Montgomery: The Montgomery County Commission voted Tuesday to make the use of face masks in county-owned buildings optional, effective immediately. “Commissioners are strongly encouraging the public and employees to exercise personal responsibility and continue to wash hands, practice physical distancing, and wear masks when appropriate,” County Commission spokeswoman Hannah Hawk said in a release announcing the decision. A municipal mandate remains in place through Sunday that requires the use of masks in most public situations. Many major retail outlets, grocery stores and entertainment venues still require anyone who enters to wear a face mask. A spokesman for one of the area’s largest employers, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, also confirmed Tuesday that its workers still will be required to wear masks “for the foreseeable future.” The county required masks to be worn by employees and visitors in all county facilities for nearly a month after the state stopped requiring them April 9. Gov. Kay Ivey announced Monday that the current statewide public health order will end May 31 and that Alabama’s state of emergency will end July 6. Nearly 11,000 Alabamians have died from COVID-19 since Ivey first declared the state of emergency March 13, 2020.
Juneau: Communities across the state have launched a campaign to boost vaccination rates by 25% this month, state health officials said. The Sleeves Up for Summer effort will include events planned jointly by business, health care and community groups to encourage more residents to get a COVID-19 shot and help Alaska move toward herd immunity. Toolkits for communities are available on an Alaska Department of Health and Human Services website, along with information on each borough’s progress toward its vaccination goal. “Vaccination is a choice, and it will not be mandated by the state, but I hope you consider it,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said, according to the department. “I’m getting the vaccine because I want to help Alaska businesses get back to work and to doing all the things we love to do as Alaskans.” Those who want to volunteer for Sleeves Up for Summer can also sign up online.
Phoenix: Fewer children died from being left in a hot car in 2020, experts say, as a result of the pandemic keeping many people at home. The number of children who died trapped in hot cars dropped by more than half nationwide, from 53 in 2019 to 25 in 2020, according to Kids and Car Safety, a nonprofit dedicated to keeping children and pets safe in vehicles. There were 54 cases in 2018. The only child hot-car death in Arizona in 2020 was of a 3-year-old who got into her mother’s car in a parking lot by herself Aug. 30, 2020. In 2019, there were four hot-car cases in Arizona; all were children unknowingly left in a car. The drastic decrease last year was directly related to the fact that families were sheltering in place at home and working remotely, Kids and Car Safety Director Amber Rollins said in an email. The majority of cases happen when a child was supposed to have been dropped off at day care, she said. “With children staying home with their families, we saw very few cases like this last year,” Rollins said. Among the 25 child hot-car deaths in 2020 nationwide, seven children were unknowingly left in cars. On the other hand, 31 children were unknowingly left in hot cars among the 53 in 2019, according to Kids and Cars. The other cases involved unclear circumstances or parents who might have known.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday set a goal to have half of the state’s population at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 within the next three months. The Republican governor set the goal as the state continues to lag most of the country in vaccinations and as President Joe Biden has set a goal to have shots delivered to 70% of adult Americans by July 4. Hutchinson’s goal will require more than 467,000 Arkansans to get shots by early August. “This is a big challenge for us,” he said at his weekly briefing on the coronavirus. Health officials announced a series of “pop-up” clinics they’re holding around the state in the coming weeks to offer the vaccine to help reach that goal. They include one at the Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball game in North Little Rock on Tuesday and at several high school graduation ceremonies planned at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock this month. Other clinics are planned at events around the state, including at festivals, farmer’s markets and car shows. Nearly 36% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
San Francisco: Tourism leaders are urging residents to spend their pent-up travel dollars exploring their home state, as coronavirus case numbers stay low and as the industry reels from a 55% decline in revenue. The state of nearly 40 million people has been among the most conservative in the U.S. with tight restrictions in place to curb the pandemic. Now, California has the lowest infection rate in the country, and on Tuesday, Los Angeles and San Francisco received permission from the state to reopen bars, restaurants, museums and businesses more broadly. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who faces a recall election this year due in part to his handling of the pandemic, announced that the state is on track to fully reopen its economy in mid-June. As vaccination numbers rise, more people are booking trips to favorite sites such as Northern California wine country, the Santa Barbara coast and Disneyland, which reopened last week after an unprecedented 13-month closure. Tourism revenue in the state plummeted from $145 billion in 2019 to $65 billion last year. The figure is not expected to top pre-pandemic levels until 2024 as international travelers stay away for now, said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, the nonprofit that markets the state.
Greeley: Aims Community College will offer free tuition for the summer semester to Colorado residents living within the Aims tax district with the hope of helping the “community recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.” “The past year has been tough financially for many people, and our hope is to relieve some of the financial burden for current and new students as they work toward their educational goals,” Aims President Leah Bornstein said in a press release. The offer is available to newcomers, currently enrolled students, and those who took a break during the pandemic but are looking to return to school. Students who qualify will receive the discount when registering for classes; the discount applies to classes at all Aims campuses and online. There is a maximum discount per credit, students cannot take more than 15 credits during the summer semester, and they will still be responsible for paying all fees, according to the Aims website. The college is using institutional funds to cover the cost, and summer classes begin June 1.
New Haven: The tick population is increasing this season, due to a variety of factors that include shorter, warmer winters and longer, wetter springs and summers, experts say. The state counted more than double the number of ticks through April 30 that it did last year, the New Haven Register reports. “This is when they come,” Dr. Zane Saul, chief of infectious diseases at Bridgeport Hospital, told the newspaper. “They start late April/early May. The ticks are out there, and people are starting to do lawn work and work in the garden.” The increase includes some new species, including the Lone Star tick, Asian longhorned tick and Gulf Coast tick. These newer ticks can transmit a variety of illnesses and cause other medical conditions; the Lone Star tick has been found to cause a meat allergy in some people, according to Goudarz Molaei, research scientist and director of the passive tick surveillance program at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. Adding to the challenge is that tick-borne illnesses can have symptoms resembling those of COVID-19, leading to some confusion over the source of the symptoms. Ticks are parasitic insects that feed on humans and other species and carry a variety of illnesses, including Lyme disease, that can cause fever, headaches and body aches.
Dover: Democratic Gov. John Carney is easing most of the capacity limits he imposed on businesses in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Carney announced Tuesday that all capacity restrictions inside restaurants, retail and other business establishments, as well as houses of worship, will be lifted effective May 21. Officials said facilities will be able to use as much capacity as social distancing requirements allow, but masks will still be required indoors. Social distancing requirements will halved from 6 feet to 3 feet. However, gatherings of more than 250 people, whether indoors or outdoors, will still require approval from the Division of Public Health. DPH may also require masks for crowded venues and large gatherings including concerts and sporting events. Officials also said customers must continue to remain seated indoors and outdoors at bars and restaurants, unless DPH approves a plan for dance floors and other areas.
District of Columbia
Washington: Setting foot in a restaurant for his first time as president, Joe Biden made a Cinco de Mayo taco and enchilada run to highlight his administration’s $28.6 billion program to help eateries that lost business because of the coronavirus pandemic. The president went to Taqueria Las Gemelas on Wednesday and ordered lunch. The D.C. restaurant, owned in part by Mexican immigrants, was a beneficiary of a pilot version of the restaurant relief program. It went from 55 employees to seven during the pandemic, though it was able to rehire some workers through the Paycheck Protection Program that predates the Biden administration. “The restaurant industry was so badly hurt nationwide,” Biden said Wednesday, the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862. The White House said 186,200 restaurants, bars and other eligible businesses had applied for the program over its first two days of accepting applications. More than half of the applicants are owned by women, veterans or people from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. The aid for eateries was part of the Biden administration’s broader $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
Tallahassee: Gov. Ron DeSantis expects to reinstate a requirement later this month that people in the unemployment system submit weekly “work search” updates. Referring to some businesses saying they are unable to find new employees as they regroup from the pandemic, DeSantis said Wednesday that unemployment claimants will likely have to start showing how they looked for work once an executive order waiving a work-search requirement ends May 29. “We suspended that last year at this time because, quite frankly, there weren’t jobs,” DeSantis said at the Satellite Beach Police Department. Florida’s unemployment rate stood at 4.7% in March, with 475,000 people out of work from a workforce of 10.17 million. The rate was 13.8% in April 2020, after the pandemic forced businesses to shut down or dramatically scale back. “I think now we’re in just a different situation. You have a surplus of jobs, particularly in restaurant, lodging, hospitality, that people want to hire,” the Republican governor said. “I mean, you see the signs all over the place. Look, that’s a good problem to have. But we also just want to make sure, like, look, if you’re really unemployed, can’t get a job, that’s one thing. But making sure that you’re doing your due diligence to look for work, and making sure those incentives align, better.”
Athens: As part of a return to normal operations, graduates can sit on the field for University of Georgia spring commencement ceremonies, officials announced Saturday. UGA said that due to a change in state COVID-19 regulations, plans for spring graduation have adapted. If they choose, graduates can sit on Dooley Field during the ceremony. Before, it was required that they sit in the stands with their guests. There will also be no limit to the number of guests in the stands, a change from previous restrictions. Masks will be “strongly encouraged.” In February, UGA President Jere W. Morehead announced that the university would hold its graduation ceremony in person with pandemic restrictions in place. Maria Taylor, ESPN reporter and UGA graduate, will be the commencement speaker. Commencement will begin May 13 and end May 15, taking place in Sanford Stadium, and will be held over four ceremonies to comply with social distancing guidelines. Three of these will be for undergraduate students and the fourth for master’s, specialist and doctoral degrees. For those who can not attend the ceremony, a livestream will be available on the UGA commencement website.
Hilo: Gov. David Ige hasn’t ruled out mandating COVID-19 vaccines for state workers, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. He said in an interview Monday that he’s considered the requirement, noting it would mirror less controversial mandates for students to be vaccinated against diseases like measles and chickenpox, but he has no definitive plans to impose such a rule during the current pandemic. “We’ll consider it, depending on … the virus activity we see in the general population once we get to herd immunity,” the Democratic governor told the paper. He said it’s too early to tell if a mandate would be effective or how well the available COVID-19 shots work in the long term.
Boise: Lawmakers in the state House who are concerned they could be left out again in spending what could be a billion dollars in federal coronavirus rescue money approved legislation Tuesday to prevent that from happening. The House voted 56-9 to send to the Senate the measure preventing Republican Gov. Brad Little from spending federal relief money without lawmakers’ involvement. The bill changes Idaho law so that federal money not already accounted for that is coming to the state the rest of the year can’t be spent without lawmakers signing off. Lawmakers say they should have had a say in spending the $1.25 billion in relief money that Idaho received early last year. Little formed a committee last year that included the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature’s powerful budget committee as well as a Democrat. The committee provided guidance to Little while allowing him to respond quickly to a fast-changing health crisis. The new legislation would not allow that type of system if President Joe Biden and Congress approve additional relief money for the state this year. A House committee introduced the legislation a few hours before the House vote, fast-tracking the bill as lawmakers rush to wrap up the session this week.
Chicago: Standing in the massive convention center that was turned into a COVID-19 field hospital almost a year ago, the mayor and governor announced Tuesday that the facility will again host the famed Chicago Auto Show in July. After weeks of announcements about allowing limited numbers of fans into sports stadiums, diners into restaurants and students into schools, the announcement was the strongest signal yet that Chicago has turned a corner in the battle against the deadly virus. “I think everyone is really excited about this announcement because of what it represents,” a smiling Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a news conference at McCormick Place. “This is setting the stage for the return of big events in the months to come,” agreed Gov. J.B. Pritzker. And while Lightfoot and Pritzker were careful not to make any promises, they both sounded confident that the auto show that has been held for more than a century would be one of many events to return this year. “Our goal is to be fully open by July 4,” the mayor said, adding that this summer in Chicago will more resemble the summer of 2019 than 2020, when the virus swept through the city and forced a national shutdown.
Indianapolis: The state’s rate of COVID-19 vaccination shots has remained sluggish in recent weeks, while coronavirus-related hospitalizations have slowly climbed to their highest number since February. State health department statistics updated Wednesday show that about 2 million people have been fully vaccinated in Indiana, or about 37% of those ages 16 and older. Indiana’s vaccination rate has remained at about 40,000 people a day over the past three weeks. That is down from the state’s peak of more than 50,000 a day in early April. State health officials have said they are worried about increased risk from more contagious coronavirus variants at a time when so many people aren’t immunized. The health department’s weekly tracking map updated Wednesday showed four of the five Indiana counties that border Michigan continue to show moderate risk of COVID-19 spread. Those counties have orange risk ratings – the second highest of the four ratings. Most other northern Indiana counties have the next-highest yellow rating. Indiana officials have been watching those northern counties because Michigan continues to have the country’s highest infection rate. Indiana hospitals, meanwhile, reported treating just more than 1,000 coronavirus patients as of Tuesday. That is up about 85% since mid-March.
Des Moines: A third coronavirus variant that was first identified in hard-hit India has been uncovered in the state, public health officials said Tuesday. The Iowa Department of Public Health said it has confirmed two cases of the variant, SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617. Health officials are still learning about the characteristics of this strain, but it is not designated as a variant of concern, “indicating that there is not currently evidence of increased transmissibility or more severe disease caused by this variant,” the agency said in a statement, noting the recent U.S. advisory warning against travel to the South Asian nation. Virus cases are rising quickly in India, where COVID-19 deaths have exceeded 220,000, and confirmed cases have surpassed 20 million. The World Health Organization said in an April 26 coronavirus update that a preliminary study based on genetic sequencing shows the variant has a higher growth rate than other variants circulating in India, “suggesting potential increased transmissibility.” The agency said further study is urgently needed to determine its potential for increased spread and more severe disease. The Iowa cases were detected in two adults in Jefferson County in southeast Iowa. Public health officials are investigating to determine where they were exposed to the virus strain.
Topeka: Republican state lawmakers advanced a plan Tuesday to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to businesses hurt by coronavirus pandemic restrictions, and they’re poised to give GOP leaders the final say over how the federal COVID-19 relief funds are spent. The Republican-controlled state Senate approved, 26-13, a bill that would dedicate nearly $350 million in coronavirus relief funds for the state and another $350 million for cities and counties to compensate small businesses that were forced to shut down last spring because of the pandemic or had their operations restricted after the economy reopened. GOP legislators have been considering different figures for the total relief, and the Senate began its discussion at $2 billion but reduced it after Vice President Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, called that number “probably a little rich.” Senators also passed, 33-6, another measure that would provide rebates of up to $7,500 from cities and counties to businesses for the property taxes they paid while they were shut down or their activities were limited. Those taxes are based on property values, not income, so they were owed whether or not a business was open. The two business-relief bills go next to the Republican-controlled House. Lawmakers hope to wrap up the year’s business by week’s end.
Frankfort: Some of the state’s most prominent leaders can start warming up their best zingers, as political speeches will resume at the Fancy Farm picnic after a one-year hiatus caused by COVID-19. Organizers confirmed Monday that the picnic and speeches are on for this year. Bob Babbage, a former Kentucky secretary of state and auditor, will be emcee of the political speaking, a rite of passage for statewide candidates in the Bluegrass State. The picnic – also known for its barbecue – is set for Aug. 7 in the far western Kentucky community of Fancy Farm. Last year’s picnic was scaled back and the political speeches canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic. With more people getting the COVID-19 vaccine, “we feel comfortable of having a traditional picnic this year,” said Steven Elder, chairman of the picnic’s political speaking. “Seeing the (Kentucky) Derby on Saturday, that was a blessing to any Kentuckian,” he said in a phone interview. “And knowing that we are preparing and planning for the Fancy Farm picnic is just another. It’s a normal return to life.” The picnic’s political speaking is the traditional start of the fall campaign season in Kentucky. This is a nonelection year, but attention is already turning to next year’s U.S. Senate race and the 2023 campaign for governor.
Baton Rouge: State agencies and public colleges would be unable to require COVID-19 vaccines for entry into their facilities if House lawmakers agree to a bill that won overwhelming support Tuesday from the Senate. Senators voted 28-9 for the proposal by Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe. The measure would prohibit a person from being denied access to any state-owned, state-financed or state-operated facility based on whether that person has been vaccinated against the illness caused by the coronavirus. The Senate spent little time debating the bill Tuesday. It heads next to the House for consideration.
Portland: The state’s tourism industry saw visitation drop by about 27% last year during the pandemic, but the impact wasn’t as dire as some feared. A late-summer boost in travel made up for some of the lost ground early in the pandemic, preventing the tourism season from being a total bust. Total spending on restaurants, lodging, shopping and other activities fell to about $4.8 billion, according to the Maine Office of Tourism. The total economic impact dipped to about $9 billion from more than $12 billion the year before, the tourism office reported. Gov. Janet Mills praised the work of health officials and business leaders for pandemic precautions that set the state up for a late-season surge in tourists, the Portland Press Herald reports. The state’s reputation as a safe place helped draw visitors, she said. “You committed to following public safety and health precautions and attended trainings to slow the spread of the virus and keep our visitors, staff and public safe. The innovation and ingenuity of this industry embodied the very essence of this state,” Mills said. Unlike last summer, the state has lifted testing and quarantine requirements for people coming to the state. Occupancy restrictions will grow to 75% indoors and 100% outdoors later this month.
Annapolis: Gov. Larry Hogan announced steps Tuesday to encourage nursing home residents and staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Hogan said the state is launching a new data dashboard to show vaccination rates at each of the state’s skilled nursing facilities. An order has been issued to require the data to be reported weekly and posted inside facilities in plain view, Hogan said. The dashboard said 77% of residents in skilled nursing facilities had been vaccinated as of Monday, and 63% of staff had been vaccinated. Maryland has activated mobile vaccination teams to conduct additional clinics for nursing home staff and residents at more than 30 facilities each week. The state health department also is launching a new public service announcement aimed at workers in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other congregate settings that urge them to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Worcester: Support is growing for a permanent memorial to the more than 400 Worcester residents who have died from COVID-19. City Councilor Sarai Rivera initially floated the idea in March, and Councilor At-Large Donna Colorio brought it up again last week when she asked City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. to consider a permanent memorial. Other councilors supported the idea. Colorio suggested there might be space at Green Hill Park or on the Common or downtown. “I think it would mean a lot to people,” she said. Augustus said he thought such a memorial should be something that tells a story, perhaps through an informational-kiosk component. Rivera said it has been a challenging year, and future generations should know what the city went through and what it learned.
Lansing: Calls to the state’s helpline for people struggling with gambling addiction spiked early this year, and researchers believe the timing is linked to the start of online gambling, compounded by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The Michigan Problem Gambling Helpline received 563 calls about gambling addiction in February, nearly twice as many as the total for the same month in 2020. The increase followed high interest in online gambling and sports betting that launched in January. “Casinos are at limited capacity right now because of the pandemic,” said Michelle Malkin, a doctoral candidate studying problem gambling at Michigan State University. “The only thing that could really (explain) this is the growth of online gambling. Because that’s really the only big change that’s happened in Michigan.” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in late 2019 signed a bipartisan package of laws permitting online gambling. Interest has been high since. Alia Lucas, a specialist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Gambling Disorder Program, said the COVID-19 pandemic and the addition of online options can make it harder for people to curb problem gambling. “The concern now is that an individual can sit at home on their couch with their phone and gamble to their heart’s content,” Lucas said.
Minneapolis: Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday that he’ll announce a dialing-back of the state’s coronavirus restrictions Thursday, and he’s in discussions with legislative leaders about how long he’ll retain the emergency powers that he’s used to manage Minnesota’s response to the pandemic. The governor described it as an “announcement around where we’re at with COVID.” He gave no details about what changes he might order but indicated that rising vaccination rates are making looser restrictions possible. “I think Minnesotans should start assuming that they’re going to have a very normal-looking summer,” he said during a visit to Alice Smith Elementary School in Hopkins. The Democratic governor called on the Republican-controlled state Senate to approve his $150 million summer learning proposal to help students catch up on what they missed due to the pandemic. The Democratic-controlled House passed the plan in March. The Legislature has been in a holding pattern this week as the conference committees negotiating the major budget bills of the 2020 session await final dollar targets that are expected Friday. Among the more contentions issues have been how to unwind the governor’s reliance on emergency powers and how much of a role the Legislature should get in deciding how to spend federal coronavirus aid.
Jackson: Regal Cinemas will reopen its theaters in the state this month as part of the company’s global reopening after shutting down its 536 sites across the United States in October to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Both Regal UA Parkway Place in Flowood and Regal UA Westbrook in Brookhaven will reopen May 21, according to the company’s website. According to the company’s website, all guests will be required to wear face masks at all times, during showings, while standing in the theater lobby and in restrooms. Masks can be taken off only when eating or drinking. Customers will now have the option to purchase tickets and concession items from the Regal mobile app in advance. Auditoriums will not exceed 50% capacity, and two empty seats will remain between people to maintain social distancing policies during movies. Employees must also wear masks at all times and wash hands frequently throughout the day, at least every 30 to 60 minutes. They will undergo daily health screenings, such as temperature checks, to protect the visitors’ safety.
Jefferson City: Gov. Mike Parson has directed all state employees to return to in-person work in the office by May 17, after many spent most of the past 14 months working remotely. Parson’s order, announced Wednesday, also requires that all state buildings be open and accessible to the public during normal business hours. “With COVID-19 vaccines now readily available across the state and virus activity at its lowest levels since early days of the pandemic, we are confident that it is safe to return to pre-COVID-19 work settings and schedules,” Parson, a Republican, said in a news release. The governor’s office said coronavirus screening and testing protocols will remain in place, and the state is encouraging all employees to consider vaccinations. The state health department reported 454 additional confirmed cases and four more deaths. The state has confirmed 504,069 coronavirus cases and 8,818 deaths since the pandemic began.
Babb: Hundreds lined up in their cars on the Canadian side of the border crossing that separates Alberta and Montana after driving for hours and camping out in their vehicles in hopes of receiving the season’s hottest commodity – a COVID-19 vaccine – from a Native American tribe that was giving out its excess doses. The Blackfeet tribe provided about 1,000 surplus shots last month to its First Nations relatives and others from across the border, in an illustration of the disparity in speed at which the United States and Canada are distributing doses. While more than 30% of adults in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, in Canada that figure is about 3%. Among those who received the vaccine at the Piegan-Carway border crossing were Sherry Cross Child and Shane Little Bear, of Stand Off, about 30 miles north of the border. They recited a prayer in the Blackfoot language before nurses began administering shots, with Chief Mountain – sacred to the Blackfoot people – rising in the distance. The couple have family and friends in Montana but haven’t been able to visit them since the border closed last spring to all but essential travel. “It’s been stressful because we had some deaths in the family, and they couldn’t come,” Cross Child said.
Kearney: A woman who had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 recently died of the disease, state health officials said Wednesday. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release that the woman was in her 80s and had underlying health conditions. Officials with Two Rivers Health District, based in Kearney, said the woman lived in the district and was hospitalized for more than two weeks well after receiving two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. The news came even as health officials in the Kearney-based health district pointed to a COVID-19 outbreak at a local nursing home of mostly vaccinated residents as a success story. More than half the residents at the Good Samaritan Society-St. Luke’s facility contracted the disease caused by the coronavirus in early April, after most had been vaccinated, the Omaha World-Herald reports. Of the 23 facility residents who tested positive, only two showed any symptoms, which where mild and cleared quickly, officials said. “Overall, the vaccine did what it was supposed to do: It prevented severe disease and prevented people going to the hospital,” said Dr. M. Salman Ashraf, medical director of the Nebraska Infection Control Assessment and Promotion Program.
Las Vegas: Some Las Vegas Strip casinos have been allowed to open at 100% capacity, officials said Tuesday, after showing state regulators that at least 80% of their employees have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas representatives said they gained approval from the Nevada Gaming Control Board over the weekend to lift occupancy and physical distancing requirements and remove clear plastic separators from gambling tables. “Employees and guests will continue to follow health and safety guidelines, including mask compliance, to ensure a safe and comfortable environment,” a Wynn Resorts statement said. The board, which regulates casinos, set an 80% vaccination goal, while Clark County lawmakers with jurisdiction over Las Vegas-area restaurants, stores and other businesses approved plans to allow 100% occupancy once 60% of eligible county residents get a vaccine shot. State health officials on Tuesday reported the Clark County first-dose public vaccination figure at almost 45.5%, with more than 1 in 3 people fully vaccinated. At the Wynn Las Vegas and Encore resorts, company spokesman Michael Weaver said the first- or single-dose employee vaccination rate reached 88%. The Cosmopolitan said 80% of its more than 4,000 employees got at least one shot.
Concord: Providers and recipients of services for disabled, mentally ill and older residents pressed state senators Tuesday to fully fund such programs, saying the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated long-standing challenges in all three areas. More than 200 people signed up to testify during the Senate Finance Committee’s public hearing on the proposed two-year state budget. In the first hour, lawmakers heard repeated pleas to increase reimbursement rates for adult day care and senior centers and for home care services that help people with disabilities live independently. Amy Moore, director of Ascentria In-Home Care, said her program and others like it can’t hire enough workers because wages are so low. “We hail these caregivers, these health care workers as heroes during the pandemic, and yet we’re not paying them a livable wage,” said Moore, adding that the current system is failing vulnerable residents. “As someone whose spent many years out in the field, I can tell you I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “A 90-year-old woman in Campton, who fell a few months ago, was on the floor for 14 hours before someone found her. A 62-year-old veteran in Tilton, who’s not getting the showers on a regular basis that he needs, so much so that it’s affecting his health. A 39-year-old woman in Lebanon with cerebral palsy who’s supposed to receive 30 hours a week of care but is only receiving 12. She has intentionally overdosed twice in the last two months.”
Atlantic City: Rebuilding the iconic Atlantic City Boardwalk to enable it to survive future severe storms, improving the look of the city’s main downtown business districts, helping people in underserved communities, and embracing the “blue economy” of the ocean are among recommendations from a state-appointed panel studying ways to improve the seaside gambling resort. It suggested money from legalized recreational marijuana sales could help pay for the work. Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday released a report from the Atlantic City Restart and Recovery Working Group, designed to provide a roadmap for the city to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. It was the only such group the state created focusing on just one city’s recovery from the outbreak. “We are facing a recovery challenge unlike any Atlantic City and the state has faced,” said Murphy, a Democrat. “But every challenge also brings with it opportunities. The working group’s report has identified many of these opportunities, and we intend to move forward on a number of them as we emerge from the pandemic.” “Atlantic City has bounced back from adversity time and time again, and it will be no different with COVID-19,” added Mayor Marty Small.
Santa Fe: The state Department of Health is urging parents to register children ages 12 to 15 for eventual access to COVID-19 vaccines when they’re approved for lower age groups. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 12 and up next week, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year. Health Department spokesman David Morgan said Tuesday that the agency encourages parents to register children right away with the state’s vaccination website to help ensure access. Separately, Health Department spokesman Matt Bieber said the state is trying to address hesitancy toward vaccines by providing mobile and walk-up vaccination clinics that can increase convenience and reach more people who may be unable or unwilling to register online. New Mexico also is encouraging physicians to discuss the vaccines with patients as trusted sources of medical information. And the state is developing an online registration form for groups to request a visit from mobile vaccination clinics. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and top health officials say the state is on track to have at least 60% of residents fully vaccinated by the end of June. That would allow capacity limits at restaurants and other businesses to be lifted and the state economy to fully reopen.
New York: Many Broadway productions are scrambling to resume ticket sales in the coming days to welcome theatergoers this fall after city and state leaders green-lit a reopening of the Great White Way at full capacity by mid-September. “We remain cautiously optimistic about Broadway’s ability to resume performances this fall and are happy that fans can start buying tickets again,” Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, said in a statement Wednesday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Broadway theaters can reopen Sept. 14 and will be allowed to decide their own entry requirements, like whether attendees must prove they’ve been vaccinated. Selling tickets will allow theaters to gauge interest before stages open, said Robert Mujica, Cuomo’s budget director. The Broadway that reopens will look different. Last May, the big budget Disney musical “Frozen” decided not to reopen when Broadway theaters restart, marking the first time an established show had been felled by the pandemic. Producers of “Mean Girls” also decided not to restart. But there will be new shows, including Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s “Pass Over,” slated to reopen the August Wilson Theatre, the venue “Mean Girls” vacated. And a Shubert theater has been promised for playwright Keenan Scott II’s play “Thoughts of a Colored Man.”
Raleigh: Lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a proposal to prevent state and local governments from firing or retaliating against employees who decide not to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Rep. Jake Johnson, R-Polk County, hopes state lawmakers will embrace his plan, given that it is narrower in scope than some other proposals that would apply to schools, hospitals and businesses. “I know there’s a couple bills out there that kind of overlap with this and probably do the same thing, but this only refers to state and local employees,” Johnson told members of the House State Government Committee. The bill now needs support from two more committees in order to advance for a House floor vote, where it must be approved by May 13 in order to be considered during the 2021-2022 legislative session. State health officials worry the proposal would conflict with federal rules and create staffing shortfalls if outbreaks occur at state-operated health facilities. “It appears that we could not treat anybody differently because they have or have not gotten vaccinated. That would mean we’d have to treat every employee in one of our state health facilities as if they are unvaccinated,” said Matt Gross, assistant secretary for government affairs at North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Fargo: In response to an executive order extended by President Joe Biden on March 23, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota will continue to offer a special enrollment period through Aug. 15. The extension allows North Dakotans to enroll in or evaluate health care coverage. There are no qualifying event criteria for marketplace-eligible residents to enroll. “Our focus has always been our members. The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for North Dakotans, and we’re here to offer support through comprehensive health care coverage that is available from this special enrollment period,” said Dan Conrad, president and CEO of BCBSND. Coverage options will have plan start dates through Sept. 1, 2021. The SEP will offer individual health plans found both on and off the marketplace exchange. “Now, more than ever, we believe North Dakotans need to approach health from a holistic vantage point,” Conrad said. “In addition to comprehensive health care coverage, we ensure other components, such as mental health and financial well-being, are cared for, too.” Members will be able to renew coverage for 2022 during the open enrollment period, which will begin in November 2021.
Cincinnati: One of the area’s loudest pandemic skeptics joined Hamilton County officials Wednesday to add his talk-radio pipes to the rising plea for residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Bill Cunningham, an institution at WLW-AM, cautioned that as the national rush to vaccinate slows, public officials need voices such as his to get the attention of people who don’t want the drug, ever. “I did not believe until the fall, when so many friends that I had and associates were getting sick,” Cunningham said. “But now, get the vaccine, even if you’re a man, even if you’re disconnected, even if you don’t believe what the experts are saying.” The radio personality appeared at Hamilton County’s weekly pandemic briefing over Zoom. County Commissioner Denise Driehaus and Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman said 42% of the county’s total population had been vaccinated so far, four months into the campaign. He said Wednesday that of the 142 people hospitalized with the illness in the county, none had been vaccinated, which he said demonstrated the shot’s protection. That strength is especially important as authorities track the inevitable mutations of the new coronavirus and the spread of those variants.
Oklahoma City: Health officials are no longer accepting the state’s full allocation of COVID-19 vaccines as demand has dropped, Deputy Commissioner of Health Keith Reed said Tuesday. “The allocation would exceed 200,000 a week … I don’t have the exact numbers that we are accepting into the system right now, but it’s more in the tens of thousands versus the hundreds of thousands,” Reed said. States have been allocated doses based on population. However, the White House has announced that when states decline the vaccine they are allocated, that surplus will shift to states still awaiting doses to meet demand. Oklahoma holds about 500,000 doses in reserve should demand rise, according to Reed, who said the number of daily vaccinations has declined from about 28,000 a month ago to 10,000-11,000. More than 2.7 million COVID-19 shots have been administered in Oklahoma, and more than 1.5 million people – 50.5% of the population – have received at least one dose, Reed said. The state’s COVID-19 emergency declaration was ended Tuesday by Gov. Kevin Stitt, who said that Oklahoma’s seven-day average of new cases is down 94% from its peak and that hospitalizations are down 90% and have stabilized.
Portland: The state adopted a controversial rule Tuesday that indefinitely extends coronavirus mask and social distancing requirements for all businesses. State officials say the rule, which garnered thousands of public comments, will be in place until it is “no longer necessary to address the effects of the pandemic in the workplace.” “We reviewed all of the comments – including the many comments that opposed the rule – and we gave particular consideration to those comments that explained their reasoning or provided concrete information,” said Michael Wood, administrator of the state’s department of Occupational Safety and Health. “Although we chose to move forward with the rule, the final product includes a number of changes based on that record.” Oregon, which has been among those with the country’s most stringent COVID-19 restrictions, previously had a mask rule for businesses, but it was only temporary and could not be extended beyond 180 days. That prompted Wood to create a permanent rule with the intent to repeal it at some point. “To allow the workplace COVID-19 protections to simply go away would have left workers far less protected. And it would have left employers who want to know what is expected of them with a good deal less clarity than the rule provides,” Wood said.
Philadelphia: The commonwealth has called in high-profile reinforcements in the effort to battle vaccine hesitancy. The Philadelphia Flyers and the team’s orange mascot, Gritty, are urging fans to “Take Your Shot” in a marketing campaign launching across southeastern Pennsylvania to target those who may be on the fence about getting the vaccine. “We’ve got the pandemic on the ropes,” said Valerie Camillo, vice president of business operations for the team. “We’re ready to deliver the knock-out blow. We want to get back to doing what we love, like sitting in this arena, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of other fans.” Camillo was joined by Gov. Tom Wolf at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday for an event announcing the partnership. Gritty made a brief appearance, presenting the governor with a sticker in recognition of Wolf getting his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine two weeks ago. As of Monday, more than 50% of the state’s population had received at least one dose, and the state ranks 10th in the nation in first doses. A third of residents are fully vaccinated. But inoculation rates have slowed in Pennsylvania and across the country, worrying officials who say the higher the vaccination rate, the quicker the state can reopen.
Providence: Gov. Daniel McKee is working on a plan to boost the state’s post-pandemic economy by distributing tens of thousands of $25 gift cards to residents to encourage them to shop at local businesses. The program to distribute anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 gift cards would be paid for with leftover federal coronavirus relief funds, the Democratic governor said at a briefing Tuesday. He said he would like to see the program in place next month in time for Father’s Day and high school graduation shopping. Details of the program are still being worked out, so it remains unclear who would qualify for the $25 cards, if there would be an application process, how they would be distributed and at which businesses they could be used. McKee said he would have more to share at his weekly COVID-19 briefing Thursday.
Columbia: Applications are now available for residents who need help paying back rent and utilities because of the pandemic. People who qualify can get up to 12 months of aid for rent or utility bills that date back to March 2020. They can also qualify for up to three months of future rental assistance. The SC Stay Plus program aims to help keep evictions at bay and help renters and landlords get back on their feet across the state, WIS-TV reports. Chris Winston, a spokesman for SC Housing, said officials expect as many as 100,000 households to apply. “Maybe they missed a payment or two back in the summer or fall,” he said. “Maybe they’re safe and secure now, but they still have these lingering missed payments over their head, and they’re worried about eviction.” SC Housing launched a similar program, SC Stay, in February. Some $25 million in emergency assistance for renters was distributed through that program, Winston said. “We saw 7,000 applicants in the first six days that the application portal was open – basically exhausting requests for the $25 million,” he said. Winston said SC Housing hopes to distribute all the latest funds by September. Residents in 39 South Carolina counties are eligible; those in some larger counties are operating their own assistance programs.
Sioux Falls: Gov. Kristi Noem isn’t convinced that medical guidance the American public received from federal health agencies was entirely based on science. The first-term governor on Monday accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of basing its recommendations for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on politics and not the best medical data available and criticized attempts to paint South Dakota as a bad actor during the pandemic. “We’ve all recognized that recently with the CDC they change their opinion and their guidance based on political pressure at different times,” Noem said when asked about a recently released report by the agency asserting the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally caused “widespread transmission” of COVID-19. That report, compiled from data from 39 state health agencies, found 649 cases across the country tied to the Black Hills gathering in the two weeks after the 10-day August event that drew more than 460,000 people from 61% of all U.S. counties. Those figures were drastically lower, though, than an earlier study that attributed more than 260,000 cases to the rally. Noem said those studies and the headlines they create are an attempt to “demonize” the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and discourage states from keeping their economies open.
Memphis: The city is gearing up for its first large-scale event in more than a year. After a 2020 hiatus because of the pandemic, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest returns May 12-15. A sweet, smoky aroma will once again waft throughout Tom Lee Park and the streets of downtown, with a few changes to the event due to COVID-19. Tickets are only available for online advance purchase. According to Memphis in May organizers, the overall daily park capacity will be reduced to about 35% of normal attendance levels. That means fewer teams, judges, staff and attendees. During any given year, upward of 260 teams compete in the WCBCC. This year, only 150 teams will participate. The Patio Porkers division will not compete this year. The park will open later each day and close earlier each night. In past years, the park opened for free admission for lunch on Thursday and Friday. That won’t happen in 2021. Strict COVID-19 guidelines will be in place. In addition to mandatory masks except when actively eating or drinking, capacity within each booth will be limited and enforced. Hand sanitizing stations will be set up throughout the park. Popular events like Miss Piggy Idol and Sauce Wrestling will not happen this year. Nightly musical entertainment has also been canceled.
Austin: In response to the intensifying COVID-19 crisis in India, people in the Austin area – some who said they’ve been affected personally – have started working to send aid to family and friends overseas. Kavita Tewari, who said she is haunted each day by the howl of ambulance sirens ringing through the streets near her home in New Delhi, and a small group of her friends around the world in Texas’ capital are searching for ways to buy and ship medical devices that concentrate the oxygen in the air and make them available to treat COVID-19 patients. They have started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the effort. The group is working with a nonprofit called Doctors for You USA to ensure the devices are distributed to people who are most in need, according to the GoFundMe page. The Indian population in Texas accounts for the largest portion – 28% – of overall Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the state, according to a Pew Research study published last week. In Travis County, about 24,471 of residents identified themselves as Asian Indian, according to U.S. census data five-year estimates from 2017. Since mid-April, India has reported alarming numbers of new coronavirus cases and deaths. More than 400,000 cases were reported Saturday, setting a new record for a daily increase in new cases globally.
Salt Lake City: The state on Tuesday ended mandated limits on gatherings and social distancing related to the pandemic after Utah reached several metrics laid out in a so-called COVID-19 endgame bill passed earlier this year. The legislation, passed in March, established criteria based on case rates, intensive care unit utilization and vaccine allocations. The state previously lifted its statewide mask mandate April 10. Utah cleared its third and final benchmark Tuesday after the number of vaccine doses allocated to the state reached 1.63 million, health officials said. Masks will still be required in K-12 schools across the state, and businesses can choose to require them. Utah Transit Authority has also said it will require masks and social distancing on all buses and trains until the end of September. In a letter to legislative leadership, health department Executive Director Rich Saunders acknowledged that the legislation has been controversial but urged state leaders to remain hopeful. “Today should give all of us reason to celebrate,” Saunders said. “No matter which side someone falls on, we can all be proud of the outcomes we have achieved so far.”
Montpelier: The state Department of Labor stopped accepting new online applications for unemployment benefits last week after its system was receiving nearly 3,000 new claims a day, more than 90% of them fraudulent, Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said Monday. The department said Friday that it would no longer accept online first-time claims for unemployment benefits. Residents were told to file their claims over the phone. The change dropped the number of new claims by about 90%. “The hardest part is that these fraudsters have a lot of data points on individuals’ identities,” Harrington said. “It looks like a real person, it feels like a real person, but in the end it’s not.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont didn’t have a dedicated fraud unit, and the department dealt with between five and 10 cases of identity fraud a year. That changed when the pandemic hit. Harrington said unemployment insurance fraud has been a problem across the country that law enforcement has linked to national and international criminal organizations that could be using people’s personal information that was stolen many years ago. He didn’t have an estimate of how much money has been paid out fraudulently in Vermont but said it’s likely hundred of thousands “if not millions of dollars.”
Fishersville: Augusta Health has partnered with churches, the YMCA and other local organizations to help vaccinate the community. Now, it’s hoping to open clinics at local high schools at the request of school districts. As of Tuesday, Augusta Health vaccination clinics had administered a total of 68,709 doses of COVID-19 vaccines and fully inoculated 33,893 community members. The 34 community clinics conducted have administered 4,714 doses, with 1,886 people fully vaccinated. Augusta Health has open slots for on-campus vaccination clinics. According to Augusta Health, appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are also welcome as long as supply allows. Clinics are now open to any Virginia residents, who can find more information and make an appointment online. Anyone who needs assistance to schedule can call Augusta Health’s Vaccination Call Center at 540-332-5122. The call center is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Olympia: Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday that all counties will remain in their current phase of the state’s economic reopening plan and won’t face more restrictions because new coronavirus cases are leveling off after a recent spike. Inslee said there will be a two-week pause as the state continues to evaluate virus activity. The surprise announcement came as several more counties were expected to roll back to Phase 2 of the plan, which includes reduced capacity for indoor dining and gyms, based on case counts and hospitalizations. But Inslee said the most recent weekend data from the Department of Health shows coronavirus activity reaching a plateau in the state. “The approach to this pandemic – there’s no real playbook for COVID – we are making very difficult decisions based on the best science we have,” he said. Inslee’s move is at odds with neighboring Oregon, where fellow Democratic Gov. Kate Brown last week imposed more severe restrictions amid a new wave. Washington and Oregon were among the first states to implement sweeping restrictions in the early days of the pandemic. Currently, just four of Washington’s 39 counties are in the more restrictive Phase 2: Cowlitz, Pierce and Whitman, which were rolled back last month, and Ferry County, where health officials voluntarily moved back Friday because of a recent outbreak.
Charleston: Witness testimony has begun in a landmark opioid trial in which local governments have sued three large drug distributors accused of fueling the opioid epidemic. Cabell County and the city of Huntington argue that drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp created a “public nuisance” by flooding the area with 80 million opioid doses over eight years and ignoring the signs that the community was being ravaged by addiction. Similar lawsuits have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements, but this is the first time allegations have wound up at federal trial. The result could have huge effects on hundreds of similar lawsuits that have been filed across the country. Testifying in federal court in Charleston on Tuesday, a doctor who specializes in addiction medicine explained how opioids can take hold of users and ruin their lives, The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington reports. Dr. Corey Waller said dopamine – a naturally occurring hormone that prompts happiness – is at the center of substance use disorder. People feel more invincible as the amount of dopamine in their bodies rises, Waller said. Levels can reach 100 nanograms per deciliter on a great day but rise to 900 on semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin, according to the doctor.
Madison: The coronavirus pandemic caused a 30% decline in direct spending by tourists to the state in 2020, but officials are optimistic the industry will rebound this year. According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, spending dropped about $4 billion last year to $9.8 billion. All of Wisconsin’s 72 counties experienced a decline in tourism activity last year compared to 2019. But officials say the first four months of this year are shaping up to be better than 2019. Acting Tourism Secretary Anne Sayers said people are “getting revenge” on COVID-19 and scheduling the vacations they missed because of it, Wisconsin Public Radio reports. Sayers said national research shows 87% of Americans plan to travel in the next six months. “We’re also finding vacations of two or more nights are up, so Wisconsin is already passing 2020, but we are also surpassing 2019, and that was a record-setting year,” she said. Dane and Milwaukee counties, which rely heavily on tourists for sports, cultural events, conventions and business travel, were the hardest-hit in the state. Direct spending was down last year 39% in Dane County and 42.5% in Milwaukee County compared to 2019, according to the Department of Tourism.
Cheyenne: The state is still falling far behind the nation in administering COVID-19 shots, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports. With just 33.9% of the population having received a dose of vaccine by Tuesday, the Cowboy State trails the U.S. at large, with 44.4% of Americans at least partially inoculated against the disease caused by the coronavirus. Kim Deti, spokeswoman for the state health department, told the newspaper that she believes concerns about side effects and questions about whether vaccination is really crucial seem to be driving much of the hesitancy.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gritty, tick confusion: News from around our 50 states