Birmingham: City leaders likely will extend a mandate requiring face masks in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus despite the governor’s plan to end the statewide rule next month, said City Council President William Parker. While Gov. Kay Ivey has said the state order will expire April 9, Parker said officials in Birmingham have been in discussions with medical experts and will push to keep a requirement in place for face masks in public places. “I feel very confident that there will be a mask ordinance for the city of Birmingham,” he said Saturday at the opening of a new vaccination site. A City Council vote likely will be held April 6, he said. Jefferson County is among multiple counties the Alabama Department of Public Health rates as having a high infection rate over the past two weeks even as cases and hospitalizations decline overall in the state during a surge in vaccinations. More than 10,320 people in Alabama have died of COVID-19, and more than 503,000 have tested positive for the virus. About 400 people are hospitalized with the illness statewide, though that is the fewest since April and down from a peak of more than 3,000 in January.
Anchorage: One year after the state announced its first case of the coronavirus, it reported that a third of its residents over age 16 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The figures were reported Friday just days after Alaska dropped restrictions on who could get vaccinations, opening eligibility to anyone 16 and up living or working in the state. Alaska was the first state in the U.S. to remove vaccine eligibility requirements. About 187,000 people, or 33.1% of all residents over 16, had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Friday. About 69% of residents 65 and older had received a dose. Alaska ranked first in the U.S. as of Friday with about 17% of its population having received both doses of the vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker.
Phoenix: State health officials reported no new COVID-19 deaths Monday and 638 newly confirmed cases, one of the lowest figures in months. It’s not clear if the state Department of Health Services’ latest case count is low because data reporting from hospitalizes sometimes lags on weekends. Still, even the number of COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds continues to drop. As of Sunday, 716 people were hospitalized due to the virus, with 210 in intensive care beds. The last time those figures were that low was October. Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state Department of Health Services, was expected to administer the state’s 500,000th dose of COVID-19 vaccine at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on Monday. The around-the-clock, state-run vaccination site has been praised as a model. Meanwhile, many Arizona schools reopened for full-time in-person instruction Monday as mandated by Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order. And the University of Arizona announced it is anticipating allowing classes of up to 100 students to resume meeting in person. University President Robert Robbins said Monday during a virtual briefing that the change will take place the week of March 29. The school currently only allows a class of up to 50 students to meet. Outdoor events will still be held to a cap of 50.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he’s still considering removing the state’s mask mandate at the end of March even as many residents turn down vaccines. Speaking Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the Republican governor said the vaccine skepticism in Arkansas is “troubling.” “Whenever we are opening up eligibility for the vaccine, we’re moving through it very quickly because we’re not having everybody sign up to take it,” he said. As of Sunday, nearly 300,000 residents had been fully vaccinated, or about 10% of the state’s population. Health officials reported 130 new cases of the coronavirus and 19 more deaths, while hospitalizations continued to decline. Hutchinson is considering removing his mask mandate at the end of March if the state meets certain benchmarks. That’s in contrast to the swift rollback of restrictions in neighboring Texas and Mississippi. “I think the time in this pandemic for heavy-handed restrictions and mandates are going by the wayside so people can make good judgments,” Hutchinson said Sunday. “And we expect that to happen even after March 31 if the mask mandate is lifted.”
San Francisco: The city will now allow people with HIV to get vaccinated, along with people who identify as deaf or disabled, as California opens up the number of residents eligible for COVID-19 vaccines to those with certain significant, high-risk medical conditions or disabilities. An estimated 4.4 million Californians meet the state criteria as of Monday, including more essential workers; people who work or live in jails, homeless shelters and other congregant places; and those with disabilities and health conditions that put them at risk of severe COVID-19. San Francisco is going beyond the state’s eligibility rules to cover developmental, medical, physical, sensory or behavioral health disabilities, including severe mental health or substance use disorders, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. “Getting vaccinations to people with disabilities and who have severe underlying conditions, and people who are in congregate settings, is an important part of our efforts to save lives and protect our most vulnerable residents,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. She cautioned that despite opening up eligibility for several new groups, supply remains low. So far, roughly 27% of San Francisco residents have received at least one dose of vaccine.
Denver: Marijuana sales have surpassed $10 billion since the state’s recreational market began in 2014 – thanks in large part to a record-setting 2020 in which businesses sold $2.2 billion worth of cannabis. The Denver Post reports the sale of nearly $152 million in recreational pot and nearly $36 million in medical marijuana in January alone pushed total sales since 2014 to $10.2 billion, according to Department of Revenue data released last week. January 2021 sales were nearly 35% percent higher than they were in January 2020. State revenues in taxes and fees were nearly $35 million this January. Colorado voters in 2012 approved a constitutional amendment broadly permitting the sale and use of marijuana for adults. Sales began two years later. State lawmakers are working on legislation that could cap the potency of THC, the drug’s psychoactive compound, for cannabis concentrates, require that residents seek medical use cards in person only, and improve data collection to more strictly enforce limits on purchases.
Hartford: Gov. Ned Lamont has received his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine and is urging residents to sign up for their shots when they become eligible. The 67-year-old received his second dose Friday at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford. He was administered his initial shot Feb. 16. “I view receiving the COVID-19 vaccine as part of my obligation to protect myself, members of my administration, and my family,” Lamont said in a statement. “As we continue our vaccine rollout, I continue to urge all of our residents to receive their vaccination once they are eligible. These vaccines are safe, effective, and they will help us get back to normal.” Currently, people age 55 and older are eligible to make vaccination appointments in Connecticut. The age threshold changes March 22, when people 45 and older can sign up for a shot. Lamont has said he expects the state will be able to meet President Joe Biden’s call to make all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccines by May 1. During an event Friday, Lamont said he hopes to speed up the current age-based rollout. “Give us a few days to get back to you, but I think we’re going to try and accelerate along the way,” Lamont said during a news conference at a Danbury vaccination clinic.
Wilmington: The University and Whist Club has settled a lawsuit that claimed employees were made to work without pay during the pandemic and told to seek unemployment benefits. The lawsuit, settled earlier this month, was filed in federal court in January on behalf of two former managers at the club. The mansion, which sits on a tree-lined property, is a premier location for weddings, banquets and other events. The lawsuit claims that the club’s owner told the plaintiffs the venue would close because of the pandemic, and they should file for jobless benefits. But the lawsuit also said the owner said they were also required to keep working to maintain the club’s operations. The lawsuit named the club and its owner, John Hynansky, as defendants. Jeffrey Weiner, an attorney for Hynansky and the club, declined to comment. Ron Poliquin, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said the settlement precludes him from discussing the suit. Experts believe there will be an increase in such worker wage disputes that came about during the pandemic.
District of Columbia
Washington: D.C. Health has set up one of its vaccine clinics in the home of the Washington Mystics – the Entertainment and Sports Arena, located in Ward 8. As of Sunday, with 196 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, it has tallied the most of any ward in the district, WUSA-TV reports. 3,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines made it into D.C. residents’ arms over the weekend as the city opened two new mass vaccination sites, with the other set up in northeast D.C. at Providence Health System. At the arena, Georgetown University medical and nursing students staffed 13 vaccination cubicles, administering 750 doses a day. The volunteers said their desire to help has been fueled by hearing stories from residents who’ve finally been able to get inoculated after losing loved ones to the disease. “A lot of the patients that I’ve interacted with, it’s been like a very emotional experience for them,” fourth-year medical student John Hebb said.
Orlando: With the state on Monday opening up vaccinations for the first time to people as young as 60, Lynn Duke wanted to be among the first people in her age category to get the shot. She arrived at a FEMA mass vaccination site at a community college campus in Orlando at 6:15 a.m. and was out of observation a little after 7:30 a.m. Florida previously had limited shots to people 65 and up, front-line health care workers, law enforcement, firefighters and school employees. Gov. Ron DeSantis extended eligibility starting this week to those 60-64. Given a choice between the Pfizer two-shot treatment and Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine, Duke picked the single shot. Most of the scores of people waiting with her for the shot were in her age group, she said. Duke said she had no problem waiting until now to get the vaccine. Until inoculations ramped up recently, she hadn’t been expecting to get a shot until May. “I’m 61 and have no other risk factors, so I understand there are other people who need it more than I do,” Duke said. The latest Department of Health statistics show roughly 4,204,200 Floridians, out of more than 21.4 million total residents, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. About 2,323,400 have complete their shot regiment.
Augusta: Poorer and more rural areas of the state and Black people were hit hardest in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, crippled by years of poor health, neglect and occupational risk, with higher death rates and worse outcomes exacerbated by the pandemic even in younger people, an analysis found. Dr. Justin X. Moore and colleagues at Augusta University published an analysis of the first seven weeks of the data in Georgia that showed smaller, poorer rural counties – particularly in southwest Georgia, where an outbreak after two funerals in Albany had overwhelmed health systems – were experiencing far higher death rates than urban areas. The same held true when they later expanded the study through June 30, Moore said. “We saw some of the same patterns, just really bad disparities when you look at certain marginalized communities,” he said. Those disparities have continued throughout, Moore said. The toll remains greatest, however, in those rural counties with higher Black populations, less medical infrastructure, and higher rates of poverty and lack of health insurance. The COVID-19 death rates for Black adults are higher across all age groups compared to whites – up to 4.29 times higher for those in their 30s, an earlier analysis found.
Honolulu: The state has the lowest COVID-19 infection rate in the nation but is also a pandemic standout for a more dubious reason: instituting the most extreme restrictions on the public’s access to official records. In March 2020, Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation suspending the state’s open records law – just as people were thirsty for information about what the government was doing to respond to the public health crisis, said Brian Black, executive director of the nonprofit Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest. Black said one example emerged when the state Department of Health last spring said it had enough staff to track those infected with the coronavirus with its more than 100 contact tracers. A department employee told state senators that wasn’t true when they made an unannounced visit to her office. The state health director resigned, and the state epidemiologist went on leave a short time later. Ige, a Democrat, said he understands why the open records law is important, but during the pandemic his administration asked employees to focus on keeping the community healthy and safe. He said the law’s suspension did not make a difference in the contact tracer controversy. The state Senate this month passed legislation that would prohibit the governor or mayor from using emergencies to suspend public records requests.
Boise: Anti-government activist Ammon Bundy was arrested Monday after failing to attend his trial on charges that he trespassed during a legislative session last fall. Bundy didn’t appear in the courtroom because he was protesting outside the building instead, apparently angry in part over mask requirements put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. Bundy was joined by about two dozen other protesters Monday morning, some holding signs with slogans like “Ammon stands for truth” and others yelling misinformation and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic popularized by groups like QAnon. Bundy and followers of his “People’s Rights” organization have frequently protested coronavirus-related measures in southwestern Idaho since the pandemic began, including the protests at the Statehouse last August that originally led to Bundy’s arrest on trespassing charges. In one of the August protests, angry unmasked protesters forced their way into a House gallery with limited seating, shattering a glass door in the process. The next day, more than 100 protesters shouted down and forced from the room lawmakers on a committee considering the liability-shield bill. Bundy was arrested for trespassing when he wouldn’t leave the room and again the next day when he returned to the Statehouse despite a one-year ban.
Springfield: Hundreds of people trickled into the Salvation Army on Saturday to get their first and only dose of the newest COVID-19 vaccine. The 400 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine that were distributed at the Salvation Army were earmarked for individuals from underserved communities who are 65 or older, health care workers, other essential front-line workers or have high-risk medical conditions. “Just seeing the people that are coming in lets me know that we really did hit our target,” said state Sen. Doris Turner, who spent part of her week working to ensure the targeted communities had the information needed to register for the free doses of vaccine. “I’m really excited about the number of people that are taking advantage of this opportunity.” Walgreens partnered with the Springfield senator, the Salvation Army, Sangamon County, Capital Township and others in an effort to ensure that at least 800 doses of the J&J vaccine were distributed over the weekend. “A lot of my staff was pulled off what they normally do just to reach out so that we could get as many people here as possible,” said Dave MacDonna, executive director for Sangamon County Community Resources.
Indianapolis: Teachers and other school employees became eligible Monday for vaccinations through shot clinics across the state. Health officials said last week that the eligibility expansion comes at the direction of the Biden administration, which earlier allowed teachers to be vaccinated at pharmacies taking part in a federal program. Indiana previously only allowed people 50 or older and those with certain health conditions to make vaccine appointments. The expansion for teachers now includes educators up to grade 12, as well as other school workers such as classroom aides, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and substitute teachers. Gov. Eric Holcomb and top state health officials had repeatedly said they believed targeting vaccinations to older age groups and health care workers, rather than school employees, was more effective at preventing serious illnesses and deaths. After vaccines are rolled out to teachers, health officials plan to open eligibility incrementally to those ages 40 to 49, said Indiana’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lindsay Weaver. The timeline for the next expansion will be dependent on the state’s weekly vaccine shipments from the federal government. To schedule a vaccine, Hoosiers can visit ourshot.in.gov and select a location from one of more than 400 clinics around the state.
Waterloo: Tyson says about a third of workers at the company’s Waterloo plant have received a COVID-19 vaccine, the Quad-City Times reports. The coronavirus has already sickened about a third of the site’s nearly 3,000 employees, and Waterloo Tyson is linked to at least six worker deaths from COVID-19. The company this month hosted vaccination clinics for Waterloo workers and partnered with grocer Hy-Vee to provide shots to its Independence, Iowa, employees. About a third of the 265 workers at the Independence plant have been vaccinated, according to Tyson. Last spring, major outbreaks at a number of meatpacking plants – where workers often stand shoulder-to-shoulder on production lines – forced them to close temporarily because of the number of illnesses and to install additional safety measures. The Waterloo site was among plants temporarily shuttered. The UFCW union, which represents roughly 80% of the nation’s beef and pork workers and 33% of its poultry workers, estimates at least 22,000 meatpacking workers have been infected or exposed to the virus, and 132 have died of COVID-19.
Topeka: The state’s top public health administrator told legislators Monday that Kansas could distribute at least five times as many vaccine doses as it is receiving now from the federal government. Dr. Lee Norman, head of the state health department, said the biggest issue facing Kansas in getting people inoculated is supply. Norman’s comments came four days after President Joe Biden vowed to make all adult Americans eligible for vaccinations by May 1. The GOP-controlled Legislature has criticized what it sees as a slow distribution of vaccines by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration. Kelly and Norman have said Kansas has had trouble keeping up with recording shots. The health department’s timetable anticipates vaccinations won’t be available for all Kansans 16 and older until June. Norman said the state is receiving between 140,000 and 150,000 vaccine doses a week. “The federal supply continues to be the largest barrier,” Norman told the Senate health committee during a briefing. “Probably, without even working overly hard at it – five times the amount, if it would come to us, we would be able to push it out.” And “we have enough vaccinating sites, probably, for 10 times the amount of vaccine that we’re currently getting.”
Louisville: The commonwealth marked its 1millionth COVID-19 vaccine administered Monday, and Gov. Andy Beshear said he believes Kentucky will be able to not only meet but beat President Joe Biden’s goal of having doses available for all adults who want them by May. “With over 500 (vaccine) sites” in Kentucky, Beshear said, “we believe that we are close to where we need to be.” Still, more sites will be announced “in the coming days or week,” and the state is seeing a supply increase, he said. Norton Healthcare has opened vaccine registration for the entire 1C category, expanding access to people 60 and up or with high-risk health conditions, along with a slew of essential workers. The announcement came Monday, as sites around Kentucky opened vaccine access to those 16 and older with conditions the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says could put them at higher risk, such as cancer and diabetes. There are more than 1 million residents in 1C. Essential workers include those employed by grocery stores, the U.S. Postal Service, manufacturing facilities, and people in fields like transportation and logistics, construction, finance, legal, communications and the media.
New Orleans: At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has sparked interest in public health education programs, Loyola University says it is launching a new undergraduate public health degree. In a news release, the school said students in the fall will be able to pursue a Bachelor of Arts or Science degree in public health and may also minor in public health. “Public health majors at Loyola will prepare students for highly in-demand roles in health care, communications, and community advocacy; some will go on to continue their studies at the master’s or doctoral level to gain specialized skills,” Dr. Maria Calzada, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said in the release. According to the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, there was an 20% increase in applications to Master of Public Health programs for the current academic year among the more than 100 schools and public health programs that use the common application – a single admissions application form that students can send to multiple schools. Students in the Loyola program could research such issues as disease patterns, how to prevent or control outbreaks of infectious diseases, or how to design fitness and nutrition programs for vulnerable populations.
Augusta: Monday marked one year since Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, declared a state of civil emergency because of the coronavirus. The order is set to expire Thursday, though Mills has extended it many times. The state has said the declaration allows Mills to “deploy all available tools to respond to and contain COVID-19.” That has included steps such as a statewide mask mandate and restrictions on businesses. The Maine Senate last week turned back a Republican-led effort to end the emergency powers. The Maine Policy Institute, which advocates for economic freedom and free-market principles, called on Mills to end the order Monday. She has said recently the emergency order is critical to allow the state to efficiently combat the virus.
Baltimore: Mayor Brandon Scott has enacted an order to maintain the city’s COVID-19 limitations, despite Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to ease most capacity restrictions. The Baltimore Sun reports that under Scott’s order, the city’s restaurants and bars will continue to seat patrons at 50% capacity outdoors and 25% indoors. Retailers, fitness centers, libraries, museums, casinos, barbershops and salons, as well as theaters and outdoor entertainment venues, can entertain a quarter of their maximum volume of customers. During a news conference Friday, Scott said his administration would continue to follow the science and would not change course based on the decisions of Hogan and neighboring county leaders. Scott cited the impact the coronavirus has had on Baltimore: COVID-19 has infected at least 41,262 city residents and killed 810 more since officials began to track the disease last March. “Our nation and our city is still very much in the midst of this pandemic,” Scott said.
Boston: The leaders of three teachers unions are supporting emergency legislation filed by lawmakers that would require the state’s education commissioner to give school districts more time to prepare for the return of elementary school students to full-time, in-person lessons. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts and the Boston Teachers Union said the legislation would allow more school workers to get a vaccine before returning, The Boston Globe reports. Teachers and other school workers became vaccine-eligible last week. State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley has ordered districts to return prekindergarten through fifth grade students to classrooms for full-time instruction by April 5. Middle schoolers are scheduled to return April 28. Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, said it is unfair and unrealistic to require school staff to return to in-person classes without the protection of a vaccine. Gov. Charlie Baker last week announced that the state has set aside four weekend days over the next month exclusively for educators to receive shots at mass vaccination sites.
Lansing: The state appears poised to amend a 1,000-patron limit so more Detroit Tigers fans can attend home games on Opening Day and after. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office said Monday that the state health department has had talks with the team “to find a safe path forward to expand capacity limits at the stadium.” The Democratic governor said that “there’s nothing more exciting than fans rooting for the Tigers at a home game, and we look forward to making that happen very soon.” A state order says outdoor entertainment and recreational facilities can have no more than 1,000 customers gathered. Critics, including Republican lawmakers, have said that is too low given that Comerica Park holds more than 41,000.
St. Paul: Gov. Tim Walz announced Saturday that CVS Health and Goodrich Pharmacy have been added to the expanding network of pharmacies vaccinating residents. The state now has five pharmacies with dozens of locations participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which is a collaboration among the federal government, states and territories, and 21 national pharmacy partners and independent pharmacy networks. Three CVS in-store pharmacies at Target stores in Duluth, Rochester and Eden Prairie will receive 3,510 vaccine doses this week, according to the governor’s office. Goodrich Pharmacy will receive 1,170 vaccine doses this week. “As vaccine supply from the federal government continues to increase, we’re building the path so getting your COVID-19 vaccine can be as easy as making an appointment online and walking into your local CVS at Target or pharmacy,” Walz said in a release. “We will continue to mobilize every option we have to get more life-saving shots into more arms as quickly as possible and end this pandemic together.” Appointments at CVS and Goodrich Pharmacy will become available in the coming days, and the locations and contact information for scheduling appointments will be accessible on the Vaccine Locator map when the information becomes available.
Jackson: All residents will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting Tuesday, Gov. Tate Reeves said. “Starting tomorrow, ALL new appointments will be open to ALL Mississippians,” Reeves tweeted Monday. “Get your shot friends – and let’s get back to normal!” Vaccinations have already been available for anyone 50 or older, staff at K-12 schools, first responders, health care workers, and those who are at least 16 and have health conditions that might make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Reeves urged those in the 50-and-up age group to make appointments Monday before eligibility expands to the entire state. “Almost 10,000 appointments available statewide over next 3 weeks,” he said. “If you’re over 50, lock them down TODAY!” People can get vaccinated at state-run drive-thru sites in counties across the state, at private clinics and community health centers, and at some pharmacies, like Walmart and Walgreens. People eligible to receive the vaccine can make an appointment at COVIDvaccine.umc.edu or by calling the COVID-19 call center at 1-877-978-6453.
St. Louis: The state’s rate of new coronavirus cases is ticking upward after months of decline. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the infection rate has tumbled since the fall, when Missouri hit a peak seven-day average of 4,723 new confirmed cases Nov. 20. That average fell as low as 343 on March 6 but has since edged upward, to 395 on Friday. “It’s a vulnerable time, and we need to continue to use all methods available to contain this disease at this point,” said Dr. Sriram Vissa, chief medical officer at SSM Health DePaul Hospital. On Monday, 550,000 more Missourians became eligible for COVID-19 vaccines as the state added a group that includes teachers, some government workers, water and energy services employees, agriculture workers, and child care workers, among others. But the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force cautioned during a briefing last week that many area hospitals are still trying to vaccinate more in the current tier – seniors and first responders, for instance – before moving into the next group. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said Friday that 115,000 city residents are eligible now, but only 35,800 have received a first dose, according to state data.
Kalispell: The state’s first independent public health institute is officially up and running with projects aimed at strengthening Montana’s public health system by focusing on its rural, frontier and tribal communities and by supporting sound health policy and funding, the Daily Inter Lake reports. With the forming of the Montana Public Health Institute, the state has joined the ranks of more than 30 others that also boast independent public health institutes. The entities are supported by the National Network of Public Health Institutes, which seeks to improve public health structures, systems and outcomes on a national scale. The new organization hired former Flathead County Public Health Officer Hillary Hanson as its first official employee in July 2020. She is serving as the nonprofit’s chief operating officer. The new resource came to fruition amid the COVID-19 pandemic – an event that has put on display just how vital the nation’s public health systems are. In rural states especially, public health departments have spearheaded various prevention and mitigation efforts throughout the pandemic with guidance from health leaders and organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Omaha: Gov. Pete Ricketts railed Monday against a proclamation by the governor of neighboring Colorado that encourages people to avoid meat for one day a week, calling it a “direct attack on our way of life” and signing a pro-meat declaration of his own. Ricketts surrounded himself with top officials from Nebraska’s meat, agricultural and restaurant industries as he declared Saturday “Meat on the Menu Day” in Nebraska. The day was chosen to coincide with Colorado’s “MeatOut Day,” a nonbinding proclamation signed by Gov. Jared Polis late last month and backed by an animal rights group. Ricketts said meat is a nutritious, protein-rich food source and noted that beef production is Nebraska’s largest industry. “That is a direct attack on our way of life here in Nebraska,” Ricketts, a Republican, said at a news conference in an Omaha meat shop. Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said agriculture supports 1 out of every 4 jobs in state and generates $21 billion each year. Meat products alone generate about $12 billion annually, he said. The Farm Animal Rights Movement, which started “MeatOut Day” in 1985, argues that vegan, plant-based diets promote health and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.
Las Vegas: The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority will be marketing messages to leisure travelers and conventioneers in a somewhat unconventional way in the rapidly changing travel environment. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports the first of nearly two dozen social media influencers spent time in the Entertainment Capital of the World recently, with more planning to visit through the end of April. That’s when a paid advertising campaign directed at business travelers and tourists will kick off. “It’s really a layered approach for both business as well as leisure,” said Steve Hill, president and CEO of the LVCVA. “We’ve gone from basically six weeks ago having very few people (wanting to travel) to six weeks from now we think virtually everybody wanting to get back to traveling again.” That’s where the social media influencers come in. They have thousands of followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and they’ll share their experiences in Las Vegas in their social media posts. Not only will the message get out to would-be travelers, but it also won’t cost the LVCVA much. The authority collaborated with several resorts to host the influencers on a recent weekend, and more will be coming in weeks ahead.
Durham: The University of New Hampshire is helping public health officials better understand how variations of the coronavirus are circulating among the public. The university recently started genomic sequencing of the virus from samples submitted to its testing lab and samples provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. Sequencing of the first several hundred samples were completed this month, and the variant first detected in the United Kingdom was found in two samples. That variant first showed up in New Hampshire last month. Patient information in such cases is forwarded to the state for further action if necessary. More than 78,000 people have tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, including 256 cases announced Saturday. Four new deaths were announced, bringing the total to 1,199.
Trenton: The state has reached 1 million residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19, its online data dashboard showed Monday. Just over 3 million people have had at least one of the two-shot vaccines, according to the state Health Department site. New Jersey’s vaccination rate is slightly better than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-one percent of the country has had at least one shot, with 11.3% fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. In New Jersey, 23.9% have had at least one shot, with 12.2% fully vaccinated. The milestone came the same day New Jersey expanded vaccine eligibility to include transportation workers, members of tribal communities, the homeless, migrant farmworkers and child care workers. Gov. Phil Murphy has set a six-month goal to inoculate 70% of the state’s adult population, or about 4.7 million people. Vaccinations began in December, so that puts the deadline in June. Murphy and Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli have expressed optimism they’ll meet their deadline. In a tweet, Murphy noted that it took just two weeks to climb from 2 million people getting at least one shot to 3 million. That’s quicker than the 20 days it took to climb to 2 million from 1 million and 55 days to hit 1 million.
Carlsbad: While recent data showed spills from the oil and gas industry in the state declined last year, natural gas emissions appeared to climb, records show, creating concern for air pollution throughout the state and Permian Basin to the southeast. The Center for Western Priorities released its annual spill tracker report this week, detailing numbers of oil and produced water spills along with natural gas emissions tracked in multiple fossil fuel states. The report showed New Mexico oil and gas producers had 1,217 spills in 2020, releasing more than 64,116 barrels of produced water, about 13,401 barrels of oil and 1.7 billion cubic feet of methane emissions. Last year continued a year-over-year decline in spills, as the center reported 1,352 in 2020 and 1,523 in 2018. But the reported methane emissions were troubling, the report found, as 2020’s methane emissions were the highest since the center began tracking them in 2013 ahead of numerous booms in production in New Mexico in the years since. Increases in emissions could be tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, the report said, as it drove down fuel demand while production continued to grow, meaning less natural gas could be sent to market and was potentially released through venting or burned through flaring.
Albany: High school students will be exempt from graduation testing requirements for the second year in a row, the Board of Regents determined Monday. State education officials also revealed some of their plans for a scaled-back version of standardized assessments for grades three through eight and promised more information will go out to schools this week. In a unanimous vote, the board agreed that students enrolled in Regents courses during the 2020-21 school year or the 2021 summer session will earn graduation credit as long as they pass the course. This exemption also applies to students who previously achieved course credit in a Regents class but had not yet passed a Regents exam or alternate assessments used for high school graduation eligibility in New York. The state Education Department is still seeking a federal waiver to cancel all state testing for the second consecutive school year, but the U.S. Department of Education has indicated it does not plan to grant such waivers this year.
Raleigh: The state’s unemployment rate fell below 6% during January, government officials said Monday, although jobless figures remain well above those recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic contracted commerce. January’s 5.9% seasonally adjusted rate compares to 6.1% for December, the state Commerce Department said in a news release. The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.3% in January. The state rate peaked during the pandemic at 13.5%, recorded for both last April and May. Employed workers in the overall state labor force increased by nearly 9,900 during January to 4.74 million people, according to the department. While the number of unemployed fell by 11,300 since December to 297,600, the total is still 118,000 above the total of unemployed in January 2020. Among nonfarm employment, the construction and the information and communications industries led the way in employment growth, according to department data. Categories of government and education and health industries recorded the largest employment declines. The pandemic peak rate of 13.5% is higher than the previously announced top rate of 12.9% from last April. That’s because the monthly rates in 2020 have undergone their annual revisions, resulting in adjustments, the department said.
Bismarck: Health officials on Sunday reported 34 new cases of the coronavirus out of 1,650 tests that were processed at the state laboratory. The update increased the total number of positive tests to 109,976 since the start of the pandemic. One in every 1,299 people in North Dakota tested positive in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. The number of fatalities remained unchanged at 1,457, which is the 11th highest per capita in the country at about 196 deaths per 100,000 people, researchers said. Three counties have reported more than 100 deaths, with 196 in Cass, 190 in Ward and 187 in Burleigh. Hospitalizations remained unchanged at 16, with three of those patients being treated in intensive care units.
Cincinnati: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center will be one of four sites in the country that will hold clinical trials for a vaccine booster against the coronavirus variant that originated in South Africa, officials confirmed. ClinicalTrials.gov, a registry of clinical trials run by the United States National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, announced the sites in an overview it published about the Moderna-developed vaccine study for the variant known as B.1.351. That strain and others can spread more easily, dodge some treatments and immunities or both, leaving them a threat even as more Americans get vaccinated. Cincinnati Children’s Gamble Vaccine Research Center has been a key site for COVID-19 vaccine trials throughout the pandemic. Researchers at the center have headed trials of the Pfizer-developed COVID-19 vaccine for both adults and children. They’ve also led a trial for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Anyone interested in volunteering for the Cincinnati Children’s trial can go to the Gamble Vaccine Research Center online to sign up.
Oklahoma City: The state Department of Corrections is now providing COVID-19 vaccinations to its most at-risk inmates. The first shipment of doses arrived last week, and vaccinations began for inmates in infirmaries, others susceptible to the coronavirus, and inmates 65 and older, the department said in a statement. Ofe about 21,600 inmates in state custody, a reported 7,301 have tested positive for the virus, according to the department’s website. The department has recorded 49 deaths possibly due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Also late Thursday, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel announced that the district will return to in-person classes for four days per week starting April 6. Monday of each week will remain a remote learning day. Students who previously opted to remain in remote learning will continue to do so for the remainder of the school year.
Portland: Portland Public Schools and the teachers union have reached a tentative agreement on in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. KOIN reports that under the agreement, which must be approved by Portland Association of Teachers members and the city’s Board of Education, hybrid in-person instruction could begin as early as April 1. The agreement follows months of bargaining discussions between the teachers union and the school district. The plan is for the youngest students – preschool through first grade – to begin April 1. Students in second through fifth grade would begin in-person instruction April 5, while students in sixth through 12th grades will start the week of April 19. The Portland district is Oregon’s largest, with about 49,000 students. In an effort to get students back into classroom faster, Gov. Kate Brown prioritized teachers for COVID-19 vaccines.
Harrisburg: Gov. Tom Wolf will expand more business and event capacity limits and lift a raft of long-standing coronavirus restrictions on bar service starting on Easter Sunday, giving some relief to one of the hardest-hit business sectors, his administration said Monday. It’s the second lifting of limits by Wolf this month as spring sports seasons start up, virus-related hospitalizations continue to decline, and the number of people getting vaccinated rises each day. “It’s time to allow our restaurants, bars and other service businesses to get back to more normal operations,” Wolf said in a statement. The relief is still three weeks away, meaning bars and restaurants will still have to live with the current limits during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and the NCAA Tournament’s March Madness craze. Bar and hotel trade associations have been pushing for relaxed limits and pointing to other states making similar moves. For restaurants, the relaxed restrictions means they can capitalize more fully on Easter business, raising indoor capacity limits to 75% from 50%, but must follow the state’s social distancing and masking requirements. Also going away are a ban on seating at the bar and serving alcohol after 11 p.m., as well as a requirement that patrons order food with their alcoholic drinks.
Providence: The state’s vaccination sign-up portal has been slammed, with another batch of appointments scheduled to be released Tuesday. Registration opened Friday night for people at least 60 years old and adults with underlying medical conditions. The 1,570 available appointments were quickly snatched up, as were a few more slots that became available Saturday. Meanwhile, vaccinations for newly eligible teachers and school staff ramped up smoothly. Another batch of appointments will be released at 9 a.m. Tuesday and again Friday.
Orangeburg: A hospital that serves a rural area said it lost more than $8 million last fiscal year in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg said the loss from July 2019 to June 2020 should be covered by COVID-19 aid expected to be doled out over the next several years, The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg reports. The pandemic hurt the hospital system’s finances through fewer visits to clinics and specialists as patients worried about getting the virus and as a result of extra costs in protecting people and workers from being infected and paying contract workers, officials said. “The COVID pandemic has been a challenge for all of America’s hospitals, and the RMC is no exception,” interim CEO and President Kirk Wilson said. “Thankfully, hospitals like the RMC were provided important relief to offset the impact of COVID-19 through the CARES Act of 2020.” The hospital system’s revenues were about $217 million, and its expenses were just under $240 million. The nonprofit hospital system has practices in Orangeburg, Calhoun and Bamberg counties and is jointly owned by Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.
Rapid City: State Department of Health officials have dropped the rate of community spread of the coronavirus from substantial to moderate in Pennington County, which includes the Rapid City area. The county’s spread had been classified as substantial, the highest level, since May 2020. There have been a total of 13,022 positive tests in the county, including two in Monday’s daily report. Statewide, health officials reported 26 new COVID-19 cases, for a total of 114,540 positive tests since the start of the pandemic. The number of deaths remained unchanged at 1,912. Hospitalizations stayed the same for the second straight day at 64. Thirteen of those patients are being treated in intensive care units, and six are on ventilators. The update showed that the state has administered 307,059 doses of vaccine, with 34% of residents receiving at least one shot. The COVID Tracking Project reports there were about 249 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in South Dakota over the past two weeks, ranking it 17th in the country for new cases per capita. One in every 853 people in the state tested positive in the past week.
Nashville: State revenues continued to exceed projections and grew year-over-year again last month, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Finance and Administration says February revenues totaled $1.1 billion, which is $112.7 million more than the state received in February 2020 and $190.9 million more than the budgeted estimate. The growth rate for February checked in at 11.1%. Finance Commissioner Butch Eley said sales and corporate tax revenues delivered extraordinary growth for the month. The sales tax revenue growth that represents January consumer activity occurred in almost all segments of the state economy except for restaurants and bars. On an accrual basis, February is the seventh month in the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Eley said the state has to monitor April and June returns closely because they are big corporate tax filing months and can be volatile. He also noted that federal COVID-19 aid continues to flow into the state.
Galveston: An arrest warrant was issued for a woman who refused to wear a mask at a bank, saying to a police officer: “What are you going to do, arrest me?” Police issued a warrant for the arrest of Terry Wright, 65, of Grants Pass, Oregon, on charges of resisting arrest and criminal trespassing. The incident Thursday at a Bank of America in Galveston was captured by the officer’s body camera, The Galveston County Daily News reports. Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday ended statewide orders requiring people to wear masks in public places, saying businesses should decide for themselves. Police said a bank manager called police after Wright refused to wear a mask or leave the building when asked. The officer’s body camera shows Wright standing in the middle of lobby, surrounded by other customers, all masked. Wright told the officer the law said she didn’t have to wear a mask. As the officer took out handcuffs, she pulled away and began to walk toward the door. The officer stopped her and forced her to the ground, and she complained her foot was injured. “Police brutality right here, people,” she said to other customers. Replies of “no” and “no, it’s not” could be heard. Wright told The Washington Post she was “attacked” and compared mask requirements to the way Nazi Germany forced Jewish people to identify themselves with a Star of David. She also referenced a false conspiracy theory claiming the coronavirus is a “plandemic.”
Salt Lake City: The state reported 3,529 new cases of coronavirus in the week ending Sunday, from 3,615 the week before. Utah ranked 20th among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Within Utah, the worst weekly outbreaks on a per-person basis were in Summit, Tooele and Davis counties. Adding the most new cases overall were Salt Lake County, with 1,221 cases; Utah County, with 694 cases; and Davis County, with 392. Weekly case counts rose in three counties from the previous week. The worst increases from the prior week’s pace were in Tooele, Davis and Summit counties. Utah ranked 45th among states in share of people receiving at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 19.1% of its residents at least partially vaccinated. The national rate is 21%, a USA TODAY analysis of CDC data shows. In the week ending Sunday, Utah reported administering another 174,328 doses, compared to 144,662 the week before that. In all, Utah reported it has administered 1,007,495 doses. Meanwhile, 51 people were reported dead of COVID-19 in the week ending Sunday. In the week before that, 41 deaths were reported.
Newport: A judge on Friday upheld the state’s mask mandate after it was challenged by the owner of a local store who refused to comply. In the Friday ruling, Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout found that Derby Port Press and its owner, Andre Desautels, violated state rules designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus by not wearing a mask in the presence of others. The store offers printing services and, until recently, was also a pickup spot for packages. Last month, United Parcel Service Inc. severed its relationship with Desautels’ store, saying it refused to comply with the company’s uniform policy, which includes wearing masks. Desautels had argued the mask mandate was unconstitutional. At a hearing earlier in the week, Desautels’ attorney, Deborah Bucknam, described the governor’s orders under his emergency management authority as “fairly draconian.” “I think her decision is wrong,” Bucknam said Friday of Teachout’s ruling. “We are discussing an appeal.”
Richmond: Gov. Ralph Northam got a shot of COVID-19 vaccine Monday, joining the growing number of Virginians who are being inoculated against the potentially deadly disease. Northam shed a sport jacket and dress shirt before a member of the Virginia National Guard plunged a needle into his left shoulder. Northam, who is also a doctor, gave a thumbs-up and got a round of applause at the governor’s mansion. “I really encourage all Virginians to register through our central registration site and really stay by your phone or your computer so that we can communicate with you because we’ve got over 400,000 doses in Virginia,” he said. The state is not lifting many of its coronavirus-related restrictions, such as its mask-wearing requirement, despite more vaccinations and a decline in new cases. “We still have several months where we have to remain vigilant,” Northam said. “I want everybody to continue to wear their masks, social distance, keep your hands clean. And finally we can get this pandemic in the rearview mirror.” Northam and his wife, Pam, who also was inoculated Monday, tested positive for the virus in September. Officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said people should get vaccinated regardless of previous infection, though a delay after recovery is typically recommended.
Seattle: The city’s new COVID-19 vaccination site aims to administer as many as 22,000 shots per day if supply allows, but it’s starting more modestly. King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Swedish Health Services CEO Guy Hudson welcomed the first patients as the site opened Saturday at the Lumen Field Event Center. Durkan said the site will initially vaccinate about 5,000 people per week but could eventually handle 150,000 per week, or about 22,000 per day, if enough vaccine is available. That would make it one of the country’s largest mass vaccination sites. The site was being staffed by an army of volunteers, including doctors, nurses and dentists. Live remote translation was available for more than 20 languages via portable video monitors. The vaccines are available by appointment only to King County residents who are eligible under state guidelines, including those over 65 and teachers, child care workers and first responders. The Washington Department of Health announced Saturday that the four state-led mass-vaccination sites – in Spokane, Ridgefield, Wenatchee and Kennewick – have now administered more than 110,000 doses. More than 2.2 million of Washington’s roughly 7.7 million residents have been vaccinated, according to state data.
Charleston: Residents 16 and older with underlying medical conditions are now eligible for vaccines, along with all essential workers of any age, Gov. Jim Justice announced Monday. The list of eligible conditions includes asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, intellectual disabilities, autoimmune disorders and more. Pregnant residents are also eligible, as are the caretakers of people with certain diseases. All residents 50 and over had already been eligible. Last week, Justice said the state “will absolutely step up” to meet President Joe Biden’s goal that all Americans be eligible for vaccinations by May 1. He and other governors, though, stressed the need for supply to increase. The state administered first shots to a record of more than 51,000 people last week, according to a review of state data. Nearly 22% of residents are partially vaccinated, while 13.7% are fully inoculated against the disease that has killed 2,531 people in West Virginia. Hospitalizations continued their decline to 151 patients from a peak of 818 in early January. As of Friday, only two long-term care centers had outbreaks among residents. Justice has urged mask-wearing, and a statewide mandate remains in effect, even as capacity limits on businesses have been lifted.
Madison: Republican state lawmakers introduced a bill Monday that would require prisoners to spend their pandemic relief dollars on restitution. President Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion aid package last week that includes $1,400 checks for Americans at qualifying income levels. Democrats rejected a Republican amendment to the package that would have prohibited prisoners from receiving checks. Under Wisconsin state Sen. Julian Bradley and Rep. Joe Sanfelippo’s bill, any federal COVID-19 recovery money sent to someone incarcerated in the state would have to go toward any restitution the prisoner owes. Bradley called the bill “a common sense proposal” in an email to the Associated Press and said that “President Biden’s irresponsible stimulus package sends stimulus checks to imprisoned murderers, rapists, and child molesters.” No one from Sanfelippo’s office responded to a message. A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers had no immediate comment. A federal judge in September ruled that incarcerated people were eligible to receive stimulus checks from the federal CARES Act.
Cheyenne: Significantly updated statewide public health orders go into effect Tuesday and are now available online, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Gov. Mark Gordon announced the major changes last week. While the statewide order for mask use is ending, WDH recommends the continued use of face masks in indoor public places and when common-sense physical distancing cannot be maintained among people who don’t live in the same household. “With fewer cases, hospitalizations and deaths at this point, our overall situation related to the pandemic is encouraging,” said Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH. “But COVID-19 has not yet gone away, so we need to act with caution and personal responsibility for a while longer to ensure progress in the right direction while our vaccination efforts continue.” Restrictions related to restaurants, bars, gymnasiums and theaters are being lifted, and indoor school event requirements are being updated. In addition, limitations on personal gatherings and restrictions on outdoor events are being removed. Indoor events of more than 500 people may be held at 50% of venue capacity with mask protocols for large indoor events. The 50-person limit in organized sporting events and artistic performances will be eliminated.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports