Montgomery: The state said it was distributing its first COVID-19 vaccine doses to prisoners Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Corrections announced. The Alabama National Guard was expected to deliver about 1,400 doses to the Bullock Correctional Facility. Prisoners are not required to get the shots. The doses were first allotted to a National Guard-run clinic aimed at vaccinating rural communities. In a statement, ADOC said attendance at those clinics last week was limited by severe weather. The state Department of Public Health notified ADOC that a surplus of defrosted Pfizer vaccines needed to be used. Prisoners and other populations in group settings are prioritized under federal vaccine guidelines because of the risk congregant settings pose for the highly infectious coronavirus. Families of prisoners last year said it was nearly impossible to take proper precautions against COVID-19 in state prisons, with bunks crowded together and regular issues plaguing plumbing and hygiene materials. The prison system on March 17 announced it received 4,000 of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine, which it reserved for staff only. But as of March 31, only 487 staff members had opted to take it through the department. At least 63 Alabama prisoners have died from COVID-19 and three staff members.
Anchorage: Former Gov. Sarah Palin says she tested positive for the coronavirus and is urging people to take steps to guard against its spread, such as wearing masks in public. “Through it all, I view wearing that cumbersome mask indoors in a crowd as not only allowing the newfound luxury of being incognito but trust it’s better than doing nothing to slow the spread,” Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, told People magazine. “And history will show we ‘Masked Singer’ visitors were masked before being masked was cool,” she said in her statement, referring to a TV show on which she once appeared. It was not clear when Palin, 57, tested positive. She told the magazine that other members of her family tested positive as well. She said her case shows that “anyone can catch this.” “I strongly encourage everyone to use common sense to avoid spreading this and every other virus out there,” Palin said, in urging vigilance but not fear. She said she also advised “reprioritizing some personal time and resources to ensure as healthy a lifestyle as you can create so when viruses do hit, you have at least some armor to fight it.”
Phoenix: Gov. Doug Ducey announced Wednesday that additional workers are being added to meet the high demand at state-run COVID-19 vaccine sites. State health officials said Tuesday that they were experiencing long lines outside State Farm Stadium in Glendale, citing multiple issues including the hot weather. “The State Farm Stadium site is among the highest-performing mass vaccination sites in the U.S.,” Ducey said in a statement. “This past weekend alone, we administered more than 10,000 doses per day. We’re committed to keeping up the pace.” Ducey said state staff members are stepping up to supplement existing paid staff and volunteers at vaccine sites. He said nearly 90 additional National Guard personnel would also join the vaccination effort Thursday. More than 900 National Guard personnel already were deployed to support the COVID-19 mission in Arizona. Meanwhile on Wednesday, Arizona health officials reported 733 additional confirmed coronavirus cases and 26 more deaths. But officials said about 200 of the additional cases were from records cleanups involving cases occurring over the entire pandemic. The state’s pandemic totals increased to 841,811 cases and 16,967 deaths, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
Little Rock: Lawmakers on Wednesday voted to prohibit the state from reimposing a mask mandate, a day after Gov. Asa Hutchinson lifted the requirement. The Senate voted 20-9 in favor of the measure banning mandatory face coverings, sending the measure to the House. Hutchinson, a Republican, has not ruled out reinstating the mandate but has said it is unlikely. “What this bill does is make sure we don’t have that happen again, by executive order or by government fiat,” said Republican Sen. Trent Garner, the bill’s sponsor. The measure is the latest pushback Hutchinson has faced from fellow Republicans over virus rules and his emergency powers. Last week he vetoed legislation that would have required the state to refund fines collected from some businesses. He signed into law a measure that expands the Legislature’s power to terminate an emergency and any orders issued under it. Democratic Rep. Clarke Tucker, who voted against the new measure, said it was written so broadly that it could be viewed as prohibiting any mask rules by local governments or private businesses. The governor has said cities can continue requiring masks, and the cities of Fayetteville and Little Rock have said they’ll continue enforcing their mandates. Hutchinson raised similar concerns about the new bill, calling it “pointless” and saying he’d veto it as written.
Santa Monica: From cheering fans instead of cardboard cutouts at Dodger Stadium to screaming thrill-seekers riding the Giant Dipper roller coaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a lot of activities Californians haven’t been able to enjoy for most of the past year are suddenly within reach as the state reopens more widely. April has brought a fresh breath of warm spring air after a stale year of coronavirus closures. It also may be unleashing a strain of spring fever that was dormant after Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed the first statewide lockdown last March. “After about a year of being hidden inside, nobody knows how to behave when they go out in public,” cartoon portrait artist Walt Davis said Wednesday near the Santa Monica Pier. “It’s been nuts.” April arrived with COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths dropping and new infections remaining low. Vaccines opened more widely Thursday, to people 50 and up, though supplies remain limited. But health officials are urging caution to avoid a fourth wave of the pandemic. Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the state was in better shape than others because 12 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine, and there’s a fair bit of immunity, with an estimated 37% of people in Los Angeles County having been infected by the virus already.
Denver: The state Department of Corrections has announced it will provide $500 to all employees who get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. “I don’t think it’s offensive to say, ‘Look, it’s such a public safety concern that we’re going to provide an incentive for you to get the vaccine,’ ” agency Executive Director Dean Williams said. “This investment of having our staff vaccinated, providing an incentive for that, is very small compared to the cost that we have incurred over dealing with a pandemic.” The $500, subject to normal taxes and withholdings, will come from the agency budget to fund the bonus for those who complete vaccination by May 15, KUSA-TV reports. More than 2,400 employees, or 40%, had been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday. About 250, or 4%, have received at least one dose. Based on the numbers so far, the agency will pay out $1.2 million. There are about 40,000 state employees, but the bonus is only for Department of Corrections employees. For employees who did not receive a vaccination through work, they must report they got it elsewhere to be eligible for payment. The general population of inmates will be eligible for the vaccine, just as the general public becomes eligible Friday. The agency had been offering vaccines to inmates if they qualified for an earlier phase.
Hartford: The state on Wednesday received its first credit rating upgrade in two decades, prompting Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont to proclaim Connecticut is “emerging as a financial leader among the states.” Moody’s Investor Services upgraded the state’s general obligation bond rating one notch, from A1 to Aa3, citing its “significant budgetary reserves and good financial performance through the pandemic.” The major rating agency noted that Connecticut’s budget reserve fund – estimated to end the year with $3.7 billion – is “critical” to mitigating its “heavy debt and retiree benefit liabilities, which are among the highest of all states.” Lamont embraced the news as an indication the state’s financial picture has improved, despite the public health and economic crisis. “We are a national leader in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, and due to our wise investments, robust savings, better than anticipated revenues, and generous federal support we are emerging as a financial leader among the states,” Lamont said in a statement, noting his administration’s efforts to pay down pension liabilities and other budgetary decisions. The top two Republican leaders of the state Senate cautioned while the bond rating upgrade is good news, top state economists have warned that Connecticut’s economy is the worst performing in the nation.
Wilmington: Last spring and fall, state officials gave regular warnings about the dangers of not adhering to public health strategies such as mask-wearing and social distancing. In both instances, the coronavirus raged anyway, totaling nearly 100,000 infections and contributing to more than 1,500 deaths through its first year in Delaware. After declining and then plateauing for several weeks, COVID-19 cases in the First State are rising again, and officials are again calling for the public “to lean into” the mitigation measures. This time, rising numbers of vaccinations give officials hope that a large surge can be avoided and that Delaware can soon return to some familiarity in everyday life. Public health experts say the state is in a race between vaccinations and the circulation of more transmissible mutations of the virus that are fueling the latest surge. “We need to press on a little longer,” said Dr. Jennifer Horney, founding director of the University of Delaware’s epidemiology program. “How many times have we said that?” State officials on Tuesday identified Wilmington, Elsmere, New Castle, Newark, Townsend, Delaware City, Middletown and Millville as areas of concern, saying they’ve observed an increase in traffic and more people “letting down their guard” too soon. “It’s very obvious people are feeling spring fever,” Gov. John Carney said.
District of Columbia
Washington: Officials in the nation’s capital are watching the crowds as cherry blossom season begins in earnest. The distinctive white and pink petals reached full bloom Sunday, about a week earlier than expected. The event normally brings in thousands of visitors and signals the unofficial start of D.C.’s peak tourist and convention season. But Washington remains largely locked down because of the coronavirus pandemic, with limitations on outdoor gatherings and Smithsonian museums and galleries and its National Zoo shuttered. “We’re starting to open slowly,” said Cherry Blossom Festival President Diana Mayhew. “We really hope that people are being smart. We’ve all gone through enough this past year that we don’t want to revert back.” The National Park Service stands poised to limit access to the Tidal Basin and its high concentration of cherry blossom trees if the crowds there grow too thick. Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said local virus metrics have been encouraging, but vigilance is still the order of the day. He said that so far the crowds have been manageable and well-behaved. But the park service will be watching the area around the Jefferson Memorial to make sure that no choke points are forming and that social distancing can be maintained.
Miami: It’s a race against time for nonprofits, organizations and officials who are trying to vaccinate thousands of farmworkers who were denied priority access in the state but now have to travel north to harvest crops in other regions. Farmworker advocates are asking officials to quickly mobilize to areas such as Homestead, south of Miami, and Immokalee, east of Naples, and to be more lenient when requiring proof of residency now that Florida has lowered the vaccine eligibility age. They say many farmworkers are in the country illegally and don’t have a driver’s license or other documents required as an alternative. Top officials with Miami-Dade County told activists and farmworkers Wednesday at a virtual roundtable on COVID-19 vaccine distribution not to worry about the documents and to focus instead on outreach and gathering groups of farmworkers ready to get the shot. Groups such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers have decried that Gov. Ron DeSantis did not prioritize farmworkers in the state’s vaccine rollout as other governors did. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said she has been asking the governor since December to allow farmworkers to get the shot. Lupe Gonzalo, an organizer at the Immokalee coalition, said farmworkers are uniquely exposed to the virus because they often live in crowded conditions and travel together in vans or buses.
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp is rolling back coronavirus restrictions despite warnings from federal officials of a “fourth surge” of COVID-19 cases if states continue relaxing precautions. Kemp signed an executive order Wednesday that ends a ban on large gatherings, eliminates shelter-in-place requirements, and reduces any remaining distance requirements at restaurants, bars, and movie theaters and between people at group fitness classes, according to the governor’s office. The rollback starts April 8 and runs through April 30. It comes days after President Joe Biden and the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that too many Americans are prematurely declaring victory against the coronavirus. They appealed for mask requirements and other restrictions to be maintained or restored. The federal warnings came even as the country ramped up vaccinations against the disease caused by the virus. Georgia last week made all residents over the age of 16 eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, and Kemp has said loosening restrictions was a critical step in restoring normalcy and ensuring businesses survive.
Honolulu: A coronavirus outbreak tied to a church on Maui has resulted in at least 55 cases, according to the state Department of Health. Health officials asked anyone who attended events at King’s Cathedral in Kahului to get tested for the coronavirus, Hawaii News Now reports. Officials also asked the church to cancel all its upcoming in-person events until the outbreak is over but said the church has so far been unwilling to comply. A message left Thursday with the church seeking comment was not immediately returned. The first virus cases associated with the church began March 7, the outbreak has affected people from ages 10 to 77, and the cluster has nearly doubled over the past week and a half or so. The virus also spread from the church to a school and a workplace, and officials are concerned that spillover cases might threaten the general population.
Boise: A federal judge should require an 87-year-old man to reveal whether he’s received a COVID-19 vaccine following his January lawsuit seeking to put those 65 and older at the front of the line, state officials say. The state attorney general’s office said in documents filed Wednesday that Richard Byrd’s lawsuit against Republican Gov. Brad Little and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen should be thrown out on technical grounds. But if it’s not, state officials say, then Byrd should be forced to reveal whether he’s been vaccinated, as that could make the case pointless. Byrd was not eligible to get a vaccine when he filed the $75,000 lawsuit Jan. 4 but became eligible Feb. 1. Idaho has sped up its vaccine schedule considerably from early January as more doses became available. Now, residents 16 and over can get the vaccine in much of the state. The attorney general’s office is asking the court to require Byrd to reveal how many doses of a COVID-19 vaccine he’s received. If the answer is one or zero, state officials want to know what efforts Byrd has made to get the shots. When Byrd sued, Idaho’s vaccine plan focused on about 140,000 front-line health care workers and long-term care residents in an effort to keep the health system from being overrun.
Springfield: The state has cleared one of the hurdles for reopening more parts of the economy, but other indicators of the spread of the coronavirus – such as rising hospitalizations and positive tests – are stalling progress, officials said Wednesday. And a prominent Springfield doctor said he was frustrated by an apparent reluctance by the general public to get vaccinated and take the surest step to end a pandemic that has lasted more than a year. “The vaccine hesitancy has been much more than I expected,” said Dr. Marc Shelton, chief physician executive for Hospital Sisters Health System. He said open slots remaining for shots at HSHS sites tell him people may be feeling complacent now that others are getting vaccinated. False information on the internet about the risks associated with COVID-19 vaccine – which has proven overwhelmingly safe and effective – may be playing a role in the lack of strong demand. “Getting the vaccine is a heck of a lot better than getting COVID,” Shelton said. He said he expects another surge of COVID-19 cases and eventually hospitalizations, though the number of deaths may not be as high as in previous surges because most people in the age group at highest risk for health complications, 65 and older, have been vaccinated.
Clarksville: A nurse has been charged with practicing medicine without a license for allegedly removing a nursing home resident’s oxygen mask hours before he died from COVID-19 last year. Connie Sneed, 52, was charged last week with the felony, which carries a potential penalty of one to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Authorities began investigating the man’s April 2020 death at a nursing home in Clarksville after learning that Sneed wrote in a Facebook post that she had asked the man if he wanted her to remove his oxygen mask so he could “fly with the angels.” Sneed called her alleged actions “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in 28 years,” according to an inspection report from the Indiana Department of Health. The man, a resident at Wedgewood Healthcare Center, had been struggling after days of aggressive oxygen treatment for COVID-19, according to investigators. Sneed wrote that she saw him repeatedly try to take off his oxygen mask when she approached him and asked if he wanted her to remove it, according to the report. The man received no additional treatment and died nearly eight hours later, the report says. In a May interview with state inspectors, Sneed said she’d had a “terrible” week and was caring for more than 40 COVID-19 patients at the nursing home when she forgot to notify the resident’s physician of the man’s decline. She also said the man’s daughter had told her that “if it was her father’s wishes she could remove the mask.”
Johnston: Facing an uptick in new coronavirus cases and a hesitancy among a significant portion of the population to get vaccinated, Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday continued her push to persuade Iowans that getting a shot will help return life to normal. In early March, hospitalizations of people infected with the virus had dropped as low as low as 161, but they began edging up again mid-month and have been around 200 in recent days. The seven-day percentage of positive tests had been well below 5% for much of the month but reached 5% again Tuesday and has been hovering just below that level. A recent survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates 45.5% of the nearly 1.5 million Iowa adults who have not yet been vaccinated say they definitely will get a shot when they’re eligible. That leaves about 800,000 who will not commit to a vaccination, roughly 36% of the total adult population. Reynolds sidestepped a question at her Wednesday press conference about why she believes so many Iowans are hesitant to get the vaccine. Instead, she said that in visits to clinics, she sees many people eager to get a shot. “The response that I see from Iowans that are there getting the vaccine, there is a pep in their step. They are so grateful to have it. They are excited to reconnect with family members,” she said.
Topeka: Top legislators on Thursday revoked an order aimed at encouraging counties to keep mask mandates amid the coronavirus pandemic, just hours after Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly issued it. Kelly’s order required people to wear masks indoors at businesses and public spaces and outdoors when they can’t socially distance. State law gives counties the final say, but her order meant that elected county commissions had to vote to set less restrictive rules or opt out. The governor said in a statement that the order would ensure that past efforts to check the virus “will not have been wasted.” The order was similar to a mask policy she issued in November. She was required to reissue it under a new state law that also gives eight top legislators the power to revoke an order issued by the governor because of a pandemic or other emergency. And they immediately did so. Their vote came after Republicans in both chambers approved resolutions this week directing legislative leaders to rescind any statewide mask policy. Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, said the earlier order was issued as case numbers soared, and things have changed drastically since. Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said counties can still pass and enforce their own rules.
Frankfort: State lawmakers are off to a “good start” in using a massive infusion of federal pandemic aid to create jobs and stimulate economic growth in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday. The Republican-led Legislature closed out its 30-day session Tuesday by allocating more than $1 billion in federal money on several big-ticket items, including school construction, water and sewer projects, and broadband expansion. The Democratic governor, who feuded with GOP lawmakers over efforts to rein in some of his executive authority, praised the Legislature for its decisions on how to use the federal aid and predicted the investments will create thousands of jobs. The state government is expected to eventually receive about $2.4 billion from the pandemic aid package championed by President Joe Biden and passed by congressional Democrats. Beshear said it was “too early to know” whether he would need to convene a special legislative session later this year to appropriate the remainder of the state’s portion of federal aid or whether it could be dealt with in the regular 2022 session. But the work between his office and lawmakers to agree on the spending decisions was “a real positive sign – one of the first times we’ve been able to work together that closely,” the governor said.
New Orleans: New rules designed to keep endangered and threatened sea turtles from drowning in some inshore shrimp nets are being postponed, and federal regulators are considering whether to expand the rules, officials said Tuesday. Coronavirus pandemic restrictions over the past year have limited in-person workshops and training opportunities for fishermen to install escape hatches called turtle excluder devices, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. Therefore, the new rules announced in 2019 will take effect Aug. 1 instead of on Thursday as planned. “The delay … is to allow NOAA Fisheries additional time for training fishermen, ensuring TEDs are built and installed properly, and for responding to installation and maintenance problems when the regulations go in effect,” the statement said. Six species of sea turtles, all of them endangered or threatened, are found in U.S. waters. The rule requires the devices on skimmer trawls pulled by boats at least 40 feet long. NOAA Fisheries is reconsidering whether to require the devices on boats shorter than 40 feet long. The devices have been required for decades on the most common shrimp nets – mesh funnels called otter trawls that are generally used offshore. The other three kinds of shrimp trawls are used in shallower water.
Portland: The state’s minor league baseball team announced Tuesday that it will welcome back fans at 28% capacity May 4. The Portland Sea Dogs said tickets for home games will go on sale April 14. The 28% capacity limit will mean Hadlock Field can accommodate a little more than 2,000 fans per game, the team said. “This reduction in attendance will help us achieve our first priority: ensuring the safety of our employees, fans, and players. The ballpark will be set up with seating pods ranging from sets of two to eight seats; each will be at least six feet from the nearest pod,” the team said in a statement. The Sea Dogs canceled their entire season in 2020 because of the pandemic. Minor League Baseball was canceled all over the country last year. Meanwhile, Maine is opening up eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to all residents 16 and older in a few days. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday that eligibility will expand April 7, 12 days earlier than previously planned. “While this is a great step forward, Maine people should keep in mind that even though they are eligible, it will still take time to get an appointment and get a vaccine,” Mills said. “We will continue to work with vaccine providers across Maine to get shots into arms as quickly as we can.”
Baltimore: The company at the center of quality problems that led Johnson & Johnson to discard 15 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine has a string of citations from U.S. health officials for quality control problems at its Baltimore plant. Emergent BioSolutions, a little-known company vital to the vaccine supply chain, was a key to J&J’s plan to deliver 100 million doses of its vaccine to the United States by the end of May. But the Food and Drug Administration repeatedly has cited Emergent for problems such as poorly trained employees, cracked vials, and problems managing mold and other contamination around one of its facilities, according to records obtained by the Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act. Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday that a batch of vaccine made by Emergent at its Baltimore factory, known as Bayview, cannot be used because it did not meet quality standards. J&J locked arms with Emergent last April, enlisting the lesser-known company to manufacture the vaccine J&J was developing with federal money. At the time, the Bayview facility wasn’t scaled for making millions of doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, according to the FDA records, which describe the plant as a contract testing laboratory that “did not manufacture products for distribution.”
Boston: The renowned Shakespeare & Company theater group plans to resume live, in-person performances this summer with a production of “King Lear” starring Emmy winner Christopher Lloyd. “King Lear,” which will run July 2 through Aug. 29, will also be the first production in The New Spruce Theatre, a new outdoor amphitheater located under the towering spruce trees on the Shakespeare & Company campus in Lenox, the organization said in a statement this week. Lloyd was originally scheduled to appear in the moving tragedy in 2020, but the entire season last year was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. Lloyd is perhaps best known as Doc Brown in the “Back to the Future” film franchise but has also appeared in “The Addams Family,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and the “Taxi” television series, for which he won two Emmys. “King Lear” will be directed by Nicole Ricciardi. At all performances, audiences will be required to wear masks, socially distance and adhere to state public health guidelines, the company said.
District: Schools across the state are in line for about $6 billion in COVID-19 relief money, the largest federal investment in K-12 education in the nation’s history. “I think it’s more than twice what the federal government spends on K-12 education in a typical year,” said Michael Addonizio, professor of education leadership and policy studies at Wayne State University. The money, which comes from three rounds of federal funding and will be spread out over several years, is intended to pay for direct costs of the pandemic like personal protection equipment, hand sanitizer and improvements to air handling systems. But it also will be spent helping students make up some of the learning that has been delayed or lost during shutdowns and virtual schooling. An analysis by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan estimated that the state’s largest district, Detroit Public Schools, will get about $1.2 billion, 1.5 times its most recent annual budget. Flint schools will get more than $150 million and Dearborn schools $130 million. The money still must be appropriated by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. That process has created bottlenecks with earlier rounds of funding as lawmakers have tried to tie its appropriation to limits on Whitmer’s emergency powers.
Minneapolis: The state exceeded more than 2,000 daily cases of the coronavirus Thursday for the first time in months amid a continued upward trend. The Minnesota Department of Health reported 2,140 new cases and 12 more deaths due to the virus, putting the state’s totals at 521,667 cases and 6,860 deaths since the start of the pandemic. More than 400 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 105 in intensive care. State health officials have said case growth is being driven by more contagious mutations of the coronavirus, specifically a variant that was first detected in the United Kingdom in January. Officials expressed concern about transmission of the variant within communities as the test positivity rate climbed over the caution threshold of 5% earlier this week amid efforts to ramp up the state’s vaccination progress. As of Tuesday, more than 1.68 million Minnesotans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 1.05 million have been fully inoculated. About 38% of all Minnesotans 16 and older – including 82% of seniors – have received at least one dose.
Jackson: The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 271 new coronavirus cases and 16 COVID-19-related deaths Thursday. Since the virus hit the state more than a year ago, a total of 305,417 cases and 7,048 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported. There were 15 outbreaks at Mississippi nursing homes as of Thursday. There have been 10,438 cases of the coronavirus in long-term care facilities and 1,972 deaths reported as of Thursday. Residents ages 25 to 39 represent the largest portion of the infected population in the state, with 67,233 cases reported Tuesday, the latest figure available. The 65-and-older set has the highest total number of deaths with 5,378 reported. According to health department data, 776,833 people had begun the vaccination process in Mississippi as of Wednesday morning. Since December, about 482,783 people have been fully immunized against COVID-19.
Springfield: The local health department, Missouri State University and other area partners hope to vaccinate 10,000 people against COVID-19 in a two-day event next week. The Springfield-Greene County Health Department announced plans to hold a “mega vaccine event” next Thursday and Friday, April 8-9, at Hammons Student Center on the MSU campus. People interested in attending must first register through the state’s vaccine navigator program at covidvaccine.mo.gov/navigator. They will then receive an email from that system to schedule an appointment. Missouri residents 18 and older qualify for a shot at the mega-clinic. People who have difficulty registering or do not have internet access can call the health department’s COVID-19 call center at 417-874-1222 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to have someone assist them with registration. People will not be charged to receive the vaccine.
Helena: Lawmakers have shepherded a bill to spend most of the state’s share of the latest influx of federal COVID-19 relief funding across its first major hurdle. The legislation passed by the House by a wide bipartisan margin Tuesday authorizes about $2 billion in federal money and creates a process for making significant investments in infrastructure, broadband connectivity, social welfare and health care programs – along with direct allocations to cities, counties and tribes and numerous, smaller one-time spends in state agencies – during the next four years. Lawmakers added a series of amendments to provide sideboards on programs administered under the federal package but ultimately voted down attempts by Democrats to broaden mortgage and rental assistance and offer direct payments to essential workers. The bill, a result of weeks of late nights and weekends for the group of lawmakers tasked with implementing the federal package, is not yet a finished product. It awaits one more vote in the House and will then go to the Senate for further tweaking. Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell, said the bill he sponsored will “build a bridge to the future” for Montana – not to mention possibly financing the construction of actual bridges.
Omaha: Gov. Pete Ricketts will get his first COVID-19 shot Saturday at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha. The 56-year-old governor had previously signed up for the vaccine online and was notified this week that he was eligible for an appointment. He’s scheduled to get the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Douglas County on Thursday started offering vaccinations to residents who are at least 45 years old. Other parts of the state have moved to younger age groups, and on Monday the state will allow public health districts to vaccinate anyone 16 and up if they have an adequate supply of doses and appointments. Ricketts and state health officials are still urging residents to sign up for a shot on the state’s registration website, vaccinate.ne.gov. Phone registrations are available by calling 833-998-2275 or 531-249-1873. Residents can also get appointments through the federal retail pharmacy program, which is making shots available through online sign-ups at Hy-Vees, Walmarts and other local pharmacies in Nebraska. Nebraska has vaccinated 23.3% of residents who are at least 16 years old, according to the state’s online tracking portal.
Las Vegas: The state’s restaurants are among the industries hit hardest by the pandemic, and restaurant owners and a Las Vegas congresswoman hope the new federal COVID-19 relief package will be another lifeline for those struggling to hang on. Democratic U.S. Rep. Dina Titus appeared Wednesday with several restaurant owners to tout $28.6 billion in grants that were included in the law signed by President Joe Biden. Titus said the help is critical for the industry in Nevada, where an estimated 30% of 5,980 restaurants closed because of the pandemic, according to the Nevada Restaurant Association. “Some of those will come back, but some of them may not, and so we want to do all we can to help them because not only are they fun places to go, but they add to the diversity and the culture of our community,” Titus said. The law calls for grants equal to the amount of a restaurant’s revenue losses, up to a maximum of $10 million per company and $5 million per location. Eligible companies cannot be publicly traded. The bill sets aside a total of $5 billion for restaurants with annual revenue of $500,000 or less. The grants, which are expected to start being dispersed in the coming weeks, can be used for a variety of expenses, from payroll and rent to cleaning or food and beverage expenses.
Concord: Communities are resuming outdoor sidewalk and street dining that have grown popular amid the coronavirus pandemic. Cities such as Portsmouth and Concord began serving outdoors Thursday, allowing restaurants to put tables and chairs on public areas such as sidewalks and parking lots. One place that hopes to set up outside soon is Revival Kitchen & Bar in Concord. Corey Fletcher, owner and chef, said he built an outdoor deck last year to help with business. “It’s pretty important, with decreased capacity inside,” Fletcher told the Concord Monitor. In Portsmouth, crews have installed concrete barriers for outdoor restaurant spaces. More than 40 restaurants applied for new or renewal outdoor dining permits for sidewalk and street space dining. More than 84,000 people across the state have tested positive for the virus, including 486 cases announced Wednesday. One new death from COVID-19 was announced, bringing the total to 1,238. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire has risen over the past two weeks from 272 new cases per day March 16 to 379 new cases per day Tuesday.
Trenton: Gov. Phil Murphy announced the launch of an online vaccine appointment finder Wednesday. The website, which says near the top that it’s still “a work in progress,” was launched in an effort to be a one-stop webpage for finding available appointment slots, which has been a struggle for Garden State residents since the vaccines became available to larger swaths of the public. “Appointments are still limited, but this new tool will take some of the stress out of your search,” Murphy said. The website, at covid19.nj.gov/pages/finder, prompts users to choose one of the state’s counties to check availability at vaccination centers within each area. New Jersey residents have turned to volunteer groups and social media pages to try to find where they can quickly snag an appointment. Some follow Twitter pages that send tweets when pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens or state-run mega-sites have openings, but the appointments fill at a rapid pace. State Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Wednesday that the state is expecting roughly 551,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine next week.
Albuquerque: The state will expand vaccine eligibility next week to everyone 16 and older, health officials said Wednesday. The federal government has directed states to make all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccination by May 1. State Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said New Mexico will be meeting that mark Monday. While the pace of vaccination has been limited by supply, Collins said federal officials have indicated states should expect “meaningful increases” in supply over the coming weeks. New Mexico continues to lead the U.S. in vaccine distribution, with nearly 1.2 million doses administered so far. The latest data from the state indicated that about 27% of residents 16 and older have been fully vaccinated, while more than 44% have received their first shots. Even though eligibility is expanding next week, the Health Department said it will continue to prioritize vaccinations for those who were in the first groups, including health care workers, nursing home staff and residents, people 75 and older, and New Mexicans with existing health conditions that put them at greater risk.
Albany: As of Thursday, domestic travelers are no longer required to quarantine after entering New York from another state or U.S. territory. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the change March 11, ending a restriction that required 10 to 14 days of quarantining or negative coronavirus tests within days of arrival. Now, a mandatory quarantine of 10 days remains in effect for international travelers, and all travelers must continue to fill out a state-issued Traveler Health Form, as well as abide by social distancing and mask-wearing rules. The lifting of the quarantine comes as New York has seen the biggest spike in COVID-19 cases in the nation over the past week, records show. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized the change in rules when it was announced. “I don’t know if that’s the state’s idea of an April Fool’s joke, but it’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. It’s reckless. It doesn’t help us with our recovery,” de Blasio said March 12. He said if someone is vaccinated, that’s one thing, but it shouldn’t be a blanket end of the quarantine standard for those who are not. Cuomo, however, defended the new policy, saying that infection rates are lower than during the holidays and that more people are being vaccinated every day.
Gastonia: Gov. Roy Cooper toured vaccine clinics in the city Wednesday, repeatedly telling people getting COVID-19 shots: “Go tell all your friends!” To 16-year-old Ava Guerrero, who was getting a vaccine, he added: “Tell teenagers this is important.” Cooper’s message for all North Carolinians is to get the COVID-19 vaccine when you can and to encourage others to get the shot. “We are turning the corner on this pandemic,” he said Wednesday at CaroMont Regional Medical Center. “We see light at the end of the tunnel. And what’s happening here today, people getting vaccinated, is our road to recovery. And it is our path to normalcy.” Guerrero, who got the Pfizer vaccine, is a student at Marvin Ridge High School in Union County. Pfizer is the only shot currently authorized for use in 16- and 17-year-olds. “I was really nervous when I first got it,” she said of the shot. “But I feel good now.” Cooper’s visit to the Charlotte area comes as the state expands vaccine eligibility to everyone in Group 4. That includes all essential workers not yet immunized, including those who work in the chemical, commercial facilities, communications, construction, real estate, energy, financial services and public infrastructure sectors. All residents 16 and up will become eligible for a vaccine appointment next Wednesday.
Bismarck: Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed a bill Thursday that would allow the Legislature to meet and act on legislation shortly before a session starts in January. The bill was inspired by a spate of executive orders Burgum issued, mostly in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Some lawmakers wanted an earlier opportunity to limit emergency or disaster declarations and allow the Legislature more oversight of the executive branch. Burgum, a Republican, said he thinks the bill is an attempt to circumvent the state constitution and “could have serious consequences” if it became law, including by allowing outgoing governors to sign legislation before new ones have the chance to consider it. The bill received broad support in both Republican-led chambers, with a 57-36 vote in the House and a 41-6 vote in the Senate. But it wasn’t clear if it could get the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto, including at least 62 votes in the House. The leaders of both chambers, House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, voted against it and said they would urge colleagues to sustain the veto, which was Burgum’s first of the session. “It does not make sense,” Wardner said of the bill. “We would be in session anyway in a few weeks and could take up any legislation then.”
Toledo: The state’s vaccination rollout is moving toward outlining how private clinics can give COVID-19 shots at workplaces, churches and schools. But for now, Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration has told health care providers to stop scheduling clinics that aren’t open to the public. A handful of such clinics have popped up in recent weeks at offices, union halls and factories in the Toledo area for employees and their families. Organizers say they’ve given shots to thousands of people, many who didn’t want to take time off work or were reluctant to be vaccinated. “Those barriers were taken away,” said Matt Sapara, vice president of regional development and operations at Mercy Health in Toledo. The clinics also can be more effective at reaching people of color, he said. At a private event for Jeep workers and their families in Toledo two weeks ago, about 20% of those vaccinated were from ethnic minority groups – a much higher percentage than seen at public sites, Sapara said. State officials told providers late last week to take a temporary pause with nonpublic clinics as they ensure there are enough doses for everyone, especially after all residents 16 and older became eligible, said DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney. He said officials are working on guidelines spelling out how nonpublic clinics could operate.
Oklahoma City: The Oklahoma City-County Health Department on Wednesday announced plans to offer 10,000 COVID-19 vaccinations to all comers. Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be available next Wednesday, April 7, at State Fair Park to residents of any county who sign up at vaxokc.com and provide an ID at the site, said department spokesperson Molly Fleming. “We’re here for public health … if they’re going to live here, they need to be vaccinated,” Fleming said. The department and several health partners will provide the vaccines, which include 5,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and 2,500 doses each of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Wednesday reported 438,364 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began and 7,873 deaths, based on death certificates provided to the federal Centers for Disease Control. The seven-day rolling averages of both new cases and deaths in the state have declined over the past two weeks, from 513.3 new cases daily to 334.3 and from 12.4 daily deaths to 8.9, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Bend: Oregon Occupational Safety & Health has fined a coffee shop more than $27,000 for allegedly violating three standards meant to protect employees from the coronavirus. State officials said in a news release Tuesday that Kevista, in Bend, willfully continued to potentially expose workers to the virus, despite a public health order limiting the capacity of indoor dining to zero. The citation resulted from an inspection after multiple complaints. The inspection documented that the company willfully began allowing indoor dining Dec. 3 and thereafter. During that time, Deschutes County was designated at “extreme risk” for transmission of COVID-19. During the inspection, owners Krista and Kevin Lauinger said they chose to reopen even though they were aware it went against workplace health requirements, state officials said. The coffee shop plans to appeal the fine, KTVZ-TV reports. The fine is three times the minimum penalty for such a violation, and the decision reflects the need to ensure a more appropriate deterrent effect when employers insist on disregarding health and safety standards, according to Oregon OSHA Administrator Michael Wood. Such behavior puts employees at risk and enables the employer to achieve a competitive advantage over businesses that comply, officials said.
Harrisburg: State officials have no idea how many residents have crossed the border to get a COVID-19 shot. The state Department of Health tracks how many of its own vaccines are administered to non-Pennsylvanians but has no way of knowing how many of its own residents are going to Ohio, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia or other states to get their first shots. That means the state data indicating how many Pennsylvanians have received a shot is underreported and could be one reason some counties have such low vaccination rates. In Beaver County – where vaccine appointments in Ohio’s East Palestine, Salem, Wellsville and Libson call to Pennsylvanians across the border – that could explain why just 16% of the population is listed as at least partially vaccinated. That’s substantially lower than state numbers, which show a quarter of residents have received at least one shot, and a huge disparity from neighboring Allegheny and Butler counties, where one-third of residents are at least partially vaccinated. While Pennsylvania tallies the number of out-of-state residents who receive their vaccines and makes that data public, neighboring states aren’t sharing that information, with the exception of New Jersey. Of the 10 Pennsylvania counties with the lowest vaccination rates, nine are border counties.
Providence: Local police last year dealt with a huge increase in the number of calls for people going through a mental health crisis, which officers and experts say was in large part a result of the coronavirus pandemic. City police responded to 339 so-called mental health incidents in 2020, up from 201 in 2019 and 177 in 2018, WPRI-TV reports. “The pandemic threw things amok,” police chief Col. Hugh Clements said. “People felt a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression. People’s normal lives were thrown into a tailspin; there has been a lot of isolation.” Since 2010 the police department has worked with the Providence Center, a mental health and addiction treatment provider run by Care New England, to assist with mental health calls. “The pandemic, along with associated isolation and loss and other factors, contributed to especially high rates of anxiety, depression and substance abuse, among other issues,” said Jacqueline Mancini-Geer, the center’s director of acute care. Grants that fund clinicians to assist police are about to expire, Clements said, and he has been working to secure additional resources. “During this time where we have the greatest need, ironically, those grants are ready to run out,” he said.
Columbia: The state Senate unanimously passed a proposal that would require all schools to provide in-person classes five days a week starting as soon as April 12. The proposal passed Wednesday would require schools to provide five-day-a-week classes next school year, too. “There is significant support across party lines to get children back in school as soon as possible. All of us recognize the significant loss of the children not being in school,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. The proposal would also ban districts from making teachers give instruction both virtually and in person unless there are “extreme and unavoidable circumstances,” and the district would then have to pay the teacher more. Fifty-four of South Carolina’s 79 traditional school districts are back to five days of in-person classes. All but six districts plan to offer them by the April 12 deadline in the proposal, according to the state Education Department. Only the two school districts in Hampton County have no plans to return students to classrooms full time, the agency said.
Sioux Falls: Gov. Kristi Noem is among a growing list of notable Republican politicians rejecting the idea of vaccine passports. Noem said this week via her social media platforms that she does not support making vaccination a requirement to get access to certain events, flights and businesses, calling the idea oppressive and at odds with American values. It’s “one of the most un American ideas in our nation’s history,” said a tweet posted on Noem’s campaign account, separate from her official gubernatorial account on the social media website. “We as Americans should oppose this oppression.” President Joe Biden in January ordered the secretaries of health and homeland security, along with the head of the Transportation Security Administration, to begin studying “the feasibility” of creating a vaccine certification program to be required for international travel. But White House staff have said since then that the federal government wouldn’t be responsible for administering vaccine passports and that they would only serve as a support and assistance for establishing such a system through the private sector. The U.S. already requires inbound international travelers to undergo coronavirus testing or show proof of recovery from the virus within 90 days before being allowed to enter the country.
Memphis: President Joe Biden’s administration and the state are building a community center for COVID-19 vaccinations in Memphis, officials said. The White House said Wednesday that the community vaccination site will be located on the grounds of the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. The site will operate every day, for a six- to eight-week period, a news release from the Biden administration said. The site, expected to deliver up to 21,000 doses per week, should be up and running by next Wednesday, White House officials said. Personnel from the 3rd Marine Division will help administer shots. The location was selected using an index created to help emergency response planners and public health officials identify and map communities that will most likely need support before, during and after a hazardous event, White House officials said. The index takes into consideration socioeconomic status, household composition, minority status, languages, housing type and transportation in vulnerable communities. About 17.5% of Shelby County’s population of nearly 1 million people had been vaccinated as of March 21, one of the lowest rates in Tennessee, the White House said. Shelby County, which includes Memphis, is the state’s most populous.
Harlingen: Firefighters and ambulance crews in a South Texas city that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic are bringing vaccines directly to the homes of its most vulnerable people. As part of Harlingen’s new Homebound Vaccination Program, a team of 15 firefighters is working with the South Texas Emergency Care Foundation to find homebound residents and offer them the vaccine, the Valley Morning Star reports. “The majority are bedridden or homebound on doctors’ conditions,” said Josh Ramirez, the city’s public health director. “They are handicapped with underlying health conditions. They are vulnerable, already battling an illness, so we want to make sure they’re protected.” In the Rio Grande Valley, where Harlingen is located, hospitals filled up and funeral homes were overwhelmed as the area became a coronavirus hot spot last summer. The Texas National Guard was brought in to help manage portable morgues. Neighboring Hidalgo County has recorded the eighth-most coronavirus cases among the state’s counties during the pandemic. Harlingen officials have been calling homebound residents whose names are on a list created by the emergency care foundation and offering them a chance to get vaccinated.
Salt Lake City: The state is launching a return-to-work program to help residents reentering the workforce as new coronavirus case numbers continue to drop, officials announced Thursday. Lt. Gov. Deirdre Henderson said the program will provide returnships, similar to internships, as opportunities for those who’ve been away from the workforce to build their resumes and gain relevant experience. She said the program is designed for those who’ve had a longer absence, such as full-time parents, retirees and military personnel. “Unlike internships, which are designed primarily for young people at the beginning of their careers, the goal of a returnship program is to help experienced adults reenter the workforce without starting at the bottom of the career ladder,” Henderson said. Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed an executive order requiring state agencies to identify returnship opportunities that can be offered. He also urged Utahns to continue wearing masks until everyone in the state is able to be vaccinated. The state’s mask order will end April 10 under a new law that also lifts coronavirus restrictions once Utah receives 1.63 million first vaccine doses – if case counts and hospitalization rates stay low. Mask orders will remain in place for schools and gatherings of more than 50 people, and businesses can still require them.
Montpelier: The state is expecting to expand vaccine eligibility to out-of-state college students and second homeowners April 30 if supply allows. Gov. Phil Scott announced the policy change Wednesday after he initially said COVID-19 vaccines would be reserved for residents. For the purposes of being vaccinated, Vermont defines residents as people who have lived there for six months, including college students who plan to spend the summer in the state. On April 19, Vermont is expanding vaccinations to everyone over 16. Thousands of out-of-state college students living in Vermont have not been inoculated. Of the nearly 10,200 undergraduate students at the University of Vermont in Burlington, more than 72% are from out of state. Exams run through May 18. At Middlebury College, where school will run until May 28, students were told the college had developed a plan to vaccinate students on campus should doses become available in late April or May. Almost 96% of Middlebury’s 1,950 students are from outside Vermont. The letter said students who are eligible to be vaccinated in their home state that is within driving distance of Middlebury must get permission from the dean of students before traveling out of Vermont.
Richmond: All residents 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine beginning April 18, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday. Northam said nearly everyone in the highest-risk groups who has preregistered for a vaccination appointment has received a shot. He said those who are still on the preregistration list will receive appointment invitations within the next two weeks, allowing the state to move on to Phase 2, which covers everyone 16 and up. “The COVID-19 vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is getting brighter every day as more and more Virginians get vaccinated,” Northam said in a news release. He made the announcement during a visit to a vaccination clinic at First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Prince William County. More than 3.7 million vaccine doses have been administered so far in Virginia. More than 1 in 3 adults has received at least one dose, and 1 in 5 Virginians is fully vaccinated. Beginning on Sunday, health districts that have invited everyone preregistered in Phase 1c may invite members of the general public who have preregistered. Those at highest risk will continue to receive priority.
Olympia: The state is opening up vaccine eligibility to all residents 16 and older starting April 15, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday. The federal government had directed states to make all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccination by May 1, but most states had earlier plans, with more than a dozen opening eligibility to all adults this week. Inslee had previously resisted expanding eligibility too quickly, saying he wanted to ensure those most at risk were vaccinated first and noting that eligibility didn’t guarantee vaccination right away and would depend on supply. But he said Wednesday that the federal government’s assurances of increased allocations, plus concerns about rising coronavirus cases in many parts of the state, led to the decision to expand eligibility sooner. “We still don’t have the supply to make this available to everyone today, so many of us are going to have to have continued patience,” Inslee said. “But I’m so happy about the rate of the vaccination we now are obtaining in the state of Washington.”
Charleston: The state is working with the business and manufacturing sectors to set up vaccine clinics at sites of employment, where eligible family members can also receive shots. Gov. Jim Justice said church pastors can request clinics for their congregations by calling the state’s vaccine hotline at 1-833-734-0965. Justice also earlier this week told residents 65 and older who are still awaiting a vaccine to call the number for a same-day appointment. Hospitalizations of coronavirus patients continued to increase to 237 on Wednesday, up 57% from a recent low March 12. The daily percent positivity rate is 3.64%. Dr. Clay Marsh, a West Virginia health official and the state coronavirus czar, said new and more infectious variants of the coronavirus are spreading among unvaccinated younger people. “It is very critical that we slow down the rate of spread, which we see happening in younger West Virginians, and allow ourselves more time to continue to vaccinate more and more people,” he said. “The more people we vaccinate, the more it stops the spread of COVID-19.” About 30% of the state’s population is at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, while 18.3% are fully vaccinated, according to federal data.
Madison: A conservative law firm wants state corrections officials to relax COVID-19 safety protocols and allow volunteer ministers to visit prison inmates. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty sent a letter Thursday to Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr complaining about the no-visitor policy the department adopted in March 2020 as the pandemic was taking hold. The firm argued that the policy bars volunteer ministers from visiting inmates, amounting to a violation of state law that gives clergy the right to visit inmates at least weekly, and is likely unconstitutional. The firm demands the department restore the inmates’ rights or face a lawsuit. “In sum, the DOC’s policy is illegal and the DOC must act now to restore the rights of Wisconsin’s inmates to freely exercise their religion,” the letter said. “One year of violations is enough.” DOC media officials didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
Cheyenne: All residents 16 and up are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Those 16 and 17 years old are currently only authorized to receive the Pfizer vaccine. Those 18 and older are eligible for the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday. “I would encourage every resident to take advantage of the vaccines, as Jennie and I have, and help Wyoming move closer to ending this pandemic,” Gordon said in a statement, referring to his wife. More than 162,000 people in Wyoming, more than one-quarter of the state’s population, have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine so far. The vaccines are free, regardless of whether recipients have health insurance. Wyoming has been seeing about 50 confirmed new cases of the coronavirus a day, down from over 600 in November. Wyoming’s new infection rate has leveled off over the past couple weeks, however, and remains higher than at any point before last September. About 700 people in Wyoming have died of the virus.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cherry blossom crowds, roller coaster return: News from around our 50 states