Montgomery: About two dozen cities and town across Alabama will participate as the state tourism agency resumes a program to promote springtime walking tours. Although the program was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be held all four Saturdays in April with precautions against COVID-19 including social distancing, according to a news release from the Alabama Tourism Department. Larger cities including Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery will hold walking tours for the public along with smaller communities including Athens, Monroeville and Fairhope. A statement from the agency said 30 communities participated in the walking tour program in 2019, with more than 2,300 people taking part. Alabama is the only state with statewide, simultaneous walking tours, the agency said.
Anchorage: More than 28% of Alaskans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – better than most states and well above the national average of 22%. Last week, Alaska became the first state to offer vaccinations to anyone at least 16 years old who wants them. Mississippi has since followed suit, and Utah announced it will do the same starting next month. As the rest of the country grapples with the same issue, the success of Alaska offers a lesson in the benefits of avoiding the top-down bureaucracy that has hampered vaccinations elsewhere. From the early days of Alaska’s campaign, local leaders across the state enjoyed some latitude in how to administer the doses they received. The decision to officially scrap eligibility restrictions – which ran two dozen pages – came after state officials realized that many residents were confused about whether they qualified and that too many appointments were going unclaimed.
Flagstaff: Grand Canyon National Park officials tentatively plan to reopen the park’s eastern entrance in late May, but there’s sentiment in a small northern Arizona city that depends on tourism that sooner would be better. “Our sales tax for this year is down nearly 30% from last year,” Page city manager Darren Coldwell told the Arizona Daily Sun. “Our Horseshoe Bend visitation is down 80%. So when we say that our numbers dropped off the face of the earth, they really did.” The Grand Canyon’s eastern entrance and the highway leading to it, State Route 64, were closed last spring as a courtesy to the neighboring Navajo Nation, which was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The tribe’s vast reservation in the Four Corners region has reported nearly 30,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 1,219 deaths as of Tuesday, when only two new cases and one additional death were reported. A nightly curfew to help curb spread of the coronavirus remains in effect on the reservation but slowing of the outbreak has prompted the Navajo Nation to begin a partial reopening of some businesses and other facilities. Two of the tribe’s four casinos were set to reopen Friday. Navajo Nation roads remain closed to visitors, but the Navajo Nation Council is considering a bill to rescind those closures – which don’t affect the highway into the park.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson activated 20 members of the Arkansas Air and Army National Guard to assist with coronavirus vaccinations. Hutchinson said the Guard members would administer vaccinations in four public health regions. Each of the four teams will include two medics and two personnel to handle logistics and documentation. “This deployment will accelerate our efforts to contain COVID-19 in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said in a statement. The teams will serve Arkansans from four public health regions with clinics in Marianna, Prescott, West Memphis and Fort Smith, Hutchinson’s office said in a news release. The move comes after Arkansas last week expanded vaccine eligibility to nearly 1 million more people in the state. Hutchinson cited a slowdown in demand for the vaccine, particularly in the state’s rural areas.
San Francisco: Three days after the California Department of Public Health quietly banned cheerleading squads from attending sporting events, the agency reversed its decision Friday, bowing to an uproar from parents, coaches and cheerleaders who chanted in protest: “Let us cheer!” The reversal was tucked into the agency’s daily news release on COVID-19 statistics, as a clarification that said “sideline cheer is an allowable sport” under state guidelines. The agency has not provided any explanation of the rule change or the earlier ban, which made an apparent distinction between competitive cheerleading, which was allowed, and cheering on the sidelines of a football game. The Tuesday ban, which was inserted in a “Youth Sports Q&A” on the agency’s website, said “sideline cheer, band, drumline or other supporting groups are not allowed to attend sporting events at this time.” It struck many as bizarre because the state health agency had only just allowed cheerleading to resume along with football and other outdoor youth sports last month in much of the state.
Denver: Colorado’s health department is moving to relax its statewide mask mandate and limits on gathering capacity, saying the state’s role in determining COVID-19 restrictions will lessen in favor of more local control as vaccination eligibility opens more widely. The proposal announced Friday would allow local authorities and “private entities” in the counties with the lowest coronavirus infection rates to determine whether masks would be required. It would also end most restrictions on capacity for restaurants, personal services providers, retailers, manufacturers, health care providers or outdoor events. Gyms, bars and indoor events would still be subject to a limit on the number of people who can gather there. The proposed change would also not affect schools, as students aged 11 to 18 must wear masks for the rest of the academic year. There are only two Level Green counties where this applies: rural Crowley and Otero counties in southern Colorado, which means they have fewer than 15 cases per 100,000 people in a week. A majority of the state is in the next risk level up, and the Denver metro area is two levels higher than the least restrictive designation, where this guidance would not yet apply. For the majority of the state, masks will be required for indoor public places with 10 or more people, and the capacity restrictions remain in place.
Hartford: Although restaurateurs welcomed the end to COVID-19-related capacity limits inside their establishments on Friday, an industry trade group is cautioning that it’s just a first step toward getting back to business as usual. Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said most restaurant owners he has spoken to expect to be open at 65% or possibly 70% capacity and not 100% because of social distancing rules. Also, just because Gov. Ned Lamont ended capacity limits, Dolch said, doesn’t mean all restaurants will be flooded with customers despite an increase in reservations since the governor’s plan was announced on March 4. “We’re definitely nowhere near out of the woods yet,” said Dolch, noting how he’s worried about some restaurants located in cities where office workers have not yet returned and establishments that rely on conferences that aren’t being booked. “But I also have to be the optimistic, hopeful one for this industry, because I know how tough it’s been,” he said. “And I have to say to folks, ‘Hey, today is a really good day because there’s other states around us that haven’t done this.’ ” Besides restaurants, capacity limits were lifted at nontheater indoor recreation centers, libraries, museums, aquariums, gyms and fitness centers, retail shops, offices, personal services establishments and houses of worship. Mask-wearing, distancing and cleaning protocols will still be required. Also, movie theaters and performing arts venues will only be allowed to open at 50% capacity. Restaurant seating will be limited to eight people per table and hours of operation capped at 11 p.m. Bars, meanwhile, will remain shuttered.
Dover: People who are 65 years and older are being encouraged by the state to sign up to get their first coronavirus vaccine shot at a three-day vaccination event. The Delaware State News reported Dover International Speedway is holding the drive-thru vaccination event on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Anyone who is over the age of 65 and who lives, works or receives health care in Delaware is invited to sign up. People can sign up through the Division of Public Health’s website. The scheduling website will only accept appointments by individuals 65 and up. A photo ID is required at the vaccination event. The Delaware Division of Public Health said will administer the Moderna vaccine on Friday and Sunday. The Pfizer vaccine will be administered on Saturday.
District of Columbia
Washington:Findings from a new D.C. State Board of Education survey suggested many District teachers have thought about leaving the profession over the last year, WUSA-TV reported. The board’s survey gathered opinions from more than 1,000 public and public charter school educators in the District in January and February. According to the board, 43% of the survey’s respondents said they considered leaving education as a result of teaching during the pandemic. Zachary Parker, president and Ward 5 representative of the D.C. State Board of Education, said the pandemic exacerbated some long-standing problems impacting District teachers. “We know our teachers went over and beyond to teach virtually and to meet the needs of our students, and many of them express through our survey that they did not feel as though they were respected, supported or sought out for their opinion on matters of returning back to in-person,” he said. Teachers from 185 D.C. schools responded to the survey. Parker said most of those educators teach in the D.C. Public Schools system. The survey also revealed that 75% of the teachers inquired said they were either slightly or very uncomfortable returning to in-person teaching during the pandemic, although more than half of teachers answered that they believe the social and emotional well-being of their students is worse now than it has been in previous years.
Miami: Two Royal Caribbean cruises will resume in June, ending a yearlong hiatus because of the pandemic, but passengers 18 and older must test negative for the coronavirus before getting on a ship. The company’s Celebrity Cruises subsidiary said Friday that its Celebrity Millennium ship will relaunch on June 5 from St. Maarten. One itinerary will stop in Aruba, Curacao and Barbados, and another will stop in Tortola, St. Lucia and Barbados. Celebrity Cruises CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo said returning to the Caribbean “marks the measured beginning of the end of what has been a uniquely challenging time for everyone.” Royal Caribbean Group’s namesake line will start a week later with a voyage leaving from Nassau, the Bahamas, on the Adventure of the Seas. In both cases, passengers 18 and older will be required to test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of boarding the ship. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has held up cruise ship operations in U.S. waters since March 2020, although it has laid out guidelines for cruises to resume with conditional sailing certificates.
Augusta: Daily Georgia cases have remained above 1,000 since Tuesday, with Saturday’s report from the Georgia Department of Public Health adding 1,167 cases for a total of 842,251. The state added 50 deaths for a total of 16,145. Richmond County reported 22 new cases for 19,019, Columbia County had three for 10,691 and McDuffie and Glascock each reported two for 1,606 and 142 respectively. Four counties only reported one case each: Burke rose to 1,709, Jenkins rose to 712, Wilkes stands at 712 and Lincoln rose to 712. All other Augusta-area counties remained the same – Screven at 794, Jefferson at 1,547, Warren at 366 and Taliaferro at 99. No new deaths were reported in the Augusta-Aiken area. The area death toll remained at 979.
Honolulu: Hawaii has given more than a half-million COVID-19 vaccines as of Wednesday. Nearly 560,000 shots have been administered on the islands according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 data tracker, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday. Data showed the state ranked seventh in the nation for vaccinations with a rate of 39,489 doses per 100,000 residents. Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the state by April 1 hopes to reach a total of 600,000 shots, and 900,000 by May 1. He said about 10,000 vaccines are being put in arms each day. “It’s a big milestone that keeps us on track,” he said. “All of which bodes very well for us because we’re rapidly increasing our immunity.” The total includes vaccinations by the military and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Hawaii is behind only Alaska at 47,295 per 100,000; New Mexico is at 46,914; South Dakota at 43,518; North Dakota at 42,674; Connecticut at 41,612; and Vermont at 39,530
Boise: The state Legislature voted Friday to shut down for several weeks after an outbreak of COVID-19. Lawmakers in the House and Senate made the move to recess until April 6 with significant unfinished business, including setting budgets and pushing through a huge income tax cut. At least six of the 70 House members tested positive for the illness in the last week, and there are fears a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus is in the Statehouse. “The House has had several positive tests, so it is probably prudent that the House take a step back for a couple weeks until things calm down and it’s not hot around here for COVID,” House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said before the votes. Five of those who tested positive are Republicans and one is a Democrat. Another Republican lawmaker is self-isolating. The chamber has a super majority of 58 Republicans, most of whom rarely or never wear masks. All the Democratic lawmakers typically wear masks. The three lawmakers who tested positive this week, two Republicans and one Democrat, had been participating in debates on the House floor. The House, with the illness spreading, requested the Senate recess as well. Two senators contracted COVID-19 but have recovered and returned to the 35-member Senate. The Senate honored the House request and voted to recess about an hour after the House, with Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder calling it “an unusual and kind of historic request that has been made of us.”
Springfield: Gov. J.B. Pritzker said higher education staffers, government workers and the media will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines beginning this week. In a news release, the governor said the latest groups can get their vaccines beginning Monday. On March 29, religious leaders, construction trade workers and food and beverage workers will be eligible for vaccines. Then, on April 12, vaccines will be open to any resident of Illinois 16 years and older. Also, on Friday the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the latest COVID-19 statistics, reporting another 2,380 confirmed and probable cases in the state and that the death toll had climbed by 12. With Friday’s totals, Illinois has reported 1,218,470 COVID-19 cases and 21,034 deaths since the pandemic began early last year.
Indianapolis: Authorities are adding residents between the ages of 40 and 44 to those eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting Monday. Indiana had previously limited eligibility to residents who are 45 and older. The state also made health care workers, long-term care residents, first responders and educators up to grade 12, along with other school workers such as classroom aides, bus drivers and cafeteria workers eligible. The Department of Health said the expanded age requirements will make 400,000 additional residents eligible to be vaccinated. Appointments for those between the ages of 40 and 44 will become available starting Monday. State health authorities said slots will extend over the next several weeks to match with expected deliveries of more vaccine to Indiana. Eligible residents can schedule an appointment to receive a vaccine by visiting https://ourshot.in.gov or calling 211 if they do not have access to a computer, or require assistance.
Des Moines:Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ job approval has slipped, and a majority of Iowans said they hope she decides against seeking reelection in 2022, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll showed. A majority of Iowans now disapprove of the way Reynolds has handled the coronavirus pandemic. Fifty-one percent disapprove, the highest percentage since the start of the pandemic; 47% approve; and 3% are unsure. Her 47% pandemic approval rating is slightly higher than it was in September, when it hit 44%. But it’s far lower than in June, soon after the pandemic’s outset, when 59% approved. Fifty-two percent said they hope Reynolds decides not to seek a second full term as governor, and 41% hope she decides to run. Another 7% are unsure.
Topeka: About 40% of Kansas prison staff and about 30% of inmates have declined to be vaccinated for COVID-19 despite massive outbreaks at lockups that have infected thousands. The Department of Corrections is in its sixth week of offering vaccinations to inmates and staff, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. It plans to continue operating vaccination clinics through mid-April, agency spokeswoman Carol Pitts said in an email. The agency doesn’t require employees or inmates to explain their reasons for declining the vaccine. Vaccinating inmates in the current phase, which also includes those 65 and older and essential workers such as teachers, has been controversial. The Republican-controlled Legislature urged Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly to postpone their inoculations so that others could get them first. But Kelly said prisons needed to be prioritized because they had been hard-hit and because outbreaks there could affect surrounding communities. As of Thursday, the prison system had reported 1,277 cases among staff and 6,117 among inmates since the start of the pandemic. There also had been 21 deaths among prisoners and staff.
Frankfort: Gov. Andy Beshear has relaxed the curfew on bars and restaurants as the state’s rate of positive COVID-19 cases reached its lowest level since early July. The curfew was extended one hour, starting last Friday. Bars and restaurants can serve food and drinks until midnight local time and stay open until 1 a.m., the governor said. “Hopefully this is a little bit of relief given the positive movement of where we are right now as a state with vaccines going up and cases going down,” Beshear said. Capacity limits at bars and restaurants will remain at 60% and the spaced-out seating rule still applies, the governor said. “We cannot have people crowding around bars or in restaurants around bars,” he said. “We do have to keep people separated.” Kentucky’s rate of positive cases fell to 3.23% Thursday, the lowest level since July 3. On Friday, the rate was up slightly to 3.4% with 731 new cases and 25 new deaths.
Baton Rouge: The Louisiana Supreme Court is ending the suspension it enacted on jury trials across the state because of the coronavirus pandemic. The high court announced that trial courts can resume jury trials April 1, if the local courts have determined they can meet safety protocols including social distancing provisions and mask mandates. “It is imperative that members of the public feel safe in returning to our courthouses for jury duty,” Chief Justice John Weimer said in a statement. “Serving as a juror is one of the most important civic responsibilities to be undertaken by our citizens, and it is the courts’ responsibility to ensure their safety.” Weimer said the Supreme Court’s decision to end the jury trial moratorium came after consultation with legal and medical experts, including the governor’s top public health adviser, Dr. Joe Kanter with the state health department, and Louisiana’s state epidemiologist, Theresa Sokol. A backlog of cases has built up because of the delay in jury trials.
Portland: A company that’s one of only two manufacturers of a specific type of swab needed for coronavirus tests is opening a production facility in Tennessee, officials said. The Puritan Medical Products plant would be the first outside Maine, but the company had no details on where it would be located or when it will open, spokesperson Virginia Templet told the Bangor Daily News. The company has three plants in Maine. The federal government has provided the company hundreds of millions of dollars since the start of the pandemic as the government rushed to ramp up coronavirus testing last year. Puritan, which is based in Guilford, opened two plants in Pittsfield last year. One was helped by $75.5 million in funding from the Department of Defense, and $51.2 million in coronavirus relief funding helped launch another plant. In January, the federal government awarded it $110 million to purchase production equipment necessary to increase swab production. Last June, former President Donald Trump visited the company’s headquarters to praise the workers. The only other company that makes the specific swab is in Italy.
Annapolis: Gov. Larry Hogan said a group of independently owned pharmacies headquartered in Maryland have joined the state’s vaccine distribution network. His office said in a statement that the network is known as EPIC Pharmacies. The Republican governor also will visit Apple Discount Drugs in Salisbury on Friday. It’s one of the first independent pharmacies taking part in the program. “We currently have 2,324 different distribution points from one end of the state to the other, and are thrilled to add EPIC Pharmacies to our vaccination efforts in order to further expand our reach and ensure that no Marylander is left behind,” Hogan said in a statement. Nearly 300 pharmacies across Maryland are administering COVID-19 vaccines as of last Friday. The stores are receiving direct allocations from the state and the federal government. Pharmacy providers of the vaccine can be found at covidvax.maryland.gov.
Boston: Twenty-nine organizations are asking Gov. Charlie Baker to delay the reopening steps taking effect Monday by at least at month. Massachusetts moves into the next phase of reopening starting Monday, with large sports venues allowed to open with 12% capacity. Gathering limits for event venues and in public settings will increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors, the administration said. “We constantly go back and look at what we’ve done and think about it as we look forward,” Baker told WBZ. “The idea that this process isn’t an iterative one, is just wrong. We’re constantly talking to people about this.” Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, drafted the letter to Baker from the groups. “We’re concerned that there’s the possibility of a fourth wave of the pandemic just as we’re about to see that light that we all need at the end of the tunnel,” Pavlos said. The CDC last week urged states to reconsider rolling back restrictions, the news station reported.
Coopersville: One of the state’s top high school wrestlers who has been idled by strict COVID-19 rules could not persuade a judge to get him into the weekend state tournament. Ottawa County Judge Karen Miedema declined to intervene Friday, said David Kallman, an attorney for Tyler Janssen of Coopersville High School in western Michigan. “Tyler is the No. 1 wrestler in the state in his weight class. … This could adversely impact his college prospects,” Kallman told the Associated Press. The county health department ordered Janssen into a 10-day quarantine on March 12 after being told that he was near a classmate who tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the lawsuit. Janssen, a senior, has tested negative each day during his quarantine, which ended Sunday – a day late for the wrestling tournament, Kallman said. Marcia Mansaray of the local health department acknowledged that federal guidance called for a seven-day quarantine. But the Michigan health department, she said, is sticking with 10 days. “If we were in the wrong fighting for what we’re fighting for, we’d take a step back and it would be fine,” Janssen said. “But it’s the fact that we’ve tried to follow every guideline, every protocol there is. My voice feels like it’s not getting heard by anybody. That’s my biggest frustration.”
Minneapolis: Health officials suspect that a coronavirus variant is driving a recent increase in the state’s case rate. Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said during a media briefing Friday that more than 300 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom have been found in Minnesota. Cases have been detected in various parts of the state, including in Carver County near the Twin Cities, and Mankato and St. Louis counties in the northern part of the state. Health officials called virus variants a “significant cause for concern,” and expect B.1.1.7 to become the dominant strain in the state and country. As Minnesota continues with its vaccination efforts, officials warned against ceasing mitigation efforts like masking and social distancing to avoid further transmission of the more contagious variant.
Jackson: The South African coronavirus variant has been discovered in a Mississippi resident for the first time, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said Friday. A resident of Harrison County on the Gulf Coast contracted the B.1.351 strain, which was first detected in South Africa and is believed to be more infectious. The sequencing was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mississippi’s state health department submitted samples to the CDC on a weekly basis for testing, Dobbs said. There have been more than 140 cases of the South African variant that have been detected in at least 25 states, Dobbs said. The strain shares some mutations with B.1.1.7, a more easily spread variant that was first identified in Britain late last year. Dobbs said the discovery of the South African variant in Mississippi is “a strong reminder that we are not remotely out of this (pandemic) and we still need to exercise some basic caution.” He advised mask-wearing and not gathering in large groups. The state has reported 10 cases of the U.K. strain since it was first detected in Mississippi in mid-February. Dobbs said the health department plans to post more detailed information on the variants found in the state on its website in the coming days.
Columbia: Missourians now have until mid-May to file state taxes. Gov. Mike Parson on Friday announced his administration pushed the deadline for individuals to file state tax returns from April 15 to May 17, days after the federal government did the same. Parson said the delayed due date will help people still struggling financially because of the pandemic. Also on Friday, researchers released results from a pilot study of COVID-19 transmission in some Springfield and St. Louis schools. The study by the Washington University School of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed the virus’ spread in 57 schools over a two-week period in mid-December, when virus cases in Missouri were high. Masks were required at the schools. Other safety measures included deep cleaning, emphasis on hand-washing and sanitizing, better ventilation, daily symptom screening and virtual class options. Of 102 students in close contact with 37 people who tested positive for the coronavirus – other students, staff and teachers – the pilot study found only two contracted the virus. The pilot study also shed light on differences in quarantine procedures between schools. Springfield schools allowed students who were close contacts of infected people at school but reliably wore masks to continue in-person learning. The spread of the virus was still rare.
Helena: The state is dropping legal action filed last year against five businesses in northwestern Montana accused of violating public health orders meant to limit the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Greg Gianforte said. As part of a settlement filed in the Flathead County district court, the businesses are also dropping counterclaims against the state. The state is paying the defendants’ more than $94,000 in attorney costs, the settlement stated. The lawsuit was filed by the state health department under former Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, in October. It accused the businesses of failing to adequately enforce the statewide mask mandate. Gianforte, a Republican, promised to end the legal action soon after taking office in January. “We already have enough federal overreach that we don’t need the state joining in,” he said in a statement. The businesses involved are the Remington Bar, Sykes Diner and Scotty’s Bar in Kalispell, and the Ferndale Market and Your Turn Mercantile near Bigfork. They filed a counter lawsuit in November claiming the agency selectively targeted them and hurt them financially, officials said. Separately, a case filed by Gallatin County against the Rocking R Bar for failing to follow COVID-19 mitigation rules was dismissed last month after Gianforte eliminated several health mandates put in place by Bullock, NBC Montana reported.
Omaha: A child care and preschool center in west Omaha has been closed after reporting more than 60 possible cases of COVID-19. The Douglas County Health Department confirmed that Rosewood Academy Childcare & Preschool closed Wednesday night, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Department spokesman Phil Rooney said the center will remain closed for 10 days as health officials investigate. A small outbreak of an illness at a day care is not unusual, Rooney said, but having one that requires a center to close is rare. So far, health officials have confirmed 23 cases, but expect that number to rise.
Las Vegas: Seventeen tribal communities in Nevada are set to receive a total of more than $10 million for affordable housing under the federal government’s COVID-19 relief act, the state’s U.S. senators said. Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen said Friday the $1.9 trillion bill included more than $31 billion for Indian country. Rosen called the funds for tribes long overdue and the largest infusion of dedicated resources to Indian Country in U.S. history. Masto said funds will support health care, housing and economic recovery. Allocations range from about $35,000 each for the Las Vegas Tribe of Paiute Indians, the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe and the Winnemucca Indian Colony to nearly $1.5 million for the Duck Valley Shoshone-Paiute Tribes in Owyhee. The Walker River Paiute, Pyramid Lake Paiute and Washoe tribes will each receive more than $1 million, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone, Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians, Yerington Paiutes and Reno-Sparks Indian Colony will each receive amounts varying between $500,000 and $1 million. Other tribes receiving funding are the Duckwater Shoshone, Ely Shoshone, Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone, Lovelock Paiute, Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, Summit Lake Paiute and Yomba Shoshone.
Concord: A state infection control assessment conducted at the New Hampshire Veterans Home showed sufficient personal protective equipment at the Tilton home, while recommending more staff training for putting on and removing it. “During our site visit, you described your infection control program and infrastructure especially focusing on hand hygiene, personnel protective equipment, safe injection safety respiratory/cough etiquette, and environmental cleaning,” a letter from Andria Scacheri, a specialist at the Healthcare-Associated Infections Program at the state’s Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, said. “Overall, your facility has a good infection prevention and control infrastructure.” Health officials visited the 250-bed nursing home on March 12. The report said staffing and testing capabilities are “adequate” to handle a coronavirus outbreak. It noted that the home is still having difficulties ordering N95 respirator masks. Nearly all of the residents had received the COVID-19 vaccine, the report said. The home had more than 30 deaths related to the coronavirus during an outbreak last year.
Trenton:The coronavirus has continued to spread across New Jersey at such a high rate that the Garden State now has an unwanted distinction: It leads the U.S. in new cases per capita over the past week. Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday that the case rate and other key pandemic metrics are “uncomfortably too high.” His administration is hoping to bring that number down with an “exponential” increase in vaccines that are expected to be allotted to New Jersey starting in the next few weeks. After seeing significant drops in January and February, major COVID-19 metrics like hospitalizations and intensive care admissions have plateaued in March despite a ramp-up in vaccinations. But the state’s rate of 293 new cases per 100,000 is more than double the national average of 113, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We’ve got to watch this like a hawk to make sure this does not break out and up from that range,” Murphy said. New Jersey ranked ninth in COVD-19 deaths per 100,000 over the past week at 3.1, according to the CDC. The national average is 2.2. The rise in cases came as Murphy began to slowly lift restrictions, the most significant occurring Friday when restaurants, gyms, salons and other businesses were allowed to expand to 50% occupancy.
Albuquerque: The Department of Health is launching an app that will enable your phone to tell you in some instances if you have been exposed to the coronavirus. The app called NM Notify and intended to help slow spread of the coronavirus will go live Tuesday, KRQE-TV reported. The department said NM Notify is a voluntary program that works by exchanging anonymous keys through Bluetooth with other nearby phones that also have the exposure notification app activated. When a person tests positive for the coronavirus, they will get a text with a verification that, when activated, will let other phones nearby know of exposures. According to the department, the notifications go out only a few times a day to help ensure privacy of the infected person. Users of Android devices can find the app in the Google store. Users of iPhones using settings to turn on exposure notifications. The department said the NM Notify app does not collect personal or location data and that no identifying data is returned to the department or another organization.
New York City: Public school students will get another chance to go back to school in-person this spring after federal authorities eased their guidance on how many children can safely fit in a classroom, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. He said the new window for choosing in-person school would open this week, with details to be announced Monday. Returns to the classroom will start with preschoolers and elementary school students. “For parents of kids in younger grades, we are confident that we will be able to bring back a substantial number of students by the end of April,” said de Blasio, a Democrat. But the teachers union questioned the mayor’s authority to open schoolhouse doors to more students and complained that he had issued a “proclamation without a plan.” “We will wait for New York state to weigh in,” the United Federation of Teachers said in a statement. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that students can safely sit 3 feet apart in the classroom if they wear masks. The agency previously called for 6 feet of distance. Schools across the country had to remove desks and stagger schedules in order to meet that standard. Students should still be kept 6 feet away from one another at sporting events, assemblies, lunch or chorus practice, the CDC said. The teachers union said it would be “extremely complicated to implement such a plan in New York City public schools” in an email to members before de Blasio’s announcement.
Greenville: Gov. Roy Cooper urged legislators to expand Medicaid during a tour of a large-scale vaccination clinic in Greenville on Friday. Cooper visited the Vidant/Pitt County Large Scale Vaccine Clinic at the Greenville Convention Center to see how vaccine distribution is proceeding in eastern North Carolina. The center will have administered 50,000 doses of the vaccine as of Saturday, said Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of Vidant Health, the primary health care provider in 29 eastern counties. “The vaccination center has brought together all kinds of people and to hear the voices of people who have just got their shots, knowing that they are a little more protected, and all said they are coming back for their second one,” Cooper said.
Bismarck: Health officials said vaccinations for the coronavirus will be available to the general public beginning March 29. The agency said some regions of the state could move into the Phase 2 of the vaccination plan even sooner. The state developed a series of priority phases with the help of a vaccine ethics committee. Health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, and older adults were the first to be vaccinated. Gov. Doug Burgum said in a statement that people who have not received a vaccine are encouraged to do so. Burgum received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine last week. The governor has described vaccination as part of the plan to return to normal life. The health department said as of Friday, almost 195,000 people in North Dakota had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Columbus:The state reported 1,483 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases Sunday, bringing the total to 999,750 since the start of the pandemic. There were no new deaths reported and the total stands at 18,340. So far, 2,786,318 people, or 23.84% of the state’s population, have been vaccinated; the national average is 23.3%.
Oklahoma City: The number of new COVID-19 cases continued to trend lower Saturday in Oklahoma, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The university’s data showed the rolling average number of the state’s new daily COVID-19 cases were falling by 31%. The State Department of Health reported no new cases on Saturday, leaving the state’s pandemic total holding steady at 434,491. However, Johns Hopkins data showed 29 new COVID-19 deaths drove the state’s pandemic death toll to 4,788. More than 1 million people in Oklahoma have received at least one vaccine dose, almost 27% of the population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Portland: Students in Portland Public Schools will begin hybrid, in-person instruction April 1 after the teachers union and the school board ratified a deal to return to classroom instruction during the pandemic. KOIN reported that by a 6-1 vote Thursday night, the PPS Board of Educatoin approved the plan for the youngest students – preschool through 1st grade – to begin on April 1. Students in 2nd grade through 5th grade would begin in-person instruction on April 5, and students in 6th grade through 12th grade will start the week of April 19. The PPS Board of Education’s vote was the final step in students and teachers returning to class. Board member Amy Kohnstamm was the sole “no” vote. She cited a rule that requires at least 6 feet of space between desks and said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to change that recommendation as early as this week. “It makes an enormous difference for our kids because if we simply create the flexibility to adjust to a change in those physical distancing requirements we can double the amount in-person instruction time,” Kohnstamm said. The Portland district is Oregon’s largest, with about 49,000 students.
Erie: Erie County’s weekly total of COVID-19 cases has tumbled to a level not seen since October. County health officials remained concerned, however, that more easily transmissible coronavirus variants could spark another surge in cases. The county’s first case of the B.1.1.7 variant, commonly known as the U.K. variant, was reported Wednesday. “If we can hang on another four to six weeks, we will have a lot more people vaccinated and perhaps we won’t see a rise in cases,” said Dr. Howard Nadworny, a Saint Vincent Hospital infectious diseases specialist and adviser to the Erie County Department of Health. The county reported 192 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases between March 12-18, fewer than half of the 405 cases reported between March 5-11, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. It’s the fewest weekly cases reported since the week of Oct. 16-22, based on county health department data. The previous week’s total was boosted by a COVID-19 outbreak at the State Correctional Institution at Albion that infected nearly 300 inmates and staff. The inmates are considered county residents and are included in the county’s case totals.
Providence:Several students at a Rhode Island independent school are enrolled in a clinical trial to study the effectiveness of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine in adolescents. Moderna has enrolled 3,000 12- to 17-year-olds in the trial, including nine at the Gordon School in East Providence, The Providence Journal reported. Each will receive either a placebo or the real vaccine, then they will be followed for 12 months after their second shot. Peyton Riegel, a seventh-grader at the school that educates children up to eighth grade, said she volunteered because this is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that will really help.” Her father tested positive for the coronavirus in January and although he wasn’t sick, he had to quarantine for two weeks while Peyton shifted to remote learning. “We had to bring him meals,” she said. “Suddenly, it hit us. It really hadn’t before.”
Columbia: A legislative committee has approved spending $313,000 on devices that clean the air of viruses and mold in the six buildings on the Statehouse grounds. Officials expect the air ionizing devices should be in place next month, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported. The state prison system has installed some of the machines and said they immediately slowed the spread of COVID-19 among inmates and workers. The devices can eliminate the coronavirus, but also other more common viruses that cause illnesses. They can also eliminate mold, an important consideration in a complex where each building is at least 40 years old, according to the state Department of Administration. The agency that oversees maintenance on many state buildings is also evaluating how much it will cost to put the machines in 46 other facilities it manages, Department of Administration spokesperson Kelly Coakley said. Members of the Joint Bond Review Committee who approved putting the machines in the six Statehouse buildings, a parking garage and the South Carolina Supreme Court building across the street believe the devices can be paid for through federal COVID-19 relief money. The same committee set aside $1.7 million in December to put the air ionizing devices in 21 state prisons and administrative buildings, and the number of COVID-19 cases dropped, Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling told the newspaper.
Sioux Falls:Meat processors in South Dakota will get a helping hand after all because of COVID-19 relief funds. The South Dakota Department of Agriculture will distribute $5 million in grants to qualifying butchers in response to market and workforce disruption, according to a news release. Previously, Gov. Kristi Noem had asked the state legislature to approve House Bill 1040, which would have allocated $5 million to butchers to expand their facilities and upgrade equipment in response to the pandemic. However, that legislation was tabled indefinitely by the House of Representatives, most likely because it was made known in committee by Rep. Chris Karr that federal relief funding was available for the project. Grants will be available to processors with less than 60 employees that are state-inspected, licensed custom-exempt slaughter plants or small federally inspected plants. Applications are now available on the Department of Agriculture website and are due by May 1. Grants will be announced on May 25.
Nashville:The Metro Public Health Department announced the city would shift to the next phase of vaccination eligibility beginning Monday. Phases 2A and 2B are now open, which includes all people 55 and older, along with critical infrastructure workers in the following groups: social services, commercial agriculture, commercial food production, corrections staff, public transit, transportation, public infrastructure, telecommunications and utilities and energy. The move comes as two of Tennessee’s largest metro counties announced expanded eligibility this week under phases 2A and 2B. On Tuesday, the Madison County Health Department advanced to the next phases. Shelby County did the same on Thursday. The following day, Knox County announced its expansion. Davidson County, home of Nashville, the state’s largest city, was still in Phase 1C as of Friday as it prepared for its first mass vaccination event, scheduled for Saturday. At the event, Mayor John Cooper announced that as of Wednesday, more than 20% of Nashville residents have received a vaccine. Having reached this milestone, he said the city can continue to open its economy, as long as mask-wearing and social distancing continue.
Austin: New Texas COVID-19 cases took a solid dip in their total on Friday, according to the state case count. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 3,521 new cases Friday, 852 fewer than the day before. The addition of 53 previously unreported cases brought the state’s pandemic total to 2,739,385. The state also reported the fewest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since Oct. 10 at 3,752 as of Thursday, the most recent total available. The estimate of active cases fell by 1,099 to 107,597. Johns Hopkins University researchers said the 158 new COVID-19 deaths reported Friday raised the state’s pandemic death toll to 47,193. The researchers also said the rolling average of daily new cases had fallen by almost 3,003 over the past two weeks, decreasing about 41%.
St. George:Intermountain Healthcare said it will keep its mask guidelines in its facilities when Utah’s statewide mandate ends on April 10. Caregivers working in patient-facing areas or with visitors will continue to follow all PPE guidelines and wear a procedure mask and eye protection. Also, caregivers in nonpatient-facing areas will continue to wear cloth face coverings. Patients and visitors should continue to wear cloth face coverings. Masking will continue to be required within all Intermountain hospitals and facilities. “Our guidelines have worked and it’s important to continue our focus on patient and caregiver safety,” said Eddie Stenehjem, Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases physician, in a press release. Another reason Intermountain isn’t changing its masking guidelines for patients and caregivers right now is because the risk of transmission of COVID-19 variants remains a concern, especially with movement between counties and states.
Montpelier: Two strains of coronavirus variants were detected in Vermont residents, according to the state’s health department. Earlier this month, the state reported that testing had detected a variant that originated in the United Kingdom. More cases of the U.K. variant have been detected in the state in addition to a variant that was first identified in California. Health officials said although it is not surprising that the variants continue to be detected, it reinforces concerns of increased cases, illnesses and outbreaks. Despite progress in vaccinating Vermonters and easing of some of the restrictions designed to reduce the spread of the virus, the state is still urging people to wear masks, maintain social distance and avoid crowds. “These variants of the COVID-19 virus can move more easily from person to person,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine. “This is setting us up for a race of sorts between the presence of strains of a highly contagious virus, our rapidly progressing vaccination program, and the need for each of us to continue to focus on prevention and getting tested.” State officials are expected to update the public on Friday about the schedule for vaccinating Vermonters against COVID-19.
Fredericksburg: A judge has refused to issue a preliminary injunction sought by state officials against a restaurant whose owner has defied Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 restrictions on businesses. The judge on Friday denied the state’s request for an injunction that would have resulted in the immediate closure of Gourmeltz restaurant in Fredericksburg. The judge said the state had failed to show that it would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction or that an injunction was in the public interest. The Free Lance-Star reported that Gourmeltz owner Matt Strickland has refused to stop serving food and alcohol despite having his licenses suspended by the Virginia Health Department. State attorneys argued at a hearing last week that Strickland’s refusal to comply with mask and social distancing requirements justified the restaurant’s immediate closing. Strickland said the state’s mandates are unconstitutional. State officials began investigating Gourmeltz after receiving complaints about employees not wearing masks, social distance protocols not being followed and required signs not being posted.
Kitsap: A new drive-thru COVID-19 vaccine clinic is opening this week at the Olympic College campus in Poulsbo as a new wave of people becomes eligible for vaccinations. And other public vaccine clinics established by Kitsap Public Health and the county’s Emergency Operations Center are in the works, according to the health district, including at a new unnamed site in South Kitsap. The two have continued to run a clinic at the old St. Michael Medical Center campus in Bremerton. “Our goal is to vaccinate Kitsap residents as safely, efficiently, and equitably as possible,” Kitsap Public Health District Health Administrator Keith Grellner said in a statement. “We are grateful to Olympic College Poulsbo and the Olympic College Nursing Program for making this North Kitsap site possible.” A new set of eligible people can flood the market for vaccines this week as agricultural, grocery store, child care and public transit workers, those who are pregnant, those with a disability that puts them at high risk and others can begin to sign up for shots. The state’s Department of Health estimated that roughly 18,000 people in Kitsap are newly eligible.
Charleston: A member of the House of Delegates has contracted the coronavirus and is under quarantine, a House leader said. Raleigh County Republican Brandon Steele tested positive on Saturday, House Majority leader Amy Summers said in a statement. Steele chairs the House Government Organization Committee. Steele addressed legislation in the packed House chambers without a mask on Friday. Delegates are allowed to remove their masks when recognized to speak. “We have attempted to notify anyone who had the potential of high-risk exposure to this member, which would have meant close contact for more than 15 minutes, and we also want everyone with the House of Delegates to be aware of this positive case,” Summers said. Virus testing will be offered at the state Capitol starting Monday, including a drive-thru option, the statement said.
Madison: Although the state’s second-largest school district remained closed to in-person learning for most of the school year, a large number of districts across the state maintained in-person learning since September, with some only closing for one or two weeks because of COVID-19-related staffing shortages. The districts outlined a number of reasons why they opted to maintain in-person learning, with the lack of access to broadband internet needed to support online learning at the forefront. Some areas also lack cellphone coverage, so not even cellphone hot spots are an option. “The real issue is the infrastructure is not there,” Unity School District Superintendent Brandon Robinson said. When his district had to shut down in-person learning for two weeks in the fall because of a staffing shortage, students and families would sit in the parking lot to access the school’s Wi-Fi to complete classwork, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The Markesan School District, located in rural Green Lake County, has a student population of roughly 800 and has been open since September, but not without challenges, said Jason Breaker, interim district administrator and elementary principal. The district’s former superintendent, Duane Bark, died of COVID-19 last year.
Cheyenne: Wyoming has had about 7,000 people use its COVID-19 app at its peak, but only about 75 used a code to broadcast potential exposures, according to Kim Deti, a health department spokesperson. Instead, she said, the state relies primarily on in-person tracing. “We have continued to consider phone interviews by trained epidemiologists with cases to identify those at high risk of exposure, followed by direct notification of an exposure by an epidemiologist, to be the gold standard of response,” Deti wrote in an email.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports