Travel hypocrisy, street racing, vaccine limitations: News from around our 50 states

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Former public health officer Dr. Don Williamson, now with the Alabama Hospital Association, watches as current public health officer Dr. Scott Harris speaks during an Alabama Department of Public Health press conference in Montgomery, Ala.
Former public health officer Dr. Don Williamson, now with the Alabama Hospital Association, watches as current public health officer Dr. Scott Harris speaks during an Alabama Department of Public Health press conference in Montgomery, Ala.

Montgomery: The state hit new highs Wednesday for the numbers of coronavirus cases reported in a single day and patients hospitalized with COVID-19, health officials said as hospitals brace for an additional wave of cases in the weeks following Thanksgiving gatherings. Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, said excluding backlogged cases, the state reported more than 3,000 additional virus cases Wednesday, a new daily record. The state also reported having 1,801 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest number since the pandemic began. “There is simply a great deal of community transmission occurring right now in most parts of Alabama. Now, more than ever, we hope that Alabamians can avoid large gatherings, wear masks in public and try to maintain a 6-foot distance from other households whenever possible,” Harris said. About 1 in 3 patients in intensive care units in the state has COVID-19, said Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association. Only 10% of the state’s 1,634 intensive care beds were available Monday, Williamson said.


Anchorage: A second inmate at a prison experiencing a coronavirus outbreak has died from complications related to COVID-19, as the total number of active cases at the state’s largest prison has reached 480, the Alaska Department of Corrections said Tuesday. The 77-year-old with underlying health issues, who was serving sentences for sexual abuse and release violations, died Monday after being taken to a Palmer hospital Nov. 22, the department said. Both prisoners who’ve died of the virus in the state were inmates at Goose Creek Correctional Center near Wasilla, which has been experiencing an outbreak. The department said it offered tests to about 1,300 inmates at the prison to try to find undetected cases. Results brought the facility’s active case count to 480, with results in 120 cases pending and another roughly 190 inmates considered recovered, the department said. Sarah Gallagher, a department spokesperson, said it “can only offer and recommend testing” – not require it – but she said there were few refusals to be tested.


Phoenix: Top hospital officials across Arizona urged the state Wednesday to take more action to stop the spread of COVID-19, making a bleak projection that the health care system could go beyond capacity later this month. Gov. Doug Ducey acknowledged that “the numbers in Arizona are heading in the wrong direction,” but he declined to order a statewide mask mandate, curfew or business lockdown. “I don’t think the right answer is to throw hundreds of thousands of Arizonans out of work right before the holidays,” Ducey said. Better enforcement of existing restrictions on restaurants, bars and gyms, along with local mask mandates and good hygiene, are sufficient, he said. Businesses that skirt safety protocols will face closure after a second offense, he said. Banner Health, the state’s largest health system, is predicting it could surpass its hospital bed capacity as early as next week and 125% of bed capacity by mid-December.


Little Rock: A White House panel said in a report released Wednesday that Arkansas remains in the “red zone” for new coronavirus cases as the state set a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations for the fourth day in a row. The White House Coronavirus Task Force said Arkansas last week ranked 24th in the country for new cases per capita. The state’s test positivity ranked 30th, according to the panel. The panel said 88% of the state’s counties have moderate or high levels of community transmission of the virus. The report said cases may be reaching a plateau in Arkansas, but the percentage of nursing homes with at least one coronavirus-positive staff member and positive residents is increasing. The panel again recommended restaurants in the state limit indoor dining capacity to less than 25%, a proposal Gov. Asa Hutchinson has previously rejected. The number of people hospitalized because of COVID-19 increased Wednesday by 14 to a new high of 1,088, the Department of Health said.


Sacramento: The state will likely order most of its businesses to close or limit capacity in the coming days, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday, as part of new rules triggered when less than 15% of beds are available in intensive care units for regional hospital networks. Newsom said four of the state’s five regions – excluding the San Francisco Bay Area – will meet that threshold within a day or two. When they do, the state will order the closure of all hair salons and barbershops; bars, breweries and distilleries; casinos; and indoor and outdoor playgrounds. Restaurants would be limited to takeout and delivery only, while retailers must limit customers inside their stories to 20% capacity during the busy holiday shopping season. California on Wednesday reported more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases, the most ever in one day. A record 8,500 people are in hospitals, including more than 2,000 in intensive care units, leaving the state with fewer than 2,000 available intensive care beds.


Denver: The ACLU of Colorado and a county sheriff’s office have reached an agreement to implement measures at the county’s jail to better protect inmates from the coronavirus pandemic. Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams and the ACLU have asked a federal judge to enter a consent decree between the two sides to officially implement the changes and provide federal oversight. The ACLU had filed a lawsuit in April alleging that the sheriff’s office had failed to meet public health orders related to the pandemic and did not sufficiently protect inmates, jail staff and the public. As part of the agreement, the jail is required to promote social distancing, require and distribute masks to all people in the jail, conduct coronavirus testing pursuant to U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines, and isolate medically vulnerable inmates while monitoring them regularly. The jail also agreed, with limited exceptions, to prevent inmates charged with misdemeanor, municipal or petty crimes from being held in the facility. The county sheriff will also be required to regularly advise officers to minimize custodial arrests.


East Lyme: Nearly two dozen inmates at the state’s only women’s prison recently tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting a partial lockdown, Department of Correction officials said. There were 14 infected inmates with symptoms at York Correctional Institution in East Lyme and another nine inmates who tested positive but had no symptoms as of Wednesday evening, department spokeswoman Karen Martucci said. All of them were in medical isolation, she said. The partial lockdown at York, which houses nearly 500 inmates, includes restrictions on prisoners’ movements and a temporary suspension of in-person, non-contact social visits. Martucci said inmates are still able to use the phone and take showers every day, and free video conferencing has been made available. The facility was undergoing a deep cleaning, officials said. Statewide, more than 290 inmates and nearly 140 employees currently have COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, nearly 1,750 state inmates have tested positive for the virus, and eight have died, according to the latest Correction Department data. More than 9,200 inmates are detained in state prisons.


People check-in for free COVID-19 testing Nov. 13 at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, Del.
People check-in for free COVID-19 testing Nov. 13 at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, Del.

Wilmington: Several key indicators of the spread of COVID-19 in the state have reached or eclipsed spring records. Delaware on Thursday reported 754 new cases, the most ever in a single day. The greatest single-day case count in the spring was 487 on May 10, and that number has been surpassed nine times this fall. The seven-day average of daily confirmed cases has set a record in each of the past five days, climbing to 555.7 on Thursday. The recent spike cannot be solely attributed to increased testing. Although Delaware has administered about 7,000 tests per day over the past week, a dramatic increase over the roughly 1,500 tests performed daily in May, the percentage of tests that are positive is rising, too. The state reported a seven-day average of 8% of tests that are positive as of Nov. 30, the highest it’s been this fall. A week earlier, the figure was 6.1%. There are currently 277 people hospitalized in Delaware due to COVID-19, the most since May 12. At his weekly COVID-19 press briefing Tuesday, Gov. John Carney said the state is considering implementing new restrictions.

District of Columbia

Washington: For the second time in a week, D.C. has tallied more than 300 new cases of the coronavirus in a single day, WUSA-TV reports. Thursday marked only the third time ever that the district’s daily COVID-19 case count has exceeded 300. And for the first time ever, the city is now averaging more than 200 new cases of the virus a day. There are also indications that the city’s coronavirus testing capacity hasn’t been able to keep pace. The average positivity rate for tests has been steadily rising and now sits at 5.6%, 2.6 percentage points higher than it was a month ago. Since Nov. 21, average wait times for test results have increased by a full day. Some of that may ease as labs work through the glut of tests from the Thanksgiving holiday, but since labs nationwide are reporting difficult keeping up with testing demand, it’s likely wait times will remain elevated for the near term.


Tallahassee: Residents in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities will be the first to get a coronavirus vaccine when the state begins receiving it later this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis said. The Republican governor’s priorities, announced in in a video Wednesday evening, largely reflect the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We want to get as much vaccine for our citizens as possible, but we know we will not, nor will any state, have enough to vaccinate everyone right off the bat,” DeSantis said in the three-minute video. He said long-term care residents are most vulnerable to the virus. Through Tuesday, there have been 7,376 confirmed deaths from the virus among residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Overall, COVID-19 is blamed for more than 19,000 deaths in Florida and more than 1 million confirmed infections. On Thursday, the state reported 10,870 new confirmed cases of coronavirus and 100 new deaths from COVID-19. There were 4,280 people hospitalized, up 75 from the day before.


Atlanta: Leaders of some of the state’s hospitals told Gov. Brian Kemp in a meeting Wednesday that they’re seeing increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients, although they said in some cases those infected with the coronavirus do not appear as gravely ill as patients who were hospitalized in earlier waves. The Republican governor continued to express optimism about Georgia’s level of infection compared to other states, as well as about vaccines on the horizon. But some hospital leaders warned that they expect things to keep getting worse, while many said that they struggle to hire nurses and that staff members are exhausted nearly nine months into the pandemic. “I think it’s important for all of us to stay grounded that this third surge is very different than the first and the second ones,” said Bryce Gartland of Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare. “This one is much more insidious in nature. It’s much more building in nature.”


Honolulu: A seniors advocacy group has called on the state Department of Health to release more information about nursing home inspections after a coronavirus outbreak at a veterans home caused at least 27 deaths earlier this year. Kokua Council asked the state to put all its inspection reports of long-term care facilities on the health department’s website. The inspection report for the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, where at least 71 residents and 35 employees were infected with the virus, has not yet been made public. The facility had been fined twice since 2018 for health violations. The owners of Yukio Okutsu were accused of improperly restraining residents who did not require restraints, failing to adequately supervise residents showering, serving expired food, allowing a resident to fall off a bed and break a hip, and incidents in which staffers accidentally caused minor injuries. Several residents were found to have left without supervision, including one case in which a resident in a wheelchair was found 3 miles away before anyone realized the resident was missing, according to a 2018 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services inspection.


Boise: Residents will have increased access to broadband service following a state investment of nearly $50 million in federal coronavirus recovery funds. Idaho paid for 102 projects with the money, which will connect about 40,000 Idaho households to broadband service, Boise State Public Radio reports. The state funded projects to provide free wireless internet in schools and public spaces, including downtown areas and parks, plus more than 50 rural libraries. A report by the Pew Research Trusts said Idaho was one of a handful of states without a broadband grant program before the pandemic. Georgia Dimmick, disaster recovery coordinator at Region IV Development in Twin Falls, helped several communities apply for broadband grants over the summer. Eden, a community of 400 residents in Jerome County, received nearly $3 million to bring service to more homes to address the impact of the pandemic and the lack of broadband service for its youth. “There was like 20 or 30 kids out on the front yard at the high school because they didn’t have internet at their house, and they had to get their homework done,” Dimmick said.


Springfield: State public health officials reported 10,959 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus illness Thursday and a second consecutive day of near-record deaths. The 192 fatalities from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, matched the toll from May 13, at the height of the initial wave of the disease in Illinois. That total is second only to the 238 reported Wednesday. The Illinois Department of Public Health said some data reported this week was delayed by the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Illinois has now suffered 12,830 deaths among 759,562 coronavirus infections. Hospitalization numbers continue to decrease slowly, good news particularly because the state’s health care front is bracing for another rush of cases in coming weeks after Thanksgiving travel and congregations.


Indianapolis: As the state faces a longer stretch of COVID-19 illnesses and deaths, the governor and top state health official on Wednesday pinned improvement on personal responsibility and the looming first arrival of vaccines rather than reinstating more statewide precautions. Nearly all of Indiana remained in the greatest-risk categories for coronavirus spread in a state health department update that also showed a new high for average daily COVID-19 deaths for the state. Health officials across the state are worried about hospitals being overwhelmed by the growing number of severely ill patients and a possible new surge tied to Thanksgiving gatherings last week. Indiana hospitals were treating more than 3,400 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday – about a 350% increase since late September, when the state’s steep increase in hospitalizations and deaths began.


Des Moines: The state added another 70 deaths Thursday to the tally of people who died with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours – the largest one-day increase since the pandemic arrived in the state. The state has reported 2,519 total deaths related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That was an addition of 2,449 since Wednesday, according to the state’s website. Prior to Thursday, the largest one-day death increase was 47, which was reported Nov. 25. Although the deaths were reported since Wednesday, none occurred in December. Since noon Monday, an additional 107 deaths in November have been reported, bringing that month’s total to 718. The majority of the 70 newly reported deaths – 61 – happened in November, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Eight additional deaths were reported from October. The earliest death that is newly reported is from Aug. 26.


Topeka: Shawnee County on Thursday rejected part of the new federal and state guidelines for shortening the time people are quarantined after they’re possibly exposed to COVID-19. New guidance Wednesday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who’ve been exposed to coronavirus and show no symptoms but don’t get tested can end their quarantines after 10 days, instead of 14. The new guidance also said a person without symptoms who tests negative can end a quarantine after seven days. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment adopted that guidance, though its top administrator, Dr. Lee Norman, said it is still urging people to remain quarantined for 14 days. Shawnee County will allow people without COVID-19 symptoms who’ve not been tested to shorten their quarantines to 10 days, Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, the county’s health officer, said Thursday. But he said it will not allow people who’ve tested negative to leave quarantine after seven days. Pezzino said the testing system is stressed in the county, home to Topeka, and the county does not want to overload it. Also, he said, the spread of COVID-19 remains “uncontrolled” locally.


Frankfort: The state’s death toll from the coronavirus surged Wednesday after another daily record, and some hospitals are being stretched “to the brink” as virus cases escalate, Gov. Andy Beshear said. Beshear reported 37 more virus-related deaths, eclipsing the previous record of 35 deaths posted Tuesday, as the state’s total death count since the start of the pandemic approached 2,000. The latest deaths included people ranging in ages from their 40s to their 90s. Six were under the age of 60. Back-to-back days of record virus deaths underscored the need for people to wear masks and follow other health guidelines, the Democratic governor said. He recently announced new restrictions on in-person gatherings at restaurants, schools and event venues to combat the virus. Those actions sparked criticism from Republican lawmakers, business owners and private schools. “We are not surrendering. We are fighting back,” Beshear said Wednesday. “That’s not always going to be popular. It’s going to be difficult.”


New Orleans: A health care worker and an academic are warning that testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections is being neglected during the coronavirus pandemic. Joseph Olsen, an HIV testing manager at a clinic in New Orleans, told WDSU-TV on Wednesday that the clinic has performed 2,000 HIV tests since the pandemic began. Before the virus outbreak, he said the clinic usually did up to 12,000 tests in a year. “Coronavirus parallels HIV. They do not care who you are; they just do what viruses do and spread,” Olsen said. Some HIV testing sites have closed as clinics shifted to telemedicine during the pandemic, said Meredith Clement, a professor at Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center. Olsen said his clinic, Crescent Care, has increased at-home testing kits and is offering walk-up testing.


Portland: Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday that the number of doses of the new coronavirus vaccine that the state could receive later this month is disappointingly low. Mills, a Democrat, said Maine is slated to get about 12,600 doses of a vaccine by the middle of December. The vaccine requires two doses, which means the shipment could allow the state to vaccinate some 6,300 people. The people at the front of the line for the new vaccine would be health care workers. Mills called the number of doses “far less than what is needed.” She said the state hoped for closer to 36,000 doses in the initial shipment. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah has said the number of vaccine doses the federal government could ship to the state is a preliminary number that could change.


Annapolis: The state will receive about 155,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine during the first wave of distribution – an amount that will not even cover half of the front-line health care workers who are slated to receive initial immunizations. “That’s a tiny fraction of what we need,” Gov. Larry Hogan said at a news conference Tuesday in Annapolis. “It doesn’t get anywhere near what we need in phase one.” He said state officials learned details of the first phase Tuesday. It’s still unclear whether the 155,000 will represent complete doses of two separate injections or individual injections. Hogan said about 50,000 will come from Pfizer and the remainder from Moderna. “The good news is they have vaccines that are years ahead of schedule, and we’ll get some relatively fast,” Hogan said. “The bad news is it’s not enough. So we have some difficult decisions ... about the implementation and rollout of the plan.”


Worcester: A 220-bed field hospital at a sports and convention center in Worcester is scheduled to open Sunday, and the state is already working on establishing a second to care for an expected torrent of coronavirus patients, Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday. “Field hospitals play a critical role in our preparedness strategy that helps us alleviate pressure on the health care system generally and enable hospitals to focus on non-COVID patients,” the Republican governor said after touring the field hospital set up at the DCU Center in Worcester and run by UMass Memorial Health Care. The visit came a day after the state reported 4,613 new cases of the coronavirus, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began, with nearly 1,300 patients in the hospital. In addition to all the medical equipment and amenities its needs to care for patients, the Worcester facility also has some features aimed at helping patients dealing with the isolation they often feel because family can’t visit, including common areas and exercise bicycles, said Dr. Eric Dickson, president of UMass Memorial Health Care.


Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday that her administration may extend portions of a three-week partial shutdown of schools and businesses next week because of the “sheer volume” of coronavirus cases in Michigan. The Democratic governor said no decision had been made, but hospitals can’t be overrun with COVID-19 patients. Although the infection curve has leveled off, it is a “dangerous moment” for the state, she said. “As we get a few more days of information under our belts, we’ll be in a much stronger position to really assess if there are some things that maybe are safer to do,” Whitmer said during a news conference in which she reported continued progress addressing virus-related racial disparities. The state health department’s order closed high schools to in-person instruction, stopped organized sports, prohibited indoor restaurant dining, and closed various entertainment businesses such as movie theaters and bowling alleys. It will end late Tuesday unless extended, which was commonplace for stay-at-home and other restrictions earlier in the pandemic.


Minneapolis: Gov. Tim Walz and public safety officials pleaded Wednesday for Minnesotans to follow coronavirus safety guidelines to protect their local police, fire and ambulance services, which have been hit hard by staff shortages amid the surge in cases. Jay Wood, a firefighter from Plato, a town of about 300 people about 45 miles west of Minneapolis, said his 20-person all-volunteer department had to shut down last month because most members had tested positive for the virus or been exposed. One had to be hospitalized. And he said departments large and small across Minnesota face similar challenges. “Just like we preach about fire safety, one little spark can cause a fire. And that’s exactly what happened to us,” Wood said at the governor’s briefing. “COVID-19 sparked an outbreak at the Plato Fire Department. Before we knew it, over three-quarters of our fire department had been affected in one way or another from the virus.”


Jackson: The state reported its single-day record of nearly 2,500 new coronavirus cases Wednesday as the state health department issued an advisory saying people should avoid social gatherings, including weddings, funerals, sporting events and in-person religious services. “Where we are in the pandemic right now, just to be very clear, it’s nonessential social activities that are absolutely undermining the health and well-being of our state,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state health officer, said during a news conference. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has declined to reinstate a statewide mask mandate that expired two months ago, but he has issued mask mandates for 54 of the state’s 82 counties where virus transmission is highest. Many physicians have called on the governor to require masks statewide in public places. Dobbs said Wednesday that the mask conversation “is distracting from the real threat” of spreading the virus through nonessential gatherings. He said people let down their guard and hug others at parties or funerals, often without their faces covered.


Liberty: The state plans to bring in hundreds of health care workers from other states to help provide care as already-stretched hospitals prepare for a possible increase in COVID-19 cases resulting from the Thanksgiving holiday. Gov. Mike Parson and Herb Kuhn, president and CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, announced Wednesday that the state will partner with Vizient, a private national health care company, to recruit up to 760 more health care workers for Missouri. Kuhn said the partnership comes as early data have raised concerns about a possible surge in new COVID-19 cases because of Thanksgiving travel. He said data showed Missourians’ travel for recreation and retail increased an average of 40% daily from Nov. 23 to Thanksgiving Day. The workers will include registered nurses, respiratory therapists and certified nurse assistants. When fully deployed, the plan will add nearly 600 hospital beds to Missouri’s statewide bed capacity, Parson said.


Helena: Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday that the state could receive about 9,750 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by drug company Pfizer as soon as Dec. 15. Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for emergency authorization for their vaccines. Once it’s granted, the state is slated to receive thousands of additional doses in subsequent weeks, Bullock said. The state has between 45,000 and 60,000 health care workers and 10,000 residents and staff members at long-term care facilities, who will have first access to the vaccine once it is available. The focus of the first allotment will be health care workers, the governor said. Bullock said during a news conference that the state is slated to use all $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief allocated to the state in the spring, and he called on Congress to pass another relief measure to help the state address economic and health-related challenges once the deadline for spending the original allocation passes at the end of the month. “This is a storm that cannot be weathered without federal support,” Bullock said.


Omaha: City leaders across the state find they’re left with the onus of whether to require masks as the governor continues to resist issuing a statewide mask mandate in the face of a raging coronavirus pandemic. The Omaha suburb of Papillion was slated to vote Thursday on a proposal to require masks in public buildings, after two consecutive nights of public debate over the proposal. The Papillion Board of Health has recommended the mask mandate, and several medical workers and educators – two professions hit particularly hard by the outbreak – spoke in favor of a mandate at meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, the Omaha World-Herald reports. More than a dozen people spoke against the proposal, including laundromat owner Peter Mayberry, believed to be the first person in Omaha ticketed for violating that city’s mask mandate. In Grand Island, police made clear this week that they will enforce the city’s mandate passed last week, including charging violators with public nuisance counts. On Wednesday, the state reported 48 more coronavirus deaths and 2,336 new coronavirus cases.


Carson City: The state reported 48 new deaths from the coronavirus Thursday, marking the deadliest day since the onset of the pandemic. Nevada also reported 2,536 new confirmed virus cases, bringing the statewide totals to 159,532 cases and 2,249 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Nevada is more than a week into what Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak coined a “statewide pause” involving virus prevention measures, with the number of customers businesses can accept and the number of people allowed in gatherings reduced to 25% of fire codes limit. Meanwhile, state officials said they plan to revise their coronavirus vaccine distribution plan to align with interim recommendations that a U.S. Centers for Disease Control committee issued Tuesday. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that the first available doses go to nursing home residents and health care workers. In Nevada, where tourism and hospitality fuel the economy, officials initially assigned residents of long-term care facilities third-tier priority, behind retail workers, teachers, police officers and airport operators.

New Hampshire

Concord: Senate Democrats are pressing Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to address a COVID-19 outbreak at the New Hampshire Veterans Home that has left 15 residents dead. Senate Minority Leader Donna Soucy and Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, both of Manchester, sent a letter to the governor Thursday saying they are deeply disturbed by what they view as a lack of action at the 250-bed nursing home in Tilton. Since the virus was first detected at the home Nov. 10, 53 residents and 64 staff members have tested positive, and 15 veterans have died. The senators called for the implementation of a plan to prevent further spread of the virus, address staffing shortages and ensure the availability of personal protective equipment. “The staff at the New Hampshire Veterans Home are risking their health and safety simply to do their jobs and care for our veterans,” they wrote. “This is unacceptable.”

New Jersey

Trenton: The state’s COVID-19 caseload surged Thursday to levels not seen even during the height of the spring outbreak, with Gov. Phil Murphy and experts warning things could get worse. The state recorded about 4,900 new cases overnight as New Jersey weathers another wave of the outbreak, Murphy, a Democrat, said Thursday in a tweet. The increase comes as weeklong averages of new cases have climbed steadily for weeks. The Democratic governor also reported 64 new deaths overnight, putting the toll at 15,373. Murphy said Wednesday he’s keeping “all options on the table” when it comes to closing parts of the state’s economy again, as he ordered in the spring. He urged people to be especially vigilant with Christmas coming up. “This is Grinch times five. Don’t travel,” he said Wednesday, urging people even to keep their distance from Santa. “Santa’s got to wear a face covering; you’ve got to wear a face covering.” New Jersey’s hospitalizations topped 3,000, Murphy said – a level not seen since May.

New Mexico

Albuquerque: City officials are planning a crackdown on illegal street racing and other disruptive driving that has accompanied the coronavirus pandemic and say they’ll seek new regulations to help them. It’s just one of many safety concerns as state health officials on Wednesday reported a record-setting 40 virus-related deaths across New Mexico. Interim Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said Wednesday during a telephone town hall event that the city is expanding late-night patrols in response to reckless driving including racing and will lobby state lawmakers for stiffer penalties for repeat offenders on par with sanctions for driving while intoxicated. He described a rash of complaints about drag racing, loud mufflers and tire-squealing maneuvers. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller believes the speedway phenomenon extends to many communities nationwide. “This is happening all over the country, and it’s because of COVID,” Keller said.

New York

New York: The city is setting up plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines starting this month, including making sure hospitals have the ultracold freezers needed to store the Pfizer vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he hopes to receive 170,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 15, with additional vaccine shipments from Pfizer and Moderna within weeks. Health care workers and nursing home residents and workers will be prioritized in the first wave of vaccinations, Cuomo said. New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi noted that while the Moderna vaccine can be stored at normal freezer temperatures, the Pfizer vaccine requires ultracold storage at minus 80 degrees Celsius. Chokshi said more than 50 city hospitals either currently have access to ultracold storage or will have ultracold freezers delivered soon, for a total citywide storage capacity of at least 1.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

North Carolina

Youngsville: The town is planning to hold a Christmas parade despite concerns from county health officials that the event could facilitate the spread of the coronavirus. The Raleigh News & Observer reports Youngsville plans a mile-long parade with up to 300 people watching. Those who are expected to attend include a volleyball team, a plumbing company and a hair salon. The town has faced repeated warnings from the Franklin County Health Department, which warned that COVID-19 cases are reaching record highs locally. The county also said the parade would violate Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order limiting crowds. Town Manager Phil Cordeiro told county officials that Youngsville’s parade falls under the same First Amendment exemption that allowed Raleigh protests this year. He also said the parade is a permitted religious service because it starts in the parking lot of a church. “It’s just been a really bad year, and we’re trying to do something to lighten people’s spirits and give them a little hope,” Mayor Fonzie Flowers told the newspaper. “We don’t want it to be a situation where people don’t feel safe.”

North Dakota

Bismarck: State lawmakers decided Thursday to require masks at the Capitol, despite opposition by far-right members of the Republican-controlled Legislature. Senate and House lawmakers approved rules Thursday for the session that convenes Jan. 5. House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said they support a mask mandate at Capitol legislative spaces to help protect lawmakers and the public. A memo written to the Legislature by its lawyers said the lawmakers have the authority to impose restrictions on areas of the Capitol controlled by the legislative branch. Lawmakers who ignore the mandate may be removed by law enforcement and charged with a misdemeanor crime or expelled from the Legislature. Gov. Doug Burgum imposed a mandate in November after months of refraining from such an order, hoping to stem a coronavirus surge that is among the worst in the U.S. and threatens to overwhelm the state’s hospitals.


Gov. Mike DeWine visited a central Ohio warehouse on Tuesday that will function as a distribution center for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. DeWine has said the vaccine will likely start shipping by Dec. 15.
Gov. Mike DeWine visited a central Ohio warehouse on Tuesday that will function as a distribution center for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. DeWine has said the vaccine will likely start shipping by Dec. 15.

Columbus: The state will receive close to 100,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine by mid-December, Gov. Mike DeWine announced during a briefing Thursday. The brief but promising details provided the first look at what vaccine distribution will look like in Ohio as the number of cases, deaths and hospitalizations continue to rise at staggering rates. The Pfizer drug requires two doses for each person taking the vaccine, meaning the initial distribution will only affect about 49,000 Ohioans. Also Thursday, DeWine made good on earlier threats and vetoed a bill that would restrict the state Health Department’s abilities to issue public health orders during emergencies. The governor said he would provide further details about the state’s vaccine plan Friday but disclosed the partnership the state will have with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to provide the vaccine to nursing home patients and staff. “This is a huge, logistical operation made particularly more challenging by the necessity of keeping the vaccine super cold,” DeWine said during the briefing. “We’re going to report the best we can about the progress. We’ll be transparent.”


Oklahoma City: The first shipment of a coronavirus vaccine is expected in the state in about 10 days, with health care workers and long-term care providers and residents receiving the first doses, state health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said Thursday. Federal health officials are also working to provide vaccine to long-term care facility staff and residents, according to deputy health commissioner Keith Reed. Frye said emergency use approval of the vaccine developed by Pfizer is expected Dec. 11, and 33,000 initial doses should arrive in Oklahoma two or three days later, with shipment of a second, required dose expected about three weeks later. Emergency approval of a similar vaccine developed by Moderna is also anticipated, and about 10,000 doses are expected by the end of December, Frye said. The state’s plan places first responders such as paramedics, police officers and firefighters in addition to the elderly and those at high risk in the second phase of people to receive the vaccine. School students, teachers and staff are in the third phase of those to receive the vaccine, then the general public.


Salem: An 11-person COVID-19 outbreak at the Wilsonville office of the Oregon Employment Department will likely cause further delays in handling claims, officials said. The outbreak “will cause real disruptions in our ability to get work at the pace we have been,” said David Gerstenfeld, acting director of the department, which has already been dealing with a backlog. Agency officials said many of the office’s 600 employees will soon work from home. Health authorities have not advised the office to close, Gerstenfeld said. But Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 safety orders require employers to allow work-from-home options when possible. The department has made significant progress in enabling remote work and establishing safety protocols, Gerstenfeld said. He said he expects hundreds of Wilsonville employees to work from home in the future, but some lack adequate internet service. As part of Brown’s proposed budget and policy agenda announced Tuesday, she wants $146 million to replace the employment department’s computer systems and implement a new paid family and medical leave program.


Harrisburg: Hospital beds are filling up, and medical staffs are being stretched to the limit, as Pennsylvania’s health care system copes with a growing number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients. Nearly half of all hospitals in the south-central region of the state and a third of those in the southwest anticipate staffing shortages within a week, according to the state Department of Health. Nurses in the Philadelphia area say they’re overloaded with COVID-19 patients, limiting the quality of care they can provide. And Pennsylvania’s top health official, Dr. Rachel Levine, said Thursday that she’s worried about modeling that shows the state will run out of intensive care beds this month. More than 85% of the state’s ICU beds are occupied amid an enormous statewide spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations this fall. The health secretary added that she’s even more concerned about hospital staffing. While medical-surgical beds can be converted into ICU beds, the supply of medical workers is “not infinite.” On Thursday, Pennsylvania reported more than 5,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, the state’s highest point in the pandemic and up from a statewide average of about 450 at the end of September.

Rhode Island

Providence: Nearly 30,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines will arrive in the state before the end of month, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Thursday. The term-limited Democrat also declared she wouldn’t be President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for health and human services secretary, dispelling speculation that’s ramped up in recent weeks as Biden forms his Cabinet. “My focus is right here in Rhode Island,” the governor said near the end of her weekly coronavirus briefing. Meanwhile, early reports from the state’s two-week economic “pause” imposed Monday are encouraging, Raimondo said. She said restaurants and bars appear to be following the new rules on their industry, which include reduced capacity limits for in-person dining and shuttering bar areas to patrons. Raimondo also said road travel appeared lighter, and officials have received no credible reports of large parties. She said she’s hopeful the restrictions will lead to a decline in COVID-19 cases in the next couple of weeks. At the same time, Raimondo said, she hasn’t ruled out extending the temporary restrictions, currently slated to run through Dec. 13.

South Carolina

Columbia: The state’s Republican leaders made no major changes Wednesday to their main House committees, and the group that handles the budget remains stuck with the same problems, only this time it’s looking at steep cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic. Republican Rep. Murrell Smith of Sumter was reelected chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, two years after House Speaker Jay Lucas wielded his power to make committee assignments for all members and kicked Rep. Brian White off the powerful panel he led for eight years. Smith told his committee they will have to immediately deal with the budget, as economists can’t guarantee that tax and other revenue estimates slashed by the COVID-19 economic downturn will be enough to avoid budget cuts before this spending plan ends in June.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: The state’s COVID-19 death toll surged past 1,000 on Thursday, with 38 additional deaths, the Department of Health reported. The additional deaths brought the total to 1,033, and they included a person between 20 and 29 years old, which has been a rarity. So far, three people in that age range have died with COVID-19, while 15,656 in that age range have tested positive for the coronavirus. The new deaths brought December’s total to 87 so far, after a November in which deaths went from 425 to 946. The department reported 1,145 new coronavirus infections, along with 490 newly recovered infections. The number of active infections increased to 15,474. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 rose from 531 to 538. The peak for hospitalizations was set Nov. 10, with 607.


Nashville: State officials have expanded a mental health hotline during COVID-19 times to extend support to teachers. The Department of Education says the hotline provides free and confidential support from trained volunteer mental health professionals to people experiencing increased anxiety and stress due to the pandemic. Officials say the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services set up the hotline in May for health care workers and first responders on the front lines of the pandemic. The department partnered with the Mental Health Active Response Team; the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug, and other Addictions Services; and the Tennessee chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. With the expansion, educators are now eligible for the services as well. The hotline is available at 888-642-7886 daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central time.


The famed sign outside Austin's El Arroyo offered a dig at Mayor Steve Adler on Thursday.
The famed sign outside Austin's El Arroyo offered a dig at Mayor Steve Adler on Thursday.

Austin: Mayor Steve Adler went on vacation to Mexico with family in November as he urged people to stay home amid worsening coronavirus caseloads in Texas, at one point recording a video during the trip in which he told residents back home that now was “not the time to relax.” The trip revealed Wednesday is the latest example of a public official who has pleaded for vigilance in the face of rising cases and hospitalizations across the U.S. seeming not to heed their own guidance. Hours after the story was published, Adler issued a statement apologizing for the trip. “While I violated no orders or guidelines, I regret this travel,” Adler said. “I wouldn’t travel now, didn’t over Thanksgiving and won’t over Christmas. But my fear is that this travel, even having happened during a safer period, could be used by some as justification for risky behavior. In hindsight, it set a bad example, for which I apologize.” The trip to Cabo San Lucas came after Adler hosted an outdoor wedding and reception with 20 guests for his daughter at a hotel near downtown. Adler said the attendees had to take a rapid COVID-19 test and maintain social distancing. He acknowledged, however, that although masks were distributed at the wedding, all guests were “probably not” wearing them all the time.


Salt Lake City: Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that the state plans to prioritize front-line health care workers after it receives its first round of coronavirus vaccine doses that could arrive as early as mid-December. The first doses in Utah will go to front-line workers such as doctors and nurses in emergency departments, urgent care facilities and COVID-19 units, as well as housekeeping workers, said Dr. Jeanmarie Mayer, chief of infection prevention at the University of Utah Health hospital. “It’s just so incredibly important to make sure that we keep our health care systems intact and able to care for the most vulnerable in our populations,” Mayer told reporters. Public health experts have warned that if people do not follow masking and social distancing guidance, COVID-19 hospitalizations will further overwhelm the state’s already strained health care system. In Utah, 1 in 173 people was diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past week, and the state is ranked eighth in the country for new cases per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins.


Montpelier: The state’s tax department is forecasting a 9% increase in education property taxes, mostly because of the pandemic. The forecast assists lawmakers and administration officials in planning for a budget and gives them a preview of education tax yields for homeowners and the non-homestead tax rate for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The forecast indicates a lack of spending at local stores, restaurants and hotels translates to an estimated $40 million shortfall in the education fund. Tax Commissioner Craig Bolio called it “one of the largest-single year increases in the average homestead rate in the last decade.” But he said the numbers aren’t final, and the economic picture could improve depending on how the state does in curbing the virus and getting more people back to work. “The governor and administration do not believe this is a tenable tax increase for Vermonters who are working hard to recover from the pandemic, nor for the Vermont economy which continues to struggle due to the pandemic-related disruption,” Bolio wrote.


Rustburg: Officials in Campbell County have passed a resolution expressing opposition to the governor’s new safety guidelines that aim to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The Lynchburg News & Advance reports the county’s supervisors on Tuesday declared it to be a “First Amendment sanctuary.” The resolution is considered mostly symbolic and is similar to a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution passed by the county’s board more than a year ago. Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order limits indoor and outdoor gatherings to no more than 25 people. It also directs restaurants and bars to halt alcohol sales at 10 p.m. and close by midnight. The county’s resolution claims the Democratic governor’s mandate is in violation of the state’s constitution and seeks to oppose enforcement of his executive order. It asks the sheriff’s office to “not assist any state law enforcement officer, state health agent or federal agent” attempting to enforce the order. The Virginia Department of Health enforces the governor’s mandates, not local law enforcement agencies.


Certified medical assistant Cindy Vaughn hands a driver a swab during the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe's drive-thru COVID-19 testing in the parking lot of The Point Casino & Hotel in Kingston, Wash., on May 21.
Certified medical assistant Cindy Vaughn hands a driver a swab during the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe's drive-thru COVID-19 testing in the parking lot of The Point Casino & Hotel in Kingston, Wash., on May 21.

Little Boston: A COVID-19 outbreak on the Port Gamble S’Klallam Reservation in North Kitsap has spread to at least 13 people and forced nearly 50 close contacts into isolation. The tribe said in an announcement that the 13 positive tests had come over the weekend through Tuesday, saying nearly 10% of the households on the reservation needed to quarantine. “It did not need to be this way,” the tribe said in a pointed update on its Facebook page, connecting the spread of the virus on the reservation to group gatherings during Thanksgiving week. “This past week, people got complacent,” the announcement said. “They had dinners. They got together with loved ones. We’re now seeing the consequences of those actions. If you’re one of the affected, this notice is not meant to shame – we hope for a quick and uneventful recovery. It is important though that we all, as a community, learn from where we find ourselves right now.” The tribe was an early adopter in setting up a community testing site in May and has continued to test its employees and community members since then.

West Virginia

Charleston: The state debuted a partnership for free home-based saliva coronavirus testing Wednesday. The testing kits from Vault Health can be requested on the state’s coronavirus website. Results are expected in 24 to 48 hours after individuals send their test sample back in the mail. Officials said there are no restrictions on who can request the tests. Gov. Jim Justice announced the news as the state reported 20 additional deaths linked to COVID-19, bringing the total to at least 778 deaths. There were 678 new confirmed cases, for a total of 49,905. Forty-seven of the state’s 55 counties are classified with the state’s most severe infection rate with 25 or more positive cases per 100,000 residents. Justice said he expects the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer to reach the state Dec. 14. He acknowledged that a focus on increasing testing in the state has not brought the outbreak under control.


Madison: Gov. Tony Evers told President Donald Trump and the state’s congressional delegation Thursday that Wisconsin needs $466 million by April to pay for vaccine distribution, coronavirus testing, contact tracing, hospitals and a public health awareness campaign. Evers, a Democrat, made the plea amid talks with Republican state lawmakers on COVID-19 proposals but with no agreement or immediate action in sight. Evers also wrote to the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking that Wisconsin be prioritized for vaccine distribution so the state’s 450,000 health care workers can be vaccinated. Wisconsin is expected to receive nearly 50,000 doses of vaccine within weeks. The state is nearing 400,000 total cases of COVID-19 even as new positive tests begin to slow from a peak in mid-November. There were 4,618 new cases reported Thursday, bringing the total to 399,708 cases. There were 60 new deaths, for a total of 3,562.


Casper: An oil and gas stimulus program in the state has shown promising initial results in helping operators recover from the economic downturn caused in part by the pandemic, officials said. Gov. Mark Gordon created the Wyoming Energy Rebound Program to give companies money needed to complete specific projects placed on hold because of the pandemic, including plugging and abandoning wells, as well as drilling uncompleted wells, The Casper Star-Tribune reports. The Republican governor announced last month that he would dedicate $15 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to create the program. He later doubled the amount to $30 million in response to high demand. “This is a great and appropriate use of CARES Act money to respond to the devastating effects of the pandemic on our economy,” Randall Luthi, chief energy advisor to Gordon, said in a statement. “The oil and gas operators responded quickly and they need to act quickly in the near future.”

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Travel hypocrisy, street racing: News from around our 50 states