Orange Beach: Beach season is heating up, and the coastal region is getting federal money to help recover from tourism losses caused by the pandemic. The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration said Thursday that it will provide the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau with $800,000 for a marketing program. The money will be combined with $200,000 in local funding. The agency is helping communities nationwide implement programs to counter economic hardships amid the pandemic, said Dennis Alvord, acting assistant secretary for economic development. “This investment will fund a strategic, multi-faceted marketing campaign designed to attract visitors to the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area, resulting in continuous economic growth and job creation,” he said in a statement. Officials hope to boost business and reclaim tourists who couldn’t visit during the COVID-19 shutdown, which included the closure of the state’s beaches a year ago, a problem made all the worse by damage from Hurricane Sally in September. Business owners have compared the loss to the fallout from the Gulf oil spill of 2010. Stores and restaurants have been bustling this spring, and residents hope business will improve even more since the state lifted its mask mandate and other restrictions Friday.
Anchorage: The acting mayor has asked the city’s Assembly to extend through mid-July an emergency proclamation in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, the proclamation includes gathering-size restrictions; social distancing requirements in restaurants, bars and other businesses; health restrictions for some sports teams; and a citywide mask mandate. It is set to expire after Friday. Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson requested that the orders be extended through July 16, the Anchorage Daily News reports. It would be the eighth extension since the pandemic began. The Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to consider the extension at its next meeting Tuesday. It can either approve it, approve it with amendments or reject it. Quinn-Davidson said there were several reasons for requesting the extension, including that children under age 16 are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines and that the emergency powers help in distributing vaccines. More than 36% of residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 25% fully inoculated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meanwhile, Assembly member Jamie Allard, who represents Eagle River and Chugiak, has asked the body to terminate all the city’s orders and deny the mayor’s request.
Phoenix: Businesses will be free to ignore mask mandates meant to contain the spread of diseases like COVID-19 under legislation signed Friday by Gov. Doug Ducey. The bill’s advocates said business owners should be allowed to decide for themselves whether to require their customers to follow public health orders issued by cities and counties. Critics said the legislation would make it harder to contain the spread of diseases. The measure passed the House and Senate on party-line votes, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. Ducey said he signed the bill after securing a commitment from its sponsor, Republican Rep. Joseph Chaplik, that he’ll push through a new bill making clear that the state can enforce long-standing workplace safety and infection control standards unrelated to COVID-19. “With his commitment to fix this oversight, I am signing this bill, ensuring that our small businesses will no longer be required to enforce mandates imposed on them by their cities who are choosing not to enforce it themselves,” Ducey wrote in a signing statement. He has repeatedly said the mayors pushing for mask mandates aren’t enforcing their own. Mayors say the mere presence of a mandate is enough to get most people to comply without the need to write tickets.
Little Rock: The number of new coronavirus cases per capita in the state over the past two weeks was the lowest in the nation, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Arkansas had 72.6 new cases per 100,000 residents to rank 52nd in the U.S. in data that includes the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The Arkansas Department of Health reported 332,053 total cases since the pandemic began and 5,661 deaths due to COVID-19. The number of newly confirmed or probable virus cases increased by 171 from Friday, while the death toll was unchanged. The rolling average of deaths during the past two weeks in the state has fallen from 7.7 per day to 3.8, according to the Johns Hopkins data. The rolling average of new cases in the state decreased from 203.1 daily to 161.3, a 20.6% decline. Meanwhile, the state’s prison system has expanded its in-person visitation to six more facilities. The Department of Corrections announced it was expanding its modified in-person visitation program to the McPherson Unit, North Central Unit, Central Arkansas Community Correction Center, East Central Arkansas Community Correction Center, Omega Supervision Sanction Center and Southwest Arkansas Community Correction Center. The department began its in-person visitation pilot program in December at four facilities.
Sacramento: The Supreme Court is telling the state it can’t enforce coronavirus-related restrictions that have limited home-based religious worship including Bible studies and prayer meetings. The order from the court late Friday is the latest in a recent string of cases in which the high court has barred officials from enforcing some pandemic-related restrictions applying to religious gatherings. Five conservative justices agreed that California restrictions that apply to in-home religious gatherings should be lifted for now, while the court’s three liberals and Chief Justice John Roberts would not have done so. However, California has already announced significant changes loosening restrictions on gatherings that go into effect Thursday after infection rates have gone down in the state. The case before the justices involved rules that in most of the state limit indoor social gatherings to no more than three households. Attendees are required to wear masks and physically distance from one another. Different restrictions apply to places including schools, grocery stores and churches. “California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise,” allowing hair salons, retail stores and movie theaters, among other places, “to bring together more than three households at a time,” the unsigned order from the court said.
Fort Collins: The state’s COVID-19 dial – a framework that has determined counties’ pandemic-related restrictions since September – will be retired next Friday, turning control back over to counties’ health agencies, Gov. Jared Polis said during a news conference Friday afternoon. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are seeing an uptick statewide, putting Colorado in its “fourth and final wave,” Polis said. New cases in this wave are particularly affecting younger age groups. People under 50 are seeing more cases, while people 50 and older are seeing a flattening or decline in cases, likely thanks to the high rate of vaccination in older age groups, said Colorado’s lead epidemiologist, Rachel Herlihy. Both Polis and Herlihy once again urged people to wear masks, socially distance and get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are able. With every eligible and interested adult expected to have at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of May – possibly earlier – Polis said Colorado would be nearing immunity across the state by June. “We don’t need to ride a fourth wave of this virus. We can end it,” Polis said. “We just need to go back to how we were (living) in February and March for another few weeks.”
Hartford: The state is planning to provide full access this summer to its outdoor recreation areas including state parks, camp grounds, shoreline beaches, boat launches and inland swimming spots, after providing partial access to its park system last summer even at the height of the pandemic. Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the state began accepting reservations for some cabins and campgrounds Friday, and most indoor facilities – including park buildings, museums, nature centers and public restrooms – will be open starting on Memorial Day weekend. “Really, we’re going back to the way we were before the pandemic,” Dykes said at Peoples State Forest in Barkhamsted on Friday. “We close parks when parking lots get full, and we can’t accommodate more cars. That’s what we’re looking forward to this coming summer.” Dykes said plans could change, and the DEEP is working with the state Department of Public Health to ensure public safety. She said group gatherings, including weddings, will be allowed in line with the state limit of 200 people at outdoor events. The state set a record with more than 10 million visitors to its parks last year, a 10% increase over 2019 numbers, despite restrictions on capacity and parking, Dykes said.
Dover: Gun rights advocates have filed a federal lawsuit challenging continued virtual meetings of the General Assembly after Democrats rammed two controversial gun control bills through the state Senate. The lawsuit, filed Friday against Democrat and Republican leaders of the House and Senate, comes amid partisan bickering over the Democrat-controlled Legislature continuing to meet online rather than in person. The decision by Senate Democrats to fast-track passage of the gun control bills last week served only to fan the flames. Republicans are particularly upset about a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week that drew more than 800 online attendees. Only about 30 or 40 people were allowed to speak on the gun bills during the two-hour hearing, and they were limited to one minute apiece. Many were cut off in mid-sentence after 60 seconds. “Due to the virtual format, the General Assembly is able to be keyboard warriors and silence opposition with the click of a mouse,” the lawsuit says. “This is chilling.” The complaint also alleges that Democratic leaders are using COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid having to face their constituents in person.
District of Columbia
Washington: The Georgetown community is helping restaurants install decks as they work to enhance the “streateries” that popped up during the pandemic and increase sidewalk space, WUSA-TV reports. The Georgetown Business Improvement District has already set up three pilot patios at Clyde’s, Laduree and Thunder Burger, and L’Annexe. “Probably my favorite thing to come with this whole thing (the pandemic) is that we got a patio outside,” said Niko Smith, the manager of Thunder Burger and Bar. Without it, Smith said, the restaurant took a big hit at the start of coronavirus-related restrictions. Before COVID-19, Smith said Thunder Burger was an indoor, sit-down, happy-hour-oriented restaurant. After March 2020, he said it switched to takeout and then added a “streatery” with turf, essentially, on the road outside the restaurant. In a release, the Georgetown BID said starting mid-April, it will be installing approximately 4,000 linear feet of removable sidewalk deck panels on M Street between 34th Street and 29th Street and on Wisconsin Avenue between Q Street and the Canal. To protect patrons dining on them, the BID said a combination of black metal barriers and concrete barriers will protect the sidewalk extensions.
Jacksonville: Flags sprouted like yellow flowers early Wednesday in front of Memorial Hospital Jacksonville, planted by nurses, doctors and staff to remember the past year’s battles against COVID-19. For all the memories of those treated at the hospital since Jacksonville’s first pandemic patient arrived almost 13 months ago, the Flags of Hope also became a symbolic healing gesture of letting go and looking forward. Women Services Director Jill Bodden said she will never forget the new mothers who had to go into isolation due to the virus, “having babies by themselves” because no family could come in. But through the past year, her co-workers did their jobs despite a challenging and “very different” year, she said. “It’s been a lot of different emotions, at first a lot of unknown, fear and anxiety,” Bodden said. “Then there was a lot of amazing teamwork and people coming together to meet the needs of that patient and their families who could not be with them.” Nursing Services Director Adam Copher said it was very emotional to plant his flag. “It brought back a lot of memories with the staff and the families we took care of,” he said. “We are all here together so we can continue to move forward with this pandemic and save lives.”
Atlanta: State health officials are temporarily stopping administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at one site in north Georgia after eight people experienced “adverse reactions” Wednesday. One of the eight people at a vaccination site in Cumming was evaluated at a hospital and released, the Georgia Department of Public Health said Friday. The others were monitored and sent home. Fainting was among the reactions noted, said Nancy Nydum, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health. The vaccine is being paused “out an abundance of caution,” health officials said in a statement. There’s no reason to believe there is anything wrong with the vaccine, and people who have received it should not be concerned, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia’s health commissioner. The agency is looking into what may have caused the reactions, “including the conditions at the fairgrounds such as heat and the ability to keep the site cool,” Toomey said. The site in Cumming is about 40 miles northeast of Atlanta. More than 4.5 million vaccines have been administered in Georgia, health officials said Friday. About 80% of seniors in the state have received at least one dose, they said.
Honolulu: The governor has issued another emergency proclamation in response to the coronavirus pandemic that extends the statewide eviction moratorium for another two months and details plans for vaccinated travelers. Democratic Gov. David Ige signed the proclamation Friday extending until June 8 the moratorium on residential evictions that began in April 2020 and was set to expire Tuesday. Landlords are prohibited from evicting tenants for failure to pay rent, maintenance fees, utility bills, taxes and other required fees. The emergency proclamation also revealed plans to allow vaccinated travelers to bypass mandatory quarantine upon arriving to the state. People who are fully vaccinated would be able to avoid COVID-19 testing and quarantine by uploading valid vaccination documents to the Safe Travels Program or showing documents in person. The provision must receive approval from Maj. Gen. Kenneth S. Hara, the director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Ige did not provide a timeline for when the vaccine passport provision will be made available. The emergency proclamation also provides an extension for state IDs, driver’s licenses and instructional permits that expired during the pandemic.
Boise: Lawmakers have amended a bill that would ban the state, public health departments and even school districts from requiring masks, adding a penalty Friday. The amendment in the state House means the legislation now says that if a political subdivision enacts a mask mandate, any public health order or emergency declaration under which the entity is operating will be terminated. The legislation sponsored by Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, is one of several bills from lawmakers upset over coronavirus restrictions. Health experts have consistently said wearing masks slows the virus’s spread, and some school districts, cities and public health districts have issued mask orders at times during the pandemic. Gov. Brad Little has never issued a statewide mask mandate, though he’s encouraged residents to wear face coverings. Under the bill, schools and universities wouldn’t be able to require masks on campus. Private businesses could still require masks if the bill is eventually approved. The legislation still must go through the state Senate. Officials report that the coronavirus has infected more than 180,000 Idaho residents and killed nearly 2,000.
Springfield: Daily hospital admissions and the number of people newly diagnosed with COVID-19 continue to rise along with the percentage of the population vaccinated, state public health officials said Friday. People who are not fully vaccinated apparently are failing to take precautions to wear masks in public, use social distancing and avoid crowds indoors as vaccinations expand, according to experts. The Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday reported 4,004 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, including 21 additional deaths. As of Thursday night, 1,808 people in Illinois with COVID-19 were hospitalized, including 369 in intensive care units and 163 on ventilators. The statewide seven-day coronavirus test positivity rate sat at 4.8%. Statewide, almost 6.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, and 2.6 million people have received a full vaccination series.
Elkhart: The city is bringing back a summer festival built around go-kart racing a year after the family-oriented event was canceled by the coronavirus pandemic. Elkhart officials announced Wednesday that the Thor Industries Elkhart Riverwalk Grand Prix will return Aug. 13-14, with racing along city streets, live music, fireworks and other events. The race will be hosted in collaboration with U.S. Auto Club Karting and will include a redeveloped park between the front stretch and the pit area, The Elkhart Truth reports. Mayor Rod Roberson said he and other city officials are “thrilled” by the race’s return after a pandemic time-out. “As we come out of COVID, whatever this virus looks like in our community come August, we know USAC will ensure the Elkhart Grand Prix is a safe and enjoyable event for everyone,” he said in a statement. Former Mayor Tim Neese brought back the Grand Prix in 2017 after a two-decade hiatus. This year’s event kicks off Friday, Aug. 13, with practice, qualifying and special events along with the first of two free nights of concerts on a new permanent concert stage. Practice and qualifying races will follow the next day before the Thor Industries celebrity races open the racing.
Des Moines: The annual, metro-wide Earth Day Trash Bash – canceled last year amid the pandemic – is returning this month with dozens of opportunities for volunteers to pick up litter, brush and recyclable items in parks and along streams and trails throughout central Iowa. It’s a “reimagined” Trash Bash that makes Earth Day on April 22 feel more like Earth Month, said Jen Fletcher, marketing supervisor for Des Moines Parks and Recreation. “We are taking the same approach that we took for one day, and we are spreading it out over a month in smaller groups, in multiple different locations,” Fletcher said. “We want everybody to be safe; that’s our biggest priority.” Trash Bash started in 2008 as a one-day event to recognize Earth Day and drew about 25 volunteers. It’s grown over the years to involve 1,000 or more volunteers annually. In 2019, volunteers collected almost 45,000 pounds of trash, recyclables, tires and metals and cleared about 75 acres of invasive plant species, Fletcher said. Visit earthday.dsm.city for a full list of events and to register as a volunteer.
Wichita: Amtrak plans to resume daily service across the state beginning May 31, thanks to renewed federal funding. The Southwest Chief route from Los Angeles to Chicago was reduced to three days a week in October in response to falling use during the coronavirus pandemic. But the company said new federal COVID-19 relief funding will allow it to restore daily service on the Southwest Chief and 11 more long-distance routes in coming months. The Southwest Chief makes several stops in the state, including Kansas City, Topeka, Garden City and Dodge City. Amtrak also announced recently that it eventually plans to add a new route that would connect the Southwest Chief to Oklahoma and Texas through the station in Newton, Kansas, KCUR reports. The line is part of Amtrak’s vision to add more than 30 new routes nationwide over the next 15 years using money from President Joe Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan. It would also bring passenger rail service to Wichita for the first time since 1979.
Georgetown: A judge on Friday temporarily blocked applying some of the state’s pandemic-related restrictions to several restaurants and breweries challenging the governor’s actions. Scott County Circuit Judge Brian Privett said in his narrowly tailored order that the rights of those businesses have been harmed by the restrictions. His order applies only to the handful of businesses challenging the coronavirus-related orders by Gov. Andy Beshear. “It does not affect every business in the Commonwealth, or schools, or masks, or any other issue,” Privett said. “It only states that under the law, these specific businesses’ rights have and continue to suffer harm, and they should be relieved under the current state of the law.” Beshear spokeswoman Crystal Staley pointed to previous rulings siding with the governor. As for Privett’s order, she said: “While the decision only applies to five businesses, our office already has filed an appeal and awaits a response from the Court of Appeals.” Privett’s order runs counter to a Franklin County Circuit Court ruling that temporarily blocked Republican-backed laws threatening to invalidate the Democratic governor’s virus-related orders. Privett said that “there is every chance” the case he heard will join the Franklin County case on appeal ultimately to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
New Orleans: Bars are doing their part to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, some going shot-for-shot. According to local media reports, two of the city’s bars were holding events over the weekend where patrons could get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Dragon’s Den, located near the beginning of the music club-lined Frenchmen Street, posted on its Facebook page that people could come and get the vaccine and then a complimentary shot Friday evening. The vaccines were being administered on the median in front of the bar by Crescent Care, a federally qualified health center in the city. Dr. Jason Halperin, an infectious disease expert with the health center, told the Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate that the bar was footing the bill for the booze. He said other businesses have also expressed interest in hosting vaccination events. “It’s so New Orleans unique – drinks on us for getting a vaccine,” he told the newspaper. Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge also said on its Facebook page that it would be offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccination Saturday.
Portland: Islamic leaders are using social media, virtual town halls and face-to-face discussions to spread the word that it’s acceptable to be vaccinated against COVID-19 during daily fasting for Ramadan, the most sacred month of the year for Muslims. During the holy month that begins this week, Muslims across the world abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. The vaccine discussion centers on whether an inoculation amounts to the prohibited act of ingesting something while fasting. It doesn’t, said Mohamud Mohamed, imam of the Maine Muslim Community Center, who is working to assure Muslims at his Portland mosque that getting the vaccine is perfectly fine but finds some people are clinging to misperceptions. “There is a lot of bad information going around,” said Mohamed, who devoted his address during recent Friday prayers to promoting the vaccine. A vaccine clinic was held at the mosque Saturday. Still, Safiya Khalid, a City Council member in Lewiston, sparked a lively conversation among fellow Muslims when she raised the issue on social media. Others questioned whether the vaccine violated fasting – until an imam weighed in. “We need more communication,” said Khalid, who has already received her first vaccine dose and will get her second shot during Ramadan. “You can do this and protect your community and your family.”
Annapolis: The U.S. Naval Academy will hold its graduation and commissioning ceremony in person at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this year, the academy said Friday. The commissioning ceremony is scheduled for May 28 in Annapolis. The academy says select commissioning week events for the class of 2021 also will be held in person. The academy says a limited number of guests per member of the graduating class will be invited to attend select events in the lead-up to graduation. Based on the event venue, the academy says it expects to be able to accommodate two to four guests per graduate throughout the week. The schedule will include as many of the traditional events as possible in the COVID-19 environment to include the Blue Angels’ rehearsal and flight demonstration, the Color Parade, and the graduation and commissioning ceremony. Last year, the academy held its first-ever virtual graduation and commissioning ceremony because of the pandemic.
Boston: Participants in this year’s Boston Marathon may be required to show proof of up to two negative coronavirus tests before the race even if they have been vaccinated, the Boston Athletic Association said Wednesday. The historic race will also carry a new $25 fee to cover costs associated with preventing the spread of the virus, and organizers are eliminating a staging area in Hopkinton where athletes traditionally mingle and stretch before the start of the race. The BAA announced in January that the 125th edition of the marathon would be pushed back from its traditional April running to Oct. 11, assuming road races are allowed to take place under Massachusetts’ COVID-19 restrictions by then. The new date drew criticism from Native Americans because it now conflicts with a day meant to commemorate the contributions of indigenous peoples. The Indigenous Peoples Day Committee in the Boston suburb of Newton said its first planned celebration of the Oct. 11 holiday has to be canceled because of the marathon’s new date. Race organizers have also said the race will be capped at 20,000 participants to allow for social distancing along the course. A virtual option is also being offered for up to 70,000 athletes.
Detroit: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vowed Sunday to keep pushing the White House for more vaccines as the state sees a COVID-19 spike. The Democrat told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that she plans to work with the White House but is “really encouraging them to think about surging vaccines into the state of Michigan.” President Joe Biden has said the state will receive more federal resources to support vaccinations, testing and treatments – but not additional vaccines. “We are definitely grateful for the boots on the ground that they’re sending the mobile units. We’re definitely grateful for the therapeutics and the increased testing. Those are all really important,” Whitmer said. “But I am going to also continue fighting for my state.” Michigan has the highest rate of new coronavirus infections in the U.S. The state reported 6,900 cases Saturday and 74 more deaths, including 57 compiled from a review of past records. The state’s total has reached more than 738,000 cases, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service reported. Michigan doesn’t report COVID-19 data on Sundays. Whitmer on Friday urged a two-week suspension of in-person high school classes, youth sports and indoor dining. She asked for voluntary compliance of mask-wearing and social distancing.
Minneapolis: The state hit the 2 million mark for people who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the Department of Health reported Sunday. “Getting vaccinated will allow us to get back to the people we love and the things we have missed – and put an end to this pandemic,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. However, coronavirus case counts are also on the rise. Health officials reported 1,784 new infections. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by nearly 47%, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. Minnesota has recorded the nation’s fifth-highest rate of new cases per capita in that time. Both hospitalizations and deaths from the virus were trending up as well. There were 13 new deaths reported, bringing the toll from the pandemic to 6,957. Health officials have said getting people vaccinated will help stem a virus surge like the one seen last year. The Department of Health reported 2,050,888 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine, representing 46% of people over 16. About 67% of those people have been fully vaccinated. Minnesota set a high for vaccines reported in a day, recording 89,214 on Saturday.
Hattiesburg: The local zoo is again booking birthday parties and overnight camping adventures, a year after those activities were halted because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Hattiesburg Zoo has birthday party openings on Saturdays and Sundays. Overnight stays at Camp Capybara can be booked on Friday and Saturday nights. Six tents and two buildings can accommodate 20-49 campers. Campers will see an animal show, have pizza by a campfire, go on a guided zoo tour with flashlights and see a movie. The next day, campers can challenge themselves on a high ropes course, for an additional fee.
St. Louis: Everyone 16 and older is now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination in the state. State officials had announced last month that vaccines would be opened to everyone old enough to receive one April 9. State officials estimate about 4.5 million Missouri residents are eligible as of Friday. About 1.8 million residents – 29% of the state’s population – had received a first dose of a vaccine by Thursday, according to state officials. Of those, more than 1.1 million, or about 19% of the population, had been fully vaccinated. Missouri’s health department on Friday reported 2,265 confirmed coronavirus cases over the week starting March 31, or on average about 324 new cases per day. Cases were up about 1.5% from the week prior. Four new deaths were reported in the same week, bringing the total death toll in Missouri to at least 8,510.
Great Falls: Elizabeth Fowler, acting director of the Indian Health Service, visited the city’s Indian Family Health Clinic on Wednesday and announced the federal agency had administered more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccines across its sites nationwide. Fowler joined IHS Billings-area Director Bryce Redgrave and other representatives as they visited facilities in Billings, Fort Belknap, Rocky Boy and Great Falls to celebrate tribes’ successful vaccination efforts, outpacing the state. The group also visited the Little Shell Tribe’s new health clinic, expected to be completed in July using federal coronavirus relief funds. Mary Lynne Billy, chief innovation officer at Indian Family Health Clinic, told IHS leaders that when COVID-19 entered Montana, it was a “sprint” to keep patients safe. The urban IHS-owned facility implemented telehealth services almost immediately. “But that sprint turned into a marathon, which has lasted an entire year,” Billy said. As of April 2, the Indian Family Health Clinic had vaccinated all active patients 55 and older and fully immunized 22% of patients 16 and older. The clinic has also vaccinated more than 180 Great Falls Public Schools staff. Billy said IFHC is launching a new vaccination campaign, called “I made the choice,” to encourage young people to get a shot.
Lincoln: The state’s colleges and universities are encouraging students to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but they won’t require the shots before students return to campus in the fall. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Nebraska State College System and the state’s largest private colleges all said last week that they have no plans to require students or staff to get inoculated, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. “We do think they are a good idea, and we would encourage people to get vaccinated,” UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed said. “But we don’t plan to mandate that.” Private colleges, including Hastings College and Nebraska Wesleyan, Midland, Doane and Concordia universities, also said they have no plans to mandate vaccines. Doane, Midland and Hastings all hosted vaccine clinics for students Wednesday to make it easy for them to get their shots. Rachel Czerny, director of campus wellness at Doane’s campus in Crete, said the university will treat students who have been fully vaccinated in accordance with recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This excludes them from campus testing and quarantine protocols unless they become symptomatic,” she said.
Reno: The Washoe County School Board has canceled its in-person meeting Tuesday, citing a threatening crowd that did not follow COVID-19 mandates at its last meeting. Instead, the board will meet online starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday for a livestreamed discussion. The school board had been meeting in public at school gyms or theaters since the start of the school year, when children returned to classrooms in August. At the March 30 meeting, at least one person had to be escorted out by police, and others were asked to leave for refusing to wear a mask, as nearly 100 people spoke during public comment. Many of the commenters were critical of the district. Reno attorney Joey Gilbert was among them, threatening legal action for a range of issues that included poor acoustics at recent board meetings, the length of those meetings and that Board President Angie Taylor was out of line to speak on behalf of the entire board. Repeatedly during the meeting, Taylor told the audience they had to wear a mask. One commenter responded, “No, you aren’t the boss of me. You work for us.” The district said staff and students at the meeting were moved to a different location because of the “tension created by those acting inappropriately.”
Loudon: Gov. Chris Sununu received his COVID-19 vaccine Saturday at the state’s mass vaccination site at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Republican, driving an orange convertible, got the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine in his left arm. He never got out of the vehicle, and he gave a thumbs-up when it was all done. “Just got my COVID-19 vaccine at the @NHMS,” Sununu tweeted. “A big THANK YOU to all of the incredible volunteers, state employees, and staff who make the process so seamless!” Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette and Bureau of Infectious Disease Control Chief Beth Daly also received their vaccines. Thousands of New Hampshire residents have been vaccinated at the site. Also, the University of New Hampshire women’s soccer team has pulled out of the America East tournament “in accordance with COVID-19 protocols within the program,” the school said Saturday. The Wildcats (5-2, 2-2 America East) had qualified for the four-team tournament as the second-place finisher in Division A.
Atlantic City: Gov. Phil Murphy received his first COVID-19 vaccination Friday, shortly after signing legislation providing $35 million in federal pandemic funds to restaurants, bars and other related businesses. The Democratic governor got his shot at a megasite in Atlantic City, where a push is also underway to vaccinate casino workers. He threw his fist in the air and shouted “Boom!” upon getting the first doze of the Pfizer vaccine. First lady Tammy Murphy also got her first dose Friday. Earlier in the day, Murphy signed a bill allocating aid to restaurants, bars, breweries, brewpubs and wineries, during a ceremony at Bourre Cajun BBQ Cuisine near the Atlantic City Boardwalk. “Our restaurants, bars, wineries and breweries are a crucial part of our state and our economy,” Murphy said. “These are among the places that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. We’re not out of this yet. Margins for our restaurants remain razor-thin.” The grants do not have to be repaid, he said. New Jersey’s restaurants can operate at 50% capacity for indoor dining under current virus regulations. Restaurant industry officials said many have closed and will never reopen. “This is a promising and much-appreciated start,” said Dana Lancelotti, president and CEO of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association.
Santa Fe: Health officials said Friday that the state is moving faster than any other in the U.S. toward herd immunity, with one-third of adult residents now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said milestones such as this show the state’s vaccination campaign is working. Overall, state data shows more than half of residents 16 and older have received at least a first shot. That puts the state in the lead when it comes to vaccine distribution nationwide. New Mexico received more than 131,000 doses last week, marking a 35% increase. Collins said during a recent briefing that this week’s allocation won’t be as high, with just under 110,000 doses expected. New Mexico has seen a slight uptick in COVID-19 cases in recent days that has pushed the seven-day rolling average up, but health officials said vaccinations by far are outpacing the number of new confirmed cases, and that has helped the state to meet nearly all its benchmarks. Still, officials said they have concerns about emerging coronavirus variants and will be monitoring developments in neighboring states.
Buffalo: The state on Friday eased reopening restrictions on schools to allow most students to sit closer together as long as they continue to wear masks. But before they can make any changes, districts will have to allow parents, school staff and local health officials to weigh in, under guidance released by the state Department of Health. “Ultimately, the school/district’s decision to move to shorter physical distances will come down to a local community’s risk tolerance based on its unique circumstances,” the 24-page document released late Friday said. The distancing change, which follows federal guidance, is expected to allow schools to bring more students back to buildings and reduce their reliance on distance learning that has most students participating from home for at least part of the week. President Joe Biden has made it a priority to fully reopen K-8 schools by the end of April, but superintendents in New York have been frustrated by the state’s delay in acting on federal guidance issued last month that says students wearing masks can safely sit just 3 feet apart, rather than 6 feet. The revised state guidelines allow for at least 3 feet of distance between students in elementary, middle and high school classrooms in counties with a low or moderate risk of transmission.
Raleigh: Gov. Roy Cooper signed three education bills Friday to help address learning loss incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and expand access to in-state tuition for military dependents whose parents were reassigned to another location. A bill pushed by Republican state House Speaker Tim Moore that received unanimous support requires all K-12 school districts in the state to offer at least six weeks of school this summer to help pupils who have struggled to succeed, particularly with virtual learning, since the pandemic forced districts to go fully remote in March 2020. “This pandemic has challenged students and teachers like never before. Providing a summer opportunity for academic growth plus mental and physical health will help schools begin to address those challenges,” Cooper said in a statement. The Democratic governor also signed a proposal from GOP Senate leader Phil Berger to get third graders up to speed to their corresponding reading level. Educators consider the metric a key barometer of young students’ ability to achieve success for the remainder of their K-12 experience and beyond. The Excellent Public Schools Act aims to improve the Read to Achieve program that Berger championed several years ago. Early-grade students struggling with reading will receive individualized improvement plans.
Bismarck: North Dakota 4-H Ambassadors gathered in the city for leadership development, community service and group bonding during a recent retreat, with a focus on engaging youth after COVID-19 and reflecting on new outreach strategies learned throughout the pandemic. The Ambassadors also cleaned trash from 1.5 miles of ditches. It was the group’s first in-person meeting since January 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. “We are a very close group,” Tucker Regner said. “It is good to see other Ambassadors in person after such a long time.” The North Dakota 4-H Ambassadors is a group of young adults ages 16 to 22 from across the state. Their goal is to promote 4-H throughout North Dakota. 4-H is America’s largest youth development organization, empowering youth through service, leadership, citizenship and skill-building.
Columbus: A meeting between the lieutenant governor and Asian American neighbors in his Columbus suburb who are concerned about a coronavirus-related tweet they viewed as inflammatory did not take place Friday. Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted’s office said he and his family still plan to meet with the group and are working to set an agreeable date. About 80 of Husted’s Asian American neighbors in Upper Arlington signed a March 31 letter to Husted saying his use of the phrase “Wuhan Virus” on Twitter “raised the anxiety and fear” they’re experiencing. A subgroup asked for a meeting, which they announced would be held Friday. The neighbors’ spokesman, Bishop Lord, said the fact the meeting was not taking place is disappointing, but he hopes a constructive dialogue can take place within the next few weeks. Bishop said he is worried the situation might become “overtly political,” something concerned citizens do not want. He said many signatories to the letter are Husted’s fellow Republicans. Husted has insisted that the tweet referencing a theory that the coronavirus was created in a lab in Wuhan was intended to call out the Chinese government, not to sow racial divisions. The post has put him in a political crossfire amid rising violence Asian Americans have faced since the coronavirus entered the U.S.
Tulsa: The White House and Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Friday that a mega vaccination center will open in north Tulsa, offering up to 21,000 shots per week. The center will be operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in partnership with state and local emergency and health officials plus the Oklahoma National Guard. It will open April 21 at Tulsa Community College and focus on communities with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection. Vaccination appointments are available via the state health department’s portal, and walk-ins will also be accepted. “This site is another step toward ensuring all individuals who want a COVID-19 vaccine have access to one,” FEMA Region 6 Regional Administrator Tony Robinson said in a statement. The Tulsa center will provide up to 3,000 vaccinations daily for eight weeks and is the only one planned in Oklahoma, according to FEMA spokesperson Laura Lefebvre. The doses are in addition to the state’s weekly dosage allotment. The Oklahoma-based Muscogee (Creek) Nation also announced Friday that it plans to use two mobile health units to help inoculate people in rural and underserved areas of the state. The tribal nation will give shots to its own citizens and anyone else who is eligible. The state has opened vaccines to everyone 16 and up.
Salem: It was no surprise 2020 was the deadliest year in the state’s history amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But new data shows the spike can be attributed to more than just people dying after contracting the coronavirus. According to the Oregon Health Authority, 40,150 people died last year, 3,853 more than the state’s five-year average. Experts label those as “excess deaths.” Of those, 1,719, or 44%, were attributed to COVID-19. The remaining 2,134 died from other causes such as drug overdoses, cancer, heart conditions and Alzheimer’s disease. But experts believe many of those may be indirectly related to the pandemic – people reluctant to go to the hospital or their doctor out of fear of contracting COVID-19, or a delay in addressing health problems due to prolonged isolation. “I have been calling that collateral damage, the collateral damage of COVID-19, and that’s been largely overlooked,” said Chunhuei Chi, director for the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University. “Actually, the collateral damage is way beyond that.” Deaths outnumbered births in Oregon in 2020 for the first time ever, according to a post by Oregon economist Josh Lehner. One bright spot: Fears about spikes in suicides, particularly with students separated from their friends and attending classes virtually, appear to have been unfounded.
Millcreek Township: A man who was thrown out of a bar after he allegedly harassed another patron for wearing a face mask and acted aggressively toward others later tried to get back in while armed with a gun but was stopped by another patron, authorities said. Mark Reno, 56, of New Castle, was being held on $260,000 bail after his Thursday arraignment on a felony count of aggravated assault and several other misdemeanor counts, including reckless endangerment and making terroristic threats. It wasn’t known Friday if he had retained an attorney. The charges stem from an April 2 incident at a Millcreek Township bar. After Reno was ordered out of the bar, witnesses said he soon tried to get back in and was holding a gun when he was confronted by a bar patron. The two men began struggling over the gun, and the patron said the man fired one shot, but no one was struck. The patron said he then ran behind a metal clothing collection container as the man with the gun got into a car and drove off. Investigators identified Reno as a suspect through a credit card used to buy drinks at the tavern and by the license plate on the car in which the gunman drove off.
Providence: The state on Friday started expanding its COVID-19 vaccine rollout in areas that have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Starting Friday, Woonsocket residents age 16 and older became eligible for vaccines, and the same eligibility will open up Monday in West Warwick, Providence, Cranston, North Providence, East Providence and Johnston, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. In addition, all residents ages 40 to 49 will become eligible Monday as part of Gov. Dan McKee’s plan to make all adults eligible in coming weeks. “We continue to vaccinate as many people as our vaccine allocation allows,” McKee said in a statement. “Our increased capacity to get shots in arms puts us on track to meet the president’s recommendation that all adults are eligible for vaccination by April 19.” Eligibility is being expanded in Woonsocket first because of how hard it has been hit, the state health department said. In the week ending April 3, Woonsocket had 128 new cases, an increase of 21% over the previous week, the agency said. It also has the lowest vaccination rate of any area in which eligibility has not been expanded.
Greenville: The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to extend the city’s emergency mask ordinance, which was set to expire Saturday. The ordinance, which requires employees and customers to wear face coverings inside all retail establishments, will be in effect for another 60 days. Greenville was the first municipality in the state to mandate mask-wearing, first instituting the requirement June 22, 2020. The emergency ordinance, previously extended four times, reminds people to pause and take extra caution against COVID-19, Mayor Knox White said. “What we do in the city of Greenville, in one sense, you might think it doesn’t matter. But clearly it sends a signal to the larger community,” White said. Dr. Wendell James with Prisma Health thanked the council for taking the “bold step” of putting the emergency ordinance in place. While vaccination is a positive step toward normalcy, disregard for masking continues to drive up COVID-19 hospitalizations, he said. Prisma is now admitting about 85 patients a day, roughly double the number of admissions two weeks ago, James said. “The trend is consistent, and it is up,” he said.
Sioux Falls: A coronavirus variant first noted in the United Kingdom is expected to become the dominant strain of the virus in South Dakota, according to the state’s epidemiologist. South Dakota has 20 cases of coronavirus variants, a number that hasn’t changed in two weeks. Neighboring Minnesota is among a handful of states with some of the highest growth of more contagious variants. Epidemiologist Joshua Clayton said more young people are being infected, and they need to be aware that the U.K. variant spreads more easily and can be more severe in some cases. “Such as the 20- to 29-year-old population, perhaps due to just the increased rate of transmission of the B.117 variant, but just in general, individuals in that age group do need to pay attention to some of the prevention and precautions in order to avoid the transmission of COVID-19, the original virus as well as the new variant virus,” Clayton said. South Dakota’s State Health Lab, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and private labs are all performing genetic sequence testing to track down variants in South Dakota, KELO-TV reports. Clayton could not say how many cases they’ve found, but all evidence points to high numbers of the variants in the coming weeks.
Nashville: The city’s top health officials on Friday tweaked a local mask mandate to exclude requiring face coverings in outdoor spaces. According to the city’s latest public health order, masks will be still required for indoor spaces. And the department still “strongly recommends” mask-wearing in any setting if social distancing isn’t possible. A mask mandate has been in place in Nashville since June. The move comes as health officials have praised Nashville’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. Nearly 31% of the city’s residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 18% have been fully vaccinated. “We’re still not there – I don’t believe – indoors, but outdoors, we today have actually loosened those restrictions,” Dr. Alex Jahangir, chief of Nashville’s COVID-19 task force, told WSMV-TV on Thursday. Across the state, officials have slowly begun lifting mask mandates, including Sumner County, where the requirement expired Friday. In Shelby County, the state’s most populated and home to Memphis, a mask mandate remains in place for both indoor and outdoor spaces when social distancing is not possible.
Austin: The proportion of Texans who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is nearing one-third, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data Saturday. The CDC reported 30.6% of the state’s residents, more than 8.8 million people, have been given one shot, and 18.2%, more than 5.2 million, have been fully vaccinated. More than 2,600 newly confirmed or probable coronavirus cases and 76 additional deaths due to COVID-19 were reported Saturday by the state health department. The state has recorded more than 2.4 million total cases and 48,185 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the health department. The rolling average of new cases per day over the past two weeks has decreased by 461.7, a decline of 12.1%, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Salt Lake City: The state became the latest to lift its mask mandate Saturday, under a deadline set by a new state law, but the capital city and many businesses will continue requiring masks amid concern about communities still vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic. Utah joins at least 10 other states that have lifted statewide mask orders. Masks will still be required for schools and gatherings of more than 50 people, and businesses can still choose to require them. Salt Lake City International Airport, the Utah Transit Authority and the Hogle Zoo are among those that have said they will keep requiring masks and other safety measures. Counties can require masks in their jurisdictions, but only Grand County, a tourist destination home to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, has done so. Salt Lake City will continue its mask mandate, the mayor said Wednesday, though the rest of the county decided not to require masks. Mayor Erin Mendenhall, a Democrat, said keeping the mandate will protect residents, many of whom have not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19. Leaders on the GOP-controlled Salt Lake County Council, meanwhile, decided to lift their mandate along with the state. Council Chair Steve DeBry cited public health data indicating that many of the most vulnerable residents are vaccinated and that hospitals won’t be stressed beyond capacity.
Montpelier: The state plans to expand options for summer programs for kids using federal COVID-19 relief funding following a tough school year amid the pandemic, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday. A top priority is making the programs affordable and accessible, officials said. “With the end of the pandemic in sight, we want to do whatever we can to give our kids a great summer to replace some of what they lost,” Scott said. The American Rescue Plan tripled funding over the next three years for summer, after-school and enrichment programs, and Vermont will get about $71 million for such programs, on top of the normal funding, said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who spoke at Scott’s Friday coronavirus briefing via video. He urged school districts to make the programs affordable or free. Nonprofit organizations, community programs and school-community collaborative endeavors will be able to apply for grant funding to expand or create programs, with affordability and accessibility being priorities, said Deputy Education Secretary Heather Bouchey. To help get information out to students and families, the state has launched a website called Summer Matters with details about programs, summer jobs and a map showing where opportunities are available.
Charlottesville: A memorial to enslaved workers who built the University of Virginia was officially dedicated Saturday, a year after the pandemic canceled its official unveiling. The Daily Progress reports a prerecorded dedication ceremony aired Saturday for the University of Virginia’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, which was finished in 2020. The memorial commemorates more than 4,000 enslaved and free laborers who built and worked at the university in Charlottesville. University President Jim Ryan said the memorial is “an especially meaningful symbol of healing and connection” after a year marked by the pandemic as well as “unprecedented challenges to democracy and the unjust deaths of black citizens at the hands of law enforcement.” “It is not only a bridge between generations but also a bridge from the darkness of hidden injustices to the light that knowledge and recognition brings,” Ryan said. Students led the initial push for a memorial more than a decade ago. Ishraga Eltahir, founding chair of the Memorial for Enslaved Laborers student committee, said they pushed for a truthful telling of a painful but critical part of the university’s history. “Most importantly, we came together to acknowledge the very real lives of those honored women and men often erased from common narrative,” she said.
Bellingham: Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday altered the criteria used to determine whether a county moves from one COVID-19 reopening phase to another, making it easier for counties to remain in their current phase. Counties must now fail both metrics for case counts and hospitalizations in order to move back a phase, Inslee said in a news release. Previously counties could be moved backward by failing to meet one of those metrics. Inslee made the change in advance of an evaluation of each county’s metrics Monday. “Given the incredible progress on vaccinations and our focus protecting people from severe illness, we believe analyzing and requiring both metrics together is the right approach to make sure we’re considering the connection between COVID cases and our medical system and hospitalizations,” Inslee said in the news release. All of Washington’s 39 counties are currently in Phase 3 of Inslee’s reopening plan, which allowed indoor spaces – including indoor dining at restaurants, indoor fitness centers, and retail – to increase capacity from 25% to 50%. With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rising in many areas, more than a half-dozen counties were at risk of rolling back before Inslee’s change. Douglas, Cowlitz, Pierce and Yakima counties are close to failing both metrics, KOMO-TV reports.
Charleston: The state reported five additional coronavirus-related deaths Saturday, as the statewide death toll surpassed 2,740 since the start of the pandemic. The latest virus-related deaths were of a 74-year old woman from Kanawha County, a 62-year old woman from Ohio County, a 65-year old woman from Taylor County, a 66-year old woman from Kanawha County and a 73-year old woman from Harrison County, the state Department of Health and Human Resources said. “In the last 24 hours, we have lost another five West Virginians. Each loss is a heartbreak to a family and to our state. I urge you to remember your actions for safety result in saving the lives of your family, neighbors and friends,” DHHR Cabinet Secretary Bill J. Crouch said. West Virginia has reported at least 145,754 COVID-19 cases and at least 2,742 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began. West Virginians can register for their COVID-19 vaccinations online at vaccinate.wv.gov.
Madison: President Joe Biden’s administration has blocked former Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to require some childless adults to work to maintain Medicaid benefits. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent state health officials a letter Tuesday saying it was withdrawing approval for the work requirement for BadgerCare recipients, the Wisconsin State Journal reports. BadgerCare provides Medicaid benefits for eligible low-income state residents. The plan would have limited BadgerCare coverage to four years for able-bodied, childless adults ages 19 to 49 unless they worked or trained for a job. Walker received approval for the move from former President Donald Trump’s administration. But Acting CMS Administrator Elizabeth Richter said in the letter that the work requirement could strip people of coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing them harm. Wisconsin has 30 days to appeal the approval withdrawal. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has already tried to block the requirement, but Republican legislators kept it in place.
Cheyenne: Country music artists including Garth Brooks will perform at the first Cheyenne Frontier Days since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Mark Gordon and Frontier Days officials announced last week that the rodeo festival will take place over two weeks in late July as usual after being canceled last year. Besides Brooks, the night show lineup announced Thursday includes Maren Morris, Eric Church, Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton, Kane Brown, Ned LeDoux, Rhett Akins, Aaron Watson, Restless Road, Ashley McBryde and John King. The 125th Frontier Days will be dedicated to Chris LeDoux, a Wyoming country music and rodeo star who died of cancer in 2005 at 56. A bronze statue of LeDoux, Ned LeDoux’s father, will be dedicated at Frontier Park on July 23, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Frontier Days wasn’t held last year for the first time in the event’s history – a blow to Cheyenne’s economy and social scene. Many locals take off work to volunteer at the event featuring daily rodeos, entertainment, a carnival and nightlife crowds. No mask requirements or crowd size restrictions are planned this year. Known COVID-19 infections in Wyoming have plateaued at a level somewhat higher than the rate last July, but vaccines are now widely available, and cases are down sharply since December.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ramadan rules, Flags of Hope: News from around our 50 states