Auburn: The top academic officer at Auburn University is facing a no-confidence vote this week by faculty members over lingering dissatisfaction with his handling of class scheduling around the coronavirus pandemic. The Opelika-Auburn News reports the University Senate is scheduled to meet Tuesday to address complaints against Provost Bill Hardgrave, who is being defended by President Jay Gouge. More than 500 faculty members met in a virtual gathering in November to discuss their concerns about Hardgrave and his insistence on returning to primarily in-person classes in the spring. Economics professor Mike Stern said Wednesday that his concerns still haven’t been adequately addressed. Hardgrave and other officials need to better assess teaching spaces and how to follow health guidelines about social distancing, he said. “I volunteered to teach face-to-face in the fall and spring (of the 2020-21 school year) and they promised it would be safe,” Stern said. “Then, they did the opposite.”
Anchorage: The usual transportation difficulties in rural Alaska have presented unique obstacles for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, officials said. Dozens of remote villages lack hospitals and road connections, while ultracold freezers required for storage of specific varieties of the vaccine are essentially nonexistent, Alaska Public Media reports. Tribal health care providers responded by mobilizing a massive effort delivering thousands of doses to remote areas. Providers airlifted vaccine to villages using a fleet of chartered planes, while the medicine also was delivered over choppy seas on a water taxi. Some clinicians were shuttled around villages on sleds pulled behind snowmachines. Dr. Ellen Hodges encountered the unforeseen difficulty of Alaska being too cold in some places to vaccinate front-line health care workers. “It became immediately apparent that the vaccine was going to freeze in the metal part of the needle,” said Hodges, who contended with subzero temperatures on a remote Southwest Alaska airport tarmac. Hodges ultimately kept doses tucked in her shirt until they were injected.
Phoenix: No individuals in the Phoenix metropolitan area’s 12 largest cities have been cited for violating mask mandates. The laws, which have been in place for six months to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, have not been cited at all by Tucson and Flagstaff law enforcement. The Phoenix area police and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office have cited or referred fewer than 75 businesses out of more than 3,500 total complaints. The city of Scottsdale has cited the most businesses, followed by Tempe and Phoenix. Avondale, Buckeye, Glendale, Goodyear, Peoria and Surprise have also not cited any person or business for violating mandates. The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health has received more than 400 complaints related to workplace safety as a result of potential violations of state orders, but the agency has not cited any employers to date as of Monday. Meanwhile, the state has among the highest rates of coronavirus cases in the country, and some Phoenix metro hospitals have begun to refuse emergency transports.
Little Rock: The number of active coronavirus cases in the state remained above 27,000 on Sunday after hitting a record the day earlier. A state health official has said the record-high number of active cases is likely to signal that hospitalizations will increase in coming days. The Arkansas Health Department’s count of active cases was at 27,492 on Sunday, a decline by 330 from a record high of 27,822 on Saturday. Arkansas reported 3,330 new confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus Sunday, though Gov. Asa Hutchinson said more than 2,000 of those cases were from late reporting months ago. “Regardless, they reflect how this virus impacts all of us,” Hutchinson wrote on Twitter. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University say there were 1,253.5 new cases per 100,000 people in Arkansas over the past two weeks, which ranks sixth in the country for new cases per capita. One in every 148 people in Arkansas tested positive in the past week. The state’s hospitalizations Sunday were at 1,340. The state reported 33 more deaths, bringing the death toll to 4,043.
Los Angeles: The state’s coronavirus catastrophe reached a staggering new level Monday as Johns Hopkins University data showed California has recorded more than 30,000 deaths since the pandemic started. Deaths have exploded since a COVID-19 surge began in October. It took the state six months to record its first 10,000 deaths. But in barely a month, the total rose from 20,000 to 30,000. Over the weekend, state officials reported a two-day record of 1,163 deaths. Hospitalizations also have exploded, and many hospitals are stretched to the limit. Over the weekend, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the virus’s “immense” spread reflected unsafe things people did during the holidays, making any activity outside a household much more risky. “This is just not the time to go to the shopping mall or to a friend’s house to watch a basketball or football game,” Ferrer said. Meanwhile, the county announced it will stop using Curative COVID-19 tests at pop-up testing sites after a U.S. Food and Drug Administration alert that the test could produce false negatives. And the city announced Sunday that its huge COVID-19 testing site at Dodger Stadium will be transformed into a vaccination center by the week’s end.
Colorado Springs: Despite some closures due to the pandemic and price increases, state parks recorded a nearly 23% increase in visitors in 2020, with some data from November and December still yet to be logged. The 18.3 million visitors Colorado state parks have reported were up from the 14.8 million total in 2019, The Gazette reports. The record figure is about 53% higher than the agency’s 2013-14 fiscal year, when 11.9 million visitors were counted at the 41 state parks. At Castlewood Canyon, there were a total of 263,744 visitors through November, up more than 56% from a then-record 2017. Lake Pueblo recorded the most visitors with a record 2.7 million people registered from January through October. The state’s other most popular parks were Chatfield, which logged 2.1 million visitors through October, and Cherry Creek State Park, which is expected to log more than 2 million visitors for the first time in its history.
Hartford: Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz is under quarantine after a member of her staff tested positive for the coronavirus. Contact tracing is underway, and all members of Bysiewicz’s staff who had been in close contact with the unidentified staffer will also quarantine, said her chief of staff, Adam Joseph. Bysiewicz tested negative Thursday and will work remotely while self-isolating, Joseph said. This is the first known case of coronavirus within her office. The staffer who tested positive has not exhibited any symptoms and is at home in isolation.
Georgetown: A county library employee who went above and beyond the call of duty during the COVID-19 pandemic has landed a prestigious honor from Sussex County government. Kristin Cooper, assistant director at South Coastal Library in Bethany Beach, is the county’s 2020 Employee of the Year, as selected by the Shining Star Employee Recognition Committee. Cooper was selected from a pool of seven candidates, all quarterly winners or notable honorable mentions, from the past year. She was an honorable mention in the fourth quarter of 2020. The annual honor was announced by Karen Brewington, Sussex County’s human resource director, during last week’s Sussex County Council meeting. Brewington said Cooper was unanimously chosen by the committee because “she went above and beyond to keep the community engaged, strengthened and hopeful during such unprecedented times of COVID.” Cooper was lauded for, among other things, her efforts to keep library patrons connected through virtual resources and programs. As the 2020 honoree, she receives a one-week vacation bonus.
District of Columbia
Washington: D.C. Public Schools is gearing up to return some students to the classroom next month, and teachers have already received their assignments via email, WUSA-TV reports. When the term starts Feb. 1, teachers will either remain virtual or be assigned to in-person learning, according to the emails. Educators who cannot or will not return to the classroom can apply for leave either through the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Family and Medical Leave Act, DCPS said in a statement. Parents are expected to find out this week if their child meets the high-need criteria for an in-person seat, according to DCPS. Vaccinations for DCPS staff are expected to begin this month. A December survey from the school district showed parents almost evenly split over whether they want to send their children back to school for in-person learning in the new year.
Fort Lauderdale: The state’s coronavirus cases remain at record highs, with more than 11,000 new cases reported Monday, along with 163 deaths. The Florida Department of Health reported 11,576 new cases and said the seven-day average for the state is about 15,000 per day. That is about 40% higher that the previous peak of 11,000 reached in July. There were 7,650 people hospitalized in Florida with COVID-19 on Monday morning, a jump of about 150 from Sunday. The state has reported approximately 140 coronavirus deaths per day over the past week – the weekly average peaked at 183 per day in August but had fallen to 40 in November before the latest rise began. Increases in the death rate usually follow jumps in cases by about a month. For comparison, heart disease and cancer, the state’s two largest causes of death by far, each kill an average of about 125 Floridians per day. The jumps in cases and deaths come as the state tries to roll out its vaccination program. Gov. Ron DeSantis has emphasized immunizing those 65 and older, front-line medical workers and nursing home patients.
Atlanta: The state’s plan to expand access to a COVID-19 vaccine to people over 65 got off to a rocky start Monday, with the websites of at least two public health districts crashing and other districts reporting overwhelming demand for appointments. The state was already struggling with its vaccine rollout before the latest woes. The Coastal Health District, which includes Savannah, stopped scheduling appointments after an “overwhelming response from residents ages 65 and older interested in COVID-19 vaccination,” the district said in a news release. The district – one of 18 in the state – said health officials in the eight counties it covers have enough requests to schedule appointments through February and, in some cases, into March. “We know people are frustrated because the process is moving more slowly than they would like, and if we could vaccinate everyone today, we’d do that,” Lawton Davis, the district’s health director, said in a statement. “But your health departments are stretched thin and doing what they can to move forward.”
Honolulu: The state’s doctor shortage has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, and experts say the chances of a rebound hinge on Hawaii’s ability to help doctors stay in business. More than 400 doctors say COVID-19 has forced them to close their practices, reduce hours or switch to telehealth services, Hawaii Public Radio reports. That brings the state’s overall doctor shortage to more than 1,000, according to the latest Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment released by the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. “So what it means is that if you need a doctor urgently, you might die because you might not be able to access that,” said Dr. Kelley Withy, director of the Hawaii and Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center at the Honolulu medical school. “And if you need a specialist chronically to help you manage your condition, you may have to travel to get to that specialist, and it may be by air travel, which of course is especially difficult right now.” The shortage is greater in the communities beyond Oahu, said Dr. Elizabeth Ann Ignacio, an intervention radiologist on Maui. Hawaii has more than 10,000 licensed doctors, but only about 3,200 are active, Ignacio said.
Boise: Gov. Brad Little on Monday described 2020 like a damaging and deadly tornado but said Idaho is strong heading into the new year with strong finances and a COVID-19 vaccine now available. The Republican governor’s state of the state speech is considered the kickoff to the legislative session and is usually heavy on budget matters. He usually gives the speech to a joint session in the House of Representatives attended by all 35 senators and 70 representatives, as well as members of the Idaho Supreme Court and other statewide elected office holders. But his speech Monday was delivered remotely to avoid spreading the virus. He spent much of it talking about the coronavirus that has killed more than 1,500 residents, and he asked for a moment of silence for those who died. He also championed front-line health care workers and the challenges they’ve faced.
Chicago: Chicago Public Schools students began their return to the classroom Monday as school doors opened to thousands of pre-kindergarten and some special education students. The nation’s third-largest district, with about 355,000 students, plans a gradual return to in-person instruction after going remote last March due to the coronavirus pandemic. “It is our city’s first day of embarking on our path to returning to in-person learning,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a Southwest Side elementary school, where students wore face coverings, and desks had sneeze guard barriers. Nearly 40% of eligible students, about 77,000, expressed interest in returning, with about 6,000 students in pre-kindergarten and special education expected Monday. The Chicago Teachers Union has opposed reopening over safety concerns. Union officials claim the district hasn’t done enough to protect teachers from COVID-19, proposing to continue distance learning until teachers are vaccinated. District officials argue distance learning doesn’t work well for all, particularly many Black and Latino students who make up the majority of the district. The district’s safety plan includes purchasing classroom air purifiers and a testing program.
Indianapolis: The state has identified a case of a new coronavirus strain, first seen in the United Kingdom, that spreads more easily. The new variant, which is not thought to carry a higher risk of severe disease or death, is behind England’s latest lockdown. Like other states, Indiana has been monitoring testing samples to determine whether this variant is circulating. Indiana Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratories confirmed the presence of the strain in the state, health officials said Monday. “It’s common for viruses to mutate, and we are seeing that occur with COVID-19,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said in a statement. “Because this strain of the virus can be transmitted more easily, it’s more important than ever that Hoosiers continue to wear their masks, practice social distancing, maintain good hygiene and get vaccinated when they are eligible.”
Iowa City: New clinical trials began last week at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for a COVID-19 vaccine that officials there hope will be even more viable for global distribution. “To really get (COVID-19) under control, we need the world vaccinated,” said Dr. Patricia Winokur, executive dean at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine and principal investigator for the UI site of the clinical drug trial. UIHC began enrolling participants in the Novavax trial last Monday, and Winokur said it’s still accepting more. Winokur estimated 30,000 individuals would be enrolled at sites across the country, all told. So far, roughly a sixth of those spots have already been filled. While the Novavax vaccine – like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s – will require two doses, Winokur said she expects it could be easier to distribute around the world because of the temperature at which the vaccine is stored. While early data suggests Novavax can be stored at “refrigerator temperature,” the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at close to -100 degrees Fahrenheit to remain effective, and Moderna’s must be kept at -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
Topeka: Kansas State and Washburn universities will begin the spring semester online as the coronavirus pandemic rages. The plan is for the first two weeks to be virtual at Kansas State, but it isn’t clear when in-person learning will resume at Washburn. Dr. JuliAnn Mazachek, vice president of academic affairs at Washburn, said in a statement that the decision about classes will be reviewed weekly and that “the university will return to face-to-face classes as soon as possible.” Kansas State said in a statement that the goal was to mitigate continued spread of COVID-19. “As we anticipate a surge in positive cases as people return to our campuses, this action will help us keep safety protocols in place,” said Richard Myers, Kansas State’s president.
Frankfort: The state House of Representatives will form a committee to consider a petition to impeach Gov. Andy Beshear over his COVID-19-related orders. Speaker of the House David Osborne, R-Prospect, said under law the House doesn’t have a choice but to take action after receiving the petition, which includes multiple allegations that the governor violated both the state and U.S. constitutions in a series of executive orders responding to the pandemic. Osborne said Saturday that he hadn’t read the petition yet and didn’t know if the accusations were serious, but “for someone to propose undoing an election of a state executive … it’s a very, very serious accusation.” Crystal Staley, a spokeswoman for Beshear, said the action is “silly and completely unjustified,” and “the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled every step the governor has taken is legal.” The petition referenced steps the governor took after declaring a state of emergency in March, including ordering nonessential businesses to close to in-person traffic, instituting a travel ban, ordering churches to close to in-person services and expanding voting procedures to allow mail-in voting during the 2020 elections.
Baton Rouge: Families are eligible for a 15% boost in their food stamp benefits through June, under a federal coronavirus aid package passed by Congress. The state said any increases due to people receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program started being transferred to benefit cards Friday. The latest federal coronavirus legislation didn’t expand eligibility for food stamps. But The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports that state officials said several key provisions will increase SNAP’s reach. Shavana Howard, an assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, said the program will no longer count federal extended unemployment benefits as income, which previously put SNAP out of reach for 44,165 applicants between March and July and ousted 2,185 households receiving benefits. Howard said many students who also did not qualify for food stamps because a portion of their parents’ income was counted against them will qualify this time. Hunger has soared in Louisiana since the onset of the pandemic, and the problem worsened as the state was hit with storm after storm during a record 2020 hurricane season.
Portland: The Legislature will consider a proposal that would require insurance companies to cover COVID-19 tests and immunizations and waive any co-payments related to them. Senate President Troy Jackson and Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau, who are both Democrats, unveiled the “COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights” on Monday. The proposal will be the first bill of the new session of the Maine Legislature, Democratic leaders said. Lawmakers were sworn in last month. Jackson said the proposal is about making sure patients around the state maintain access to critical health care services during the pandemic. “The COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights brings us closer to the end of this crisis and the hold COVID-19 has had over our lives,” he said. The proposal also includes provisions that ease requirements for telehealth visits. And it’s designed to allow residents to get larger supplies of their prescriptions to reduce the number of visits to a pharmacy. The Maine Legislature Office of the Presiding Officers said the proposal “is about making sure nothing prevents Mainers from getting the health care they need to protect themselves, their families and loved ones from this serious virus.”
Annapolis: As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, lawmakers will gather for their annual legislative session this week to focus largely on helping the state recover from the pandemic and to take up policing reforms. Gov. Larry Hogan announced a $1 billion COVID-19 relief plan Monday that will require legislative approval. It includes tax relief and payments of up to $450 for individuals and $750 for families in need who have claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit. Hogan also is proposing ending local and state income taxes on unemployment benefits. The plan includes $300 million in tax relief to help Maryland restaurants and small businesses by allowing them to keep up to $12,000 of sales tax over the next four months. On Wednesday, senators will convene for the first day of the 90-day session behind transparent enclosures that have been built around their desks. In the House, a quorum of delegates will convene in the House chamber, while others will gather in a nearby office building and participate remotely. The Capitol will be closed to the public for the session, as delegates who are immune-compromised will sit socially distanced in the gallery where members of the public usually sit.
Worcester: Thousands of police officers, firefighters and other first responders in the state were scheduled to get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccines Monday. About 60 sites have been set up around the state to vaccinate an estimated 45,000 people over several weeks, state officials said. The city of Worcester has turned its senior center into a mass vaccination site for first responders from the city as well as the surrounding communities of Shrewsbury, Millbury, Leicester, Holden, Grafton and West Boylston. To make sure there are enough qualified people to administer the vaccines, students in UMass Medical School’s Graduate School of Nursing spent Saturday training more than 160 medical school students in intermuscular injection. “With COVID, we haven’t really been able to do that much recently, so having an opportunity like this is great for me to actually learn a skill,” medical student Charles Feinberg said. “It’s also fun to be a part of ending this pandemic that has ravaged our country.” The state so far has limited vaccinations to medical professionals and nursing home residents.
Detroit: The state is ready to buy 100,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses directly from the manufacturer, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday, in a move she says would help the state ramp up its vaccination efforts. It comes as county health departments and hospital systems say the unpredictable and inadequate supply of vaccines has kept them from getting shots into arms. The request coincides with the state drastically expanding eligibility for the vaccine against the disease caused by the coronavirus. Although all Michiganders 65 and older – along with teachers, police officers and many more first responders – are eligible to receive the vaccine, a litany of challenges at every level of government means it will likely be some time before people seeking an appointment are actually injected. Whitmer sent a letter to Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking for permission to buy the doses from Pfizer. Currently, federal health officials coordinate the delivery of doses to every state in the country.
Minneapolis: Bars and restaurants were permitted to resume indoor service with capacity limits Monday as COVID-19 cases and deaths across the state continue to fall. The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported 980 new infections and four deaths, marking the second time since October that single-day cases dipped below 1,000 and the first time since early November that the state reported single-digit deaths. The state’s totals now sit at 437,552 cases and 5,711 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Deaths and hospitalizations continue to decline, with the seven-day average of daily deaths dropping from 42.43 on Dec. 27 to 39.57 deaths per day Sunday, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 numbered about 686 as of Sunday, including 141 in intensive care. Restrictions on bars and restaurants imposed by Gov. Tim Walz in the fall had generated sharp pushback, with some bars and restaurants defiantly reopening in recent weeks, risking fines and losses of their liquor licenses. The state has gone to court against several violators.
Pascagoula: The mayor says he won’t seek reelection this year, citing demands the coronavirus pandemic has placed on his day job as a physician. Dr. Steve Demetropoulos made the announcement on his Facebook page, WLOX-TV reports. “Thank you for all of your support and words of encouragement while I have been in office,” Demetropoulos said in a posted video. “I will continue to work hard on your behalf until my term ends.” For decades, Demetropoulos has worked as a physician and emergency medical director at Singing River Health Services. He was elected mayor of Pascagoula last year in a special election to fill the unexpired term of Dane Maxwell, who left to take office a state public service commissioner.
Jefferson City: Gov. Mike Parson began a new term in office Monday with an inaugural ceremony marking the start of Missouri’s bicentennial celebration but without a traditional party because of coronavirus precautions. The Republican governor was sworn in at a midday event on the grounds of the recently refurbished Capitol, with church bells ringing and artillery guns firing a salute – just as they have for past governors. He swore on a Bible given to him by his wife, and a B2 bomber flew low over the Capitol after Parson took the oath. He said he would work to provide the tools needed for doctors and nurses, law enforcement officers, farmers and teachers and said his job is to make life better for every Missourian. “I will care for the unborn to the elderly, the rich to the poor, regardless of the color of your skin,” he said. State officials hope that by August enough people will have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to safely hold a more elaborate celebration. It would coincide with the 200th anniversary of Missouri’s official admittance to the United States on Aug. 10, 1821.
Missoula: New data released by the Montana Food Bank Network shows more than 40% of respondents to a survey needed food assistance for the first time in their lives since the coronavirus pandemic began. While in 2019 only 1 in every 10 Montana residents needed food assistance from a pantry in the Montana Food Bank Network, in 2020, that figure could jump at least 29%, the Missoulian reports. “The number of people receiving food assistance for the first time after the COVID crisis was pretty astounding,” said Lorriane Burhop, the chief policy officer of the Montana Food Bank Network. The survey conducted from June to July garnered 917 responses across 30 counties in the state. The report said 70% of adults lost income or were furloughed as a result of the economic fallout from the pandemic. Burhop said that reveals how many people were making ends meet, but “the loss of just one or two paychecks all of a sudden pushes those households into crisis, and they need to turn to a local food pantry for help.”
Lincoln: The state appears to have avoided a post-Christmas spike in coronavirus cases that many had feared, although it’s not entirely clear why, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday. It may be because people followed virus safety guidelines warning against attending holiday gatherings, Ricketts said during a news conference. “I think a lot of Nebraskans made modifications to their holiday get-togethers,” he said. “I’d also say there’s also a lot of we don’t know about this virus.” The Republican governor said the decision not to impose a statewide lockdown may also have played a role because it helped avoid pandemic fatigue that leads some people to break the recommendations. Other states, such as California, have reported large increases in cases in December. “We tried to strike a balance in Nebraska,” Ricketts said. Nebraska has imposed restrictions on crowd sizes and public spaces but has never imposed a stay-at-home order or a statewide mask mandate. The state saw a sharp increase in virus hospitalizations in mid-November, raising concerns about bed space and burnout among hospital workers. The numbers have since declined, although public health officials say it’s important for residents to continue following social distancing safety guidelines.
Reno: The state has surpassed 250,000 coronavirus cases as of Monday morning, according to recent data from the Nevada Health Response COVID dashboard. Nevada Health Response reported 1,866 new COVID-19 cases Monday. In December, the Department of Health and Human Services first reported more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases, a little over seven weeks after the diagnosis of its 100,000th case Oct. 30. There have also been a total of 3,500 COVID-19-related deaths as of Monday morning. The 14-day test positivity rate is at 21.1%, significantly higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% for economic reopening. Health officials are expecting to see the full impact of the New Year’s Eve related exposure and testing in the coming days, said Julia Peek, deputy administrator of Community Health Service, in a press conference Monday morning.
Concord: The state’s failure to provide home health care services to qualifying elderly and disabled people puts them at risk of ending up in nursing homes that have been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a lawsuit filed against health officials Monday. The lawsuit was filed by New Hampshire Legal Assistance, Disability Rights Center-New Hampshire, AARP Foundation and the Nixon Peabody law office on behalf of four people enrolled in a Medicaid waiver program, called “Choices for Independence,” meant to help participants stay in their homes. “When CFI participants are deprived of the community-based long-term care that the state concedes they need and are entitled to, they face grave health risks,” AARP Foundation Senior Attorney M. Geron Gadd said in a statement. “Failure to properly administer the CFI Waiver not only deprives participants of their right to live as they choose, but also greatly increases their chances of exposure to COVID-19 in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.” Pamela Phelan, litigation director for the disability rights group, said the plaintiffs are “one crisis away” from unnecessary institutionalization.
Trenton: The state opened its second mass testing site for administering the COVID-19 vaccine Monday. Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney, both Democrats, toured the facility at Rowan College in Gloucester County. A similar site opened Friday at a mall in Rockaway, Morris County. The sites, which are designed to vaccinate more than 2,000 people a day, are open now just for health care workers, police and fire officials. More than 100,000 doses of the vaccine of the roughly 400,000 the state has received have been set aside for long-term care staff and residents. Murphy also said Monday that more than 200,000 people have been vaccinated in the state so far, double the number from a week ago. There are also 200 sites at pharmacies, hospitals and urgent cares across the state that are dispensing the vaccine as well, but Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said the state has greater demand than supply of the shot. “We’re asking for your patience as we await a larger supply,” she said. More than 1 million people have signed up for the vaccine on the state’s preregistration site, she said.
Santa Fe: The New Mexico Public Education Department is working with school districts and internet providers to expand broadband access in rural areas struggling with remote learning, according to lawyers for the state. In a response filed in court last week, the lawyers also said school funding hasn’t been cut since the pandemic started. The filing comes after plaintiffs in a landmark education lawsuit argued that the state’s attempts to provide internet access and learning devices were “woefully insufficient.” In a motion filed in December, the plaintiffs asked state District Judge Matthew Wilson to order the state to connect more children to online learning by immediately identifying students who lack laptops or tablets and providing internet vouchers for at-risk households. With in-person learning currently off limits, the inability to access remote classes has been a challenge for many rural and low-income students, particularly Native American children living on tribal lands. Court documents show the Public Education Department distributed about 6,200 laptops and 700 residential hot spots, all of which went to tribal communities.
New York: New Yorkers are rushing to sign up for late-night COVID-19 vaccination slots as the city ramps up efforts to get people inoculated against the coronavirus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday. Midnight-to-4 a.m. appointments at the two 24-hour vaccination sites the city has set up so far were quickly snapped up, de Blasio said at his daily coronavirus briefing. “So you can see New Yorkers are going to take advantage of this,” the mayor said. “The city that never sleeps, people are immediately grabbing those opportunities to get vaccinated.” More sites are being set up around the city, with the goal of administering 1 million doses this month, he said. De Blasio said the city is speeding up vaccinations, with more than 160 sites now open. He said nearly 101,800 shots were administered last week – about as many as the total from mid-December, when the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved for emergency use, through early January. State officials also announced new vaccination sites Monday, including one at the the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the Manhattan facility that was used as a field hospital last spring, and one at Jones Beach on Long Island.
Asheville: Reports of sexual assaults against children in Asheville and Buncombe County rose sharply in 2020, and some experts attribute the increase to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a new state mandatory reporting law. The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office had 35 sexual assault reports involving minors in 2019, which jumped to 65 reports through mid-December of 2020, an 86% increase, said spokesman Aaron Sarver. The Asheville Police Department reported a 55% increase, with 29 cases of sexual assaults on a juvenile in 2019 and 45 through mid-December, said spokeswoman Christina Hallingse. “The new law is resulting in more reports, and we are thankful to have it in place,” Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Bryon Crisp said. But some experts fear the law has gone largely unnoticed, since it started gaining momentum just as COVID-19 hit and was mostly focused on the removal of the consent aspect of sexual assault. “School personnel are our No. 1 reporters, and if not for COVID and school being out for parts of this year, the numbers would likely have been higher,” Crisp said.
Bismarck: The state’s COVID-19 update released Monday showed no deaths for a third straight day – a mark that hasn’t been seen in nearly six months, although health officials noted that virus reports are typically sporadic over the weekend. The two previous days of no fatalities did not change the state’s death toll ranking of sixth-highest per capita in the country at about about 178 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the COVID Tracking Project. A total of 1,352 North Dakotans have died from complications due to the coronavirus. Health officials have confirmed 16 deaths this month, after 272 on December and 494 in November. “I’m cautiously optimistic,” state Health Department spokeswoman Nicole Peske said. “Typically we do have a lag in reporting from over the weekend, so we’ll see what tomorrow brings.” The state reported 121 new positive cases since Sunday, for a total of 94,830 cases since the start of the pandemic. The tracking project ranks that 48th in the country for new cases per capita. One in every 454 people in North Dakota tested positive in the past week.
Columbus: Another 7,892 coronavirus cases were confirmed Monday – more than the three-week average of 7,410 new cases reported per day, according to the Ohio Department of Health. An additional 75 COVID-19 deaths were reported. So far, the virus has killed 9,702 Ohioans, state data shows. The pandemic has hit older Ohioans particularly hard, with 93% of deaths occurring in people age 60 and older, according to the state. The seven-day average positive test rate remained at 14% Saturday, the most recent day for which data is available. As the vaccine rollout continues, 304,976 Ohioans have received at least their first of two doses, marking an increase of 8,367 over the previous 24 hours. About 2.6% of Ohio’s 11.7 million residents have been vaccinated so far, according to the state. By Monday, 219 more Ohioans were hospitalized with COVID-19, less than the three-week average. There were 4,236 Ohioans hospitalized with the virus Monday, including 1,033 in intensive care units and 632 on ventilators, according to the health department.
Oklahoma City: Revenue collections for the calendar year 2020 declined by 3.8% as the pandemic swept the state, Treasurer Randy McDaniel said Friday. Oklahoma collected nearly $13.2 billion in taxes and fees for the year, $520.9 million less than the previous year. “The state’s economy declined in 2020,” McDaniel said in a statement. “Hopefully, we will see improvement in the months ahead as the (COVID-19) vaccine becomes widely available.” December collections of $1.16 billion were 0.4% below December 2019, an improvement from the 2% decline in year-to-year numbers reported in November, the treasurer reported. Tax collections on hard-hit oil and gas production for the year fell the most, down $396.3 million, or 38.6%, to a total of $630.1 million.
Portland: Two men are accused of converting for personal use more than $2.2 million in loans meant to help small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. Andrew Aaron Lloyd, 50, of Lebanon, and Russell A. Schort, 38, of Myrtle Creek, are charged with wire fraud, bank fraud and money laundering in federal court in Eugene, The Oregonian/OregonLive reports. The FBI investigated after receiving information that the men fraudulently obtained Paycheck Protection Program loans. Between April 7 and May 8, financial records showed both applied for and received at least three loan payments using three different entities, according to a criminal complaint filed in court. Lloyd is accused of transferring at least $1.8 million from the loans to a personal online brokerage account and buying securities, the complaint says. His investments increased in value over several months and became worth over $10 million at the time of their seizure, according to prosecutors.
Harrisburg: The state will soon begin vaccinating people 75 years and older and “essential workers” like police officers, grocery store clerks and teachers, the state health secretary said Monday. Pennsylvania remains focused on giving the COVID-19 vaccine to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities – a group that numbers about 1 million – but is making plans to move to the next stage of its vaccination plan, Dr. Rachel Levine said at a media briefing. She was not more specific about the timing but said that second group, dubbed 1B, will be eligible to receive the vaccine before everyone in the first group has been inoculated. Phase 1B of the state’s coronavirus vaccination plan includes people 75 and older as well as front-line essential workers, a huge and diverse group that includes clergy, first responders, prison guards, school staff, and food, manufacturing, postal, public transportation and grocery store workers. Some providers are already vaccinating people in the second group when they don’t have someone in the first group readily available to receive it. Levine said that’s OK. “We don’t want any vaccine wasted,” she said.
Providence: The state is paying more than three-quarters of a million dollars to help Rhode Island College deal with a $10 million deficit brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. New York-based Alvarez & Marsal was hired by the state Council on Postsecondary Education on Dec. 14 and will earn $76,000 a week until its contract expires Feb. 28, The Boston Globe reports. “The need for this analysis stems from operational and financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated structural issues at the college,” according to the contract. The school announced last summer that the deficit would lead to executive pay cuts, layoffs and a hiring freeze. Council Chairman Tim DelGiudice defended the contract, saying the board is “concerned about the magnitude of the deficit at RIC,” and the consultant is getting paid fairly. Democratic State Rep. William O’Brien called the contract “absolutely ridiculous” and said the Legislature struggled to find an extra $600,000 for the school in the last budget. The money should have been spent on student scholarships, he said.
Columbia: The state will let people ages 70 and older schedule appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine starting Wednesday. Officials said Monday that they were confident the majority of people in the state’s earliest phase who wanted to be vaccinated – health care workers and those living and working in long-term care facilities – had already received their shots or scheduled appointments. “Because we’ve seen a dramatic acceleration in vaccine usage and appointments in the last week, we have decided to speed things up again,” Gov. Henry McMaster said in a statement. “We know that those 70 and older are at the greatest risk of dying from COVID-19. Making sure they have expedited access to the vaccine will help save lives.” Officials estimate about 627,800 South Carolinians are 70 or older, and many have already received the vaccine because they were eligible earlier. Those who meet the age requirement are now eligible regardless of health status or preexisting conditions. Across the state, more than two-thirds of COVID-19 deaths have been among people ages 70 and older.
Sioux Falls: The state is seeing coronavirus infections level off at a time many of its counterparts are experiencing their worst weekly death tolls yet. The South Dakota Department of Health announced 181 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and 5,102 active cases. No new deaths were reported, with the total number of South Dakotans killed by the disease remaining at 1,585. Hospitalizations statewide increased by five to 242, with data showing just more than 41% of hospital beds and just fewer than 43% of adult intensive care unit beds available. And as many states are stumbling to enact vaccination plans, South Dakota came out of the gate hard, following the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization for two mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna. At one point last week, more South Dakotans had received vaccinations as a percentage of the population than in any other state, according to tracking done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Monday, 45,667 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered to 38,360 people.
Nashville: Gov. Bill Lee is urging seniors who contract COVID-19 to ask their health care providers about certain drugs that could prevent them from getting so sick that they wind up in the hospital. Lee told reporters Friday that monoclonal antibodies are available and very effective, especially for people who are 65 or older and have underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus. He said many people do not ask their health care providers about the treatment option. He said the drugs are effective when someone becomes sick but has not deteriorated enough to be hospitalized. State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the therapeutics are 85% to 95% effective at preventing progression to severe disease. “We have not used our entire inventory, nowhere close to that,” Piercey said. “And so we really are trying to get the word out to seek treatment early once you test positive.”
Austin: The economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic has left a nearly $1 billion deficit in the state budget as the nation’s energy capital remains hampered by a slow recovery and a half-million fewer jobs than a year ago. The forecast Monday by state officials is far brighter than bleaker projections last summer, when Republican Comptroller Glenn Hegar estimated the shortfall could be four times as worse. Still, the deficit could result in cuts to state services as the GOP-controlled Legislature returns to work Tuesday. Lawmakers are coming back to the Capitol at a moment when spread of the virus has never been worse in Texas. More than 13,000 patients with COVID-19 are hospitalized, and the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in Texas is more than 23,000. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has kept some business restrictions in place but has ruled out more lockdowns. Hegar said the hospitality sector has been hardest-hit during the pandemic. He said a rebound in oil prices and production substantially improved the economic outlook in Texas from just a few months ago.
Salt Lake City: Gov. Spencer Cox presented his first budget proposal Monday, focusing on pandemic relief and further developing rural infrastructure. Cox, a Republican, stressed the importance of equity as he unveiled the proposed $21.7 billion budget from his administration’s new rural affairs office at Southern Utah University in Cedar City. The proposal would allocate at least $250 million toward fighting the coronavirus pandemic and $125 million on rural infrastructure, including expanding broadband access and electric vehicle charging stations. “It was critical that everyone in Utah felt like they were represented in this budget proposal, and certainly rural is a big piece of that,” Cox told reporters during a virtual briefing. The budget also includes a boost in education funding for higher education and K-12 schools, as well as spending for rural schools. Cox said he also supports putting $112 million toward providing $1,500 bonuses for all teachers in the state, a measure that has already been endorsed by state lawmakers. The governor’s proposal will be considered by the Legislature during its upcoming session, which starts next week.
Burlington: As officials work to gauge the impact of the recent holidays on the state’s COVID-19 trends, residents are once again prohibited from having gatherings among multiple households. Gov. Phil Scott had loosened restrictions to allow Vermonters to gather with one trusted household between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. “While we’re providing a narrow path to very small holiday gatherings, we’d rather you not do it at all,” Scott said at the time. “But we’ve improved our numbers in Vermont, all other prevention measures will remain in place, and we understand that mental health has to be considered alongside physical health.” Vermont saw some higher coronavirus case numbers last week. On Jan. 6-7, new cases exceeded 200 each day. During the rest of the week, they did not drop below 100 a day, according to Health Department data. Before last week, cases for most days stayed below 100. “The teams are not finding evidence that significant outbreaks have occurred related to the types of gatherings that were allowed for the holidays and far more evidence of isolated cases related to community prevalence,” Levine said.
Richmond: Lawmakers are set to start this year’s legislative session focused on COVID-19 relief efforts and legalizing marijuana. The 2021 session will kick off Wednesday, with legislators meeting away from the Capitol as the state continues to wrestle with the impacts of a global pandemic that’s shut down schools, closed businesses and left more than 5,000 Virginians dead in the past 10 months, including a state senator. The House of Delegates plans to meet remotely, while the Senate will meet at a large conference center near the Capitol. This will be the second regular legislative session controlled by Democrats since they won control of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation in 2019. Republicans, upset that the House is meeting remotely and that lawmakers held an extended special session last year, have signaled they will limit what’s normally a 45-day session to only 30 days. Democrats can extend the the number of legislative working days by having Gov. Ralph Northam call a special session. State Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg said a top priority will be ensuring that schools have “robust” funding, including money for extra counselors, to help teachers deal with the fallout from the coronavirus once students return to the classroom.
Renton: One person has died in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak at a hotel where more than 200 homeless are sheltered, according to King County officials. A post-mortem coronavirus test found that the person was positive, according to the King County Medical Examiner, the Seattle Times reports. There have only been four deaths of COVID-19 among people staying in shelters, according to a King County online dashboard. The Renton Red Lion experienced an outbreak of 35 cases last month among its homeless guests and housed staff, in the middle of a spike in cases at homeless shelters, housing facilities and day programs across the county. It’s the most seen since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic at any of the hotels the county is using to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 among homeless people. The Red Lion Hotel in Renton was opened by the county to keep them out of crowded bunk-bed or mats-on-the-ground shelters where officials feared COVID-19 could spread like wildfire.
Charleston: The state reported a new peak in confirmed coronavirus cases and a record 206 COVID-19-related deaths last week. Health workers also administered nearly 40,000 vaccine shots, doubling the pace of vaccinations. As the pandemic hits new deadly peaks, the state is now up to 92,070 vaccine doses administered. It closed the week leading the nation on number of doses per 100,000 residents. It next plans a big push to vaccinate teachers ahead of Gov. Jim Justice’s goal to restart in-person education at as many schools as possible Jan. 19. A record 7,888 positive cases were reported last week, up 4% from the previous week. West Virginia has set weekly virus records in eight of the past 11 weeks. “We’re getting close to really making some real headway with this terrible killer,” Justice said Monday. Urging residents to wear masks and get tested, he told them to “just help yourself and help your loved ones.” Meanwhile, Justice announced that high school basketball practices can start Feb. 15 for counties that have in-person classes. Games can begin on March 3, three months after the season originally was supposed to start.
Madison: Police and firefighters will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting Jan. 18, state health officials said Monday, while Gov. Tony Evers estimated that members of the general public won’t be vaccinated until June. Evers renewed his call for faster distribution of the vaccine from the federal government Monday, and state Republicans introduced a new, scaled-back response bill and scheduled it for a vote Tuesday. While Evers laid blame at the federal government for slow distribution of the vaccine, Republicans amped up their criticism of the midterm Democrat for not acting urgently enough. U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, a Republican from Janesville, accused Evers of having a “stunning lack of urgency in getting people the life-saving help they need.” For now, Wisconsin is focused on vaccinating more than 500,000 health care workers and nursing home residents. As of Monday, 151,502 people had been vaccinated, the state said. Assisted living residents were to be vaccinated starting in two weeks.
Casper: Campgrounds at Grand Teton National Park are expected to begin using an online reservation system later this month. Campgrounds on the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway will also begin taking reservations online beginning Jan. 26, The Casper Star-Tribune reports. Campgrounds in the park near Jackson previously operated on a first-come, first-served basis, the National Park Service said in a statement. The change to an advanced reservation system is expected to make accessing the campgrounds and the park easier by allowing visitors to plan their camping experiences without worrying about securing campsites. The system is also expected to mitigate traffic congestion and eliminate long lines. Members of the public had requested a reservation system for the campgrounds, parks service Public Affairs Officer Denise Germann said. “People would come before the break of dawn waiting for someone to leave or wait in line for hours,” Germann said. Grand Teton National Park recorded more than 3 million recreational visitors in 2019, the park service website said.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports