Kiva Dunes in Gulf Shores, Ala., in July 2020. (Photo: Ruth White/Shopper News)
Montgomery: Tourist spending in the state dropped 20% last year at the height of pandemic lockdowns and business closings, but Alabama fared better than most during the coronavirus crisis, state tourism officials said. A statement from the Alabama Tourism Department said a travel consulting firm found a nationwide decline of 42% in travel expenditures, but the state’s decrease wasn’t as bad because spending was robust in Baldwin County, where the beach towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are located. State beaches, historically Alabama’s top tourist draw, were shut down early in the pandemic but reopened as the summer travel season was beginning. “Baldwin County’s success is all the more remarkable when you factor in that the beaches were closed for six weeks in the spring and one week due to a hurricane in the fall,” said Judy Ryals, chair of the board that oversees the agency. Visitors spent more than $13 billion on accommodations, travel, food, shopping and other items in the state in 2020, the department said. Tourism generated more than $18 billion in 2019 before the pandemic affected the state economy.
Bethel: The number of coronavirus cases in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is the lowest it has been since September. In the 14 days through Friday, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation announced 47 new cases, KYUK-AM reports. The number of new cases in the area in the past two weeks is almost 20 times lower than it was during a two-week span between Nov. 22 and Dec. 4, the peak of coronavirus cases in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.Coronavirus cases across the state have decreased since the new year. Vaccines were made available to all residents 16 or older in early March. Last week, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation reported that more than 60% of the region’s eligible population had been vaccinated against COVID-19. As of Friday, about 49% of state residents 16 or older had received at least one dose of vaccine. About 74% of those 65 or older had received at least one dose as of Friday. Roughly 42% of those 16 or older were fully vaccinated as of Friday.
Mesa: Hundreds of people were expected to receive COVID-19 vaccines at an event geared toward the Asian American community at AZ International Marketplace throughout the weekend. The vaccination clinic was organized by the Arizona Korean Nurses Association and the Arizona Korean Association, in partnership with the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. Sun Jones, who spearheaded the effort by writing letters to Gov. Doug Ducey and Maricopa County to increase vaccine accessibility for the Asian American community, said she’s “so happy” to help serve those who may have struggled with technology or language barriers at other vaccination sites. About 70 volunteers were expected over the two-day period, most at least bilingual, Jones said. There were about 10 different languages represented by the volunteers present Saturday morning, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Laos and Filipino. Location was also a major factor when figuring out how to best reach the Asian American community. “Asian people are more familiar with Asian markets,” Jones said. “It’s easier to come and convenient for them. It’s a more comfortable setting than going to a sterile hall somewhere.”
Little Rock: The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences said it’s holding a mass vaccination clinic at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock next weekend. UAMS said the clinic will be held Saturday, May 1, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. People can make appointments by calling 501-526-2211 or going to vaccinesignup.uams.edu/mobileclinic, but walk-ins are welcome. UAMS will administer one dose of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine at the clinic. Arkansas on Thursday passed the 1 million mark of residents being partially or fully immunized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 35% percent of the state’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine. Nearly 699,000 people, or about 23% of the state’s population, have been fully immunized, the CDC said. The state’s coronavirus cases on Friday rose by 236 to 334,458 total since the pandemic began. The state’s COVID-19 deaths increased by five to 5,716, and its hospitalizations decreased by 18 to 153.
Camarillo: A freedom of information organization has sued Ventura County to obtain public records on COVID-19-related deaths and coronavirus outbreaks at workplaces. In a 10-page lawsuit filed Thursday in Ventura County Superior Court, the First Amendment Coalition asked for a court order compelling the county government to release records requested in January and March. The coalition says the records must be disclosed under the California Public Records Act, a long-standing law governing records of public agencies. The San Rafael-based coalition sought data for all nonresidential settings with three or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the request made in January, according to the lawsuit. Included were food and retail stores, gyms, restaurants, bars, government offices, places of worship, health care providers, residential care facilities, education settings and residential care facilities. The request was limited to the 10-month time period from March 1, 2020, through Jan. 5. County officials took almost a month to respond despite a 10-day requirement cited in the law and then said they were refusing to process the request, the coalition said in a news release.
Denver: The state can resume using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine now that federal regulators have lifted an 11-day pause on the shot, public health leaders said. “We are happy to have this highly effective, one-dose vaccine back as an option for Coloradans,” Dr. Eric France with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement, the Denver Post reports. “We appreciate the caution the CDC and FDA took to evaluate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and are ready to ramp back up distribution as quickly as possible.” The federal government paused use of the J&J shot – also called the Janssen vaccine – after 15 of the nearly 8 million people to receive vaccine developed a highly unusual kind of blood clot. All were women, and most were under age 50. Three died, and seven remain hospitalized. Ultimately, federal health officials decided that the one-dose vaccine is critical to fight the pandemic and that warnings about the small risk of clots could be issued to help younger women weigh which brand of vaccine they should use. The shot will be resumed in Colorado with an updated warning from the Food and Drug Administration. France said vaccine providers and recipients should review the updated vaccine fact sheets.
Danbury: Just under 40% of the inmates inside the federal prison complex in the city have refused the COVID-19 vaccine, according to federal officials. The Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office disclosed the latest vaccination numbers in a court filing Friday as part of a class-action lawsuit over an alleged failure to protect prisoners from the coronavirus inside the institution. There are currently 756 inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution Danbury, according to federal Bureau of Prisons website. Since the prison first began offering the vaccine to inmates in January, 296 have refused to take it, according to the filing from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. There are 327 inmates in the prison who have been fully inoculated and another 177 who have received their first dose, according to the filing. The new numbers come as prisoner advocates call on the government to do a better job educating inmates in the federal system about the benefits of vaccination. The U.S. Attorney’s Office points out in its filing that there have been no positive tests for the coronavirus in the general population at FCI Danbury since February. U.S. District Judge Michael Shea last year ordered the prison’s administration to identify those with high-risk health conditions for possible transfer to home confinement or compassionate release.
A volunteer administers the COVID-19 vaccine during the first day of a six-day vaccination event at Dover International Speedway. (Photo: Jason Minto/Special to Delaware News Journal)
Dover: The state Division of Public Health offered drive-up vaccinations with no appointment or preregistration necessary at the Dover International Speedway on Saturday. The event marked the first time residents did not need an appointment to receive a COVID-19 inoculation in the state. The demand to receive a vaccine in Delaware has slightly decreased, and about half of the state’s eligible population has received at least one dose. Eligibility was open to any resident 18 or older who lives, works, receives health care or goes to college in Delaware. The vaccination effort ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and offered the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. It was the second to last weekend that the speedway vaccination event will run before NASCAR returns on May 14.
District of Columbia
Washington: The Smithsonian announced Friday that it will be reopening seven of its museums and the National Zoo on a rolling basis throughout the month of May, WUSA-TV reports. Several of the museums had attempted to reopen last fall after shuttering in March, only to shut down again Nov. 23 due to the increase of COVID-19 cases nationwide. While the museums and zoo remain free, all Smithsonian institutions reopening will require timed-entry passes to monitor capacity limits and to help with social distancing. Viewing of the zoo’s newest panda cub, Xiao Qi Ji, will be limited for social distancing purposes and will require a separate, free timed-entry pass. Face coverings will be required for all visitors 2 and older at the Smithsonian facilities. Museum cafes will not be open, though restaurants and food trucks at the National Zoo will be available.
Miami: A family accused of selling a toxic industrial bleach as a coronavirus cure through their church has been indicted on federal charges. A federal grand jury in Miami returned an indictment Thursday charging Mark Grenon, 62, and his sons, Jonathan, 34, Jordan, 26, and Joseph, 32, with one count each of conspiracy to commit fraud and two counts each of criminal contempt, according to court records. They face possible life sentences if convicted. Mark Grenon is the archbishop of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, based in Bradenton, Florida. The church sells chlorine dioxide as a “Miracle Mineral Solution,” officials said. The Grenons claim the solution can cure a vast variety of illnesses, including cancer, autism, malaria and COVID-19. A Miami federal judge last April ordered the church to stop selling the substance, but the order was ignored. When ingested, the solution sold by the Grenons becomes a bleach that is typically used for such things as treating textiles, industrial water, pulp and paper, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Authorities said ingesting these products is the same as drinking bleach and can be fatal.
Vidalia: The Vidalia Onion Festival made a comeback over the weekend after the coronavirus forced its cancellation in 2020. Thousands typically attend the southeast Georgia celebration honoring the state’s famous sweet onion crop. “We’re just excited that we’re doing something,” Alexa Britton, one of the festival organizers, told WTOC-TV. “The community’s excited that we’re doing something.” The 2021 festival schedule included a concert by country singer Rodney Atkins, a fireworks display, a Vidalia onion recipe competition and the festival’s storied Vidalia onion eating contest. Organizers said attendees were encouraged, but not required, to wear masks. Extra handwashing and hand-sanitizing stations were set up throughout the festival.
Honolulu: The city has committed to a new climate change plan to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2025 compared to levels present in 2015. Matthew Gonser, the executive director of the Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency, said Thursday that the city’s carbon pollution had increased every year since 2017. “That’s why we need to really look at this plan of action, find the ways that we can immediately take action and drive those emissions down over time,” Gonser said. The Climate Action Plan is one tool the city is using to achieve its commitment to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2045. As part of the plan, the city will fully transition its vehicle fleet to electric or clean energy by 2035, including its 550 buses. Honolulu has three electric buses and expects to add about 14 more by the end of the year. The city also committed to exploring whether to install more protected bicycle lanes and electric vehicle charging stations. Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi supported the plan and emphasized the need for action, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. “Plans are one thing; it’s how you react and what you do in the days and weeks ahead,” he said. “None of us have an ability to predict the future. We just know the inevitability of the impact on climate change.”
Boise: Lawmakers on a state House panel introduced legislation Friday to allow the Legislature to go into recess without fully shutting down so that it can come back into session to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and other issues. The measure would allow Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder to reconvene the Legislature no later than Sept. 1. If the Legislature officially adjourned, only Republican Gov. Brad Little could call them back. Lawmakers are reluctant to put themselves in that position, arguing much of their role in government was usurped by Little last year during the early stages of the pandemic, when he declared an emergency and issued executive and health orders. The legislation came on day 103 of the legislative session, the third-longest in the state’s history, as lawmakers struggle in the endgame to wrap up the session but avoid being left on the sideline the rest of the year. “This is potentially a ticket out of here,” Republican House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma told the committee in introducing the measure. The legislation allows the recess without paying lawmakers up to $139 in daily expenses even though the Legislature would technically remain in session, saving the state money.
Springfield: The state House passed a bill Friday that would make COVID-19-related expansions to telehealth services permanent through state statute. The legislation introduced by Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Villa Park, aims to reduce barriers in access to virtual and telehealth services and would bring standards for virtual care in line with physical health services. Conroy said access to telehealth, which became a necessity for many Illinoisans at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, would bring lasting benefits in managing chronic health conditions. “Over the last year, we’ve seen firsthand evidence that telehealth preserves quality and safety, meets individual patient needs, decreases health care disparities, and protects public health,” Conroy said Friday. Additionally, Conroy said telehealth legislation passed by the state and federal government last year has allowed health care providers to “make significant, rapid investment in telehealth technology.” The bill – supported by a coalition of more than 35 health care providers, institutions and advocacy groups from around the state – prohibits geographic or facility restrictions on telehealth services and allows patients to be treated via telehealth in their home. It also protects patients from being charged additional fees by insurance providers for accessing telehealth services.
Indianapolis: The number of counties seeing medium to high community spread of COVID-19 has risen from one to seven in a single week, and several of those are adjacent to Michigan, which has been experiencing the nation’s highest coronavirus case rate. Elkhart, LaPorte and Steuben counties, which share a border with Michigan, and Porter County, which sits across Lake Michigan from southwestern Michigan, are now in Indiana’s orange category, the state’s COVID-19 dashboard showed as of Wednesday. Benton, Jasper and Whitley counties are also in the orange category, which is Indiana’s second-riskiest rating for community spread, after the red category, in its color-coded count map. All seven of the orange category counties are in northern Indiana. Those seven are up from a single Indiana county, LaPorte County, rated in the category indicating medium to high community spread of COVID-19 during the week of April 12. Under Indiana’s COVID-19 risk criteria, when counties enter the orange category, the state health commissioner will work with local health and elected officials and take other steps intended to curtail the coronavirus spread, such as adding restrictions on social gatherings.
A sign promotes a COVID-19 vaccination clinic Wednesday at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen)
Des Moines: The state has asked the federal government to withhold more than one-quarter of its allotment of COVID-19 vaccines this week because demand has waned. The Iowa Department of Public Health said Saturday that the state declined to accept 18,300 of 34,300 doses of Moderna vaccine it was slated to receive this week and 3,510 of 46,800 doses of Pfizer vaccine. “Along with several other states, we are seeing a slowdown of vaccine administration, but we are working with our local partners and community leaders to determine where additional education is needed and to gain an understanding of the needs of each county’s unique population,” said Sarah Ekstrand, a spokeswoman for the state health department. Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday that 43 of the state’s 99 counties had declined all or part of their weekly vaccine allocations for the week of April 26. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nearly 55% of Iowa adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and more than 40% have been fully vaccinated against the disease. The state allotment of vaccines doesn’t include thousands of doses that are being distributed directly through a number of pharmacies and clinics in Iowa as part of a federal program.
Olathe: Elected officials in the state’s largest county are considering whether to get rid of a mask mandate, as a growing number of communities have done in recent weeks, and health officials aren’t opposing the move. The issue goes before the Johnson County commission Thursday, one day before the current mask order is set to expire, WDAF-TV reports. “As long as it is very clear to everyone that we have not achieved herd immunity and that we have a lot of work to do and that wearing masks continue to be important, we’ll be supportive of moving to strongly recommend masks,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, the Director of the Johnson County Health Department. “There’s a lot of variables here that we can’t fully predict. And I think the prudent thing to do is for the board to be ready to take actions if and when they become necessary.” The county’s current order includes a goal of vaccinating about 50% of its residents who are 16 and older with at least one dose before lifting the mask mandate. That number stood at 45%, Areola said. Other counties that have ditched or weakened mask orders in recent weeks include Sedgwick County in the Wichita area and Shawnee County in the Topeka area.
Louisville: The Kentucky State Fair will be open to the public this year, officials have decided. The Kentucky State Fair Board voted Thursday to hold the event Aug. 19-29, according to a statement from Kentucky Venues. Tickets will go on sale in July. Last year, the event was closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some events were held, but only participants were allowed to attend. “The Kentucky State Fair is an important event for thousands of people around the Commonwealth and the economic activity created by the Fair will help Kentucky’s recovery,” Kentucky Venues President and CEO David S. Beck said in a statement. “While we will need to make adjustments to respond to COVID-19, we plan to produce as much of the Fair as safely possible.” Officials were beginning to plan and said specific information would be announced later. The annual event at the fairgrounds in Louisville features shows, exhibits and other entertainment.
Baton Rouge: Next month the city’s bus system will begin collecting fares for the first time in more than a year. The Capital Area Transit System said Thursday that drivers will resume requiring fares May 16. The system began waiving fares in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fare to ride a CATS bus is $1.75 per trip for most customers. CATS said it will continue using barriers, among other precautions, in its buses to protect drivers and riders from the coronavirus, news outlets report. “We take the health and safety of both our operators and the community seriously,” CATS CEO Bill Deville said. “We have waited to resume fare collection until we felt we could safely do so.” Officials say many other municipal transportation systems around the country waived fares to help passengers at the onset of the pandemic. Most agencies have been able to implement safeguards to resume collection, officials say. “While passenger fares do not comprise a large portion of our operating budget, we are also obligated to be fiscally responsible while we continue to connect customers to jobs and their community,” Deville said.
Portland: Officials are urging more precaution in schools due to rising numbers of coronavirus cases in some parts of the state. The administration of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has been using a color-coded system to identify the level of risk of transmission of the virus at schools. Every county had been listed as “green,” the lowest-risk category, but the administration said Friday that it is adding Androscoggin, Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset counties to the moderate “yellow” category. The governor’s office also said Franklin and York counties are being monitored closely because of rising positivity rates. “Androscoggin has experienced a sharp rise in cases over the last two weeks, with a new case rate more than double the statewide average. Kennebec, Oxford and Somerset counties all have new case rates that exceed the state average, and both Oxford and Somerset counties have two-week positivity rates that exceed the state average,” the Maine Department of Education said in a statement. School districts in the “yellow” counties are advised to consider additional coronavirus precautions and hybrid instruction modes to reduce the number of people in classrooms at once, the education department has said.
People gather near the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md., on Sept. 4, 2020. (Photo: Rina Torchinsky)
Baltimore: The state’s public higher education system will require that students, faculty and staff returning to campuses in the fall be vaccinated against COVID-19. University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman announced the decision in a statement Friday. The system will allow appropriate exemptions for medical or religious reasons, the statement said. “If we examine the data – and there is an extraordinary accumulation of data – we see that the risk of vaccines is very low, whereas the risk of COVID is very high. And that risk is increasingly falling on young people,” Perman said. Across the country, colleges have been divided on the issue. Some private universities have recently told students they must get vaccinated, but other schools are leaving the decision to students. The Maryland system said it would also continue with other mitigation strategies like pre-arrival coronavirus testing, surveillance testing and public health interventions like masking. The system includes 12 universities and three regional higher education centers serving about 135,000 undergraduate and about 41,000 graduate students, according to its website.
Boston: The state was one of several to receive a shout-out from the White House for its efforts to vaccinate as much of the adult population as possible. White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt tweeted Friday that eight states have now vaccinated more than 60% of adults with a first shot, with neighboring Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont also making the list, along with Maine. “All of them have turned the corner on the number of cases & hospitalizations. Well done. Let’s all get there,” Slavitt tweeted. More than 3.2 million Massachusetts residents have received first doses, and about 2.2 million people have been fully immunized. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Karyn Spilka has received her first COVID-19 shot. The Republican got inoculated Friday at Worcester State University. Spilka, 54, became eligible after the state opened up vaccine eligibility last Monday to anyone 16 or over. Gov. Charlie Baker, 64, received his first dose earlier this month after the state opened eligibility to residents 55 and older. Baker has set a target of immunizing 4.1 million residents by the Fourth of July. He has also hinted that changes could be coming later this month to some of the state’s mandates, although he said now isn’t the time for people to let their guard down.
Lansing: The University of Michigan will require COVID-19 shots for students who live on its Ann Arbor campus this fall, school officials announced Friday. President Mark Schlissel said vaccinations will not be mandated for faculty, staff and other students “at this time,” but he strongly encouraged everyone to get inoculated. The requirement will allow residence halls to operate safely at nearly normal capacity, he said, after there were more than 600 infections in dorms last fall despite a mask requirement and other restrictions. In the weeks ahead, the university will start to excuse vaccinated students from mandatory coronavirus testing. Those who are fully vaccinated will not have to self-quarantine after being exposed to someone with the virus, as long as those vaccinated students don’t have symptoms. About 9,700, or 31%, of undergraduate students typically live on campus, as do 2,400 graduate students. “In order for a campus to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic, we need everyone who can be to be vaccinated,” Schlissel said in a Zoom update to the campus community, adding that officials were considering several unspecified vaccination incentives. Students must provide proof of their vaccination or an approved exemption by mid-July.
St. Paul: Coronavirus case rates are rising across the state, affecting younger people, especially middle and high school students. State health officials said Thursday that the number of school-related COVID-19 cases reported last week among students had exceeded the peak seen during a surge of cases in November. “The last month-plus has been very worrisome – especially among younger Minnesotans,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said Thursday. Still, Minnesota Public Radio reports, officials are not planning to issue sweeping recommendations or orders for schools to switch students to distance learning. Instead, they’re ramping up testing opportunities to make it easier for students to get weekly or biweekly coronavirus tests. Changes to Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan – which governs how schools operate throughout the pandemic – mean that, despite record COVID-19 spread among students, more than 90% of schools are still offering some form of in-person learning. The majority of Minnesota school staff have now had the opportunity to be vaccinated, but the teachers union Education Minnesota reported Thursday that six school staffers have now died of COVID-19 infections linked to schools, including three since February.
Jackson: As vaccine demand declines, state officials have asked the federal government to ship vials in smaller packages so they don’t go to waste. Small-town pharmacist Robin Jackson has been practically begging anyone in the community of Verona to show up and get shots after she received her first shipment of vaccine earlier this month and demand was weak, despite placing yard signs outside her storefront celebrating the shipment’s arrival. She was wasting more vaccine than she was giving out and started coaxing family members into the pharmacy for shots. “Nobody was coming,” she said. “And I mean no one.” Barbara Gennaro, a stay-at-home mother of two small children in Yazoo City, said everybody in her homeschooling community is against getting the vaccine. Gennaro said she generally avoids vaccinations for her family in general, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no different. “All of the strong Christians that I associate with are against it,” she said. “Fear is what drives people to get the vaccine – plain and simple. The stronger someone’s trust is in the Lord, the least likely they are to want the vaccine or feel that it’s necessary.”
Columbia: About 1,500 University of Missouri graduates who didn’t get the chance to walk across the stage last year because of the pandemic were expected to return to campus over the weekend for a long-delayed celebration. The Columbia Missourian reports Annie Adrian was bringing her 7-week-old son, Nico, with her, along with her parents and two sisters, to mark the milestone. “I took the idea of walking for granted once the pandemic began,” said Adrian, who majored in hospitality management. “It will be even more special now because my son will get to see me graduate. It was a huge motivation for coming back.” Graduates were able to get up to six tickets for family and friends to gather in “pods” at a social distance from each other, with mandatory masks, in Mizzou Arena and the Hearnes Center. Mawa Iqbal, a December graduate, returned from Dayton, Ohio. Iqbal, who majored in convergence journalism, is a first-generation college graduate and the daughter of immigrants from Pakistan. “I think my parents are more excited than I am,” she said. “This is a huge deal for my family.” Commencement ceremonies for 2021 graduates are planned for the first two weekends in May.
The Blackfeet Nation on Tuesday and Wednesday held a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic for members in Canada. (Photo: Courtesy of James McNeely)
Browning: With a surplus of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Blackfeet Nation last week began offering COVID-19 shots to members of the Blackfoot Confederacy in Canada and residents of Cardston, Alberta. James McNeely, the tribe’s public information officer, estimated it has vaccinated about 98% of adult reservation residents. He said the tribe’s ability to offer the vaccine to fellow members of the confederacy made him emotional. “Many of the folks cried today when they were able to get vaccinated,” he said in a statement. “We see it as an opportunity to help those in need, and that’s how First Nations people are on both sides of the border: generous and kind.” The Blackfeet Nation on Tuesday and Wednesday set up a mobile vaccination site at the Peigan-Carway Medicine Line crossing for people ages 16 and older. They administered 400 vaccine doses over the course of two days, according to a news release. The Blackfeet Nation will hold another mobile vaccination clinic Wednesday and Thursday at the Peigan-Carway Border Crossing.
Josh Swain, left, declares Lincoln native Joshua Vinson Jr. the ultimate Josh after a pool-noodle fight Saturday at Air Park in Lincoln, Neb. (Photo: Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)
Lincoln: A fight over the name Josh drew a crowd from around the country to a local park Saturday for a heated pool-noodle brawl. It all started a year ago when pandemic boredom set in, and Josh Swain, a 22-year-old college student from Tucson, Arizona, messaged others who shared his name on social media and challenged them to a duel. Hundreds showed up at Air Park in Lincoln – a location chosen at random – to participate in the silliness. The festivities started with a “grueling and righteous battle of Rock, Paper, Scissors” between the Josh Swain from Arizona and another Josh Swain from Omaha. KLKN-TV reports the Arizona student won that competition, allowing him to claim the title of “the true Josh Swain.” The pool-noodle competition that followed was open to anyone with the first name Josh. The victor of that competition was a 5-year-old, who was coronated with a Burger King crown. Swain, the organizer, said he is a little surprised about how the whole thing blew up. “I did not expect people to be as adamant about this as they are right now,” he said.
Reno: The number of fentanyl-related deaths more than doubled in Washoe County in 2020, in part due to pandemic-related stress. Washoe County Chief Medical Examiner Laura Knight said stress and easier access to the opioid contributed to the spike, from 25 deaths in 2019 to 56 in 2020. So far this year, nine fentanyl-related deaths, all in January, have been confirmed. Knight said pending cases are awaiting toxicology reports. “It doesn’t appear to me that the trend is slowing down, unfortunately,” she said. Clark County has also seen an increase in fentanyl-related deaths, according to a press statement released last summer. The home of Las Vegas reported 63 fentanyl-related deaths from January to July of 2020, a 125% increase from the fentanyl-related deaths in the same time period in 2019, according to the press statement. Knight said people used the drug as a coping mechanism for stressors such as changes in employment and income, housing and health concerns stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Fentanyl also contributed to relapses for those recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, she said.
Concord: Courts will be gradually expanding in-person operations to the public, starting with the state Supreme Court, which is allowing the public to its clerk’s office and law library as of Tuesday. In-person oral arguments at the court will resume May 5. At the superior court, in-person hearings will be expanded to include suppression; contested pleas, sentencings and violations of probation; drug court termination hearings; contested civil hearings; and bench trials. The circuit court will resume in-person final hearings in domestic violence or stalking cases and in adjudicatory hearings in abuse and neglect cases. The superior and circuit courts will stay open for parties of scheduled hearings, those reporting for jury service, emergency relief, landlord and tenant cases. Court officials said by developing a COVID-19 jury trial protocol, switching to video and telephonic hearings, and equipping staff for remote operations, the superior court was able to avoid a case processing backlog. More than 44,170 hearings were conducted in 11 superior courts during the pandemic, and 24 jury trials have been held since August 2020. All superior courts are now conducting jury trials.
Trenton: Demand for COVID-19 vaccines appears to be waning, prompting Gov. Phil Murphy to shift the state’s focus to outreach so that enough residents are inoculated to ensure a return to near-normalcy by early summer. The number of vaccinations began to drop last week for the first time since the rollout began in December – a development Murphy said was “the beginning of a phase where we need to be proactive” to get people protected. Almost 2.6 million New Jerseyans are fully vaccinated, about halfway toward the goal of 4.7 million, or 70% of the state’s adult population. That goal is considered key to controlling the coronavirus by reducing the number of people susceptible to it so that it gradually fades away. The decline in daily vaccinations administered is a reversal after months of demand outstripping supply. For the first few months of the year, New Jerseyans spent days on websites trying to book appointments, while some traveled across the state to get a coveted shot. But last week saw thousands of appointments available across the state that likely went unfilled, especially in South Jersey. Same-day appointments were easy to get even in busy North Jersey. “We’re going to need to be much more offensive to get the rest of the 4.7 million across the goal line,” Murphy said Wednesday.
Santa Fe: At least half of the state’s K-12 students ventured into a classroom for at least one day last week, as COVID-19 shots become easier to get for people 16 and older, state officials said. About 160,500 students were recorded as attending school in person, or about half of New Mexico’s total K-12 enrollment, according to state data made public Wednesday. With only 80% of districts and charters reporting, the true number was likely higher. State education officials asked school districts and charters to reopen to full-time, in-person learning April 5. A small number have not reopened due to tribal health orders. “As expected, New Mexico is now offering in-person instruction to every student who wants it in all but a handful of cases,” Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said Thursday. “New Mexico has 840 individual schools, and only 17 have had to return temporarily to remote instruction.” Stewart called it a good sign that safety protocols are working as intended and that in-person learning can proceed with only minimal and temporary disruptions. In addition, New Mexico has lifted pandemic-based restrictions on attendance at houses of worship in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prevents states from enforcing capacity limits on churches that are more restrictive than those on other entities.
People rest in the observation area, at right, after receiving COVID-19 vaccinations under the 94-foot-long, 21,000-pound model of a blue whale in the Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History on Friday in New York. (Photo: Richard Drew/AP)
New York: Appointments are no longer mandatory at any of the COVID-19 vaccination sites run by the city, including its newest and maybe coolest location: beneath the giant blue whale at the Museum of Natural History. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday that the city will now accept walk-ins at all its clinics. “You can just walk up and get vaccinated,” he said. That includes at the museum’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, dominated by a 94-foot-long model of a blue whale that appears to float through the air. Inoculations in the hall began Friday. The whale now sports a bandage on one of its fins, like the ones health care workers are sticking on people’s arms after they get a shot. The expansion of walk-in service comes as supplies of the vaccine have increased. Just weeks ago, most people trying to get an appointment for a vaccination in the nation’s biggest city had to game online appointment systems in which scarce slots would be snapped up in moments. But in recent days, tens of thousands of appointments have been available at any given moment, though arranging them still requires planning and a degree of computer savvy. A week ago the city began offering walk-up vaccinations to everyone age 50 and over. De Blasio said it went well enough that the city is now doing the same for people of all ages.
In many places, hot wings are costing restaurants more to make amid the pandemic. (Photo: bhofack2 / Getty Images)
Asheville: A shortage of chicken wings is proving a strange new pandemic complication. If things get worse, Rich Cundiff joked, he’ll have to start listing wings on the menu at his Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack restaurants at “market price.” The price of chicken in general has been unstable, but cost on wings spiked 56% last quarter, he said. Chicken wing prices often rise and fall with the rhythm of sports events, reaching their zenith around the Super Bowl. This year, however, wing costs did not recede. “It’s not just chicken wings – it’s a lot of things, to be honest,” said Cody Stokes, a sales consultant with Sysco, a major food service distribution company. Demand is putting pressure on beef, with meat plants still struggling to catch up, he said. Processing plants have labor issues like seemingly everyone else, putting a strain on everything from ribs to bacon. “So much comes down to labor issues in the supply chain,” Stokes said. The current – and very likely temporary – wing shortage is also based in part on pent-up demand, with people going back to bars and staying out later. Wings, like pizza, also travel well for takeout, Stokes said. And backyard barbecues are back in full force. All that has driven up demand for chicken wings by 20%-30%, even as production dropped 20%-30%, Stokes estimated.
Bismarck: The state’s universities have required students to get certain vaccines, but the COVID-19 shot will not be one of them. Jerry Rostad, vice chancellor for the North Dakota University System, said officials are doing everything they can to encourage students and staff to get inoculated but won’t mandate it. He said any change to that plan would be based on action by the state Health Department or the Legislature, not from the university system. The currently available vaccines are only approved for emergency use, Rostad noted. Cara Helgren, vice president of student affairs at University of North Dakota, said UND has been following the same path. “While we have not required the COVID vaccine at this point, we are certainly making COVID-19 testing available and educating on what we know works,” she said. But the school has begun providing the vaccine for students who want it. Dickinson State University has taken a different approach, allowing students to be exempt from the school’s mask mandate two weeks after their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Debra Haman, director of health and counselling for Minot State University, said the campus has held vaccination clinics on campus but does not plan to require the shots for students or staff.
Cincinnati: A clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine variant is underway at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical, and researchers are seeking adult participants. The trial is for a Moderna booster that is expected to guard against the B.1.135 coronavirus variant, which was originally identified in South Africa. The B.1.351 strain and others can spread more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities, or both, leaving them a threat even as more Americans get vaccinated. “While it appears the variant is more easily passed from one person to another, and the variant has a higher rate of infection, currently there is no evidence that this variant has any impact on disease severity,” said Dr. Robert Frenck, director of the Cincinnati Children’s Gamble Vaccine Research Center. “So, while more people may get mild illness, the variant does not seem to cause a higher percentage of infected people to be hospitalized or die from the virus.” The trial needs 30 to 50 adult participants who have not been infected with the virus or received any COVID-19 vaccine. An online screening form is available on the Cincinnati Children’s site. Volunteers will be compensated up to $950 for their time.
Oklahoma City: At least one person in the state has died due to COVID-19 after receiving a vaccine, deputy state epidemiologist Jolianne Stone said Friday. “We are still doing an investigation on that particular case,” and no other information was immediately available, Stone said. More than 2.5 million vaccinations have been administered in Oklahoma, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stone said 137 Oklahomans have contracted the coronavirus after being vaccinated, and nine have been hospitalized. The rolling average of new coronavirus cases in Oklahoma each day has declined by 59.3% during the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University on Saturday. The data showed the daily average decreased by 351.3, from 592.3 on April 8 to 241 on Thursday. There have been 95 new cases per 100,000 people during the past two weeks in Oklahoma, which ranks 48th in the nation for new cases per capita. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 202 people hospitalized with the virus Friday. The health department, which no longer provides daily case counts and death tolls, on Friday reported 446,550 total cases since the pandemic began and 8,206 deaths based on data provided to the CDC.
A crowd control service person reminds attendees to wear masks during a softball game at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on April 11. (Photo: Dana Sparks/The Register-Guard)
Portland: As coronavirus cases continue to surge, officials warned Friday that one-third of the state’s counties are at risk of increased restrictions – again – including limiting restaurants to outdoor dining and closing gyms. “A few weeks ago, I came before you to say we are concerned that we would have a fourth surge of COVID-19 in Oregon. Unfortunately today that surge is here,” Gov. Kate Brown said at a news conference. “Right now, in the race between vaccines and variants, the variants are gaining ground and have the upper hand.” Brown, who anticipates being able to lift most pandemic restrictions and reopen the economy by the end of June if people continue to follow safety measures and get vaccinated, said Oregon is critically close to being overwhelmed. Dean Sidelinger, the state health officer, said new modeling shows that “the rate of transmission surpassed the most pessimistic scenario of three weeks ago.” He said that “if that spread continues unabated, our hospitals risk being swamped.” In early March, the state’s coronavirus positivity rate was 3.9%. It was 5.7% Thursday. In addition, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased by 39% over the past week and 109% since the beginning of March. As a result, a couple of hospitals are already starting to scale back on elective surgeries.
Harrisburg: Republican lawmakers must do more to encourage conservative voters in the state to get vaccinated, according to members of the Committee to Protect Medicare, a national political action group formed in 2016 by health care workers. “On every shift, I meet patients who think the pandemic is a hoax,” said Dr. Max Cooper, an emergency room physician and co-leader of the Committee to Protect Medicare Pennsylvania. “Patients say that the vaccine could give them COVID-19, and they say that they got this information from people who they trust.” Pennsylvania is already showing signs of slowing demand for the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday at a community pharmacy in Dauphin County. “People must recognize this is not just about them,” Wolf said. “You’re doing this as an act of compassion. You’re doing something that’s going to help people around you.” Dr. Meaghan Reid, also co-leader of the state committee, pointed to specific remarks by some conservative leaders on vaccines. “State Rep. Russ Diamond has stated that he won’t get vaccinated, even going so far on social media as to falsely refer to vaccines as poison,” Reid said. Diamond has posted that people aren’t getting vaccinated because they have no faith in state government “fear porn.”
North Smithfield: A man has been accused of assaulting a worker at a Walmart store in the town over an apparent dispute about a mask. WJAR-TV reports North Smithfield police said the man got into a confrontation with the worker, who is under 18, on Tuesday. Police said the worker asked the man to put a mask on his toddler, then walked away saying he was going to get a manager. The man grabbed the employee, put him in a chokehold and punched him, according to police. The worker had a bruise but didn’t seek medical treatment. Police said they contacted Michael Caro, 34, of Woonsocket after receiving a tip. Caro turned himself in, was charged with simple assault and battery and disorderly conduct, and was released with a court summons.
Greenville: State public health officials are reiterating their commitment to getting to herd immunity, or about 70% to 80% of the population vaccinated. The state is lagging national vaccination rates, with about 40% of South Carolina residents 16 and up partly vaccinated and about 28% fully vaccinated, according to data from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. More than 52% of the nation’s residents over age 18 have started the vaccine process, and 35% have finished, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Getting vaccinated carries a lot of benefits, said Dr. Brannon Traxler, South Carolina’s director of public health. “If you want to go to a friend’s place, and both of you are vaccinated, you don’t need to worry as much about masking and distance,” she said. In a moderate shift, Traxler said wastage of doses has become less concerning than getting more people to get doses. During the early days of vaccinations, state officials urged a zero-waste policy, which meant that the vials, once opened, needed to be given out completely even if it required significant steps to find willing recipients on short notice. Traxler said wastage is still a concern, but the state has likely crossed the threshold from supply to demand being the biggest problem.
Nathan and Angie Foote (Photo: Angie Foote)
Sioux Falls: A local man has undergone a double lung transplant after suffering complications from COVID-19. Nathan Foote, 42, suffered severe pneumonia after contracting the disease in October and underwent severe scarring in his lungs. Doctors said he needed to get a double transplant, or he would likely die in hospice care. He was placed on the transplant list in February at the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis. He was offered two potential matches, but both fell through because of changes in the donors’ health. He finally underwent the procedure April 10 – a surgery that lasted eight hours. A few days later, he took his first breath on his own in six months. Foote said he’s still in pain, and he’s still eating through a feeding tube. He’s also trying to teach himself how to walk again. “I didn’t think I’d ever make it this far,” he said. “I did my part even when they told me I was going to die because I didn’t believe that.”
Nashville: The concert industry has weathered a variety of storms in the past, but all bets were off when the pandemic brought in-person gatherings to a halt, seemingly overnight. More than a year later, as a return to normalcy looms on the horizon, the city – country music, in particular – is leading the way. The floodgates began to open earlier this month when Eric Church, Kane Brown, Thomas Rhett, Brothers Osborne, Chris Stapleton and others out of Nashville confirmed tour dates for late summer and fall 2021. “Everybody’s working so hard to get the right plan together,” Rhett said. A return to touring signals confidence in artists, promoters and venue owners to host mass gatherings as soon as July. Likewise, city leaders announced last week that Brad Paisley will headline a downtown Fourth of July concert – a night described by officials as the city’s “first major post-pandemic event.” The reasons Music City is in the driver’s seat for the return of major concerts and tours have been baked into the country music market for decades. As rules for in-person gatherings continue to vary state-by-state, it remains difficult for pop artists to plan, for example, a six-week tour across the U.S. with the occasional day off. In the country world, however, it’s long been common practice for tours to be a long series of weekend runs.
Austin: More than 1.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses are headed the state’s way this week, health officials said Friday. The Texas Department of State Health Services said 708,460 first doses of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been allocated to 928 providers in 129 counties, while 570,520 second doses also have been ordered. An estimated 470,000 first and second doses were allocated to pharmacies, federally qualified health centers and dialysis centers. Also, with the federal pause on the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine now lifted, the state has told providers they can resume giving that vaccine. So far, more than 23.4 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed to Texas, and more than 36% of the state’s population has received at least one dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 24% of the population has been fully immunized. New Texas COVID-19 cases were reported at below-average levels Friday, but new deaths were above the seven-day rolling average computed by Johns Hopkins University researchers. State health officials reported 3,306 new cases and 69 deaths, compared with averages of 3,403 new cases and 54 deaths per day.
Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is encouraging missionaries across the globe to be vaccinated against COVID-19 but is not requiring it. The faith’s Missionary Department made the latest appeal Friday, asking full-time proselytizers to “safeguard themselves and others,” the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The release reaffirmed the faith’s policy that people can make their own decisions on vaccinations but said those who choose not to be immunized will be assigned to a mission in their home country. Young U.S. missionaries planning to travel outside the country on or after Aug. 1 should be vaccinated before they leave, the release said. Older senior missionaries may go after they have been vaccinated. In January, the faith released a statement encouraging members, employees and missionaries to be “good global citizens” by getting inoculated. Latter-day Saint Charities, the faith’s humanitarian arm, also donated $20 million to UNICEF this year for a worldwide COVID-19 vaccination push.
Dom Hosey of Montpelier has a sample at the Vermont Brewers Festival. (Photo: KEVIN HURLEY/for the FREE PRESS)
Burlington: The Vermont Brewers Festival has been sidelined for second year in a row because of COVID-19 restrictions. “Our brewers have been working hard to keep their businesses going through this pandemic and we want to give them the time and space to focus on their brewery this summer,” the Vermont Brewers Association announced this month on social media. “Based on a myriad of factors, we have decided it is best not to host our festival in July 2021.” Planning for the festival that draws a sold-out crowd to the Burlington waterfront traditionally starts in early January. Since the state only recently outlined a phased reopening plan with a goal of being largely back to normal by July 4, organizers did not have enough time to plan the event. The Vermont Brewers Association recommends that beer fans visit taprooms to have a beer or take it home, calling that “the best way you can support the brewing industry right now.” Vermont reported 96 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Sunday for a statewide total since the pandemic began of more than 22,500. A total of 23 people were hospitalized with five in intensive care. With no new deaths reported Sunday, the state’s total stands at 244.
Tenants protest at Freddie Mac headquarters in McLean, Va., on March 15. Residents of the Southern Towers apartment complex fear they’re being squeezed out. (Photo: Hannah Kane via AP)
Alexandria: Longtime residents of the Southern Towers apartment complex – many of whom have had to rely on a federal moratorium on evictions during the pandemic – fear they will be squeezed out when the government mandate ends, in large part to make room for high-earning tenants who will be working at Amazon’s second headquarters in nearby Crystal City. Southern Towers tenants, composed mostly of African immigrants, see warning signs all around: Los Angeles-based CIM Group bought the complex of five 16-story buildings last year for half a billion dollars, at a time when investors and speculators are clamoring to get in on the region’s housing market as construction on the headquarters gets underway. A study by management consulting firm Radish LLC on behalf of African Communities Together, a community activist group that is lending support to Southern Towers tenants, found that CIM initiated 262 eviction cases – about 10% of all units at Southern Towers – since it took over the property. In a statement, CIM said it has no plans to turn the towers into luxury housing for Amazon employees and has worked hard to accommodate tenants facing eviction, including helping them obtain more than $1 million in rental assistance. The company said it currently has only 35 unresolved eviction cases.
Seattle: Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office says the city and its partners will have more than 52,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to administer this week in the largest single-week allocation received to date. The city expects this level of supply to continue or increase, and if public demand continues, Seattle could vaccinate 70% of its residents and workers by the end of May, the mayor’s office said in a news release Friday. “After constant advocacy, I’m thrilled that Seattle is starting to receive an allocation to actually vaccinate our communities at scale,” Durkan said. Everyone age 16 or older in King County who hasn’t received a COVID-19 shot should sign up for the city’s vaccination appointment notification list, the news release said. People can call 206-684-2489 for help joining the list. Once signed up, people will receive an email when vaccination appointments become available at four city-affiliated sites in North Seattle, Rainier Beach, West Seattle and the Lumen Field Event Center. People 60 and older can be vaccinated without an appointment at the Rainier Beach and West Seattle locations.
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice said Friday that the state is planning a “real aggressive program” to revive its sluggish vaccination campaign. “We have hit a wall,” the Republican governor said. Federal data shows about 39% of the population has received at least one dose, and just over 31% is fully vaccinated. Officials said they will target people who either are reluctant to get a shot or haven’t found a convenient enough chance yet. In Charleston, the state will partner with local businesses downtown to make vaccines available to all employees and customers, said James Hoyer, a retired major general leading the state’s coronavirus task force. Justice said more steps would be announced in the coming days to try to turn around a vaccination drive that briefly led the nation early in the year. He said that will include outreach to people who are “stubborn or fearful” about being vaccinated. Justice also said the state has asked the federal government to deliver future vaccine doses in smaller vials, in reaction to demand slipping and an attempt to avoid wasted doses once the vials are opened. Last week, he said the statewide mask mandate may stay in place until 70% of eligible residents are vaccinated. Among residents 65 and over, more than 77% have received at least one dose, Justice said.
Madison: Gov. Tony Evers on Friday vetoed Republican-backed bills that would have prevented health officials from mandating COVID-19 vaccines and allowed churches to be closed during the pandemic. Evers said in his veto messages that he objected to the bills because they limited his ability to respond to the pandemic. The action has little immediate effect. There is no state order limiting how many people can gather in churches or any indoor venue, and there are no mandates in place from state or local health officials requiring vaccines for the general population. The vetoes come after Evers on Thursday vetoed a package of Republican bills seeking to spend $3.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid. The law gives the governor the power to distribute that money. Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson questioned the need for widespread COVID-19 vaccinations, saying in a radio interview, “What do you care if your neighbor has one or not?” Johnson, who has no medical expertise or background, made the comments Thursday during an interview with conservative talk radio host Vicki McKenna. Health experts say reaching herd immunity by getting a large majority of people vaccinated is the best shot at stopping the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus.
Cheyenne: Gov. Mark Gordon has allowed a bill that slightly changes the state’s public health order process to become law without his signature despite calling it “premature.” The legislation would limit local public health orders that restrict the movements of non-quarantined people to no more than 10 days unless extensions are approved by a corresponding elected body, such as a county commission, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports. The bill applies to orders that mandate business closures or gathering restrictions. The bill was advanced after lawmakers decided on a compromise not to include state lawmakers in the public health order process. Some lawmakers raised concerns about how the changes could affect different areas of public health, such as in water supply emergencies. Another portion of the bill, sponsored by Republican House Speaker Eric Barlow, addresses who appoints the state’s public health officer. Currently, the director of the Wyoming Department of Health is tasked with selecting the state health officer. The bill reassigns that task to the governor. Gordon said that portion of the bill “solves a problem the governor never had” because he already had the ability to remove the state health officer and the health department director.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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