AlabamaMontgomery: Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended a statewide mask order into March as the state continues to face high numbers of coronavirus
Montgomery: Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended a statewide mask order into March as the state continues to face high numbers of coronavirus cases. The order, which has been in place since July, requires face masks in public when interacting within 6 feet with people from another household. The extension pushes the order until 5 p.m. March 5. The Republican governor said wearing a mask is one thing people can do to help slow the spread of the virus. She thanked the people of the state for taking precautions and being willing to take the vaccine. “We’ll get through this thing together,” Ivey said. More than 6,370 people have died from COVID-19 in Alabama, and about 430,000 have tested positive since the pandemic began. State case numbers hit record levels in the wake of winter holidays, but the state has seen recent improvements in hospitalizations and the positivity rates as it emerges from that surge. Medical officials had urged Ivey to extend the order amid the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, which has been hindered by a limited national supply.
Anchorage: COVID-19 outbreaks have shut down operations at two of the state’s largest seafood processing plants in the Aleutian Islands. The plants owned separately by Trident Seafoods Corp. and UniSea Inc. are halting work as the lucrative crab and pollock seasons begin, Anchorage Daily News reports. The Trident Seafoods plant is a processing center for Bering Sea harvests of pollock, crab and cod in Akutan, about 750 miles southwest of Anchorage. Prior to the suspension, Trident said Monday it was assessing potential operational impacts after four workers, who were roommates, tested positive for the coronavirus. About 365 plant employees, out of roughly 700 total, are waiting in Anchorage while the company contends with the outbreak, Trident said. UniSea locked down its facility in Unalaska, 1,172 miles southwest of Anchorage, after 55 workers tested positive for the virus. Company officials said the outbreak resulted from a New Year gathering in company housing. The seafood industry had Alaska’s largest coronavirus outbreaks over the summer as thousands of workers streamed into the state to catch and process salmon and other species.
Phoenix: As the state remains the worst in the nation for the rate of new coronavirus cases, a public health expert warned Wednesday that more people need to get tested. Only about 15,000 tests for the virus are being administered each day across the state, a figure that is low considering Arizona is “one of the hot spots in the country if not the world,” said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign Institute research center at Arizona State University. “I know some people don’t really want to find out they’re positive because it means they have to stay home for two weeks,” he said. But “that’s how we stop the spread.” At ASU, appointment slots for coronavirus saliva testing typically filled when infections increased. But recently, LaBaer noticed there have been numerous open slots. “I’m worried that people are just getting fatigued with it all, and they just don’t want to know,” he said. “Our recommendation is anybody that has a public-facing job of any kind … those folks should get tested on a weekly basis.”
Little Rock: A state Senate panel advanced legislation this week allowing home delivery of alcohol by liquor stores, a measure that would make permanent something that’s been temporarily allowed during the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate City, County and Local Affairs Committee on Tuesday approved the bill, which would allow deliveries by retail liquor permit holders. The deliveries would not be allowed outside the county where the permit holder is located. Arkansas allowed home delivery of alcohol by liquor stores in March when it imposed restrictions on bars and restaurants because of the coronavirus threat. Under the measure now heading to the full Senate, the deliveries could only be made by the permit-holder and not a third-party delivery system.
Sacramento: The state said it’s safe to immediately begin using a batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses after health officials urged a halt to injections and held a review because several people had reactions. Wednesday’s decision frees up more than 300,000 doses to counties, cities and hospitals struggling to obtain supplies. With the largest U.S. population at 40 million people, California has the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in the country behind New York. The state Department of Public Health on Sunday urged a pause in the use of a specific lot of the Moderna vaccine after fewer than 10 people who received shots at a San Diego vaccination site needed medical care, possibly due to rare but severe allergic reactions. But after a safety review and consultation with Moderna and health agencies, the state “found no scientific basis to continue the pause” and said vaccinations can “immediately resume,” state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said in a statement. “These findings should continue to give Californians confidence that vaccines are safe and effective and that the systems put in place to ensure vaccine safety are rigorous and science-based,” Pan said, adding that some of her family members had received it.
Denver: Emergency management officials have decided to decommission a temporary medical facility set up at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, saying the state’s hospital capacity is expected to meet demand amid the coronavirus pandemic. Two other emergency sites – in Pueblo and Westminster – will remain open, and the Colorado Convention Center is expected to be returned to Denver’s care by late March. The state started transitioning the convention center to a temporary medical facility in April, with a capacity of up to 2,000 beds, The Denver Post reports. The facility never hosted a single patient, but it “served as an essential insurance policy for Colorado,” said Micki Trost, a spokeswoman for the state’s emergency management division. It wasn’t immediately clear how much the state spent to transform the convention center into an emergency medical site – and to maintain it for months. Another one in Loveland was previously shut down and dismantled. Fewer people in the state are now dying each day on average, and the percentage of tests returning with positive results is also decreasing, according to state health officials.
Hartford: Leaders of the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee on Wednesday pledged to move forward this session with legislation that would end a religious exemption from vaccinations for schoolchildren, despite calls from thousands of residents to postpone plans. While the committee’s top lawmakers postponed a vote to officially consider the subject for an eventual bill, they said legislation similar to what was proposed last year will likely be resurrected in the coming days. The bill thus far does not reference the COVID-19 vaccine. “We’re going to come back to you with a bill you’ll have a chance to review and share with constituents and highlight what will be the basis for conversation in the public hearing,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport. Legislators said they received a petition with more than 10,000 signatures asking lawmakers to postpone acting on such a contentious bill considering people will have to testify via Zoom and not in person at the state Capitol because of COVID-19 safety restrictions. Proponents contend some families are abusing the state’s exemption from measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations.
Wilmington: More than 56,000 people in the First State signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine on the first day of a new online registration system. The new system launched Wednesday morning. Gov. John Carney’s office said 35,000 people had registered within the first 21/2 hours. Some users said the website had also briefly crashed. The state is expanding into its second phase of vaccinations for people over age 65 as well as certain front-line workers such as police and school staff. The state’s vaccine push has already been prioritizing health care workers, long-term care residents and long-term care workers. “We had a significant amount of traffic this morning, as you might expect, which may have caused delays for some Delawareans attempting to register,” Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey said Wednesday. “But the site is up and taking requests.” The appointment request page can be found through the state’s vaccine homepage at de.gov/covidvaccine. But people should visit vaccinerequest.delaware.gov for the easiest signup experience.
District of Columbia
Washington: Starting at 5 a.m. Friday, D.C.’s indoor dining ban will be lifted, and restaurants will be able to return to serving 25% of their regular capacity inside, WUSA-TV reports. According to a tweet from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, the dining ban – or “Inauguration Pause” – that went into effect Dec. 23 barred certain Phase 2 activities, such as indoor dining, due to “public health and safety” concerns. The lifting of the district’s indoor dining pause comes as the city prepares for its rescheduled Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week, which starts Monday. Additionally, several museums and libraries that had been ordered to close for indoor visitors under the same executive order are set to expire Friday, though there is no word yet on the reopening date for museums and libraries.
Tallahassee: The state’s surgeon general urged the federal government Wednesday to increase allotments of COVID-19 vaccines to states like his, where large concentrations of seniors face the greatest risk of illness and death from a disease that has killed more than 2 million globally. In an interview with the Associated Press, Dr. Scott Rivkees sought to reassure Floridians that their turn will come for the life-saving vaccine, which has been in short supply since being rolled out last month. “The message is this: We will get to you,” Rivkees said. It will be many months before all Floridians can be vaccinated. With 21.5 million people, it’s the country’s third most populous state. The first rounds of vaccines were reserved for health care workers and other first responders. Gov. Ron DeSantis has given priority to seniors 65 and older for the next round, prompting long lines, overwhelmed appointment portals and growing frustration among seniors eager to get vaccinated. Many have found themselves turned away because there haven’t been enough vaccine doses to go around. Because of the uncertainty of supplies, some hospitals have stopped administering the first dose of the vaccine.
Atlanta: The state’s court system could take years to dig out of piled-up cases with jury trials delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, judges told lawmakers Wednesday. “The judges across the state are very mindful of the backlog,” state Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton said during budget hearings. “I personally want to open up jury trials as soon as we can, considering all the factors that have to be considered.” Melton estimated the courts would need one to two years to work through delayed cases, but Superior Court Judge Wade Padgett, president of the Council of Superior Court Judges, said he thought it would be more like three years. It’s hard even to know how many superior court cases have been delayed because Georgia has no statewide tracking system. For a period late last year, Melton allowed some jury trials to go ahead, but he said he thought it was necessary to shut them down again because of rising infection rates. Even during that time, conducting trials was difficult, Padgett said, recounting jury selection that was physically rearranged to spread jurors out instead of having them sit elbow-to-elbow in the jury box. “You don’t want to create some strange aquarium of jurors with plexiglass,” he said.
Honolulu: State lawmakers opened a new legislative session Wednesday, with coronavirus protections in place like masks and clear plastic shields separating their seats. Public health protocols to prevent the spread of the disease blocked the public from entering the state Capitol. That meant no open houses and snacks in lawmakers’ offices. Lawmakers have a full agenda in the months ahead. At the top will be deciding how to balance the state’s budget, with an economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic having drastically depleted tax revenue. Gov. David Ige has proposed cutting spending and potentially raising taxes, depending on how much need there is for additional revenue. The Democratic governor has put off, at least until July, a plan to furlough state workers and cut their pay by about 9%. The pandemic failed to stop all traditions: Lawmakers still donned flower lei and posed for photos to commemorate the day. But the public gallery overlooking the House chamber, which is usually jammed with family and supporters, was mostly empty.
Boise: House lawmakers fine-tuned legislation Wednesday in their power struggle with Republican Gov. Brad Little over emergency declarations stemming from the pandemic. The House State Affairs Committee killed one bill and replaced it with a reworded version that seeks to give the Legislature, not the governor, the power to extend emergency declarations that would automatically expire after 30 days. The new bill contains a significant change: It would limit government entities such as health districts from taking actions that don’t follow emergency declaration guidelines set by the Legislature. Health districts considering or imposing mask mandates during the pandemic have been a major source of friction in many counties, with many residents opposed to mask requirements. Lawmakers said the pandemic revealed that too much power is concentrated in the governor’s office during declared emergencies. Supporters of the legislation bristle at some restrictions put in place by Little that they consider draconian, particularly a temporary stay-at-home order last spring. If passed, the bill would automatically end all active emergency declarations, so lawmakers put forward a concurrent resolution that would indefinitely renew six of them – but not the coronavirus emergency.
Chicago: The Chicago Teachers Union’s House of Delegates on Wednesday approved a resolution that would have its members stay out of the classroom until it reaches an agreement on health and safety protocols with the school district. The resolution now goes to the union’s 25,000 members for a vote. If a majority approve the resolution by Saturday, teachers would stay at home Monday. However, they could continue to teach their students remotely. The district’s reopening plan requires elementary school teachers to report to their classrooms Monday for the first time since March, in preparation for the return of 70,000 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. In a statement late Wednesday, Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Emily Bolton said a decision by teachers to stay at home would mean “stripping tens of thousands of students of the opportunity for safe, in-person learning.” The teachers union’s collective bargaining agreement, signed after a 2019 strike, prevents it from striking during the term of the contract and the district from locking out its workers.
Franklin: A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines that arrived already thawed prompted local officials to briefly offer the shots to people not yet eligible. The Johnson County Health Department and Johnson Memorial Hospital received 957 Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses late last week. Officials had to act fast because that vaccine can be stored thawed for only up to five days under U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidance. The suburban Indianapolis county’s health department briefly opened the vaccine to the general public. While eligibility was widened, the goal remained to vaccinate those most at risk, department director Betsy Swearingen said. The vaccines were administered Thursday through Saturday, within the window recommended by the FDA and the manufacturer, Swearingen told the (Franklin) Daily Journal. Currently, under state guidelines, the only Hoosiers eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine are first responders, health care workers and individuals age 70 and older. Swearingen said most of the thawed vaccines were given to people age 50 and older and those with underlying medical conditions.
Iowa City: An owner of a large pork production company that disproportionately benefited from a state coronavirus aid program recently donated $25,000 to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ campaign, a new disclosure report shows. Mary Ann Christensen, board member of Christensen Farms and part of the family that owns the company, made the donation Dec. 29, according to the filing made public Tuesday. It was among the largest campaign donations Reynolds received in 2020 and far more than the $1,000 that Christensen gave the governor in 2017. Christensen Farms received $1.86 million through the Iowa Disposal Assistance Program, 72% of the pandemic aid awarded in its first rounds, an Associated Press review found. The program, announced by Reynolds last spring, reimbursed farmers for costs related to hogs they euthanized after COVID-19 disrupted their supply chain. Reynolds disclosed her calendar year 2020 campaign donations and spending Tuesday as required under Iowa law. The filing shows Reynolds returned a $10,000 donation from Republican activist and businessman Anthony Marlowe on Nov. 20, one day after her administration picked his Iowa City telemarketing company for a $2.3 million contact-tracing contract.
Topeka: The top health official in the state has told lawmakers Kansas will likely see a small uptick in immediate supply of the COVID-19 vaccine with the change in presidential administrations. In a joint hearing Tuesday before Senate and House health panels, Dr. Lee Norman, head of the state health department, said he has been told the state will probably get a 1% or 2% increase in its vaccine supply in the short run. “The shortages are going to be something we are going to have to live with,” Norman said. The federal government allocates vaccines to states based on population. Kansas receives 1% of the nation’s allocated vaccines, he said, adding that the state has at times been shorted as much as half of its anticipated supply. “The problem is there is not enough (vaccine) – and that has been the thing we have not been able to slay yet,” Norman told lawmakers. He also questioned whether it makes sense to open more vaccination sites if not enough vaccine is being supplied.
Frankfort: Gov. Andy Beshear has been chosen to help lead a national task force that will offer guidance to states on economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Governors Association said Wednesday that Beshear will serve as co-chairman of its Economic Recovery and Revitalization task force along with Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina. The bipartisan task force will focus on issues that include energy, environment, infrastructure, land management and taxes as states craft plans to revitalize their economies. Beshear, a Democrat, described the work as “crucially important” for states. “This global health crisis has upended economies the world over, and there isn’t a state or territory in the United States that has been spared from its devastating impacts,” Beshear said. The governor said he’s looking forward to “studying lessons others have to offer and exploring new ways to keep America’s workforce and businesses thriving.”
Baton Rouge: A police chief is recovering from COVID-19, while a longtime fire chief has died of complications from the disease. Bruce Cutrer, who led Tangipahoa Fire District #1 in Amite, died Tuesday, the Louisiana State Fireman’s Association said. “Chief Cutrer dedicated his life to the people of Tangipahoa Parish. For more than 50 years, he risked his life to help his friends, neighbors, and complete strangers in their hour of need, and as a community, we mourn the loss of this man who was truly a public servant,” Tangipahoa Parish President Robby Miller said. Meanwhile, Youngsville Police Chief Rickey Boudreaux said his COVID-19 symptoms were serious, KLFY-TV reports. “I ended up in the hospital to get the antibody infusion,” the chief said. “I could hardly breathe; the fever, the body aches and the headaches were horrible; but now I seem to be on the road to recovery.” Boudreaux admitted he had sometimes let down his guard in the fight against the coronavirus. “I was thinking that if I haven’t got it by now, I wasn’t going to get it, but I got it,” the chief said.
Portland: A quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors during the pandemic was upheld by a federal appeals court. The owners of two campgrounds and several individuals sued after Gov. Janet Mills signed an executive order in April requiring most travelers to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival in Maine. A federal judge denied a request to block the quarantine order in May, and the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision Tuesday. Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a statement that the requirement was sensible and that he’s gratified it was affirmed. “This measure was necessary not only to prevent the spread of the virus but also to protect Maine’s health care system, which is designed for a population of 1.3 million residents but which easily could have been overwhelmed in the face of a seasonal influx of many times that number,” the attorney general said. Maine’s pandemic restrictions and rules have evolved over time. The current requirement is that most out-of-state visitors must test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of arrival or quarantine for 10 days upon arrival.
Baltimore: Restaurants can resume indoor and outdoor dining at limited capacities starting Friday, the mayor announced Wednesday. Mayor Brandon Scott’s announcement came six weeks after the city shut down on-site dining, The Baltimore Sun reports. However, the limited reopening will require customers to limit their stay to one hour, and they must sign their names upon entering and leaving. In lifting the ban, Scott cited Baltimore’s declining coronavirus caseload and a decrease in hospitalizations for lifting the ban. He said Baltimore has the lowest seven-day average positivity rate in the state at 5.65%. The statewide average is 7.6%. Under the new rules, bars and breweries that don’t serve food can also reopen for the first time since November. Restaurants and bars will be limited to 50% capacity outside and 25% capacity indoors. Some studies have indicated that risk for coronavirus transmission is far greater inside, as it’s spread through the air and through respiratory droplets. Some restaurant owners argued the one-hour time limit would be difficult to manage. Others said the capacity restrictions still make operating cost prohibitive.
Boston: A state-run vaccination site is coming to Cape Cod. Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment Director Sean O’Brien said the state has committed to opening a “soup to nuts” COVID-19 vaccination site on the famous vacation destination as soon as February. The specific location is still to be determined, but local officials are eyeing a site in the mid-Cape area, he said. The state’s first mass vaccination site opened this week at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, the home field of the NFL’s New England Patriots. That site is expected to work up to administering more than 1,000 vaccinations per day and, soon after, 5,000 vaccinations per day. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has also said Fenway Park, home of the MLB’s Boston Red Sox, will serve as a vaccine site, starting Feb. 1. The ballpark is expected to administer 500 vaccines per day by appointment and ramp up to providing 1,000 vaccines per day.
Detroit: Bowling alley owners across the state are sounding the alarm over how much longer their businesses can survive on-again, off-again pandemic restrictions that ban indoor dining and limit who can bowl. The restrictions, set by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services since March, are confusing and may result in more bowling alleys going up for sale or out of business entirely, owners say. In downtown Berkley, Hartfield Lanes, which has operated for more than 60 years, is now on the market. “We just don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ve been shut down eight of 11 months, and I’m going into my personal savings to keep the business going,” said Jeff Hartfield Jr., whose grandfather started the bar-turned-bowling alley in the 1940s. On Tuesday, the Michigan Independent Bowling and Entertainment Centers Association posted a news release on its Facebook page saying it had hired the Kallman Legal Group to file a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of five of its members, alleging Whitmer, MDHHS and its director, Robert Gordon, had violated “both the Federal and Michigan Constitutions by taking Plaintiffs’ businesses for a public use without just compensation.”
Minneapolis: Pharmacies and health care providers are asking the state to include them in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout as the demand for a shot among seniors far outpaces the state’s limited supply. Pharmacists testified before a Minnesota Senate health committee Wednesday, telling lawmakers they can provide easier access to vaccine as the priority groups for doses expand to include Minnesotans over 65. The state began a pilot program Thursday to administer a limited supply of 12,000 shots to seniors, teachers and child care workers at nine sites. Currently, health care workers are receiving doses through hospitals, and long-term care residents and staff are getting doses through a federal partnership program with pharmacy giants Walgreens, CVS Health and Thrifty White. Pharmacists expressed frustration for not yet hearing from state health officials regarding how they’d be included after nearly 560 pharmacies have registered to be vaccine providers. Sen. Michelle Benson, chairwoman of the committee, called the nine pilot program sites “premature” and said state health officials should use the existing infrastructure of local providers, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Jackson: The Mississippi Development Authority is giving its interim director the job permanently. John Rounsaville earned his promotion by buoying the state’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday. The Republican governor said despite the economic challenges it faced, Mississippi attracted $1.6 billion in new capital investments in 2020, 30% more than in 2019. Mississippi has consistently ranked in lists of states with the most recovered jobs during the pandemic, Reeves said. “Everyone got hurt, but here in Mississippi, we picked up and we recovered,” he said at a briefing outside the Governor’s Mansion. Reeves said Mississippi’s recovery is thanks to not shutting down its economy as drastically as other states. Rounsaville has been the interim Mississippi Development Authority director since May 2020. Reeves said Rounsaville has helped Mississippi win competition for jobs and expansions, particularly in the forest products industry.
O’Fallon: The state plans mass vaccination sites by the end of the month in an effort to get protection against COVID-19 to more people, Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday. The Republican said he will activate the National Guard to help with new vaccination sites in each of the nine Missouri State Highway Patrol regions. Each will be capable of administering up to 2,500 doses per day. The state also plans to send “targeted vaccination teams” to St. Louis and Kansas City, where they will work with clergy to help get vaccinations to “vulnerable populations.” “The purpose of all these vaccine teams is to support our existing vaccinators and provide additional vaccination sources for eligible Missourians that may otherwise have a hard time receiving one,” Parson said. The Trump administration moved last week to speed up the delivery of shots to more people. Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams said he has already been contacted by officials with new President Joe Biden’s administration, who sought details about Missouri’s plan. Williams said at least 250,000 Missourians have been vaccinated so far.
Great Falls: The Cascade County Board of Health voted Wednesday to ease COVID-19 restrictions on business capacity, operating hours and maximum gathering sizes effective Friday at 5 a.m. During a special meeting, board members passed four motions with the endorsement of the Cascade City-County Health Department. The 50% cap on occupancy has been raised to 75% for restaurants, food courts, cafes, coffeehouses, bars, brewpubs, taverns, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, tasting rooms, special licensees, casinos, gyms and movie theaters. Those businesses will be able to stay open until 12:30 a.m. rather than a mandated 10 p.m. closing. Large gatherings can now have up to 50 people anywhere. Indoor gatherings are limited to 250 people. Outdoor gatherings now have a 500-person limit. Gatherings above the 50-person limit must submit plans to the health department at least 10 days ahead of time to seek approval. The control measures will not be lifted until the infection rate falls to 25 per 100,000 people for four straight weeks. CCHD Health Officer Trisha Gardner said Wednesday’s numbers put the rate at 27 per 100,000.
Lincoln: Local health officials across the state could gain more authority to impose restrictions related to the coronavirus under a bill in the Legislature. The bill would allow local public health departments to impose restrictions related to the virus or other infectious diseases, without seeking state approval. Under the current rules, Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration prevented local health officials from requiring people to wear masks when COVID-19 started spreading widely across the state last year. Later, many cities took action to require masks once it became clear they had the legal authority to do so. Ricketts has steadfastly opposed mask mandates because he has said requiring them would likely generate resistance. State Sen. Tony Vargas’ bill would take the authority to require masks away from city councils and put public health officials in charge of those decisions. Nebraska health officials resumed reporting statistics on the virus after its online virus tracking site was down for maintenance. The state said 2,064 new cases and 20 deaths were reported over the two days between Monday and Wednesday to give Nebraska a total of 184,482 cases and 1,862 deaths.
Carson City: The state reported a record 71 new deaths from the coronavirus Wednesday. The deaths included people who probably contracted the virus in mid-December, state COVID-19 response director Caleb Cage said, suggesting reverberations from holiday gatherings could still be forthcoming. “This is the highest increase in deaths that we’ve seen and a stark reminder of how deadly this virus is,” Cage said. The previous record was 63 deaths reported just Saturday. Meanwhile, Gov. Steve Sisolak outlined plans this week to spur job growth and attract new industries to Nevada as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on its tourism-driven economy. In his prerecorded State of the State address Tuesday, the first-term Democrat proposed investing heavily in job training, infrastructure and renewable energy to stimulate Nevada’s economy both during and after the pandemic. “It’s not enough to just aim for a full reopening of our current economy. We must look forward to the kind of economy that will let our state prosper in the future,” the governor said. Since March, the coronavirus has infected more than 1 out of every 12 Nevadans and laid off almost as many workers.
Concord: The state’s unemployment rate for December was 4%, a slight increase from November, officials said Wednesday. The number still reflects the impact of the pandemic on unemployment. The December 2019 seasonally adjusted rate was 2.6%. Seasonally adjusted estimates for December 2020 placed the number of employed residents at 719,350, a decrease of 3,470 from the previous month and a decline of 37,330 from December 2019. The number of unemployed residents increased by 360 over the month to 29,920. That was 10,020 more unemployed than in December 2019. From November to December 2020, the total labor force decreased by 3,110 to 749,270. That was a drop of 27,310 from December 2019. Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for December was 6.7%, unchanged from the November rate, and an increase of 3.1 percentage points from the December 2019 rate.
Trenton: The Murphy administration unveiled a phone line this week in an attempt to help people get information on how to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot. But the automated phone line – 855-568-0545 – tells callers to go to a state website to find out where to find a vaccine provider, something that will not help some elderly New Jerseyans who don’t have a computer or struggle to use one. That won’t likely change until Monday, when 250 live agents staff the line from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday that the state was busy training call center workers. The move comes more than a month into the vaccination campaign and almost a week after Murphy opened eligibility to about 4 million more people, including those with chronic health conditions, smokers and anyone 65 and older. New Jersey’s vaccine rollout has been heavily dependent on online resources – a complaint many seniors have with a system that they believe should prioritize them. About 80% of the state’s 20,000 COVID-19 deaths have been among people 65 and older.
Albuquerque: State health officials said Wednesday that they don’t expect to run out of COVID-19 vaccine. Since its system was put in place late last year, New Mexico has been ordering the maximum number of doses it can, and its orders are typically filled, said Matt Bieber, a spokesman for the state Health Department. Nearly 200,000 doses already have been delivered to the state, and more than three-quarters of those have been administered. That puts New Mexico among the top states when it comes to distribution rates. “If we could order more, we could distribute it,” Bieber said in an email. “We have a very strong provider network, thousands of health care professionals ready to get vaccine into arms, and nearly half a million New Mexicans registered for vaccine. … The faster we receive vaccine, the faster we can move through the phases and deliver it to New Mexicans.” Some governors complained last week about the federal government’s allocation of doses, and it’s unclear just how President Joe Biden’s administration will effectively change the nation’s approach when it comes to distribution.
New York: Fifteen COVID-19 vaccination hubs run by the city are postponing all first-dose appointments, and other sites have stopped making new appointments, as the state burns through its supply of the shots, officials said Thursday. Vaccinations in the city haven’t stopped, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Another 45,000 doses were administered Wednesday, bringing the total number of people who have gotten a shot in the city to nearly half a million. But the capacity to hand out shots, which was initially limited, now far exceeds the number of doses available. “We’re going to be at 50,000 a day and more very soon if we have the vaccine to go with it,” de Blasio said. “It’s just tremendously sad that we have so many people who want the vaccine and so much ability to give the vaccine – what’s happening? For lack of supply, we’re actually having to cancel appointments.” Both de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been pleading for more doses of the two vaccines that have been approved for emergency use, both of which require two doses for maximum effectiveness.
Raleigh: Traffic deaths across the state last year surpassed 1,500 for the first time in 13 years despite a pandemic during which motorists logged fewer miles, statistics show. N.C. Department of Transportation data shows the number of miles driven dropped 19% last year, but the number of fatal crashes rose 8% over the previous year, The Charlotte Observer reports. According to NCDOT, 1,506 people died in 1,491 fatal crashes in North Carolina in 2020. People drove about 99 billion miles in the state last year, compared with about 123 billion miles the previous year, the department said. Mark Ezzell, director of the N.C. Governor’s Highway Safety Program, said with COVID-19, people are concentrating on their health and their financial futures and not focusing on driving. “People are not doing things they normally do behind the wheel,” Ezzell said. “They may simply be forgetting to do that because their minds are elsewhere.” Speeding played a role in about a quarter of the fatal crashes, according to the DOT data. Many speeders have exploited the more open highways during the pandemic, experts and law enforcement officers say.
Bismarck: A survey sponsored by a union that supports the state’s teachers shows more willingness by instructors and staff to return to the classroom, thanks to a drop in COVID-19 cases. The report by DFM Research found 52% of the 501 teachers and education support professionals who were interviewed said they felt safe returning to full-time, in-person learning. That’s up from 31% in October, according to North Dakota United, the education and public workers union. Even so, the survey revealed that many teachers are considering another profession due to increased stress and burnout stemming from the pandemic. The union said that could make it difficult to recruit and retain teachers, The Bismarck Tribune reports. “Should teachers, who are experiencing very high levels of stress, leave the profession early, we may well be pushed into a teacher shortage crisis,” North Dakota United President Nick Archuleta said in a statement.
Columbus: A pharmacy responsible for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to nursing homes failed to document storage temperatures for leftover shots, resulting in 890 doses being wasted, the state Health Department said Wednesday. The agency said it suspended SpecialtyRx in Columbus from the distribution system and ordered it not to administer any of the wasted doses. The pharmacy was not part of the federal distribution program that includes national chains like Walgreens and CVS. SpecialtyRx received an initial 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine late last year for distribution to eight nursing homes and had 890 left over, the Health Department said. The company, due to receive a shipment of second-shot doses, was exploring a transfer of the leftover shots to another provider but failed to properly record the minimum and maximum refrigerator and freezer temperatures, the state said. The doses are considered wasted because the monitoring wasn’t done properly, said Melanie Amato, a Health Department spokesperson. The nursing homes that got the initial doses must work with other providers – likely local health departments – for the second shots.
Oklahoma City: The state health department’s reporting of new coronavirus cases in recent days is accurate, health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said Thursday, a day after voicing concern that the count may have been underreported this week. Frye told legislators Wednesday that a potential glitch in the department’s reporting system may have led to fewer than 2,000 newly confirmed cases daily this week after topping 3,100 per day for six of the previous seven days. “The COVID-19 case numbers have been significantly lower this week, which prompted us to investigate their validity as well as our reporting systems,” Frye said. “After checking with staff and comparing different sources of information, we can report the data is accurate, and our case count has been significantly down this week.” The health department reported 2,686 new cases and 55 more deaths Thursday for totals of 363,046 cases and 3,140 deaths since the pandemic began. Oklahoma had the nation’s fourth-highest rate of new cases per capita Thursday at 1,237.28 per 100,000 population, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Salem: Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has more students graduating from high school than ever before. And perhaps because of the pandemic response, significantly fewer students dropped out of school. Similarly, Salem-Keizer Public Schools saw more students reach the finish line and fewer drop out. According to data released by the Oregon Department of Education on Thursday, the class of 2020’s four-year graduation rate is the highest ever reported in the state at 82.6%. When the class of 2020 started high school, the state graduation rate was 74.8%. With the increased rate, officials said an additional 3,500 students received diplomas. Four-year, or “on-time,” graduation rates have been climbing statewide since 2013-14, when the state switched to the current system of calculating rates, which includes counting modified diplomas in addition to standard diplomas. Compared to the prior year, the state saw a 2.6-point increase. Compared to the class of 2014, the latest data shows a 10.6-point increase. Salem-Keizer’s trends reflected those of the state, with the district reaching a four-year graduation rate of 81%, up from about 79% the year before.
Harrisburg: The state has surpassed 20,000 deaths from the coronavirus, the Department of Health reported Thursday. The agency said another 260 people died from COVID-19, pushing the total past 20,120. Pennsylvania’s seven-day average of reported deaths hit its highest point in the pandemic earlier this month, according to the COVID Tracking Project. However, the numbers of new infections reported and coronavirus patients in hospitals and intensive care units have continued to drop throughout January, according to state figures. Another approximately 5,660 people tested positive, bring the state’s total to almost 790,000 during the pandemic, the department said. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has dropped below 4,900, while the number of patients in intensive care units with the disease has dropped below 900. Most of the patients hospitalized are 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients in that age range, according to the department.
Providence: The state’s attorney general is reviewing whether Rhode Island’s largest hospital operators are properly distributing COVID-19 vaccines. Attorney General Peter Neronha’s office has been in contact with the state Department of Health regarding the distribution of vaccines by Lifespan and Care New England. Kristy dosReis, a spokesperson for Neronha, said the office intends to look into any improper distribution and determine whether legal violations occurred. Board members and trustees at the two hospital groups have been offered vaccinations, even as elderly residents won’t receive shots until at least next month, under the state’s vaccine distribution plan. Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said hospitals have been instructed to vaccinate those health care workerrs with the highest exposure to COVID-19 first, as well as staff critical to the facility’s operation, such as lab and IT workers and certain administrators. But hospital operators around the country have expanded vaccine eligibility to all their employees, including top administrators, board members and people who work remotely.
Columbia: State health officials have slightly expanded the pool of people eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination as seniors and some health care workers continue to struggle to secure access to the lifesaving vaccine. State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell announced Wednesday that parents caring for medically fragile or severely disabled children have been added to the initial phase of the vaccine plan. About 3,000 people are estimated to be eligible under the new category, Bell said. It’s a small addition to the large number of people trying to get vaccinated amid limited federal shipments. Demand skyrocketed last week after the Department of Health and Environmental Control said people age 70 and older could start getting inoculated. Officials estimate about 627,800 South Carolinians are 70 or older. Older adults are especially vulnerable to suffer life-threatening complications from COVID-19. Thousands flooded hospitals and the health department’s hotline with calls, leading to long wait times as hospitals and other vaccination sites rapidly filled up all their appointment slots.
Pierre: As the state attempts to continue the fast pace of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, health officials on Wednesday described a multistep process that at times created a scramble for drivers to deliver vaccine shipments in winter weather. Health officials have not received reports of vaccines going to waste, as has happened elsewhere. Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon credited the work of people who have jumped in to help. The cold storage requirements make delivery of the vaccines a “tricky process,” she said. She described how a vaccine shipment arrived late into a FedEx distribution center Friday. Drivers who had been scheduled to deliver the vaccines across the state were no longer available late Friday, so the company scrambled to find people willing to drive into the night. Despite bad weather, all the vaccine shipments arrived at hospitals by 12:15 a.m. Saturday, Malsam-Rysdon said. The state has administered vaccines to more than 52,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This week, health officials opened distribution to people who are over 79 or have certain medical conditions.
Nashville: Housing officials say the state will receive about $458 million in federal COVID-19 money for rent relief. The Tennessee Housing Development Agency said it is setting up a web portal and call center and preparing staff to review and process thousands of payments to landlords and utility providers. The agency said it anticipates it will take at least eight weeks to be able to give out the money. Additional federal guidance is expected later this month. Those interested can sign up on the Tennessee Housing Development Agency website for notification when the application portal opens. The agency said Knox County, Nashville, Memphis and Shelby County are running their own programs, so their applications will go through local entities, not the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.
Austin: State health officials reported 450 new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday as fatalities rapidly mount after a recent surge in hospitalizations. Gov. Greg Abbott has touted expanded vaccination efforts, but the rising death toll – 2,200 over the past seven days – and high numbers of seriously ill patients prompted a social media warning from state health officials that hospitals are struggling. “Texas must avoid an additional surge in cases. Hospitals can’t take much more. Fatalities are still increasing,” the Department of State Health Services posted on its official Twitter account. Texas had seen a peak of just under 11,000 hospitalizations during the summer virus peak in July. After the figure fell to about 3,200 in September, the state has seen hospitals hit by a winter surge of new cases, patients and deaths. Texas hit a record high of 14,218 hospitalized COVID patients Jan. 12 and has hovered above 13,700 since then. Abbott, a Republican, has said Texas won’t go through another lockdown. Instead he has focused on vaccination efforts as the state has shifted most of its doses from smaller providers to large hubs that can serve thousands of patients a day.
Salt Lake City: Local students are expected to resume in-person learning for at least two days per week amid arguments by legislative leaders and attorneys representing parents. If that plan changes, though, the Salt Lake City School District could lose funding under a bill that advanced in the Legislature on Wednesday, the Deseret News reports. The district is also facing a lawsuit. The Salt Lake City School District Board of Education voted late Tuesday to adopt a proposal by interim Superintendent Larry Madden to enable middle school and high school students to return to in-person learning for two days per week beginning Feb. 8. Prior to the vote, a 3rd District Court judge said Tuesday that he will take arguments under consideration and soon issue a ruling in a civil rights lawsuit brought by parents seeking to force the district to return students to class. Republican Senate President Stuart Adams told the Legislature in his opening remarks Tuesday that the district has “no option for in-person learning,” claiming there is a “600% increase in students failing all classes, despite teachers’ best efforts.”
Montpelier: Voters could be casting ballots by mail for their local municipal and school meetings this year as a way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed into law a bill that allows municipalities to move the date of their annual meetings to potentially safer dates later in the year and to mail ballots to all active registered municipal voters. Scott encouraged communities to conduct municipal elections this year. “Not only would it accomplish the primary objective of helping keep our friends, families, and neighbors safe, but it will also increase access to the democratic process, ensuring Vermonters don’t need to choose between their right to vote and risking attending a town meeting gathering during a pandemic,” Scott said in a statement announcing that he had signed the bill. Most communities hold the annual Town Meeting Day votes on the first Tuesday in March. Last year, ahead of the November General Election, Vermont sent all active registered voters ballots for the national, state and municipal elections.
Petersburg: A nonprofit announced Thursday that it is planning a new pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in the city that’s expected to create more than 180 new jobs and make drugs for treatment of COVID-19 and other diseases. State officials announced Thursday that Civica Inc., a nonprofit organization formed by various U.S. health care providers, plans to invest $124.5 million to establish its first in-house pharmaceutical manufacturing operation in Petersburg, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. A key partner in the project is Phlow Corp., a Richmond-based pharmaceutical development company founded last year. In May, Phlow announced it had received a $354 million federal contract to help build a national, strategic reserve of essential medications and to make active ingredients for more than a dozen medicines used to treat patients with COVID-19. Part of that funding will go towards the Civica project, which is expected to be under construction within weeks, said Eric Edwards, a local entrepreneur who co-founded Phlow with Virginia Commonwealth University professor and chemical scientist Frank Gupton.
Seattle: In the wake of the anniversary of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the United States, state health officials said Thursday that they are plowing ahead with plans to open four mass vaccination sites next week, despite logistical concerns that include questions about vaccine supply. “When things move fast, nothing is perfect,” said Dr. Umair Shah, secretary of the Department of Health. Shah acknowledged leaders could face criticism for launching the mass vaccination sites Monday without knowing when to expect a jump in vaccine shipments from the federal government. The state’s hospitals have warned that having to cancel appointments due to a lack of supply would frustrate patients and undermine trust in the system. But Shah said it’s crucial to build the state’s vaccination capacity as quickly as possible. Washington aims to triple its pace of administering the vaccines from about 15,000 a day to 45,000 a day; as of early this week, the state had administered slightly less than half of the doses it had received. Shah said states are asking President Joe Biden’s new administration for earlier, more reliable predictions on vaccine deliveries.
Keyser: Mineral County Board of Education members expressed their frustration with the state board of education Tuesday, saying they still don’t agree that the time was right to return their students and teachers to in-person learning. After Gov. Jim Justice made the surprise announcement Dec. 30 that students would be returning to class beginning Jan. 19 regardless of their county’s color on the West Virginia DHHR COVID map, the Mineral County board members agreed at their Jan. 5 meeting to make the decision locally on a week-to-week basis. Superintendent Troy Ravenscroft said the decision of whether the next week would be all remote, in-person or blended would be made every Friday after checking the map and consulting with health department personnel. The West Virginia Board of Education, however, issued a directive last week that every county had to offer in-person instruction either five, four or two days a week. Since that directive, parents and teachers from all over Mineral County have been contacting the board members and county office to express their displeasure with the decision.
Madison: Gov. Tony Evers defended the state’s vaccination efforts in the face of increasing Republican criticism Thursday, while urging patience because the number of people eligible will expand exponentially next week. Everyone over age 65 – about 700,000 people – will be able to get a shot starting Monday, and the state Department of Health Services is considering a recommendation that teachers, grocery store workers, transit workers and others be added to the priority list. That would make more than 40% of Wisconsin’s total population, or about 2 million people, eligible for vaccination. “That is a lot of people,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “We don’t yet have enough vaccine for all of those folks.” The state has been receiving about 70,000 doses a week and has been told by the federal government to expect that same level of vaccine for the next three to four weeks, Van Dijk said. “This is going to take time,” she said. “I know that is not what we want to hear. Being patient is not easy and after almost a year of this pandemic, and asking for more patience is, frankly, a lot to ask.”
Casper: The U.S. government has approved routes for a system of pipelines that would move carbon dioxide across the state in what could be by far the largest such network in North America, if it is developed. The greenhouse gas would be captured from coal-fired power plants, keeping it out of the atmosphere, where it causes global warming. The captured gas would instead be pumped underground to add pressure to and boost production from oil fields. In all, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management designated 1,100 miles of federal land for pipeline development through the Wyoming Pipeline Corridor Initiative, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the plans last Friday, days before leaving office with the rest of President Donald Trump’s administration. Wyoming officials including Republican Gov. Mark Gordon have promoted carbon capture as a way to boost the state’s struggling coal mining industry. Utilities nationwide have been turning away from coal-fired electricity in favor of cheaper and cleaner natural gas and renewable energy.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports