Airport testing, legislative outbreak, voter intimidation: News from around our 50 states

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports, USA TODAY
·37 min read

Alabama

Montgomery: Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said he returned to work Wednesday after being diagnosed with COVID-19 last week. Ainsworth said he completed a quarantine after a positive test last Wednesday for the coronavirus. He said experienced few symptoms and was able to work from home. “While many have battled with coronavirus, my symptoms never progressed beyond some mild congestion that I usually experience with seasonal allergies,” Ainsworth said. Some members of the lieutenant governor’s staff who were in close contact with Ainsworth will remain in quarantine for 14 days as a precautionary measure, his office said. No staffers have tested positive. Ainsworth said he remains opposed to mandatory mask orders despite being diagnosed with COVID-19, even though he encourages people to wear a face covering.

Alaska

Anchorage: The city is on a “dangerous path” as coronavirus cases rise, its health director said Wednesday as officials implored people to avoid gatherings and follow orders to wear masks in public. Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson told reporters she has been meeting with business leaders, health officials and others to make decisions that protect health but also impose minimal restrictions on businesses so they can stay open. “None of us wants another hunker-down” order, she said, adding that it’s people’s actions “that set us up for success or not.” Statewide, virus transmission has accelerated over the past month, according to the state health department, which says most residents known to have COVID-19 are getting it from family or someone with whom they work or socialize. State officials on Wednesday announced plans to bolster testing and expand contact tracing efforts, using the National Guard as a resource.

Arizona

Phoenix: State health officials on Thursday reported more than 1,300 additional known COVID-19 cases as seven-day rolling averages for new cases, new deaths and testing positivity in the state all rose over the past two weeks. The Department of Health Services reported 1,315 additional coronavirus cases and 13 additional deaths, increasing the state’s totals to 242,480 cases and 5,918 deaths. According to Johns Hopkins University data analyzed by the Associated Press, Arizona’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases rose from 728 per day Oct. 14 to 1,036 on Wednesday, while the average for daily deaths increased from 6 to 7.3, and the positivity average went from 7.2% to 9.8%. Arizona was a national hot spot in June and July, but COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations then fell off before starting to gradually increase again in September. Cases and hospitalization rates remain far below summer highs.

Arkansas

Little Rock: A tenth state lawmaker tested positive for the coronavirus Wednesday in what has become the second largest outbreak of the virus in a state legislature. Rep. Marcus Richmond said he tested positive for the virus. He’s the latest in an outbreak that prompted legislative leaders to halt budget hearings last week. Hearings resumed Tuesday but with new social distancing measures. Richmond, who said he had minor symptoms and was tested Monday, said he believed he had likely caught the virus at the hearings. “I wore my mask and hid behind my plexiglass,” he said, referring to the partitions between lawmakers’ desks. “I just think I probably walked through somebody’s air.” Arkansas’ outbreak is second only to one in Mississippi’s legislature this summer, when dozens of lawmakers tested positive for the virus. At least 162 state legislators nationwide have tested positive for the virus, and three have died.

California

Pedestrians walk past a homeless encampment just outside Grand Park on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Pedestrians walk past a homeless encampment just outside Grand Park on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles: The city is again considering a proposal to greatly restrict where homeless people may camp in public places around the city – rules that opponents say would criminalize homelessness. The City Council on Wednesday spent four hours debating changes to the city’s code before President Nury Martinez decided to delay a vote to Nov. 24. The anti-camping proposal would bar people from sitting, lying down or bunking down near schools, parks or day care centers. Tents couldn’t be set up near shelters or other facilities serving homeless people that have opened in recent years. Those sleeping on the streets would have to keep clear from right of ways such as driveways and loading docks and leave enough room for wheelchair users to pass under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Colorado

Denver: The state attorney general’s office has issued a cease-and-desist letter to the co-owner of a mobile home park who distributed a notice to tenants saying their rent could double if Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidential election. The office issued the letter Friday to Bernie Pagel, co-owner of a mobile park in Fort Morgan, saying the notice constituted voter intimidation by using “economic coercion” against the tenants. According to the office, the notice from Pagel states: “Please understand if Joe Biden is elected as our next President, everything you do and have to pay for will change completely. Everything will be increased. Like paying a lot more in taxes, utilities, gasoline, new permits, fees and regulations…everything! This also means your rent will be increased to cover these expenses. Most likely, rent would double in price! ... If the current President is re-elected, we will not raise the rent for at least 2 years!”

Connecticut

Storrs: The University of Connecticut is suspending a new free-tuition program for lower-income students as it struggles to raise private funds during the pandemic. The university is halting scholarships through its Connecticut Commitment program, meant for students from families who make less than $50,000 a year, University President Thomas Katsouleas told the UConn Board of Trustees on Wednesday. It will honor commitments to the 260 students currently receiving aid. “Pausing the program is the hardest decision I’ve had to make since arriving here,” said Katsouleas, who announced the Connecticut Commitment program at his inauguration in 2019. “While unfortunate and regrettable, I believe that this is a prudent and necessary choice to make at this time.” The program makes up the difference between the cost of tuition and other aid that students receive, including federal Pell Grants.

Delaware

Dover: The state attorney general’s office has backed away from a suggestion that anyone handing out literature at polling places that accurately cites state law regarding voter fraud could be charged with voter intimidation and has confirmed that Delawareans are not prohibited by state law from carrying firearms while voting. The state Department of Justice issued a release Tuesday reminding voters of their rights and responsibilities and advising that law enforcement and elections officials will strictly enforce Delaware’s voter intimidation laws. Examples of voter intimidation cited in the release include exhibiting menacing or threatening behavior, questioning voters about their credentials, obstructing access and disrupting the voting process. They also include “distributing literature at the polls outlining the fact that voter fraud is a crime and/or detailing the legal penalties for impermissibly casting ballots.”

District of Columbia

Washington: Capital One Arena, Nationals Park, and the Wizards Sports and Entertainment Arena are among the D.C. sports venues that have been turned into voting centers amid efforts to keep people socially distant during the COVID-19 pandemic, WUSA-TV reports. The district has named these sporting venue sites and others “Super Vote Centers,” saying they will help create distance for voters due to the size and capacity of the venues. D.C.’s six such sites can be used by any voter in the city, according to D.C.’s Board of Elections website. “Our constant mission is creating the best opportunity for voter participation,” said Michael Bennett, chair of the DCBOE.

Florida

Tallahassee: Gov. Ron DeSantis couldn’t initially cast his ballot this week because someone illegally changed his address online, a complication that resulted in a suspect’s arrest on felony charges and raised questions about the security of the state’s online registration system. DeSantis went to an early voting site Monday to cast his ballot but was told his address had been changed from the governor’s mansion to a small apartment complex in West Palm Beach, 420 miles away. The problem was quickly fixed, and the Republican and close ally of President Donald Trump was allowed to vote. He then contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which determined the record had been changed online from a house in Naples, Florida. The FDLE says agents went to the house Tuesday, where Anthony Guevara, 20, admitted changing DeSantis’ address through the elections website. He told agents he gained access by using the governor’s birth date, which he got from Wikipedia.

Georgia

Rome: A northwest Georgia school system sent all its students home to take classes virtually for 10 days because of coronavirus infections and quarantines. The Rome school system said Tuesday that with more than 600 students, faculty and staff members isolated with infections or quarantined because of exposure, the district of 6,400 students would switch to all-online instruction Wednesday through Nov. 6, assuming cases have declined by then. Rome and surrounding Floyd County are among Georgia’s high-transmission areas as infections and hospitalizations for COVID-19 rise for a third time. Athletics and extracurricular activities will continue. Students are being sent home with three days’ worth of meals, and parents can pick up meals for next week. Officials say they will clean affected areas in the meantime.

Hawaii

Honolulu: Oahu’s short-term vacation rental industry can operate again after the lifting of coronavirus restrictions that hammered business. The island’s vacation rental occupancy for September fell to 14.5%, a 59% decrease from September 2019, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The Hawaii Tourism Authority released the figures in a report last week. Rentals were sidelined by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s pandemic restrictions beginning April 7. Oahu moved into the next phase of its economic reopening Oct. 22, allowing about 800 short-term rental properties to resume business along with those on neighboring islands. Rentals offering stays of 30 days or fewer that were not used to quarantine guests were allowed to operate on the Big Island, Kauai and Maui beginning in June when the state’s first interisland quarantine was lifted.

Idaho

Coeur d’Alene: It is legal to wear T-shirts or buttons supporting candidates or issues to the polls, as long there is no overt politicking done by that person, a new opinion from the Idaho attorney general’s office states. The opinion published Tuesday said the state law that determines electioneering guidelines most likely prohibits active campaign measures rather than passive ones. The attorney general office’s opinion said passive electioneering includes wearing a T-shirt or button that supports candidates or policies. The opinion stems from Kootenai County, where the elections office had prohibited voters from wearing political apparel at polling places. Officials cited a state law which bans electioneering at the polls, which is punishable by fines of up to $1,000 and possible arrest. The attorney general office’s opinion said the law can be defended as constitutional if only active electioneering methods are banned.

Illinois

Springfield: Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that his administration is collecting and will make public the data to justify his COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining after Senate Republicans urged him to release the numbers. Illinois reported 6,110 new coronavirus infections, its second-highest single-day total, and Pritzker imposed social restrictions on a fourth region this week: counties in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. Eight of 11 COVID-19 monitoring regions are now under “resurgence mitigations” because of rising numbers. The region that includes Chicago was added Tuesday. With the Democratic governor’s decision to ban indoor dining and drinking and limit the size of gatherings in the nation’s third-largest city, restaurateurs and bar owners made a more strident demand that Pritzker, in the words of Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, “show us the data.” Brady wants the Senate to convene a public hearing where Pritzker can lay out his case.

Indiana

Indianapolis: The Democratic candidate for state attorney general is calling on Indiana to legalize marijuana, saying that doing so would reduce the state’s prison and jail populations and generate millions of dollars for public education. Jonathan Weinzapfel said Monday in a statement that he believes if state lawmakers approved regulated marijuana sales to adults, it would help Indiana recover economically from the coronavirus pandemic, relieve burdens on police and the court system, and reduce “jail overcrowding across the state.” The former Evansville mayor said legalized marijuana would also generate funding for public education and allow patients to use marijuana for medical purposes. Weinzapfel noted that neighboring Illinois and Michigan have already legalized recreational use of marijuana, while neighboring Ohio permits medical marijuana.

Iowa

Des Moines: The state’s numbers of coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations continued to surge higher Wednesday as medical professionals have begun to express concern that hospitals could be overwhelmed with patients if no action is taken to slow the virus’s spread. Iowa hospitals had 596 coronavirus patients Wednesday, by far the highest number so far in Iowa. The 113 patients admitted in the prior 24 hours also were the most seen since the virus surfaced in Iowa in March. The number of patients needing intensive care unit services has also trended upward in the past month. Iowa doctors and hospital officials are preparing for a system overrun by COVID-19 patients by talking about how to transfer patients between hospitals and enacting surge plans that could turn non-hospital facilities into spots to handle any overflow.

Kansas

Wichita: A retired firefighter who is charged with threatening to kidnap and kill the mayor because he was upset about the city’s mask ordinance had been texting an acquaintance on the City Council for more than a month before his arrest, newly released court records show. The document were released Tuesday in the case against 59-year-old Meredith Dowty, who was charged last week with three counts of criminal threat. They say Wichita City Council member James Clendenin started receiving texts from Dowty on Sept. 9, when Dowty wrote that he wanted to know where the mayor eats, sleeps, and buys food and gas, The Wichita Eagle reports. Clendenin, who voted against the mask mandate, said Dowty might have felt they were “kindred spirits” because of his stance. Court documents say Dowty also texted about people needing to be “hung by their necks” on Sept. 24 and then described the mayor as “traitorous” in a Sept. 25 message.

Kentucky

Frankfort: Facing its worst coronavirus outbreak since the pandemic began, the state surged past 100,000 total COVID-19 cases Wednesday as Gov. Andy Beshear bluntly warned that people are putting themselves at risk if they fail to wear masks in public. The governor reported 1,864 new confirmed cases, pushing the statewide total past 101,000. He announced 14 more virus-related deaths, raising Kentucky’s death count to at least 1,442. Reflecting the virus’s rapid spread, 64 counties – more than half of Kentucky’s counties – are listed in the highest category for COVID-19 incidence rates, Beshear said at a press conference. The state’s positivity rate reached 6.07%, the first time it surpassed 6% since Aug. 8. The current escalation is the worst to hit Kentucky, and its reach is statewide, the governor said. “When you look at the incident map, it also shows you that this is not localized,” he said.

Louisiana

Storm damage from Hurricane Zeta in Lafourche Parish.
Storm damage from Hurricane Zeta in Lafourche Parish.

Baton Rouge: The state’s chief elections officer said he is assessing how Hurricane Zeta may affect voters’ ability to cast ballots in Tuesday’s election after the storm has caused widespread power and structure damage. Almost 500,000 locations in southeastern Louisiana remained without electricity Thursday after the powerful Category 2 storm sprinted through the state’s bayou region and New Orleans. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said the state will stand up emergency polling stations if necessary. “The secretary of state’s office is working in close coordination with local officials to assess the damage sustained by our election partners and infrastructure, including registrar of voters offices, clerk of court offices, warehouses and polling locations,” Ardoin said in a statement. “Power outages remain the most widespread challenge and we are working with Entergy and other utility companies to assess and restore power to our election infrastructure.”

Maine

Portland: Absentee ballots continue to flood into clerk’s offices in Maine, and the processing has started. Clerks normally cannot begin processing absentee ballots until the Friday before Election Day, but an executive order by Gov. Janet Mills allowed local election officials to begin processing the ballots Tuesday, seven days before the election, if they choose. The goal is to help clerks deal with a flood of absentee ballots. Clerks are allowed open the envelopes, remove the ballots and check names off the voting list. The actual ballots can be fed into an optical scanning machine, with the results stored until the polls close on Election Day. More than 400,000 already have been cast. That breaks Maine’s all-time record of 258,000 absentee ballots cast in the general election in 2016. Concerns about coronavirus are motivating more voters to use absentee ballots this election cycle.

Maryland

Annapolis: As health officials face skepticism about rushed COVID-19 vaccines, the state will conduct outreach efforts to promote trust in a vaccine when a safe one becomes available, the deputy health secretary said Wednesday. Dr. Jinlene Chan told a panel of state lawmakers that the health department recognizes historically there are groups that may be more hesitant to accept a vaccination than others. “Our outreach efforts, we absolutely recognize, will need to be culturally competent and reach minority populations and take into account those different populations throughout the state in terms of communication, in terms of education and not just language appropriate, but also culturally appropriate,” Chan said. She said the health department will have two advisory groups. One will examine vaccine data as it is released. Another will include input from representatives from minority and faith-based community groups.

Massachusetts

Boston: The first coronavirus testing site at Logan International Airport opened Wednesday. The site, located in Terminal E and operated by health and wellness company XpresSpa Group, will be for airport and airline employees at first but will start testing travelers as well in mid-November, the company said. “It helps create a safer environment and reduces risk,” company CEO Doug Satzman told WBUR News on Tuesday. “Testing is not the only answer. It’s just one of the important pieces of the puzzle.” The facility at the airport – the largest in New England and among the busiest in the United States – will offer three tests: a quick test that returns results within 15 minutes; a nasal swab test; and a blood antibody test. The facility will be able to process about 400 tests a day, the company said.

Michigan

Lansing: The Democratic governor and top state elections official on Wednesday defended the integrity of the election amid continued attacks from President Donald Trump, saying that results may take longer in close contests because of the surge in absentee voting in the battleground state but that every valid ballot would be counted. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer encouraged people to take advantage of their right to cast an absentee ballot for any reason, including in person at their clerk’s office, to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus at a polling place on Election Day. She echoed calls for anyone who still has a ballot to either hand-deliver it to a clerk or put it in a secure drop box instead of using the mail. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on election night to be counted. Trump, who is facing Democrat Joe Biden, has baselessly suggested there is “massive fraud” in mail-in voting, saying the election is “rigged.”

Minnesota

Minneapolis: State health officials warned Wednesday against traditional Halloween festivities as warmer weather is expected to coincide with the holiday this weekend amid an increase in virus cases statewide in recent weeks. Instead of high-risk activities like traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating and attending indoor haunted houses, the Minnesota Department of Health, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is providing guidance on its website describing how to celebrate Halloween amid the pandemic. The guidance describes lower-risk activities as carving pumpkins and decorating homes, virtual gatherings, and in-home activities with household members like watching a movie. Individually wrapped bags of candy may substitute for traditional trick-or-treating to avoid close contact as children go door-to-door.

Mississippi

Jackson: Having enough poll workers, securing ballots, and ensuring election workers and voters are safe from COVID-19 are challenges local election officials say they have to face for Tuesday’s election. Officials say they’re using plexiglass barriers, recruiting poll workers through a Mississippi Secretary of State portal and supplying personal protection equipment at precincts, and voters in some counties will be given disposable pens to sign poll books and mark ballots. Social distancing will be mandated at precincts. Masks are encouraged but won’t be mandatory for voters. Madison County Election Commission Chair Julia Hodges said poll workers will wear masks. There will be constant cleaning of items and materials inside precincts on Election Day, she said. Also, to ensure ballots are secure, Hodges said Madison County has new ballot bags that can be locked and sealed by poll managers.

Missouri

Columbia: A federal judge refused to intervene Wednesday to keep open a lab that handled coronavirus tests for about 2,500 nursing homes in 11 states after the federal government suspended the lab for what it alleged were serious violations that put patients’ health at risk. U.S. District Judge Douglas Harpool said that the lab, Gamma Healthcare, was in effect asking him to step into a role that belongs to federal health and safety regulators. Missouri nursing homes are worried that loss of the lab’s services will slow down testing for their elderly and frail patients. Gamma Healthcare’s Poplar Bluff lab handled COVID-19 testing for thousands of long-term care centers. Attorneys for the Medicare agency, or CMS, in court documents wrote that two testing machines at the lab operated for months producing false negatives on over a quarter of known-positive coronavirus samples.

Montana

Helena: A staff member in Gov. Steve Bullock’s office tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokesperson for the governor said Wednesday, but Bullock and Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney have tested negative for the virus. Bullock and Cooney were not considered close contacts of the infected staffer, who has not been in the office this week, spokesperson Erin Loranger said. Bullock, a Democrat running to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines in a hotly contested race, will not quarantine under advice from the state’s chief medical officer Dr. Greg Holzman. He will continue to be regularly tested over the next few days, Loranger said. Cooney is the Democrat running for governor against Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte. The staff member tested positive for the coronavirus after experiencing symptoms, Loranger said. Four additional staff members in the governor’s office are considered close contacts and will quarantine for 14 days.

Nebraska

Omaha: A former TV weatherman and spokesman for a former mayor has been sentenced to two years of probation for emailing death threats to a local health department director over her handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Ronald Penzkowski, 58, was sentenced Tuesday, the Omaha World-Herald reports. Penzkowski pleaded no contest earlier this year to two misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault. He initially had been charged with a felony count of making terroristic threats. Penzkowski was arrested March 31 after investigators said he sent more than a dozen emails to Dr. Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department. The emails threatening to “lynch” Pour and slit her throat cited Pour’s public health measures and recommendations for residents to stay home to help slow the spread of the virus, investigators said.

Nevada

Carson City: Businesses may close, and hospitals may need to adopt “crisis standards” that include care rationing, if the coronavirus continues to spread at current rates in Nevada, state leaders said Wednesday. “I don’t care who says it: We are not rounding the corner,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said at a news conference. “Anyone who says to the contrary is lying. They’re trying to intentionally deceive people and have them let their guard down. We cannot let that happen.” As the pandemic surges, Sisolak said more painstaking choices are likely unless Nevada commits to steps like mask-wearing and social distancing. After business closures and decreased activity on the Las Vegas Strip cut deeply into the tax revenue base used to fund schools and health care services in Nevada – an effect he called “devastating” – Sisolak said he hoped to prevent rolling back policies that have allowed the majority of businesses and schools to reopen.

New Hampshire

Concord: An attorney arguing against allowing the 400-member state House to hold remote sessions during the coronavirus pandemic falsely claimed Thursday that the flu usually kills more people than COVID-19. “We call this pandemic unprecedented. I respectfully say that that word does not apply here,” Penny Dean told the state Supreme Court. “We have flu to a greater or lesser degree every year. Usually, depending on the year, more people die from the flu than have died from COVID.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 people in the U.S. annually since 2010, while more than 200,000 have died this year of COVID-19. In New Hampshire, there were 33 flu deaths for the 2019-2020 season, which was in line with the previous five years, compared to 478 COVID-19 deaths since March.

New Jersey

Trenton: The state’s ballot question on legalizing recreational marijuana has led to more than $2 million in campaign fundraising, mostly by groups in favor of cannabis, the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission said Thursday. The campaign already ranks in the top 10 costliest ballot questions in state history, according to the commission. By far, most of the fundraising is benefitting groups that support legalization. The two groups that have raised the most are NJ Can 2020 and Building Stronger Communities Action Fund. NJ Can 2020 is a social welfare group consisting of a coalition of organizations, including the ACLU of New Jersey, the Latino Action Network, Drug Police Action and the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association among others. The action fund’s main donor is the Scotts Company, which makes Miracle-Gro.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: As many as 4 in 5 public school students are failing at least one class in some of the state’s school districts, according to data made public Wednesday by legislative analysts. They delivered their report as state lawmakers consider the impact of school closures, educational challenges posed by remote learning and learning losses attributed to far less in-person schooling because of the pandemic. The school closures have disproportionately affected low-income students who are less likely to have access to the internet to participate in online learning and more likely to live in districts with little or no in-person learning options, the report said. In the rural southern community of Hatch, nearly 80% of middle and high school students are failing at least one class, the report said. The report included data from 29 of the state’s 89 school districts mostly in smaller and rural areas. The average failing rate was 42%.

New York

New York: The U.S. Justice Department vastly expanded an inquiry Wednesday that could determine whether the state is undercounting coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents, demanding detailed data from hundreds of private facilities. The demand ratchets up pressure on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo after months of bipartisan criticism that the state’s official tally of 6,722 dead at long-term care facilities is probably off by thousands. That’s because New York, unlike nearly every other state, counts only residents who died on a nursing home’s property and not those who died after being taken to a hospital. Cuomo’s administration has repeatedly refused to release such nursing home data to lawmakers and the media, including a public-records request from the Associated Press dating back to May.

North Carolina

Durham: Two restaurant owners have won a lawsuit they filed accusing their insurance company of not honoring its contract when they had to close their businesses due to the coronavirus, according to a spokesperson for a company run by one of the owners. A Durham County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Matt Kelly and Giorgios Bakatsias earlier this month regarding the lawsuit that was filed against Cincinnati Insurance Company in May, Jennifer Noble Kelly, spokesperson for Giorgios Hospitality Group, told WRAL-TV on Wednesday. They both own restaurants in Durham. Kelly and Bakatsias’ lawsuit had asked the insurance company to require “payment for lost business income, extra expenses, and other business related losses” because of the pandemic and “related actions by governmental authorities requiring closure.”

North Dakota

Bismarck: The state’s death toll from COVID-19 neared 500 on Thursday, with health officials reporting an additional 11 deaths. The North Dakota Department of Health also reported six hospitalizations in the prior day due to the coronavirus, increasing the total number of patients in medical facilities to a record 184. October has been the deadliest month to date from the coronavirus, accounting for 228 of the 499 deaths recorded since the pandemic began. Health officials reported a record 1,222 new infections from the virus Thursday and a daily positivity rate of 15.6%. The COVID Tracking Project reported that North Dakota has had more than 1,442 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, which leads the nation. The rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by more than 40% in the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Ohio

Columbus: Employers will receive a record $5 billion in repayments from the state insurance fund for injured workers to help with the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Mike DeWine and the fund’s administrator announced Wednesday. The return of the dividends marks the third such payment this year to help struggling businesses. The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation sent $1.54 billion to employers in April and announced an additional $1.34 billion earlier this month. “Our economy is coming back,” DeWine said. “But many of our businesses, businessmen and women, continue to struggle.” The average restaurant could see a check of about $13,000 and the average farmer a check of about $9,500, the governor said. The city of Columbus – the biggest public Ohio employer that receives worker unemployment compensation through the state – will receive the largest check at $64 million.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: Early in-person voting began Thursday across the state for an election that has already seen record turnout throughout the U.S. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at most of the 77 county election board offices Thursday and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. In Tulsa, early voting was taking place at the minor league baseball stadium, ONEOK Field, to accommodate more voters and allow for better social distancing as the coronavirus continues to surge. Besides president, Oklahoma voters will cast ballots for a U.S. Senate race, five U.S. House seats, corporation commissioner and two state questions, along with legislative and county seats and appellate judges. Even before early in-person voting began, more than 234,000 Oklahomans had already cast absentee ballots by mail, more than twice as many who voted by mail during the last presidential election in 2016.

Oregon

Salem: With less than a week to go until Election Day, more than half of the registered voters in the state have already cast their ballots. At this point during the past three presidential elections, fewer than 44% of Oregonians had returned their ballots. As of Wednesday, more than 57% of registered voters in the state had done so, according to the Elections Division of the Secretary of State. Nearly 3 million people are registered to vote in Oregon. During the last two presidential elections, between 80% and 82% of registered voters in Oregon returned their ballots. In addition to president, Oregonians are voting on U.S. and state Senate and House races as well as decide on ballot measures that could decriminalize possession of small amounts of heroin and cocaine, legalize the therapeutic use of psilocybin mushrooms and increase the tax on cigarettes.

Pennsylvania

Harrisburg: State liquor regulators on Wednesday waived nearly $28 million in 2021 fees for bars, restaurants, hotels and other retail licensees that have been hit hard by the pandemic and state-imposed restrictions. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board approved the relief measure less than a week after Gov. Tom Wolf announced it. Trade groups have said the fee waiver, while a start, would barely make a dent in their members’ staggering financial losses. A range of fees will be waived, varying from $30 to $700, the liquor board said. Another type of fee that allows for the preservation of an inactive license, which starts at $5,000 to $10,000 per year, will also be waived. The board voted 2-1 to waive the fees. The dissenting member, Mike Negra, said that while he supports financial relief for bars and restaurants, the board was “legislating, rather than administering current law.”

Rhode Island

Providence: The state attorney general’s office on Thursday issued a warning to landlords to remind them that evicting a tenant without a court order is illegal and may result in prosecution. The office has in recent weeks received reports of an increasing number of so-called self-help evictions, or evictions carried out without the required court order. “The pandemic has resulted in tremendous financial hardship for landlords and tenants alike,” Attorney General Peter Neronha said in a statement. Actions like illegally changing locks, cutting off electricity, or otherwise trying to strong-arm a tenant out of a property are all examples of self-help evictions, the office said. The laws apply to both residential and commercial landlords, Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office said. Tenants who are being evicted without a valid court order should continue making rent payments to the extent possible and seek legal guidance, Neronha said.

South Carolina

Columbia: More than 1 million votes have already been cast in November’s election in the state. The millionth vote – all by absentee ballot so far – was recorded sometime Wednesday, according to data from the South Carolina Election Commission. About two-thirds of the absentee ballots have been cast in person. The General Assembly allowed absentee voting for anyone without an excuse this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. About 371,000 absentee ballots have been mailed in, with 100,000 ballots being issued as of Wednesday morning but not returned, the Election Commission said. Absentee voting in 2020 has obliterated records from the 2016 general election, in which more than 500,000 people voted absentee. All polling places in South Carolina will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. The record for turnout in the state is 2.1 million voters in 2016.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: The state reported a record number of daily COVID-19 deaths Thursday, with 19. The number of hospitalizations also inched up to 413, marking the fifth day in a row that it has hit a new high. The state is experiencing one of the nation’s worst waves of the virus, posting the second-highest number of new cases over the past two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. There were about 1,336 new cases per 100,000 people. That means that 1 out of roughly every 75 people in the state has tested positive for the virus in the past two weeks. Virus infections have shown little sign of slowing down, with the rolling average number of daily new cases increasing as well. The Department of Health reported 1,000 new cases Thursday, pushing the state past 12,000 active infections. Gov. Kristi Noem has downplayed the severity of the virus in recent days while highlighting the state’s economic outloook.

Tennessee

Nashville: The state is considering independently reviewing the safety and efficacy of a coronavirus vaccine once it is eventually approved by the federal government before distributing it to the public, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Wednesday. “It’s not off the table,” Piercey told reporters during the state’s weekly COVID-19 briefing. Last week, Piercey announced the state had submitted its draft distribution plan for a coronavirus vaccine to the federal government. However, she has since warned that the plan will likely be amended as state officials learn more about when the state will start receiving the vaccine and how many doses are initially provided. California was the first state to announce that it would hold off on distributing any COVID-19 vaccines until it had independently reviewed them. A handful of other states have since joined in that pact.

Texas

Austin: The state’s surge in coronavirus cases has raised COVID-19 hospitalizations by almost 2,500 since Oct. 1. The 5,650 hospitalizations reported Wednesday were also the most since Aug. 19. About 16% of the hospitalizations were in El Paso County, the state’s worst COVID-19 hot spot. Of the 5,175 new cases state health officials reported Wednesday of the virus that causes COVID-19, 16.5% came from El Paso County, which also accounted for 14.1% of the 96,528 active cases the state estimated statewide. There have been more than 879,994 Texas cases reported since the pandemic’s start, including more than 41,000 cases added in the past seven days. The state has already provided more than 900 medical personnel to El Paso, some of whom will be staffing a temporary hospital set up in the city’s convention center. The 105 COVID-19 fatalities reported statewide Wednesday brought the toll since March to 17,700.

Utah

Salt Lake City: Republican Burgess Owens is refunding and reallocating illegal campaign donations that went above contribution limits. The former football player challenging first-term U.S. Rep. Ben McAdams collected about $135,000 in excess contributions, the New York Times reports. The news comes shortly after he raised a large $2.5 million haul between July and October. Owens has had more than 50,000 donors, many of whom donated electronically, so excess contributions can happen “without the campaign’s knowledge,” said spokesman Jesse Ranney. “This isn’t unusual and is common practice,” he said. The Federal Election Commission ’s legal limit on campaign contributions is $2,800 per individual. McAdams’ campaign, though, said it was part of “a pattern of financial mismanagement.”

Vermont

Thetford: Two state lawmakers from districts near the New Hampshire border are asking Vermont officials for some flexibility after new virus rules restrict nonessential travel between the two states. In a Tuesday email, Vermont State Rep. Jim Masland, a Democrat from Thetford, highlighted how intertwined the communities are in the two states in the upper Connecticut River valley. Masland told the Valley News that both he and fellow state Rep. Tim Briglin have heard from constituents concerned about their children’s ability to participate in a ski program in New Hampshire, even when those same children attend the same schools. There are also soccer programs involving young people from both states. On Tuesday, Vermont updated its travel map and noted the levels of the virus infection in the New Hampshire counties were too high to allow nonessential travel unless people quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in Vermont.

Virginia

Richmond: Southwest Virginia is seeing a sustained, troubling increase in cases of COVID-19 driven partly by small family gatherings, the governor and top health officials said Wednesday, as one area health system issued a stark warning that its resources were being stretched thin. “To be quite frank, today our region is in a really bad place in this pandemic,” said Jamie Swift, the chief infection prevention officer for Ballad Health, which serves southwest Virginia. Gov. Ralph Northam said at a news conference in Richmond that Virginia overall is among just a handful of U.S. states not reporting large increases in COVID-19 cases. But the seven-day testing percent positivity rate in the region’s westernmost localities is about twice the rate of the rest of the state’s 5.1% and has been increasing for 15 days, Northam said.

Washington

Seattle: State health officials say a new COVID-19 report shows an increase in cases and hospitalizations throughout Washington. If not brought under control, officials said the spike could jeopardize progress toward reopening schools, strain the health care system and increase risks during the holiday season. In an updated situation report released Wednesday, the state Department of Health said the virus is spreading faster in Western Washington than Eastern Washington but is rising on both sides of the Cascades. Estimates show each new COVID-19 patient is infecting 1.34 others, on average, in Western Washington. In Eastern Washington the average infection rate is 1.12. The goal is a number well below one, which would mean COVID-19 transmission is declining, officials said.

West Virginia

Huntington: Marshall University plans to continue a combination of in-person, virtual and online classes for the spring semester due to the coronavirus pandemic. President Jerome Gilbert said in an email to the Marshall community that while pandemic adjustments are necessary, “the success of the fall semester indicates we are on the right track.” The university said in a statement that freshmen, some graduate and most professional students can still expect a combination of face-to-face and virtual courses with live meetings. The number of in-person offerings for freshmen is expected to increase in the spring semester. Mostly virtual courses will be offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors, the statement said. Hands-on courses with a student’s major may be offered face-to-face by each academic program. The university said there have been 143 positive tests among the nearly 13,000 tests administered on campus.

Wisconsin

Madison: The University of Wisconsin-Madison will resume enrolling patients for a coronavirus vaccine trial next week. Thirty-six people had received the first of two shots before the study at the School of Medicine and Public Health was paused in September. The study is for a coronavirus vaccine produced by Oxford University and the British pharmaceutical manufacturer AstraZeneca, which announced last Friday that testing would resume after it got clearance from the Food and Drug Administration. Testing of AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate was paused after a study volunteer developed a serious health issue. Such temporary halts of drug and vaccine testing are relatively common. The participants in the UW-Madison study will now have the option to receive their second dose of the vaccine, and the school will resume enrolling volunteers, Wisconsin Public Radio News reports.

Wyoming

Laramie: Nearly 80 positions will be eliminated, the operations budget will be cut, and the athletic department will cut travel costs and reduce salaries as the University of Wyoming addresses a $42 million budget deficit exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The proposal comes after Gov. Mark Gordon imposed the 10% cuts on the university as a result of a substantial decrease in state revenue, the Laramie Boomerang reports. The university cuts would eliminate at least 78 academic and nonacademic positions. Most of the positions are currently unfilled. The university would reduce its support budget, which includes travel and professional development, and its operations budgets. About 35 graduate teaching assistant positions would be eliminated, and spending would decrease on global engagement. The proposal would eliminate 50 currently budgeted positions.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Airport testing, legislative outbreak: News from around our 50 states