Birmingham: The mayors of at least three Alabama cities, including heavily populated Birmingham, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as the illness spreads rapidly across the state following the holidays. The city of Birmingham said Mayor Randall Woodfin was admitted to a hospital with COVID-19 pneumonia Monday, five days after announcing he tested positive for the new coronavirus. Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said he was quarantining at home after testing positive for the virus, and the city of Auburn said Mayor Ron Anders was in quarantine after testing positive. Bowling told the Decatur Daily he felt guilty about participating in holiday family gatherings with his adult children and their families over the holidays. Alabama on Monday hit a new high for the number of COVID-19 patients in state hospitals with more than 3,000 hospitalized. The new peak comes as health officials feared a new surge of cases in the wake of the winter holidays. There were a record 3,064 people in state hospitals Monday with COVID-19, according to numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Juneau: Attorneys for the state are asking a judge to strike down provisions of law dealing with government appointments amid a dispute between Gov. Mike Dunleavy and lawmakers who did not meet to consider his picks for his Cabinet, boards and commissions. The state’s counterclaim last week comes in a lawsuit brought by the Legislative Council. The council, composed of House and Senate leaders, says the appointments Dunleavy presented in early 2020 lapsed in December after lawmakers failed to act on them. The council has asked a judge to block Dunleavy from continuing with those appointments and from reappointing people to posts until the start of the next legislative session Jan. 19. Typically, the House and Senate meet during the regular legislative session to consider appointments. But amid COVID-19 concerns last March, lawmakers passed a law allowing them to adjourn and take up confirmations later.
Phoenix: Agencies helping the homeless in the state’s largest county say the annual count of people living on the streets was canceled this year because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. The Maricopa Regional Continuum of Care, which includes shelters and other services for homeless people, says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allowed it to opt out of the January 2021 count of those sleeping outdoors. The one-night tally includes face-to-face interviews with people on the streets to help agencies understand how many need services. The Maricopa Association of Governments last week announced it canceled the outdoor count amid a surge in Arizona’s reported COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations. Arizona health officials on Monday reported 5,158 new cases and three additional deaths statewide, along with a record number of hospitalizations. Last year’s tally counted 3,767 homeless people in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. The county is Arizona’s largest and home to about 4.5 million people.
Little Rock: The number of patients hospitalized because of coronavirus in the state continued surging Monday to a new record of nearly 1,300. There were 1,296 people hospitalized with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, up from 1,234 a day before, according to the Department of Health. The state’s virus cases rose by 1,306 to 234,781, and 51 more people died from COVID-19, the department said. Gov. Asa Hutchinson called the increase in deaths and hospitalizations “vivid reminders of how many families are hurting because of this pandemic.” Just 4% of the state’s intensive care unit beds and 22% of its hospital beds were available, according to the Department of Health. There are 411 COVID-19 patients in ICUs around the state. The Arkansas Department of Corrections on Monday said it will conduct its first round of coronavirus vaccinations for employees. A department spokeswoman said at least 975 will receive the vaccine, which will go toward the department’s contracted medical provider and to officers permanently assigned to medical security and transportation roles.
Sacramento: Distribution hiccups and logistical challenges have slowed the initial coronavirus vaccine rollout in the state, setting a pace that’s “not good enough,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. The state is trying to execute the massive immunization campaign “with a sense of urgency that is required of this moment and the urgency that people demand,” but so far only about 1% of California’s 40 million residents have been vaccinated, the Democratic governor said. The 454,000 doses of vaccine that have been administered in California represent just a third of the more than nearly 1.3 million received in the state so far, according to the California Department of Public Health. Newsom’s comments came Monday as the state’s death toll topped 26,500, and confirmed cases neared 2.4 million since the pandemic began. The state’s swamped hospitals held more than 22,000 coronavirus patients, including nearly 4,700 in intensive care units, the Department of Public Health said. Even as he acknowledged the state must do better, Newsom sought to shift some responsibility for the slow rollout, noting that “the vaccines don’t arrive magically in some state facility.”
Denver: Inmates in El Paso County’s jail will get daily temperature checks, and those who test positive for the coronavirus will be regularly monitored by medical staff, under a temporary deal negotiated by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and the sheriff and approved by a federal judge Monday. The ACLU sued El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder last month after his office acknowledged that inmates were not routinely given masks to wear to prevent the spread of infection until a large COVID-19 outbreak in the jail. Jail officials said they could not distribute masks initially during the pandemic because the only ones available had metal staples, which they said created safety concerns. Under the preliminary injunction approved by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, inmates will be given two cloth masks to use, and deputies who do not wear masks will face discipline. Deputies will check inmates’ temperatures twice a day, and anyone with a temperature over 99.4 degrees will be referred to medical staff. Those who test positive will be checked by medical staff daily and given access to over-the-counter pain and cold medicine for free.
Hartford: Lawmakers are returning to the state Capitol building – at least physically for opening day – to kick off a new legislative session that’s expected to focus on the coronavirus pandemic and the state’s budget challenges. Plans are in the works to have members of the General Assembly brave chilly January temperatures and take the oath of office outside on the Capitol grounds Wednesday. They will then vote on the rules, which are still being hammered out, for what will undoubtedly be an unusual five-month-long session. “We don’t know how long we’re going to be in this,” said Sen. Kevin Kelly, the incoming Republican Senate leader. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont recently said he will likely address the lawmakers in his traditional opening day speech remotely. Meanwhile, the first legislative committee meetings have already been scheduled as Zoom meetings, to be aired simultaneously on newly created YouTube channels and in some cases on the Connecticut Network or CT-n. Lawmakers will likely participate online from home, returning to the Capitol for socially distanced floor votes. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said members of the public will probably have to log onto the Zoom hearings to testify on bills.
Wilmington: Families and school staff now have access to more detailed data on COVID-19 cases in the state’s schools. On Tuesday, the state launched a data dashboard showing the number of coronavirus cases by school district. The state is not reporting school-level data, citing privacy concerns. “We knew that there was an interest in getting more local-level data,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health. In December, COVID-19 cases in Delaware were quickly approaching levels that would have closed schools, based on the state’s criteria set over the summer. But the data dictating whether schools should be open should be reevaluated, Carney said at the time, noting that health experts had learned more about how the virus spreads in schools than they did at the start of the school year. In the weeks leading up to winter break, Carney recommended schools pause in-person learning until Jan. 11, not because schools were not safe but to give school leaders time to adjust to operational challenges. In the same announcement, Carney said the state would replace its previous data dashboard with data “more specific and relevant to the public health conditions affecting schools.”
District of Columbia
Washington: By the end of the month, the district could begin vaccinating non-health care essential workers – those who work in grocery stores, public safety officers, and teachers and child care workers, WUSA-TV reports. Mayor Muriel Bowser laid out the city’s tentative plan for the next few weeks, with a soft goal of Jan. 11 for beginning to vaccinate those 65 and over who aren’t already in Phase 1A and Jan. 25 for the next group of essential workers. Residents in Phase 1A who haven’t been vaccinated yet can sign up for an appointment to through the city’s vaccination portal. Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, encouraged those who aren’t health care workers to hold off on signing up. “If people who rush to use this portal who are not health care workers, it will create a difficult situation for those people for whom it was designed,” she said during the mayor’s weekly coronavirus briefing Monday.
Fort Lauderdale: The push to vaccinate people over age 65 is drawing thousands of eager seniors in uneven rollouts across various counties, with some residents so set on getting a shot that they slept in their cars overnight. In Daytona Beach, hundreds of senior citizens determined to get vaccinated against COVID-19 camped out inside their vehicles in frigid temperatures to secure coveted spots in a vaccination line Tuesday morning, a day after seniors jammed the roads as they headed for the vaccination site. Officials tried to avoid a repeat of Monday’s traffic jams by opening a stadium’s parking lot to overnight camping for people 65 and older. By 7:30 p.m. Monday, senior citizens in 200 vehicles were on the property, set to brave overnight temperatures in the low 40s. A couple of hours north, in Clay County, people booked appointments online and walked in for their scheduled vaccination. Broward County Mayor Steve Geller said Tuesday that he’s being bombarded with emails and calls from senior citizens who are upset over how the vaccine distribution is going. He said the state simply does not have enough of the vaccine to administer it to all of Florida’s 4.5 million seniors.
Atlanta: Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, former U.N. Ambassador and civil rights leader Andrew Young, and former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan got vaccinated against COVID-19 in Georgia on Tuesday, hoping to send a message to Black Americans that the shots are safe. Getting vaccinated “makes me feel wonderful,” Aaron said. Rolling up their sleeves to take the first of two doses, these octogenarians, their spouses and several other civil rights leaders who received the shots in a brand-new health clinic at the Morehouse School of Medicine acknowledged the legacy of mistrust that many African Americans have toward medical research, stemming from the infamous Tuskegee experiment in which U.S. health workers left syphilis untreated in Black men without their consent, making them suffer needlessly. “I’ve been taking vaccines now for 88 years, and I haven’t been sick,” Young said. “The truth of it is, Black folk have been living by shots, and just because they did something crazy and murderous and evil back in 1931, we’re still thinking about that. We’ve got to get over that.”
Honolulu: The island of Kauai is reopening to tourists after a halt forced by the coronavirus, but the economic recovery in the vital tourism industry could be slow. Kauai had opted out of the state program that allows trans-Pacific visitors if they produce a negative test before arrival, and the island had required all travelers to undergo a 10-day quarantine. But Kauai began its own entry program Tuesday. Travelers can avoid quarantine if they go to another Hawaii island with the pre-arrival testing program and wait at least three days before coming to Kauai. A second option would enable travelers to quarantine for three days instead of 10. Kauai County said travelers could be released from quarantine if they’re tested before arrival, quarantine for three days at a “resort bubble” property and then get a second test that comes back negative. “To the extent that they can experience the rest of the island after three days, they’ll be more likely to come,” said Richard Albrecht, president of The Club at Kukuiula, one of the bubble properties. Participants will be required to wear tracking bracelets.
Boise: A group brought together by Gov. Brad Little to find ways to bolster faltering salmon and steelhead populations has agreed to encourage habitat restoration but avoided making a decision about breaching dams. The report released over the weekend by the Republican governor’s workgroup flatly states it’s not a recovery plan. Rather, it’s a list of recommendations approved by a group that includes conservationists, power companies, farmers, tribes, irrigators and ranchers. At the group’s first meeting in June 2019, Little tasked members with finding achievable goals to improve struggling salmon and steelhead populations. They met an additional 15 times through December to hash out recommendations, including creating a statewide inventory of habitat in all river basins and collaborating with property owners and water users to improve habitat. Thirteen species of Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead are listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, including all salmon and steelhead that return to Idaho. The Idaho populations once numbered more than 2.3 million fish combined, the report said. Now, they number about 45,000.
Chicago: Some Chicago Public Schools teachers expected to report to the classroom ahead of preschool students’ anticipated return next week stayed home Monday over coronavirus concerns. The nation’s third-largest district plans to bring students back in phases. Starting next week, preschool and some special education students can return or continue remote learning. Students in K-8 have the option Feb. 1. A date for high school students hasn’t been set. The Chicago Teachers Union opposed the plan over safety. Dozens of aldermen also objected with concerns about health and racial equity. District data shows roughly 37% of eligible students planned to return, with that group disproportionately white. Linda Perales, a southwest side special education teacher, told reporters Monday she’d continue remote teaching, partly because social distancing measures have an impact on teaching. “They will have to wear a face mask all day,” she said. “Teachers will have to wear a face mask all day, and that is so important to note because it’s going to make it impossible to teach letter sounds and other things like that.”
Indianapolis: Lawmakers opened their 2021 legislative session Monday, largely wearing masks and in greatly modified settings for coronavirus precautions, even as leaders said they were braced for disruptions from possible COVID-19 infections. The House was gaveled into session for the first time in what will be its temporary location for the next several months, giving up its wood-paneled Statehouse chamber that has been deemed too crowded for the 100 House members and necessary staffers. The House will meet in a large conference room in a neighboring state office building that appears more like a business convention site. The Senate will continue meeting in its Statehouse chamber, but the balcony is closed to the public, as 20 of the 50 senators will be sitting there to allow greater distancing. Plexiglass surrounds the lecterns from which senators speak. The Republican-dominated Legislature will face debates over whether to roll back GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb’s authority to issue public health orders to stem the COVID-19 spread that has killed more than 8,000 in Indiana and flooded the state’s hospitals with thousands of patients since a sustained surge started in September.
Des Moines: Gov. Kim Reynolds appears prepared to push schools to return students to classrooms this month, reinforcing her plans to prioritize in-person learning even when a local school board believes it’s too risky. In November, the state approved requests for 90 school districts or buildings to go to online learning as coronavirus cases escalated, causing many schools to run short of staff members as they tested positive or had to quarantine due to exposure. Student absenteeism also surged at many schools. Eleven districts had been approved during December, but the Des Moines school district’s request Dec. 28 was the first to be rejected since August. Virus conditions deteriorated in Iowa in November with a spike in hospitalizations and deaths. Trends appeared to improve in early December, although the positivity rate in Iowa has started to tick back up again in recent weeks.
Topeka: Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday that she’s “very comfortable” with how Kansas is distributing COVID-19 vaccines despite U.S. government data showing its inoculation rate is the lowest of any state. The Democratic governor argued that Kansas likely has a more efficient distribution system than other states and is getting vaccine doses more quickly to more communities. The state Department of Health and Environment has said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Kansas behind other states because of a reporting lag. Kelly told reporters the state has concentrated on “getting vaccinations in people’s arms.” The state health department has not published or posted online its own data for the number of shots given, and Kelly has faced criticism from top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature over the CDC’s vaccination data. House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, said Monday that Kansas residents “are tired of hearing excuses.” The CDC reported Monday that Kansas had administered 20,110 vaccine shots, or 690 for every 100,000 residents, making it the only state to inoculate fewer than 700 residents out of every 100,000.
Louisville: Following several days of an increasing coronavirus positivity rate, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the rate escalated again Monday, hitting 11.2% – more than 3 percentage points higher than it had been one week prior. Beshear said the increase could be due to some labs and public testing sites being closed over the holidays, thus increasing the percentage of tests conducted in medical settings where patients are experiencing symptoms, but it also may be a result of increased spread happening at gatherings over the holidays. “We think it is some of both, but it’s going to take days for the data to show us the truth,” the governor said during his Monday update. Beshear also reported 2,319 new cases and 26 deaths Monday. There were 1,737 Kentuckians hospitalized with the virus, including 456 in an intensive care unit and 216 on a ventilator. Monday marked three weeks since the first Kentuckians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine were innoculated, and Beshear said he is “not satisfied with the pace” of the vaccine’s rollout. There have been 60,414 doses administered in Kentucky, less than half of the 122,100 vaccines the state has received, according to state data.
Baton Rouge: The state would broaden the mail-in balloting options for spring municipal elections and two upcoming special congressional elections because of the coronavirus pandemic, under an emergency elections plan that started advancing with lawmakers Tuesday. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Louisiana’s top elections official, wants to use the same expansion of absentee-by-mail voting that was in place for the summer and fall elections, including the November presidential competition. Without objection Tuesday, lawmakers on the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee backed the package of COVID-19 emergency rules proposed by the Republican elections chief. A House committee planned to consider the proposal later in the day. Republican senators who in prior debates repeatedly expressed worry about voter fraud if they expanded mail-in voting offered no such concerns this time. Instead, they noted that Ardoin’s data showed only small percentages of voters used the COVID-19 rules in submitting absentee ballots for the 2020 elections. Most mail-in votes were cast by people legally able to do it without the emergency rules.
Portland: The City Council has extended outdoor dining in public spaces into the spring. The city already extended outdoor dining on public sidewalks and parking lanes in October to help local businesses during the pandemic. Councilors voted Monday for another extension through May 10. Many restaurants have shifted to takeout as the temperatures plunged. But others are taking advantage of outdoor spaces. “We never thought people would want to sit outside in January in February, but obviously times have changed,” Deen Haleem, who owns Old Port restaurant TIQA with his wife, told WMTW-TV. Even with outdoor seating, revenue in December was down by at least 70% at TIQA, he said.
Annapolis: The state is now accepting claims for three federal unemployment programs that Congress extended when it passed a $900 billion stimulus package over a week ago. The state Department of Labor is processing claims and issuing payments through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, Pandemic Unemployment Emergency Compensation and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation programs, which have offered a lifeline to people struggling to work during COVID-19. There should not be a delay in receiving payments through the extended programs. Claimants will receive an email directing them to file their weekly claim certification, reopen their claim or reapply for benefits. Anyone who is eligible for benefits will automatically begin receiving the $300 payments. Gov. Larry Hogan said in a news release that Maryland is one of the first states in the U.S. to have programmed and deployed the new programs.
Boston: The vice chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, a former coronavirus skeptic, has issued a mea culpa after falling sick with COVID-19, likely from being infected at a White House Hannukah party last month. “I will survive this, in spite of my own obvious negligence, and arrogance, towards a virus that knows no bounds and shows no mercy,” Tom Mountain, 60, wrote in an opinion piece in the Boston Herald published Tuesday. He got sick three days after attending the White House party, at which mask-wearing and social distancing were lax. He spread COVID-19 to other members of his family. Mountain, who is now recovering at home, wrote that he had chills, fever, nausea and “nearly every symptom attached with the coronavirus” that required two trips to the emergency room. “Masks? Who needs masks? I scoffed at the idea and rolled my eyes at so many for donning them. The mere thought of my wearing one got my libertarian self-righteousness up in arms,” he wrote. He said he now has a better appreciation of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s efforts to control the virus.
Gaylord: An event that draws snowmobile enthusiasts to northern Michigan has been postponed due to concerns about the coronavirus. The Michigan Snowmobile Festival has been moved to February 2022, according to the Gaylord Area Convention & Tourism Bureau, which has hosted the festival since 2015. “Our committee met in the fall, and we were moving forward with the event with several backup plans in place to comply with COVID-19 restrictions,” said Christy Walcott, the bureau’s marketing director. “We waited until it was necessary to start investing in marketing the event before deciding postponing was our best course of action due to the uncertainty as to when restrictions will be lifted.” The festival features a snowmobile fun run that attracts snowmobilers primarily from lower Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
Maplewood: A Twin Cities-area man accused of pointing a gun at a fitness club manager after complaining that members were exercising without masks was charged Monday with assault with a dangerous weapon. Michael Florhaug, 64, was arrested following the incident Thursday at LA Fitness in Maplewood. Prosecutors said assistant manager Mike Olson, who thought Florhaug was going to shoot members without masks, eventually tackled Florhaug, took the gun and removed all the ammunition. Court documents do not list an attorney for Florhaug, of Maplewood. The complaint said Olson had stepped in after Florhaug confronted a front desk employee about gym members without masks, going against a state order that’s meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Olson told Florhaug the club lacked the staff to enforce the mandate, and Florhaug “was welcome to pay an employee out of his own pocket to enforce the mask rules,” the Star Tribune reports. Florhaug allegedly yelled at the manager, called him dumb and said he was going to photograph club members. When Olson tried to intervene, Flohaug pulled out a gun and pointed it at the manager, who backed away.
Jackson: State officials announced a plan Monday to streamline access to coronavirus vaccines for vulnerable populations in the coming weeks. “We want to make sure that as many doses as we get this week, we’re getting that many shots in arms,” Gov. Tate Reeves said during a news conference. “It doesn’t do us any good if it’s sitting on the shelf.” The Republican governor said Monday that people over age 75 will have access to the vaccine, beginning next week, at private clinics and drive-thru sites. The week after, those over 65 will become eligible for the vaccine. “We know that we cannot afford delays in protecting those who are at the greatest risk,” Reeves said. “We must focus on saving lives.” The Department of Health has 18 high-volume drive-thru sites prepared for the vaccine rollout. Approximately 174 private clinics have also requested vaccines, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said. He did not immediately release the names of the 174 clinics.
O’Fallon: Two-fifths of all of Missouri’s COVID-19 deaths were reported in the last two months of 2020, according to the state health department. Data on the department’s COVID-19 dashboard shows 2,369 deaths were reported in November and December. That’s about 41% of the 5,825 deaths attributed to the virus since March. The death toll grew by 263 on Tuesday, largely because a weekly review of death certificates from around the state found 250 connected to the virus that had not been previously reported. The state also cited 2,632 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 405,589 since the onset of the pandemic. Coronavirus hospitalizations remain at concerning levels. The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said the region’s hospitals are at 85% capacity, and intensive care units are at 87% capacity. With the rollout of vaccines slower than expected, a Missouri lawmaker has filed legislation that would allow dentists to administer coronavirus vaccines.
Great Falls: The state reached a grim milestone Tuesday, reporting 1,005 total COVID-19-related deaths, with 25 added to Monday’s total. In addition to crossing the 1,000-death threshold, Montana reported 834 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the state’s total number since the pandemic began to 83,378. There are 4,924 active cases in Montana and 212 active hospitalizations out of 3,686 total hospitalizations. The state has administered 813,082 COVID-19 tests, 2,202 more than Monday. There have been 77,449 recoveries.
Omaha: Officials are warning people to watch out for scams related to COVID-19 vaccines. State Attorney General Doug Peterson said Nebraskans should be wary about unsolicited offers to provide the vaccine, especially if they ask for credit card numbers or other personal information. The COVID-19 vaccine is being provided free. “Rely on your own health care practitioners for accurate information rather than unknown and unverified sources,” Peterson said. The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Nebraska has remained relatively stable over the past two weeks. The state said 527 people were being treated for the virus in hospitals Monday. That was up from 511 on Sunday, but that total has fluctuated between a low of 503 and a high of 572 over the past two weeks. The number of virus hospitalizations is now just over half of the November record of 987, but it is still more than double where it was at the start of October. Nebraska reported 585 new virus cases and 10 deaths Monday to give the state 169,585 cases and 1,682 deaths linked to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Las Vegas: COVID-19 vaccinations for people 75 and older in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, could begin at pharmacies as soon as next week, health officials say. As in the rest of the country, vaccination efforts in Nevada so far have focused on front-line health care workers and staff and residents in long-term care facilities. Now, vaccinations for those 75 and up could begin as soon as Jan. 11, Southern Nevada Health District spokeswoman Jennifer Sizemore told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Nevada Health and Human Services spokeswoman Shannon Litz did not provide a specific time frame but said multiple counties, including Clark County, could “soon” begin vaccinating people in the state’s second-tier priority group, which includes older people. “Nevada counties are vaccinating individuals in Tier 1, and some counties may be moving into Tier 2 soon,” she said. “As this effort continues, counties may move throughout the tiers at different paces, based on factors such as population size and vaccine demand within the tier groups.”
Concord: While state lawmakers wrangle with how to conduct business during the pandemic, some are hoping to make things easier on town officials concerned about hosting annual meetings this spring. A bipartisan New Hampshire Senate bill would allow the governing bodies of towns and school districts to postpone their March elections to the second Tuesday of April, May, June or July if they are concerned about coronavirus. Towns also would be allowed to postpone the business or deliberative session of the annual town meeting at which budgets are adopted to later dates. In the event of postponement, elected officials whose terms would have expired would continue. The arrival of the pandemic last spring created confusion and raised questions about the legality of postponing such meetings. Some towns conducted parts of their meeting online and offered drive-up voting instead of the traditional in-person gatherings.
Trenton: Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a bill that made changes to the rules governing restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries that have been permitted to serve food and drinks outdoors during the pandemic, saying it bypassed health and safety rules. “I commend the bill’s sponsors for their efforts to assist New Jersey’s businesses and farms in finding creative ways to continue to operate during the COVID-19 emergency,” Murphy said in a statement. “However, in seeking to deliver a degree of relief to these businesses, the bill circumvents existing licensing and regulation processes critical to protecting the public’s health and safety.” The bill would have allowed restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries to continue to use their outdoor spaces – including patios, decks, yards and parking lots – to sell food and drinks without having to pay to submit an application or pay for an acceptance fee for a license. Municipalities would also have to approve applications for outdoor dining within 15 days of submission, which Murphy said would impair their ability to evaluate health concerns.
Las Cruces: Residents and businesses are getting free face masks from the City of Las Cruces through two new programs. At its Monday meeting, the City Council voted 5-0 to pass a resolution allowing city businesses to receive disposable face masks to use to prevent COVID-19’s spread. Councilors Gabriel Vasquez and Yvonne Flores were absent. The measure was recommended to the City Council by the Las Cruces Economic Recovery Board, an ad hoc committee that is acting as a local version of the statewide Economic Recovery Council. The board voted Nov. 5 to include businesses as part of a larger citywide mask distribution effort that will also include sending masks directly to residential Las Cruces Utilities customers. The local economic recovery board was created in May to provide the city with strategies for safely reopening the Las Cruces economy amid the pandemic. Its recommendations implemented by the city so far include the Las Cruces Safe Promise pledge for individuals, promoting COVID-safe certifications for businesses and a temporary reduction in annual business registration fees.
New York: Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered competing strategies Tuesday for ramping up the city’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts, with de Blasio saying vaccine eligibility should be widened and Cuomo countering that hospitals need to do a better job of vaccinating the health care workers who are eligible now. “Move it quickly. We’re serious,” said Cuomo, who on Monday threatened to fine hospitals that don’t administer their vaccine allotments quickly enough. “If you don’t want to be fined, just don’t participate in the program. It’s not a mandatory program.” Only health care workers and nursing home residents and staff members are currently being vaccinated in New York. De Blasio said it’s time to broaden eligibility to include people older than 75 and essential workers such as police officers and firefighters. “Give them the freedom to vaccinate, and they will vaccinate thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions,” de Blasio said. “What they don’t need is to be shamed; what they don’t need is more bureaucracy.” But Cuomo said vaccinations are lagging because some hospitals are just better managed than others.
Raleigh: Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that he’s calling in the North Carolina National Guard to help accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations in a state that’s been near the bottom of states in doses administered so far. Cooper said ensuring vaccines are given to individuals “is our top priority right now.” “We will use all resources and personnel needed,” Cooper said in a tweet. Nearly 108,000 people in North Carolina had received their first dose as of Tuesday morning, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services, while almost 500 people had received a second dose. The first-dose total is less than 1% of the state’s population. And data as of Monday accumulated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked North Carolina as sixth-worst among the states in first-dose vaccinations per capita. Hospital workers were the first in line to receive doses, and some remain unvaccinated due to limited supply. Several counties will soon begin administering doses to elderly people 75 years or older.
Bismarck: Gov. Doug Burgum used his State of the State address Tuesday to convey optimism about North Dakota’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, while making a pitch for lawmakers to endorse his budget proposals that he said would benefit residents for generations. “This (coronavirus) battle is far from over. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we have the tools to get us there,” the Republican governor told a joint session of the Legislature. North Dakota had led the country in per-capita cases for many weeks until a steady decline that started in mid-November. That also coincided with a two-thirds decline in hospitalizations due to COVID-19. “Fortunately, we have new tools at our disposal to fight COVID,” including vaccines, Burgum said. Burgum said Monday that he plans to ease restrictions on the number of people who gather in restaurants, bars and event venues, citing a decrease in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations due to the coronavirus.
Columbus: In about two weeks, adults who are 65 or older, school employees and people with medical conditions that put them at high risk should be able to obtain COVID-19 vaccines, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday. That group, labeled 1B in Ohio’s vaccination plan, includes about 2.2 million people. About 100,000 vaccines will be available in the first week, and Ohio’s oldest citizens will be first in line, DeWine said. It’s not yet clear how those vaccines will be administered, but the Ohio National Guard will have a role. Adults 65 and up were prioritized because they are most at risk of death from COVID-19. The oldest adults will be vaccinated first, DeWine said. “We have chosen to prioritize those who are most likely to die without it,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said. Ohio will prioritize vaccinations at schools that are providing in-person classes, Husted said. The first group to receive vaccines, which includes nursing homes and hospitals, includes about 1 million people.
Oklahoma City: Residents 65 and older will begin receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations this week, and health officials announced Monday that they plan to release a mobile phone application as early as Thursday that will allow Oklahomans to schedule an appointment to receive their vaccine. The state has contracted with Microsoft to develop a mobile app that will allow people to schedule their appointment and track when they should receive their second dose of the vaccine, deputy health commissioner Keith Reed told reporters during a press conference. Oklahoma has received nearly 175,000 doses and administered more than 50,000 first doses of the two-dose vaccine, Reed said. Oklahoma expects to begin receiving between 30,000 and 40,000 additional doses every week, said Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye. “Our vaccine rollout can only go as quickly as we’re getting supplies from the federal government,” Frye said. First responders and health care workers who provide outpatient care to COVID-19 patients are also in Phase 2 and began receiving vaccinations last week. Adults of any age with underlying conditions and pre K-12 public school teachers also are in Phase 2, but those individuals have not started receiving their vaccines yet, Reed said.
Salem: Gov. Kate Brown on Monday called for COVID-19 vaccination improvements. State officials have received nearly 200,000 vaccine doses but have administered only about a quarter, a rate that places Oregon among the slowest-performing states nationwide, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. Brown’s comments came after the state recorded its deadliest month, with at least 436 deaths among Oregonians with COVID-19 in December. “Oregon, like most of the country, is not moving fast enough,” Brown said in a news release. “All states are grappling with the same logistical challenges, and while we are making steady progress, we must move even more quickly when every vaccination has the potential to save someone’s life.” She said she directed the Oregon Health Authority on Monday to administer 12,000 vaccinations per day by two weeks from now. Brown called it an all-hands-on deck-effort and said she directed the Oregon Health Authority to partner as widely as possible to make it happen. Hospitals and health systems have inoculated about 3,500 Oregonians per day, with some officials citing the holidays as one reason for the slow pace.
Harrisburg: Democrats in the state House and Senate offered a solution Monday to a housing problem they say is affecting hundreds of thousands of residents. Pennsylvania Democrats want to pass an eviction and foreclosure ban that would extend 60 days after Gov. Tom Wolf’s third emergency declaration expires in late February. Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said about 240,000 Pennsylvanians are facing eviction. Rep. Sara Innamorato, a Democrat from Allegheny County, said a census study showed more than 691,000 Pennsylvanians were not current on their rent or could not pay on time. Innamorato pointed out that, even before the pandemic, many Pennsylvania families were already struggling and living paycheck to paycheck. “And now millions aren’t getting that paycheck,” she said. Evictions are particularly traumatizing for families with young children, lawmakers said. “It is never a good time to be kicked out of your home,” and certainly not during a pandemic, said state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler, D-Philadelphia.
Providence: The city’s schools announced Monday that the winter high school sports season will go on as planned with certain precautions in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Practice for basketball, track and field, swimming, and gymnastics is scheduled to start this week. “Providence Public School District understands the high value sports bring to student development and wellness,” Superintendent Harrison Peters said in a statement. “We are taking great care to provide a structured environment with layers of precautions so students can participate in winter sports as safely as possible.” Masks will be required, no spectators will be allowed, and hand-held equipment will be frequently cleaned. Locker rooms will not be available, and bench seating will be expanded to allow for social distancing. Student-athletes will also be required to bring their own water bottles, which they must not share.
Columbia: Frustrated with what he said is a slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, Gov. Henry McMaster said Tuesday that hospital and health workers have until Jan. 15 to get a shot, or they will have to “move to the back of the line.” McMaster said he has asked health officials to speak to hospitals and then revise the rules. Current state rules say 70% of eligible health care workers and nursing home residents need to be vaccinated. When that has been accomplished, the state will start vaccinating people over age 75 and front-line workers such as police officers, prison guards, grocery store workers, teachers and postal employees. McMaster wants to establish the deadline instead. “If we need to move the next group up early, we’re going to do it,” McMaster said at a news conference. The pace of vaccinations has angered both the governor and lawmakers. State Sen. Nikki Seltzler, a Democrat from West Columbia, issued a scathing statement saying that after waiting patiently for 10 months to see a vaccine developed, South Carolinians now need prompt access to it.
Sioux Falls: The state’s farmers could have what many would consider a successful bottom line for 2020 thanks to COVID-19. Direct government payments for farmers more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, increasing from $22.4 billion to a forecasted $46.5 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All in all, that $46.5 billion in subsidies makes up nearly 40% of forecasted net farm income. By far, the largest increase in these subsidies stems from supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance, which includes payments from congressional COVID-19 relief programs. While direct farm payments were common from the late ’90s until about 2009, federal institutions have largely switched to crop insurance programs to support farmers in a more sustainable fashion, said Evert Van der Sluis, a professor of agricultural economics at South Dakota State University. “There’s a widespread expectation that these payments are not sustainable, either financially, economically or politically,” Van der Sluis said. “It’s highly likely they’re not going to last. But nobody can see into the future.”
Nashville: The Tennessee Department of Education hopes a new literacy initiative will help teachers and school districts reach struggling readers. Officials plan to spend $100 million on “Reading 360,” which was launched Monday across the state. Before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered classrooms, only about 36% of Tennessee’s third graders could read on grade level, and educators anticipate struggling students will have fallen further behind. The new phonics-based reading program provides optional training and materials for school districts and resources for parents. It also gives districts access to grants to support tutoring programs and provide training to teachers. “When you think about the initiative overall, it’s a comprehensive approach to reading in the state,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said. “It is specifically intended to address with urgency the literacy crisis that we are experiencing.” The effort uses $60 million in federal funding earmarked for COVID-19 recovery and another $40 million from federal grants.
Fort Worth: Republican U.S. Rep. Kay Granger tested positive for the coronavirus upon returning to Washington for the new Congress and is quarantining, aides said Monday. In a statement, Granger’s office said she is asymptomatic and “feeling great!” The 77-year-old Texan is the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee. Granger received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in December. People are expected to get some level of protection within a couple of weeks after the first shot, but full protection may not happen until a couple of weeks after the second shot. Meanwhile, Texas hit another new record high for COVID-19 hospitalizations Sunday with more than 12,500 patients statewide. It was the sixth time in seven days that the state reported record-breaking hospitalizations, and intensive care units in several parts of the state were full or nearly full.
Salt Lake City: The Utah Department of Health is expanding the number of free coronavirus testing locations as doctors say the state’s positivity rate is troublingly high. The nearly two dozen new sites across the state are open for anyone to get rapid antigen testing for free even if they do not have symptoms of COVID-19. They were announced Monday as health officials announced just over 30% of people taking tests had a positive result. Positivity rates in recent days put Utah among the top 10 states with the highest positivity rates in the country, said Dr. Todd Vento, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare. “The fact is, if you still have percent positivity in the 30% range, that is very high,” he said. “We worry we’re not testing enough, and there may be more out there.” Any surge related to the Christmas holiday likely wouldn’t hit until mid- to late January, he said.
Montpelier: The number of new coronavirus cases in the state is increasing, but it’s too soon to say if the increase is due to people visiting during the holidays, officials said Tuesday. The number of people from out of state who visited Vermont was half what it was during last year’s holiday period, but it was still the highest volume of visitors to the state since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. State investigators are starting to learn of holiday gatherings, but there are other cases that have not been linked to gatherings, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said. “It’s difficult to draw definitive conclusions yet regarding the holidays,” Levine said, noting more should be known by the end of the week. He is encouraging Vermonters to get tested for the virus, even those who are showing no symptoms. “Testing is really the only way we have to exercise what we are calling our containment strategy,” Levine said. People who are positive can then stay home and reduce the chance of spreading the virus. The tests are free, even for people who show no symptoms of COVID-19, and testing locations have been set up across Vermont.
Charlottesville: Researchers are monitoring sewage in the city in an effort to predict surges of the coronavirus. The Daily Progress reports the research is part of a modeling project at the University of Virginia. Data from the area’s wastewater will be shared with local and state health officials as well as the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Wastewater Surveillance System. Other areas in the state that are testing sewage for COVID-19 include Hampton Roads and Stafford County. “Where we see the value in the wastewater surveillance in a post-surge period, during a calm time … the wastewater surveillance would be a good way to detect an unanticipated resurgence and even to zero in on what part of the city that resurgence is occurring,” said Brent French, a professor of biomedical engineering at UVa.
Longview: After nearly a month of serving customers indoors despite state rules against it, Stuffy’s II Restaurant received official notice Monday of a temporary restraining order and $126,000 fine. The Longview restaurant’s owners are set to appear at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Cowlitz County Superior Court in response to a temporary restraining order filed by the state Attorney General’s Office, the Longview Daily News reports. The state Department of Labor and Industries also issued a citation for “willful serious violations for having inside dining each day for seven days Dec. 22-28,” for a total penalty of $126,000, said L&I spokesperson Dina Lorraine. A “Stand for Stuffy’s” rally to protest the order is planned one hour ahead of the court hearing. “We don’t have a ton of time to prep … so we are doing the best we can,” said Skai Hogue, the owners’ granddaughter and an employee at Stuffy’s. “Other than that, the community support is still really great.”
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice brushed off criticism that the posh resort he owns did not follow coronavirus pandemic guidelines after video surfaced of a New Year’s Eve gala showing a tightly packed ballroom, with many people not wearing masks. The Republican governor, who did not attend the event, has advocated strict mask-wearing – and now advocates vaccinations – as imperative to controlling the coronavirus across the rural state. But video posted online of the billionaire businessman’s resort, The Greenbrier, called into question whether Justice is enforcing pandemic restrictions that have curtailed other businesses. The governor on Monday called the criticism a “political hit” at him and referred to a Democratic state senator who posted video of the party. Justice defended protocols put in place by Greenbrier staff, although he said the situation could have been handled better. He rejected the notion that he isn’t pulling his weight while residents make sacrifices such as forgoing seeing family and not being able to play school sports. “If you don’t think I’m pulling the rope, then you really got a screw loose,” Justice said, referring to his handling of the pandemic.
Madison: The state’s business community on Tuesday came out in support of a Republican-authored coronavirus response bill moving quickly through the Legislature that is opposed by public health officials and Democrats. The measure, introduced Monday and slated to pass as soon as Thursday, appears likely to be vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers. The governor said he still hasn’t read the bill or decided what he will do, but “the likelihood of a veto is pretty strong” if it contains provisions he can’t support. Evers said he was disappointed that Republicans weren’t offering the bill he put forward that he said included items that had bipartisan support. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who sponsored the bill, testified that it was a “good faith effort to compromise with Gov. Evers.” But the proposal is not the compromise Evers or Democrats had been looking for and far from what Evers had put forward last month. The Wisconsin Restaurant Association, the state and Milwaukee chambers of commerce, the Wisconsin Grocers Association and others were among those in support of the measure that gives immunity to businesses from civil liability claims related to COVID-19.
Casper: Last winter, a group of farmers, educators and economic development professionals gathered on the Casper College campus to discuss what it would take to develop a self-sustaining food network in Wyoming and begin to solve food security issues that have long plagued small communities around the state. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Wyoming – one of the few states in the country without a food council at the time – saw food insecurity rates in the double digits and, despite its agrarian reputation, offered few opportunities for farmers to reach new markets. About one year later, the Wyoming Food Coalition is nearly ready to go public with its efforts, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. This month the Wyoming Food Coalition met virtually to discuss the work of several subcommittees dedicated to addressing the issues holding Wyoming back from having a truly sustainable ecosystem. Their charges varied widely, looking at everything from marketing assistance and teaching sustainable agricultural practices to helping growers get into the market or, in some cases, learn to plant vegetables for the very first time.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports