AlabamaMontgomery: The state has expanded who is eligible to receive immunizations against COVID-19, but health officials caution there’s still not
Montgomery: The state has expanded who is eligible to receive immunizations against COVID-19, but health officials caution there’s still not enough vaccine for everyone who qualifies for a shot. As of Monday, everyone 65 and older, educators, grocery store workers, some manufacturing workers, public transit workers, agriculture employees, state legislators and constitutional officers is eligible to get vaccinated. Previously only health care workers, first responders, nursing home residents, and people 75 and older were eligible. “If you are eligible for a vaccine, then we will get you one if want to take it. But it is not going to happen immediately for everyone,” Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, told reporters Friday. Harris said an estimated 1.5 million people would be eligible for vaccines, but the state has been receiving only about 70,000 doses per week, and those not yet administered have been spoken for. The Alabama Department of Public Health site has a map of providers providing shots. The state is opening large, drive-thru clinics in Anniston, Birmingham, Dothan, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Selma and Tuscaloosa.
Anchorage: More than 100,000 people in the state have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday. That figure includes over 41,000 people who have been vaccinated in Anchorage, which represents about 15% of the city’s population, Dr. Janet Johnston, an epidemiologist with the Anchorage Health Department, told KTUU-TV. More than 15,000 Anchorage residents have received a second vaccine dose, Johnston said. While case counts in the municipality have decreased steadily, officials said the number of hospitalizations has increased. There were 40 hospitalized coronavirus patients Tuesday, with only four staffed intensive care unit beds available in Anchorage, Johnston said. “This increase in hospitalizations reminds us that Anchorage serves as the health care hub for much of the state,” Johnston said. “With serious COVID-19 outbreaks in other parts of the state, including in the seafood industry, we are seeing more very sick COVID-19 patients in Anchorage hospitals.”
Phoenix: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will virtually tour the mass COVID-19 vaccination site set up at State Farm Stadium in Glendale. The White House and Gov. Doug Ducey’s office confirmed they will be remotely shown the around-the-clock facility Wednesday afternoon. The Republican governor has held up the stadium as a model for other states trying to establish large vaccination venues, though some Arizona residents have criticized the online system for trying to get an appointment there. Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported an additional 2,250 new coronavirus cases and seven more deaths Monday. The state has now seen 782,887 cases and 14,055 deaths since the pandemic began. The number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization is continuing to slide. Officials said 2,853 people with the virus are occupying 33% of hospital beds statewide, with 828 virus patients taking up 46% of intensive care beds. Arizona has been a national hot spot in the now-receding fall and winter surge. It was the U.S. state with the worst COVID-19 infection rate during much of January.
Little Rock: State health officials have reported 672 new cases of COVID-19 and another 15 deaths linked to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. There were 660 newly confirmed cases of the virus and 12 probable cases recorded Sunday, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Officials said 11 new deaths were confirmed to be linked to COVID-19, and four more were probably caused by the disease. The new counts bring the state’s total tallies to 306,736 cases and 5,076 fatalities. Arkansas reported 16,324 active cases of the virus Sunday. The actual number is believed to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested, and some who get sick don’t show symptoms. The number of Arkansas residents hospitalized with COVID-19 stood at 781 Sunday, an increase of 31 from Saturday. Over the past week, more than 11% of coronavirus tests in Arkansas have come back positive, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Los Angeles: Some churches opened their doors to worshippers Sunday, after the state revised its guidelines for houses of prayer following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lifted a ban on indoor services during the coronavirus pandemic. “This morning we declare that this house will be a house of freedom,” announced Pastor Brittany Koopman at Harvest Rock Church near Los Angeles, one of the churches that sued the state over the ban. She led a socially distanced indoor crowd in prayer before Sunday’s service, which was also streamed online. The U.S. justices said for now California can’t continue with a ban on indoor church services, but it can limit attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity and restrict singing and chanting inside. Che Ahn, Harvest Rock’s senior pastor, told his congregation the church would defy the ban on singing, which was instituted because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors, and singing releases tiny droplets that can carry it. “Fifty percent of worship is singing. We’re gonna sing no matter what,” Ahn said at the beginning of the service Sunday. Worshippers without masks could be seen on the livestream raising their arms and singing out loud. Ahn called the state rules “draconian” and urged his congregants to sign a petition to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Louisville: Lynda Hartman needed a hug. It had been at least eight months since she touched her husband, Len, 77, who has dementia and has been at an assisted living center in suburban Denver for the past year. On Wednesday, she got a small taste of what life was like before the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to a “hug tent” set up outside Juniper Village at Louisville, Hartman got to squeeze her husband of nearly 55 years – albeit while wearing plastic sleeves and separated by 4 mil plastic sheeting. “I really needed it,” she said after her brief visit. “It meant a lot to me, and it’s been a long, long time.” Hartman, 75, who fractured two vertebrae and could no longer take care of her husband by herself, said she thought he was a little confused, but it was important for them to embrace again. “It felt good,” she said. “I kept hitting his glasses when I hugged him, though. And he got cold.” The assisted living facility, which has fully vaccinated its residents and staff, partnered with nonprofit health care organization TRU Community Care to set up the tent with construction-grade plastic last week. “I think it’s just a huge weight off their shoulders, just being able to have that hug that they haven’t had in so long,” said Anna Hostetter, a spokeswoman for Juniper Village at Louisville. The hug tent will go up again Tuesday.
Hartford: Legislators were urged Monday to pass a bill that would allow certified medical assistants to perform vaccinations, with the Connecticut Hospital Association noting the “difficult undertaking of vaccinating every resident of the state” with the COVID-19 vaccine without more trained staff. But the concept is receiving some pushback, especially from nurses, who question whether certified medical assistants are properly trained for the task and receive adequate oversight. “Certified medical assistants are a valuable part of the health care team; however, the administration of a medication requires more than technical skill of inserting a needle,” said John Brady, a registered nurse and vice president of the union AFT Connecticut, during a public hearing held by the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee. Brady noted that training for a certified medical assistant can vary greatly, from a high school diploma and one year of experience in a doctor’s office to an associate degree. Also, he said those certifications are not issued by the state and cannot be revoked, unlike state-licensed medical professionals such as doctors and nurses.
Wilmington: Poultry workers are now prioritized as essential employees under the state’s Phase 1B of vaccine distribution. Leaders in the industry and state are now faced with the next step of getting shots into workers arms. But it won’t be an easy task. There’s a vaccine shortage and language barriers to contend with because many of the workers are part of Delaware’s Latino and Haitian immigrant communities. Representatives from two companies, Mountaire and Perdue, said they are deep into multilingual educational campaigns to spread awareness about the importance of the vaccine. The campaigns include signs around the workplace dispelling vaccine myths and letters mailed to employees’ homes. Both companies have wellness centers at the poultry plants. They will ultimately become the headquarters for vaccine distribution.
District of Columbia
Washington: New findings from a study on COVID-19 and crime revealed an unprecedented spike in homicides last year, WUSA-TV reports. Researchers with the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice found homicide rates were 30% higher nationally in 2020 compared to 2019. The organization looked at crime data in 34 cities including Washington, D.C. Overall, it found property crimes are down, but more people were killed. Researchers said the decline in property crimes seems clearly connected to restrictions imposed during the pandemic that kept more people at home. According to D.C. Police data, the district saw a 19% increase in homicides between 2019 and 2020 and a slight increase in assaults with a dangerous weapon. Researchers said there may have been many contributing factors to the homicide spike, including the pandemic’s impact on policing. “Many have social distancing requirements by their agencies or their own discretion to maintain distance between themselves and people on the street. That reduces the kind of face-to-face interaction that can help to reduce crime,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist and one of the study’s authors.
Tampa: So much for the mayor’s order requiring masks at Super Bowl parties. Throngs of mostly maskless fans took to the streets and packed sports bars as the clock inside Raymond James Stadium ticked down on a hometown Super Bowl win for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “It is a little frustrating because we have worked so hard,” Mayor Jane Castor said Monday morning. To meet coronavirus protocols, the NFL capped the crowd at under 25,000 in a stadium that normally holds some 66,000 fans, and it required masks. But outside the stadium, crowds of fans celebrated the Buccaneers’ win Sunday night. Folks cheered, swarmed streets, crammed into bars and hugged in several hot spots around the city – all without masks. An executive order last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis makes it difficult for local governments to enforce mask policies because it prohibits them from fining people who don’t comply. Across Tampa Bay in St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman was already unhappy about a maskless party hosted by Rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson in a hangar at Albert Whitted Airport on Friday night. “This isn’t how we should be celebrating the Super Bowl,” he tweeted Saturday. “It’s not safe or smart. It’s stupid. We’re going to take a very close look at this, and it may end up costing someone a lot more than 50 cent.”
Savannah: Movie cameras are rolling again in the state’s oldest city. Crews began shooting a Korean War-era film titled “Devotion” during the past week in Savannah, ending a monthslong drought of film productions since the coronavirus pandemic emerged last year. Production company Black Label Media plans to spend 12 weeks shooting in the Savannah area, and streets in the downtown historic district have been closed on select days to accommodate filming, WJCL-TV reports. The company said in a statement that it expects to administer 10,000 virus tests for crew and extras during filming and take other protective measures. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he welcomes the economic boost the production is expected to bring as long as the crew works safely. “Obviously, if filming is picking up, that helps our local businesses,” Johnson said. “If it’s helping our local businesses, it’s helping our local economy.”
Honolulu: Commercial landlords would be prohibited from evicting tenants under a bill that state lawmakers are considering to help businesses hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. The proposed legislation would prohibit landlords from attempting to collect back rent from businesses for 12 months after the expiration of a final pandemic emergency proclamation, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The bill passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health last week. Tenants would be able to terminate leases without penalty if negotiations with landlords to amend contract terms are unsuccessful. Tenants could also sue landlords who violate prohibitions in the bill for actual damages, seeking $2,000 for each violation and attorneys’ fees. Data from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization show there are a third fewer businesses open in Hawaii now than there were before the pandemic. It is unclear how many closed permanently. The bill has received support from small-business owners who told legislators in testimony about the struggles they have faced to continue operating. It’s opposed by landlords.
Boise: Lawmakers on Monday introduced legislation to make permanent changes to the counting of absentee ballots used in the last general election and spurred by the pandemic. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted to clear the way for a public hearing for the bill intended to make absentee vote counting faster. During an August special session called due to the pandemic, lawmakers approved a law allowing the opening and scanning of ballots beginning seven days before Election Day. Election officials anticipated a huge surge in absentee ballots as voters feared going to polls due to the pandemic. The November election arrived as coronavirus cases surged in the state. Officials encouraged absentee and early voting, and about 500,000 of Idaho’s 1 million registered voters used those two options. In all, a record-breaking 880,000 ballots were cast. Election officials said the new law allowing ballots to be opened and scanned – but not tallied – allowed county clerks to quickly report the election results. But that law expired Dec. 31. Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said the bill introduced Monday is “effectively just striking that deadline.”
Chicago: Mayor Lori Lightfoot touted a preliminary agreement with the city’s teachers union over COVID-19 safety protocols Sunday, potentially averting a strike in the nation’s third-largest school district. Some students could return to classrooms as soon as Thursday, with the reopening of school phased in by grade. Also, the city agreed to vaccinate 1,500 teachers and staff weekly at vaccination sites dedicated to Chicago Public Schools. The possible deal – which still requires approval from the Chicago Teachers Union – also includes metrics that would trigger school closings when cases spike. The union and district have been fighting for months over a plan to gradually reopen the roughly 340,000-student district, with talks breaking down in recent days on issues including vaccinations. Lightfoot and CPS officials had threatened to lock educators out of teaching systems multiple times, which the union said would lead to a strike for the second time in less than two years. By Sunday, the first-term mayor, who had been visibly agitated at recent news conferences, was smiling. “This agreement was about making sure everyone in our school communities just aren’t safe but also that they feel safe,” Lightfoot said. While she called it a “tentative agreement,” the union characterized it as an offer that required further review.
Fort Wayne: Two tigers at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo have tested positive for the coronavirus, zoo officials have announced. Officials said animal care staff on Feb. 1 first saw mild symptoms consistent with the virus that causes COVID-19 in one Sumatran tiger. Fecal samples for the tigers, Bugara and Indah, were collected for testing and came back positive with the virus. Staff veterinarian Dr. Kami Fox said the male tiger has been experiencing a dry cough, while the female has not shown symptoms. “Both tigers are being watched for any additional clinical signs and remain together in their enclosure,” zoo officials said in a statement issued Saturday. The source of infection is not yet known, and zoo staff are working with the Allen County Department of Health and the State Board of Animal Health to identify potential sources, according to officials. Access to the tigers has been restricted, and staff will follow safety protocols recommended by the CDC and Indiana Department of Health.
Des Moines: Although demand for the COVID-19 vaccine continues to far outstrip the supply, not everyone who is eligible for the coveted shot is eager to take it. About 40% of Des Moines police officers have not indicated they want the vaccine, spokesperson Sgt. Paul Parizek said in an email last week. About half of the state’s prison workers plan to refuse it, according to a report by the Iowa Department of Corrections director. A national survey of nursing home staff showed less than 40% took a first dose of vaccine when offered; the estimate for Iowa workers taking it is 40% to 59%. “I’m more disappointed than surprised,” Iowa Public Health Association executive director Lina Tucker Reinders said of people hesitant to take the vaccine. “Every decline in the vaccine is another potential case of COVID.” She said the politicization of the vaccine, some of its branding and the U.S. history of experimenting on communities of color may all have a role in pushing down vaccination rates. She cited doubt sown around the pandemic, particularly leading up to the November election, and continuing conspiracy theories around the efficacy of this and other vaccines.
Topeka: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has unveiled an economic development plan that aims to provide a blueprint for the state’s future as it looks to the new normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. Dubbed the Kansas Framework for Growth, the plan was lauded as the first of its kind in more than 30 years. It was showcased Thursday in a virtual announcement joined by two of the state’s former governors, Democrat John Carlin and Republican Mike Hayden. Work on drafting the plan began in late 2019, but the new challenges brought on by the pandemic created an urgent need to rethink an approach with the flexibility to respond to ever-changing economic conditions, its supporters said. Kelly called it a “bold plan” to address current and future challenges, saying it takes a long-range view of the headwinds facing Kansas and lays out a set strategy and initiatives to guide state level economic development for decades to come. “This strategic plan takes a forward-thinking, nimble approach to encouraging economic growth and prosperity, particularly when it comes to recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kelly said.
Lexington: Less than half of staff members at long-term care facilities in the state have been vaccinated for COVID-19, in part because many refused vaccination, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. Now some of those people are changing their minds, leading to complications in the vaccine distribution. Doses first became available for long-term care facility staff and residents two months ago. Since then an estimated 73% of residents have received the vaccine but only about 45% of staff. “It was what I would call a soft, not a hard, no,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “It wasn’t that they didn’t want to take it; it’s that they felt that maybe it had been rushed, they had concerns about its efficacy, and as they saw other people getting it, they now want it.” CVS Health and Walgreens were contracted by the federal government to provide only three vaccine clinics at long-term care facilities. The third, underway now, was meant as a wrap-up to offer second doses to any stragglers. Both pharmacies initially refused to dole out first doses at their final clinic but have now been instructed to provide a first dose to staff members and residents as long as the facility has a plan for how those people will get a second dose.
Baton Rouge: The state is seeing the ranks of its home-schooled students grow larger during the coronavirus pandemic. The number of home-schooled students was 33,001 in October, the latest data available from the state, a 4% increase over the previous year and a 10% hike for home-schooled students who hope to qualify for college scholarships. “There are so many who have pulled their kids out of school because of COVID,” said Christopher Chin, president of Homeschool Louisiana, a networking group for parents and students. The number of students taught at home has grown by 23% in the past five years and 76% in the past decade, according to a report from The Advocate. Home-schooled students make up 5% of the state’s total student population. Chin said some families have opted for home schooling because of what he called the lack of planning by school officials and the pitfalls of distance learning. “They are realizing that home school is a viable education alternative,” said Chin, whose groups includes about 1,200 families statewide. Louisiana has two forms of home schooling, both of which requires families to sign up with the state Department of Education and to renew annually.
Lewiston: A group of budding young writers is about to publish a pandemic-inspired book with some help from the Pine Tree State’s most famous writer. Stephen King’s foundation covered the $6,500 cost of publishing a 290-page manuscript by students participating in Farwell Elementary School’s Author Studies Program. The students started with “Fletcher McKenzie and the Passage to Whole,” a story about a Maine boy by Gary Savage, and then reworked it to reflect their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Farwell Principal Amanda Winslow said she is proud of the students for their accomplishment and thankful for the dedication of Savage, who advised the students, and librarian Kathy Martin. A number of local groups also sent donations that will be used for the Author Studies program.
Baltimore: Three Orthodox Jewish day schools in Baltimore County have reported large numbers of coronavirus cases in the past two months. The Baltimore Sun reports the outbreaks prompted one middle school to shut down and move to virtual learning for a week. The outbreaks are far larger than others seen in public or private schools since the state’s mandatory reporting requirements began in October. County health officials said they have been working with the schools but declined to detail what measures have been taken at each to contain the outbreaks, which began shortly after Thanksgiving. The Talmudical Academy of Baltimore, a century-old K-12 school in Pikesville, had 62 cases inside the school Feb. 3, according to Maryland’s COVID-19 school dashboard. That number was by far the most cases reported in a single school since October. The school will be closed for two weeks, including one week of virtual instruction and a week of vacation. The next highest number of cases was 45 at Bais Yaakov Eva Winer High School, a girls’ school with about 425 students. The Torah Institute in Owings Mills had 26 cases as of Jan. 27.
Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Amherst is moving all classes online and requiring students to stay in their residences for at least two weeks in response to a surge in new coronavirus cases. The university raised its COVID-19 risk level to “high” after nearly 300 students tested positive for the virus over a three-day period last week, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in a statement. Students who live both on campus and off are required to stay at home except for coronavirus testing, meals and medical reasons, the school said. “Failure to comply will result in disciplinary action, which may include removal from residence halls and/or suspension,” the school said. The school has also suspended all varsity sports games and practices for two weeks. “Let this moment be a stark reminder to any of you who may have been cavalier about COVID-19 that your individual behavior has a profound impact on everyone in your community,” Subbaswamy said. The restrictions will only be lifted when public health conditions improve substantially, the school said.
Grand Rapids: High schools are anticipating a shortage of men and women who blow the whistle as basketball returns to Michigan gyms after a timeout for the coronavirus. Registration of referees is down 25% from a year ago, and the risk of COVID-19 is a “contributing factor,” said Geoff Kimmerly, a spokesman at the Michigan High School Athletic Association. “It is a concern even in non-COVID years, and we expect it to be more of a concern over these next two months,” Kimmerly told MLive.com. High school basketball typically starts in December, but the state delayed it because of the pandemic. The regular season now will last six weeks followed by the state tournament. Kimmerly said middle school coaches are being encouraged to register as officials. Some schools will likely schedule two games a day, which would allow refs to work both games. Dave Feenstra, head of the Ottawa-Kent Conference, which has dozens of schools in western Michigan, said his region will feel the pinch. He’s asking college students to pitch in and call middle school games. “With some of our guys working three nights a week, it’s going to be fast and furious with the season,” Feenstra said.
Minneapolis: Republican legislators laid out a roadmap Monday for lifting the state’s coronavirus restrictions on businesses with a goal of letting them return to full operations by May 1. Rep. Dave Baker, of Willmar, said at a news conference that businesses such as restaurants, hotels, event centers and gyms need to be able to make reopening plans with some certainty. He said the downward trends in COVID-19 cases and other key metrics, plus rising vaccination rates, mean businesses can operate safely with the proper precautions in place. Liz Rammer, CEO of Hospitality Minnesota, said no sector of the economy has been more devastated by the pandemic than the hospitality industry. She said the bill that Republicans plan to introduce this week is a reasonable and balanced approach. Baker said he’s ready to compromise on the details. He said he knows the bill won’t go anywhere without at least some Democratic support. But he said he wants to change the approach to reopening businesses from a series of executive orders coming down from Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to a broader dialogue with all sides involved.
Jackson: As some Mississippians struggle to get COVID-19 vaccination appointments, reports have surfaced of a small but growing number of out-of-state residents crossing state lines to get shots. According to data from the Mississippi State Department of Health, approximately 5,337 people with out-of-state addresses had received shots as of Wednesday. Because of the state’s lax eligibility determinations, some people have even created groups on social media that tell Louisiana residents how to get Mississippi vaccination appointments. Some state officials have attributed the rush to how smoothly Mississippi’s processes are running. Mark Davis, director of emergency medical services in DeSoto County, said some people from the Memphis, Tennessee, area have come to a state-run vaccination drive-thru in Southaven to get their shots. Davis said he’s heard reports that Tennesseans have sometimes had to wait more than seven hours to get a shot in Shelby County, whereas it only takes 30 minutes at most at the DeSoto County drive-thru. “The Mississippi National Guard has done a phenomenal job here … but they’ve almost done too good of a job,” he said.
St. Louis: Inmates who set fires and broke windows at a jail over the weekend did so to protest inhumane conditions, including a lack of personal protective equipment to combat the spread of the coronavirus, according to inmate advocates. The uprising Saturday at the City Justice Center was “an act of courage” that was necessitated by inmates’ basic needs not being met, Tracy Stanton of Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing St. Louis said during a virtual rally Sunday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. “They are demanding proper heat, they want proper (personal protective equipment), proper clothing and visits from families, who can visit them from the other side of the glass,” Stanton said. More than 100 inmates broke out of their cells Saturday, leading to chaos on the facility’s fourth floor. A corrections officer was attacked and hospitalized but is expected to recover. It was the third uprising at the jail since December. Among the concerns is protection against COVID-19. City officials say that there are no cases among the general population and that inmates are provided with adequate PPE and tested upon request. But activist Inez Bordeaux, of the legal aid group Arch City Defenders, said she’s heard from dozens of detainees who say they don’t have access to testing or PPE.
Helena: GOP state Rep. Brian Putnam has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Montana House Republican caucus said. Putnam felt mildly symptomatic Thursday night, was tested Friday and received his positive test result Sunday. He notified leadership of his results and authorized the release of his name. Putnam participated in the Legislature remotely Friday and will continue to do so. He is a member of the House State Administration and Natural Resources committees. His closest contacts have been notified, and contact tracing is ongoing, House leaders said. Putnam is the third Montana lawmaker to report having tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 during the 2021 session. Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, tested positive Jan. 7, and Rep. Fiona Nave, R-Columbus, announced a positive test four days later. Nave had been participating in the session remotely.
Omaha: The number of people getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in the state increased nearly 5% last week. State officials said 48,982 doses of the vaccines were administered last week, up from 46,806 doses the week before. The state is working to speed up distribution of vaccines. So far, about 4.6% of the state’s population has received both required doses of a vaccine. Nebraska said Monday that it has administered 232,896 doses. Across the state, local health departments have begun vaccinating people 65 and older and some essential workers in the second phase of the campaign. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska fell over the past two weeks from 849.14 new cases per day Jan. 24 to 429.86 new cases per day Sunday. The state said 193,826 virus cases and 1,968 deaths have been reported in Nebraska since the pandemic began. The number of people hospitalized with the virus in the state declined again Sunday to 250 from the previous day’s 272. That number hasn’t been that low since early October. It has fallen steadily since peaking at 987 in November.
Carson City: The governor blamed a failure by those in leadership positions for incidents in which people jump the COVID-19 vaccine line ahead of front-line workers and seniors. “We are seeing rumors and substantiated examples where people are getting access to the vaccine who are not yet eligible,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said Friday. “It is not fair, and that must stop.” The problem has exacerbated an already insufficient supply of doses. “Every time a group is allowed to be vaccinated who is not eligible, those doses are taken away from someone’s grandma or grandpa or front-line worker who has been showing up every day throughout this pandemic,” Sisolak said. While clinic organizers have leeway to provide leftover doses to non-priority recipients to avoid wasting vaccine, there have also been cases in which some hospitals and clinics interpreted Nevada’s COVID-19 playbook to broadly include people such as board members as well as some local judges. “Individuals who have been able to work from home should not be accessing the vaccine before front-line workers or senior citizens,” Sisolak said. “It’s simple.”
Concord: The state would be prohibited from mandating vaccines and its vaccine registry would switch from an opt-out to an opt-in system under two bills before a House committee Monday. The House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee held public hearings on two bills sponsored by Rep. Tim Lang, R-Sanbornton. One would declare an “inalienable right to bodily integrity, free from any threat or compulsion that the person accepts any medical intervention, including immunization.” Lang said he objects to state rules requiring foster parents to be vaccinated against certain diseases. Opponents took issue with a section of the bill that says no person may be discriminated against for refusing a vaccine, noting that hospitals require employees to be vaccinated against the flu and that the state requires certain vaccines for schoolchildren, although there are religious and medical exemptions. Multiple physicians spoke against the bill, while supporters included several people who said they moved to New Hampshire in search of “medical freedom” after New York ended its religious exemption for vaccines.
Trenton: The state surpassed 1 million COVID-19 vaccinations administered Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy said. While it marks a milestone, the Democratic governor said the state is short of the number of vaccines it would need to meet demand. New Jersey has administered just over 224,000 second doses, covering about 2.5% of the population. That lags the rate of the country overall, which stands at 2.8%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Murphy has said he wants to complete administration of 70% of the state’s adult population within six months. It’s unclear whether the state will reach that goal, though. The pace of vaccinations has picked up since it began in mid-December. The state took nearly 40 days to reach 500,000 vaccinations but just 16 days to go from 500,000 doses to 1 million. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Jersey fell over the past two weeks from nearly 5,084 new cases a day Jan. 24 to about 3,620 on Sunday. Murphy reported 25 new deaths from the virus overnight, putting the overall toll at 19,824.
Las Cruces: A new study by a New Mexico State University researcher found that depression and anxiety rates have more than doubled among adults amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, published in the Journal of Public Health, represents a comprehensive national assessment of the prevalence of depression and anxiety in the adult population. Jagdish Khubchandani, public health sciences professor in the College of Health and Social Services at NMSU and the study’s lead author, conducted the research in collaboration with faculty members from Ball State University, the University of Florida and the University of Houston. “While a few studies estimated mental health of Americans early in the pandemic, we conducted our study last summer to estimate the true impact of sustained, long-term lockdowns, isolation and excessive use of technology,” he said. “The nature and extent of loneliness and screen-time use, along with the constant news cycle, could have a detrimental impact on the mental health of Americans.” The study found the rates of depression (39%), anxiety (42%) and psychological distress (39%) were more than double the rates from before the pandemic. Psychological distress includes symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that indoor restaurant dining can reopen in New York City at 25% capacity Friday, two days before the Valentine’s Day opening he had announced earlier. Cuomo said restaurateurs had asked for the ban on indoor dining to be lifted in advance of Valentine’s Day in order to give them a chance to prepare for the day when romantic dinners are traditional. Indoor restaurant service in the city has been prohibited since Dec. 14, when COVID-19 cases started surging. The gradual loosening of restrictions comes as the post-holiday-season spike in cases appears to be ebbing. Restaurant industry representatives praised Cuomo’s decision to reopen restaurant dining rooms a little sooner. “On behalf of all restaurants in New York City, we’re thankful that Gov. Cuomo has heard our plea to allow restaurants to open for the full Valentine’s Day weekend,” said Melissa Fleischut, president of the New York State Restaurant Association. Randy Peers, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said Brooklyn restaurants “are surviving by a thread.”
Chapel Hill: Faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can teach remotely until Feb. 17 in light of the crowded and largely maskless celebration of the men’s basketball team’s victory over Duke University on Saturday, officials said. Hundreds of students rushed Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill to celebrate the 91-87 victory in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and as variants of the virus spread across the country. UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Provost Robert Blouin wrote in a message Sunday that students found to have violated the school’s COVID-19 Community Standards face disciplinary action. The university said it has already received hundreds of student conduct complaints related to the celebrations, news outlets report. Meanwhile, the school is following through with plans to make the transition to in-person classes, which were scheduled to begin Monday. UNC has 31% of undergraduate students taking one or two classes in person, according to the message, and class sizes are small, with students physically distanced. Students taking in-person classes will be tested twice a week, the message said.
Bismarck: The Legislature has held its regular sessions every other year since statehood, but backers of a bipartisan bill say it’s time to change that. Lawmakers for decades have consistently rebuffed attempts to hold annual regular sessions, arguing that doing so would grow government and turn lawmaking into a full-time job. But advocates for the bill say they need to meet more often due to bigger budgets and pressing issues such as the coronavirus pandemic that hit during an off-year in the Legislature. “Times have changed,” said Republican Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, the bill’s primary sponsor and a Williston dentist. “If mistakes are made in legislation that require correction, we live with that mistake or suffer its consequences for as much as 20 months before the next biennium.” The Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee is holding hearing on the legislation Thursday. Normally, the Legislature begins its session in January of odd-numbered years. Bekkedahl’s bill would direct lawmakers to meet in even-numbered years as well, for a period of time chosen by legislative leaders. North Dakota is one of four states where the Legislature still meets every other year.
Columbus: Pharmacy giant CVS was not allowing Ohioans ages 65 to 69 to make COVID-19 vaccination appointments Monday despite the state making the age group eligible for shots beginning this week. Inoculation hopefuls who entered an age of less than 70 on the pharmacy’s vaccination website were erroneously informed they were not eligible for vaccinations. Another major vaccine provider, Walgreens, had also stated on its website that shots only were available to Ohioans age 70 and older. A Walgreens spokeswoman said the information was changed before 7 a.m. After the Columbus Dispatch flagged the situation to the attention of Ohio Department of Health officials Monday morning, the state contacted CVS. “We talked to CVS, and the issue is getting fixed,” health department spokeswoman Melanie Amato said. In a statement Monday evening, a CVS Health spokesman said its scheduling website would be updated by Tuesday. Vaccinations were restricted to Ohioans age 70 and older prior to Monday. Ohio does not have a single, statewide portal for seeking vaccinations against COVID-19, but Gov. Mike DeWine has said one is under development that he hopes will be up and running by Sunday.
Oklahoma City: State health officials reported a dramatic decline in the number of COVID-19 deaths Monday after a deadly weekend in which more than 100 deaths were added to the toll. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported four new deaths and 1,040 confirmed new cases of the coronavirus. The numbers are a steep drop from the near-record 51 deaths reported Saturday and 52 reported Sunday. The state’s death count from COVID-19 now stands at 3,817, and the total number of confirmed cases is nearly 405,000. Oklahoma’s seven-day rolling averages of positivity rate, daily new cases and daily deaths have all declined over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Oklahoma declined from 41.71 deaths per day Jan. 24 to 38 deaths per day Sunday, the data shows. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oklahoma also is continuing to decline from record-high levels in late December and early January, according to health department data.
Salem: Thousands of long-term care facility residents, who have been eligible from the start, are wondering where their COVID-19 vaccines are. Oregon officials say they misunderstood which facilities were included in a federal program meant to vaccinate long-term care residents through on-site pharmacy visits. It initially applied to 130 skilled nursing facilities in the state but not to memory care, assisted living, independent living or adult foster homes. “There were hundreds of facilities around the state we thought were eligible that signed up and at the last minute were disenrolled,” Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen told legislators last month. Dianna Kent’s 94-year-old mother lives at Churchill Estates in Eugene, whose 170 residents don’t know when they’ll get shots. “Along with the staff, we have been calling the county, OHA – I even went to county offices to find out why we have not even been scheduled for vaccines yet,” Kent said. “I feel like we fell through the cracks.” The state is now working with Safeway and another pharmacy chain to do mobile vaccination clinics to reach those residents, Allen said.
Philadelphia: A mediator will decide if teachers must return to their classrooms despite safety concerns as the city’s school district plans to resume some in-person instruction later this month. Teachers and staff protesting outside their buildings Monday said they feared the ventilation systems in aging schools were not sufficient to address the potential spread of the coronavirus. “We do want to come back, but we want to come back safely. That’s all we’re asking for,” said Elanda Tolliver, a paraprofessional at Samuel Gompers Elementary School who has worked for the district for 34 years. Superintendent William Hite wants to offer students who have been learning remotely for nearly a year a chance to return to school Feb. 22 under an optional hybrid instruction model. He said the district has enhanced its cleaning operations and identified ventilation problems, and it will not open classrooms until needed improvements are made. City Council member Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who attended Gompers and has a child in kindergarten there, joined teachers and union officials protesting outside the school Monday. She expressed concerns about the ventilation system and lack of a comprehensive vaccine plan for school employees.
Providence: Some CVS and Walgreens pharmacy locations started COVID-19 vaccine distribution over the weekend, but there were some glitches. Customers in Rhode Island reported issues Sunday during the online registration process, WJAR-TV reports. Some CVS customers said they were prompted to book appointments out of state, even though they’re only eligible for vaccines in Rhode Island. CVS said it was working to fix the issue. For now, only CVS locations in Providence and Johnston are vaccinating eligible Rhode Islanders. Walgreens said it also resolved glitches in its registration system. Meanwhile, people visiting Rhode Island from New York, Indiana and Wisconsin are no longer subject to the state’s COVID-19 travel restrictions. The state on Monday updated its travel advisory list to remove those three states, meaning visitors or Rhode Islanders returning from those states no longer have to quarantine or provide a negative coronavirus test upon arrival, WPRI-TV reports. The list now consists of 30 states, with New Hampshire being the only New England state remaining.
Charleston: The city wrote nearly 50 tickets to people who weren’t wearing masks on city sidewalks on Super Bowl Sunday. Charleston’s emergency mask ordinance requires people to wear masks outside at all times with a few exceptions, including socially distant exercise. Police officers and officers from Charleston’s Tourism and Livability department combined to patrol bars and restaurants and issued at least 47 tickets. The tickets are $100 for a first offense and get more expensive with each additional violation. A few weeks ago, Columbia did its own mask crackdown in one of the city’s bar and restaurant areas popular with college students. On Jan. 22-23, the city issued more than 110 mask tickets, officials said. A different crackdown in November in the same area around Five Points saw more than 100 tickets issued. Columbia’s emergency mask ordinance also has a $100 initial fine.
Pierre: Lawmakers were attempting to contain the spread of the coronavirus Monday after the first reported case in the Legislature this session. Legislators were informed by email Sunday that Republican Rep. Aaron Aylward had tested positive over the weekend. House Speaker Spencer Gosch said a number of lawmakers were staying away from the Capitol while they awaited the results of testing. Gosch declined to confirm Aylward had tested positive but said the member who was confirmed to have COVID-19 had minor symptoms. The Legislature will hit the halfway mark of its nine-week session this week. Gosch said the session was progressing “well” so far, and legislative leaders had worked to act on bills quickly in anticipation that an outbreak could create a disruption. The House is encouraging lawmakers and the public to wear masks, but that recommendation often goes unheeded. On the Senate side of the Capitol, masks are required for the public and expected for senators. While the state saw one of the nation’s worst virus waves late last year, cases have continued to drop through January and February.
Nashville: Hospitals will begin to schedule appointments for and vaccinate teachers and child care workers this week, city and school leaders announced Monday. Mayor John Cooper and Dr. Alex Jahangir, the city’s COVID-19 taskforce chair, joined Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Adrienne Battle at a news conference Monday afternoon to announce that the city will move to Phase 1B of its vaccine distribution plan. The news came a day before Metro Nashville Public Schools students in pre-K through fourth grade and students with special needs are set to return for in-person learning Tuesday. In recent weeks, Nashville teachers have traveled to other counties across the state to get the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to schools in person. MNPS teachers can expect to begin receiving their first doses through the city by Feb. 20. “Dr. Battle has taken some important steps to get our schools open for in-person learning, now we must do what we can to keep them open by protecting our educators from contracting COVID,” Jahangir said in a statement Monday. The city expects to receive 11,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week – an unexpected but welcome increase from previous weeks, he said.
Austin: The state will likely partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to open two vaccination “super sites” in Dallas and Houston, and more could be on the way, Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday. Abbott tweeted those vaccine locations would be open every day and operate for eight weeks, handling up to 6,000 shots per day. The governor said adding more sites is possible, but his office did not immediately release further details, including whether that meant Texas would get more vaccine doses or if those sites would pull vaccine from other areas. The Texas news comes a week after California partnered with FEMA to open two mass vaccination centers under President Joe Biden’s push to create 100 such sites nationwide in 100 days. According to state health officials, nearly 2.5 million Texans have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 780,000 are fully vaccinated. As of Sunday, Texas had 9,652 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and a death toll of 38,643.
St. George: The Washington County School District is adding more staff members at high school basketball games after the district found violations of the COVID-19-related attendance policy. According to WCSD Director of Communications Steve Dunham, the current policy gives each game an attendance limit of 25% capacity. Violations of this policy have been under investigation by the school district the past week, with both students and adults in violation. “After looking into it, it appears that at halftime, when they are done taking tickets, students are sneaking around to different doors and letting other students and adults into the game,” Dunham said in an email. “We are working to put additional staff in place to keep us in compliance with the Health department orders.” Dunham also said any offending schools would be kept confidential as the district sorts out the matter. The measures come after multiple games featured stands where attendance was visibly over the 25% threshold. There were so many spectators that fans were shoulder-to-shoulder from one end of the stands to the other. This wasn’t the instance at all games but was enough to get the district’s attention.
Winooski: The state Department of Health has set up a pop-up clinic in the city to vaccinate refugees and immigrants 75 and up. On Saturday, 50 new Americans received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, WCAX-TV reports. It was the second clinic held for these populations. The Health Department has been working with the University of Vermont Medical School, the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, and other organizations to provide information about the vaccine to these Vermonters in their native language. “For people who are 75 and older and have language limitations, you can imagine those barriers are even greater, so we really want to make sure we are breaking down those barriers,” Heather Danis, director of Burlington’s Health Department office, told WCAX-TV. “It’s a safe, effective vaccine, and we want to make sure everyone has that informed choice, so they can make the decision that’s best for them.” The past summer, an outbreak of the coronavirus hit tightly knit immigrant communities in Winooski and spread to Burlington.
Richmond: Church leaders are partnering with local health districts to get COVID-19 vaccines to the most vulnerable people in their communities. Second Baptist Church, in South Richmond, and First African Church, in North Richmond, were both vaccination sites Saturday. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports the churches’ efforts are part of an attempt to find new strategies to reach segments of the community that may not have access to information or to transportation to get vaccinated. About 500 people were set to be vaccinated at these smaller event at sites in the Richmond and Henrico health districts. They’ll all be invited back for a second shot in a few weeks. “We’re really trying different strategies to be intentional with communities of color… and engaging preexisting networks (that are) best positioned to reach out to their most vulnerable,” said Amy Popovich, a nurse manager. Second Baptist Church pastor Ralph Steven Hodge said this new partnership is one way of not just targeting people who haven’t had access but also reaching out to some who may be skeptical about getting vaccinated. “When your pastor calls and tells you to come … we’re credible messengers,” he said.
Olympia: A bill that increases the minimum weekly benefit for unemployed workers during the coronavirus pandemic and prevents a dramatic increase in unemployment taxes paid by businesses was signed into law Monday by Gov. Jay Inslee. The measure will prevent $1.7 billion in automatic unemployment insurance tax increases from taking effect through 2025, including $920 million this year due to last year’s pandemic-induced layoffs. The bill also boosts the minimum weekly unemployment benefit for workers who make between $21,000 and $27,800 per year, from $201 to $270 per week, starting in July. It allows high-risk workers who cannot work from home to voluntarily quit and still receive benefits and will waive charges for an employer who reduces operations or shuts down due to an infectious public health emergency. The measure is the first bill signed into law by Inslee this legislative session and has an emergency clause, which means it takes effect immediately. On Wednesday, the Senate is expected to vote on a bill passed by the House last week that allocates $2.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding.
Charleston: Newly confirmed coronavirus cases in the state sharply declined last week, and the number of deaths was the lowest since early December. There were nearly 2,700 confirmed cases, down 30% from the previous week. Weekly deaths linked to COVID-19 dropped to 107 from a record of 206 one month ago. Gov. Jim Justice said Monday that he expects an increase in the federal government’s weekly shipment of vaccines, bringing the state’s allocation of first doses to about 30,000. “We are getting close to 6,000 additional doses per week, and that’s going to help,” Justice said. Officials have said they want at least 125,000 doses a week to reach the state’s full capability of administering shots. Last week, state data shows 25,400 West Virginians received their first doses of the vaccine, with 12.3% of the state’s population now receiving at least one shot. The pace of administering first doses slowed somewhat, with 2,700 fewer shots going out compared to the previous week. But there was a record of 37,497 people receiving their second and final dose, pushing the state population’s share of fully vaccinated residents to nearly 6%.
Madison: The state will open its first community vaccination clinic next week, Gov. Tony Evers announced Monday, in another sign that the state’s delivery efforts are improving after weeks of struggling to get people inoculated against COVID-19. Evers said his administration will work with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare to open the first community site Feb. 16 in Rock County. His office did not provide an exact location, but it said the facility will be able to vaccinate up to 250 people per day, with a goal of ramping that up to 1,000 per day. Wisconsin Department of Health Services spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt said the agency expects to release more details about the location of the Rock County site in the coming days. The state and AMI plan to open up to 10 such centers around the state as needed and as vaccine supplies allow, the governor said. AMI will provide staffing, logistics and site management, and equipment for the first three centers, Goodsitt said. The state will pay the organization only for costs, up to $17.7 million for the first three sites. A Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will cover 100% of the costs, she said.
Casper: The state played a significant part in helping the country increase its wind energy production by nearly doubling capacity in 2020, a new report says. Wyoming installed 1,123 megawatts of wind power, ranking second nationwide behind Texas in new wind capacity added in last year’s fourth quarter, the Star-Tribune reports. A quarterly report compiled by the American Clean Power Association said the U.S. installed 16,913 megawatts of new wind power capacity last year, which was an 85% increase compared to 2019. A significant portion of the development was led by Wyoming’s largest utility, Rocky Mountain Power. Energy experts warned Wyoming should not expect wind power capacity to grow yearly. The Industrial Siting Council, the regulatory board charged with reviewing Wyoming wind project applications, has not received a new project proposal since 2019.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports