue to give first doses of COVID-19 vaccines to thousands more residents this week, including about 1,000 educators and school staff, despite not being able to promise them a second dose. Division of Public Health officials said they are concentrating on first doses to reduce current COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths, but high-risk health care workers need to get second doses as soon as possible. “Until we get adequate supply, this is the extremely difficult balance we will need to continue to strike,” spokesperson Robin Bryson said. Plans from the governor’s office and the Department of Education call for at least 3,750 first doses to be administered this week to people 65 and older and teachers and staff. At the same time, the state has canceled second-dose appointments for first responders and did not schedule second-dose appointments for those who were recently vaccinated at the mass DMV events. Several older adults said they were told to book second-dose appointments “wherever they could” but have not found availability at pharmacies or through the state’s online system.
District of Columbia
Washington: Testing wristbands are in. Mask-wearing is mandatory. Desks are socially distanced. The clearest sign that there’s a new boss at the White House is the deference being paid to coronavirus public health guidelines. It’s a striking contrast to Donald Trump’s White House, which was the epicenter of no fewer than three separate outbreaks of COVID-19, their true scale not fully known because aides refused to discuss cases publicly. While the Trump administration was known for flouting safety recommendations, the Biden team has made a point of abiding by the same strict guidelines they’re urging Americans to follow to stem the spread of the virus. It’s part of an overall effort from President Joe Biden to lead by example on the coronavirus pandemic, an ethos carried over from his campaign and transition. Most of Biden’s White House staff is working from home, coordinating with colleagues by email, phone or Zoom. Plexiglass barriers have been set up at some desks in open areas, but nearly all staff who are already working in the building have enclosed offices. The Biden team already had a robust contact tracing program set up during the transition, which it’s keeping around for any possible exposures.
Tallahassee: Businesses would be protected from coronavirus-related lawsuits if they made a good effort to follow state-issued guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 under a proposal approved Monday at its first Senate committee stop. While Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has lifted restrictions on businesses, such as limiting capacity at restaurants, the bill would retroactively cover businesses, individuals and other organizations when businesses were ordered closed or to limit customers. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 7-4 vote, with Republicans supporting the legislation and Democrats opposed. In order for a lawsuit to move forward, a plaintiff would have to present a signed affidavit from a Florida physician saying that there is a reasonable degree of certainty that the defendant’s actions caused the illness or death. Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill wouldn’t protect businesses that deliberately ignored safety precautions, such as a restaurant owner who knew an employee tested positive for the coronavirus and still scheduled the person to work. The bill doesn’t include health care providers. Brandes said separate legislation will address that industry.
Atlanta: House lawmakers want to shift more money into public health and nursing homes, saying the state needs to spend more in response to the coronavirus pandemic. House appropriations subcommittees on Tuesday made proposed changes to the current year’s budget, a yearly ritual that’s on a fast track in 2021 because of fears that the pandemic could disrupt the General Assembly’s session. The full House could vote on the changes as early as Thursday. The Senate would consider the changes after that. House lawmakers propose adding nearly $34 million into the state Department of Public Health, after Gov. Brian Kemp had proposed no new spending from state money, instead relying on federal coronavirus relief for now. “The pandemic, I think, has exposed critical staffing needs in the Department of Public Health, and federal funds have been used where we’ve been able to do that, but we still need to put in some state funds,” said House Appropriations Health Subcommittee Chairman Butch Parrish, a Swainsboro Republican. The moves propose no new state spending but do shift money around, reallocating savings that have often been generated because of vacant employee positions or stalled programs.
Honolulu: Gov. David Ige on Monday asked residents to be ready for more tough times ahead as the state grapples with a large budget shortfall caused by a pandemic that has pummeled the tourism industry, but he said improved tax revenue forecasts mean he’s not currently seeking broad-based tax increases. “Government will have to tighten its belt; our citizens will be asked to do more with less; and we will all need to help each other,” Ige said in his annual State of the State address. The governor offered few specifics for how he proposed to address the budget shortfall in the upcoming fiscal terms. Instead, he said that “the best answers lie in the ones that we arrive at together – not in spite of each other, but because of each other.” Hawaii’s general fund tax revenues are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. But the state Council on Revenues this month said it expects revenue to decline just 6.5% in the current fiscal year, less than the 11% drop it had projected in September. It attributed the improved outlook to the tourism industry’s modest gains since the state adopted a coronavirus testing program for travelers. Ige told reporters afterward that he’s hoping to minimize layoffs as much as possible, even though his initial budget proposal called for laying off 149 people.
Boise: Legislation to end coronavirus restrictions limiting private and public gatherings to 10 people or fewer passed the state House on Monday and is headed to the Senate. But the legislation faces legal and constitutional questions. The House cleared the two-thirds requirement with a 55-15 vote to approve a concurrent resolution aimed specifically at a Dec. 30 health order by Republican Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The concurrent resolution would also have to clear the two-thirds majority in the Senate. It doesn’t require a governor’s signature. The 10-person health order doesn’t apply to religious or political gatherings. Notably, the resolution doesn’t mention Little’s Dec. 31 coronavirus emergency declaration, which is essentially a renewal of a declaration he first issued in March. Backers of the concurrent resolution said they want to remove a portion of Little’s emergency declaration on gathering limits but leave the declaration in place. Emergency declarations are separate from health orders. Also, concurrent resolutions as passed by the House are specific to emergency declarations, not health orders.
Freeport: Freeport School Board President George McCarty died Sunday of a COVID-19-related illness. “It is with great sadness that FSD 145 announces the passing of Mr. George McCarty, president of our Board of Education,” the Freeport School District said in a statement. “George will always be remembered for his true passion and love for our district. He was a strong advocate for students and staff and his voice and his presence will be greatly missed.” McCarty, 68, was a former school district employee. He worked in facilities and grounds at Center Elementary School for nine years. Before that, he worked in retail management. When McCarty ran for school board in 2017, he said he wanted to work to help the district increase academic achievement so more students could score above state averages. McCarty volunteered in Freeport schools, as well, helping students with their reading and math skills. He was a Freeport High School and Highland Community College graduate.
Indianapolis: Nearly 2,300 additional coronavirus cases in schools were reported Monday by the Indiana State Department of Health. Of the new cases reported Monday, 1,686 occurred in students, 279 in teachers and 327 in school staff members. Most of the newly reported cases occurred in the past week, although some date back to earlier months. Many school leaders hope the winter break will have served as a “reset” on the number of students and staff members under quarantine orders and a reprieve from the staffing concerns that plagued schools through the latter half of the first semester. This week’s figures are slightly lower than what the state was seeing before the holiday break but show that the break may not have been as helpful in lowering case counts in schools as had been anticipated. Most schools statewide have returned to in-person instruction by this week. Participation in the state dashboard is not mandatory for schools, and 293 schools have yet to report to the state. As of Monday, 1,911 schools have at least one case, and 164 have no cases.
Des Moines: Over the strenuous objections of Democrats and teachers groups, Republicans in the state House and Senate are moving quickly to approve a pair of proposals they argue will give parents more choice in their children’s education. The proposals, one that would require school districts to offer a fully in-person learning option during the pandemic and another that would give students state money to spend on private education, sped through the subcommittee and committee process Monday. The final House and Senate floor votes on the in-person learning bills could come in both chambers within the next week. A version of the proposal cleared the Senate Education Committee on Monday, and the House version will receive a committee vote Tuesday. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republican leaders have said Iowa students are falling behind because of virtual learning, and parents need to have the option to send their children to school full time. Groups representing Iowa educators and school boards urged legislators to wait to pass an in-person learning requirement until more school staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Topeka: At least 89 coronavirus cases have been reported at the Topeka Correctional Facility since Jan. 8 to make the prison the largest current hot spot in the state. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said no other school, day care, long-term care facility, business, sport or religious gathering had as many coronavirus cases as the Topeka prison had in the past two weeks. The next largest outbreaks in the state were reported at two long-term care facilities that each reported 25 cases. The number of COVID-19 cases reported at the Topeka facility is more than three times as many as the total reported at the Hutchinson, Harvey County and El Dorado prisons together, with a combined total of 26 cases among them. Mari Flowers, whose daughter is being held at the Topeka Correctional Facility, said she worries about how many people move in and out of the facility. She said her daughter has had to quarantine several times because of a positive case in the group with which she is being held. “They locked them down, but yet it wasn’t working,” Flowers said.
Louisville: During a typical January, hospitals would be overrun with influenza patients, intensive care units maxed out and health care workers exhausted. This flu season, health care workers are exhausted and hospitals full, but not because of influenza. The novel coronavirus has taken center stage, with health care workers focused on combating the far deadlier COVID-19. As of Wednesday, a spokesman for the local health department confirmed Louisville Metro has seen a total of 17 flu cases this season, compared with 5,525 this time last year. Last season saw 10 deaths, but no flu deaths have been reported this season. Dr. Steven Hester, chief medical officer for Norton Healthcare, credited the precautions that have become widespread during the coronavirus pandemic for the low flu numbers. “Amazingly, we’ve seen almost zero influenza in the community right now,” he said. “And it’s because of the success of handwashing, social distancing and masking.” Still, as these precautions tamp down flu cases, COVID-19 cases remain high. In Kentucky, there have been 347,836 positive tests and a positivity rate of about 10%.
Baton Rouge: The state’s public schools have nearly 17,000 fewer students amid the coronavirus pandemic, an enrollment decline of more than 2% this year, according to officials. Nearly half the decrease is among students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. However, The Advocate reports that drops also appeared in the number of students in first through seventh grades. “Families just aren’t sending their kids to school in these lowest grades,” Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The latest snapshot is based on the Oct. 1 headcount of students, one of two done annually. The next one takes place in February. Enrollment in Louisiana totals 699,625 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade for the 2020-21 school year, a decline of 16,791 students, according to a state education department report, which cited the impact of the hurricane season in addition to the pandemic. “I’m confident more families will return to our public schools when all systems safely resume face-to-face instruction,” Brumley said in a statement that accompanied the state report. About 60% of public school students are attending in-person classes full time.
Augusta: Gov. Janet Mills’ administration told lawmakers Monday that the state cannot afford to fully mirror federal tax cuts on pandemic aid that funneled into Maine, saying it would cost $100 million. Republicans pushed back, saying more needs to be done to help hard-hit businesses. Several billion dollars in federal pandemic relief flowed into the state, and the federal government opted against taxing the forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program and other grants to businesses. But the federal government went even further by allowing business owners to deduct the expenses they paid with the money, extending the impact of the stimulus but hurting state budgets in the process. The federal government didn’t take into account implications for states, said Kirsten Figueroa, the state’s budget commissioner. She took exception to any suggestion that the Democratic governor and her administration were indifferent to struggling businesses. She told Republicans that they should call on “their Republican colleagues in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to provide the support to states” to offer the same tax benefit that the federal government provided.
Baltimore: The City Council has approved a cap on fees that are charged by third-party delivery apps. The Baltimore Sun reports city officials approved the measure Monday evening. It will become effective as soon as it’s signed by Mayor Brandon Scott, as he has pledged to do. The cap bars delivery apps from charging more than 15% of the total cost of an order. Apps such as Grubhub, Door Dash, Uber Eats and Postmates typically take a 30% cut. The fees are often a sore subject for restaurateurs and have become a particular concern during the coronavirus pandemic because delivery and takeout orders have increased. Many restaurant owners have pleaded with customers to delete the apps and order directly from them so they don’t lose money during an already trying time for the service industry. The bill is tied to Maryland’s state of emergency and expires 90 days after that order is lifted.
Boston: The state plans to have 165 vaccination sites available by mid-February and has moved older adults ahead in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that people 75 and older will now be in the first priority group in the second phase of the distribution plan, which starts Feb. 1. Those 65 and older and individuals with two or more comorbidities will now be in the second priority group, in keeping with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The administration said the state currently has the capacity to administer 242,000 doses of vaccine per week, more than the 173,000 first and second doses it expects to receive from the federal government this week. “We’re setting up the capacity to administer far more doses than we are currently receiving or projecting to receive from the feds,” Baker said. “We think it’s better to overplan at this point in the process and hope that the feds can get there.” New mass vaccination sites also are opening in Springfield on Jan. 29, Danvers on Feb. 3 and Boston in the first week of February.
Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday refused to discuss the circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of the state’s health director amid a pandemic, including whether she asked for his resignation. The Democratic governor also declined to set a date for the return of youth contact sports, despite growing pressure after her administration extended a ban through Feb. 21. Robert Gordon, who issued COVID-19 restrictions after Whitmer’s powers were upended by an October court ruling, resigned Friday as director of the Department of Health and Human Services. The governor named Elizabeth Hertel to succeed him, calling her “another incredibly qualified person” at the department. “I wish Robert Gordon the very best,” Whitmer said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the hard work and the way that he showed up every single day over these last two years.” On Monday, a law and lobbying firm representing a group of student-athletes, parents, coaches and school administrators wrote to Hertel urging her to issue an order letting contact sports begin no later than Feb. 21. The group said the lack of team sports hurts students’ education, adding that athletes are no longer being recruited by colleges and that those with means can travel to neighboring states to compete.
Duluth: The state’s premier sled dog race will take place on the north shore beginning next week, but spectators will not be part of this year’s event. The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, opening Sunday, traditionally attracts thousands of spectators at the start of the race in Duluth, checkpoints and the finish in Grand Portage. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, spectators have been told to stay home and watch the race online. Race officials, mushers, handlers and hundreds of volunteers will be required to wear a face covering. It’s a big field this year, with more than 70 mushers registered among three races, WDIO-TV reports. “The mission of our race is to support the culture of it and the reason for it. It was very important to our region, and we want to continue that tradition and be able to let them run and let the dogs do what they love to do,” race spokesperson Monica Hendrickson said. At about 400 miles, the event is billed as the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states and is a qualifier for the Iditarod race in Alaska. The race has been held every January since 1980.
Jackson: A bill being considered in the Legislature would allow for home delivery of beer, wine and hard liquor. Deliveries could only be made to people 21 or older and only in parts of the state where alcohol sales are legal. Delivery drivers also would have to be at least 21. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 2804, sending it to the full Senate for more debate. The committee chairman, Republican Josh Harkins of Flowood, said the alcohol deliveries would be similar to meal delivery services that have become popular during the coronavirus pandemic. Delivery people would be independent contractors. Matthew Majure, a government affairs adviser for the Jackson-based Adams and Reese law firm, told senators the grocery delivery service Shipt is pushing for the state to legalize alcohol delivery. In Mississippi, beer can be sold in grocery stores and convenience stores. Wine and liquor are sold in package stores.
O’Fallon: Experts in all corners of the state are seeing room for optimism in the fight against the coronavirus thanks to a decline in new cases, decreasing hospitalizations and other factors. The state health department on Tuesday reported 1,079 new confirmed cases and 133 new deaths, though 103 of those deaths occurred previously but were unreported until the state’s weekly examination of death certificates. But evidence suggests that the post-holiday spike is over, and things are improving. The seven-day average for new cases reported Tuesday was 27.2% lower than the previous seven-day average, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. Hospitalizations remain high but are declining. Officials caution it is too early to ease up on things like social distancing, especially if the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl. The Chiefs will go for their second straight title when they play Tampa Bay on Feb. 7. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, officials with the Chiefs and the Kansas City Sports Commission put out a joint statement Monday confirming there would be no parade if the Chiefs win. Last year’s parade drew hundreds of thousands of red-clad fans.
Great Falls: The state launched a new data dashboard Monday that includes information on the total number of doses of COVID-19 vaccine that have been administered and how many residents are now fully immunized. The dashboard also tracks doses administered per 1,000 eligible people in individual counties across the state. “DPHHS is committed to providing as much information as possible regarding COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Montana,” said DPHHS acting Director Erica Johnston. “There’s much work ahead, but the new maps shows the progress that has been made administering the vaccine to residents in local communities statewide.” As of Monday, more than 77,000 vaccine doses have been administered in the state, and nearly 15,000 Montanans are fully immunized. Meanwhile, the Cascade City-County Health Department began its three-day vaccination clinic at Montana ExpoPark on Monday in conjunction with Benefis Health System and the Great Falls Clinic. Officials expect 1,500 does of the COVID-19 vaccine will be administered. Appointments are required.
Lincoln: The state’s unemployment rate held steady last month at 3%, putting it tied with South Dakota for the nation’s lowest rate, according to data released Tuesday. The state Department of Labor said Nebraska’s rate hasn’t changed since October and is the same as the rate from September to December 2019. “Nebraska employment has recovered significantly since April, which was the peak for employment losses due to the pandemic,” said Nebraska Commissioner of Labor John Albin. Albin said the state has added more than 71,000 nonfarm jobs since April, for a total of roughly 1 million in December. The low unemployment rate is likely due to a combination of factors, including major industries in Nebraska that weren’t hit as hard by the pandemic and unemployed people who aren’t counted because they’ve stopped looking for jobs and no longer qualify for unemployment. Nonfarm employment was up 5,394 over the month – the largest December increase ever but down 21,403 over the year. Private industries with the most growth year over year were education and health, financial activities, and mining and construction.
Carson City: The state expects its population to grow by roughly 160,000 people by 2023, but Gov. Steve Sisolak’s budget for the upcoming two years doesn’t project expenses rising as a result. Fueled by optimism about the pending arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, state forecasters projected in December that tourists would slowly return and that the economy would rebound to pre-pandemic levels. Sisolak originally asked all state agencies to plan for 12% cuts, but the forecasts allowed him to restore the majority of education funding and reverse the 6% cuts to the amount the state reimburses Medicaid providers. Sisolak’s budget for the upcoming two years outlines $8.7 billion in general fund spending – $187 million less than he proposed before the start of the last two-year cycle in 2019. He released the proposal last week, and lawmakers have been discussing it in committee hearings. The Legislature convenes Monday, and lawmakers will use Sisolak’s budget as a baseline as they work to pass their own and send it back to him for approval. State forecasters and the governor have stressed that revenue and cost estimates could change drastically depending on the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy.
Concord: Nonresidents are no longer eligible to get coronavirus vaccinations in the state, officials now say. Earlier rules would have allowed anyone who owned property in New Hampshire, including second homeowners and out-of-state landlords, to get vaccinated in the state, regardless of where they actually live. But after some backlash, the state updated its guidance to say only New Hampshire residents are eligible. Such residency must be proven with documentation such as a driver’s license or a recent payroll check showing a legal New Hampshire address. In neighboring states, Maine is limiting vaccines to residents, while Vermont is administering vaccines to residents and those who work in the state. Vaccinations began Saturday for the more than 300,000 people in Phase 1B, which includes those age 65 and older, people with multiple qualifying medical conditions, corrections workers, and those living and working in residential facilities for people with developmental disabilities. While the next phase is supposed to start in March, if the state doesn’t begin getting more doses, it would take well into May to finish the current phase.
Trenton: The Biden administration should make manufacturing more COVID-19 vaccines its primary focus as it confronts the pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy said in an interview. The Democrat said that’s basically all New Jersey needs at this point. Murphy told the Associated Press that New Jersey, like other states around the country, is grappling with too few vaccines to meet the demand. “Manufacture,” he said, pausing briefly when asked what he would tell President Joe Biden the most urgent need is for states. “The top of the list right now has got to be ramping up the manufacture of vaccine doses.” The lack of supply has emerged as a central concern about gaining control over the virus, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 18,000 New Jersey residents, nearly 600,000 infections and almost 2 million unemployment claims in the state. The supply question underpins nearly everything else, especially the rollout of vaccine eligibility. Murphy has put it this way: The state has more than 200 distribution sites, including six mass vaccination sites, and it has determined millions of residents are eligible, but “all we are missing are vaccine doses.”
Santa Fe: More school districts in the state can bring students back into classrooms in early February, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Tuesday. The Democratic governor said she’s allowing schools to open their doors to students of all ages, in a major pullback of restrictions that were based on county-level coronavirus case rates and hospital capacity. “I believe the planning and hard work has paid off, and our state has developed a solid, epidemiologically sound plan for a safe expansion of in-person learning for all age groups, supported by union leadership,” Lujan Grisham said in her virtual State of the State address to the Legislature. Under the state’s hybrid plan released late last summer, students would attend classes two days per week and wouldn’t mix with other student groups. The idea was to start with younger kids and eventually open to high school students. But as COVID-19 cases remained high, few schools were allowed to reopen. Some school districts such as Rio Rancho put in place hybrid plans after COVID-19 benchmarks were met. Other school boards are still hesitant to reopen.
New York: Federal authorities say the amount of fentanyl seized in drug-trafficking investigations in the state continues to increase at an alarming rate, underscoring how the pandemic hasn’t slowed a booming market for the potent synthetic opioid. Seizures of methamphetamine – another highly addictive synthetic street drug blamed in a national surge in overdose deaths – also are on a steep rise, according to Drug Enforcement Administration numbers released Tuesday. There were 890 pounds of fentanyl seized in the state in fiscal year 2020, a 59% increase, the DEA said. The total for meth was up 214%, to 1,690 pounds, the agency said. DEA agents have seen fentanyl mixed with heroin, cocaine, meth and even marijuana, said Ray Donovan, head of the DEA’s New York office. It’s estimated that more than 60% of all drug overdose deaths in New York City involve fentanyl, he said. In raids in New York City in May, agents recovered 120,000 glassine envelopes of suspected heroin mixed with fentanyl that was worth over $1 million. The DEA said dealers stamped some of the envelopes with a twisted brand: “Coronavirus.”
Raleigh: Officials are shifting the state’s COVID-19 vaccination distribution strategy toward mass clinics in an effort to turn the corner on a slow rollout. But it’s leading to frustration for some hospital systems that have had their anticipated vaccine allocations reduced or eliminated, resulting in thousands of residents seeing appointments postponed or canceled. Over the past week, North Carolina distributed more doses to large sites, such as Charlotte Motor Speedway, where nearly 16,000 people were vaccinated over the weekend. But UNC Health said Monday that the 10,000 doses it will now receive this week are less than half what it expected and far less than the 30,000 doses it has the ability to administer. And Cone Health, a private health care system based in Greensboro, said it learned late last week that it would not get any additional first doses this week, resulting in 10,400 people having their appointments pushed back. Cone Health CEO Terry Akin said the decision “shocked” him, and he is “very unhappy that the state appears to keep changing the rules for vaccination allocation.” Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement that supply shortages are fueling the problem.
Fargo: The state continues to have one of the highest rates in the country for administering doses of COVID-19 vaccine, which one medical officer said Tuesday is due in part to the willingness of residents to get the shots. Statistics compiled Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show North Dakota has delivered 9,873 shots per 100,000 people, which ranks only behind Alaska and West Virginia in per-capita doses. Dr. Doug Griffin, vice president and chief medical officer at Sanford Health in Fargo, said the state’s preparation efforts, its small size and eager volunteers have helped the pace of immunizations. “I think we’ve had very good acceptance of the vaccine, both on staff and with patients when they’re offered,” Griffin said. “Kudos to recognizing that it’s safe and effective.” North Dakota is currently receiving fewer than 10,000 doses of vaccine a week, about half of what Griffin had expected. “It’s going slowly,” he said. “From what I know the state is lobbying to get more. Everybody is working hard to get as much as we can.”
Columbus: Some school employees will begin receiving their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this month as the state continues its goal of returning all children to in-person learning by March 1, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday. Employees at Cincinnati city schools will begin receiving shots this week and at other districts next week, though the state doesn’t have enough doses on hand for all districts to begin receiving vaccinations this month, the governor said. “Ohio’s ultimate plan is that anyone who works in a school in Ohio will have the opportunity to get their first shot in the month of February,” DeWine said. He also said the current 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew will be shortened to 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. starting Thursday as long as the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to fall below 3,500. The curfew could be eliminated if, over the next few weeks, hospitalization numbers fall below 2,500 over seven days. The good news about the curfew doesn’t mean Ohioans should let down their guard, the governor said, encouraging continued vigilance and mask-wearing.
Oklahoma City: Residents would be required to wear masks in public and face up to $1,000 fines for failing to do so under a bill filed by Democratic state Rep. Jason Lowe. Dubbed the COVID-19 Save Lives Response Act, the measure would also prohibit nonessential gatherings of more than 10 people and encourage all businesses to reduce in-person attendance. Places of worship and essential businesses would be exempt under the proposal. Lowe, who announced Monday that he’d filed the bill, was among the first Oklahoma lawmakers to test positive for the virus back in March. The measure is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where many members refuse to wear masks, even in crowded committee rooms and on the House floor. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt also has resisted imposing a statewide mask mandate, despite recommendations from doctors and other health professionals that he do so. Under the bill, the measures would be in place until no more than 300 people have been hospitalized with the virus for 30 days. Oklahoma health officials reported Monday that 1,595 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19.
Portland: Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday that some indoor activities, such as gyms and movie theaters, can reopen with a limited capacity beginning Friday. However, the new modifications do not apply to indoor dining, which has been banned for more than two months in counties labeled as “Extreme Risk” due the coronavirus pandemic, including Multnomah – the state’s most populous county and home to Portland. “The science has shown us that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities when it comes to the spread of COVID 19, which is why we have clearly delineated guidance between indoor and outdoor activities,” Gov. Brown said in a statement Tuesday. “We have seen over the last several weeks that Oregonians have largely complied with risk levels to the point that we have not seen a surge in hospitalizations that would have jeopardized hospital capacity.” The new modifications allow for a maximum of six people indoors at facilities over 500 square feet. For facilities smaller than 500 square feet, the modified guidance allows for one-to-one customer experiences, such as personal training.
Harrisburg: Gov. Tom Wolf is elevating two officials involved in his administration’s pandemic response to the coronavirus to replace the departing Dr. Rachel Levine as his health secretary and physician general. Wolf said he intends to nominate a deputy chief of staff, Alison Beam, to take over as secretary of the Department of Health. Meanwhile, he elevated Dr. Wendy Braund, the COVID-19 response director for the department, to acting interim physician general. Beam has coordinated programming across several agencies, including the departments of Health and Human Services, and has helped coordinate the administration’s pandemic response. Braund, who taught health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, also served in senior positions in Wyoming’s state government and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Levine’s last day was Friday, as she has been named President Joe Biden’s nominee to be his assistant secretary of health. The state has been reporting hundreds of COVID-19 deaths per day, and officials are trying to ramp up statewide distribution of two vaccines.
Bristol: Roger Williams University is starting the spring semester with a robust coronavirus testing program that requires students to get tested twice per week. The Bristol school plans on conducting about 2,000 tests per day in the recreation center, school officials told WJAR-TV. The university had the lowest reported positivity rate during fall for all colleges and universities in Rhode Island, and officials plan on keeping it that way. “The responsibility of being a college student during a pandemic is something our students have thrived to, and we’re incredibly proud of our students,” school chief of staff Brian Williams told the station. Testing time slots are built into each student’s schedule. The goal is to make testing a habit, Williams said. Musiwa Nyambe, a second-year law student, said Sunday that the testing is “super easy.” There’s a 10- to 15-hour turnaround for results, and any student who tests positive is isolated in a designated space. Williams said students are also required to sign a “COVID Compact” reminding them to adhere to campus and state guidance. Failure to comply could result in removal from campus, he said.
Columbia: The lawmakers who write the state’s budget voted Monday to advance a $208 million pandemic relief bill to speed up COVID-19 vaccination efforts. The House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to move the legislation, which would give the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control $63 million to continue combating the pandemic. The Medical University of South Carolina would receive $45 million, and another $100 million would be placed in a reserve account to help hospitals and other vaccine providers offset costs. The money, drawn from state surplus dollars, would help cover the costs of testing and vaccinations, personal protective equipment, and other expenses. The relief bill follows a rocky start to the vaccine rollout. In early weeks, the state’s low inoculation and vaccine utilization rates drew criticism from lawmakers. After the health department opened up vaccine access to people 70 and older, demand quickly outpaced supply, with some hospitals canceling appointments after tens of thousands of people signed up, frustrating and confusing many seniors.
Rapid City: Organizers of the annual point-in-time count for the state’s unsheltered homeless population have canceled the effort this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Sara Hornick, Rapid City-area coordinator of homeless services for Volunteers of America, said the count was called off mainly because of a shortage of volunteers, lack of personal protective equipment and concerns about the spread of COVID-19. She said the vulnerable homeless population is quite large, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development decided against the count, the Rapid City Journal reports. Hornick said she’s not sure how the cancellation will affect federal funding because of all the allowances in place this year due to the virus. The January 2020 count showed Rapid City had 353 total people experiencing homelessness, with 192 unsheltered and 161 sheltered.
Chattanooga: In a year overtaken by the COVID-19 pandemic, record numbers of people “stayed home” in tents, campers and RVs they took with them to Tennessee’s state parks. Camping in the last two months of 2020 reached historic highs in state-run parks, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation that oversees them. Four of the top 10 camping months ever in state parks happened in 2020, most likely driven by visitors seeking the outdoors amid the pandemic. “The impact of COVID-19 simply underscores a growing awareness that the outdoors are a sanctuary for mental and physical health,” said Jim Bryson, deputy commissioner of the department. “The appeal of louder, busier, and crowded entertainment venues has given way to the space, freedom and connection the outdoors provide.” Three Southeast Tennessee state parks – Fall Creek Falls State Park near Pikeville, Harrison Bay State Park in Chattanooga and Tims Ford State Park in Winchester – were among the top four for visitations in the state this fall. Tennessee State Parks operate more than 3,000 campsites.
Houston: A judge on Monday dismissed a theft charge against a Houston-area health department doctor who had been accused by prosecutors of stealing nine doses of COVID-19 vaccine from a damaged vial and administering them to family and friends. Authorities had alleged that Hasan Gokal, who worked for Harris County Public Health, stole a vial of the Moderna vaccine while working at a vaccination site at a suburban Houston park Dec. 29. But Harris County Court-at-Law Judge Franklin Bynum found there was no probable cause to charge Gokal with theft. The judge criticized prosecutors for charging Gokal, saying their probable cause complaint was “riddled with sloppiness and errors.” “In the number of words usually taken to describe an allegation of retail shoplifting, the State attempts, for the first time, to criminalize a doctor’s documented administration of vaccine doses during a public health emergency,” Bynum wrote in his two-page order dismissing the charge. Gokal’s attorneys had said the doctor did nothing wrong and was only trying to ensure that vaccine from a punctured vial was not wasted.
Salt Lake City: Two state lawmakers tested positive for the coronavirus, the same day a few anti-mask activists briefly shut down a legislative hearing. Meanwhile, another lawmaker who has been absent from the session since it began last week has been hospitalized with COVID-19, the Deseret News reports. A post on the Facebook page of Republican Rep. Jon Hawkins of Pleasant Grove reported his condition late Sunday. Regular testing during the legislative session found two cases: Republican senators Sen. Todd Weiler of Woods Cross and Don Ipson of St. George. Ipson was absent while returning home, and Weiler participated virtually. “We think the system is working. We’re monitoring it really closely,” Republican Senate President Stuart Adams said. About 17 senators have either been vaccinated or have had COVID-19 already, he said. Monday also marked the first day that people from the public could participate in person. One committee hearing was briefly shut down because three anti-mask protesters showed up brandishing fliers. The lawmakers meeting in person moved to their offices to participate online after a five-minute delay.
Montpelier: More than 13,000 Vermonters who are 75 or older signed up to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the first few hours the Vermont Health Department’s signup site was open Monday. The vaccinations will begin Wednesday for the group, who are part of phase 1B of the state’s program. The state estimates there are about 49,000 people in the age group, and it will take about six weeks to vaccinate them all. That group will be followed by residents 70 and older. The state expects to start vaccinating those age 65 and older by the end of March or beginning of April. After that, people 18-65 with medical conditions that put them at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 will be eligible for shots. A call center with roughly 400 receptionists was available to take phone reservations starting at noon Monday for people who are unable to sign up online or need to speak to someone in another language. Officials say demand is heavy, and wait times for the calls could be long. Relatives and friends of people who are eligible for a vaccine are urged to offer to help register them online. The state plans to have 54 vaccine sites in 39 towns.
Roanoke: Two counties have announced plans to resume jury trials after having taken a 10-month break because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Montgomery and Giles counties are the first court systems in the New River Valley to receive state approval to call jurors again, The Roanoke Times reports. The initial jury trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday, with jurors in Montgomery County Circuit Court considering an appeal of a misdemeanor assault and battery conviction. Giles County’s first jury trial currently is set for Feb. 9. In both court systems, procedures have been established to protect jurors from getting COVID-19. For example, jurors are to sit in the courtrooms’ spectator galleries, rather than in jury boxes, so that they can maintain more distance from one another and from everyone else in the courtroom. Jury trials across Virginia came to an abrupt halt in March as the pandemic began, and the Virginia Supreme Court declared a judicial emergency. Court systems were told to submit plans for how to safely hold jury trials.
Seattle: The city has approved extra pay for grocery store workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The City Council on Monday approved legislation requiring large groceries to pay an extra $4 an hour in hazard pay. The Seattle Times reports the legislation passed 8-0, clearing a requirement that it receive a three-quarters supermajority in order to go into effect immediately. Mayor Jenny Durkan called the policy “a strong step forward in Seattle’s recovery.” The new requirement applies to grocery companies with more than 500 employees worldwide and to stores larger than 10,000 square feet. It does not apply to convenience stores or farmers markets. Covered businesses will have to pay their retail employees $4 an hour on top of the pay they currently receive as long as the city’s coronavirus civil emergency remains in effect. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, the legislation’s lead sponsor, noted that the council has been meeting remotely since March and that she often orders groceries online and picks them up outside the store. That’s not possible for grocery workers. “They have been going in to work every single day, and we appreciate them,” Mosqueda said.
Charleston: Something good came out of 2020 after all. Sarah Tolley, the Kanawha-Charleston Humane Association’s community engagement coordinator, said the shelter experienced a 40% increase in adoptions last year. That was powered by a 60% jolt at the end of June that left the shelter down with “maybe five dogs available in the kennels, no puppies at all, no kittens available and maybe a couple of adult cats,” The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports. The majority of those animals adopted aren’t being returned to the shelter, Tolley said. “Something that stands out more than anything is we also have fewer returns of adoptions,” Tolley said. “That means people are more willing to work with pets, acclimate them to homes and give them the chance they need. It’s just super cool.” The retention rate became especially evident in June, when the Bissell Pet Foundation was planning to hold one of its regular adoption events in Charleston. The only problem: There weren’t enough animals available to warrant a special affair. “That’s when it really kind of hit us that people are keeping these animals; they’re not bringing them back,” Tolley said.
Madison: Teachers, child care workers, prisoners and grocery store workers will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in early March, state health officials said Tuesday. The move will add hundreds of thousands of people to the eligibility rolls even though the state is still struggling to complete its first phase of inoculations. And there’s no guarantee the state will have enough doses on hand by March to launch the next stage. The Department of Health Services announced that educators and child care workers will be eligible about March 1. Those groups include all staff that work in public and private school programs, regulated child care, out-of-school programs, virtual learning support and community learning center programs. All staff at Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, preschools and Head Start programs will be eligible as well. So will college instructors and staff who have direct student contact. Public-facing essential workers also will be eligible around March 1. That group includes 911 dispatchers, bus drivers, mink farmers and grocery workers. Workers who support health care infrastructure, residents and staff in shared housing situations such as condominiums, student dorms and prisons also will be eligible then.
Cheyenne: Brake failure probably caused a freight train collision that killed two crew members in southeastern Wyoming in 2018, according to U.S. accident investigators. An air flow restriction likely caused the air brake system to fail as the train consisting of three leading locomotives and 105 cars descended a 13-mile grade, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report dated Dec. 29. The train was going 56 mph when it hit the rear of another train Oct. 4, 2018. The crash killed the colliding train’s engineer, Jason Martinez, and conductor, Benjamin Brozovich, and caused the three engines to derail. Sixty-five train cars – 57 in the colliding train and eight in the train struck – derailed in the Granite Canyon area 18 miles west of Cheyenne. The wreck caused $3.2 million in damage. Union Pacific failed to maintain the rail cars in accordance with federal regulations such as regularly performing single rail car air brake tests, according to the NTSB. The failure contributed to the accident, the federal agency found. Union Pacific already has implemented the NTSB recommendations, railroad spokesman Tim McMahan said Monday.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pet adoptions, flu upside: News from around our 50 states