Tulips in bloom, Vegas bustling, Blackfeet Nation: News from around our 50 states
Montgomery: Alabama’s poverty-stricken Black Belt has the highest percentage of people getting COVID-19 vaccinations in the state, according to numbers released by health officials. The Alabama Department of Public Health on Friday released the first county numbers for the percentage of people over age 16 that have received vaccinations. The counties with the highest percentages were in the Black Belt, State Health Officer Scott Harris said. The Black Belt – which gets its name from the dark rich soil – is a high-poverty region of the state with a high-minority population. “One thing we are proud to see is that the highest percent vaccinated counties are in the Black Belt for the most part. That’s a deliberate effort on our part to reach those most vulnerable counties,” Harris said. State numbers still show an overall racial disparity as to who is getting vaccinations. Across Alabama, about 15% of the shots so far have gone to Black citizens who make up about 26% of the population, according to preliminary numbers.
Anchorage: The contract for a medical safety company to test and screen everyone who enters the State Capitol building has been extended by the Legislative Council. The decision made March 17 will last at least through June 30. The deal will add $1.5 million to pay for the contract. The first federal coronavirus relief bill could provide up to $4 million to pay for Capitol safety, Alaska Public Media reported. The current policy requires everyone in the Capitol Building to wear masks in public spaces, have rapid coronavirus tests every four or five days and undergo temperature screenings when entering the building every day. A discussion about a potential update on the current policy is scheduled to happen at the council’s next meeting. The date of that meeting has not been set.
Window Rock: The Navajo Nation on Monday reported no new COVID-19 cases and no deaths. It was the second straight day that the tribe has not recorded a coronavirus-related death. The death toll remains at 1,233 since the pandemic began with the number of confirmed cases at 30,007 on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The Navajo Nation had a soft reopening last week with 25% capacity for some businesses under certain restrictions. Still, mask mandates and daily curfews remain. Tribal health officials said more than 191,000 vaccine doses have been distributed. “Once again, the Navajo Nation is exemplifying what can be accomplished when we listen to the public health experts and work together. Our hard work is paying off and our prayers are being answered,” tribal President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. “The fight against COVID-19 continues on. Variants continue to be of great concern across the country, especially as we see more and more people travel including students on spring break.”
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday vetoed legislation requiring the state to refund fines imposed on businesses violating coronavirus safety rules, as the state’s virus cases and hospitalizations continued to drop. The sponsor of the refund legislation said he will seek an override, which only requires a simple majority of both chambers of the Legislature. The bill would have required the state’s Alcohol and Beverage Control Division to refund about $38,000 to bars and restaurants for violating the state’s rules, which included capacity limits. “The only message sent by this bill is that the rule of law does not matter,” Hutchinson said in a letter to legislative leaders. “It is an affront to those citizens who diligently followed health and safety directives to protect themselves and their fellow Arkansans.” Hutchinson last month lifted most of the state’s virus restrictions and over the weekend said he believed the state is on track to end its mask mandate on March 31. The override fight comes as Hutchinson has faced pushback from some fellow Republicans in the Legislature over the state’s virus rules.
Visalia:After 10 months of closure, Visalia parks will soon be open to limited use after Tulare County was moved into less strict COVID-19 protocols. Visalia’s playgrounds, park bathrooms and sport fields will open Saturday, according to the city. The decision ccame after Tulare County was moved into California’s red tier on March 17. Under the new health guidelines, the city is allowing moderate contact sports, such as soccer, baseball and softball, on reserved fields. The fields are on a first-come, first-serve basis, according to city officials. Playgrounds will also be opened, but the city is asking visitors to socially distance and only gather with those in their household. The bathrooms will be sanitized twice a day. State guidelines for outdoor playgrounds ask that those over 2 years of age wear a mask, sanitize hands before and after using the playground, refrain from eating or drinking and limit playtime to 30 minutes if others are present.
Denver: Gov. Jared Polis announced a statewide tour to hear from residents and gather ideas on how to spend the state’s portion of the federal government’s $1.9 trillion plan to support the U.S. economy amid the pandemic. Polis and bipartisan leaders from the Legislature will be part of what he called a “Build Back Stronger Statewide Listening Tour.” They will hold in-person and virtual sessions in seven parts of the state to hear from small business owners, local elected officials and sectors that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Under the economic stimulus plan, Colorado will receive about $3.9 billion, said state Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat who is a member of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee. The first meeting will take place on Sunday in Pueblo to address the needs of southern Colorado, Polis said.
Hartford: About 80,000 residents aged 45 to 54 have made appointments to get COVID-19 vaccinations since their age group became eligible for the shots on Friday, Gov. Ned Lamont said. The total is less than 20% of the estimated 500,000 state residents agesd 45 to 54, but Lamont said many in that age group have been vaccinated because they were eligible earlier as medical workers, teachers and other front-line workers. About 22% of people in that age group have received the first of the two-dose vaccines. Connecticut has surpassed 1 million first doses administered, out of a total population of 3.5 million, new state data showed. Another 584,000 residents are fully vaccinated. Nearly 80% of residents 75 and older have received their first shots, as have 76% of residents aged 65 to 74 and just over half of people 55 to 64. The state remains on track to open vaccinations to everyone 16 and older on April 5, Lamont said.
Lewes:After so much time hunkered down at home because of the pandemic, the Lewes Chamber of Commerce and Lewes in Bloom organization will welcome in the spring with the 12th annual Lewes Tulip Celebration, which is scheduled from April 2 through April 11. Last year’s festival had to be heavily scaled back in the early days of the pandemic. More than 24,000 tulips and 4,000 spring bulbs were planted by 50 Lewes in Bloom volunteers last fall. And the selection includes more than 100 varieties. The Delaware Division of Public Health has accepted the event plans, which include mandatory face coverings and social distancing when visiting the public gardens where the tulips are planted. The locations of the plantings will be identified on the map produced in association with the celebration. A map is available lewesinbloom.org and at the Chamber of Commerce’s Visitor Center in the historic Fisher-Martin House in Zwaanendael Park. The Tiptoe To The Tulips Trolley Tours will not be available this year.
District of Columbia
Washington:The District has revoked its first liquor license during the pandemic, WUSA-TV reported. On March 17, the 2021 Kiss Lounge, located at 637 T St. NW, lost its liquor license after an undercover sting. Owners are now banned from holding a liquor license in the District for five years, according to the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration. The club was cited for several violations, including being over capacity, after-hours alcohol sales and not enforcing masks. According to the order, the owners “intentionally and willfully violated various rules and regulations designed to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 and staff engaged in a premeditated effort to evade detection with the knowledge of the ownership.” Investigators deemed Kiss Lounge an “imminent danger” with owners “unfit to be trusted to comply” because they have proved to have a “general contempt for the law that endangers safety of staff, customers, and the general public.” The owners can appeal the decision.
Orlando: The number of Floridians eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine expanded Monday as the state allowed anyone 50 and older to get the shot, and the county that is home to the state’s largest theme parks set the bar even lower by allowing anyone 40 and older to get an injection. Starting Monday, Orange County expanded the age eligibility a decade lower than the statewide requirement at its county-run facility at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Reservations were required for the drive-thru site at the convention center, and 7,000 appointments were filled within 13 minutes, officials said. In expanding the eligibility, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said last week there has been decreasing demand at the convention center site. He said he had notified the state and felt he had the authority to expand eligibility in the county. “I don’t feel like I have to get permission to be the mayor of Orange County from Tallahassee,” Demings said. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of a mega-sized rest stop in Daytona Beach, DeSantis said he had concerns about Orange County “choosing to prioritize a healthy 40-year-old” over older residents. “It’s not authorized,” said DeSantis, who criticized the county for not getting seniors vaccinated at the same rates of other Florida counties. With the loosening of the statewide qualifications, more than a third of Floridians were now eligible to get a vaccine solely based on age at all vaccination sites in the state.
Savannah:It has been easier to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Chatham County lately. About 80% of those eligible have received at least one dose already, according to Coastal Health District Director Dr. Lawton Davis. That is reducing the demand for appointments while the supply of vaccine is increasing. Demand is about to increase, however, as Georgia will open up two new categories of eligibility to receive the vaccine: those 55 and older, plus those 16 and older with a serious health condition. Those under age 55 do not have to show documentation of their health condition, said Coastal Health District spokeswoman Sally Silbermann.For individuals aged 16 and 17 who are in an eligible population for vaccination, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for those ages. Pfizer vaccines are available at CVS or Walgreens or at one of the GEMA mass vaccination sites. All previously eligible groups continue to be eligible including health care workers, long-term care facilities’ staff and residents, seniors 65 and older and their caregivers, law enforcement, pre-K to 12 educators, parents of children with complex medical conditions, and adults with intellectual or development disabilities and their caregivers.
Honolulu: The Maui Community Correctional Center reported six negative inmate coronavirus test results and nine more inmate recoveries, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. The total active positive inmate cases dropped to five and the number of recovered inmates increased to 83. There is one inmate hospitalized. There were also 24 negative staff results reported. Although all other facility inmate populations are clear of the virus, mass testing continues with the Department of Health assistance. The Oahu Community Correctional Center reported 26 negative inmate results.
Coeur d’Alene: A jury trial for a Montana man accused of shooting into a crowd outside a bar last year has been scheduled for April 28 after being delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Austin L. Sherper, 24, of Whitefish, Montana, is charged with two counts of first-degree attempted murder. Police responded to reports of a shooting at the Iron Horse Bar & Grill in Coeur d’Alene at about 9 p.m. on July 11. Police said Sherper had an altercation with security staff after he was removed from the building. Authorities said witnesses outside the bar told police Sherper yelled at them, then threatened to come back and kill them, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported Monday. Police said Sherper returned in a white truck and shot at three bar employees as he drove past, firing between six and nine shots. Court documents said two people were injured. Police arrested Sherper later that night at a Coeur d’Alene residence. He is being held on $500,000 bail in the Kootenai County Jail for each count of the two counts of first-degree attempted murder. It’s not known from online records if Sherper has an attorney. The Kootenai County public defender’s office didn’t return a call from the Associated Press.
Chicago: Two hospital executives have been reprimanded for COVID-19 vaccine events that improperly gave shots to people far from the West Side facility, including one held for workers at Trump Tower. Loretto Hospital’s Board of Directors released a statement Friday saying they had “taken appropriate actions of reprimand” against Loretto’s president and CEO, George Miller, and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Anosh Ahmed. A hospital spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email Monday requesting comment from Miller and Anosh in reaction to the board’s decision. City health officials said last week they would withhold first doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the hospital as authorities investigate the events. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday that the hospital needs better controls and data to guide and track vaccine administration, adding that she doesn’t expect the hospital “to be coming back online anytime soon.” The backlash followed local media reporting on several vaccination events held outside the hospital, which primarily serves Black and Latino residents in West Side neighborhoods. The hospital was chosen last year to administer Chicago’s ceremonial first COVID-19 vaccination as part of the city’s efforts to encourage people to get the shot.
Indianapolis:A fully vaccinated Roger Penske is hard at work at Indianapolis Motor Speedway preparing for a full season of racing that will include spectators at his showcase event. There will be fans at this year’s Indianapolis 500, Penske said Monday, but how many remains a moving target based on COVID-19 restrictions. More than 170,000 tickets have been sold for the May 30 race, he said. His first Indy 500 as owner of the historic property was held in front of empty grandstands last year. “We’re not making any predictions at all because anything I would say today could be completely wrong,” Penske said. “Our goal is to have 250,000. I mean, that’s what we want to have. It’s outside. We’ve got the biggest stadium in the world here and it’s a matter of where we’re going to be with the CDC and the governor and the mayor, so I don’t have any number that I’d want to hang my hat on.” The 500 was pushed from its traditional Memorial Day weekend date to August last year and limited to competitors only. Penske wasn’t able to open the gates to his showplace until October, when 10,000 fans a day were allowed onto the sprawling grounds for a late-season IndyCar event. Penske said Monday the positivity rate for COVID-19 for Marion County, where the speedway is located, was 3.1%. The NCAA Tournament is being played in Indianapolis and surrounding areas, and Penske said he believes the Kentucky Derby – about 120 miles away – will cap attendance at 50% capacity.
Des Moines: Iowa governments are in line for more than $4.45 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money under a nationwide $1.9 trillion package signed earlier this month by President Joe Biden, according to a preliminary analysis issued Monday by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Iowa’s $4.451 billion share of the American Rescue Plan Act represents funds flowing through state government and do not include stimulus funding to individuals and families, which totals about an additional $3.77 billion in direct payments to Iowans, the analysis indicated. Overall, the federal package provided relief funding to individuals, businesses, states and local governments. Of the state government’s share, agency analysts estimated $1.379 billion will be distributed from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund, and local governments are estimated to receive about $1.162 billion from the Local Fiscal Relief Fund. States and local governments can use the funds for qualifying costs incurred through Dec. 31, 2024.
Topeka: Legislators on Monday approved a measure that would give judges and prosecutors a little more than two years to clear a backlog of criminal cases that built up during the coronavirus pandemic. The state House voted 114-7 to pass a plan for clearing an estimated backlog of 5,000 criminal cases. The measure goes next to Gov. Laura Kelly because the Senate approved it last week. The House vote came just before the state Department of Health and Environment reported that more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccine shots have been administered in Kansas. The state also said 23% of its 2.9 million residents have had at least one shot. The court-backlog bill would suspend until May 1, 2023, a state law designed to protect defendants’ constitutional right to a speedy trial. The law requires cases to come to trial within five months of a jailed defendant entering a plea and within six months if the defendant is free on bond. The courts have the backlog because trials have been postponed during the pandemic. Prosecutors have worried that if the deadlines remain in effect, judges will be forced to release some offenders accused of violent crimes.
Frankfort: Kentuckians aged 50 and older are now eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and should sign up for appointments as soon as they are available, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday. “These vaccines are getting out really fast. We want to get even better,” the Democratic governor said at a virtual news briefing. “There can be a negative consequence of both too fast and too slow, so we’re trying to thread that needle, and we’ll continue to adjust to try to do just that.” More than 1,186,500 Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and starting Apr. 12, residents 16 and older also will be eligible. Under current guidelines, those who are 60 and older are eligible, in addition to essential workers and those with preexisting conditions listed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Baton Rouge: State senators opened their latest budget hearings Monday with concerns about using short-term federal coronavirus aid to pay for ongoing services and programs because the federal cash will disappear in later years. Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed using more than $600 million in enhanced federal Medicaid payments to help balance his $36 billion-plus spending proposal for the budget year that begins July 1. Members of the Senate Finance Committee questioned whether the state will have enough money in later years to offset the federal aid when it disappears, particularly the Democratic governor’s proposed education pay hikes, increases in college spending and other items. “There’s no guarantee we’re going to have this money in the out years,” said Senate Finance Chairman Mack “Bodi” White, a Baton Rouge-area Republican. Sen. Greg Tarver, a Shreveport Democrat, noted: “We’ll have to find general fund money to replace this federal money. If we don’t replace it, we’re going to have to reduce services.” Louisiana’s tax collections are rebounding from the lows of the coronavirus pandemic, but they haven’t fully recovered. Edwards and lawmakers used $920 million in federal virus aid and other stopgap financing to piece together this year’s budget. Improved tax collections will replace part, but not all, of that money in the upcoming year.
Portland: Health officials said all of the precautions aimed at protecting people from the coronavirus might be contributing to a mild flu season. There have been only three hospitalizations and no deaths among the 136 influenza cases recorded, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year at this point, the state had 36 deaths, 81 outbreaks, 494 hospitalizations and 10,000 cases, the Portland Press Herald reported. Over the last five years, flu-related deaths have ranged from a high of 82 in the 2017-18 season to a low of 29 in 2018-19.
Annapolis: The state is moving into a new phase of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine. Residents 60 years and older are eligible as the state opened Phase 2A on Tuesday. Gov. Larry Hogan announced the timeline for opening new eligibility phases last week. States are expecting to see a significant increase in vaccine supply. On Monday, Acting Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said the state could get between 300,000 and 400,000 doses a week by this week or the week after. On Monday, state lawmakers raised concerns with the health secretary about older residents who have been eligible for the vaccine, but have yet to get it. Sen. Clarence Lam said less than 40% of Maryland residents between ages 70 and 80 have been fully vaccinated. Lam said older residents could continue to miss out, as more people become eligible. Schrader said the state is making progress every week. He said Maryland is still focused on vaccinating older residents, even as Phase 2 opens.
Boston: The state has paid more than $4 million to three companies to set up a call center to manage the scramble for coronavirus vaccine appointments the day after hundreds of thousands of older residents became eligible, and the tab is expected to grow, according to a published report. Marylou Sudders, the state’s health secretary, signed all three contracts Feb. 23, but the companies began incurring costs related to the call center on Jan. 28, the day after people 75 and older became eligible for vaccines, dramatically increasing demand and frustrations over the difficulty in scheduling appointments, The Boston Globe reported. Some state lawmakers are questioning the haste in which the contracts were signed. “It sounds to me like they basically were caught unprepared and pulled the fire alarm and just started signing contracts to get the thing up and running as fast as they could,” Democratic state Sen. Eric Lesser said. A spokesperson for the state COVID-19 Command Center said the state signed short-term contracts with the three companies as a temporary solution, with plans to hold a competitive bid for the long-term contract. She added that the call center so far has helped more than 50,000 people get appointments.
Clinton Township: Sewage samples pulled from sites across Clinton Township showed the rate of infection from the coronavirus is higher than numbers reported by state health officials, the Macomb County Public Works office said. Positive virus tests for Macomb County residents have increased 125% over the past 14 days, the office added. Macomb County has reported more than 60,000 virus cases and 1,880 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The state’s COVID-19 cases also have been increasing. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, has said Michigan’s case rate spiked 77% over the past four weeks to 172.9 cases per million people. As of Monday, Michigan had nearly 630,000 cases and more than 15,900 deaths. “Testing shows the trend line of what’s coming about a week before,” Macomb Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said. “Unfortunately, our testing is showing that COVID cases will continue to climb into next week.” Laboratory testing of sewage to detect the coronavirus is considered more accurate in determining overall community infection because it includes sampling of waste shed by individuals who are infected but who haven’t been tested, Miller’s office said.
Minneapolis: State health officials reported no new deaths from COVID-19 on Monday for the first time in nearly a year. The Department of Health also reported 1,152 new cases, putting the state at 506,376 cases and 6,782 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Although Mondays tend to feature fewer deaths reported than average, the figure is the first time the state has reported no new deaths in a daily situation update since April 13, 2020, the Star Tribune reported. Despite the good news on deaths, health officials have said in recent weeks they’re worried about the spread of coronavirus variants in different parts of the state, which they said could derail the state’s progress in fighting the pandemic. Officials said the state is in a race against the spread of the variants and reaching Gov. Tim Walz’s goal of 80% of the state’s population being fully vaccinated.
Jackson: The state has given COVID-19 shots to thousands of prisoners in its ongoing mass vaccination effort behind bars, officials said. The Department of Corrections began the effort with the state’s most populated prison – Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl. By Friday, officials said they had completed vaccinating nearly all 3,017 inmates there. Inmates in the State Penitentiary at Parchman will be vaccinated this week, and those in South Mississippi Correctional Institution are scheduled for next week, the agency said. The vaccinations are not mandatory for inmates. Some states have seen as many as 40% of inmates refuse the vaccine, Mississippi has only experienced about 1% refusing it, the agency said.
Springfield: Starting this weekend, Roman Catholic churches in southern Missouri can return to in-person Mass. Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau Bishop Edward Rice announced the reopening in a letter to pastors dated March 16. The change is effective with the Vigil Mass on Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday. Rice cited the increasing number of vaccinations and recent declines in confirmed COVID-19 cases. “For the Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday celebrations, you may want to plan for a larger congregation,” Rice wrote in the letter. Some restrictions are encouraged. Masks are recommended, but social distancing will not be required if masks are used and local ordinances don’t require it. Communion will resume but priests and ministers “must sanitize and wear a mask” for the distribution.
Great Falls:The Blackfeet Nation has vaccinated more than 95% of its eligible population, the Great Falls Tribune reported. The tribe isn’t alone in its success. Every tribe in Montana is vaccinating its members at a fast pace, sometimes doubling or tripling the state’s vaccination rate. Montana has consistently ranked among the top states in its vaccine distribution. As of Friday, the state had fully immunized 17% of its eligible population, and 28% of the state’s eligible population had received at least one dose. Native American tribes used incentives, a centralized health care system and personalized outreach efforts to fast-track their vaccine rollout. Tribes have been so efficient that many tribal health clinics are vaccinating non-Natives, who otherwise wouldn’t be eligible.
Omaha: The state still plans to make COVID-19 vaccines available to the general public by late April or early May, but Gov. Pete Ricketts said a lot of factors could change the state’s timetable. Ricketts said the speed at which Nebraska moves through its current vaccination phase will depend on how many vaccine shipments it receives in the next few weeks and how quickly health officials can administer them. He said the state expects to see a big jump in single-shot vaccine shipments from Johnson & Johnson next week, which could help boost the massive undertaking. “There’s a lot of variables out there that we can’t predict at this point, but we have not changed our schedule yet,” Ricketts said at a news conference. State officials have said their biggest challenge in the rollout is getting more vaccines from the federal government. Nebraska is currently focused on vaccinating residents aged 50 to 64 and people with underlying health conditions that are designated by local doctors and public health officials. Ricketts said the federal government is allocating vaccines to states based on the proportion of residents who are at least 16 years old, and that might hurt Nebraska, which has a relatively large proportion of residents who are younger. But he said Nebraska’s share of vaccines appears to be “in the ballpark” of what other states have received, based on his conversations with other officials. Ricketts, a Republican, said he asked the Trump and Biden administrations for the federal government’s exact distribution formula, but federal officials haven’t shared the information.
Las Vegas: Crowds during the weekend in Las Vegas stirred talk Monday about a coronavirus pandemic recovery arriving along with the college basketball fans, spring-breakers and pool partiers who found increased capacity limits at casinos, restaurants and businesses. “Clearly, there is untapped demand for Las Vegas from consumers across the country,” said Alan Feldman, a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “We need to be certain that the infections and infection rates don’t spike in the community so that we can continue to expand occupancy limits.” Scenes of people packing the resort-lined Las Vegas Strip, the downtown Fremont Street casino pedestrian mall and McCarran International Airport provided stark contrast from places deserted during COVID-19 shutdowns a year ago. “I’ve been at home with my kids for a year, homeschooling them,” Los Angeles-area resident Ernie Moreno told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Sunday report. “I just wanted a break, and wanted to watch games.” Moreno referred to the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament, which drew thousands Friday, Saturday and Sunday to sports betting books and to a downtown casino rooftop with multiple heated swimming pools arranged around a huge screen showing every game. State health officials and Dr. Mark Pandori, head of the state Public Health Laboratory, said Monday they were optimistic that, amid increased numbers of vaccinations, Nevada would not see another surge of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Concord: The state’s new vaccine registration system struggled to meet initial demand in its first big test Monday, though the pace later picked up, and officials expected more than 100,000 new sign-ups by day’s end. The state last week replaced the federal Vaccine Administration Management System with its own Vaccine and Immunization Network Interface, or VINI. Thousands of people experienced problems with the previous system, particularly in scheduling their second doses, and officials expected the new system to avoid those woes. But it was temporarily beset with technical problems Monday morning, when registration opened to anyone 50 and older. In a notice on the state’s vaccine website early Monday, officials apologized for the issues and said they would be addressed as soon as possible. By late morning, the message described delays from unprecedented volume, and urged viewers to try again 10 minutes later if they weren’t successful. Gov. Chris Sununu said 75,000 people had booked appointments by 5 p.m., and registrations were being processed at a quicker pace.
Toms River:On Monday, the first group of Toms River Regional staff members were vaccinated at the Community Medical Center as part of a partnership between RWJHealth and the school district. About 560 staff members signed up to receive their first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine this week. “We thought this was one of the most important populations we would do,” said Patrick Ahearn, president and CEO of Community Medical Center. “We’re in this together. We all are part of this community.” Toms River Regional Interim Superintendent Thomas Gialanella said getting staff members vaccinated is another big step that will allow the district’s students to return to classrooms full-time. Toms River Regional’s more than 15,000 students are attending school in-person for four half-days a week. Gialanella said Monday that the district hopes to soon extend that to five half-days, and “to full day by the end of the year.”
Santa Fe: Health officials on Sunday reported 176 more confirmed COVID-19 cases but no additional deaths. The latest numbers increased the state’s pandemic totals to 189,731 cases. There have been 3,889 deaths. Of the new cases, Bernalillo County had 56, with Dona Ana County having 20, Curry County 16 and Lea County 14. Bernalillo, the state’s largest county that includes metro Albuquerque, had 54,052 of New Mexico’s total cases since the pandemic began.
New York City: About 80,000 municipal employees who have been working remotely during the pandemic will return to their offices starting May 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. “We’re going to make it safe, but we need our city workers back in their offices where they can do the most to help their fellow New Yorkers, and it’s also going to send a powerful message about this city moving forward,” the Democratic mayor said, promising strict safety measures. The workforce of about 300,000 city employees includes many like police officers and firefighters who can’t work from home. A spokesperson for de Blasio said about 80,000 municipal office workers will begin a staggered process of returning to their work sites on May 3. Asked if the return of city workers to offices could set an example for private businesses, de Blasio said each company will approach the question of whether employees need to be in their offices full-time or part-time differently. “Are folks ready to start bringing back their workers in whatever way makes sense as quickly as possible?” he said. “I’d certainly want to encourage that.”
Raleigh: State Sen. Ralph Hise, a top Republican budget writer in the chamber, has tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokesman for GOP senators said Tuesday. Hise, a Mitchell County Republican, tested positive on Sunday and has been isolating since, according to spokesman Pat Ryan. Hise, 44, was last in the Legislative Building on Thursday, Ryan said, and has been talking to people with whom he had close contact. Now in his sixth term, Hise is the deputy president pro tempore and a co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee. WRAL-TV first reported Hise’s positive case. With Hise’s case, at least six General Assembly members have acknowledged publicly since last year that they tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a total by the Associated Press.
Bismarck:The University of Mary will have in-person graduation ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 in April. Details are still being worked on, but the commencement will be April 24 at the Bismarck Event Center. The first ceremony is at 11:30 a.m. for undergraduates, followed by the graduate ceremony at 3 p.m. The Baccalaureate Mass kicks off the daylong celebration at 9 a.m., from the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck. The classes of 2020 and 2021 are invited to participate. Students from last year can respond to the RSVP that was sent to them via email, or they can click the RSVP button found at www.umary.edu/graduation. Students from the Class of 2021 reserved a spot by submitting their diploma application online.
Columbus:Cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is in 34 Ohio counties, up from 18 a week ago, state health officials said Tuesday. The variant now is in 14 of the state’s 15 counties with at least 200,000 residents. The new counties with B.1.1.7 cases are Butler, Clermont, Columbiana, Crawford, Delaware, Erie, Fairfield, Fayette, Knox, Lake, Lucas, Marion, Mercer, Richland, Trumbull and Washington. Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer of the Ohio Department of Health, said Monday that Ohio has recorded 173 cases of virus variants, including two new strains that originated in California. The state-reported total is higher than a federal count of B.1.1.7 cases in the state. Officials have said for weeks that they expect the variant will be the dominant strain in the state by April.
Oklahoma City: Oklahoma is joining an increasing number of states that will offer the coronavirus vaccine to all adults, deputy state health commissioner Keith Reed said Tuesday. The health department will begin making appointments Monday for an estimated 500,000 people not yet eligible to register for the vaccine, Reed said. “If you are over 16 and live in Oklahoma, you are eligible and should get vaccinated,” Reed said, noting that only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16- and 17-year-olds. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved for those 18 and older. More than 1.6 million vaccines have been administered in the state, Reed said, including more than 586,000 who have received the full dosage, but continued vaccinations is key to controlling the pandemic. Oklahoma has a population of nearly 4 million.
Portland: Floor sessions in at the state Capitol were canceled for the rest of the day Monday and all day Tuesday after lawmakers learned that “someone who was interacting on the House floor last week” had tested positive for the coronavirus. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who said she was notified about the situation while on the floor Monday, did not say if the person who tested positive was a lawmaker or staff. “In an abundance of caution, we did not want to be on the floor for all the time we had planned tonight and tomorrow,” Kotek said. The House of Representatives was scheduled be on the floor for a total of about 10 hours Monday and Tuesday. Kotek said the Legislature is following public health protocols and it is still being determined if they will return to the Capitol Wednesday morning. The Capitol building has been closed to the public since March 2020 as part of a COVID-19 safety measure. Only authorized personnel, which includes lawmakers, staff, police and reporters, have access to the building. Although committee meetings take place virtually, lawmakers need to meet in person to vote on bills. Kotek said many lawmakers have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine because essential workers are not eligible until April 19.
Philadelphia: The city is canceling tens of thousands of vaccination appointments for the Federal Emergency Management Agency-run vaccination clinic after links for people to get second doses were shared with others seeking first appointments. The FEMA site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center has shifted for the next three weeks to giving second doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to about 122,000 people who had received first doses earlier this month at the site. Philadelphia Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the appointment links with a QR code sent to people who need to come in for the second dose of vaccine were shared or taken from social media posts and have led to thousands of people trying to schedule first appointments that no longer exist. “The software is designed to help people schedule appointments not to keep people out,” Farley said at the city’s COVID-19 update Tuesday. “We have canceled and are canceling all unauthorized appointments.” Farley said city health officials are sending emails and making efforts to contact people who scheduled first appointments to tell them not to come. If people without email access show up, he said clinic workers will help them sign up for other vaccination sites if they are eligible under the city’s priority restrictions or will help them register on the vaccination interest database if not.
Providence: Health officials, in response to several complaints, have sent a letter reminding the state’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities that they must now allow family members to visit their loved ones unless there is an immediate coronavirus safety risk. Department of Health spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said about 10 families reported problems visiting their relatives. “Notwithstanding all of your good work on this issue, RIDOH continues to receive complaints from residents’ families and friends (e.g., one visit permitted in a three-week period for one resident),” the Monday letter said. “Now that the COVID-19 vaccine and spring have arrived, RIDOH’s expectation is that visitation will increase and facilities will begin to achieve pre-COVID-19 visitation levels.” Visits to nursing homes were barred last spring when the coronavirus tore through the facilities but were allowed to resume last month as infection rates declined and vaccination rates rose. Scott Fraser, president of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group, said visits are happening, but nursing home managers are contending with regulations that make allowing visits difficult.
Clemson:Although the spread of the coronavirus at Clemson University has remained low throughout the spring semester, many fear that with students returning from spring break and the state’s COVID-19 restrictions mostly lifted, a surge could be on the way. “I think we’ve got a little ways to go to make sure that whatever happened last Saturday and whatever happens over spring break... does not cause a blow up that could affect things negatively,” City Council member Bob Brookover said last week after loosened bar restrictions drew hundreds of students to downtown bars for parties. But Lior Rennert, a biostatistician helping lead testing efforts on campus, said Clemson would be prepared for any influx of the virus in the student population. “While we don’t expect a significant spike, we’re also confident that if there was an outbreak, our strategy would contain it immediately,” Rennert, an associate professor, said. The state Department. of Health and Environment Control said COVID-19 spikes can occur anytime large groups gather, especially in environments where people might be yelling, cheering or standing close together.
Sioux Falls: Health officials on Sunday reported no change in the number of active COVID-19 cases and a drop in hospitalizations. The update showed 145 positive tests in the last day, increasing the total to 115,867 cases since the start of the pandemic. Active cases remained at 2,233, the report showed. Hospitalizations dropped by 10 since Saturday, to 59. Of those patients, 13 are being treated in intensive care units and five are on ventilators. The report listed one new death, a Brown County man in his 60s, increasing the total number of fatalities to 1,923. There were about 266 new cases per 100,000 people in South Dakota over the past two weeks, which ranks 14th in the country for new cases per capita, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. One in every 717 people in South Dakota tested positive in the past week.
Collierville:The Collierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously Monday night to approve a request for proposals for entertainment production services for the town’s Independence Day Celebration. Last year’s celebration was canceled because of the pandemic. Mayor Stan Joyner said the town is planning to hold the event. “If we can hold it this year, then we’re going to hold it and it’s going to be great,” Joyner said. “Things can change, but right now it looks pretty good.” Joyner said the town might have to add COVID-19 restrictions by boxing off sections for families to stay 6 feet apart, but he noted officials are still in the planning process. Collierville usually holds its annual Independence Day Celebration on July 3 at H.W. Cox Park ,with live music, food and a fireworks show.
Austin: Texas is becoming the most populous state to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults, more than a month before President Joe Biden’s goal of making the shots available to anyone who wants one by May 1. The announcement by state health officials Tuesday added Texas to the rapidly growing list of states that are making the vaccine available to all adults. The drastic expansion for the state’s nearly 30 million residents will begin Monday. “We are closing in on 10 million doses administered in Texas, and we want to keep up the momentum as the vaccine supply increases,” said Imelda Garcia, chairwoman of the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel. For the past two weeks, Texas has been the nation’s largest state with no coronavirus restrictions after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott repealed a mask mandate and lifted limits on restaurant and retail occupancy. Hospitalizations in Texas have plummeted to their lowest levels since October.
St. George: Free rapid coronavirus testing is now available for children 3 and older in a number of counties across Utah. In Washington County, the Utah Department of Health and National Guard mobile test team sites will offer free rapid testing 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at Sand Hollow State Park, 3351 Sand Hollow Road, Hurricane. This is a mobile van event located in the boat decontamination area. To register, visit bit.ly/3caZADd. Test results from these locations will be emailed to patients in an encrypted file from CV19result@utah.gov. Patients can expect results 30 minutes to several hours after their test is done, but if the testing location is extremely busy, it might take longer. If patients don’t see receive their results, they should check their spam or junk mail. They can also try checking their email on a nonapp browser (such as Chrome or Firefox) on a computer or nonphone device. If patients have trouble opening the email or if it doesn’t come within a few hours, they can call (385) 273-7878 for assistance.
Montpelier: The state is considering using electronic road signs to help promote the use of the vaccines against COVID-19 in remote Essex County, officials said. The Caledonian-Record reported the county in northeastern Vermont that borders Canada and New Hampshire has the lowest percentage of teh state’s population vaccinated against the virus. As of Saturday, 31.2% of the state’s 16-and-older population had received at least their first dose of vaccine. In Essex County, the figure was 23.2%. “It’s a big county, it’s a long county – north to south – and it’s a rural county,” said Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith. “People are pretty spread out.” The mobile electronic signs would be used to inform residents when and where vaccination clinics are being held and how to sign up. The signs will also let people know the vaccines are free. “It doesn’t take that many more people to bring it up to the statewide average,” Smith said. “The population is fairly small in that county to bring it up.”
Petersburg: The city’s only flea market had a quiet reopening last weekend, with a lighter crowd of vendors after a four-month hiatus because of the pandemic. Organizers are optimistic that people will be back in big numbers by the end of the spring. One Petersburg Flea Market has been a labor of love for former Petersburg Fire Marshall Marlow Jones. The idea was years in the making before opening in November. Unfortunately, the market was forced to shut down less than a month later when Gov. Ralph Northam reinstated stricter COVID-19 guidelines, which limited the number of people at social gatherings. “We’re going to rebuild our following once it gets back to being warm, we’ll be back to busy,” said Stacey Allen, the market’s manager. “It will be the same thing as before, food, regular vendors, and music.” Along with selling goods, the market has grand plans for a sound stage, RC car races and other events. One Petersburg Flea Market is open Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is located at the old Sears site off Crater Road at the cleared lot next to Butterworth’s Furniture.
Olympia: The state has been approved for its first federal mass vaccination site in Yakima, in addition to mobile vaccination units. The White House announced Monday that 1,200 daily doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are expected to be administered over a six-week period starting March 31. In addition to the mobile units, there will be a fixed, drive-thru vaccination site at Central Washington State Fair Park. The additional vaccine doses will be provided directly by the federal government and will not be taken from the state or county’s regular allotments. More than 2.6 million doses of vaccine have been administered, and more than 12% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated.
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill that protects employers, health care providers and others from being sued because of the pandemic. The bill offers protection from COVID-19 lawsuits, even if public health guidelines were ignored. But lawsuits could be filed if there is evidence a person or entity acted with intent to hurt, kill or cause other damage. The state Senate passed the bill on Feb. 19 and the House on March 10. Some Democrats argued the bill’s protections are too broad. Justice had proposed the legislation, called the “Creating COVID-19 Jobs Protection Act.” Several lawsuits filed had targeted measures Justice put in place through executive orders.
Madison: The state Senate voted Tuesday to take control of the state’s share of the $1.9 trillion federal coronavirus stimulus package away Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and instead give lawmakers the ability to decide how to spend the estimated $5.7 billion coming for state and local governments. The GOP-controlled Assembly also gave final approval to a measure that would prohibit the government from requiring people to be vaccinated for COVID-19. It was also scheduled to pass bills that would ban employers from requiring vaccinations and not allow churches to be shut down because of the pandemic. The Assembly was also voting on a bill requiring the governor to submit a plan for when all state employees will be back doing their jobs in offices, rather than from home. Evers has promised to veto, and he’s expected to veto the others as well.
Casper: All Wyoming National Guard members serving in Washington to protect the U.S. Capitol have returned home. The Casper Star-Tribune reported the state sent more than 100 members ahead of President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. The move was in response to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and reports that similar attacks were possible. About 30 members remained in Washington to provide support following the inauguration. Multiple agencies, specifically the U.S. Park Police, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, had requested help, according to a news release from Gov. Mark Gordon's office. About 7,000 National Guard members from across the country volunteered to remain in the capital after Biden’s inauguration.