Montgomery: The state has agreed to remove old ventilator triage guidelines that advocates said discriminated against the elderly and disabled, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday. The difficult decisions about who could get a ventilator if there aren’t enough for all who need one have taken on new urgency as intensive care units prepare for surges in patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal officials cautioned states and doctors that civil rights laws still apply and that decisions on who gets a ventilator should not be based on stereotypes about a person’s worth. The Alabama document, created a decade ago during the H1N1 pandemic, included factors such as profound intellectual disabilities and severe dementia in weighing against providing the potentially life-saving treatment. The Alabama Department of Public Health said a new plan had since been created, and those older guidelines don’t apply.
Juneau: ConocoPhillips is demobilizing its rig fleet on Alaska’s North Slope to try to minimize the risk of workers contracting COVID-19, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. This means drill rigs will stop drilling and be placed in long-term storage, company spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said by email. Wells currently in production will continue producing oil, she said. The effort is aimed at reducing the number of ConocoPhillips’ workers on the North Slope. Lowman said it’s unclear how long the measures will be in place. ConocoPhillips is one of the major oil companies operating in Alaska. Last week, BP Alaska announced one of its workers had tested positive and said it was eliminating nonessential activity on the North Slope. Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, by email said the current situation – COVID-19 and low prices caused by tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia – has been a “double hit to the industry.”
Phoenix: Domestic violence has increased as more people remain home during the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said. The Phoenix Police Department dispatched officers to 3,587 domestic violence calls in March as travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders were implemented to combat the spread of COVID-19, KTAR-FM reports. That represented a 5.6% increase in officers responding to reports of family fights or aggravated assault of domestic partners compared to March 2019, police said. Sgt. Mercedes Fortune said the reports appeared to increase more after Gov. Doug Ducey issued a stay-at-home order March 31. Police received 942 domestic violence calls in the first week of April, a 15% increase from the same time last year, Fortune said. “Regardless of the health crisis we are in right now, I think this serves as a reminder for people to be kind to each other and have a little more patience,” Fortune said.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke to lawmakers wearing face masks and spread out across two locations – including a basketball arena – as they met Wednesday for a legislative session against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis. With schools and many businesses closed because of the pandemic, the Republican governor told lawmakers he’ll need their help cutting his proposed budget. “We are here today for regular business at a time in our world when everything seems irregular,” Hutchinson told a sparsely filled Senate chamber during his State of the State address. His remarks were broadcast live to the 5,600-seat Jack Stephens Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which was serving as a makeshift House chamber. “We will maintain our commitment to funding public education, public safety and Medicaid, but to do so we will need to have some reserve funds with flexibility and oversight to be sure there is no gap in essential services,” he said.
Sacramento: The state plans to spend nearly $1 billion to buy up to 200 million masks each month to boost its stockpile of protective gear during the coronavirus outbreak, an eye-popping figure meant to turn the state into a distributor of medical equipment for other Western states struggling with supply shortages. Gov. Gavin Newsom made the announcement on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show Tuesday night. “As a nation-state with a capacity to write a check for hundreds of millions – no, billions of dollars – we are in a position to do something bold and big that could be a catalyst to increase supply,” Newsom said. “We want to be there for our fellow governors.” Meanwhile, the city of Los Angeles has embarked on a massive effort to bring thousands of homeless people off the streets and into hotels to protect them and others from infection. Newsom announced last week that money from the federal government would help pay for at least 15,000 hotel rooms during the pandemic. But Los Angeles County, with the state’s largest concentration of homeless people at about 60,000, has set its own goal of 15,000 rooms. “We’re going big in L.A.,” said Heidi Marston, interim director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Fort Collins: The state’s newest beer festival is coming to your living room. In an effort to support local breweries while under the statewide stay-at-home order, Colorado’s first-ever – and hopefully last – virtual beer festival will be held this weekend. People can virtually attend the Shelter-in-Place (SIP) Beer Fest from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. Attendees are asked to buy a $5 “ticket” for the festival, then – if they’re 21 years old or older – support local breweries, wineries and distilleries by ordering for pickup or delivery. Of-age attendees are encouraged to drink local beers, wines and spirits and post photos and videos on social media using the hashtag #SIPBeerFest. The beer fest is organized by a local craft brewery podcast called Unfiltered and sponsored by Denver-based app Handoff, which recommends and delivers beer, wine and spirits. All funds raised through ticket sales and $1 from every delivery through Handoff during the festival will be donated to Colorado craft brewery employees affected by layoffs due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Hartford: Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration laid out plans Wednesday for segregating nursing home residents who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 to help prevent further spread of the disease, while nursing home workers continued to express concerns about not having the equipment and staffing they need to stay safe on the job. Members of SEIU 1199 New England, the largest health care union in Connecticut, told stories of workers wearing garbage bags for protection and reusing gear that normally would be tossed after a single use. Of the 69 homes staffed with District 1199 workers, 55 have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and eight have suspected cases. “We are reusing masks. Some of us have limited access to gloves. We don’t have access to gowns,” said Chelsea Daniels, an LPN at Fresh River Healthcare in East Windsor, a 144-bed skilled nursing facility. “We are at risk, and nobody seems to care.”
Milford: A distillery owner threatened to point a shotgun at anyone who tries to enter his store wearing a mask. Eric Fibelkorn made the threat Sunday in a Facebook post that was later deleted, saying people who come into Feebs Distilling Co. in Milford with a mask on would “be met with a 12-gauge to the face.” Fibelkorn posted the message shortly after the Centers for Disease Control released guidance advising people to wear face coverings in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Fibelkorn defended his message, saying while he understands customers wanting to follow the guidelines, he cannot risk a robbery. Now he’s installing lockers so patrons can call ahead and pick up their bottles without coming into the store. “We consider it an attempted armed robbery if someone walks in with a mask on, and that’s why we’re eliminating people coming in 100%,” he said. Milford and Delaware State Police said they haven’t seen an increase in crimes by people wearing masks.
District of Columbia
Washington: Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a new order Wednesday evening requiring that all food retailers enforce social distancing protocols and declared that outdoor markets are no longer essential businesses, WUSA-TV reports. All farmers’ markets, including the Fish Market at the Wharf, that wish to operate must obtain a waiver. In order to apply for a waiver, “a market manager must submit a plan to the District government at email@example.com to outline how they will operate and enforce social distancing protocols, and that plan must be approved.” According to Bowser, the order’s safety and social distance protocols apply to all retail food sellers, which include grocery stores, supermarkets, food halls, food banks, convenience stores and other establishments engaged in the retail sale of food. The order does not apply to restaurants preparing food for takeout and delivery, nor to schools or senior citizens preparing free food for the public.
Miami Beach: Two months ago, the Miami Beach Convention Center hosted tens of thousands of cheering and laughing Super Bowl guests visiting the NFL’s traveling museum and interactive displays. Now it is filled around-the-clock with members of the Army Corps of Engineers performing the grim task of setting up a 450-bed overflow hospital in case South Florida facilities become overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. Gov. Ron DeSantis visited Wednesday, saying the corps assured him it would be ready by April 21, when models show the disease could be nearing its statewide peak. He said the hospital could be expanded to hold 1,000 beds if needed. “I would rather be prepared for the worst and the worst not come here than not be prepared,” DeSantis said. “We don’t know what a surge may bring.”
Atlanta: The state on Thursday postponed primary elections for the second time this year because of the coronavirus, pushing back primaries scheduled for May to June. “This decision allows our office and county election officials to continue to put in place contingency plans to ensure that voting can be safe and secure when in-person voting begins and prioritizes the health and safety of voters, county election officials, and poll workers,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement. The first-term Republican had already opted to postpone Georgia’s presidential primaries, initially scheduled for March 24, to May 19 to coincide with the state’s other 2020 primary elections. Georgians were scheduled then to choose party nominees for a U.S. Senate seat, U.S. House members, and members of the state House and Senate. Elections for judges and district attorneys were also set for May 19.
Honolulu: Officials said Wednesday that they have identified a cluster of COVID-19 cases at the only hospital on Maui as the facility disclosed 15 employees have tested positive. Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said the Maui Memorial Medical Center employees have been sent home to self-isolate. He said plans were being made to isolate the workers at a quarantine site away from their families. Bruce Anderson, the director of the state Department of Health, said the first case at the hospital was identified in mid-March, and many of the initial cases were related to travel. He said it was only Tuesday when the state epidemiologist saw the connections between subsequent cases and recognized the virus had likely been transmitted between workers and from patient to worker. He said all those who have had close contact with the employees will be tested.
Boise: Another 31,000 residents filed for unemployment benefits last week as the state economy shed thousands of jobs for the third consecutive week, officials said Thursday. The Idaho Department of Labor said nearly 78,000 people have filed claims since mid-March. “Given the prognosis that we’re not going to return to normal anytime soon, we’re looking at dealing with this incredible influx of claims for a while,” said the agency’s director, Jani Revier. The labor department said workers of all ages are being affected in the latest round of layoffs, with hard-hit sectors including accommodations, food services, health care and construction. Those categories accounted for 57% of the layoffs for the week from March 29 to Saturday. Revier said the best way to file a claim is online, as high call volume is leading to long wait times with some callers unable to get through. She said the agency is hiring and training additional workers.
Chicago: The county that includes Chicago is setting up new places to store bodies in preparation for a likely surge in the number of coronavirus deaths that could overwhelm hospital morgues. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office said in a news release Thursday that a 66,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse located 5 miles from the medical examiner’s office would be up and running by the end of the day. The facility, according to the release, will be able to hold more than 2,000 bodies. The county’s Department of Emergency Management and Regional Security has also acquired 14 refrigerator trailers and is in the process of securing six more. Chicago, which has long been plagued by gun violence, has also in recent days been hit by a rash of shootings that is taxing the medical examiner’s office at a time when it is dealing with more and more coronavirus deaths.
Greensburg: The coronavirus pandemic surged into three farm-speckled Indiana counties much faster than most other parts of rural America, contributing to at least 10 deaths and dozens of serious illnesses. Decatur County and two other counties in southeast Indiana have among the highest per capita infection rates in the country, topping the Seattle area and some counties near hard-hit Detroit. Last Thursday, county officials banned nonessential travel and ordered all restaurants closed, including for takeout orders, going beyond the requirements of the governor’s stay-at-home order. Decatur, Franklin and Ripley counties have a combined population of nearly 78,000 people and nearly 250 confirmed coronavirus cases through Wednesday, placing them among the top 100 counties for high infection rates across the nation, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University. Health leaders can’t pinpoint why the area has such a high infection rate, but some point to truckers stopping off from Interstate 74 – the main route between Indianapolis and Cincinnati – and locals who work in those cities.
Iowa City: Weeks into the coronavirus outbreak, hospitals have been ordered to report daily statistics to the state on the number of patients they’re treating and whether they have enough resources. The Iowa Department of Public Health issued an order April 3 requiring hospitals to report every day on the number of COVID-19 patients they have hospitalized, in intensive care and on ventilators. The hospitals are also required to report on the beds and equipment they have available for patients and their supply of personal protective gear. Gov. Kim Reynolds has said repeatedly that data is driving her decisions on how to manage the outbreak. Iowa Department of Public Health deputy director Sarah Reisetter said Wednesday that the mandatory order was necessary because hospitalization numbers haven’t always been accurate or timely. Reisetter said a 17% jump in hospitalizations reported Wednesday reflected the improved data collection, not a surge in new patients.
Mission: Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order restricting the size of religious gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak was overturned Wednesday after the state’s top prosecutor said it likely violates the state constitution. With Easter just days away, the Legislative Coordinating Council voted 5-2 to undo the order that limited in-person religious services and funerals to 10 people. The now-overturned order had rescinded an earlier order that barred most gatherings with more than 10 people, with exceptions for religious gatherings and funerals, raising questions about whether large gatherings were now legally permitted. Kelly said legal staff is reviewing the matter. “This has created confusion,” Kelly, a Democrat, said at a news conference while blaming politics. “This has created chaos.” The council’s vote came after Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, said that while the order was “sound public-health advice that Kansans should follow,” he was discouraging law enforcement agencies and prosecutors statewide from attempting to enforce the requirements.
Frankfort: Gov. Andy Beshear issued an order Wednesday to limit shopping to one person per household, stepping up efforts to enforce social distancing as coronavirus cases continue escalating in Kentucky. The governor reported 204 new virus cases across Kentucky, a new one-day high. It raised the state’s total cases to 1,346 since the global pandemic hit the Bluegrass State. He reported eight more virus-related deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to 73. Meanwhile, Kentucky residents who lost their jobs amid the economic damage from the pandemic will receive a boost in unemployment benefits. Beshear announced that $600 unemployment supplements from the federal government will be available as soon as Thursday evening. “This is going to be a significant help,” the governor said during his daily briefing.
Baton Rouge: Hundreds of Carnival cruise ship workers who have tested negative for the coronavirus disease disembarked in New Orleans and are returning to their home countries, the governor’s office said Thursday. The Carnival Valor, a New Orleans-based ship that typically carries about 3,000 guests for Caribbean cruises, didn’t have passengers when it arrived to its home port Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Louisiana has seen encouraging signs this week in its fight against the virus outbreak. The governor credits people physically distancing from others and avoiding trips away from their homes as much as possible with helping to slow the rate of new infections – and he’s cautioned Louisianans to keep it up. He’s also warned that until the country finds a virus treatment and vaccine, “I don’t know that you’re going to see life as we knew it before COVID-19.”
Augusta: The number of Mainers filing for unemployment continues to grow as businesses furlough workers during the coronavirus pandemic. There were approximately 30,900 unemployment claims in the week ending April 4, setting a new weekly high for the third week in a row, the state Department of Labor said Thursday. Last week’s total compares with about 800 claims in the same period last year. Commissioner Laura Fortman said her staff is trying to keep pace with the sudden increase. Meanwhile, cellphone data and figures from the state Department of Transportation show Mainers are doing a good job of practicing social distancing, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control. Traffic on I-95 in Kittery, near the New Hampshire border, is down 61%, while traffic on I-295 in Portland is down 62%, and travel on rural roads is down 30% to 40%, Shah told reporters.
Annapolis: The state reported available data on cases and deaths by race for the first time Thursday. The data shows black residents have had more cases of the virus and deaths in Maryland, even though African Americans make up only 29% of the population. The health department is reporting the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state has climbed to at least 6,185, an increase of 656 cases since Wednesday. There have been a total of 138 deaths from the virus reported in Maryland. Some 2,064 African Americans have had the disease, compared to 1,540 cases among white residents. There have been 55 deaths among African Americans, compared to 39 deaths among white residents. There have been 122 cases among Asians and six deaths. Data is not available on 1,354 cases involving 21 deaths. “Today, we are able to publish 75% of the currently available data, which shows troubling disparities and points to a persistent public health challenge that we must address,” Gov. Larry said on Twitter.
Boston: A group of marijuana dispensaries has sued Gov. Charlie Baker over his decision to shut down recreational pot operations in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The lawsuit filed Wednesday asks the court to allow recreational pot shops to reopen, saying the closure will cause serious harm to the industry. The Republican governor says keeping the stores open would harm the state’s ability to control the spread of the virus because they draw many customers from other states where recreational marijuana remains illegal. “Significant numbers of the customers who procure cannabis at recreational marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts are not from Massachusetts,” Baker said Wednesday. “Making those sites available to anybody from the northeast would cut completely against the entire strategy we’re trying to pursue.” Medical marijuana providers are classified as essential.
Detroit: The mayor said Wednesday that the coronavirus is “starting to weaken” in the state’s largest city, but he also pleaded with residents to keep the momentum going by wearing masks and avoiding large groups. Health officials, meanwhile, reported that Michigan has had 20,346 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 959 deaths from the disease caused by the coronavirus. There were fewer new cases and deaths reported Wednesday than Tuesday. “We are starting to weaken it,” Mayor Mike Duggan said. “If we don’t give it new energy by clustering, we are going to be successful.” Cooler weather could help discourage outdoor gatherings: After temperatures reached 70 degrees in parts of the state Wednesday, they were expected to top out in the 40s and 50s starting Thursday and stretching into next week.
Minneapolis: The Minnesota Department of Health reported 11 new deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday, the state’s largest one-day increase since the pandemic began, raising the total to 50. The department also reported 88 new confirmed cases Thursday to boost Minnesota’s total to 1,242. The department said 145 patients were hospitalized as of Thursday, an increase of 10, while 63 were in intensive care, a decrease of one. Health officials caution that the numbers represent only confirmed cases and that the actual numbers of cases across Minnesota are much higher because not everyone qualifies for testing. Also Thursday, Democrats kept up the pressure on Republicans to temporarily approve expanded voting by mail for the August primary and November general elections. Minnesota Democratic Party Chairman Ken Martin, Sen. Nick Frentz of North Mankato and Rep. Jamie Long of Minneapolis pointed to Tuesday’s chaotic election in Wisconsin as an example of what they’d like to avoid.
Oxford: A doctor who was fired after raising concerns about her hospital’s safety measures in the coronavirus pandemic is now suing. News outlets report Dr. Samantha Houston was fired from Oxford’s Baptist Memorial Hospital after she wrote a Facebook post soliciting donations for equipment to communicate remotely with coronavirus patients. The post caused some confusion and was later edited to clarify that patients were being seen in-person by doctors and nurses, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reports. Ayoka Pond, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said Houston’s assertion that the hospital did not have capability to speak remotely with coronavirus patients was false. She also denied Houston’s other accusation: that the hospital did not have enough N95 masks for nurses treating coronavirus patients.
Columbia: Another roughly 91,000 Missourians filed unemployment claims amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to state data for the week that ended Tuesday. Data from the state’s labor department shows unemployment claims dropped from the previous week’s more than 104,000 claims. But claims still are significantly up. Claims for the past week were more than eight times higher than in all of April 2019. The uptick in unemployment claims this year began in mid-March. Republican Gov. Mike Parson has said Missouri’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is overwhelmed by the number of calls from people with questions about filing for unemployment. He said the agency bumped up staffing to about 100 people to answer questions. Workers can also file unemployment claims online.
Great Falls: The Fort Peck Tribes have reported two cases of COVID-19, believed to be the first among the state’s seven Indian reservations. The confirmation was posted Wednesday on the Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux COVID-19 information Facebook page. State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman said Tuesday that “there were no known cases associated directly with the tribal reservations” and that 3.5% of those who had tested positive in Montana were Native American. The tribes are encouraging their members not to panic, to stay indoors, and to wear gloves and masks if they need to go outdoors. The tribes had already suspended tribal government travel, implemented a 14-day quarantine for anyone who came to the reservation from a place with an outbreak and instituted at 10 p.m. curfew. “The reason we’re doing that is because we have a high rate of diabetes here, a high rate of cancer and a high rate of heart disease. We’re thinking about our elders,” Tribal Chairman Floyd Azure said in an earlier statement.
Kearney: A third staff member and three residents at Nebraska’s Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney have tested positive for the new coronavirus, state health officials reported. Those were the results released late Wednesday of facility-wide testing earlier this week after two staff members initially tested positive for COVID-19. The local health department and the Nebraska National Guard set up the on-site testing for the center’s more than 160 residents and staff. The infected staffer is self-isolating and monitoring symptoms at home, health officials said. The three boys are asymptomatic and self-isolating in individual rooms at the center, officials said. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said in a news release that “necessary areas” in the facility have been sanitized and that all staff and youth continue to be monitored for symptoms, including having their temperature checked daily.
Las Vegas: The governor on Wednesday ordered a closure of golf courses, real estate open houses and religious gatherings of 10 people or more, as well as additional restrictions to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Gov. Steve Sisolak said he was adding restrictions because some people have created an unnecessary risk by trying to circumvent the rules he has already put in place. Other restrictions were designed to cut down on the amount of time people spend next to others, he said. Sisolak said he was ordering the closure of sports and recreational facilities where people congregate, such as golf courses, tennis courts, basketball courts and pools. He said that despite his decision last month to leave golf courses open, he had seen pictures that had been sent to him of people riding together in golf carts and standing together on the greens. The governor said a new directive also restricts barbers and hair stylists from offering in-home services to anyone outside their immediate household. “I haven’t had a haircut in six weeks. I’ve adjusted. The first lady is sticking by my side. We can do this,” the governor joked.
Concord: The state received 15 machines from the federal government that confirm within minutes if someone tests positive for the coronavirus – but it can’t use them due to a lack of test cartridges. The state expected 1,500 cartridges for the machines but only received 120. “I’m banging my head against the wall, I really am,” Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday. “It’s really frustrating. We’re going to keep pushing on Washington multiple times a day to get what we need.” U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen wrote to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying she finds it “unacceptable” that the state won’t be able to use the machines to the fullest extent possible.
Trenton: Jobless claims spiked 32% last week, breaking a record set the week before, and Gov. Phil Murphy promised Thursday that no one owed jobless benefits will be denied despite delays because of the state’s old computer system. The spike in claims to about 206,000 from 155,000 reflects the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on the state’s economy, according to the Labor Department. The state’s unemployment website has been deluged with applicants, slowing it down and leading officials to ask people to try the site at off-peak times. “No one will be denied one penny of their benefits,” Murphy said Thursday. The hardest-hit workers were from the food service industry, followed by those at doctors’ and dentists’ offices, the department said. Administrative workers were also hit hard.
Farmington: New Mexico State Police are cracking down on businesses that aren’t abiding by the governor’s public health orders as new confirmed cases pushed the state’s total higher Wednesday. The cases include two residents and seven employees at a Farmington nursing home. Numerous cases also have been reported at an Albuquerque long-term care facility. Every resident at the Farmington nursing home has been tested now. Life Care Centers of America aid staff can help coordinate video chats and phone calls so family members can stay connected to loved ones who are inside the facility. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this week extended an emergency health order that aims to limit social contact to keep from spreading the virus. The order also includes restrictions for businesses, and state police have said that for those that aren’t abiding by the rules, a written warning along with a cease-and-desist order will come first. On a second violation, the business will receive a citation. Subsequent violations could lead to a civil penalty of up to $5,000.
New York: The state reported a record-breaking increase in coronavirus deaths for a third consecutive day, though trends on hospitalizations were more hopeful. State health officials now say they support people covering their faces in public, while New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city needs more coronavirus testing capacity. The state’s 799 deaths in one day raised the outbreak total above 7,000. Despite the worsening death toll, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, New York City’s hospitals have so far stood up under the enormous strain. In fact, the increase in hospitalizations is down from the unsustainable pace of last week, as are intensive care admissions. More than 18,000 patients were hospitalized in the state. Light is at the end of the tunnel, but New Yorkers absolutely must not end their weeks of isolation just yet, he said. “It is good news. ‘Well, now I can relax,’ No, you can’t relax,” he cautioned. “The flattening of the curve last night happened because of what we did yesterday and the day before and the day before that.”
Wrightsville Beach: This beach town is increasing fines for people who violate beach closures in light of rules established as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials in Wrightsville Beach say if people are caught on the beach in violation of the public beach closures, they could face fines of up $650 and potential court costs, WWAY reports. Before the change, offenders faced a misdemeanor that carried a $150 fine. After handing out 18 citations to people violating public beach closures over the weekend, the town said changes were needed. Town leaders passed an ordinance allowing police to charge anyone caught on the beach with a $500 civil penalty up to the officer’s discretion. Former Wrightsville Beach mayoral candidate Greg Buscemi suggested the only reason for the change is the loss of parking revenues. Mayor Darryl Mills said the change was meant to give officers some flexibility and an alternative to giving someone a criminal record.
Fargo: Plans are in place to convert the state’s largest sports venue into a field hospital in case it’s needed for COVID-19 patients, Fargo officials said Thursday. The Fargodome is an indoor stadium that seats 19,000 fans for North Dakota State University football games and has held major concerts and other events. The National Guard and state officials are prepared to set up about 200 beds and health stations in the venue, if needed, Mayor Tim Mahoney said. “The governor has control of beds that he can deliver wherever he wants in the state,” Mahoney said. The National Guard has already set up more than 200 cots at the University of Mary Fieldhouse in Bismarck. The Armory at Bismarck State College was considered, but Gov. Doug Burgum said officials determined the space was too small. As of Thursday, there were 14 patients who were hospitalized in North Dakota with COVID-19, occupying a small percentage of the 2,400 beds available in current medical facilities around the state.
Columbus: Gov. Mike DeWine has urged institutions with surgical masks not to throw them away but to arrange for them to be sanitized by Battelle, a private research company in Columbus that has developed a technology allowing masks to be reused up to 20 times. Apple CEO Tim Cook has donated 100,000 N95 masks for health care workers, the governor announced. Cook is giving the virtual commencement address at Ohio State next month. The Ohio Hospital Association released guidelines for how hospitals can allocate scarce resources, including ways to implement a triage group to determine who should receive resources when they’re not available for all patients. And in central Ohio, 44 staff members agreed to live in two assisted-living facilities, The Inn at Chapel Grove in Heath and The Inn at SharonBrooke in Newark, to reduce the risk of exposure to residents, The Advocate reports. “I never thought in my whole nursing career that this would even happen, but I came to realize that in my entire nursing career, this is the time that they’re going to need me the most,” nurse Alisha Disbennett told the newspaper.
Oklahoma City: A hospital system has temporarily closed all but its emergency room and some outpatient services at a facility in the city and will furlough employees because of a drop in patient numbers due to a state ban on elective surgeries during the coronavirus crisis. An unspecified number of patients are being moved from Integris Baptist Medical Center Portland Avenue in northwest Oklahoma City to another Integris Health hospital in the city by Friday, company spokeswoman Brooke Cayot said Thursday. She said Integris doesn’t know how long that campus will be closed, but the company hopes it will reopen in the future. Gov. Kevin Stitt in March issued an executive order suspending elective surgeries and minor medical procedures to preserve supplies of protective equipment such as gloves, masks and face shields.
Portland: Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday that the state’s K-12 schools will remain closed though the end of the academic year due to the coronavirus outbreak, placing more than 550,000 students and their teachers in uncharted territory as districts with vastly different resources plan for weeks of remote learning. Seniors who had passing grades and were on track to graduate when the state’s stay-at-home order began in mid-March will be able to graduate, Brown said. School districts are being explicitly urged to work closely with seniors who did not have passing grades at that time to help them earn those credits so they can graduate, said Colt Gill, the director of the Department of Education. Those students will have until Aug. 31 to improve their grades and graduate with the Class of 2020, he said. Proms, graduation ceremonies and other year-end celebrations will be put on hold or held online, Gill said. District are being urged to work with students and parents to come up with an alternative way to celebrate that fits each community, he said.
Harrisburg: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board said Thursday that it might increase the number of fulfillment centers to handle the tremendous demand for its new online sales program. The state’s brick-and-mortar liquor stores were shut down March 17 over coronavirus concerns. The online order system has been getting upward of 2 million page hits a day since it launched last week, but the vast majority of would-be customers have been unable to place an order because of the program’s lack of fulfillment capacity. The program filled 684 orders on its first day and was up to about 1,800 orders per day this week, board spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell said. She said the relative few who successfully placed orders have been getting delivery within two days. The existing fulfillment centers, staffed with employees and contract workers, are in Pittsburgh, the Philadelphia suburbs and Wilkes-Barre.
Providence: The governor said Thursday that the state nearly doubled its coronavirus testing over the past week, and she announced tough new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the outbreak. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said the state is now conducting more than 1,800 tests daily, well over her goal a week ago of 1,000 tests a day. “I’m not going to pretend it’s perfect … but we’ve made enormous progress,” Raimondo said. Testing sites were set to close Thursday afternoon because of lightning in the forecast, she said. Most of the state’s testing is conducted outside in drive-up tents that contain metal equipment. Raimondo also signed an executive order intended to double down on forced quarantines and isolation for people who have been diagnosed with the virus or had close contact with someone who has. “This is going to get harder, not easier,” she said. “It’s necessary to help keep everyone healthy, safe and alive.”
Columbia: The Legislature’s attempt to meet as quickly as possible Wednesday to assure the state can keep operating while lawmakers stay out of session and safe from the peak of the coronavirus outbreak ran into a familiar roadblock in a surprising way. Several senators opposed a bill to allow the state to keep spending money if it doesn’t pass a budget by the end of June because it placed restrictions on state-owned utility Santee Cooper. House Speaker Jay Lucas said the failure of negotiations over Santee Cooper meant the House and Senate also couldn’t reach an agreement to set the parameters of any special session needed after the May 14 deadline in the state constitution for the session to end. And the Senate altering the House’s bill means the House will have to come back in session and deal with the new proposal before June 30 or risk the state no longer being able to spend money.
Sioux Falls: A pork processing plant operated by Smithfield Foods has seen more than 80 of its employees confirmed to have the coronavirus, health officials reported Wednesday. United Food and Commercial Workers, the union representing employees at the Sioux Falls plant, said the number of people with confirmed cases is higher at more than 120. Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said her number was based on information from Tuesday. The plant, which employs about 2,800 people, has emerged as a hot spot of infections in the state, with almost 1 in 4 people who have tested positive in South Dakota working at the plant. Employees said in the past two weeks they have felt pressured to go to work even when they felt sick. Smithfield Foods said it is taking precautions to protect its workers, including screening them for signs of COVID-19 before they enter the facilities.
Nashville: The legal team fighting for a delay in the June 4 execution of a death row inmate says it has lost “critical time” due to the new coronavirus and restrictions to curb its spread. In a state Supreme Court filing Wednesday, the attorney for inmate Oscar Smith cited increasingly stringent government restrictions, including Gov. Bill Lee’s stay-at-home order, in response to a state coronavirus caseload that rose Wednesday to 79 deaths and more than 4,300 people confirmed to have been infected. Meanwhile, many more Tennesseans are losing their jobs as economies shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Tennesseans filed more than 112,400 new claims for unemployment in the week ending Saturday, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The numbers have risen sharply, to nearly a quarter of a million over the last three recorded weeks. Typically, the state gets fewer than 10,000 new claims in a three-week period, the department said.
San Antonio: Ten residents at the Southeast Nursing and Rehabilitation Center have died after a coronavirus outbreak infected most of the people living there, officials said Wednesday. That means more than half of 20 reported coronavirus-related deaths in the city are linked to the nursing home. The most recent victims were two women, one in her 70s and the other in her 80s, city officials said in a statement. At least 67 of 84 residents at the facility tested positive for COVID-19, and several staff members were infected as well. The virus has swept through other Texas nursing homes, including one in Texas City, where a doctor is treating nearly 30 people with an anti-malaria drug that has been heavily promoted by President Donald Trump but is unproven to be effective against COVID-19.
Salt Lake City: Travelers coming into the state will be required to identify themselves and report any coronavirus symptoms as they arrive, Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday. Highways will be “geofenced” at the five most common entry points so drivers get a text message through a federal wireless emergency alert system asking them to fill out an online form if they are staying in the state, authorities said. At the Salt Lake International Airport, people will hand out cards with a QR code linking to the form starting Friday. The form will have people identify themselves and report their recent travels as well as any symptoms. People who could spread the virus will be asked to self-quarantine and possibly get tested. The effort will get federal funding, and the information will be stored in a secure Utah Department of Health database.
Burlington: All 95 senior nursing students at the University of Vermont are going to be graduating early this year so they can support health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials said Thursday. Vermont’s State Board of Nursing will offer the students temporary permits so they can begin staffing hospitals and other health facilities immediately after they graduate May 1, the university said. The nurses had been scheduled to graduate in late May. Normally, new graduates begin work in early August, after they’ve taken a licensure exam and become registered nurses. “Healthcare workers need support as soon as we can provide it,” Rosemary Dale, chair of the Department of Nursing in UVM’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said in a statement. “Our students will be able to make a real difference.”
Falls Church: Nearly 150,000 Virginians filed unemployment claims in the past week, the third straight week of record-setting claims in reaction to the coronavirus outbreak. The U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday that 149,758 claims were filed in the state in the week ending April 4. That’s about a one-third increase over the previous week, which was itself record-setting. Before the coronavirus forced so many businesses into stasis, weekly jobless claims in Virginia averaged about 2,600. In the past three weeks, more than 308,000 Virginians have applied for unemployment, according to the Labor Department. The real figure may be higher because the Virginia Employment Commission, like other states, has been overwhelmed by the volume of claims, and many applicants report difficulties in getting their claims filed and processed.
Seattle: Inmates at a state prison staged a large protest following new coronavirus diagnoses at the facility. Inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex held a demonstration Wednesday night after six inmates tested positive at the prison, according to the Washington State Department of Corrections. The latest two cases at the facility that can house up to 2,500 inmates were men ages 68 and 28. Corrections officers used verbal orders, pepper spray and rubber pellets to get the demonstrators under control, but the inmates ignored those efforts, officials said. Both housing units were evacuated, and the situation was under control soon afterward. No one was injured. Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday that he recognizes the concerns inmates and their families have about the virus inside correctional facilities and is trying to balance inmate needs with public safety.
Charleston: At least 14 West Virginia University students have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to college officials. The school said Wednesday night that the students were in private, off-campus housing and that a contact-tracing investigation is underway. The college has been closed since March 20. Monongalia County, where the school is located, is counted among the state’s virus hot spots and is subject to stronger safety protocols along with Marion, Berkeley, Jefferson, Morgan, Harrison and Kanawha counties. Gatherings in those counties have been limited to five people, and local health departments have been told to establish maximum occupancy rules for businesses, after executive orders from Republican Gov. Jim Justice. At least 485 people in West Virginia have the virus, according to state health officials. At least four people have died.
Madison: Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday ordered the closure of 40 state parks, forests and recreational areas primarily in southern and southeastern Wisconsin to help reduce overcrowding and vandalism and to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Evers warned that the order could be followed by more closures if the public doesn’t follow social distancing guidelines and if vandalism continues. “Unfortunately, growing difficulty with ensuring social distancing compliance, dwindling cleaning supplies and mounting trash are some of the challenges faced by our state parks staff,” Evers said in announcing the closures, which include Devil’s Lake State Park, the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Blue Mound State Park, Governor Dodge State Park, New Glarus Woods State Park and Dells of The Wisconsin River State Natural Area. Also on Thursday, Evers reiterated that it was OK for churches to offer drive-up services on Good Friday and Easter after the conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and religious groups asked for clarity.
Cody: Yellowstone National Park likely won’t reopen until May or later, delaying the start of its traditional summer season for millions of tourists because of the coronavirus outbreak, a park official said. “I don’t foresee us opening in the month of April,” park Superintendent Cam Sholly told Park County commissioners in a conference call Tuesday. “It’s going to be closer to May, and then we’ll see what the virus is doing in Montana and Wyoming and around the country for that matter.” The coronavirus has complicated the usual pattern from late April to early June of plowing snow and then reopening gates, visitor centers, stores, restaurants and lodges for tourists who begin to converge on Yellowstone around Memorial Day weekend, the Cody Enterprise reports.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Overflow morgue, rural hot spot: News from around our 50 states