Pandemic popcorn, doctor’s notes, Red Lantern Award: News from around our 50 states


Montgomery: Two Alabama National Guard-staffed mobile vaccination units will begin canvassing counties in the Black Belt and Wiregrass regions next week in an effort to expand COVID-19 inoculations to some of the state’s most rural communities. Vaccinations will begin Tuesday in Covington and Sumter counties. Gov. Kay Ivey announced the locations Thursday, saying in a statement that delivering vaccine to rural Alabama is important to her due to her own upbringing in rural Wilcox County. “I am proud that our guardsmen stand willing to help our great state in any way, especially as we look to put this virus in our rearview mirror,” Ivey said. “I encourage everyone eligible to take advantage of this great resource, and please remain patient as we continue working to get our hands on as many doses as we are able from the federal government. Be sure to help get the word out to your family, friends and neighbors!” The ALNG units will be able to issue “at least 1,000” doses per day, per site, in a Tuesday-through-Friday schedule. Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said last week the extra weekday will be used for planning and handling data. The clinics, open to all Alabamians free of charge, are expected to run between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.


Dallas Seavey sets out from a checkpoint March 11 during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

Anchorage: The final musher has crossed the finish line in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, nearly three days after the winner reached the finish line near the small community of Willow. Victoria Hardwick finished the race at 12:22 a.m. Thursday, claiming the race’s Red Lantern Award. The lantern is an Alaska tradition, awarded annually to the competition’s last-place finisher. Race officials say the award honors the final musher’s perseverance in not giving up. Hardwick, of Bethel, Alaska, finished the race 36th, completing the 850-mile race in 10 days, 9 hours, 22 minutes and 6 seconds. It’s her second Red Lantern Award. She got her first in the 2019 race, when she placed 39th. This year’s race started March 7 with 47 mushers. Nine quit the race, and one was withdrawn after testing positive for the coronavirus. Because of the pandemic, mushers didn’t follow the traditional route that travels across Alaska and ends at Nome at the Bering Sea. It was shortened to a loop with mushers starting and ending the race near Willow, about 50 miles north of Anchorage. It was the first time Nome was not the finish line for the world’s most famous sled dog race. Dallas Seavey won his fifth Iditarod championship, crossing the finish line early Monday morning. He’s now tied with Rick Swenson for the most-ever Iditarod wins.


Phoenix: State lawmakers on Tuesday advanced legislation offering a broad shield from lawsuits related to COVID-19, saying businesses and health care providers deserve protection for doing their best during a challenging time. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee backed the measure in a party-line vote over strong objections from trial lawyers and consumer advocates, who said the measure would reward bad actors who flouted health guidance. Very few lawsuits have been filed related to COVID-19, critics say. The bill, which has already passed the Senate, would raise the bar for successful pandemic-related lawsuits against businesses, health care providers, nursing homes, nonprofits, governments, churches and schools. Instead of proving negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, plaintiffs would have to prove “gross negligence” or “willful misconduct” by clear and convincing evidence. That’s a “double whammy” requiring plaintiffs to both show more egregious conduct and meet a higher standard of proof, said Barry Aarons, a lobbyist for Arizona trial lawyers. The legislation effectively creates broad immunity for anyone who can claim some link to the pandemic, he said. A nursing home might claim, for example, it was unable to properly respond to a patient’s stroke or heart attack because of COVID-19.


Little Rock: The state Supreme Court has said it will hear arguments in a lawsuit by a group of legislators challenging Arkansas’ coronavirus restrictions. Justices granted the request for oral arguments in the case late last week but did not immediately schedule the hearing. A Pulaski County judge last year dismissed the lawsuit, and the legislators appealed to the Supreme Court. The case is moving forward a week after Gov. Asa Hutchinson lifted most of the state’s virus restrictions but left the state’s mask mandate in place through at least the end of March. It also comes after the Senate passed a measure expanding the Legislature’s ability to terminate a disaster declaration during a public health emergency. The lawsuit argues that the restrictions put in place during the pandemic required legislative approval. Arkansas on Wednesday reported 14 more coronavirus deaths as the state saw a drop in its active virus cases. The Department of Health said the state’s COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began now total 5,507. The state’s active virus cases, which don’t include people who have recovered or died, dropped by 67 to 2,808. The state reported 325 new cases, bringing its total since the pandemic began to 327,781. Its COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by three to 260.


"Theater closed" signs are posted in front of AMC movie theaters March 17, 2020, in Montebello, Calif., as the chain closed down for an initial six to 12 weeks due to the coronavirus. (Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Los Angeles: AMC Theatres says it will have 98% of its U.S. movie theaters open Friday as a bunch of theaters reopen in California. Even more are expected to open by March 26. AMC said more than 40 of its locations in the Golden State are reopening Friday, and the state is expected to open 52 of its 54 locations by Monday. The company is preparing to resume operations at the rest of its California locations once the proper local approvals are in place. AMC’s announcement is welcomed by film fans not only because more of them will get to return to reclining seats and a stadium-style format but also because it means the company has hopefully put the worst behind it. It was only in June that AMC cautioned it may not survive the coronavirus pandemic, as its theaters closed and film studios started releasing more movies directly to viewers on streaming services. More theaters opening will also mean more jobs. AMC spokesman Ryan Noonan said the company is welcoming back employees from before theaters were shut down, as well as bringing in new workers. All will be trained on its cleaning and safety protocols, which include social distancing and automatic seat blocking in each theater, mandatory mask-wearing, hand sanitizing stations, upgraded air filtration, contactless ticketing, and mobile ordering for food and drinks.


Denver: A state Senate panel advanced a bill Wednesday that would grant minimum wage and overtime rights to thousands of farmworkers and allow them to organize and join labor unions. The bill, sponsored by three Democratic lawmakers, would regulate working hours for overtime, rest and eating breaks and would guarantee farmworkers living in cramped quarters space that conforms with distancing guidelines recommended by health authorities to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Several states allow farmworkers collective bargaining to some extent – among the many rights originally denied them on the basis of skin color under U.S. labor laws first adopted in the 1930s. “Generations of workers have been exploited for profit,” said Sen. Jessie Danielson, a bill co-sponsor who was raised on a family farm in northern Colorado. Danielson told the Senate Business, Labor, and Technology Committee that most farmers and ranchers treat their workers well. But she cited a litany of abuse, including relentless work hours in all weather conditions, substandard housing, lack of regular access to medical care, and the fear of retribution, including firing, for workers who complain about their labor and living conditions. “The pandemic brought the struggle of these essential workers to the forefront,” Danielson said.


Hartford: The state House of Representatives on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of legislation that requires Gov. Ned Lamont to provide top legislative leaders with recommendations for spending the approximately $2.6 billion Connecticut expects to receive in state COVID-19 relief funds from the latest congressional package. The legislation creates an unusual process that ultimately gives the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee until May 16 to report its approval or modifications to Lamont’s proposal, if any, to the leaders. “I wanted to make sure that we as a group, we are a team addressing the Coronavirus American Rescue Fund and that all of us are participating in making the decisions and supporting what we need to do with these dollars,” said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, the House chair of the Appropriations Committee. Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, the top House Republican on the committee, said he’s pleased the legislation also requires Lamont’s budget office to provide legislators with an accounting of how Connecticut spent earlier federal pandemic aid. The bill now awaits final legislative approval by the state Senate.


Wilmington: Officials at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Wilmington have announced that all veterans enrolled in Veterans Affairs health care are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. The Delaware State News reports veterans must be enrolled in VA health care. And they should preferably receive care at the Wilmington VAMC or one of its five Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Delaware or southern New Jersey. “By expanding the eligibility criteria, we will be able to vaccinate all of our veterans more quickly and get closer to having staff return to their team assignments so we can offer more routine care to veterans at a pre-pandemic level,” Vince Kane, director of the Wilmington VAMC, said in a statement. The Wilmington VAMC has so far administered more than 22,000 vaccine doses to veterans and medical center staff.

District of Columbia

The Rev. Patricia Hailes Fears, pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church in Washington, is given the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine during a gathering of a group of interfaith clergy members, community leaders and officials at the Washington National Cathedral on Tuesday to encourage faith communities to get the vaccine. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Washington: More than two dozen clergy members from the capital region rolled up their sleeves inside the Washington National Cathedral and got vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday in a camera-friendly event designed to encourage others to get their own shots. The interfaith “vaccine confidence” event targeted in particular Black, Latino and other communities of color, with the aim of overcoming reluctance among populations disproportionately hit by a pandemic that has killed more than a half-million people in the country. “Over 50% of all cases and almost half of all deaths are in persons of African American, Latino or Hispanic background, American Indian and Pacific Islanders,” said Dr. Eliseo Perez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. “Now, much has been said about, ‘Well, the risk is greater because there’s more disease, more diabetes, more obesity, more heart disease.’ But the reality is that the infections are more likely because people live in more crowded conditions. They work in jobs that do not allow the privilege of teleworking. They cannot self-isolate at home.” Following a moment of prayer for COVID-19 victims, the socially distanced attendees applauded when the Rev. Patricia Hailes Fears from Fellowship Baptist Church became the first one present to be inoculated.


Fort Lauderdale: Claes Bell repeatedly called his doctor, desperate to get a state form signed so he could get a COVID-19 vaccine before traveling to be at his father’s bedside after heart surgery. But the 39-year-old, who suffers from hypertension, said he couldn’t get through and eventually called a private, 24-hour emergency doctors network where he paid $45 for a virtual consult. “I’m privileged. I have the money to pay for that,” said Bell, a father of three. “It just sets up a scenario where your outcomes are going to be different depending on your income and employment.” Gov. Ron DeSantis recently opened up vaccine eligibility for younger people with health conditions to get the jab at pharmacies and community centers, but they’re required to have their doctor’s OK. The form requires little more than a signature and is aimed at preventing healthy younger people from jumping the line. But critics say it’s an onerous added barrier for minorities and low-income residents without health insurance or access to a doctor. The inequitable distribution of has been an ongoing challenge for the governor. Of the 3.2 million people who have received one or two doses, less than 6% have been Black – about a third of the corresponding share of the state’s population. Even those like Bell with insurance say they can’t reach their doctors because their offices have been flooded with requests.


St. Patrick’s Day revelers walk past a large banner urging people to “MASK UP” in front of City Hall in Savannah, Ga., on Wednesday. (Photo: Russ Bynum/AP)

Savannah: Pulling the plug on the South’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade didn’t stop the party in Savannah, where gaudy green-clad tourists kept bars, restaurants and hotels busy for days and had police handing out thousands of masks amid fears the revelry could brew a coronavirus outbreak. Tourism officials and business owners said the Irish holiday Wednesday and the weekend preceding it were the busiest they’ve seen since the pandemic began a year ago. They credited visitors weary of the virus and given hope by rising vaccinations. “The ’rona might not be done with us, but there are a lot of people who are done with the ’rona,” said Jessica Walden, co-owner of the bar Bay Street Blues near Savannah’s riverfront. St. Patrick’s Day is typically the most lucrative time of year in Savannah, whose parade dates to 1824. It has since ballooned into one of the South’s biggest street parties after Mardi Gras. The celebration Wednesday was notably more subdued. Still, a steady stream of people strolled downtown sidewalks and the riverfront promenade of bars and souvenir shops. Tables outside restaurants were mostly full, and a daiquiri bar had more than a dozen people lined up waiting to enter. Only about half the people celebrating outside wore masks, despite a large green banner hanging from City Hall urging revelers to “MASK UP.”


People sit at the bar at Rob’s Good Times Grill in Lihue, Hawaii, on March 3. Rob Silverman, the Kauai restaurant’s owner, says he was able to pivot to takeout and eventually in-house service focused on locals after the pandemic hit. (Photo: Caleb Jones/AP)

Lihue: As the coronavirus ravaged other parts of the U.S., residents of this rural Pacific island watched safely from afar. Kauai, one of the world’s most sought-after vacation destinations, has been nearly impossible to visit for most of the past year, with officials bucking pressure to ease quarantine rules as the state’s economy tanked. As a result, Hawaii’s least populated county has been one of the safest places to be. Hair salons were open, kids went to school and played team sports, and residents enjoyed restaurants, bars and beaches without the typical hordes of visitors – or the fears of surging virus numbers. As of Wednesday, Kauai has recorded only 218 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, compared with more than 28,000 statewide. Now, local officials are loosening restrictions, saying early measures and the island’s departure from a state testing program that allowed in more people gave it time to build a strong foundation of public health. A unique “resort bubble” program also helped Kauai bring back some tourists and prepare to reopen more broadly. Next month, the island will rejoin the state’s Safe Travels program, which allows travelers to avoid quarantine with a single negative pre-flight coronavirus test.


Boise: A fourth lawmaker in the state House of Representatives has tested positive for the coronavirus in less than a week’s time – and just as the Legislature is debating a bill that would ban local governments from requiring that people wear masks. The increasing number of lawmakers out sick with the virus has legislative leaders in the conservative state worried they may not be able to finish business in a timely fashion. “Of course I’m concerned,” Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke said Wednesday, before the announcement of the fourth COVID-19 diagnosis among his colleagues. Bedke wasn’t wearing a face covering but put one on before getting in an elevator in the Statehouse. “We’re reemphasizing the safety protocols. We also want to be done by the end of the month. I guess we’ll just see how it goes,” he said. Republican Rep. Julie Yamamoto said Thursday that she tested positive Wednesday afternoon and immediately left the Statehouse. She had been on the House floor earlier in the day without a mask as lawmakers debated a huge tax-cut bill. All four lawmakers out with the illness are Republicans who rarely or never wear masks. “I actually feel fine,” Yamamoto said. “The coughing is the worst thing. And I was doing that before with just the asthma and allergies.”


Chicago: The city will expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility this month to include people with underlying health conditions and more categories of workers, including in food service and construction, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday. The expansion to so-called Phase 1c is expected March 29. It’s the last category before vaccines are available to the wider public. Illinois has allowed people with some underlying health conditions to receive the shots since last month, but Chicago and its surrounding areas have largely held off because supplies are limited in the densely populated region. The expansion includes workers in finance, higher education and retail. Still, issues persist with snagging limited appointments and eligibility confusion. Criteria have changed several times at a federally backed mass vaccination site at the United Center, which has allowed people with underlying health conditions since it opened this month. Initially, it was supposed to be open to Illinois residents but then was narrowed to Chicagoans. Later, those in city ZIP codes hit hard by the pandemic were given priority, with officials saying suburban Cook County residents would be offered limited access. Also Wednesday, Chicago schools officials announced staff and vendors can sign up for vaccinations at four dedicated sites for educators.


Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita speaks in Indianapolis on Jan. 11. (Photo: Darron Cummings/AP)

Indianapolis: The state attorney general’s office vigorously defended Gov. Eric Holcomb’s emergency powers in response to a restaurant’s lawsuit challenging his order that masks must be worn inside restaurants – even though Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita, who took office in January, previously called for curbing the governor’s authority. Yergy’s State Road BBQ in Bluffton filed a suit in December against the Wells County Health Department, Holcomb and the state after it was shut down for violating face-covering requirements and capacity limits amid the pandemic. The lawsuit contends that the county health order closing the restaurant was based on unconstitutional executive orders issued by the governor and that Holcomb didn’t have authority to mandate mask-wearing without backing from the Legislature. The restaurant in the town about 20 miles south of Fort Wayne maintains the order caused “unjust injury to Yergy’s fundamental civil rights, liberty interests and property rights.” The state attorney general’s office, however, argues that based on “broad, clear, and unambiguous language” of Indiana’s emergency powers law, the General Assembly “intended to grant the executive branch the authority to protect Hoosiers through an emergency declaration.”


Ruth Howard, right, talks with Emily Schieltz on March 7 at the Madrid Home in Madrid, Iowa. (Photo: Olivia Sun/The Register)

Des Moines: Zero Iowa nursing homes have active COVID-19 outbreaks as of Thursday, a milestone in the pandemic response nearly a year after the disease wound its way into the state. Nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable to the disease and have accounted for nearly 40% of the state’s 5,600-plus deaths, despite making up less than 1% of the state’s population. Family visits to the facilities were strictly limited last spring as officials tried to keep the virus from finding a foothold in the facilities. That led to months of isolation for thousands of frail, elderly Iowans. “Without a doubt this has been probably the longest and most difficult journey for long-term care providers in their lifetimes,” Iowa Health Care Association Senior Vice President Lori Ristau said in an interview. “Residents are like a second family to them. So that was very traumatic and a lot to work through. That makes the progress we’re seeing even more meaningful and more joyful because of how long this road has been for them.” Nursing home residents, along with health care providers, were the top priority for immunization after vaccines arrived in the state in December. Gov. Kim Reynolds said during a Wednesday news conference that more than 90% of residents and 60% of staff have been vaccinated.


Topeka: Legislators are working to give prosecutors and courts time to clear a backlog of several thousand criminal cases that built up during the coronavirus pandemic, though they disagree about how much is enough time. The Senate approved a bill Wednesday night that would suspend until May 1, 2023, a law aimed at protecting defendants’ constitutional right to a speedy trial. The law requires cases to come to trial within five months of a defendant who has been jailed entering a plea and within six months if the defendant is free on bond. Lawmakers have said there’s a backlog of about 5,000 criminal cases, and prosecutors worry many of them will have to be dismissed if the deadlines are not suspended. “This is a serious public safety issue,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Kellie Warren, R-Leawood. “It’s a solution. It’s not ideal, but it’s that something that we still need.” The House approved its version of the measure three weeks ago, suspending the speedy trial deadlines for three years instead of two, until May 1, 2024. It can either accept the Senate’s version and send that to Gov. Laura Kelly or demand negotiations with senators. But some GOP conservatives and Democrats are nervous about suspending the deadlines, worried defendants will languish unnecessarily in jail.


Frankfort: Republican lawmakers have doubled down on demanding that the Democratic governor obtain their approval before spending the massive federal pandemic relief headed to the state. The lawmakers also started signaling their own priorities for allocating Kentucky’s share of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, passed by congressional Democrats over united Republican opposition. The state government is expected to receive about $2.4 billion. Friction between Gov. Andy Beshear and GOP lawmakers extended to the budget when the Legislature mostly held the line on spending, rejecting extra outlays Beshear wanted for education and other priorities. Now they’re trying to find a path forward on spending the federal relief. One potential place for common ground is broadband – a priority for Beshear and lawmakers alike. The GOP-dominated Legislature pushed through a bill Tuesday designating $250 million of the federal aid to extend broadband service to the hardest-to-reach regions of Kentucky. Meanwhile, Republicans tucked language into another spending bill Tuesday putting more restrictions on Beshear, saying the governor’s budget office would forfeit more than $900,000 into the state’s budget reserve fund if any of the federal funds are spent without the Legislature’s permission.


Staff of Ochsner Health gather around a table to administer the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at the Castine Center in Pelican Park in Mandeville, La., on March 10. (Photo: Chris Granger/The Advocate via AP)

Baton Rouge: With states receiving steady supplies of vaccine, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday further expanded eligibility to a long list of healthy essential workers who don’t have one of the two dozen medical conditions that already provided access to the shots. As the Democratic governor announced the widened eligibility, the state also kicked off an outreach campaign aimed at getting vaccines to people in underserved areas and persuading those who are skeptical, as the state continues to see available, unused appointments for its vaccine doses. The new immunization eligibility rules, which take effect Monday, will include workers at grocery stores, bars, restaurants and colleges. That’s expected to be the last expansion of access before Edwards throws open vaccinations to all adults around the state. Already, most of the adult population is expected to meet one of the eligibility criteria on the books. Those added to the list Monday will also include people who work at agricultural sites, post offices, manufacturing facilities, utility companies, construction sites, banks and veterinarian offices. Judges and their staff, public transit workers, river pilots, clergy, communications workers, people in the media and security staff all will be eligible.


Portland: Younger Mainers account for a growing number of COVID-19 infections in the state, raising concerns that they could fuel another spike. People in their 20s make up the highest percentage of new cases, about 18%, and those under 20 account for nearly 16%, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Together, those groups account for about a third of new infections, compared with residents over 70, who account for nearly 12% of cases but 85% of deaths. There are signs pointing to another wave of COVID-19 cases, and young people are most likely to facilitate that spike, Dr. James Jarvis, COVID-19 incident commander for Northern Light Health, told the Portland Press Herald. While younger people aren’t as likely to suffer from severe illness, they can still spread the coronavirus to others, including at-risk groups, often while having no symptoms themselves, Jarvis said. “If young people are infected and then go visit (others), that’s just one step away from an outbreak occurring.”


Baltimore: Restaurants, retail outlets and gyms are among locations that will see a further loosening of COVID-19 restrictions just days after Mayor Brandon Scott pushed back against Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to reopen many businesses statewide. Beginning Friday, March 26, Baltimore will allow indoor dining at 50% of capacity and outdoor dining at 75% capacity, news outlets report. Religious facilities, retail, indoor and outdoor recreation, gyms and casinos will also be allowed to operate at 50% of capacity. Until now, indoor dining in Baltimore had been operating at 25% of capacity, as had gyms, retail, shopping malls and recreation. Outdoor dining was permitted at 50% of capacity. Scott’s order is still stricter than the reopening plan allowed under Hogan’s statewide order, announced last week, which allows for lifting capacity restrictions at restaurants and opening up large indoor and outdoor venues to 50% capacity. Scott weighed the city’s legal options for several days ahead of Hogan’s order becoming effective Friday and eventually announced the city would stick to its existing restrictions despite ambiguity about his power to do so under Hogan’s order. However, Scott, a Democrat, said Wednesday that the city will now begin reevaluating COVID-19 restrictions on a two-week basis.


Boston: Just in time for baseball season, ballparks, arenas, and indoor and outdoor stadiums will be allowed to open Monday with a strict 12% capacity limit after submitting a plan to the state Department of Public Health. The step is part of the state’s ongoing reopening efforts as Massachusetts continues to ramp up vaccination efforts and as hospitalizations associated with COVID-19 continue to drop, according to the Baker administration. Also Monday, gathering limits for event venues and in public settings will increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors. Outdoor gatherings at private residences and in private backyards will remain at a maximum of 25 people, with indoor house gatherings remaining at 10 people. Dance floors will be permitted at weddings and other events only, and overnight summer camps will be allowed to operate this summer. Exhibition and convention halls may also begin to operate, following gatherings limits and event protocols. Beginning Monday, Massachusetts will institute a new pandemic travel advisory that will urge everyone entering the state, including returning residents, to quarantine for 10 days after arriving if they’ve been out of state for 24 hours or more. An earlier advisory called for a 14-day quarantine and made it a mandate.


Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, addresses the state in Lansing, Mich., alongside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Photo: Michigan Office of the Governor via AP)

Lansing: The state had the country’s fifth-highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the last week and is among 14 states where infections rose over the past two weeks, a trend that may be tied to the increasing prevalence of a more contagious coronavirus variant, health officials said Wednesday. The seven-day case average was 2,372, an increase of more than 1,000 from March 1. The average positivity rate, 6.4%, was 3.8% two weeks ago. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, said Michigan is in a “different place” than earlier in the pandemic because of vaccinations but warned that herd immunity is still quite some distance away. At least 25% of residents 16 and up have received at least one dose. State Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel said to achieve herd immunity and stop the uncontrolled spread of the virus, 90% to 95% of people will probably need to have immunity. Meanwhile, more than 220 Defense Department military and support personnel are expected at Ford Field in Detroit on Friday to support COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Shots are expected to start Wednesday and run for eight weeks. Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, commander of U.S. Army North, said 6,000 vaccines can be administered each day at the site. “State government can’t tackle this pandemic and the vaccination drive alone,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday during a news conference at Ford Field.


St. Paul: Officials at the Department of Natural Resources say sales of its statewide cross country ski pass have been the best in six years. The DNR says more than 17,900 people bought the Great Minnesota Ski Pass, which is required to access many trails in the state. The agency collected more than $510,000 from sales, which will go toward trail maintenance, Minnesota Public Radio News reports. The Legislature in 2019 increased prices from $6 to $10 for the daily pass, from $20 to $25 for the annual pass and from $55 to $70 for the three-year pass. DNR spokeswoman Rachel Hopper said the trail maintenance fund saw decreasing revenue in recent years that forced a delayed payment to clubs in 2019, before the new prices were in effect. This winter’s boost, which she attributed in part to the COVID-19 pandemic steering people toward outdoor activity, has helped refill the fund. “Sales were so good that we were able to move the payments back to the normal timing,” Hopper said.


Registered nurse Mary Campbell, with St. Dominic Health Services, prepares Pfizer vaccines March 12 at the Greater Bethlehem Temple Church Family Life Center in Jackson, Miss. (Photo: Barbara Gauntt/Clarion Ledger)

Jackson: A Millsaps College and Chism Strategies State of the State quarterly survey showed 63% of the more than 600 participants said they will “definitely or probably” get vaccinated against COVID-19. Another 25% noted they either would not get the shot or were unsure about it. That’s a significant leap from January, when the survey found almost 50% of people said they would refuse the vaccine or were uncertain. “We have seen a massive turnaround in just two months in the way Mississippians perceive the coronavirus vaccination program,” Nathan Shrader, Millsaps College Department of Government and Politics chair, said Thursday. He pointed to education about COVID-19 vaccines and encouragement from state officials and public health experts as the drivers that surged vaccination support. As of Thursday, more than 330,000 Mississippians were fully vaccinated, 11% of the state’s population. Among survey results, 55% of participants disagreed with Gov. Tate Reeves’ repeal of all county mask mandates, saying the decision was made too soon. Although Reeves rolled back mask mandates, state health officials continue to urge mask-wearing and social distancing.


Clayton: A new effort has begun in St. Louis County to help homebound residents and people with disabilities get vaccinations. The county health department is working with 15 fire and emergency management services districts to deliver COVID-19 vaccine to homes and independent living facilities, St. Louis Public Radio reports. “We’ve lined up a lot of partners, and we already have a lot of people who have been asking us for this for quite some time,” said Spring Schmidt, the county’s deputy director of public health. A pilot program began earlier this month with five fire districts. Schmidt said the county is expanding the effort to prioritize people who have no other choice than to have a vaccine delivered to their home. “Some homebound residents can rely on family members or loved ones to drive them to schedule appointments, but not everyone can immediately respond when a vaccine becomes available,” said Dawn Chapman, a member of the county’s disability commission who also is helping schedule vaccine appointments. Meanwhile, the Kansas City region is seeing a slight uptick in the rolling average for new coronavirus cases. The region, which includes Kansas City and its suburbs in both Missouri and Kansas, reported 160 new cases Wednesday.


Helena: The state has a total of 19 confirmed cases of coronavirus variants in 11 counties, the state health department said Wednesday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified the state this week of 11 tests that identified variants matching two California strains and another that originated in New York, along with three more cases of the United Kingdom variant already identified in Gallatin County. The California and New York variants involve specimens that were submitted for testing from January to early March in Beaverhead, Cascade, Glacier, Hill, Jefferson, Madison, Phillips, Roosevelt, Silver Bow and Valley counties. When these samples were initially submitted for testing, the California and New York versions had not yet been classified by CDC. Gallatin County has 11 known cases of the U.K. variant, including the three that were confirmed this week. “Montana continues to submit both random and suspect COVID-19 samples to the CDC for testing,” said Adam Meier, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services. Meier stressed the best thing Montanans can do to protect themselves is get vaccinated and continue to follow CDC guidelines about wearing masks, social distancing, staying home if sick, washing hands often and avoiding large crowds.


Omaha: A variant of the coronavirus first found in Brazil has been found in the city, state health officials said. On Wednesday, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services confirmed two people in Douglas County had tested positive for the so-called Brazil P.1 variant, the Omaha World-Herald reports. That strain is believed to be responsible for a surge in hospitalizations in Brazil even though many people there had already developed COVID-19 and made antibodies against it. Investigations into the Douglas County cases are underway, state health officials said. As of Thursday, the state’s virus-tracking dashboard showed more than 205,500 people in Nebraska have tested positive for the virus, and 2,130 have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak began last year. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has decreased over the past two weeks, going from nearly 261 new cases per day March 2 to just over 232 new cases per day Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.


Gov. Steve Sisolak receives his COVID-19 vaccine from pharmacy manager Trashelle Miro alongside front-line grocery store workers at an Albertsons Pharmacy in Las Vegas on March 11. (Photo: K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Carson City: The city is making all residents 16 and older eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting April 5 as part of its efforts to inoculate the population as quickly as possible. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak on Wednesday said opening eligibility was made possible through the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and increased production. But whether shots would be available, he said, depended on the supply delivered by the federal government. The timeline could mean appointments in the coming weeks open to hundreds of thousands more people in Nevada, where roughly 61% of the population is older than 18 and younger than 65. The state’s new timeline satisfies the goal that President Joe Biden announced last week, when he said he wanted everyone in the U.S. 18 and older to be eligible for vaccines by May 1. The timeline would not require Nevada to alter its vaccine playbook that prioritized and designated available doses for seniors and front-line workers. Throughout the state, teachers, health care workers, police officers and hospitality industry workers have already been made eligible to receive the vaccine, as have individuals ages 65 and older. Nevada also plans to make residents 16 and up with underlying health conditions eligible for shots Monday through partner pharmacies.

New Hampshire

Keene: Keene State College is planning for a fully in-person fall semester. Currently, classes have been a mix of in-person, hybrid or online, with many campus activities curtailed because of the coronavirus pandemic. But officials are planning to resume all in-person classes, athletic events, on-campus student activities and study-abroad opportunities in the fall. Keene State President Melinda Treadwell said officials expect to be in a better place by the end of the summer with the vaccine rollout underway. “Our students have told us loud and clear that they want to be together on campus in our community. We are having a successful spring semester, and are actively planning a shift to additional on-campus and in-person community experiences for the fall 2021 semester,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “Safety guided by science will remain a priority in the fall, and we will continue to carefully monitor the pandemic to make decisions accordingly.”

New Jersey

Jackson Township: Nothing, not even a global pandemic, can stop the team at Six Flags Great Adventure from entertaining guests year after year. The Jackson thrill park launches its 2021 season this month, with innovations necessitated by caution for COVID-19 still in place. “The pandemic required us to pivot and explore new ways to entertain, which included bringing back something from our past with a new twist,” said park marketing and public relations manager Kristin Fitzgerald. That something was the Six Flags Wild Safari Drive-Thru Adventure, which kicks off its season Saturday. The 4.5-mile trip across a 350-acre preserve housing approximately 1,200 animals resumed operation as a drive-thru experience in 2020 for the first time in nearly a decade. Across the park, COVID-19 safety measures remain in place, including a limit on daily attendance. All guests, including park members and season pass holders, must make advance reservations and are required to have been healthy for at least 14 days prior to visiting. All employees and guests older than 2 are required to wear masks covering their nose and mouth at all times, with the exception of designated mask break zones and in pools and waterpark attractions. Temperatures will be checked on arrival, and social distancing will be encouraged.

New Mexico

Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, talks about the need for more people to get vaccinated after watching medical assistant Lesaida Bird, right, deliver a shot to Kylea Garcia at a vaccination clinic at Kewa Pueblo, N.M., on Wednesday. (Photo: Susan Montoya Bryan/AP)

Kewa Pueblo: Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, made his first solo trip as the nation’s second gentleman Wednesday, stopping at a vaccination clinic in an Indigenous community in northern New Mexico and later meeting with a group of working mothers as part of an effort to promote the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. Looking east toward snowcapped mountains, Emhoff told tribal leaders it was an honor for Kewa Pueblo to be his first stop in the state as he and other top Democrats have spent the past few days traveling and talking about the funding that will be trickling down to families, businesses, tribes, cities and state governments over the coming months. He watched as Kylea Garcia got her vaccination and took the opportunity to encourage others to do the same. “Get the vaccine when it’s your turn,” he said, “because it will save your life, and it will save the lives of others. It’s the right thing to do. It’s safe, it’s painless, and it’s going to help us all get through this pandemic.” Kewa Pueblo, formerly known as Santo Domingo Pueblo, has vaccinated more than 4,300 people, including most of its tribal members. At the heart of its efforts to combat COVID-19 has been the pueblo’s health clinic, which has been transitioning from testing and contact tracing to vaccinations. It recently opened a drive-thru for second doses.

New York

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is vaccinated at the mass vaccination site at Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem on Wednesday in New York City. (Photo: Seth Wenig-Pool/Getty Images)

New York: Mayor Bill de Blasio got his COVID-19 shot Thursday, then ripped embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo, accusing the fellow Democrat of letting his personal political crisis influence important decisions on pandemic restrictions. The mayor’s ire revolved around Cuomo’s decision Wednesday to lift a ban on indoor fitness classes – just a day after de Blasio said it was still unsafe for groups of people to exercise together indoors. “The state of New York continues to make decisions without consulting the city of New York or our health experts or any locality, and this is why we need local control,” said de Blasio, who has long chafed under Cuomo’s broad power to set coronavirus policy. De Blasio implied that Cuomo, who is facing sexual harassment allegations from several women, is easing coronavirus restrictions to curry favor with a virus-weary public. “Is this being done because of what the data and science is telling us, or is this being done for political reasons?” de Blasio asked. “Because it sure as hell looks like a lot of these decisions are being made by the governor because of his political needs.” Reporters were barred from a news briefing Thursday at which Cuomo announced a plan to let fans return to Yankees and Mets games this season.

North Carolina

Raleigh: A sizable group of college students will be eligible for a vaccine in April, under guidance from the state Department of Health and Human Services. When North Carolina drafted its initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan in October 2020, college students were listed as a priority, just ahead of the general public. When schools reopened in August, the cohort proved it had the ability to rapidly contribute to community spread and fuel outbreaks through off-campus parties. But in January, North Carolina bumped the group from the priority list amid a backlash from state lawmakers and encouragement from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give stronger preference to older adults and those working in certain job sectors. On Tuesday, health officials released a statement saying college students who live on campus or in other congregate settings will be able to receive starting April 7, regardless of their age, health condition or employment status. “We want to prioritize those in congregate settings,” state health department secretary Mandy Cohen said at a news conference Wednesday. “We know that’s where the virus spreads fastest, so that is why we’re doing that prioritization. I don’t think there’s going to be a huge time difference.”

North Dakota

Bismarck: Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring has announced that applications are again being accepted for 2021 Specialty Crop Grants due to additional one-time funding from a coronavirus relief package passed by Congress late last year. “Projects that solely enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in North Dakota are eligible for these grants,” Goehring said. “We encourage organizations, institutions and individuals to submit proposals on their own or in partnerships.” North Dakota has not yet received an allocation amount from USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service but is expected to receive it in the next few weeks. The North Dakota Department of Agriculture will distribute the funds through a competitive grant program. Goehring said an information manual with application instructions, scoring criteria and an application template can be found on NDDA’s website. Applications must be submitted in electronic form by 4 p.m. CDT April 7. Applications will then be reviewed, scored, ranked and provided to Agriculture Commissioner Goehring to determine which will be forwarded to USDA for final approval in May. Projects funded by the grants start Oct. 1, 2021, and must be completed by Sept. 30, 2023.


Columbus: High school juniors and seniors will be able to substitute their end-of-year grades for the statewide final exams as soon as the governor signs a bill passed nearly unanimously by the Ohio House and Senate on Wednesday. The legislation also waives the American history exam requirement, lets schools spend extra time administering all federally required tests and exempts home-schooled kids from yearly evaluations. “Our freshman and sophomore classes, though they were excluded, will still have time to meet the necessary requirements for graduation,” said Rep. Adam Bird, R-New Richmond. The bill’s passage followed weeks of debate about how to modify state testing requirements for students during the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to sign the bill. The original plan had been to let school districts choose whether they wanted to test kids at all. That idea became impossible in February when the Biden administration announced it wouldn’t be handing out waivers to federal testing requirements. So lawmakers quickly moved to determine how to test without harming students who’ve fallen behind during the pandemic. The exam results will be published by the Ohio Department of Education but won’t impact school rankings or eligibility for the EdChoice scholarship program.


Tulsa: The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Department of Health and the federal Indian Health Service said Wednesday that they will provide 4,000 vaccinations to all Native Americans and members of their households during a two-day clinic next week. Any member of a federally recognized tribe and members of their households, Native American or not, are eligible for an appointment, said Muscogee (Creek) Health Secretary Shawn Terry. The March 26-27 clinic will be held at River Spirit Expo Center, the Tulsa World reports. About 21,000 of the tribal nation’s estimated 65,000 Oklahoma citizens have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and the clinic is an effort to reach out to a larger population of Native Americans, according to Terry. “It’s a way for us to do a large event in an urban setting and do it efficiently,” he said. The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Wednesday reported a total of 433,516 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began and nearly 1.5 million vaccinations. The federal Centers for Disease Control has reported 7,610 deaths in Oklahoma due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, according to the state health department.


A Pfizer vaccine is drawn out of s vial at the Salem Health COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem on Feb. 5. (Photo: BRIAN HAYES / STATESMAN JOURNAL)

Portland: All adult residents will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine beginning May 1, state health officials confirmed Wednesday. Last week, following President Joe Biden’s pledge to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1, Gov. Kate Brown said she would not change the state’s eligibility schedule until she was sure Oregon would receive enough vaccines. Since then officials said they have received an order from the United States Department of Health and Human Services that directs vaccination sites to make the change with eligibility. “We are following up with the administration for more specifics about when vaccine shipments to states will increase, but in a briefing with governors earlier this week, it was clear the White House has worked hard to secure additional vaccine supplies for states in the coming weeks,” Charles Boyle, a spokesman from the governor’s office, said Wednesday. Those who can currently receive the vaccine include health care workers, first responders, teachers and residents over age 65. People who are 45 or older with a preexisting condition, seasonal and migrant farmworkers, food processors, the homeless and those affected by last summer’s wildfires are scheduled to become eligible March 29.


Harrisburg: Health officials on Thursday announced changes to the state’s vaccine provider map to make finding appointments more accessible. The provider map will now allow the public to easily see what pharmacies and providers have received first doses of vaccine each week, Executive Deputy Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter said. “It is also important to remember that doses do not equal appointments,” she said. “Even if a provider has received an allocation of doses, the provider is the best source of information as to whether they have appointments available.” Klinepeter said the state intends to centralize information on which providers have appointments available onto the map in the coming weeks. That will be important as the state moves toward opening vaccination appointments to more Pennsylvanians by May 1. Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said the department is currently working to restructure where vaccine doses are being sent to make sure the most Pennsylvanians possible are receiving shots. Beam said Pennsylvania is ranked second in the nation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for number of doses administered per 100,000 residents statewide. In total, 1.3 million Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated, and 2.5 million have gotten a first dose.

Rhode Island

Providence: All residents ages 16 and older will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine starting April 19, Gov. Daniel McKee said Thursday. The change is possible because the state has learned it will be getting significantly more vaccine from the federal government in the near future, the Democratic governor said at a news conference. President Joe Biden promised last week that all the nation’s adults would be eligible by May 1. “If Rhode Island can get the vaccine supply we need, we can achieve and beat this goal,” he said. “We are confident the president will deliver.” He warned that it will likely take two weeks or so for everyone who wants an appointment to book one, but the goal is to provide a first dose of the vaccine to everyone who signs up by the end of May. The state has already given more than 282,000 vaccine first doses, while more than 136,000 people, or about 12% of the state population, have been fully vaccinated, state Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said. But she said mask-wearing is still important. If 70% of the state population is vaccinated, the state could lift COVID-19 emergency restrictions, McKee said.

South Carolina

Clemson: Clemson University is planning to have a mostly normal fall semester with more students in classrooms and more fans at football games. Thanks to weeks of low coronavirus spread on campus and the increased efforts of the state’s vaccine rollout, Clemson President Jim Clements announced the university would be almost all in-person next fall. “Almost all courses” will be offered completely in-person next semester, Clements said in a memo. This semester, about one-third of classes are completely in-person. Students and faculty will still be able to request virtual accommodations due to the coronavirus, but Clements said the school is banking on the community to be widely vaccinated by the time classes resume Aug. 18. Still, “we will continue to put the health of our staff, faculty, students, and community members first as we plan for the fall,” Clements said. Clemson spokesperson Joe Galbraith said the university will let employees and students continue to work from home only on a “case-by-case” basis. COVID-19 guidelines on capacity, masking and social distancing will remain in place until further notice, though, according to Galbraith.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: The City Council has repealed an ordinance that required residents to put garbage containers curbside if their garbage hauler requested it. The ordinance, which was passed in April 2020 and repealed Tuesday evening in a 8-0 vote, was aimed at helping local garbage haulers facing workforce problems during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to save time during pickup. Its repeal means the city’s previous rules on garbage will once more be in effect, requiring garbage cans to be stored in an “inconspicuous place” and not put on the curb for pickup. Councilor Alex Jensen said he’d like to hear from Public Works at a future informational meeting about what they’d learned during that period and whether there were any changes that should or shouldn’t be considered.


Bhan Thai owner Molly Smith serves patrons at her Midtown restaurant June 18, 2020, in Memphis, Tenn. (Photo: Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal)

Memphis: Restaurant patrons can now sit eight to a table and dine until 1 a.m., according to a new Shelby County health directive issued Wednesday. The directive, which goes into effect at midnight Saturday, still requires people seated together at restaurants to be from the same family or close contact group. Customers can stay until 1:30 a.m. to complete their meal or pay. Additionally, the Shelby County Health Department issued a new mask mandate, effective Wednesday, clarifying that people who cannot medically tolerate wearing a face covering do not have to wear a face shield. People declining to wear a face covering because of a medical condition are not required to show medical documentation. The mandate also clarifies that scarves, ski masks and balaclavas are not substitutes for masks, although coverings made of “suitable layered fabrics” are acceptable. Medical- or procedure-grade masks are recommended but not required.


Galveston: A woman who was recorded on police body camera video refusing to wear a mask at a bank last week was arrested Wednesday after declining to wear a mask inside another Texas business. Terry Wright, 65, already had a warrant out for her arrest after she refused to wear a mask in a Bank of America branch in Galveston last Thursday. On the video, she taunts the officer, asking if he’s going to arrest her. Police arrested Wright on Wednesday after she entered the Office Depot in Texas City and said she would not cover her nose and mouth to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, police spokesman Cpl. Allen Bjerke said. She was arrested on Galveston warrants for trespassing and resisting arrest, Bjerke said. Wright, of Grants Pass, Oregon, was taken into custody without incident, Bjerke said, noting that she was not charged for trespassing at the office supply store and that no additional charges were expected. Gov. Greg Abbott last week lifted statewide orders requiring people to wear face masks in public, declaring businesses should decide for themselves which COVID-19 precautions to take on their properties. Many businesses have kept their own mask rules in place.


Garry Garff receives his Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination March 10 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo: Rick Bowmer/AP)

Salt Lake City: All adults can begin signing up for a COVID-19 vaccine next Wednesday – one week earlier than previously planned because the state has unallocated doses, Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday. About 15% of the state’s supply isn’t being claimed by eligible people making appointments, the Republican governor said. He acknowledged that opening up eligibility so widely means there won’t be enough vaccines for all residents over 18 at first but the goal is to prevent vaccines from going unused. “We always want to keep demand above availability,” Cox said during a televised news conference on PBS-Utah. Utah teenagers 16 and older may also have a chance to get the Pfizer vaccine in some parts of the state starting next week too, Cox said. New coronavirus cases have been decreasing since January. More than 714,000 of the state’s 3.2 million residents have been fully vaccinated, according to state data. More than 380,000 virus cases have been reported in Utah, along with 2,041 known deaths, according to state data.


Burlington: A committee of more than two dozen health care providers and advocates is calling for the immediate vaccination of the state’s prison inmates. WCAX-TV reports the memo from the COVID-19 Vaccine Implementation Advisory Committee to Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine, dated Monday, says inmates have little or no ability to protect themselves or demand better conditions. The memo comes as the Department of Corrections continues to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, the state’s largest prison. Gov. Phil Scott has said inmates are vaccinated when they fit within the state’s guidelines for age or high-risk medical conditions. All inmates will be eligible for vaccination by the end of April. “There are dozens and dozens of groups, sectors and populations who have requested prioritization. A case can be made for each,” said Scott spokesperson Jason Maulucci. “But with a limited supply, everyone can’t be at the front of the line, so preservation of life must be the top priority.” On Wednesday, the Department of Corrections reported 12 new cases of the coronavirus at the Newport prison, 10 among inmates and two among staff. There are currently 40 cases among inmates and six among staff at the prison.


Richmond: Schools and colleges can hold outdoor graduation ceremonies with as many as 5,000 attendees. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports Gov. Ralph Northam made the announcement Wednesday. The Democratic governor said Virginia will restrict capacity at outdoor ceremonies to 5,000 people or 30% of the venue’s capacity, whichever is lower. Indoor ceremonies will be capped at 500 people or 30% of the venue’s capacity. All attendees will need to wear masks and socially distance themselves. “While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates and their families,” Northam said in a statement. School districts and colleges across the state are still deciding how best to honor this year’s graduates, though Liberty University said Thursday that it will offer an outdoor, in-person ceremony and an online option. The University of Virginia is considering two proposals: holding an in-person graduation this spring with no guests or postponing graduation until guests can attend. Virginia Tech intends to host several in-person ceremonies with a restricted number of guests. It will also host an online ceremony.


Seattle: A federal judge on Thursday dismissed an industry lawsuit that sought to block a $4-an-hour pay boost for Seattle grocery workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour issued the ruling after hearing oral arguments earlier in the day. “This is a big win for grocery store employees who have been critical and vulnerable frontline workers since the start of the pandemic,” City Attorney Pete Holmes said in a statement. The Seattle City Council in January approved the pay boost for workers at large grocery stores, to remain in effect as long as the city has a declared civil emergency related to the pandemic. Assistant City Attorney Jeremiah Miller told the judge the hazard pay was justified by the facts that the employees work among members of the public and are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus and that grocery companies have made record profits during the pandemic. The judge rejected arguments by the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association that the pay increase interfered with collective bargaining and discriminated against large grocery stores. The industry warned that some stores would be unable to absorb the increased labor costs, especially those like Grocery Outlet that operate on smaller margins.

West Virginia

Charleston: The state Supreme Court won’t be making its annual trip to the West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown this year as a result of COVID-19, but the special docket of cases will be heard virtually. The school and the court have made arrangements to allow students and the public to watch the arguments online, Chief Justice Evan Jenkins said in a news release. “We will miss being on campus next week and the opportunity to meet in person with the students, but the justices are committed to continuing our outreach efforts even in a COVID environment,” Jenkins said. Documents for the cases have been posted online. The arguments will be streamed Tuesday on the court’s YouTube channel through a link on the West Virginia judiciary website. The court also will judge the finals of the Baker Cup Moot Court appellate advocacy competition at 1 p.m. The final competition will also be livestreamed.


Brandon Cacek, 40, stands outside his home in Marinette, Wis., on Feb. 3. The husband and father of two lost his substitute teaching job last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has waited 11 months for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to deliver unemployment compensation. An administrative law judge ruled in December that Cacek qualifies for benefits dating back to March 5. “I'm seriously not in a position financially for any further delays,” Cacek says. (Photo: Angela Major / WPR, Angela Major)

Madison: Implementing a new call center to help unemployed people 24 hours a day, seven days a week is moving ahead with the signing of a $1.2 million contract, Gov. Tony Evers’ administration announced Thursday. The state Department of Workforce Development received a $2.4 million federal grant that it is using to begin overhauling the 50-year-old computer system that Evers has blamed for causing delays in helping customers and getting out unemployment benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic. Problems with the state’s call center, which was unable to handle the massive spike in calls particularly early on in the pandemic, will be the first target for improvements with the system. Republicans have blamed the Democratic governor for not doing more sooner to address the problem, and a state audit showed less than 1% of calls to the hotline were answered by state officials. Evers fired Caleb Frostman, the former secretary of the department that handles unemployment claims, and pushed the Legislature to approve new funding to upgrade the computer system. Lawmakers have known for years that the department’s computer system and software were out of date, but the pandemic laid bare the problems. The department hopes to have the new call center up and running within six months.


Gillette: Shots of COVID-19 vaccine are now available or soon will be for anybody over 18 in almost one-third of the state’s counties. In the past few months, vaccines have been available to health care workers, first responders, residents of long-term care facilities and senior citizens, among others. Vaccines are now widely available or close to being in eight of Wyoming’s 23 counties: Campbell, Converse, Fremont, Hot Springs, Johnson, Sheridan, Washakie and Weston, Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said Thursday. At the same time, anybody who qualified for a vaccine earlier can still get it, Campbell County Public Health Director Jane Glaser told the Gillette News Record. The department recently got almost $500,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding to help with vaccination clinic costs. “We were not getting complete supplies with the shipments of vaccines,” Glaser said. “We’ve had to use our own funds to purchase syringes and various things.” Campbell County Public Health has been doing three vaccination clinics per week, averaging between 260 and 300 vaccines per clinic. “We’re having a really good rollout with the vaccine so far, but it’s definitely not going to be over anytime soon,” Glaser said.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

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