Robotic pets, Washington Monument, senators vaccinated: News from around our 50 states

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports, USA TODAY

Alabama

Auburn: Auburn University’s nursing school is publishing a free book to tell the stories of some of its alumni and their work during the coronavirus pandemic. Titled “Auburn Nursing – Living the Creed During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” the book includes stories of Auburn-educated nurses who worked both in their hometowns and places including New York to care for COVID-19 patients. The stories show the difficulty of working in an overwhelming situation, said nursing dean Gregg Newschwander. “At Auburn, we often say, we make leaders,” he said in a statement. “In this book, you will see how true that is.” The university statement said the nursing school marked its 40th anniversary during the 2019-20 academic year, and stories began coming in about the work being done by Auburn alumni during the pandemic. The anniversary and those experiences were melded into print. Limited quantities of the book are available through the Auburn University Bookstore with online ordering. Though the books are free there is a shipping fee. Orders will be mailed after the university reopens following the holidays on Jan. 4.

Alaska

Anchorage: The Anchorage branch of a national nonprofit is racing to disperse the last of a $20 million grant meant for rent or mortgage assistance by Dec. 30 to avoid sending funds back to the federal government. United Way of Anchorage said it has about $7 million left to dispense from the rent relief program, which began in June. Qualifying residents were initially granted at most $1,000 from the program, but they are now eligible to apply for three $1,000 checks. United Way has been actively calling people who previously applied for only one check to determine if they are still eligible for additional funds. The charity said it has been giving away several hundreds of thousands of dollars every day and has so far provided money to more than 6,000 people and families. “Any way we can find ways to get the most money out possible, that’s what we are doing,” United Way spokesman Jason Grenn said. Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson had said in November that the program’s funds would be depleted by the end of December, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Arizona

Mary Ordonez, an outreach advocate with Bloom365, hands out literature and gifts during a drive-thru holiday open house at the Peoria Community Center in Phoenix. Bloom365 provides outreach for youth impacted by domestic and sexual violence.
Mary Ordonez, an outreach advocate with Bloom365, hands out literature and gifts during a drive-thru holiday open house at the Peoria Community Center in Phoenix. Bloom365 provides outreach for youth impacted by domestic and sexual violence.

Phoenix: With more adults and children staying home because of federal and state guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19, many nonprofits have reported a rise in domestic violence and an increase in services to meet the demand. The Phoenix Police Department reported homicides involving domestic violence saw a 140% increase in the first half of this year. “We can make the leap that it may be because of victims’ limited access to leaving the home or obtaining resources since they are stuck at home in isolation with an abusive partner,” said Donna Bartos, founder of BLOOM365, an organization dedicated to preventing dating violence among teens and young adults in Peoria. New Life Center in Goodyear saw empty beds for the first time in years because of victims’ inability to physically access resources. With support from The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com’s annual holiday giving campaign Season for Sharing, domestic violence shelters throughout the Phoenix area have offered additional services to domestic violence victims affected by COVID-19. Services offered include virtual counseling and support, as well as in-person support compliant with local and federal health standards. This year, Season for Sharing gave $175,000 to BLOOM365, New Life Shelter, Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, A New Leaf and other local nonprofits that serve adults and children affected by domestic violence. In March, Fresh Start pivoted to offering online services, including educational workshops and webinars, sessions with family lawyers and social workers, and small group meetings with staff members.

Arkansas

Little Rock: Democrats in the state Senate on Friday asked Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to close bars, limit the size of gatherings and extend protections for renters in response to the ongoing surge in coronavirus cases. Many of the proposals from the Senate Democratic Caucus echo recommendations previously made by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Democrats hold nine of the 35 seats in the majority GOP Senate, and will hold seven when the Legislature returns next year. “While individual actions and responsibility are needed to check the spread of this disease, the state can and should play a stronger role in protecting all Arkansans, both from the disease and its economic fallout,” the caucus said in a statement. The caucus called for closing bars and, in counties with high rates of new cases, limiting restaurants to takeout or outdoor dining. Democrats proposed paying employees of the establishments an additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits and providing additional support to the business owners. They also recommended the state extend a moratorium on evictions an additional six months. Hutchinson rejected the caucus’ proposals.

California

California Gov. Gavin Newsom will quarantine for 10 days after a staffer tested positive for the coronaivrus.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom will quarantine for 10 days after a staffer tested positive for the coronaivrus.

Sacramento: Gov. Gavin Newsom will quarantine for 10 days after one of his staffers tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a spokesperson for the governor’s office. The staffer tested positive Sunday afternoon, the spokesperson said. Newsom was then tested and his result came back negative. The staffer also had contact with other staff members, who were also tested. Their results came back negative. Newsom’s 10-day quarantine is out of “an abundance of caution,” the statement said. The governor and other staffers were expected to be tested again in the next few days. Another person in the governor’s office tested positive in October, and the governor tested negative back then. Last month, members of the governor’s family were exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus. Newsom, his wife and four children tested negative at that time.

Colorado

Mats lie on the floor as staff measure and mark the socially distant sleeping areas for clients at the Blue Spruce temporary shelter run by the Fort Collins Rescue Mission in Fort Collins, Colo.
Mats lie on the floor as staff measure and mark the socially distant sleeping areas for clients at the Blue Spruce temporary shelter run by the Fort Collins Rescue Mission in Fort Collins, Colo.

Loveland: A temporary site for isolation, quarantine and recovery for people experiencing homelessness has opened in Loveland. The site, located at the Loveland Inn (5542 E. U.S. Highway 34), opened on Dec. 15 and is scheduled to operate for 60 days. The development comes amid a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases at area shelters that has created an urgent need for expanded facilities. The site has at least 85 rooms for those who need to isolate because they have tested positive for the coronavirus or are awaiting test results, along with those who need to quarantine because of an exposure. Initial priority will be given those who have tested positive or are showing symptoms. There are no onsite medical services. The site will take referrals from Larimer County Community Corrections in addition to serving unhoused individuals. A similar Fort Collins site located on Myrtle Street (which could only serve a maximum of 25 people) will close while the Loveland facility is operating and reopen once it closes.

Connecticut

Storrs: The University of Connecticut’s men’s basketball team has decided not to travel to Chicago to face DePaul on Wednesday. The school said Connecticut’s Department of Public Health has advised the program to refrain from competition against opposing teams if the opponent is still within the 14-day period from its last positive test results. No makeup date has been announced. The game is the sixth on UConn’s schedule that has been postponed or canceled because of COVID 19-related issues. DePaul announced Monday that a player had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Delaware

Wilmington: In the second quarter of this year, when the coronavirus pandemic first hit, 140 people fatally overdosed in Delaware – up from 113 in the first quarter, according to state data shared at a recent Overdose System of Care meeting. At a recent news conference, state officials foreshadowed the worst prediction yet: a total that could surpass 500 overdose deaths by the end of the year – a dramatic increase from last year (431). “We know that the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult for all of us mentally and emotionally, but none more so than Delawareans struggling with addiction, mental illness or both,” said Molly Magarik, secretary of the state Department of Health and Social Services.

District of Columbia

American flags fly around the Washington Monument, which was temporarily closed last week because of a recent visit by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, shortly after conducting a private tour of the monument.
American flags fly around the Washington Monument, which was temporarily closed last week because of a recent visit by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, shortly after conducting a private tour of the monument.

Washington: The Washington Monument was set to reopen Monday after it was shuttered last week when a government official who led a private tour of the monument tested positive for the coronavirus, WUSA-TV reported. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt tested positive on Wednesday, shortly after conducting a private tour of the monument. Some National Park Service staff said they were near the secretary during his visit and are now in quarantine, causing a staffing shortage and temporary closure, Interior spokesman Nicholas Goodwin said. The news comes as D.C. took further steps to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the city on Friday, extending the District’s public health emergency and banning indoor dining. The Washington Monument was closed for six months earlier this year because of the pandemic. Since its reopening on Oct. 1, a comprehensive safety program has been implemented that includes timed ticketing, limited entries, physical distancing, and additional cleaning and safety measures to ensure the health and safety of visitors and employees.

Florida

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich.
Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich.

West Palm Beach: Seniors in the general public will start getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County in January, the county health director said. The second vaccine made by Moderna is expected to ship out this week and the county is in line to get 18,000 doses, said Dr. Alina Alonso. Also this week, CVS and Walgreens will start visiting long-term care centers in the county to vaccinate senior residents. The first vaccine, made by Pfizer, shipped last week and went to five teaching hospitals in major metropolitan areas in Florida and to a state strike team that will vaccinate residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Broward and Pinellas counties. Palm Beach County has been the stepsister waiting its turn. The wait ends this week and Alonso outlined an ambitious plan at a virtual town hall hosted by Rep. Lois Frankel on Thursday night. Firefighters, EMTs and other emergency management services personnel are expected to be vaccinated by the end of December or early January. Hospitals in the county will be getting the vaccine this week, as well. Alonso said she expects shipments of the vaccine to come every week and that there will not be a shortage.

Georgia

Atlanta: Tanner Health System, with 3,500 employees, is bursting with COVID-19 patients. For weeks it has been operating at full capacity, with 55 patients needing admission Friday afternoon but waiting for beds. It has 61 COVID-19 patients being treated in units at its Carrollton, Villa Rica and Bremen hospitals. But the not-for-profit system so far has received no doses of the new COVID-19 vaccine to protect its staff. Maybe this week a shipment will come, Tanner Chief Operating Officer Greg Schulenburg said his contacts with the Georgia Department of Public Health have told the hospitals. Or it could be as late as the following week. They’re not sure. Why not sooner? “That’s a good question,” Schulenburg said. Nearby in Coweta County, the opposite situation prevails. In the same health district as Tanner, Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s hospital in Newnan said it had received every dose it needed to vaccinate all of its employees. The for-profit cancer hospital listed slightly more than 1,000 staff, including 148 administrators and support staff, in its latest filing with the state a year ago. Those kinds of disparities multiplied throughout Georgia last week as the first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were distributed. The issue for Tanner is not lack of preparation, Schulenburg said. The system has enough cold storage freezers required for the Pfizer vaccine to hold doses for all its employees, and they’re hoping to eventually ramp up enough to start treating health care personnel throughout West Georgia and East Alabama.

Hawaii

Honolulu: About 3,300 families in Hawaii each received nearly 100 pounds of food during a charity event at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. The Great Aloha Run event on Friday raised about $385,000, with $185,000 raised privately and about $200,000 coming from federal coronavirus relief funds. The event occurred as Hawaii health facilities started to roll out vaccines in order to stem a coronavirus pandemic that has sparked widespread economic hardship and killed 281 people in the state as of Saturday. “It was very heartwarming to see that the families were really, really happy,” said Carole Kai, the founder of the charity event, Enough food was available for 3,500 families, Kai said. The leftover food was scheduled to be given out on Saturday in Waianae. The food packages distributed included whole turkeys, hamburgers, spare ribs, eggs, vegetables and a variety of other items. Aloha Stadium announced Thursday it would stop scheduling new events at the stadium because of complications spurred from the virus and budgetary issues. Stadium officials will honor all prescheduled events and those that take place in its parking lot.

Idaho

Boise: Idaho government officials spent $162,500 at a women’s clothing store called Fantazia Apparel in Los Angeles last spring. Another $8,500 went to specialty beer maker Clairvoyant Brewing in Boise. A producer of theatrical effects fluids in Tennessee called Froggy’s Fog received $15,000. A public records request by the Associated Press showed just how far and wide the state ranged and what odd partnerships formed as officials scrambled to obtain personal protective equipment for medical workers as the coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the U.S. Fantazia Apparel, which specializes in “high quality tops for missy sizes,” obtained 50,000 hard-to-get N95 masks through its Chinese manufacturer and sold them to Idaho at a cost of $3.25 each. The N95 masks were designated as “scarce materials” in March by the federal government. In all, Idaho buyers found more than 205,000 N95 masks, spending about $770,000, or about $3.75 each – slightly more than the national average of about $3 that states were paying this spring, according to the AP’s data analysis. Before the pandemic, an N95 mask might have cost about 50 cents.

Illinois

SwedishAmerican pharmacists and technicians assemble doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at SwedishAmerican hospital in Rockford, Ill..
SwedishAmerican pharmacists and technicians assemble doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at SwedishAmerican hospital in Rockford, Ill..

Rockford: The arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine here and across the world has been hailed as a monumental step forward in the fight to end a pandemic that has sickened millions and killed more than 300,000 across the country. But health care workers know its success depends upon the public’s willingness to receive the shots once a larger supply is available. So in the face of skepticism about a vaccine developed in record time, health care workers have become public-facing advocates for trusting the science. Television cameras, newspaper stories and social media livestreams and photos have accompanied vaccinations to build public trust. “I thought if people could relate to somebody that they knew, then maybe they would feel more comfortable about getting it themselves,” said Christa Anderson, a 34-year-old inpatient rehabilitation technician who has worked at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center for 14 years. Anna Eich, a registered nurse who has worked for Mercyhealth for 14 years, also felt strongly about the need to share her experience. Eich is the nursing supervisor for the 52-bed medical-surgical unit at Javon Bea Hospital-Riverside, where at times about half the beds have been filled with COVID-19 patients. She was first in line to receive the vaccine last week at Mercyhealth’s Riverside campus and was recorded and interviewed by several news outlets about the experience.

Indiana

Bluffton: A Wells County restaurant is suing Gov. Eric Holcomb and its county health department for coronavirus restrictions it said unconstitutionally and unfairly affect its business. Yergy’s State Road BBQ in a complaint filed last week in Wells County Circuit Court alleged Holcomb’s executive orders and the Wells County Health Department’s health policies “are the product of arbitrary, unscientific value judgments.” The restaurant was shut down by health officials in August after staff at the restaurant reportedly refused to abide by state mask mandates. Yergy’s in the complaint said that decision to shut down was “predicated on unverified allegations” but went on to claim there is “no evidence” Wells County would be at risk “if healthy Yergy employees do not wear face coverings.” It also said the restrictions, which are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, violate the business’ “civil rights, liberty interests and property rights” and will result in a permanent closure of the establishment if not overturned.

Iowa

At the recommendation of the Office of the Attending Physician, Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst receives the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
At the recommendation of the Office of the Attending Physician, Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst receives the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Des Moines: U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Sunday at the recommendation of the Office of the Attending Physician. “I encourage all Iowans and Americans to do the same when their time comes. Thanks to #OperationWarpSpeed and the tireless work of Americans across the country, we are one step closer to defeating this virus,” Ernst wrote in a tweet. The legislative branch of federal government is rapidly moving to receive the vaccine, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell received the shot on Friday, according to the Associated Press. The Capitol physician, Dr. Brian P. Monahan, informed lawmakers Thursday night that they are all eligible for the shots under government continuity guidelines and asked members of the House and Senate to make appointments with his office to be vaccinated, according to the AP. “It’s also important that we continue to wear a mask, social distance, and follow CDC guidelines to protect our families, friends and neighbors,” Ernst wrote in a tweet.

Kansas

Hutchinson: Kansas prison officials said a 12th inmate with COVID-19 has died. The state Corrections Department said Saturday that a 62-year-old man who had been held at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility died Friday. He had been hospitalized with the virus since Nov. 23. Officials said he also had other health concerns that contributed to his condition. The inmate, who was not identified, had been serving a nearly 13-year sentence for aggravated indecent liberties with a child. He had been incarcerated since March 2013. Officials said this was the third COVID-19-related death at the Hutchinson prison. The Reno County Health Department reported 18 active cases of the virus at the prison, and 1,499 inmates have recovered from the virus.

Kentucky

UPS package handlers Jesirae Elzey and Demeatres Ralston unload boxes of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at UPS Worldport in Louisville, Ky.
UPS package handlers Jesirae Elzey and Demeatres Ralston unload boxes of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at UPS Worldport in Louisville, Ky.

Louisville: More relief in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Louisville in the back of two 18-wheelers Sunday morning as the first round of the new vaccines were shipped to the UPS Worldport shipping hub at Muhammad Ali International Airport just before 10 a.m., with a Kentucky State Police escort in tow. The first shots were expected to be administered across the U.S. on Monday. The first doses of the Moderna vaccine will go to hospitals across the state, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday at a press briefing. The first allocation will include 76,700 doses to be distributed, he said. Two truckloads filled with “hundreds” of boxes filled with doses (UPS could not say how many) stopped at the UPS Worldport early Sunday, and officials said a third could arrive later in the day. One delivery from the shipment will be taken to a location in Louisville, they added, and the others were set to be sent to other cities. Moderna’s vaccine is similar to the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, which was flown into Louisville last week to be shipped across the country and was made available to a number of local health care workers Dec. 14. That experience came in handy Sunday, as UPS spokesman Jim Mayer said handling practices for workers at the facility do not differ between the vaccines. There’s at least one key difference, though. The Moderna vaccine does not need to be kept at as low of a temperature as the Pfizer shot, which was shipped with dry ice at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna’s vaccine should, as a result, be easier to store and ship, though doses delivered Sunday were kept at minus-4 degrees.

Louisiana

Shreveport: The Shreveport City Council voted 6-1 to approve a payment of $1,000 for every full-time employee and $500 for every part-time employee. Workers will get the money by Christmas, the Times of Shreveport reported. Council member James Flurry said the payment is hazard pay for workers during the coronavirus pandemic, not a bonus, taken from more than $2 million in excess of sales tax revenue. City Council member John Nickelson said he voted against the move because the state constitution bars the city from paying a bonus to city employees. He also said the federal CARES Act barred bonsues other than hazard pay or overtime. The plan originally called for taking the money from federal coronavirus relief funds, but was amended to take the money from the city’s general fund. “I wish we could pay everybody more but we have to do it within constraints of our authority,” Nickelson told KTBS-TV. The city approved a permanent 4% raise for police and fire employees on Dec. 8

Maine

Camden: The pandemic has claimed another winter event in Maine – the National Toboggan Championships. Organizers of the annual event announced this week that the championships have been postponed until 2022. Organizers had hoped to continue the event with a reduced number of participants, but they scrapped it because of a surge in COVID-19 cases in Maine, Co-Chairman Holly Anderson said in a statement. “While we are saddened that our event, like so many others in Maine, as well as the entire country, has been impacted by the pandemic, we know this tough decision is the right one,” she said.

Maryland

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect number of tool kits sent to U.S. teachers.

Salisbury: A Parkside High School skilled trades teacher has been awarded tool kits to help students learning in a virtual format during the coronavirus pandemic. Automotive technology instructor David White was among 53 teachers in the U.S. who received a total of 3,500 tool kits from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. The organization’s goal is to assist students who take classes relating to construction, welding, manufacturing, automotive and electric. The take-home tool kits will offer students more opportunities to fully benefit from the course despite the online learning platform. “We’re providing these tool kits because we believe that skilled trades jobs are essential to our country, now more than ever, and that means skilled trades education is essential, too,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools in a news release. Parkside, which is part of the Wicomico County Public Schools system, reverted back to virtual learning on Nov. 18 after an increase in the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate. Officials said they hope to return students to the classroom on Jan. 19.

Massachusetts

Boston: Massachusetts inmates will be some of the first to get coronavirus vaccines after health care workers, emergency medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities are vaccinated. Tens of thousands of inmates will be offered the shots ahead of home health aides, seniors and medically vulnerable residents, joining people who live in homeless shelters and other congregate settings who will be vaccinated by the end of February, The New York Times reported. “We used equity as a core principle in our recommendations,” said Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease specialist and a member of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine advisory group. “We have had a lot of cases of COVID in the prisons, and we wanted to make sure those at highest risk were getting the vaccine first.” Prisons have had some of the country’s largest coronavirus outbreaks. More than 1 in 10 inmates across the country is over age 55 and more vulnerable to the virus, said Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, co-founder of the COVID Prison Project. Inmates also have higher rates of chronic medical conditions that increase the risk of severe illness if they become infected.

Michigan

Houghton Lake: A popular northern Michigan festival is switching to a February weekend because of coronavirus restrictions. Tip-Up Town USA in Houghton Lake promotes itself as Michigan’s longest-running winter festival, with a polar bear dip, snowmobile drag racing, ice fishing contest and more in Roscommon County. It began in 1950, according to the local Chamber of Commerce. The Jan. 16-17 dates have been switched to Feb. 27-28 because of restrictions on attendance at outdoor events, WWTV–WWUP-TV reported. If there are conflicts with the new dates, Tip-Up Town probably will be canceled, organizers said.

Minnesota

Minneapolis: Pharmacy chain CVS Health said Monday it will begin vaccinating more than 63,000 long-term care residents and workers across Minnesota next week. CVS Health announced that it began vaccinating long-term care residents and staff in 12 states on Monday, and expects to begin administering the shot in 36 more states, including Minnesota, on Dec. 28. The pharmacy giant expects to vaccinate 4 million residents and staff at 40,000 facilities across the country in 12 weeks. Minnesota began administering Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shots to health care workers last week after the vaccine received emergency approval earlier this month. The state’s initial shipment last week contained 46,800 doses, and state health officials expect to receive more than 33,000 this week.

Mississippi

Pearl: Mississippi’s top emergency manager has been hospitalized because of COVID-19 complications. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said in a statement Sunday that Director Greg Michel has been admitted to a hospital with pneumonia, a complication from his infection with COVID-19. Michel tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 9. Spokesperson Malary White said the agency continues to “operate as usual while taking every precaution necessary to protect our staff.” White described Michel as remaining “in good spirits.” Michel was named to lead the agency by Gov. Phil Bryant in 2018 after then-director Lee Smithson resigned. Gov Tate Reeves, a Republican like Bryant, retained Michel. Michel is a retired colonel who commanded Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg from 2015 to 2017.

Missouri

The Southeast Missouri Mental Health Center in Farmington has seen the most coronavirus cases among the state's mental health facilities, with 330 staff and 97 residents testing positive since March.
The Southeast Missouri Mental Health Center in Farmington has seen the most coronavirus cases among the state's mental health facilities, with 330 staff and 97 residents testing positive since March.

Columbia: More than 1,500 coronavirus cases have been reported across Missouri’s Department of Mental Health offices and facilities since the start of September – a figure that’s nearly five times larger than the previous six months combined. Those cases represent staff and patients in state-run mental health hospitals and department offices in roughly 20 communities throughout Missouri. The outbreaks have affected care, causing group therapy sessions to be temporarily suspended at some locations. And at least 11 patients have died, including seven deaths since mid-November. Four staff members have also died. Three of those patient deaths have been at the Southeast Missouri Mental Health Center in Farmington – one of the state’s largest facilities and the one with the highest number of cases. Since March, 330 staff and 97 residents have contracted the virus – with more than 250 cases reported in November alone.

Montana

Margie Copenhaver, an 83-year-old resident of Eagle Manor in Helena, Mont., pets her robotic pet dog Muffie. “Muffie is good company,” says Copenhaver. “Muffie talks to me and I talk to her. She is a cutie.” The Helena Area Agency on Aging says money for the pets came through federal virus relief funding.
Margie Copenhaver, an 83-year-old resident of Eagle Manor in Helena, Mont., pets her robotic pet dog Muffie. “Muffie is good company,” says Copenhaver. “Muffie talks to me and I talk to her. She is a cutie.” The Helena Area Agency on Aging says money for the pets came through federal virus relief funding.

Helena: With social isolation now being encouraged and in some cases required to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Helena’s Area IV Agency On Aging is utilizing a new tool to help seniors fight loneliness: robotic pets. These uncanny creatures take the form of battery-powered dogs and cats, which stimulate the same parts of the brain as real-life pets. Jim Marks, program director for Helena’s Agency On Aging, said he discovered the potential of these robotic pets through research by the organization’s nationwide counterpart. “Studies show that older people latch onto them,” Marks told the Independent Record. “It’s a feel-good, do-good kind of thing, but there is actual substance to it.” Margie Copenhaver, an 83-year-old resident of Eagle Manor in Helena, got her robotic pet, named Muffie, in early December. “Muffie is good company,” Copenhaver said. “Muffie talks to me and I talk to her. She is a cutie.”

Nebraska

Lincoln: The state said 582 people were being treated in hospitals for COVID-19 on Sunday, which was down from 598 the day before. That number has been steadily declining since setting a record of 987 on Nov. 20, but it remains more than 2.5 times higher than what it was on Oct. 1. Currently, 14% of the state’s hospital beds are occupied by coronavirus patients. If the seven-day rolling average of that figure remains below 15%, the state might further relax its social distancing restrictions. Nebraska reported 967 new virus cases and 11 new deaths Sunday to give the state a total of 156,382 cases and 1,486 deaths since the pandemic began.

Nevada

Reno: Deaths from the virus reached 111 in just the first couple of weeks of December in Washoe County, eclipsing the previous monthly record of 80 fatalities set during the month of November by 47.5%. Washoe and Nevada also saw their highest daily totals for COVID-19 fatalities last week. The death toll continues to increase even as the number of new cases saw a decline overall from the previous week. COVID-19 fatalities typically lag new cases by several weeks. Washoe County also started receiving its first batch of vaccines for the virus last week. New cases in Washoe for the seven-day period ending Dec. 17 numbered just a over 2,500, down from just over 3,000 reported during the previous week. The number of daily cases averaged about 359 a day.

New Hampshire

Manchester: The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Manchester will be among hundreds of VA facilities nationwide that will begin receiving COVID-19 vaccines as soon as this week, according to U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H. Pappas, who serves on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said Monday that the Manchester facility and more than 100 others will receive vaccines from the Department of Veterans Affairs. “It is critically important that VA health care workers and veterans in long-term care units are able to receive the vaccine to keep themselves, their families and their communities safe,” Pappas said in a statement. Meanwhile, the state veterans home in Tilton continues to face an outbreak of the virus. As of Thursday, 92 residents and 98 staff had been infected, and 31 people had died.

New Jersey

Trenton: Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday promised transparency over the state’s spending on protective gear bought to fight the coronavirus. Murphy, a Democrat, spoke during a news conference about the virus and responded to a reporter’s question about an Associated Press report showing New York and New Jersey have declined to release detailed breakdowns of their spending on personal protective gear and medical equipment during the first frenzied months of the virus outbreak. Murphy said he wasn’t sure why the purchase orders – typically a public document – were declined. “ì have no problem at all reporting what we spent on PPE,” he said. “I’m all for everyone knowing exactly what we’re doing.” New Jersey did not provide purchase orders for personal protective equipment, saying fulfilling the request would be “substantially disruptive to agency operations.” The state did provide a one-page document showing it spent $164 million for 153 million pieces of equipment, including masks, gloves, goggles, beds and even morgue trucks. It’s unknown when the documents will become available.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: Health officials on Sunday reported 1,077 new COVID-19 cases and 16 related deaths. The statewide totals increased to 129,993 cases and 2,171 known deaths as seven-day rolling averages for daily new cases dropped and daily deaths rose over the last two weeks. Of the 1,077 new cases, New Mexico Department of Health officials said 278 were in Bernalillo County, the state’s largest county that includes the metro Albuquerque area. According to data from Johns Hopkins University and The COVID Tracking Project, the rolling average of daily new cases in New Mexico dropped from 1,869 on Dec. 4 to 1,542.1 on Friday and the rolling average of deaths rose from 28.9 to 34.1. On Thursday, when the state reported a pandemic-high 48 daily deaths linked to the pandemic, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she was concerned that daily deaths could grow even higher over the year-end holidays.

New York

Albany: Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he has asked airlines flying into the state from the United Kingdom to make all passengers take a coronavirus test before they get on the plane. The Democrat said at least one airline, British Airways, had agreed to comply. He is awaiting an answer from others, including Delta and Virgin Atlantic, but was hopeful they would also agree. Cuomo has been calling on the U.S. government to temporarily halt all flights from the U.K. because of the emergence there of a new strain of the coronavirus. Numerous nations have taken that step out of concern that the newly identified strain might be more easily transmitted. “I think the United States should do what other countries have done, which is halt the travel,” Cuomo said, adding that too much was still unknown about whether the mutated virus would pose more of a threat. “I was on the phone with top experts all weekend. We don’t know if it’s more deadly. We don’t know how much more easily it’s transmitted.” Cuomo added that he believed he had the legal authority as governor to ask airlines to test passengers in the absence of federal action.

North Carolina

Franklin: A sheriff’s office has been designated as a COVID-19 cluster after six members of the department staff tested positive, health officials said. The Macon County Health Department reported the tests results in a Facebook post on Friday, The Charlotte Observer reported. The health department said the sheriff’s office is aware of the exposure and are being contacted for testing. Clusters are defined as instances of five or more infections diagnosed within a 14-day period, all with what is termed as “plausible linkage,” the department said. The health department said it is searching for additional close contacts to see how far the infections have spread. Anyone who came within 6 feet of an infected employee for 10 minutes or longer is at risk, officials said. The sheriff’s office shared the health department’s report on its Facebook page, but declined to comment.

North Dakota

Minot: The impact of the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t be more evident than it is for Minot’s hotels. Business has plummeted. People haven’t been traveling. The Canadian border has been closed for months. Social distancing has put an end to events like banquets, wedding receptions and Christmas parties. Although hotels are certainly not the only businesses impacted by the pandemic, their empty parking lots and lobbies are vivid reminders of the ongoing economic effects of the pandemic. Many hotels have reduced overnight rates in the hopes of enticing more business but there are few people to attract. Airline travel has slowed immensely. In addition, with the cancellation of events big and small, there are fewer incentives to bring people to town. Minot is not alone. Fargo recently saw the cancellation of its 2020 Ice Fishing Show, a large event that was expected to draw hundreds of visitors to the city, and that is just one of many examples throughout the state and elsewhere. Among the losses so far in Minot this year were many major events – including the State Fair and Hostfest. Canceled too were popular sporting events, flea markets, craft shows, gun shows, auction sales, wedding receptions and more.

Ohio

Columbus: The Ohio National Guard is preparing to assist with COVID-19 vaccinations. “This weekend, we heard from the U.S. Department of Health and that allows them to help in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Gov. Mike DeWine said. DeWine said that he has not made any decisions on whether the National Guard will administer COVID-19 vaccines in Ohio. “We don’t want to degrade the capacity of the medical field that is already strained,” said Major General John Harris. Ohio National Guard members working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, some working in nursing homes and at food banks, will be given the vaccine.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: The head of Oklahoma’s largest teachers union praised Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday for moving school personnel to Phase 2 of the vaccine distribution plan, but she warned the governor that forcing schools to return to in-person learning next month could jeopardize the safety of public school workers. During a news conference, Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest also released details of an informal survey of more than half its members that showed 63% believe schools are not safe for in-person instruction. The governor, who has pushed an aggressive reopening plan, has said his goal is to return all public schools to in-person classes after the Christmas break. Priest, a Spanish teacher from Yukon, described Stitt’s plan is an “arbitrary date” and suggested it could pit parents and educators against one another. “As someone with a daughter who is attending school, I identify with the frustration of parents,” Priest said. “But we must remember that the enemy is the virus. It’s not educators and it’s not parents.” Priest also praised the State Board of Education for its recent decision to suspend for one year the state’s A-F grading system for public schools, a system the OEA opposed.

Oregon

Salem: The first nursing home residents and staff in Oregon were set to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations Monday. Oregon had set aside about 10,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses from its first shipment for nursing homes. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that statewide, about half of the people killed during the pandemic have been older adults in congregate, or group, living settings. Last week, hospitals administered the first vaccines in the state Wednesday to nurses, respiratory therapists, housekeeping workers and other health care employees in high-risk jobs, marking the beginning of a broad vaccination campaign.

Pennsylvania

Harrisburg: More than 17,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to health care workers at Pennsylvania hospitals, the state health secretary said Monday, as hospitals remain stressed by coronavirus patient loads and a second vaccine from Moderna is expected to arrive this week. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said 87 hospitals have received doses of the first vaccine, from Pfizer, with another 30,000 doses set to arrive this week. In addition, hospitals in the state are set to start receiving 198,000 doses of the newly approved Moderna vaccine this week, Levine said. As part of a federal partnership, CVS and Walgreens next week will start on-site vaccination services for residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities across the state, Levine said. Those facilities will receive the Pfizer vaccine, she said. In the meantime, Levine said even people who are receiving the vaccine should continue to observe efforts to stem the spread of the virus, including wearing a mask and adhering to social-distancing protocols.

Rhode Island

Providence: Some Rhode Island businesses are allowed to reopen or increase capacity Monday now that Gov. Gina Raimondo's “pause” to help control the latest coronavirus surge has ended. The Democratic governor decided to lift the three-week pause because of what she called “sustained decreases” in percent positivity rates which it is hoped will stop hospitals from being flooded with coronavirus patients. Businesses including gyms, casinos and indoor recreation facilities such as bowling alleys were allowed to reopen Monday, and restaurants are allowed to increase indoor capacity from 33% to 50%. “It will be nice to finally open back up tomorrow and get some families back in here,” East Providence Lanes manager Michael Sedoma told WJAR-TV on Sunday. “It’s not easy not having income coming in. We had to layoff all of the employees right before Christmas.”

South Carolina

Fountain Inn: Days after playing Santa for special needs children, a South Carolina man tested positive for the coronavirus. About 11 families visited “Sensory Santa” event on Dec. 13, and all were notified after the man’s test came back positive on Wednesday, Fountain Inn city administrator Shawn Bell told the Greenville News. The city said on its webpage that the man learned after the event that he had been exposed to the virus. Bell said the event was outdoors. A rope separated the children from Santa, who did not wear a mask, he said. “We obviously regret that this has happened, but we were trying to do something nice for the community and especially for a segment of the community that often goes overlooked,” he said.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: Health officials said Monday an additional 20 people have died from COVID-19, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to 1,381. Health officials also reported 347 new cases of the coronavirus. Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 95,074 -19 infections in the state. As of Monday, 344 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in South Dakota, and of that number, 70 were receiving intensive care and 31 were on ventilators. According to the COVID Tracking Project, the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in South Dakota has decreased over the past two weeks, going from 886.43 new cases per day on Dec. 5 to 561.29 new cases per day on Dec. 19.

Tennessee

Nashville: Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey issued a strong warning that the state’s hospitals were reaching a breaking point and staffing was becoming increasingly more difficult. She pleaded with the public not to gather with others outside of their immediate households. “If we have another surge after Christmas and New Year’s like we did after Thanksgiving, it will completely break our hospitals,” Piercey told reporters.

Texas

Austin: The Texas Capitol will reopen to the public in January after being closed for much of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic, a decision that comes as new cases and hospitalizations are surging to the highest levels since the summer. The capitol will reopen Jan. 4 – roughly a week before the Legislature reconvenes for the first time since 2019. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced the reopening Monday in a statement that noted how other state capitols remain closed. Abbott said health and safety protocols will be put in place for the Capitol’s reopening. More than 26,000 front-line and other essential workers in Texas as of Monday had received the first vaccinations that began arriving this month, according to state health officials. Abbott has said more than 1 million doses of the vaccine will have been distributed in Texas by the end of the month.

Utah

St. George: Municipalities in Washington County have less than two weeks to spend the remainder of the more than $30.7 million in federal coronavirus relief money available before the end of the year. Sixteen local governments, including the county government, were allocated a slice of funding from the CARES Act, a bipartisan relief bill that, among other things, pumped $150 billion in direct aid to state, local and tribal governments to help fight the pandemic. That money must be spent by Dec. 30 or it goes back to the federal government. With that deadline fast approaching, almost all of Washington County’s local governments have told the state they intend to spend all of their federal aid funding by the end of the year. The town of Leeds was the only municipality in Washington County to say it didn’t plan to exhaust all of its funding by the deadline. Leeds sent an unused balance of $36,971.92 back to the state, a little less than half of the $75,721 in CARES funding the town was allocated. Duncan Evans, budget manager at the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, said Leeds is among just a handful of municipalities statewide that sent money back. In total, the agency collected about $1 million in unused aid funding.

Vermont

Burlington: Public schools in Vermont’s largest city have switched to remote learning this week ahead of the holiday break. Burlington School District Superintendent Tom Flanagan said in a note to the community that “the increased demands of contact tracing and the number of staff who have been asked to quarantine through this process have strained our system.” He also noted that student attendance is also lower than usual. The goal is still to return to in-person learning starting on Jan. 4, Flanagan said. He urged students and staff not to travel out of state or gather with other households, wear masks, stay 6 feet apart from others when possible, and get tested if they think they have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Virginia

Norfolk: A report from Old Dominion University said it will likely take years for the state to achieve a complete economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The project comes from the 2020 State of the Commonwealth Report from ODU's Strome College of Business. The report, released Sunday, said the pandemic ended a record of 11 straight quarters of economic growth and wiped out nearly a decade of job gains. The state had added a half-million jobs between February 2010 and February of 2020. But by April 2020, about 438,000 jobs in Virginia were temporarily furloughed or permanently laid off. And although Virginia has recovered about 200,000 jobs since then, there has been slowing job growth.

Washington

Seattle: A federal judge has declined to order speedier bail hearings for detainees at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lockup in Tacoma who are especially at risk from COVID-19, despite recent cases there. Attorneys for the detainees asked U.S. District Judge James L. Robart in Seattle to order the expedited bail hearings, to put a cap on the detention center’s population, and to order periodic testing of detainees and staff. In an order Friday night, the judge declined. Robart, who also declined to order the release of at-risk immigration detainees early in the pandemic, said he could not conclude that the detention center’s COVID-19 precautions have been unreasonable. “While there have been a limited number of individuals to test positive for the virus, Respondents continue to implement practices to abate the risk of an outbreak,” the judge wrote. ICE has released or deported dozens of at-risk detainees, and the judge noted that the 1,575-bed facility now has just 290 detainees. The jail is run by the GEO Group, a for-profit company. Guards are required to wear masks, though detainees insist that compliance has been spotty; newly arrived detainees are quarantined for two weeks; detainees who test positive are isolated; and temperature checks are performed regularly, the judge said.

West Virginia

Charleston: The state’s two U.S. senators said they have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations. Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito tweeted a photo Friday of her vaccination. She said the shot was “quick, painless, and most importantly, it was safe.” She tweeted Saturday that her arm is a little tender, similar to after a flu shot, but otherwise, she is experiencing no problems. In a news release, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he received the shot on Saturday morning and is feeling well. He also tweeted footage of his vaccination, saying, “I didn’t feel a thing! This vaccine is safe & effective.” Both said they had the vaccination in accordance with guidance from the Capitol’s Office of the Attending Physician. The vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech requires two doses several weeks apart from the same company as the first shot.

Wisconsin

Madison: A top official said University of Wisconsin System students will be allowed to return to campus for the spring semester and take more in-person courses, hoping that more robust COVID-19 testing will help stave off the types of outbreaks that forced the system to turn to online-only instruction a few weeks into the fall semester. Andrew Petersen, the president of the Board of Regents, said he expected students to be able to return to their schools and live in residence halls safely. The system plans to test students living in dorms for the disease at least once a week. Students living off-campus and faculty and staff will be tested at least once every two weeks. UW-Madison, the system’s flagship school, will test all students twice a week. Regents want to see more in-person classes than schools offered in the fall, saying such instruction is far preferable to online learning or a hybrid model, he said. Chancellors will work with faculty to determine how best to implement in-person instruction, he said.

Wyoming

Cheyenne: On Sunday, 164 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the Wyoming Department of Health’s daily update, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. Counties with the most cases were Sweetwater (37), Laramie (34) and Uinta (18). There are now 35,982 confirmed cases and 351 deaths. In recent weeks, the number of active cases in the state has decreased, as has the average number of new cases reported. However, health officials caution that the virus is not finished spreading through Wyoming and have urged residents to continue taking it seriously.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 50 States