Montgomery: The state’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.6% last month, and a surge of hiring prompted by renewed business activity as the pandemic eases is driving up wages, labor officials said Friday. Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted jobless rate for April was 3.6%, down a bit from March and nearly 10 percentage points below April 2020, when shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus outbreak decimated businesses. The number represents about 80,000 unemployed people statewide compared to nearly 290,000 at the same time a year ago. The number of people employed increased by 253,632 over the year to 2.2 million, according to a statement from the Alabama Department of Labor. With more open jobs than unemployed people, average weekly earnings for business rose to $968 in April, up more than $67 over the year. “Wage growth is astounding in Alabama,” Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington said. “We hit record highs in both hourly and weekly wages for all sectors, and the leisure and hospitality sector, which has been clamoring for workers, also hit record highs. Employers in Alabama are responding to labor shortages by raising wages, as to be expected.”
Anchorage: Residents could soon access their vaccination records through their phones and other devices. The state health department is working to adopt technology that would give residents easy access to immunization records, which could also provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations, Alaska’s News Source reports. The state plans to use the consumer access portal MyIR Mobile, whose technology is already available in Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. After people register, they can access their state immunization records. “I would really like people to think of MyIR Mobile as your old yellow vaccination card, and that is what it is,” said Matt Bobo of the state health department. Officials are working with the state’s information technology department to make sure the program is secure. Just last week, the health department took its website offline to investigate what it said was a malware attack. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy opposes any so-called vaccine passports and has said the state will not require anyone to show proof of vaccination. But businesses, nonprofits and employers with certain limitations can require people to be vaccinated. There’s no timeline on when MyIR Mobile will be operational, Bobo said.
Tucson: A weekly Pima County-sponsored event called Vax After Dark is immunizing people whom health clinics, physician’s offices and large vaccine sites have missed. “We’re in the difficult part of getting people immunized,” said Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Pima County Health Department, which started the effort last month. “Every person we get vaccinated helps us control and get out of the pandemic.” The outdoor pop-up sets up tents and chairs – this time in the parking lot of Antigone Books in Tucson – plays Top 50 music, and puts a lot of resources into inoculating a relatively small number of people. About 20 people were working out of the unit at its most recent three-hour event Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and a total of 36 people were vaccinated, which hardly compares to the hundreds per hour who can get shots at large-scale sites. Still, Pima County officials consider the effort a success because Vax After Dark reaches people who otherwise might not get a COVID-19 shot – people who don’t have a regular health provider, feel disconnected from the health system, don’t have a way to get to a large-scale site or have lingering questions about the vaccine. “If not for this, I might still be wondering where to go,” said Justin McCawley, 46. “I’m not very adult when it comes to my health.”
Fort Smith: The city has received more than $10.6 million of an expected $21.2 million in federal funding from this year’s coronavirus relief package, and some of that could be used for sewer line work required in the city’s federal consent decree. “There are regulations on how the funds can be spent, and infrastructure for water/sewer is included,” Fort Smith’s Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman wrote in an email. “Staff is working on how those funds might be incorporated into the project and rate planning we already have underway.” Dingman said when city administration staff has an approach for the Board of Directors to consider, it will be presented for approval. The funds are kept in a separate bank account for “transparent tracking and monitoring,” he said. The city entered a $225 million-plus, 12-year consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice in late 2014 to improve wastewater runoff that was getting into the Arkansas River. A five-year extension was granted in May 2020. The city estimated $22 million in consent decree-related capital improvements were needed in 2021. Another six years in extensions are being requested due to issues that arose during the 2019 flood and 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Los Angeles: The huge Los Angeles Unified School District will start the new school year next fall with on-campus, in-person instruction for all students five days a week but will retain an online option, Superintendent Austin Beutner said Monday. Elementary school students will have full days of instruction with their teacher and classmates, while middle and high school students will change classrooms for each period, said Beutner, who leads the nation’s second-largest school district. After-school programs will be available to students from the end of the school day until 6 p.m. Beutner said, however, that an online option must remain in place for the next school year for students who are unable or choose not to come to schools for in-person instruction. “Some students and some staff members may need to stay at home until all at schools are vaccinated due to health reasons because they live with an immunocompromised family member,” Beutner said, adding that he expects the majority of students and staff to be at school every day. Students and staff will wear masks until more children are vaccinated, he said. The superintendent reiterated his assertion that Los Angeles Unified has in place the highest safety standards of any school district in the nation.
Denver: Democrats outlined their priorities Monday for $3.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief destined for the state under the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, and budgetary support, workforce development, affordable housing and mental health top their agenda. Gov. Jared Polis, majority Democrat legislative leaders and the four Democratic members of Colorado’s congressional delegation gave an overview of the plans at a Capitol news conference. Polis and others emphasized that the outline came after virtual and in-person meetings with Coloradans across the state in recent months. Polis said roughly $1.3 billion will be used to shore up current and future state and local spending; another third will go to workforce development, affordable housing, and mental and behavioral health; and a similar amount will support transportation and rural development and agriculture spending. Some of the state budget support will be unveiled in legislation currently being drafted for consideration this legislative session, said Sen. Dominick Moreno, chair of the Joint Budget Committee. A bipartisan legislative task force will study how to invest the coming pandemic relief funds in housing, behavioral health and job creation over the summer, said House Speaker Alec Garnett.
Norwich: After months of limited public access amid the pandemic, some of the last municipal buildings in the region have reopened to residents. As of Monday, Norwich City Hall is opening its doors to public traffic from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. five days a week. Mayor Peter Nystrom said the reopening decision was made based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and comes at a time when the rest of the state is also seeing a relaxing of gathering strictures. In addition to the municipal building, the police department headquarters’ lobby reopened to the public, and the Rose City Senior Center will resume some programming June 1. According to the center’s website, a limited number of classes will be offered at first, and other programming will be “slowly re-introduced,” with more visitors allowed into the facility over time. Municipal buildings in Killingly and Plainfield have been open to the public for several months with only brief public shutterings since the spring of 2020, while Griswold reopened its town hall in April. Pomfret Town Hall will reopen to the public June 2 from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. – but only on Wednesdays at first.
Wilmington: Sailors aboard the Chiquita Passion cargo ship received their first and only dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Thursday in an effort to protect the crew in their international travels. Officials from the Delaware Division of Public Health alongside the Seamen’s Center of Wilmington boarded the ship to inoculate a couple dozen crew members at the Port of Wilmington. Sailors expressed their gratitude and relief to be able to get vaccinated before returning to their home countries. Kasyan Yuriy, captain of the Chiquita Passion, said the vaccine would help him and his crew feel more protected against the coronavirus while they perform their essential work. The sailors’ jobs help fuel a global exchange of goods, including food products, produce and cars. The Ukrainian maritime crew traverses the world to transport these goods, greatly increasing their chances of contracting COVID-19. The crew arrived in Wilmington after a five-day voyage from Guatemala. In April 2020, sailors were confined to their ships because companies weren’t switching out crews at the time due to COVID-19. Today, the situation isn’t much different. Sailors aboard the Dole Ecuador ship, whose crew was vaccinated May 19, are not allowed to leave their ship.
District of Columbia
Washington: As the city reopens from its COVID-19 restrictions, the D.C. History Center is trying to capture stories from the past year and a half in a time capsule, WUSA-TV reports. Anne McDonough, deputy director of the D.C. History Center, said it’s important to hear directly from Washingtonians about what it was like to live through the pandemic in real time. “When you’re in the middle of something, it can be really hard of course to think about how this is going to be perceived or researched or examined in the years to come,” McDonough said. The collection, “In Real Time,” is a collecting initiative of the D.C. History Center that began in April 2020. It asks the public to help in documenting the historic events that took place during the past year. In its 127-year history, this is one of the first times the D.C. History Center has focused on collecting stories of an event while it is still occurring. Other institutions such as the D.C. Public Library, Humanities D.C., and the National Museum of African American History and Culture are also saving stories from the pandemic. To contribute to the collection, residents can upload a picture or story to the D.C. History Center. Optional prompts ask how COVID-19 has impacted families and what acts of kindness have been witnessed during this time.
Tallahassee: Gov. Ron DeSantis agreed to temporarily suspend sales taxes on back-to-school supplies; emergency preparedness purchases and recreational activities meant to encourage people back into the outdoors; music venues; museums; and other post-pandemic endeavors. But so-called tax holidays he signed into law Friday are being offset by the taxes the state will now collect on online purchases, to take in an estimated $1 billion annually. Some of the early proceeds would be transferred to the state’s unemployment trust fund and reduce unemployment taxes for businesses. The first holiday arrives this week during a 10-day period in which Floridians can prepare for the upcoming hurricane season without paying sales taxes on certain purchases. In late July and early August, Floridians won’t have to pay sales taxes for school supplies, some clothing and the first $1,000 for a computer. New to the “tax holiday” lineup this year is a “Freedom Week” during the first week of July on recreational purchases, as well as for purchasing tickets for concerts, athletic events and museums. The Republican governor used the bill signing event at a Home Depot in Pensacola to criticize other states he said put “repressive polices” in place during the coronavirus outbreak that “locked down their people.”
Atlanta: The state will use federal coronavirus relief money to temporarily pay all the costs of child care for 50,000 children enrolled in a program that subsidizes care for lower-income families. The state Department of Early Care and Learning said the plan will cost an estimated $95 million and last until Oct. 2, 2022. The extra money, which began with payments to child care facilities last week, is being offered to current and new participants. The payments will be made automatically, and parents don’t have to do anything to enroll. Normally, parents have to pay a designated family share of tuition in the Childcare and Parent Services program, in tiers up to 7% of their income. Parents also normally have to pay any difference between the weekly maximum the state is willing to pay under CAPS and what a child care facility actually charges. An annual survey of costs by ChildCare Aware of America finds that child care centers charge an average of $168 a week to care for an infant in Georgia. DECAL estimates in that scenario that parents would save $35 a week, or $1,820 a year. Parents will still be charged for transportation, meals or other fees. DECAL officials say they are trying to help families whose incomes may have declined during the pandemic and help more people get back to work.
Honolulu: The state will once again require people receiving unemployment insurance benefits to search for work as a coronavirus testing program for travelers and growing vaccinations fuel a recovery of the tourism industry, Gov. David Ige says. Those filing for unemployment will need to report at least three steps they took to look for work from May 30 through June 5 when they submit their weekly claim June 6, said Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Those steps can include filling out job applications, interviewing for jobs and registering at the jobs website HireNetHawaii.com, she said. Hawaii’s unemployment rate was 9% in March, the highest in the nation and above the national average of 6%. But the rate has improved since peaking at 23.8% in April 2020. Ige said he would maintain other pandemic-era unemployment insurance benefits, including a weekly $300 federal supplement. The Democratic governor said he believed the extra payment helps unemployed residents pay rent and other expenses, which helps the economy. “As you know, the cost of living in Hawaii is higher than in other jurisdictions. And we have heard of many in our community who continue to struggle to find work and who continue to be unemployed,” Ige said.
Boise: Anti-government activist Ammon Bundy is running for governor, according to documents filed Friday with the Secretary of State’s office. Bundy, best known for leading an armed standoff at an Oregon wildlife refuge five years ago, is running as a Republican in the 2022 Idaho gubernatorial primary, according to campaign finance documents. Current Gov. Brad Little, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and four other Republicans – Jeff Cotton, Edward Humphreys, Lisa Marie and Cody Usabel – have also filed campaign documentation needed to run for governor. So far no Democratic candidates have entered the race. Bundy garnered international attention when in 2016 he led a group of armed activists in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to protest the federal control of public lands. He was eventually arrested and later acquitted of all federal charges in that case. Bundy currently has two misdemeanor criminal trespassing cases pending against him in Idaho, and he’s representing himself for both. The cases stem from events during a protest of coronavirus restrictions at the Idaho Statehouse last August. He’s pleaded not guilty in one case and has not yet entered a plea in the second.
Springfield: Amtrak is resuming full passenger rail service across the state as the number of COVID-19 cases falls. Gov. J.B. said Pritzker last week that the full long-distance interstate schedule restores service on four state-sponsored lines. Service on the Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago resumed Sunday. Routes connecting Chicago and Quincy, Chicago and Carbondale, and Chicago and St. Louis will operate at full capacity by the middle of July. Tickets for travel on those lines can be reserved now. Amtrak has stations in 30 Illinois communities and served more than 1 million riders per year before the coronavirus pandemic. Pritzker’s office said an Illinois capital development program includes $1.1 billion for rail improvements, including $78 million to upgrade rail crossings and improve safety.
Indianapolis: The Indiana AFL-CIO is criticizing Gov. Eric Holcomb’s decision to withdraw the state from federal programs providing an extra $300 in weekly payments to unemployed workers and expanded jobless benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. The labor union said it cost the state nothing to remain in the programs, arguing that they have provided millions of dollars a week to families who could soon face having no income. Holcomb announced last week that the state would leave those federal programs effective June 19. Many businesses blame their difficulty filling job openings on the extra $300 weekly payment and programs that provide jobless aid to self-employed or gig workers and to people who have been unemployed for more than six months. Indiana AFL-CIO President Brett Voorhies said Holcomb was “trying to coerce Hoosiers into low-paying jobs.” “If he really wants to get Hoosiers back to work, he should focus on making sure parents have affordable child care, more Hoosiers are fully vaccinated, and the available jobs are good, union jobs that pay living wages and provide good benefits,” Voorhies said. “Choosing to eliminate financial aid to Hoosier families is cruel and unnecessary.”
Des Moines: The coronavirus pandemic may have hastened the state’s shift toward an unwanted milestone – fewer births than deaths each year. Iowa, like much of the nation, has been going through a “baby bust” for more than a decade, and the decline accelerated during 2020 and the first two months of 2021. Meanwhile, the number of deaths in the state spiked 16% last year, to 35,651, as a wave of COVID-19 infections accelerated a yearslong increase in deaths. The death total nearly equaled the 36,057 children born last year to Iowa parents. Preliminary reports suggest March 2021 brought a bit of a rebound in Iowa births, reflecting pregnancies that began early last summer. A total of 3,106 babies were born in Iowa in March 2021, compared to 3,026 in March 2020. But overall, the state’s birth rates have been sliding since 2007, the year before the country’s last big recession. Laura Lindberg, a research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, said some Americans who delayed starting or expanding families because of the pandemic might try to become pregnant in the next few months or years. But she doesn’t expect a dramatic baby boom that would suddenly push the birth rate up to where it was more than a decade ago.
Overland Park: A public school district is trying to figure out how to keep school board meetings accessible online without hindering public comments after YouTube concluded that a video of a recent meeting spread misinformation about COVID-19 and removed the video. The Shawnee Mission school board’s meeting last Monday saw several parents and a state lawmaker call for the district to remove its mask mandate, The Kansas City Star reports. Several residents of the district in Johnson County have spread misinformation about COVID-19 and mask-wearing at county, city and school board meetings during the past year. But district spokesman David Smith said it was the first time that the district learned a video was removed. More than two dozen residents gathered before the meeting to protest the district’s mask mandate, which officials have said will stay in place. State Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican who’s argued for ending coronavirus pandemic restrictions, was in the crowd and spoke during public comments. YouTube’s community guidelines list COVID-19 fallacies it will remove, including that the coronavirus is not real or that children cannot get infected. Smith said the district is still talking about how to manage the issue. “We really don’t want to lose our ability to broadcast,” he said.
Louisville: More residents need to get vaccinated to avoid a bump in COVID-19 cases, health officials say, or the city could be in for a “rough fall.” Louisville Chief Health Strategist Dr. Sarah Moyer said during a news conference Wednesday that she’s “frustrated” that only 38.7% of people in the city are fully vaccinated. A little more than 48% of residents have received at least a first dose. “We have plenty of vaccine available in every ZIP code in the county, as well as transportation access,” Moyer said. She said the city will take suggestions on how to break through to those resistant to vaccines and will hold more education events and talk to employees because “until we can get that number up, none of us are truly safe.” Louisville had 542 new COVID-19 cases the week of May 10-14, the fewest since July 2020, but “if people choose to go maskless before they are vaccinated, we will see that number go up,” she said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now said fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in many situations, and Gov. Andy Beshear will largely drop a mask mandate for vaccinated Kentuckians on June 11. Dr. Jason Smith, the chief medical officer of U of L Health, said it’s possible to get to 70% vaccinated over the next two months or so.
Baton Rouge: House lawmakers rejected a modest increase in the state’s jobless benefits and a return-to-work incentive payment aimed at driving people to exit unemployment and go back to work. Only 44 legislators voted for the bill by Rep. Rodney Lyons, while 54 House members voted against it Thursday. Lyons, D-Harvey, initially proposed to raise Louisiana’s maximum weekly unemployment benefits – currently set at $247 – by $28. That was a deal struck by some business and labor associations to raise benefits that are the second-lowest in the nation. But Republicans on the House labor committee also added a provision by GOP Rep. Mike Echols into the bill that would have given residents receiving unemployment a lump sum payment of $500 or $1,000 to go back to work, if they gave up their right to claim jobless benefits for six months. Some opponents objected to raising unemployment benefits. Others objected to giving a bonus payment to jobless people who are required to search for work in order to receive unemployment.
Portland: New mask guidance took effect in the state Monday, which means residents no longer need to wear face coverings indoors in most situations. Mainers, with the exception of state employees, can go maskless in most indoor settings, except for schools and day care. State officials are still recommending that people who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 wear a mask indoors. Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, made the decision in mid-May to align the state rules with the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state is also lifting physical distancing requirements at indoor public settings where people are eating or drinking, such as bars and restaurants. But state employees will have to wear masks in shared indoor work spaces until at least July 7, the state budget commissioner said in a Friday memo. Businesses, meanwhile, are free to set their own rules, but one major supermarket chain already relaxed its mask rules. Hannaford announced that vaccinated customers no longer had to wear masks effective Monday in Maine. Customers who have not been vaccinated are asked to continue to wear a mask inside stores. Monday was also the first day for several other newly relaxed pandemic requirements, including a removal of all capacity limits in public settings, whether indoors or outdoors.
Baltimore: Federal authorities in the state have seized the domain name of a website accused of fraudulently offering to sell COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Maryland said “COVIDReliefSociety.org” is the 10th virus fraud-related domain name that it has seized since the pandemic began. In a news release Thursday, prosecutors said the website promised same-day delivery of COVID-19 vaccines anywhere in the world but actually collected visitors’ personal information to launch phishing attacks and deploy malware. The site now bears a message that the federal government has seized it. “In a time when we are urging people to get vaccinated for COVID-19, it is reprehensible that fraudsters are trying to prey on unsuspecting residents and their families,” acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan Lenzner said in a statement. Investigators believe the site’s domain name was created in December. It included an image of what appeared to be a screen capture of vaccine developer Moderna’s website and trademarked logo, according to prosecutors.
Boston: Fans are being allowed to return to the TD Garden in greater numbers this coming weekend, just in time for Bruins and Celtics playoff runs, arena management announced Monday. Even though the arena will open to “near full capacity” Saturday, fans will still be required to wear face coverings and follow other COVID-19 safety protocols, management said in a statement. “The Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics have confirmed with their respective leagues that TD Garden is permitted to align with city and state guidelines and return to near full capacity beginning May 29, 2021,” the statement said. TD Garden has been permitted to host fans at 25% capacity since May 10. The Celtics have home playoff games against the Brooklyn Nets scheduled for Friday and Sunday. The Bruins finished off their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Washington Capitals 3-1 on Sunday, and their second-round opponent will be either the Pittsburgh Penguins or the New York Islanders.
Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer apologized Sunday after apparently violating state-mandated social distancing guidelines at an East Lansing bar and grill. It was the latest pandemic-related misstep for the Democratic governor, who waited weeks to disclose partial details of a private jet trip she took to visit her father in Florida after two of her top aides headed south as coronavirus cases surged in Michigan and as residents were cautioned against traveling south for spring break. A photo circulated on social media of Whitmer with a large group of unmasked people at a bar-restaurant, The Landshark Bar & Grill. The photo, which shows Whitmer seated with about a dozen others, was posted on social media by one of the attendees but later deleted. “Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been committed to following public health protocols,” Whitmer said in a statement Sunday. “Yesterday, I went with friends to a local restaurant. As more people arrived, the tables were pushed together. Because we were all vaccinated, we didn’t stop to think about it. In retrospect, I should have thought about it. I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize.” Michigan restaurants and bars remain subject to capacity limits and social distancing requirements. Current orders require six people or fewer at tables and distances of 6 feet between tables.
St. Paul: The state’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has accelerated after several sluggish weeks. The pace of inoculations remained above 40,000 shots a day Sunday, a level not previously seen for more than two weeks. Data shows a big increase in first vaccine doses, which now average nearly 18,000 a day, up from about 10,000 a day a week ago. Some of the increase can likely be attributed to 12- to 15-year-olds who are now eligible for the vaccine. Minnesota was averaging 60,000 shots a day at one point last month before the numbers began dropping, Minnesota Public Radio News reports. Officials continue to encourage Minnesotans to keep their guard up during proms, graduations and other spring events, noting that more coronavirus variants are driving new cases across the state. The state’s largest portion of confirmed cases is among people in their 20s, more than 110,000 since the pandemic began. The number of infected high school-age people has also grown, with more than 49,000 15- to 19-year-olds known to be infected throughout the pandemic. Experts say young people are less likely to feel the worst effects of the disease but worry they can spread it to older or more vulnerable people. The latest numbers show about 63% of Minnesotans 16 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, and 56% have been fully vaccinated.
Jackson: The state could see more than $700 million in federal funding for broadband over the next few years, thanks to pandemic aid, Federal Communications Commission grants and a possible infrastructure bill. That doesn’t include indirect funding sources such as Paycheck Protection Program loans for broadband-related businesses, subsidies for ratepayers, grants for 5G development and older grant opportunities like the FCC’s Connect America Fund. The large influx of investment is likely to dramatically alter the digital landscape of Mississippi, which has long been a broadband desert, ranking last in the nation for internet connectivity. According to U.S. census data, Mississippi has the lowest rate of broadband subscribers per capita. Broadband in rural areas has long been a large contributor to the digital divide – the gap between who benefits from reliable internet connections and who doesn’t. As the pandemic pushed schools into online learning, many school districts and colleges were faced with the struggle of ensuring everybody had access. For some, this meant mailing out mobile Wi-Fi hot spots to students, opening school parking lots for Wi-Fi access, or even sending out homework by mail.
Springfield: A series of COVID-19 vaccine clinics will be held at public park facilities in the next eight weeks, a Springfield-Greene Park Board spokesperson said Monday. Clinics are coming soon to taxpayer-owned locations like Rutledge-Wilson Farm Park, Dickerson Park Zoo and the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden. To sweeten the deal for folks getting their arms jabbed, “special incentives” are available, including free admission to facilities on the days clinics are held for those who choose to get vaccinated, Park Board spokesperson Jenny Fllmer Edwards said. Similar “givebacks” include a “thank-you card” that offers a variety of discounts for park board services like boat rentals, Edwards said. The Springfield-Greene County Health Department said in a news release that it identified locations in places with relatively low vaccination rates where it appeared that the largest number people could be reached as part of a strategy to meet people “where they are.” The clinics are available for walk-ins, but individuals may save time by registering on the Missouri Vaccine Navigator. Preregistered individuals are asked to bring their ID and patient identification number from the website. A parent or guardian’s consent is required for children ages 12 through 17, the health department said.
Great Falls: City-County Health Officer Trisha Gardner received a standing ovation from commissioners, staff and attending citizens for her leadership throughout the COVID-19 health crisis during last week’s Great Falls City Commission meeting. “It was very unexpected,” Gardner said. “It’s an honor to serve this community.” Commissioner Owen Robinson recognized Gardner stepped into her job in late 2019, just months before COVID-19 became a reality in Great Falls, which he described as “probably the most critical time for a public health officer in Cascade County, ever.” Commissioner Mary Sheehy Moe commended Gardner for her service to the community during the pandemic. “By February of this year, nearly 1 in 6 Americans was living in a community at the height of a pandemic without a public health officer,” Moe said. “Great Falls, Montana, was not one of those communities.” Moe recalled how COVID-19 reached its peak last fall and said how despite how much pushback the Board of Health received, Gardner focused on what would keep the city safest in the short term and coronavirus-free in the long term.
Lincoln: The state will end a $300-a-week unemployment bonus that has been going to jobless workers during the pandemic, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday, declaring a “return to normalcy” and rescinding the last of his coronavirus-related executive orders at what he called his last pandemic-related news conference. Nebraska joined at least 22 other Republican-led states that are halting the additional unemployment benefits, including assistance for gig workers and the self-employed, who don’t normally qualify. Ricketts said the extra benefits will end June 19. Ricketts pointed to Nebraska’s status as the state with the lowest unemployment nationally last month and one of the lowest overall throughout the pandemic. He said he also believes the $300 benefit creates a disincentive to find a job when the state’s online job portal has 39,000 open positions. Workers’ advocates have disputed that argument and countered that employers should offer higher pay if they want to attract quality employees. Ricketts, who has opposed prior minimum wage increases, said employers should pay what the free market dictates. “I certainly think the employers should pay what the market demands to hire people,” he said. “The government should not be interfering with that by artificially driving that number up.”
Carson City: Long-simmering disputes over coronavirus restrictions in the Legislature boiled over Thursday when the Democratic majority voted to punish Republican lawmakers for refusing to comply with rules in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Under rules announced Wednesday, people in the state Capitol can roam the building without face coverings as long as they have been vaccinated. Republican Assemblywomen Annie Black and Jill Dickman went mask-free on the Assembly floor Thursday but refused to make known whether they had received COVID-19 shots. Dickman was escorted out of the Assembly floor after staff told her that she would have to prove she had been vaccinated. She refused. In a party-line vote, the Assembly elected to strip Black of her right to vote on measures and address the chamber until she apologized for violating legislative rules. She remained on the Assembly floor. “This is WAY out of control!” Black tweeted after the incident. Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said the Assembly rules allowed people to forgo masks but required they wear them if they have not been vaccinated. “We were informed that there were persons who had not confirmed they were vaccinated and would not wear masks, so they didn’t comply with our rules,” he said.
Concord: Dartmouth College is increasing mental health support and loosening some COVID-19 restrictions in dorms amid concerns about students feeling isolated. “The pandemic has exacerbated many problems, but foremost among them has been mental health,” Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon and other officials said Friday in message to students, employees and parents of undergraduates. “On this critical issue, we must do more to support our community.” Under the new rules meant to increase socialization, students are now allowed to host two guests who also live on campus in their dorm rooms at the same time, the Valley News reports. The college also is adding a second nurse to the on-call staffing at its health center and plans to add new counselors and a student wellness coordinator to expand mental health services. The two counselors will also receive suicide prevention training following the deaths of multiple students throughout the pandemic. The changes were announced two days after the death of a freshman at her home in New York. Two other freshmen and a junior also have died this academic year. A candlelight vigil for all four will be held Tuesday night.
Trenton: The state will lift its indoor mask mandate for people vaccinated against COVID-19 beginning Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday. The announcement comes about a week after Murphy, a Democrat, rejected similar mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying he wanted “more time on the clock” for people to get vaccinated. Also on Friday, the state is lifting the requirement for maintaining 6 feet of distance between patrons at all indoor and outdoor businesses such as restaurants, retail stores, gyms and casinos. New Jersey had been an outlier, with neighboring Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania aligning with the CDC soon after its advice came out. The state’s vaccination rates have been climbing, with Murphy pledging to fully inoculate 70% of the population by June 30. Murphy faced a torrent of criticism over the delay, especially from Republicans who are hoping to defeat him in November as he seeks reelection to a second term. He dismissed it, though, and said the decision focused on avoiding more deaths from COVID-19. Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli pointed to daily deaths still in the double digits and the daily infection rate hovering above lows seen last summer as rationales for continuing the mask mandate.
Albuquerque: The September spectacle featuring funnel cakes, turkey legs, livestock and art exhibits, and carnival rides plans an in-person return this year. The New Mexico State Fair was scrapped in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, although some events took place virtually. The event drew about 475,000 visitors from around the state and region to Albuquerque in 2019. Spokesman Wyndham Kemsley said Thursday that officials are confident the fair can be held safely in person, with more hand-washing and sanitation stations, as well as social distancing. “We have one of the biggest properties in New Mexico, so we have a lot of open space,” he said. The fair is scheduled for Sept. 9-19. Organizers are looking to hire hundreds of employees. Ticket sales for another big event, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, are expected to start in July. The fiesta, too, was canceled last year. Its early morning mass ascensions, fireworks shows and launches of special-shaped hot air balloons attract hundreds of thousands of spectators from across the globe and hundreds of balloon pilots and their crews. The fiesta is set for Oct. 2-10. The New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs announced Thursday that all the state museums have reopened and several historic sites.
New York: Mayor Bill de Blasio promised a return to normal for the nation’s largest public school system Monday as he announced that classrooms will open for in-person instruction in September with no remote option. “It’s time for everyone to come back,” said de Blasio, a Democrat. “It’s time for us all to be together. It’s time to do things the way they were meant to be done. All the kids in the classroom together getting a great education from educators who care, staff members who care.” He said the roughly 1 million students who attend traditional public schools will be in their classrooms with some version of the coronavirus protocols that have been in place in the current academic year, including mask-wearing and testing for the virus. After closing schools in March 2020, New York City was one of the first large U.S. cities to reopen school buildings in the fall of that year, but the majority of parents chose online-only learning for their children. Children and staff members who have been in physical classrooms have been randomly tested for the coronavirus, and the city has reported very low rates of virus transmission in the schools. The head of the union that represents city teachers said that while there is “no substitute for in-person instruction,” some students might still need a remote option next fall.
Raleigh: Interested in a little extra spending money for the upcoming holiday weekend? Health officials in four North Carolina counties will offer $25 incentives for those who’ve yet to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The state Department of Health and Human Services announced a pilot program starting Wednesday at certain vaccine sites in Mecklenburg, Guilford, Rowan and Rockingham counties. Adults who get their first dose at the sites or drive someone for that first-dose appointment will receive $25 cash cards, DHHS said in a new release. The “Summer Cash Cards” will be available through June 8 while supplies last. The State Employees Credit Union is providing the cards for the pilot. The incentive is another effort by DHHS to boost vaccination rates entering the summer. The North Carolina Zoo offered last week a free ticket for those who received their first COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic on the zoo property. A similar offer will occur June 10-12. More than 52% of the adult population in North Carolina had received at least one dose as of late last week, according to DHHS data.
Bismarck: Air travel has picked up in the state, but it has not returned to the level recorded before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The state’s eight commercial service airports saw a significant increase in passenger numbers last month compared to April 2020. The state Aeronautics Commission said the airports in Bismarck, Minot, Williston, Dickinson, Grand Forks, Fargo, Devils Lake and Jamestown collectively had 62,163 passenger boardings last month. That compares with 92,063 in April 2019. Just 4,964 passengers traveled by air in April of last year as the pandemic spread. That was the lowest monthly total since record keeping began four decades ago, the Bismarck Tribune reports. “Our airports and aviation industry have endured a long road to recovery since last April, when passenger levels dropped 95% as our country worked together to slow the spread of COVID-19,” state Aeronautics Commissioner Kyle Wanner said. “Leisure travel has been growing and allowing for an initial recovery in air travel demand. As the nation’s recovery from the pandemic continues, we would also like to see additional business travel begin to cycle back into the market.” Millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief aid have been sent to North Dakota airports. The latest is a $1.2 million award to the Williston airport.
Columbus: Ohioans have reported nearly 6,000 medical issues arising in the days and weeks following their COVID-19 vaccinations, but it’s impossible to know which problems, if any, were actually caused by the shots. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allows anyone to submit a report to its Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System online. That means reports are not verified, and many of the symptoms people report, beyond the expected mild side effects, might have no direct link to the injection, said Dr. Susan Koletar, director of the division of infectious diseases at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. In recent months, Ohioans reported everything from abnormal X-rays and colonoscopies to concussions, pink eye, general feelings of apathy and, on the more serious side, suspected blood clots. “It is absolutely not a reason to not get it,” Koletar said. “A lot of (the reports) are expected side effects. People should expect that their arm should hurt a little bit. … Is getting the vaccine worth not feeling great? I think the answer is ‘yes.’ ” In fact, the most common events reported to the CDC in Ohio were fever and chills, arm pain and an assortment of body aches. Such side effects can actually be a sign that the immune system is working to create protective antibodies, experts say.
Oklahoma City: When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a grinding halt in March 2020, the leaders of the city’s agencies dedicated to helping those experiencing homelessness had no choice but to push forward. The number of people served by those programs fell from 10,171 in 2019 to 9,874 in 2020, according to the city’s Homeless Management Information System. Closures and capacity reductions meant fewer people were able to receive services. Staff, volunteer, and supply shortages meant less manpower and fewer goods to go around. The day shelter at the Homeless Alliance’s WestTown Campus went from serving at least 350 people a day to being able to allow only 64 people inside at a time, according to Kinsey Crocker, director of communications. “It’s been a rough 15 months,” said Jerod Shadid, program planner for homeless services for Oklahoma City. The city showed its highest levels of homelessness in more than a decade in the city’s 2020 point-in-time count, when the community had not even started to see the effects of COVID-19. No point-in-time count was conducted this year because of the pandemic, making it harder to see some trends, but numbers collected by the Homeless Alliance showed a rise in unsheltered homeless people fairly early in the pandemic.
Salem: State officials are betting that the desire to win $1 million will boost the percentage of Oregonians vaccinated against COVID-19. With only half of residents either fully or partially vaccinated, Oregon Lottery officials approved a plan Friday to hold a special drawing. Those who have been vaccinated by June 27 will be eligible for the drawing the following day. “It’s never been easier to get a vaccine, so don’t miss your shot to enter,” Gov. Kate Brown said. She said the effort aims to raise the percentage of adult Oregonians who get vaccinated to 70% in order to fully reopen the state. The Oregon Health Authority said 50% of Oregonians were vaccinated as of Friday. Residents who have received at least a first dose are automatically entered to win through the state’s vaccine database. Brown, responding to a question at a Zoom news conference, said people who are in Oregon illegally and have been vaccinated are also eligible to win the prize. Other states are also trying the tactic, including New York, Maryland and Ohio. Oregonians 18 and older will have the chance to win $1 million or one of 36 $10,000 prizes, with one winner in each county. Residents ages 12 to 17 will have a chance to win one of five $100,000 Oregon College Savings Plan scholarships.
Harrisburg: The state will resume work-search requirements in July for hundreds of thousands of residents receiving unemployment compensation, a top Wolf administration official said Monday. Gov. Tom Wolf’s acting labor and industry secretary, Jennifer Berrier, told a state House of Representatives committee hearing the requirement will resume July 18, meaning people claiming jobless benefits will have to search for work during the previous week. She also said a work registration requirement will resume in September. The rules have been waived by Wolf under his emergency disaster authority invoked during COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans in Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled Legislature have pushed Wolf to reinstate the requirements, and Rep. Torrin Ecker, R-Cumberland, urged Berrier to resume the work-search requirement earlier than July. Employers in Pennsylvania and across the country say they are struggling to find enough workers and put the blame on jobless benefits that are padded with a $300-a-week federal pandemic benefit. Wolf’s office said it has not found the extra cash benefit or the suspension of the work-search requirement to be primary factors in a “perceived labor shortage.”
Providence: The Lippitt House Museum, one of the best-preserved Victorian interiors in America, plans to reopen for tours early next month, officials said Monday. The semi-private, staff-guided tours that resume June 4 will follow COVID-19 safety best practices. Advance reservations are required. The tours take visitors through the elaborately decorated rooms in the context of the home’s residents and workers and the roles they played in industry, immigration, design and civic engagement. “The elaborate decor, spacious rooms, and the large windows of Lippitt House make it an attractive destination for people looking for a safe way for the entire family to explore one of New England’s cultural treasures,” museum Director Carrie Taylor said in a statement. The house that dates to 1865 is a National Historic Landmark.
Hilton Head Island: “I am from a place I can’t go back to; This year on the Island has felt like a new life, that I am still waiting to begin.” That’s the opening line of 10-year-old Vince Mathison’s poem “Where I’m From,” written for an assignment in his virtual fourth grade class at Hilton Head Island Elementary School, The Island Packet reports. He was told to write based on a poem with the same title by George Ella Lyon, including descriptions of his family, his food and his feelings on the pandemic. His classmates did the same: “I am from the computers which I face every day, and the teachers so close, yet so far away,” one wrote. “No friends around, no more playdates, no more BBQs,” wrote another. But Vince might have had the most unique answer to “where I’m from”: His hometown is Shenzhen, China. He wrote that what was meant to be a two-week visit on Hilton Head in February 2020 has turned into a 15-month stay. Vince got “about two weeks” of in-person school before Gov. Henry McMaster moved schools to virtual classes through the end of the year. Since 2015, the Mathison family has come to Hilton Head Island to celebrate Chinese New Year and, belatedly, Christmas with mom Linzi’s grandparents. Most commercial air carriers reduced or suspended routes to and from China in February 2020.
Aberdeen: A federal judge will decide next month whether three members of the U.S. Marshals Service should be found in civil contempt over his requirement to have everyone in his courtroom vaccinated against COVID-19. Judge Charles Kornmann notified courthouse employees in March that the inoculations would be required in order to provide the safest environment for everyone. The U.S. marshal for South Dakota, Daniel Mosteller, responded to the judge by telling him that the U.S. Marshals Service is not requiring employees to get the vaccine and that they will not provide their vaccination status to the court. Kornmann held his first courtroom session for the year May 10. The U.S. marshal who brought the first defendant into the courtroom refused to disclose her vaccination status, Aberdeen American News reports. As a result, Kornmann told the marshal to leave and pulled in a different deputy marshal to sit in the courtroom. The chief deputy marshal, Stephen Houghtaling, told Kornmann by phone that the remaining defendants scheduled for hearings had been removed from the courthouse because the marshals service didn’t think it could keep the courtroom secure without two marshals in the room. Kornmann noted that the Marshals Service hasn’t followed that practice in the past.
Nashville: A slew of tenants left their downtown homes at the height of the pandemic, some following a national trend of trading urban core living for the space and relative affordability of the suburbs. Downtown’s occupancy rate plummeted from 95% in the first quarter of 2020 to about 78% as the year came to a close, according to data from the Greater Nashville Apartment Association. But in the first few months of 2021, downtown Nashville went from the city’s worst-performing neighborhood to its most in-demand for apartment living. Apartments in downtown, the Gulch and SoBro saw a staggering 5.2% increase in the number of occupied units, according to Apartmentdata.com. “Everybody’s coming back to the downtown area. Since Jan. 1, the price of an apartment downtown has gone up, on average, $124,” said Cindi Reed, the site’s vice president of sales and development. And the greater Nashville area apartment market’s rapid recovery isn’t limited to downtown. From January to April, tenants moved into 2,413 of the metro area’s available units – what real estate professionals call absorption. Apartments took a hit in 2020, absorbing just 3,600 units during the entire year. In 2019, the area absorbed 5,681 units.
Houston: About 60% of the COVID-19 vaccine doses that have spoiled since the state’s vaccination program began in December were wasted in roughly the past two weeks, according to an analysis of state data released last week. A Houston Chronicle analysis of the roughly 60,000 doses spoiled since December found about 36,000 were lost in the prior two weeks, indicating plummeting demand for the vaccine in Texas. The number of wasted doses through spoilage of the highly perishable vaccine was still a minute fraction of the state’s vaccine allotment. The state has been administering an average of about 144,000 vaccinations daily. Even so, that was less than half of the 290,000-dose-a-day peak last month. Just 1 in 3 Texans was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Thursday, mostly with the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, while 42% have received at least one dose. More than 51,000 people have died of COVID-19 in Texas during the 15-month pandemic out of the more than 3.2 million positive coronavirus test results reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Salt Lake City: The state reported far fewer coronavirus cases in the week ending Sunday, adding 1,910. That’s down 13.8% from the previous week’s tally of 2,215 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19. Utah ranked 20th among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Cases fell in four counties, with the best declines in Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties. Utah ranked 34th among states in share of people receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 44.1% of its residents at least partially vaccinated. The national rate is 49.2%, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. In the week ending Sunday, Utah reported administering another 130,930 vaccine doses, including 61,780 first doses. In the previous week, the state administered 119,890 vaccine doses, including 40,475 first doses. In all, Utah reported it has administered 2,514,415 doses. Meanwhile, 32 people across the state were reported dead of COVID-19 in the week ending Sunday. The week before that saw 34 deaths recorded. A total of 2,290 Utahns have died from the disease, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
Rutland: Amtrak service in the state will start running again July 19 after being suspended for more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Tickets are currently available for the Vermonter and the Ethan Allen Express state-supported train service, officials said, according to WCAX-TV. “The trains will be running on the same schedules that were in place when the state suspended service on March 26, 2020,” Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said in a statement last week. “We appreciate the patience of all of our customers, including the many Vermonters who relied on these trains for transportation when the pandemic struck.” The train service was suspended last March after the the governor issued a state of emergency. The Vermonter runs between Washington D.C. and St. Albans, and the Ethan Allen Express runs between New York City and Rutland.
Hampton: Hampton University will give financial assistance to graduates in the classes of 2020 and 2021. WAVY-TV reports university President William R. Harvey announced the assistance in a letter to graduates Friday. Graduates with federal student loans will be given $500 toward repayment of their loans. The payment will go directly to the U.S. Department of Education loan servicer that oversees the loans. Students who do not have federal student loans will be reimbursed their graduation fee of $150. The pandemic has taken a toll on all aspects of campus life, and a virtual commencement that wasn’t up to the university’s standard of excellence only added to concerns, Harvey said. He understands what graduates missed by not having an in-person ceremony, he said. Graduates will be honored at an in-person ceremony on campus in December. Students will be provided details by the end of June.
Seattle: In another hopeful sign that the state’s travel industry is bouncing back after pandemic-induced lows last year, Amtrak says it’s restoring daily service on 12 long-distance routes across the country, including two that run through Seattle. Starting Monday, both the Empire Builder – Chicago to Seattle/Portland – and Coast Starlight – Seattle to Los Angeles – routes resumed daily service, giving passengers on the West Coast more travel options, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. The routes had previously only been operating three times a week because of low ridership during the pandemic. The Amtrak Cascades route was also adding a second round-trip between Seattle and Eugene starting Monday, and a third round-trip on the Seattle-to-Portland segment will also be added. Service to stations north of Seattle – Everett, Mount Vernon and Bellingham – remains suspended. Trips to British Columbia on the Cascade line have also not been restored due to the ongoing border closure. Following COVID-19 health protocols set by the state as part of its reopening plan, capacity for train cars has been set to 50%. The service restoration is expected to bring back 1,200 furloughed employees.
Charleston: Women and children who participate in a nutrition program will receive a temporary benefit boost this summer for the purchase of additional fruits and vegetables, state health officials said. The Women, Infants and Children program will increase the benefit amount to $35 per month for each eligible participant from July through September. The current benefit is $9 per child, $11 for pregnant or postpartum women, and $16.50 for mothers who breastfeed, the Bureau for Public Health’s office of nutrition services said in a statement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offered the increase through $490 million from the federal coronavirus relief package passed this year. “Investing in WIC helps address food insecurity, a critical issue faced by many West Virginia families during the COVID-19 pandemic,” state program director Heidi Staats said. “The USDA funding more than triples the fruit and vegetable benefit to allow purchase and consumption of more canned, frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables.”
La Crosse: A priest who has been ignoring gathering restrictions at his Masses and criticized Democrats for their stance on COVID-19 vaccines says the leader of the Diocese of La Crosse has asked him to resign. The Rev. James Altman announced the request from Bishop William Callahan during his sermon Sunday at St. James the Less Catholic Church in La Crosse. The sermon was recorded and posted to YouTube. “As the bishop has stated to me: I am ineffective. So for the record, dear family, Bishop Callahan has asked me to resign as pastor as of this past Friday, two days ago, because I am divisive and ineffective,” Altman said. Audible “no” sounds from the crowd can be heard during the video, the La Crosse Tribune reports. Altman came under fire last fall for calling Democrats godless and warning they would go to hell if they don’t repent. Later, he called COVID-19 protocols “Nazi-esque controls.” “Let us be clear, God damns every single one of those godless moves, whether it be in civil government or worse, in the complicity of many in the church,” Altman said during a Palm Sunday Mass. “In fact, if hell itself has many levels, the lowest, hottest levels are the final burning place for those shepherds who were complicit in the godless restrictions.” Altman said his lawyer is challenging the bishop’s request.
Cheyenne: The Wyoming Department of Health has announced the likely final phase for statewide public health orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the immediate removal of one of the two remaining orders that affected indoor events of more than 500 people. Mask-wearing and physical distancing requirements in an order related to K-12 schools will remain through May 31, while the same requirements for colleges are immediately eliminated. “We are making these changes now because we are confident in the effectiveness of the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH. “We are seeing excellent results among those who have been vaccinated. The vaccines are doing their job very well.” Department data shows more than 28% of residents are fully vaccinated, with more people choosing to get COVID-19 shots every day. “I strongly encourage anyone who is eligible but who hasn’t yet been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible,” Harrist said. She said she expects specific protocols for the safe operation of K-12 schools will be determined at the school district level past June 1.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vax After Dark, pandemic poem: News from around our 50 states