Montgomery: The Alabama Department of Public Health on Tuesday recommended resuming Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccinations following weekend guidance from federal authorities about an extremely rare side effect found in a handful of female recipients. The state halted J&J vaccinations earlier this month, after the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a nationwide pause on the shots “out of an abundance of caution” pending further review of six known cases of blood clots. In a press release Tuesday, ADPH said the data show J&J’s “known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks.” The extremely rare side effect, called thromobosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, occurred in mostly adult women younger than 50. “Women younger than 50 years old should be aware of the rare but increased risk of this adverse event and that there are other COVID-19 vaccine options available for which this risk has not been seen,” ADPH said in its release. “At this time, the available data suggest that the chance of adverse reactions occurring is very low, but the FDA and CDC will remain vigilant in continuing to investigate this risk.”
Hyder: Gov. Mike Dunleavy has offered COVID-19 vaccines to residents of the small British Columbia town of Stewart, with hopes it could lead the Canadian government to ease restrictions between Stewart and the tiny Alaska border community of Hyder a couple of miles away. “Our neighbors to the east are fantastic. We couldn’t ask for better neighbors than the Canadians. But the virus has really hit them hard, and as a result, their mitigating approaches have affected us greatly by slowing down traffic, limiting traffic,” Dunleavy said late last week during a trip on which he met with local leaders and residents in Ketchikan, Hyder and Metlakatla, the only Indian reserve in Alaska, to hear how they have been affected by the pandemic and about their top priorities and concerns. Hyder and Stewart are closely linked. Hyder residents get gas and groceries in Stewart, and kids from Hyder go to school there. Hyder even shares an area code with its Canadian neighbor and runs on Pacific time, an hour ahead of most of the rest of Alaska. Stewart has about 400 residents. Hyder, with an estimated population of nearly 70, flies a banner declaring itself “the friendliest ghost town in Alaska.” Dunleavy referred to Hyder and Stewart as “one community in two countries.”
Phoenix: After weathering the crisis the pandemic has inflicted on the travel industry and having to furlough hundreds of employees, many hotels and resorts are finally reaching out to bring staff back, only to have those calls go unanswered. Paul Gray, general manager for the Arizona Grand Resort and Spa in Phoenix, said he’s been repeatedly emailing and calling furloughed staff. Although some have returned, Gray has struggled to fill every position. Those in the industry see a variety of causes for the labor shortage. Some point to federal coronavirus relief checks and boosted unemployment benefits. Others suggest many complicating factors converging. After more than a year, many workers have moved or found more stable employment in other industries. Many are concerned about on-the-job safety in the hospitality sector. And with many schools offering online education, some parents don’t have child care to enable them to return to work. Resorts have worked to counter those obstacles by offering higher wages and other incentives. “We have increased hourly rates to levels I never thought we would do,” Gray said. He’s placed radio ads, held job fairs and put up billboards. “We have bonuses,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to make it a very attractive and, you know, fun and safe place to work.”
Little Rock: The state on Monday resumed offering the one-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after getting a federal green light to use it again. Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the move two days after U.S. health officials said they were lifting an 11-day pause on using the J&J vaccine. Scientific advisers decided the shot’s benefits outweigh a rare risk of blood clots. “The resumption of the J&J distribution allows us to say with confidence that the vaccine is as safe as the first two,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “This will reenergize our campaign to persuade everyone to be immunized.” Nearly 35% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 24% have been fully immunized, the CDC said. The Department of Health said Monday that the state’s coronavirus cases increased by 63 to 334,769, and COVID-19 deaths rose by two to 5,720. The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 18 to 170. The state’s active cases, meaning ones that don’t include people who have died or recovered, decreased by 117 to 1,805.
Eureka: Humboldt County is seeing a spike in coronavirus infections that health officials say is linked to superspreader events, including one tied to a Pentecostal church. COVID-19 infections in the rural Northern California county, known for its beautiful landscapes and booming marijuana fields, had been declining for weeks, but last week officials recorded 130 cases. In comparison, the county recorded 45 cases the week of April 5. An outbreak at Eureka the Pentecostal Church led health officials to send a team to set up a coronavirus testing site at the church’s parking lot. Health authorities said church officials and members have been collaborating to try to stop the spread. “We’re grateful for all they’re doing to protect each other and the community as a whole,” said Humboldt County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman. In a statement posted on its website, the church said officials don’t know if the members were infected at a church service or another gathering. “We had gone over an entire year with no outbreak at the church, but despite our best efforts, the virus was introduced to our congregation,” the statement said. It said all church functions had been shut down. Humboldt County officials said they have declined 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine for next week after seeing a low turnout at clinics.
Denver: The state attorney general’s office will hire an independent investigator to look into whistleblower allegations that the state health department failed to properly enforce federal air quality standards. The Colorado Department of Law, led by Attorney General Phil Weiser, on Monday requested proposals for the investigation of the complaint filed with the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of inspector general March 30, The Colorado Sun reports. The proposals from independent investigators are due May 10. The whistleblowers in the complaint alleged that dozens of air pollution permits were issued unlawfully by the health department’s Air Pollution Control Division to companies and that at least one whistleblower was asked to falsify data to get pollution estimates under permitted limits. The request calls for “an independent and thorough investigation of factual allegations” raised by health department employees Rosendo Majano, De Vondria Reynolds and Bradley Fink. Chandra Rosenthal, an attorney for one of the whistleblowers, said the decision to launch an independent investigation signals the state’s “commitment to transparency, scientific integrity and combating air pollution.”
Hartford: The state House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly passed legislation that will let residents of nursing homes install cameras in their rooms, allowing them to be monitored virtually by their families. While the issue had been raised in previous legislative sessions, it took on new life this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a visitation ban at nursing homes across the state to prevent the spread of disease. “The pandemic really shined a spotlight on the need for technology in our long-term care facilities,” said Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, noting there are more than 20,000 nursing home residents in the state. “During the pandemic they were left without really any true connection to their families members and their loved ones, and technology came to the rescue.” The bill, which passed on a nearly unanimous vote, now awaits action in the Senate. Rep. Quentin Phipps, D-Middletown, co-chair of the General Assembly’s Aging Committee, said many groups worked together to help craft the legislation, which he said takes steps to protect residents’ privacy, a point of concern in previous years. Among other things, the bill requires a roommate’s written consent at least seven days before any virtual monitoring technology is installed. If it’s withdrawn, the resident must stop using the device.
Wilmington: A doctor’s outreach team to help combat the opioid epidemic has expanded to provide COVID-19 vaccines as well. Dr. Sandra Gibney and her team of vaccinators, including Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, have been offering shots to people staying in motels, along with the overdose-reversing medication naloxone and bags of food that are usually a part of their work. “I got my vaccination,” Quintana Bolling said, dancing and waving her white card in the air from the doorway of a room at the Best Night Inn. Bolling was there to visit a friend, never thinking she’d be able to get protected from the coronavirus at the same time. She was among dozens who got vaccinated as the outreach team made its way through the motel off Route 9, along with other nearby motels. It is a strategy Gibney and Hall-Long have also used to combat the addiction epidemic in Delaware: They just go to where the people are. The outreach effort followed a vaccine clinic at a Red Roof Inn in Minquadale, where the state places people with emergency vouchers until they can find more stable housing. It’s yet another strategy to take vaccines to the people who need them most, especially those who may struggle to access information or reach a mass vaccination clinic and those who are hesitant about getting the vaccine in the first place.
District of Columbia
Washington: With coronavirus numbers dropping, officials in the nation’s capital are relaxing a number of restrictions after more than a year of lockdown. The changes represent a step toward normality for D.C. residents and long-term hope for the city’s vital tourism and convention industry, which has been devastated by the pandemic. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that starting May 1, gyms and fitness centers can operate at 50% capacity, and live music will be permitted in gardens and outdoor spaces. Restaurants will be permitted to seat 10 people per table outdoors, up from the previous limit of six. Retail businesses can increase admittance from 25% to 50% capacity. Houses of worship can increase to 40% capacity, though Bowser said the government was still encouraging virtual or outdoor services. As of Monday, Washington’s daily infection rate has dropped to 14 cases per 100,000, the lowest since last fall. But Bowser still preached caution, saying residents need to remain patient as the vaccination program continues. City Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt acknowledged vaccine reluctance remains an issue and called on residents to encourage skeptics. “It’s time for people to start having talks with their friends and say, ‘Hey, we’re not hanging out with you unless you get vaccinated,’ ” Nesbitt said.
Miami: A private school founded by an anti-vaccination activist has warned teachers and staff against taking the COVID-19 vaccine, saying it will not employ anyone who has received the shot. The Center Academy in Miami sent a notice to parents Monday informing them of a new policy for its two campuses for about 300 students from prekindergarten through eighth grade. Teachers or staff who have already taken the vaccine were told to continue reporting to school but stay separated from students. Co-founder Leila Centner told employees in a letter last week that she made the policy decision with a “very heavy heart,” the Miami Herald reports. Centner asked those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine to wait until the end of the school year and even then recommended holding off. Centner stood by the decision Tuesday in a statement sent to the Associated Press that featured the biologically impossible claim that unvaccinated women have experienced miscarriages and other reproductive problems just by standing in proximity to vaccinated people. Centner and her husband, David, started the school in 2019 after moving to Miami from New York. The school’s website promotes “medical freedom” from vaccines and offers to help parents opt out of vaccines otherwise required for students in Florida.
Jekyll Island: One of coastal Georgia’s biggest food festivals has been canceled for a second year. Jekyll Island will forgo its Shrimp & Grits Festival this fall, The Brunswick News reports. The coronavirus pandemic forced organizers to pull the plug in 2020. Now a lack of funding from sponsors and fewer restaurants committing to participate prompted organizers to shelve the festival until November 2022. “We don’t want to do anything that causes Shrimp & Grits not to be the premiere festival,” Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, told the agency’s governing board last week. “We don’t want it to be lackluster.” One of the festival highlights has been restaurant chefs serving up their own unique spins on shrimp and grits for attendees to sample. Hooks noted many restaurants are still struggling from the pandemic, with many trying to deal with staffing shortages that would make it harder for them to take part in the festival. But Hooks insisted that after a two-year hiatus, the Shrimp & Grits Festival will return and said he plans for a big comeback to celebrate the event’s 15th anniversary next year. “We are already looking toward the future,” Hooks said, “and in no stretch of the imagination should it be interpreted that this would be the end of Shrimp & Grits because that is not the case at all.”
Honolulu: A project to replenish the sand at Waikiki Beach is expected to finish by mid-May. Starting in January, sand was dredged from a barge offshore, piped onshore and piled in a large pyramid that covered much of Kuhio Beach, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. Beginning Monday, workers began scooping truckloads of sand from the pyramid and hauling it along the shoreline to widen the beach that fronts the Moana Surfrider and Royal Hawaiian resorts. The sand hill had been about 30 feet high, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. It was composed of roughly 20,000 cubic yards of marine sand pumped from the ocean floor. Workers are scheduled to move the sand from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays in order to complete the project by Memorial Day. The Waikiki Beach Special Improvement District Association will provide $1 million for the project, while the state will foot the bill for the remaining $3 million. The active construction zone where the sand is being placed will be marked off each day with cones, tape and barricades. The beach will remain open, but sections along the truck haul route will be closed while work is in progress.
Boise: A state House panel on Monday approved legislation intended to head off a half-dozen executive actions from President Joe Biden to combat what he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment” of gun violence in America. The House State Affairs Committee sent to the full House the measure that prohibits Idaho government entities from upholding the executive actions announced earlier this month. The measure has already passed the Senate. Idaho already has in place legislation from 2014 stating that the state government cannot enforce federal actions that infringe upon Second Amendment rights. The additions to that law now being proposed with the new legislation seek to prevent Biden’s executive actions from being enforced in Idaho. Biden’s orders include a move to crack down on “ghost guns,” homemade firearms that lack serial numbers used to trace them and are often purchased without a background check. Biden is also seeking “red flag laws” allowing family members or law enforcement to, with a court order, temporarily bar people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others.
Springfield: Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Monday that the state could enter the long-awaited bridge phase – the transition between the coronavirus rules of the current Phase 4 and the full reopening in Phase 5 – within five or six days, depending on whether current trends continue through the week. At a press conference in Aurora, the Democratic governor said if test positivity numbers continued to improve, the state could loosen restrictions that have been in place since February. “(The numbers) have been coming down gradually, which is terrific,” Pritzker said. Illinois has already vaccinated more than 70% of people 65 and older, along with more than half of the overall adult population. However, because hospitalizations were increasing as the state hit the vaccination benchmarks, the move into the bridge phase was delayed. During the bridge phase, capacity limits will be loosened from 50% to 60% in offices, retail shops, museums, amusement parks, ticketed spectator events, movie theaters, zoos and conventions. Limits will also be expanded for restaurants and bars, with indoor standing areas being allowed to have 30%, with 50% capacity being allowed for outdoor areas. Expansion is also planned for festivals, farmers markets, recreation and social events.
Indianapolis: The governor asked a court Tuesday to block a new law that legislators passed giving themselves more authority to intervene when the state’s chief executive declares an emergency. Lawyers for Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb filed a lawsuit in Marion County court challenging the law that the GOP-dominated Legislature enacted 12 days earlier over his veto. It establishes a process under which legislative leaders can call the General Assembly into what it calls an “emergency session.” The governor’s lawsuit argues the Legislature is “usurping a power given exclusively to the governor” under the state constitution to call lawmakers into a special session. “This controversy must be resolved as soon as possible or the consequences could be severe, including disruption to Indiana and the proper functioning of state government – something that concerns every Hoosier,” the lawsuit said. Republican legislators pushed the bill after criticism from many conservatives over the mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions Holcomb imposed by executive order while the Assembly wasn’t meeting for about nine months. Legislative leaders have maintained that the measure wasn’t “anti-governor” and praised Holcomb’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which health officials say has killed more than 13,000 people in the state.
Iowa City: When Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration arranged coronavirus testing at the office of the governor’s biggest campaign donors, it was the first time in weeks and last time ever that the state would deploy a testing team to a private business, newly released records show. Iowa sent so-called strike teams to conduct rapid on-site testing at 17 businesses during the pandemic in 2020, including some of the state’s largest and most powerful pork and beef companies, according to long-delayed records released Monday. At least four of the companies that got strike team visits are owned by major donors to Reynolds’ campaign, including Iowa Select Farms, Lynch Livestock, Prestage Farms and GMT Corp., records show. Employees at the seed company owned by Iowa’s wealthiest man, the billionaire Harry Stine, also received testing by a strike team. About 40 other businesses were sent testing kits by the state or were assisted in getting employees tested at a nearby site, according to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health. State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, is looking into whether any companies received special treatment in getting strike teams at a time when nursing homes and some local officials were complaining of testing shortages and devastating outbreaks. The Republican governor and her aides have rejected any suggestion that her supporters received favoritism.
Topeka: Gov. Laura Kelly has signed a bipartisan bill to give the GOP-controlled Legislature more oversight of the modernization of the state’s troubled unemployment system. The bill Kelly signed Monday will require the Kansas Department of Labor to complete computer upgrades by the end of 2022. The new law calls for a 13-member council that will hire an independent firm to audit the impacts of fraudulent claims and improper payments beginning last year. The audit will also look into the department’s response to those issues. The bill, drafted by Republican lawmakers, passed unanimously in the Kansas House and Senate earlier this month. Legislators in both parties say they have been flooded with calls and emails from unemployed people who are struggling to get benefits and can’t get through to the department. The state has acknowledged a flood of fraudulent claims and attempts by scammers and internet bots to access the unemployment system. In a statement, Kelly said the bill will ensure that the state department of labor will “truly be prepared the next time our state faces an unprecedented economic crisis.”
Frankfort: Residents will no longer be required to wear masks at outdoor events with fewer than 1,000 people, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday in easing his rule to fight the spread of the coronavirus. He said his decision stems in part from the growing number of Kentuckians receiving COVID-19 shots, though the statewide vaccination pace has slowed in recent weeks. “It means if you are at a backyard barbecue, if you’re at your community pool, if you are at an outdoor wedding … you are not required to wear a mask,” Beshear said at a news conference. The Democratic governor recommended that unvaccinated Kentuckians wear masks when people are clustered closer than 6 feet apart at outdoor events. “But that will be a decision for your own safety in that outdoor environment,” Beshear said, while stressing that everyone should get vaccinated. The change doesn’t alter masking requirements indoors in public places. “So you’ll still need to wear one at work,” he said. “You’ll still need to wear one at the grocery store. You’ll still need to wear one at the drugstore.” Mask-wearing also will still be required when attending larger outdoor events. That means masking rules will remain in place when the Kentucky Derby returns to Churchill Downs on Saturday, he said.
Deridder: A century-old jail called the Gothic Hanging Jail is back open for tours, except when it’s raining. The Beauregard Parish Tourist Commission had halted daytime and lantern tours of the 107-year-old jail with a third-floor gallows because of the coronavirus pandemic and damage from hurricanes Laura and Delta. “Because of roof and concrete damage done to the jail, we will have to cancel tours on rainy days or nights,” Beauregard Parish Tourist Commission Executive Director Lori Darbonne told The American Press. The concrete jail with walls 1 foot thick opened in 1914. Its gallows was used only on March 9, 1928, for two men who had robbed and killed a taxi driver, according to an article in the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities publication “64 Parishes.” The jail is featured in an episode of “Ghost Brothers: Lights Out” that began streaming last week on Discovery+. Tours officially reopened April 8, with priority given to those on a long waiting list.
Augusta: The state might create a memorial for victims of COVID-19 in its capital city. Democratic state Sen. Ben Chipman has introduced a proposal that would lead to the creation of the memorial on the grounds of the Maine State House. The proposal would direct the Legislative Council to fund and design the memorial, the Maine Legislature Senate Majority Office said Monday. Chipman said the “once-in-a-generation pandemic needs to be properly recognized in the state of Maine.” COVID-19 has killed at least 777 people in the state, public health authorities said. The bill says it would allow the State House and Capitol Park Commission “to arrange for and oversee the development and installation of a monument honoring the victims of the pandemic related to coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.” The daily number of new coronavirus cases in Maine has continued to rise, though the rate of increase has slowed somewhat. The seven-day rolling average has risen over the past two weeks from 324.29 new cases per day April 11 to 351.43 per day Sunday. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths did not increase over those two weeks, remaining at 0.71 deaths per day.
Annapolis: The state has opened three drive-thru vaccination sites that don’t require appointments. Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday that COVID-19 shots will be available at Six Flags in Bowie, Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf and Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. Maryland also is offering no-appointment service at nine mass vaccination sites statewide. Hogan said expanding no-appointment vaccinations is another way of making it as easy as possible for people to get inoculated. According to the governor’s office, Maryland providers have now administered more than 4.43 million COVID-19 vaccines. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 58.9% of Marylanders 18 and older have received at least one dose, including 83.5% of residents 65 and older.
Boston: The state is relaxing its outdoor mask mandate as the numbers of hospitalizations and new coronavirus cases continue to decline, the Baker administration said Tuesday. Beginning Friday, face masks will only be required outside in public when it’s not possible to socially distance or when required for other reasons, including at outdoor events. Face coverings will still be required at all times in indoor public places, including stores. They’ll also continue to be required at all times at events, whether held indoors or outdoors, in a public space or private home, except when eating or drinking. At smaller gatherings in private homes, face coverings are recommended but not required. The $300 fine that had been put in place as an enforcement mechanism will also be eliminated.
Detroit: Attorneys for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration defended coronavirus testing for school athletes, telling a judge Tuesday that state law gives the health director extraordinary power to respond to a pandemic. A parent group called Let Them Play Michigan is seeking an injunction to stop weekly virus tests, which kicked in April 2 for athletes ages 13-19, along with related quarantines and mask requirements. The group argues that the policy must go through a formal rule-making procedure, a process that would take weeks or months. Critics have been encouraged by recent court victories by wrestlers who convinced judges to let them compete in state tournaments. They had repeatedly tested negative but were benched because of infections among other students. “Student-athletes have a protected liberty interest in associating with their peers and mentors and participating in athletic competitions as a component of their education,” attorney Peter Ruddell said in a filing at the Court of Claims. More than 1,000 people at times watched Judge Michael Kelly hear arguments Tuesday over Zoom. Assistant Attorney General Darrin Fowler said state law is clear: A health director can use emergency orders to combat a pandemic.
Marshall: A young child from southwestern Minnesota has died of COVID-19 complications, according to the state Department of Health. While coronavirus deaths in children are rare, they can occur even in otherwise healthy children, health officials said. “Since the start of the pandemic, three Minnesota children under age 18 have died due to COVID-19,” the health department said in a statement. Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams said the child, who died Sunday, was a first grader at Park Side Elementary. Williams said crisis team members will be on hand at the school to support those in need, WCCO-TV reports. Gov. Tim Walz released a statement Monday afternoon in response to the death. “It is simply heartbreaking to hear that COVID-19 has taken the life of someone so young,” Walz said. “My thoughts are with the Minnesota family grieving the loss of their beloved child. There is no grief more profound than the loss of family.” Walz’s office said the child did not have underlying health conditions. According to the school district, 22 students and staff are in quarantine at the elementary school. Williams said the school is following guidelines from state health officials and will continue in-person instruction.
Jackson: Small businesses and nonprofits economically displaced by the pandemic can now apply for low-interest loans up to $100,000 through the Southern Opportunity and Resilience fund. Of Mississippi’s small businesses, 47% have less than two months’ cash on hand, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Small Business Pulse Survey. The SOAR fund works with and through local Community Development Financial Institutions to provide help to underinvested business. SOAR’s effort will span 16 states, and 13 CDFIs will serve as the fund’s community lenders. “Southern states had slower economic growth, lower labor force participation, and higher unemployment than the rest of the country, partially driven by the historic lack of corporate and philanthropic investment in the region,” George Ashton, managing director at Local Initiatives Support Corporation, said in a media release Tuesday. Applicants can sign up online at www.TheSoarFund.org. Eligible businesses and nonprofits must employ 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees. They must have had a direct economic impact as a result of COVID-19. They should have been in operation since at least September 2019, with a few exceptions.
Kansas City: Nearly all coronavirus-related restrictions will be removed in the city, except for mask requirements for indoor gatherings, Mayor Quinton Lucas announced Monday. Beginning Friday, masks will no longer be required outdoors. Businesses will also no longer have to require customers to be seated, and restaurants and bars will not face capacity limits, restricted operating hours or social distancing requirements. The order, which is in effect until May 28, includes some exceptions to requiring masks indoors. Lucas said if everyone at an indoor gathering is vaccinated, and people at the gathering know everyone is vaccinated, masks would not be required. Children younger than 5 will not have to wear masks. The city’s current mask order has required masks to be worn inside or outside if people can’t maintain 6 feet of social distancing. “I know that other metropolitan counties are considering abolishing a mask requirement altogether,” Lucas said. “Here in Kansas City, we do not think that it is safe to do so, especially in close, tight, indoor environments, and so we will continue to push that forward.” Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department, said he is “100% on board” with the relaxed regulations but hopes business owners and others will see the guidelines as minimums.
Helena: The Legislature has passed a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring any vaccines as a condition of employment – a measure that could block a Great Falls health system from requiring its employees to have COVID-19 vaccines. The bill makes it an unlawful discriminatory practice for a person or governmental entity to deny services, goods, privileges, licensing, educational opportunities or employment opportunities based on a person’s vaccine status. It passed the House on Monday and now goes to Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte for his signature. Supporters of the bill included some employees of Benefis Health System, who were told they’d have to get a COVID-19 vaccine to continue working there. “Currently, there’s no Montana state law allowing employers to require vaccines as a condition of employment because up to now Montana employers have respected the fundamental, personal, medical and religious freedoms of Montanans,” Sen. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, said last week. The bill still allows employers to strongly recommend vaccines and “does not in any way prevent any employer from taking reasonable safety precautions, just as any hospital currently does, with an employee who does not have a flu shot,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Carlson, R-Manhattan.
Omaha: The pace of vaccinations is slowing down, as the state reported fewer than 100,000 COVID-19 shots were given in a week for the first time this month. State health officials said 93,284 doses were administered last week across Nebraska. That is less than half the 211,057 doses reported a week earlier. In each of the two previous weeks, roughly 120,000 doses were given statewide. “Unfortunately what’s happened – and we’ve really seen this happen across the entire state – is we’ve hit this wall where there’s not the urge that there was,” said Terra Uhing, executive director of Three Rivers Public Health, which serves Dodge, Saunders and Washington counties in eastern Nebraska. Health departments across the state have started offering more walk-in clinics instead of requiring appointments to make it easier to get vaccinated. The state said 40.8% of Nebraska’s population 16 or older has been vaccinated so far, and nearly 1.4 million shots have been given. State health officials continue to urge Nebraskans to sign up for a shot online at vaccinate.ne.gov, but in the past week only 4,375 people did that. In total, 375,906 people have registered on the site. Vaccines are also available at a number of local pharmacies across the state, as well as at Hy-Vees and Walmarts.
Reno: Burning Man 2021 is officially off. Burning Man organizers announced Tuesday that the event scheduled to take place from Aug. 26 to Sept. 3 in the Black Rock Desert, about two hours north of Reno, is not happening. On its website, officials posted that there were too many variables. “But, although here in the United States we may be feeling the weight lifting and the light at the end of the tunnel brightening, we are still in the pandemic, and the uncertainties that need to be resolved are impossible to resolve in the time we have,” the post said. “We have decided to set our sights on Black Rock City 2022.” Burning Man has been in talks with state officials since late last year about planning a more than 60,000-person event, according to internal documents obtained in March. Organizers had wavered on whether masks would be required if the festivities panned out.
Concord: A 9,000-seat amphitheater in the Lakes Region is advertising a combination of reduced- and full-capacity shows this summer, and businesses that benefit from people visiting the venue are happy to see some traffic again. “Of course it’s going to be much better than 2020, but I’m not sure it’s going to be as good as 2019,” Frank Tuscano, general manager of the nearby Fireside Inn and Suites, told The Laconia Daily Sun. “If we can do the numbers like we did in 2018, I’d be very happy.” Tuscano said when the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford had to cancel its shows last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, it cut his season’s numbers nearly in half. In 2019, a combination of multiple shows and Motorcycle Week kept him busy in the summer. Amy Landers of the Lakes Region Tourism Association said the Bank of NH Pavilion, as well as the Great Waters festival in Wolfeboro, feature talent that inspires fans to drive from Massachusetts, Vermont or Maine and engage in other tourism in the area.
Wildwood: A bar will be closed for the entire summer for repeated violations of COVID-19 health and safety orders, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said Monday. Under a negotiated settlement with the state, Shamrock Beef & Ale will have its liquor license suspended from May 1 through Sept. 30. Sara Ambrico, one of the bar’s managers, said its last operating day was last Saturday. The establishment will not try to operate without alcohol during the license suspension, instead reopening Oct. 1. The settlement between the bar’s ownership company and the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control resolves charges stemming from two COVID-19 compliance inspections conducted by the Wildwood Police Department in November 2020 and one conducted by the ABC in March 2021. They found “numerous” violations of pandemic-related executive orders, including repeated violations of social distancing rules and the then-10 p.m. curfew on indoor food and drink services, the attorney general’s office said. Ambrico said the bar tried its best and spent “thousands and thousands of dollars” on modifications. “We have a bar surrounded in plexiglass,” she said. “We cut a hole in a bar that’s been here since 1937 to try to comply with the orders, and it’s never enough.”
Santa Fe: A new estimate shows that successive rounds of federal economic relief since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic will deliver an estimated $18.9 billion in money and services to the state. The Legislature’s budget and accountability office published the estimate Monday. The analysis will be presented in greater detail Thursday to members of the legislative finance committee. The federal aid to one of the poorest states in the nation dwarfs the annual general fund spending of $7.4 billion by the New Mexico state government. The tally of nearly $19 billion includes direct payments to individuals and families, supplemental unemployment benefits, forgivable loans to businesses to support payroll, payments to health care providers, support channeled through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and more. A $10.4 billion portion of that aid is traced to relief legislation approved in March 2020. The state government received $1.25 billion through the act, including $360 million that went toward local governments and tribes. Relief signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021 should bring another $7.1 billion to the state, including $2.6 billion in direct payments to residents and $1.62 billion for state government.
Albany: More people will be able to attend outdoor sport games and concerts, go to gyms and casinos, and work in offices starting in mid-May, the governor announced Monday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said large-scale outdoor event venues can operate at 33% of capacity starting May 19 for professional and collegiate sports and live entertainment events. That’s up from 20% currently. New York will ease other capacity limits by May 15: Gyms and fitness centers outside New York City can move to 50%, up from 33%. Casinos and gaming facilities will increase from 25% to 50% capacity, while offices will go from 50% to 75%. “If you had asked me four months ago, would we have made as much progress as we’ve made, I would have been dubious,” Cuomo said at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse at a Monday press conference. “If things keep going the way they’re going, they will be revised up – more capacity, more flexibility.” New York had among the nation’s highest rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases this winter, and infection rates remained at high levels throughout February and March. But cases and hospitalizations have been steadily dropping in April statewide as more residents get vaccinated.
Raleigh: Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper recalled the pain and courage stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic in his State of the State address Monday, while urging Republicans to cooperate with him this year on health care, education and infrastructure needs. “In a year of hardship and loss, we owe it to ourselves and to each other – and, as leaders, we owe it to the people who elected us – to build a state that is truly more educated, equitable, healthier and prosperous,” Cooper said in a televised speech to a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chamber. He mourned the deaths of more than 12,500 residents and spoke of a pandemic that laid bare “the inequities that were already here” in public schools, high-speed internet and health care access. “But if we can harness all that we have learned from our loss, we can boost opportunities for all,” he said. Cooper also highlighted the service of several North Carolina residents during the pandemic, including a teacher, a child care center owner, health care providers and a National Guard member. They didn’t attend the speech due to COVID-19 precautions. “The state of our state is strong. And that’s because the character of our communities is even stronger,” he said during the 33-minute speech.
Bismarck: The Bismarck School Board has voted to end the district’s mask requirement and its contract tracing efforts beginning May 4. The decision Monday evening was met with applause from dozens of people attending the board meeting. The mask mandate has been in place since last fall. Some parents have spoken out against the policy at least two school board meetings this school year. Superintendent Jason Hornbacher recommended the board lift the mandate given Gov. Doug Burgum’s decision to end the state of emergency related to the pandemic, the availability of vaccines for staff, and the low numbers of COVID-19 cases among students and staff. The state’s COVID-19 school dashboard on Monday showed 31 active coronavirus cases in Bismarck students and no cases in staff, the Bismarck Tribune reports. Last week, Burgum announced that the state of emergency and executive orders related to the pandemic will end this Friday. The district will work over the next few days to develop health and safety protocols with optional masking, distance learning, graduation, busing and other activities, Hornbacher said.
Columbus: Another round of help is coming for beleaguered restaurants in the form of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which industry experts say is sorely needed despite an improving economy and widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccinations. Applications open May 3, but restaurateurs have concerns. The pot of money might be too small, and potential applicants worry technical difficulties that mired previous rounds of aid will return. Even as customers return, restaurant owners said they bear the scars of the pandemic economy. Delayed bills are slowly coming due. Employees, still wary of safety concerns and seeking better-paying work, are reluctant to return to the industry. Some businesses took out loans and now find themselves raising wages to attract workers, tightening already razor-thin profit margins. Dozens of bars and restaurants throughout central Ohio have shuttered, and employment in the state’s hospitality sector was cut in half at the height of the pandemic. Comune, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant on the South Side, turned to carryout, employing creative strategies like dinner kits to entice customers to continue patronizing the plant-focused eatery. While those tactics kept it afloat, “we’re still nowhere close to where the restaurant was in its prime prior to COVID,” owner Joe Galati said.
Oklahoma City: Three agencies within the Oklahoma State Department of Health have new leaders, according to a statement from the agency. Deputy state epidemiologist Jolianna Stone will become state epidemiologist, Dr. Jared Taylor will move from state epidemiologist to chief science officer, and Dr. Gitanjali Pai has been appointed chief medical officer. “These three positions are particularly crucial right now as we strive to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and improve our response to future pandemics,” health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said in the Monday statement. “I’m confident they’re the right people for the job, and I look forward to working with them to protect the health and wellness of Oklahomans.” The department on Tuesday reported totals of 447,393 virus cases since the pandemic began and 8,230 deaths based on data provided to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, increases of 115 cases and one additional death from Monday.
Portland: The state has released new mask guidance allowing people participating in non-contact sports to forgo a mask if they are distanced 6 feet apart. The Oregon Health Authority said Monday that it revised the guidance on the use of masks during outdoor competition as part of regularly reviewing COVID-19 guidance based on medical evidence and evolving science, KOIN-TV reports. The new guidance allows people to take off face coverings when competing in non-contact sports outdoors and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance from others. State health officials say the new guidance does not apply while training for competition, and masks must still be worn before and after competing.
Harrisburg: The state has put hundreds of government regulations on ice during the pandemic, but policymakers are starting to weigh whether any of the suspended or revised rules should be jettisoned for good. They are also examining whether it’s time to reinstate some of the suspended rules on a list that runs 139 pages, covering everything from training and inspections to the rights and living standards of people in group homes and children in foster care. House Republicans issued a set of letters to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf a month ago that identified dozens of suspended regulations about which they want more information, including whether some are still needed and if others can be put back in force. “The governor’s been making these decisions for a year, on his own, without consulting with the Legislature,” said Rep. Martin Causer, R-McKean, chairman of a House committee that was gathering details about suspended regulations during a meeting Tuesday. “We all have a focus on safety and want to make sure we’re focused on safety in dealing with these regulations. But it will require cooperation between the executive and legislative branch.” Wolf issued an April 7 order directing agencies to see which ones may be “unnecessary or counterproductive,” giving them until next week to report back.
Providence: The state’s two largest health care systems have taken the next step in their proposed merger by filing their application with the state Department of Health and the state attorney general’s office. Lifespan and Care New England said in a statement Monday that they expect the regulatory approval process to take several months. The systems earlier this month submitted their antitrust filing to the Federal Trade Commission. The organizations announced in February that they hade signed a merger agreement that includes a collaboration with Brown University’s medical school to create what they called an integrated statewide health care system. There had been previous efforts to merge, but talks resumed last summer, prompted by increased cooperation during the coronavirus pandemic. Critics of the deal have said a merger could drive up health care costs and cost jobs. The Rhode Island Foundation on Monday said it would lead an “independent effort to gather and share community input” on the proposal, including from those who might otherwise not have a voice in this process. Lifespan operates Rhode Island, the Miriam, Hasbro Children’s, Newport and Bradley hospitals. Care New England runs Women & Infants, Kent and Butler hospitals.
Columbia: The state housing authority plans to launch a $272 million federally funded program to assist residents in need of rental and utility assistance whose finances have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The application on SC Housing’s website will open in early May, and those who qualify may receive up to 12 months of assistance dating back to March 2020. Applicants can also qualify for future rent assistance. To be eligible, an individual must have qualified for unemployment or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced a financial hardship directly or indirectly due to COVID-19 (i.e., since March 2020); be able to demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and have a household income at or below 80% of county median income. Priority will be given to households with an income at or below 50% of the median income, those with an individual who has been unemployed for more than 90 days or those that are already in the eviction process. Residents in 39 counties are eligible to participate. Anderson, Berkeley, Charleston, Greenville, Horry, Richland and Spartanburg counties were directly funded by the U.S. Treasury and will operate their own assistance programs.
Sioux Falls: Active coronavirus infections in the state are continuing to fall, the South Dakota Department of Health reported Tuesday, as one new death from the disease caused by the virus was also confirmed. The latest death of a person with COVID-19 was in a man between the ages of 70 and 79. An additional 148 people tested positive for the virus, bringing the pandemic total to 122,228. Fifty of the new infections were reported in Minnehaha County, while 16 were in Lincoln County. Eight were among Brown County residents, and three were in Codington County. The number of recoveries outpaced new infections, and active infections fell to 1,765. Hospitalizations increased to 103. Of those, 30 patients were receiving intensive care, and 14 were on a ventilator. The state reported a total of 572,705 vaccine doses administered. Those have been given to 325,532 people.
Nashville: Gov. Bill Lee declared Tuesday that COVID-19 is no longer a statewide public health crisis, saying he is removing the option for most local governments to mandate masks in public and urging a few big counties with restrictions like mask requirements to remove them on their own by Memorial Day. The Republican governor’s message comes as the state faces a public more hesitant of COVID-19 vaccines than the rest of the country as a whole. Tennessee sits in the bottom three for its percentage of adults who’ve received at least one dose, at 42.8%, compared to the national rate of 53.9%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lee said a marketing campaign to promote the new vaccines is coming soon, but he said it’s not underway yet because the vaccine has just become widely available in recent weeks. The governor, who is up for reelection next year, said his attention is now turning to helping the economy recover. And as for COVID-19, he said that “we have to learn to live with it just like we do any risk.” “It’s time for celebrations and weddings and conventions and concerts and parades and proms and everything in between to happen without limits on gathering sizes or other arbitrary restrictions on those events,” Lee said at a news conference Tuesday.
Dallas: Not long after he began posting advice last year for people facing eviction during the pandemic, Mark Melton found himself inundated with phone calls and messages. “It became apparent really quickly that this was going to be too much of a job for one person,” said Melton, a Dallas tax attorney who decided to study up on eviction law as COVID-19 began taking an economic toll on Texans. Since then, Melton has recruited more than 175 attorneys who have assisted more than 6,000 people. His team has helped renters understand the protections put in place to temporarily stop evictions and how to access government funds to pay rent. They’ve found themselves doing everything from negotiating with landlords to representing renters in court to helping them get groceries. More than 4 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction or foreclosure in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. In Texas, that number is more than 250,000. A federal moratorium on evictions that has been extended through June aims to protect most tenants but is being interpreted in different ways from state to state. “Without representation, the majority of tenants lose their cases and ultimately are evicted,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Salt Lake City: Kidnapping and rape survivor Elizabeth Smart has launched a self-defense training program. Smart, 33, said she wants to give women the skills to fight back if needed, FOX 13 reports. In 2002, when Smart was a teenager, she was held captive and repeatedly sexually assaulted for nine months before she was rescued. Two years ago, Smart said she was sexually assaulted on an airplane while she was sleeping. “It’s about teaching women and girls how to protect themselves,” she said Saturday at the launch of the program. “It’s a little bit different than just a series of movements. It talks about situations and scenarios.” The program, called Smart Defense, is a blend of several mixed martial arts, said program director Miyo Strong. “This is a tool that hopefully you can take, and you train, and you practice it every day so that should you ever find yourself in that situation – which I hope no one ever does – then it is an option for you,” Smart said.
Middlebury: A vaccination clinic is being held this week at Middlebury College for members of racial and ethnic minorities who’ve been disproportionately hard-hit by the coronavirus. The clinic run by the Vermont Department of Health takes place Wednesday and is open exclusively to that population and their households, including Middlebury College students, faculty and staff, according to the Rutland Area branch of the NAACP. “These clinics seek to address the health disparities that (Black, Indigenous and people of color) Vermonters face during the COVID-19 epidemic, including higher rates of both infection and complications from the virus, as well as lower rates of vaccination,” the branch said in a statement. More details are available on the NAACP branch’s website. “The branch hopes that this clinic will reach people who have been hesitant or unable to receive a vaccine and help to close that gap in public health,” it said in a statement.
Chincoteague: The annual wild pony swim on Chincoteague Island has been canceled for the second year in a row because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Washington Post reports the continued presence of the virus and restrictions on gatherings were behind the organizers’ decision to cancel the July event. Chincoteague and nearby Assateague Island are known for their wild horses. The annual pony swim between the two spots is run in large part by the local fire company. Foals are auctioned to help keep the herd from overexpanding. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are often raised and go to the fire company. A 1947 children’s book, “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry, helped draw attention to the pony swim.
Olympia: New coronavirus cases increased 4.8% in the state in the week ending Sunday as it added 9,763 cases. The previous week had 9,319 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19. Washington ranked 19th among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. With 2.29% of the country’s population, Washington had 2.4% of the country’s cases in the past week. Within the state, the worst weekly outbreaks on a per-person basis were in Ferry, Lincoln and Grant counties. Washington ranked 21st among states in share of people receiving at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 44% of its residents at least partially vaccinated. The national rate is 42.2%, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. In the week ending Sunday, the state reported administering another 520,655 doses, including 277,764 first doses. In the previous week, the state administered 529,802 vaccine doses, including 294,547 first doses. In all, Washington reported it has administered 5,486,098 total doses. A total of 395,312 people in Washington have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and 5,434 people have died from the disease, Johns Hopkins University data shows.
Charleston: The state aims to entice residents ages 16 to 35 to get a COVID-19 shot with the promise of a $100 savings bond. Republican Gov. Jim Justice said Monday that the move aims to “jump-start” immunizing the demographic that officials say is currently most likely to be spreading the coronavirus. There are about 380,000 state residents in the age range. Justice said he chose a savings bond, over simply cash, for its “patriotic” factor and because he wants young people “to really see and understand that they’ve done something that’s really meaningful.” A bond may take many years to mature to reach its full value. The state will use federal coronavirus relief money to cover the costs. The incentive was announced as the state tries to turn around its sluggish vaccination program. Officials are also considering proposals to make vaccine clinics more ubiquitous by holding events at schools, fairs and more businesses. Justice has previously said the mask mandate could be lifted if 70% of eligible residents get vaccinated. Currently, 47.5% of residents age 16 and over have received at least one dose, state data shows. “We need to move from our older population to our younger population,” Justice said. “The young people are the key right now.”
Oshkosh: The aviation event that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city will return this summer after the coronavirus pandemic forced organizers of EAA AirVenture to cancel last year’s gathering. Safety protocols will be front and center this year at AirVenture, billed as the world’s largest fly-in convention. EAA CEO Jack Pelton said the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines will help return the crowds to Wittman Regional Airport, but precautions have been planned. Masks will be strongly recommended if attendees are unable to socially distance. Proof of vaccination will not be required to attend. EAA has planned for about 30% fewer people this summer than previous conventions. But that might not hold true. “We’re already seeing in our presale that the numbers are probably greater than 2019,” Pelton told WLUK-TV. An aviation event in Florida last week had record crowds, Pelton noted. Pelton said the number of international visitors will depend on other nations’ travel restrictions come summer. AirVenture organizers said the grounds will have a significant number of sanitizing stations, and industry-leading companies have been tapped for disinfection. There will be fewer exhibitors in each indoor exhibition building, creating more walkways and separation between exhibitors.
Casper: Most people incarcerated in the state haven’t seen their families in person in over a year, and prison leaders are considering how to reopen for visitors. Visitation days and many other routines were ripped away by the coronavirus pandemic. “And in prisons, routines are our best friends,” said Paul Martin, spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Corrections. “But we’ve got new routines now.” Staff holds meetings online, and inmates attend court appearances by video. And as case numbers keep trending down, Martin said department leadership is looking at how to start opening back up, little by little. Looking ahead, the department said it has been providing COVID-19 vaccines on a rolling basis as inmates become eligible. Every person incarcerated in a Wyoming prison has been offered a vaccine, Martin said, but it won’t ever be mandatory. Although all medical care given in the prisons is tracked by staff, Department of Corrections compliance manager C.J. Young said the agency is not keeping track of vaccination rates among inmates.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Burning Man, motel vaccinations: News from around our 50 states