Flag garden, healing touch, parade ban lifted: News from around our 50 states
Montgomery: Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday vetoed legislation to delay next year’s requirement to hold back third graders who aren’t reading at grade level – a postponement lawmakers sought after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted classrooms. The veto means the promotion requirement will take effect at the end of the 2021-22 school year. The governor said it is “hasty and premature” to delay the requirement before education officials can review the newest test scores. “As a former teacher and even more so as governor, I believe early literacy is the gateway to all learning,” Ivey said in a statement. The Republican governor said she is asking the state superintendent to brief the public on spring test scores when available and for the Alabama Committee on Grade Level Reading to make recommendations regarding any future action. “Everyone agrees that the past 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic have been hard on all Alabamians, including school personnel, students and parents. However, to establish any delay at all in the Alabama Literacy Act prior to analyzing the 2020-2021 summative assessment data for reading would be hasty and premature,” Ivey said.
Anchorage: The city’s schools will be getting more than $112 million in funding from the latest round of federal coronavirus relief, and officials want the public to weigh in on how to spend it. The Anchorage School District received more $62 million from two prior rounds of federal pandemic aid and expects to get the latest disbursement as early as July, Alaska’s News Source reports. A school board town hall Wednesday night invited residents to offer input, and officials also distributed a survey in an effort to gather feedback.
Flagstaff: Coconino County and its most populous city are dropping mask mandates they implemented last June to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy announced Tuesday that the city’s face-covering proclamation that took effect June 20 would end Wednesday, and the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to rescind the county’s mandate June 1. The county’s action affects only unincorporated areas, and any mask mandates imposed by local and tribal governments may still be enforced, the Arizona Daily Sun reports. Deasy cited wide availability of COVID-19 vaccines and declining case numbers. “We will continue to follow the recommendations of the CDC and our local health departments and urge our residents to do the same,” Deasy said in a city statement. Businesses can still require face coverings and social distancing on private property, the statement said, and face coverings are still required on public transportation, at the airport and in other areas required by federal law.
Springdale: A local business announced Wednesday that it has received federal emergency use authorization for its coronavirus antibody test that uses a drop of blood from a finger. The authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is for use in moderate-complex settings and at the point of care. “The ADEXUSDx COVID-19 Test is literally a lab at the tip of your finger, specifically designed to make diagnostic testing possible at home,” said Kevin Clark, chief executive officer of NOWDiagnostics Inc. “This EUA approval is the first step in making that a reality.” The rapid-results finger-stick test is not meant to find an active infection but can tell if a person has had COVID-19 and might still have some immunity. Because it’s entirely self-contained, the test can be done on the spot without a doctor, pharmacist or other trained professional with specialty equipment. The test would also not need to be sent to a lab for processing. During the emergency use authorization, however, it will only be used by trained professionals. The devices have been sent throughout the nation, and NOWDiagnostics in Springdale is on track to produce 2 million of the ADEXUSDx COVID-19 Test devices per month. The facility now employs about 95 people. The company has 65 patents related to the device.
Donald Duck sweeps up Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. (Photo: Disney)
Anaheim: Disneyland fans won’t need an address in the Golden State to get into the park beginning June 15. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will welcome visitors from outside the state in mid-June, park officials said Wednesday. The park reopened in late April after a 412-day, pandemic-induced shutdown – but only to California residents. Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, one of the on-site hotels, will also reopen that day, followed by iconic Disneyland Hotel on July 2. Disney said the state of California “strongly recommends” – but does not require – that all guests be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or obtain a negative coronavirus test before visiting. Face coverings, however, are required. Travelers need to have a ticket and theme park reservation for the same park on the same date.
Colorado Springs: El Paso County agreed Tuesday to pay $65,000 to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that mismanagement by the sheriff led to a COVID-19 outbreak in the jail last year. The payment approved by county commissioners will cover attorneys’ fees paid by the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit, The Gazette reports. Wellpath of Nashville, Tennessee, the company paid to provide health care in the Colorado Springs jail, will pay an additional $30,000 as part of the deal. In exchange, the ACLU agreed to drop the lawsuit without a finding a fault by Sheriff Bill Elder. Spokespeople for the sheriff’s office and Wellpath declined to comment on the settlement Wednesday. The lawsuit was filed after more than 1,000 inmates at the jail contracted COVID-19 last fall – the largest outbreak among jails and prisons in Colorado. It alleged that inmates were not given masks for months and were punished for making their own, which the ACLU said helped create a “mammoth, preventable” crisis. Jail officials have said they worked with county health officials to manage cases in the jail. They said they could not distribute masks initially because the only ones available had metal staples, which they said created unspecified safety concerns.
Hartford: A week after lifting most COVID-19 restrictions in the state, Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday that his focus is now on getting people back into their offices and back to normal summer activities. Lamont joined other state officials and business leaders at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford to tout the state’s high vaccination rate and low coronavirus infection rate. “I have spent the last year-plus saying stay safe, stay home, and today I’m telling you, get out of the damn house, come enjoy Hartford, get on a plane, visit a restaurant, visit an amazing hotel,” he said. Connecticut has seen new cases go from a seven-day average of about 427 cases per day May 10 to just about 167 new cases, according to data from John’s Hopkins University. That’s down from more than 2,000 a day in January. More than 1.8 million residents have been fully vaccinated, and more than 60% have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the governor’s office. Connecticut Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman said Connecticut’s economic activity is about 92% of what it was pre-pandemic, which ranks 19th in the nation. “So we are better than average, but we need to get that to 100%, and really we need to get that beyond 100%,” he said.
Wilmington: While the coronavirus shutdown hit many nonprofit groups and community organizations hard, it also forced them to think of new ways to reach people, and that knowledge could propel them for years to come. “There are so many things we would have never done if it wasn’t for the pandemic,” said Mike Connolly, the executive director of the New Castle Historical Society. Before the shutdown, the group offered tours and programs at the Amstel House, Dutch House and Old Library and operated the Visitor Center at the Arsenal. COVID-19 meant the end to most indoor tours and adjusting other programs for social distancing. “Outdoor walking tours were an easy way to accommodate people during capacity restrictions,” Connolly said. The group was also able to open the historic gardens. But the key to staying relevant was being online. “We had to keep people aware that we’re here, and a lot of that had to go virtual,” Connolly said. “The biggest accomplishment was learning how to do things differently, getting out of our routine. It allowed us to expand the way we do things.” Before the pandemic, the society never held a webinar. “Suddenly we were attracting people from other states and other countries who couldn’t attend before,” Connolly said.
District of Columbia
Washington: Now that people can more freely travel just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the nonprofit organization Destination D.C. is expecting an increase in travelers to the city, WUSA-TV reports. “There are still free things to do in D.C., so this really has been our opportunity to really deliver that message,” said Theresa Belpulsi, vice president of tourism with Destination D.C. “I feel very confident about what the future is going to hold. Obviously, international travel will be slower to return until we open up the borders, but for the most part, we are focused on domestic visitation, and we look forward to a fantastic summer.” Museums and monuments consistently draw tourists to the D.C. area, and many of them will be back open this weekend. The Smithsonian will reopen 10 of its museums on a staggered schedule throughout the summer, marking a full reopening of the institution since closing to the public in March 2020. The museums will maintain additional COVID-19 safety measures, and many require visitors to reserve free, timed-entry passes before arriving. According to Tourism Economics, visitor spending in the district fell more than $6 billion last year. That meant a loss of about $477 million in tax revenue from visitor spending.
Concertgoers at the 2009 Ultra Music Festival sit on a hill as they listen to music in Miami. (Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP)
Miami: One of the world’s top electronic music festivals is returning to downtown Miami next year with the blessing of neighbors who have complained about the event in the past. Organizers of the Ultra Music Festival on Tuesday announced an agreement to settle tensions with the Downtown Neighbors Alliance, the Miami Herald reports. The association representing 13 downtown condominium towers will no longer seek to remove the event from Bayfront Park. Ultra said in a statement that it would address issues like construction schedules, park closures, noise monitoring and traffic management. Festival organizers and residents found a balance between protecting local lifestyles and hosting large-scale music productions, Ultra spokesman Ray Martinez said. He suggested the event being canceled the past two years might have helped negotiations. “Maybe the COVID pause gave both sides an opportunity to kind of take a breath, if you will, and come to the table without the impending event looming over either side,” Martinez said. Ultra was set to return to downtown Miami in March 2020, but a nationwide coronavirus lockdown going into effect just days before the festival forced its cancellation. The event was postponed for another year this past March, set to return in 2022.
Savannah: Doctors are seeing an uptick in accidental overdoses in children in the area, said Dr. Brian Coleman, medical director of the pediatric emergency room at the Memorial Health Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah. Coleman said the children’s ER has seen about 15 cases since opening in March – roughly double the normal rate. Commonly ingested drugs are opioids and marijuana-infused foods. “It may be that with the pandemic, and people being in the house more, it just provides more opportunity for kids to explore,” he said. “And you know, kids are like little bloodhounds, and they will find stuff on the floor and under couches.” For some drugs, even “one pill can kill,” Coleman said, though none of the recent accidental overdoses resulted in a fatality. “A dose of a standard oxycodone or Percocet or any type of those opioid medications, one pill is enough to suppress the child’s breathing, suppress their mental status, to where it can be life-threatening,” he said. Sam Wilson, program coordinator of Safe Kids Savannah, urges parents, grandparents and other caregivers to keep all medications in child-proof packaging or a lock box and out of children’s reach. Wilson agreed the pandemic may have played a role in the increase by bringing together caregivers and kids in new settings.
Honolulu: State officials are preparing to announce new incentives for people to get vaccinated. “It’s going to be big, and it’s going to be generous,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said. “Probably about a week or two from now, I would expect some of these fun announcements to come.” While details are thin, Hawaii News Now reports officials with the Hawaii Restaurant Association and the Retail Merchants of Hawaii said they were asked to find businesses willing to participate. Green said he is also planning to try to get participation from Las Vegas, often referred to as Hawaii’s ninth island, to join. “My team is going to reach out to some hotels over in Las Vegas and see if they’d be willing to offer some nights over on the ninth island,” Green said. Hawaii has administered about 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Green said the state hopes to get about 2 million shots in arms. “So these last 500,000 doses are going to be a little bit more difficult,” he said. Department of Health spokesperson Brooks Baehr said members of the business community “are taking the lead in this effort to work with the Department of Health and provide incentives that may engage and excite people.” Several other states have already launched incentive programs. Green said Hawaii’s incentive program is being vetted by attorneys.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin announces her candidacy to become governor of Idaho at a rally on the Statehouse steps in Boise on May 19. (Photo: Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman via AP)
Boise: With the governor out of the state, Idaho’s lieutenant governor issued an executive order Thursday banning mask mandates in schools and public buildings, saying such directives threatened people’s freedom. Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is acting governor while Gov. Brad Little is at the Republican Governors Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee. He was expected to return Thursday evening. Last week, McGeachin announced her run for governor, challenging the first-term incumbent Little. McGeachin is on the far right of the political spectrum in the conservative state, and her order could bolster her support as a candidate for governor. Little’s office said McGeachin did not make him aware that she planned to issue the executive order. The office didn’t say what Little would do when he returned but said residents value local control. “Throughout the pandemic, Gov. Little has been committed to protecting the health and safety of the people of Idaho and has emphasized the importance of Idahoans choosing to protect our neighbors and loved ones and keeping our economy and schools open,” said Little’s spokeswoman, Marissa Morrison. Little has never issued a statewide mask mandate, but some counties, cities and schools did. Many have been lifting the mandates.
Springfield: COVID-19 vaccines will be available to Memorial Day weekend travelers up and down Illinois. The state announced clinics at Union Station in Chicago and four TravelCenters of America locations in Mount Vernon, Troy, Effingham and Bloomington. Wally’s and Hy-Vee are also offering a clinic for travelers along Interstate 55 near Pontiac. Travelers will be offered the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In addition to the weekend clinics, more than 1,000 locations in Illinois offer COVID-19 vaccines. They’re listed at coronavirus.illinois.gov. “Memorial Day weekend travelers will have yet another chance to join the more than 6 million Illinoisans who have gotten vaccinated,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday.
Indianapolis: The governor is directing all state employees to return to their offices by early July. Gov. Eric Holcomb told state workers that the transition from a March 2020 stay-at-home order starts with senior staff, who must return by June 7. Other employees should spend at least 50% of their time at the office by June 21 and return full time by July 6. Staffers for many state agencies have been working remotely, but Holcomb said in a Wednesday email to employees that “it is not the optimal way for us to serve Hoosiers.” “We work better together, and build more solid and collaborative teams, when we can have regular face-to-face conversations,” Holcomb said. “Returning to the office means the impromptu discussions that so often lead to innovation will be happening again with more frequency and energy.” The state will offer a vaccination clinic at the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis on June 21-22. About 2.4 million Indiana residents were considered fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, although the state’s vaccination rate is the 14th lowest in the country at about 35% of total population, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Des Moines: Most of the state’s counties declined any more COVID-19 vaccine for this week amid a slack in demand, and an official in a county with one of the lowest vaccination rates said Wednesday that she has given up arguing with people to get shots. Iowa Department of Public Health officials said based on demand from counties, the state ordered just 7,850 doses of vaccine for this week, with 81 of its 99 counties ordering none at all. Only Johnson County in eastern Iowa reported more than half of its population fully vaccinated, at 53.2%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Polk County, the state’s most populous, has fully vaccinated 43.5% of the population. The three counties with the lowest vaccination rates are on the state’s southern border with Missouri, including Wayne County, with 29.7%. Wayne County Public Health Administrator Shelley Bickel said in the past she has tried to convince people to get vaccinated, but she’s stopped those attempts. “They’ll sit and argue with you. We’re just tired of fighting,” she said. “We’re not pushing anyone. We figure if you want it, you can get it.” She attributed resistance to conservative residents, many of whom have long declined to wear masks or get vaccinated.
Topeka: After a year of operating virtually because of the pandemic, the city’s Wheelhouse Incubator program is returning full force for a 2021 summer session. The Wheelhouse Incubator, hosted by GO Topeka, is a 12-week course designed to help entrepreneurs scale up their businesses through strategic education, networking and mentoring opportunities. “This spring/summer session will provide established entrepreneurs with the invaluable experiences and connections to take their business to the next level,” said Karen Christilles, the program’s director. According to Christilles, the program expects to enroll about a dozen business owners in the session. It’s expected to kick off June 14 and last through late August, with participants meeting from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. every other Monday. The cost of the program is $600 and can be spread out over multiple payments. Some scholarships are available, according to the program’s webpage. Topeka last held a Wheelhouse Incubator session in person in 2019 – the same year the program was introduced to the community through 712 Innovations.
Nurse LaShawn Scott was one of the first people in Kentucky to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, December 14, 2020. The shot was administered by nurse Sarah Bishop at UofL Hospital. (Photo: Michael Clevenger/Courier Journal)
Louisville: U of L Health announced Wednesday that it will require COVID-19 vaccines for all its workers by Sept. 1, becoming the first major health care system in the state to declare it will make the shots mandatory. “We believe it’s time to step up and actually require the vaccine among all of our health care workers,” Tom Miller, CEO of U of L Health, said at a news briefing. Three U of L doctors and two nurses were the first in Kentucky to receive the vaccine when it arrived in December, and health officials said they have worked to make it accessible to employees as well as people throughout the community. LaShawn Scott was among the first five U of L Health workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “As a nurse, I think it’s important that we keep ourselves safe as we care for these patients and minimize the risk of transmission to our co-workers and our community,” she said at Wednesday’s briefing. Miller said he sees little difference in requiring a COVID-19 vaccine and an annual flu shot already required for U of L health workers. He said workers without a religious or medical exemption who refuse the vaccine would be subject to disciplinary action but didn’t specify the nature of any such action. U of L estimates more than 70% of its 12,000 workers have already been inoculated.
New Orleans: All-night alcohol sales are coming back, and a ban on parades is being lifted, as vaccination rates improve and as hospitalizations from COVID-19 stay low, the city announced Wednesday. Current rules require that alcoholic beverage sales end at 1 a.m. That changes under rules that take effect Friday, the city said in a news release. The latest changes mean more money-making opportunities for the tourist-dependent city that saw hotels, restaurants and bars hit hard during the pandemic. The city announced it will begin taking permit applications for large parades and smaller “second line” processions under the new rules. Parades are a vital part of many New Orleans celebrations, most notably during Mardi Gras season. Second lines, smaller processions so named because watchers often join the procession to form a second line behind the band, take place year-round – a familiar scene after weddings, funerals or other events. The city is also allowing gyms to operate at full capacity and removing 6-foot table spacing requirements at restaurants. There remain some restrictions on the number of people allowed at large gatherings. But exceptions are to be made for events where masks are required or where participants provide proof of vaccinations.
Portland: Officials are not planning to develop a statewide vaccine passport system for recipients of COVID-19 shots. Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said such a system would be a challenge because of questions such as how it would work across state lines and how the state would protect residents’ privacy. She said Wednesday that Maine isn’t looking to create one. The state supports private businesses that want to request COVID-19 vaccine verification, Lambrew said. She said businesses should make sure any verification systems they use are in line with state laws. “At this time there are no state of Maine policies that would have one set of rules for people who are vaccinated and another for those who are not,” Lambrew said. Residents who travel this summer are encouraged to bring their immunization record card if they need it, as well as a mask, Lambrew said.
Baltimore: Baltimore City Schools won’t require tens of thousands of students failing classes this year amid challenges posed by the pandemic to repeat a grade in the fall. Instead, Chief Academic Officer Joan Dabrowski said, schools will give students additional time and customized instruction plans to make up gaps. News outlets report the decision was announced at a school board meeting Tuesday night and in emails to parents and teachers. No school board vote is required. About 65% of secondary students and 50% of elementary students in the system are failing at least one class, according to the school system. Testing will determine what students have missed, and a catch-up plan will be developed. The grading system is also being changed. Elementary students with an “unsatisfactory” grade in a course and middle school students with a failing grade will get a “not completed.” High school students with a failing grade will get a “no credit.” Dabrowksi told the school board that officials want to signal “a hopeful space for our young people and our commitment as educators to wrap around them when we bring them back.”
Master Sgt. Mark Radnick and Capt. Ann Marie Leifer of the Massachusetts Air National Guard plant American flags on Boston Common on Wednesday. (Photo: Josh Reynolds/AP)
Boston: A memorial flag garden on the Boston Common that honors every service member from Massachusetts who has died in war is back in its full glory this year. Fully vaccinated health care workers, military members and other volunteers gathered on the Common on Wednesday to plant 37,000 small U.S. flags, each one representing a fallen service member dating to the Revolutionary War. Last year the flag garden was set up on a limited basis, with about 1,000 flags placed 6 feet apart because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The flag garden, now in its 12th year, is organized by the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund and Home Base, a partnership of the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital that supports veterans. Meanwhile, the state’s casinos and slots parlors will be able to welcome gamblers under nearly pre-pandemic conditions beginning this weekend. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to end its COVID-19 restrictions. That means beginning Saturday, every slot machine and gaming table will be allowed to reopen. Visitors who have been fully vaccinated won’t have to wear a mask. The move comes as Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered all remaining COVID-19 restrictions to be lifted Saturday. The state’s face covering order will also be rescinded for most settings.
Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reelection campaign – not a nonprofit fund – will pay for her flights to and from Florida, where she visited her ailing father in March. The disclosure Thursday came in a letter to a Republican lawmaker who had asked questions about the pandemic trip. A lawyer for the governor’s campaign and the fund said he learned from Detroit-based PVS Chemicals, which supplied the private jet, that it could not accept the $27,521 payment except from a candidate committee because it is not authorized to operate charter flights. In a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Steve Johnson, Christopher Trebilcock said PVS and the fund, Michigan Transition 2019, learned of a “miscommunication” between themselves over the source of payment due to media reports. He said Whitmer flew private, instead of commercial, for security reasons – citing death threats and noting an alleged plot to kidnap her over her COVID-19 restrictions. Her state security detail accompanied her. Their expenses will be covered by the campaign, lessening the burden on taxpayers, he said. “But for her elected office, the governor would not have incurred the security expenses for travel to see her ailing father on short notice,” Trebilcock said.
St. Paul: Gov. Tim Walz hopes giveaways including Minnesota State Fair tickets, fishing licenses and state park passes will help pick up the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations, which has slowed. The Democratic governor on Thursday announced that 100,000 people who are vaccinated between Memorial Day weekend and the end of June will be eligible to choose among nine vaccine reward options. The incentives also include college baseball tickets, amusement park passes and a $25 Visa card, among other options. Walz called the incentive program a “wonderful opportunity” to vaccinate more residents while coronavirus case numbers remain low and as more people head outdoors this summer. “All of those things are the perfect timing to get the last bunch of folks to get in and get vaccinated,” Walz said during a news conference Thursday. “Take advantage of the incentives that we’re offering, and get out and explore Minnesota. You, your family and your community will be safe, and you’ll get to see the great things that we have.” COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined in recent weeks after a bump in cases last month driven by virus variants. State health officials reported zero deaths earlier this week for the third time this month, and daily deaths haven’t totaled more than 22 in months.
Jackson: The state’s second-largest school district is planning on 100% in-person learning during the coming academic year, after having classes online for more than half of the current school year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Errick Greene said some students had a harder time learning from home. “Our early learners require more individualized instruction that’s just really difficult to provide virtually,” Greene told WJTV. “Some of our scholars faced serious behavioral, social and emotional challenges due to the long periods of isolation.” To enter any building, people will still have their temperatures taken, and they must wear masks. Sports are expected to pick back up, but the Jackson schools will require each person at indoor events to wear a mask. “I want to see all sports come back,” said Cameron Frank, an upcoming junior at Forest Hill High School. “Football, basketball, everything else for that matter.” Isolation rooms will be set up for any students who arrive with COVID-19 symptoms or get sick during the day. The district has enough laptops to give one to each student if they catch the disease. Classrooms and school buses will also go through deep cleanings daily.
Springfield: The city announced Thursday that Mayor Ken McClure intended to withdraw the civil emergency declaration undergirding Springfield’s COVID-19 health regulations, such as occupancy restrictions and a public masking mandate. The city said in a news release that the withdrawal would be effective at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, just ahead of the 12:01 a.m. Friday effective date for the repeal of the ordinance containing the city’s coronavirus regulations. Missouri’s other larger communities, including Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis, already dropped their mask mandates when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued more lenient guidance on masking for vaccinated people earlier this month. “I am very proud of our community and grateful that there no longer appears to exist a state of civil emergency,” McClure said in a statement. “We would not be at this point had it not been for our community’s brave, innovative and critical work in the battle against COVID-19. It has not been easy. Thank you.”
Olga Hall, owner of Massage Therapy Studio, in her new expanded studio in Great Falls, Mont. Olga has hired two massage therapists, which has freed her to give back to the community by offering free sessions to teachers and first responders as a way to say thanks. (Photo: RION SANDERS/GREAT FALLS TRIBUNE)
Great Falls: A local massage therapist recently expanded her business, a move that has freed her up to do something she’s always wanted to do: give back. Olga Hall said she’ll begin scheduling free sessions. And because it’s been a rough pandemic, she’s starting with medical professionals. Once summer hits, she’d like to schedule some teachers, followed by law enforcement, firefighters and child care workers. Hall said her philosophy is that people should not be preoccupied by their pain. So far, Hall has brought on two therapists to Massage Therapy Studios. She’s starting her free massages slowly to avoid overloading them and herself. At first, Hall will have four 30-minute slots. Clients can sign themselves up or nominate someone else starting May 31. At the end of the week, Hall will choose four names and reach out to make appointments for the week of June 14. Sign-ups are online only at massagetherapystudios.com. The site will go live May 31. Those who are chosen can up their session to an hour for an extra $25, and there will be a waiting list in case of cancellations. Four people a month doesn’t seem like much, but Hall said she would like to increase that number once she knows what her staff can handle.
Lincoln: The state is reporting its lowest level of new coronavirus cases since last April, shortly after the pandemic began. State health officials said 521 virus cases were reported over the past week, which was down from the previous week’s 533 cases. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases also decreased over the past two weeks from 195.43 per day May 11 to 74.43 per day Tuesday. The state said there have now been 223,243 cases and 2,249 deaths linked to the virus in Nebraska since the pandemic began. Over the past week, five new deaths were reported. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Nebraska also remains low at 73. Across Nebraska, 807,878 people, or roughly 42% of the state’s population, have been vaccinated against the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Las Vegas: For the second month in a row, the state’s casinos reported $1 billion in house winnings in April, showing signs that tourism business is returning faster to pre-pandemic levels than some experts expected. The state Gaming Control Board said Thursday that last month’s overall “casino win” of nearly $1.04 billion was up a robust 11% compared with $936 million in April 2019. A comparison with a year ago wasn’t relevant because casinos statewide were closed from mid-March to early June 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Before those closures, casinos had taken in more than $1 billion for three consecutive months. They reached the $1 billion mark again this March. Michael Lawton, senior analyst for the regulatory board, said winnings ticked up slightly in April at properties in the key Las Vegas Strip resort corridor, while casinos in downtown Las Vegas and the remainder of Clark County tallied all-time record winnings for consecutive months. The Reno area recorded its highest casino winnings total since July 2008, and sports bet winnings statewide also set records in April, Lawton said. The state collected more than $79 million in revenue based on the April numbers, up from about $19,000 in April 2020.
Concord: All state-managed COVID-19 vaccination sites will be closing at the end of June, officials said Thursday. The sites will be closed Monday for Memorial Day. They will reopen Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and operate Mondays through Saturdays, only providing second-dose vaccinations, health officials said in a news release Thursday. Those sites will close June 30. “There are more than 350 locations across the state offering first-dose appointments and many locations offer walk-in service without the need for an appointment,” the news release said. Meanwhile, Nashua officials have approved ending the city’s mask ordinance. The Board of Aldermen opted to end the ordinance Tuesday, and it awaited a signature from Mayor Jim Donchess, The Telegraph of Nashua reports. Local businesses could still require workers and patrons to wear masks. The city’s Board of Health voted to recommend that the city lift its mask mandate. The city has had an ordinance in place since May 2020.
Paramus Catholic High School students keep their distance as they line up outside to start the school day. (Photo: Chris Pedota, NorthJersey.com-USA Today Network)
Trenton: Mask mandates may be waived at high schools sooner than elementary and middle schools in the fall because teens have a head start over younger kids on getting vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy said Wednesday. A day after he said all students will likely be required to wear a mask come September, Murphy suggested Wednesday that mask rules for schools and even summer camps are more fluid as coronavirus numbers continue to drop, and federal guidance may change. “If the science suggested it, you can turn your mask guidance on a dime because it’s easy,” Murphy said at a briefing. “You just don’t wear this the next day. So stay tuned.” The remarks came with New Jersey on the cusp of lifting its indoor mask mandate Friday. One major exception is anywhere unvaccinated children congregate in large groups, such as schools, day care centers and camps. Because those 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated, it would make sense to allow high school students to go maskless in the fall when full in-class instruction resumes, Murphy said. About 202,000 children ages 12 to 17 had been vaccinated in New Jersey as of Wednesday, according to state Health Department data.
Las Cruces: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces has announced its intent to resume regular Mass, including Sunday Eucharist, and reinstate the church’s general obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Days Mass. Services have been disrupted since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. A dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass has been in place since public health orders and capacity restrictions drove parishioners to celebrate Mass online and in church parking lots. A revised public health order issued by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in April allowed houses of worship to welcome congregations back at 100% capacity. The move followed U.S. Supreme Court decisions that enjoin states from enforcing capacity limits on churches that are more restrictive than other entities like factories and schools, the governor’s office said at the time. In a memo issued Tuesday, Bishop Peter Baldacchino said the obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Days Mass will take effect Sunday, June 6. However, exceptions to the obligation remain in place for anyone who is sick or symptomatic or has recently been exposed to the coronavirus and for anyone with significant health risk factors or those caring for someone with such risk factors.
Albany: Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the state Department of Labor will provide guidance to businesses that taking time off due to side effects from a COVID-19 vaccine shot will be covered under New York’s paid sick leave law. Cuomo said studies have shown some people have been leery of getting a shot because it could require them to take time off from work to recuperate. A recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation among unvaccinated Americans showed 48% are concerned they “might need to miss work if the side effects of the vaccine make them feel sick for a day or more.” But he said the state will make sure that any sick time due to recovery from any vaccine will be paid time off. A news release from Cuomo’s office said workers could take “any necessary recovery period” to get back on their feet after their vaccines. During a news conference at Grand Central Terminal, he also noted that New York already has a regulation on the books, enacted as part of this year’s state budget, that requires employers to give workers four hours of time off to get a vaccine shot, one for each dose if needed. “I don’t want to suggest that there are side effects,” Cuomo said of the vaccine. “If that’s an issue for you, that issue is resolved. You won’t miss a day’s pay because of getting a vaccine.”
Raleigh: The state House unanimously approved legislation Wednesday that aims to spend $750 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to install high-speed internet in rural and remote areas lacking it. The legislation would set aside $350 million in discretionary American Rescue Plan funds earmarked for North Carolina to expand a relatively new state broadband installation matching-funds program with internet providers and electric cooperatives. The bill also expresses the intent to use $400 million in the funds from Congress on a new program that gives counties the ability to put out bids for broadband expansion in underserved areas. Federal aid going to counties also would pay for those projects. The measure, which now goes to the Senate, meets goals of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in his proposal last week to spend $1.2 billion of money from the latest pandemic aid package on improving internet access. But his plan spends half of that money on things like subsidizing service costs, purchasing computer equipment for households lacking it and offering “digital literacy” training. Some Democrats said during floor debate that they wished Wednesday’s bill contained the service subsidies. Still, the legislation passed 109-0.
Bismarck: Corrections officials will ease some coronavirus visitation restrictions in state prisons next week. In-person prison visits had been limited to one adult since they resumed in late March. Beginning Tuesday, visitors will be allowed to bring up to three minors per visit. Visitors must test negative for the virus, and advance scheduling is still required. Visitors 6 years and older must still wear a mask, but it doesn’t have to be an N95 mask, as is required now. The changes come as the number of active coronavirus cases is decreasing in the state along with a slight increase in COVID-19 vaccinations, the Bismarck Tribune reports. The state Health Department confirmed 79 new cases from 2,043 tests completed Monday. No new deaths were reported Tuesday, for a fifth straight day. Forty-two virus patients remained hospitalized, up one from Monday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracking site shows North Dakota’s rate of total vaccine doses administered, at 79,438 people per 100,000 population, ranks 33rd in the nation among states and the District of Columbia. North Dakota had earlier been one of the top states. But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reported that the state has some of the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy in the nation.
Cincinnati: After more than 10 months, the state will no longer produce a weekly county map to show how the coronavirus is spreading in all 88 counties. The map was intended as a warning system for communities and has served its purpose, Ohio Department of Health Director Stephanie McCloud said. “We’re in a very different point in this pandemic, and the need for this kind of urgency has passed,” McCloud told reporters Thursday afternoon. The Ohio Public Health Advisory System was rolled out in early July by Gov. Mike DeWine as a tool to help Ohioans make decisions about events and activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The map shaded each county based on seven metrics, including the number of new cases per 100,000 residents and an increase in hospital admissions for COVID-19 symptoms. The lowest level, yellow, meant “active exposure and spread” of the virus. The highest level, purple, indicated “severe exposure and spread.” Each color came with suggestions such as to “limit activities as much as possible.” But there were no state policies or mandates tied to a color. Some school districts, businesses and other organizations used the map to determine when to allow in-person contact. The map lost some of its usefulness as infections surged in November and December.
The Oklahoma City-County Health Department gave 52 COVID-19 vaccine doses at a pop-up clinic at Feria Latina Supermarket on Wednesday. (Photo: Dana Branham)
Oklahoma City: Fifty-two people got COVID-19 shots Wednesday outside a Feria Latina Supermarket – a location selected by the Oklahoma City-County Health Department for a pop-up clinic by monitoring several data trends. The store’s ZIP code lagged others in vaccination rates, and sewage surveillance showed the coronavirus was present at higher levels in the area compared with other parts of the county. Coupled with lower vaccine uptake among Hispanic residents, those reasons led health officials to land on the grocery store for a pop-up site. As of Tuesday, about 19% of Hispanic residents in Oklahoma County were fully vaccinated, and 24% had received a first dose. The Oklahoma City-County Health Department has taken COVID-19 vaccines on the road in an effort to bring the shots to those who might not otherwise seek one out or be able to get to a vaccine clinic. At the site Wednesday, some people going to pick up groceries took a detour to get their vaccines on their way in or out, said health department spokeswoman Molly Fleming. They had their pick of whichever shot they’d like: Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. The Feria Latina site saw a steady pace of vaccine-takers and was one of the department’s most successful pop-up clinics so far, Fleming said.
Portland: The Oregon Employment Department says in July it will start upgrading the obsolete computer system that pays jobless benefits. That would end a 12-year delay that caused a catastrophic breakdown in distributing aid during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. The state’s new system won’t be in place until 2024. Oregon was among the slowest states in the nation at paying jobless benefits amid the pandemic, with laid-off workers frequently waiting weeks or months for aid. The employment department was hindered by a rigid computer system from the 1990s, which was unable to adapt to supplemental benefits Congress added last year. The huge volume of claims – Oregon has paid out more than $9 billion during the pandemic – meant months of delays. The state received $86 million in federal aid to upgrade its technology in 2009, but administrative failures in the employment department stopped the work from happening. The state still has almost all the money the federal government allocated for the upgrade. Past estimates have put the total cost for the project between $80 million and $123 million.
Harrisburg: The state is lifting its mask mandate no later than June 28. The Department of Health announced Thursday that it will no longer require unvaccinated people to wear masks in public June 28 or once 70% of adults are fully vaccinated, whichever comes first. People are considered fully vaccinated once they are two weeks beyond their last required dose of COVID-19 vaccine. According to federal data, 70% of Pennsylvania residents 18 and over have already received at least one dose, with just over half the adult population fully inoculated. “What all of this means is that Pennsylvanians are realizing that they have the power to stop COVID-19 and that they are stepping up to get vaccinated. It also means that we are on track to get to 70% of all adults with second doses by the end of June,” Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said at a news conference Thursday. Businesses, schools and municipalities may still require people to wear masks, the Health Department said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also requires them on planes, trains, buses and public transportation hubs. With the pandemic in retreat, the state previously announced plans to lift nearly all mitigation orders on Memorial Day. New infections continue to fall rapidly.
East Providence: The city has planted a living memorial to the almost 200 residents who have died after contracting the coronavirus. A tree and accompanying plaque were dedicated Monday outside city hall, WPRI-TV reports. “This tree will remain here for generations to come as a reminder of loved ones that are no longer with us,” Mayor Bob DaSilva said. The tree will be decorated during the holidays every year in their honor, he said. The plaque reads: “In memory of East Providence residents whose lives were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. May they rest in eternal peace.” The Rhode Island Department of Health on Thursday reported nearly 80 new confirmed cases but no virus-related deaths. The new cases were out of slightly more than 8,000 test results returned the prior day, for a positivity rate of less than 1%. The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 dropped to 65, according to the latest data, down from 70 the previous day. The number of people fully vaccinated against the disease in the state has now topped 544,000. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has dropped over the past two weeks, from about 151 on May 11 to about 120 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins.
Columbia: Health officials are working to roll out pop-up vaccination clinics at beaches and festivals this summer, said Dr. Brannon Traxler, the state’s director of public health. One program would bring vaccine clinics to state parks, where people would get a free shot and park admission for the day, she said. Another plan is to partner with breweries to offer free beer for people who get a shot, Traxler said. The incentive effort is based on the success of similar programs in other states that have reached young people, one demographic that is lagging on inoculations. While there has been significant progress, COVID-19 remains a threat to people who have not been vaccinated, Traxler said. Indoor events including churches and movie theaters with lots of people are among the riskiest activities for those who have not been vaccinated while being safe for those who have, she said. For parents of children under 12, who are not eligible for the vaccination, going to places like that poses individual risks that are best assessed by each family, Traxler said. South Carolina has one of the lower vaccination rates in the nation. Only eight states, primarily in the Southeast, have lower rates. The nation recently passed 50% of adults having at least one COVID-19 shot. South Carolina’s rate is 44%.
A syringe of the COVID-19 vaccine rests on a counter on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, at Sanford Imagenetics in Sioux Falls. (Photo: Erin Bormett / Argus Leader)
Sioux Falls: Following suit with public schools and universities, officials with the city’s private schools and universities also don’t plan on mandating COVID-19 vaccines for students and staff when they return to classrooms this fall. Augustana University won’t require vaccinations for staff or students, said Suzie O’Meara Hernes, COVID-19 response coordinator for the school. The vaccine is a personal choice, Hernes said. However, in some cases, students will be required to get COVID-19 shots, such as a nursing student who is required by the hospital system for which they work in their clinical placement. Of the Augie community, staff and students, 64% have reported they’re fully vaccinated, Hernes said. Vaccine reporting is voluntary and relies on the individual to report, she noted, adding she believes the percentage is higher than reported. At the University of Sioux Falls, the university doesn’t require vaccines and won’t plan to this fall. USF was “blessed” to remain open for the duration of the 2020-21 academic year and is working toward a full “return to normal” for this fall, said Amy Johnson, USF COVID-19 response team leader. At the K-12 level, officials with Sioux Falls Christian Schools and Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools both say they’re not planning to require COVID-19 shots either.
Maryville: A woman accused of driving through a COVID-19 vaccine distribution tent as a form of protest has been charged with seven counts of felony reckless endangerment, according to a police report. Virginia Christine Lewis Brown, 36, was arrested after a Blount County deputy witnessed her driving through the tent at a vaccine event Monday at Foothills Mall in Maryville, according to news outlets, which cited an incident report. The report said more than a dozen health department and National Guard personnel were inside the tent. “I had several victims tell me she almost hit them as she fled through the tent at high speeds,” the deputy wrote in the report. “I was advised that they were within inches and feet of the vehicle as it came through the tent. Several victims stated that they thought the driver was going to kill them.” After the deputy stopped Brown, she told him she drove through the site to protest the vaccine and was only traveling 5 miles per hour, the report said. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Brown had an attorney.
Corpus Christi: Several nursing students are objecting to a policy at Driscoll Children’s Hospital requiring them to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to complete their clinical rotations. Severe reactions to COVID-19 vaccines have been rare; clinical trials have yielded efficacy results beyond what some medical professionals expected; and the mRNA technology used to make the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines has been decades in the making. Yet misinformation and distrust continue to surround the new vaccines, even within the health care field. Most of the students objecting to the requirement said they’re averse to getting a COVID-19 shot because the vaccines so far do not have full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The vaccines have emergency use authorization from the FDA. One student said she contracted COVID-19 and tested positive for antibodies, suggesting that meant she didn’t need the vaccine. Experts have recommended that people who recovered from COVID-19 be vaccinated because it’s unclear how long immunity from a previous infection lasts. The students also say vaccine requirements run afoul of an order by Gov. Greg Abbott banning entities that receive public funds from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination under an emergency use authorization.
Graffiti at Zion National Park has reached high levels as cyanobacteria in the water makes it dangerous for Rangers to try to remove. This graffiti is at the checkerboard. (Photo: Micah Hill/National Park Service)
St. George: As the nation inches toward its vaccination goals, “COVID cabin fever” is beginning to lift. But for tourist-based communities like southern Utah, which before the pandemic was expecting its busiest season yet, “post-COVID is a whole world that is just as mysterious as early COVID was,” Washington County Commissioner Gil Almquist said. The effects of overtourism have also returned. Park officials have reported unprecedented levels of vandalism and human waste in Arches and Zion National Parks. Scenes showing long lines of idling traffic clogging up roadways have become commonplace. Officials and advocates statewide have long seen overtourism as a real threat, but the bustling summer crowds brought on by the pandemic have sent them scrambling to figure out ways to manage it while still supporting the locals who depend on tourism dollars. Of the five Utah national parks, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Arches National Parks all had their highest-ever visitation levels in 2018. Canyonlands National Park made its record in 2016, and Zion National Park, the third most visited park in the country, hit a peak of 4.5 million visitors in 2017. Utah Office of Tourism Director Vicki Varella said travel this summer will mimic trends seen before the pandemic.
Waterbury: All of Vermont’s state parks will be open for Memorial Day weekend. Some opened in the beginning of May, but by Friday, all 55 will be open, WCAX-TV reports. Following a surge in visitors last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, park officials expect to have one of the busiest seasons ever, said state parks director Nate McKeen. “People understand being outside is one of the safest places to be, and it’s the best place possible for your mental and physical health, and then they get out and see our state parks,” he said. While many campsites are full, and others are going quickly, visiting a state park for the day is also an option, said Vermont Forestry Commissioner Michael Snyder. Day visits make up half of the usage of Vermont State Parks. “We kind of like to think of our parks as everyone’s lake house, remote camp. You don’t have the property taxes, you don’t have to maintain them, you pay a small fee, and you are good to go,” McKeen said.
Petersburg: The city reported the highest unemployment rate in the state, according to a new equity dashboard from Virginia’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Petersburg’s 14.9% jobless rate in January 2021 was nearly three times the average across Virginia. And it was 4 percentage points higher than second-worst Emporia’s 10.9%. “If you are unemployed, and you don’t have financial resources, then it makes all of those social determinants of health that much more complicated,” said Janice Underwood, chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the commonwealth. Unemployment skyrocketed at the start of the pandemic as millions of workers were laid off or furloughed as a result of state-mandated closures. Virginia’s highest statewide unemployment rate in the past 14 months was 11% in April 2020. Fortunately, the state has been in decline, ranking at a rate of 5.7% in January. Following the declaration of racism as a public health crisis, the state embarked on creating two dashboards to provide information in hopes of addressing the various health disparities. The Equity-in-Action dashboard reflects the progress the state has made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas the Equity-at-a-Glance dashboard focuses on various social disparities, like food distribution and Medicaid.
Stephanie Birman, a Seattle Sounders season ticket holder, gets the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in a concourse at Lumen Field prior to an MLS soccer match between the Sounders and the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 2. (Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)
Seattle: The city is shutting down all but one of its mass COVID-19 vaccination sites next month because authorities say more than 76% of Seattle residents eligible have received at least one shot, and 60% are fully vaccinated. Authorities announced Wednesday that the city-run sites at Lumen Field, Rainier Beach, West Seattle and North Seattle College will close in June. The Seattle Times reports the Seattle Fire Department will continue operating its testing and vaccination site in the SODO neighborhood south of downtown through the summer. “Now that the vast majority of Seattleites have begun the vaccination process, we are able to safely reopen and recover as a city – without the need for our fixed sites,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. The city’s vaccination efforts got a boost when the Lumen Field Event Center opened more than two months ago. Since March 13, more than 97,000 vaccinations have been administered at the event center near two of the city’s large sports arenas. The city says it will continue to offer mobile vaccinations and spin up vaccination clinics as needed. Seattle is outpacing the state with COVID-19 vaccinations. The state Department of Health’s data dashboard shows nearly 61% of residents 16 and older have gotten at least one shot, and more than 40% are fully vaccinated.
Charleston: The state’s Vital Registration Office has reopened after being closed for more than a year because of the pandemic. Walk-up services now available to the public include certified copies of birth, death and marriage certificates, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said. The office, located in the Diamond building, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. People who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 are required to wear masks. Certificates are $12 each. Exact change is required if paying in cash, or customers may use a money order or check. Credit and debit cards are not accepted. The Vital Registration Office and Diamond building lobby closed to the public March 20, 2020, as the coronavirus began to spread widely in the United States.
Madison: The number of COVID-19 deaths in the state has now surpassed 7,000, but data that shows the number of coronavirus cases declining and more people being vaccinated offer some hope after more than a year of the pandemic. The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported five new deaths and 330 new cases of COVID-19, which has claimed the lives of 7,003 people in Wisconsin. The average number of daily new cases over the past seven days is 307. A week ago the average was 394 daily cases. As coronavirus cases in Wisconsin continue to decline, more residents are being vaccinated against COVID-19. A total of 5,087,871 doses of vaccine have been administered in the state as of Wednesday, with nearly 79% of Wisconsinites ages 65 and older having been fully vaccinated. About 16% of the state’s 12- to 15-year-olds have received their first doses of vaccine, according to health officials. That age group became eligible May 13.
Laramie: The University of Wyoming has announced plans to return to full capacity for home football games inside War Memorial Stadium this fall. University of Wyoming Athletic Director Tom Burman told the Casper Star-Tribune that fans, including students, won’t be required to be vaccinated in order to attend games. “It puts a smile on my face. It’s not just about money. It’s about the experience,” Burman said. “I watched the PGA Championship the other day, and I watched people following Phil (Mickelson), and I thought, ‘That’s what it’s all about.’ If we don’t return to that, I worry about the future of our sports. It’s not as appealing when there aren’t fans there.” Last season was shortened because of the coronavirus pandemic, and home attendance was initially capped at 7,000, then further reduced to 5,000, or 17% of the 29,181-seat stadium’s capacity. University officials worked with the state Department of Health to determine attendance figures based on the virus’s local impact at that time. The attendance plan for the fall could change depending on the data between now and the start of the upcoming season in September, Burman said, adding that he does not expect that to be the case.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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