News from around our 50 states39 min read
Montgomery: Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham is expecting 10% less funding for his office in 2021 because of the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. He outlined a plan to deal with the cuts during a Tuesday hearing with county commissioners. Cunningham pitched some cost-saving ideas to help, including sharing the salary of a full-time dispatcher with the town of Pike Road, and building and selling cars to other municipalities. “I think we’re still making sure that the equipment and the manpower are going to be there for our community,” he said. He did have one request. He asked the commissioners for hazard pay for some of his officers. “It’s about trying to recognize those that are going over and beyond,” he said. “… These guys and girls, they love their job. They love what they do. We may be short-handed, but we’re still getting the mission done and the task done.” Cunningham was the first of a parade of department heads presenting their 2021 budget proposals to the Montgomery County Commission, which had asked each of them to plan for 10% across-the-board cuts. County Commission Chairman Elton Dean said that level of cuts might not be necessary because sales tax collections have been higher than expected.
Juneau: People in Alaska’s capital city are required to wear face coverings in certain indoor public settings under an ordinance passed by local leaders as a way to help curb the spread of COVID-19. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Monday passed the measure, which is similar to one earlier enacted in Anchorage. It calls for the use of face coverings in places such as grocery stores, restaurants, bars, child care and personal care facilities, and in communal office areas where people from multiple households are present. Masks are to be used in elevators and on public transportation, when passengers are present. Exceptions include people who cannot tolerate a mask because of medical conditions or disabilities; those exercising, if masks interfere with their breathing; and children under 12, unless a caregiver supervises the mask use. Masks are not to be worn by kids younger than 2. The ordinance allows for fines up to $25 for violations. It also states a violation does not create grounds for harassment. Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said by email Tuesday the approach will be to educate first and write tickets if needed.
Phoenix: Arizonans continue to face extended wait times for COVID-19 results as testing demand rises, with the state’s largest lab partner reporting average turnaround times of nine to 12 days for people who aren’t hospitalized. But spokespeople from Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration claim they’re on track to turn around the situation in the next two weeks, with new equipment allowing labs to process 35,000 samples a day by the end of July. Persistent processing delays – well beyond the 24- to 48-hour target cited by Department of Health Services director Dr. Cara Christ – have hindered officials’ ability to trace and isolate confirmed and possible cases in recent weeks. That has jeopardized efforts to control infections in a state facing one of the worst COVID-19 spikes in the country. The delays also have complicated situations for individuals, stopping Arizonans awaiting test results from getting medical or dental procedures, returning to work, traveling or visiting family members. “While testing delays (are) an issue playing out in many states, delays of more than a few days are unacceptable,” Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey, said Tuesday. He said the state had “prioritized increasing testing, as well as speeding up the turnaround time for results.” A spokeswoman for Sonora Quest, the private company doing the bulk of Arizona’s testing, attributed the nine- to 12-day turnaround times to a “significant increase in testing demand.” LabCorp, another company doing COVID-19 tests in Arizona, also cited “significant increases in testing demand and constraints in the availability of supplies and equipment” when noting increased turnaround times earlier this month. Shortages of nasal swabs and reagents needed to conduct tests have contributed to delays throughout the pandemic.
Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson stood by efforts to reopen schools next month, despite concerns raised by pediatricians and the Little Rock teachers union about moving forward with in-person classes as coronavirus cases continue rising. Hutchinson said the state remains committed to reopening schools late next month, after he delayed the start of the school year for two weeks to give districts more time to prepare. “There’s a very strong commitment that we need school, that we need to go back to school,” Hutchinson said. Arkansas’ coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have surged over the past several weeks. The Health Department on Tuesday said at least 34,655 people have tested positive for the virus, an increase of 728 confirmed cases since Monday. The Arkansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said Tuesday it can’t support resuming classes next month, citing a high rate of positive virus tests in some parts of the state and a lack of standardized policies and resources for preventing its spread. “These factors suggest that opening all schools to in-person learning may not be the right choice at this time,” the group said. The group issued several recommendations, including stronger requirements for masks in K-12 schools. A new statewide mask mandate took effect on Monday, but Hutchinson’s order includes an exemption for children under 10. The group also said school districts need clearer guidance on how to socially distance.
Glendale: Although most California school districts are planning only virtual instruction to start the academic year, some are offering child-care programs that will bring students into the same buildings that are off-limits for classroom instruction. In Glendale, education officials opted last week to move to online instruction because of a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. They also started a program for families in need of child care where students will be dropped off at local schools and placed in small groups. They will complete their online lessons with support from a staff member or substitute teacher during what would usually be school hours. Kristine Nam, a spokesperson for the 26,000-student Glendale Unified School District, said about 30% of elementary school parents have voiced interest in the program, where masked students will be assigned electronic devices. That’s fewer children than would cycle through campus under a hybrid instruction model where students attend class in-person part-time, she said. “We knew we needed a way to provide opportunities for on campus child care for those families that need it,” Nam said. “It certainly is not going to look like a traditional day would look, but we’re going to try to make it as structured of a day as possible.” Last week Gov. Gavin Newsom set strict rules for in-school instruction that is contingent on districts and their home counties controlling the virus outbreak. About 85% of the state’s population lives in counties that don’t currently meet the standards. Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services, said child care doesn’t have to be offered by school districts or on school campuses but can be so long as officials follow state guidance on sanitation and safety for these facilities.
Denver: Colorado teachers might refuse to report for work unless their criteria for reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic this fall are met, the head of the state’s largest teachers union said Tuesday. Colorado Education Association president Amie Baca-Oehlert told a news conference that union members want more of a say in how school districts implement safety protocols such as mask-wearing, restricting movement among public school students and restricting class sizes. The union is also calling for individual school districts to establish their own protocols, publicly release the data used in reopening decisions and provide all students with access to remote learning tools such as computers and WiFi, Baca-Oehlert said. She presented a survey of nearly 10,000 union members that said nearly 8 in 10 teachers would be “willing to join their colleagues in refusing to return to work” if those conditions aren’t met. The survey also found that 53% of respondents prefer remote-only teaching and 8% prefer in-person-only instruction. Classes are to resume in August in Colorado’s 178 public school districts. Baca-Oehlert and John Robinson, vice president of the Poudre Education Association union, suggested delaying the start of class until the state can develop more specific safety guidelines. They also noted that Colorado’s consistently underfunded public schools contend with tight budgets, teacher shortages and large class sizes that haven’t changed during the pandemic. The union said it delivered a petition to Gov. Jared Polis and education commissioner Katy Anthes with its concerns.
Uncasville: The general manager of the Mohegan Sun casino said three employees who have close personal relationships with one another tested positive earlier this month for COVID-19. Jeff Hamilton told the Associated Press on Tuesday that 20 other workers who might have come in contact with the three people have tested negative. “We have a lot of team members that are family members,” he said, adding how it appears the first individual became infected somewhere other than the casino, testing positive on July 5. The second person became infected after driving the first individual to the hospital and later infected their roommate, Hamilton said. Two of the three employees have since returned the work. One employee is expected to return soon, he said. Meanwhile, Mohegan Sun plans to ask its employees to begin using a new contact tracing app by the end of the week that will help identify which workers might have come in contact with a worker who becomes infected. Hamilton said plans were underway for the app before the worker became infected on July 5. “It’s just another tool in our toolbox,” he said. Mohegan Sun has already been working with Yale New Haven Health on its contact tracing protocol.
Harrington: The Delaware State Fair kicks off Thursday and people will be required to wear masks to enter the gates. The fair’s website, which has pop-up warnings notifying visitors about the “inherent risk” of being exposed to the coronavirus while at the fair, has an extensive breakdown of the protocols in place to pull off the fair with health and safety in mind. Those failing to “meet the criteria outlined in this policy” can be refused entry or, if they are inside the fair, can be removed from the grounds, the website said. “Consistent with the Governor’s Executive Order, face coverings are required when indoors and inside exhibit areas, as well as outside when social distancing cannot be maintained,” the policy stated. “Face coverings can be removed when you are sitting and eating, but you must maintain social distance even while eating.” That policy is for anyone over the age of 12. During a coronavirus press briefing Tuesday, Dr. Karyl Rattay, the state’s public health director, said “many may be wondering, ‘How can the state fair safely happen?’ ” Rattay said the fair has been working closely with her department and others “to get a safe plan in place.”
District of Columbia
Washington: The District is now in Phase II of reopening. It means restaurants and nonessential retail stores can open indoors at 50% capacity and gyms and yoga studios can reopen with restrictions. On Tuesday, the city reported 88 new cases of the coronavirus. That’s its highest daily case count since June 4. The District has now been on an upward trend for two weeks, and its seven-day moving average is now double what it was at the beginning of that trend (69 cases, versus 35).
Tallahassee: Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed confidence Tuesday that Florida will soon contain its coronavirus outbreak and that hospitals can handle the current influx of patients, putting forward a positive case even as the state’s average daily death toll is now the nation’s worst. DeSantis told reporters at a news conference that hospital admissions and the percentage of tests coming back positive seem to be plateauing or declining in much of the state and that hospitals have sufficient capacity in their intensive care units and overall. “The trend is much better today than it was two weeks ago,” DeSantis said. “I am confident that we will get through this. I am confident that the folks … in our hospital systems will continue to do a great job and meet the demand. There is a lot of anxiety and fear out there and I think we are going to be able to get through it. We are not there yet.” The news conference came shortly after the state health department recorded another 136 deaths, bringing Florida’s daily average for the past week to 115, reflecting the increasing infection rate the state began seeing last month. That figure tops the 112 deaths a day Texas has reported during that period, Associated Press statistics showed.
Atlanta: Georgia’s top judge said the test to qualify to practice law in the state will be postponed and moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of public health concerns, the in-person bar exam scheduled to be held Sept. 9 and Sept. 10 has been canceled, Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton said in a statement. Instead, applicants will be able to take the exam online on Oct. 5 and Oct. 6. The statement said details about the online exam will soon be available on the website of the Office of Bar Admissions.
Honolulu: One of Hawaii’s leaders in preparing the state for hurricanes said people arriving at shelters might have their temperature checked this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Luke Meyers said shelters might have less capacity because of the need for people to maintain social distance. He said the state is encouraging residents to shelter in places where they are most comfortable, like at home or at a relative’s place, if possible. Meyers said the state has had some conversations with county officials and the Hawaii Tourism Authority about using hotels as shelters if a hurricane threatens the islands during the pandemic. But he said nothing specific has been identified. Meyers spoke during a Facebook Live conversation with Gov. David Ige. Tropical Storm Douglas was about 2,000 miles east of Hilo on Tuesday. The National Hurricane Center forecasts it will become a hurricane on Wednesday but then weaken to tropical storm as it approaches waters near Hawaii’s Big Island early next week.
Boise: Nearly 25,000 people returned to work in June as Idaho’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.6%, the state Department of Labor said. The agency attributed last month’s 3.4% drop to the state’s economy reopening during the coronavirus pandemic. But cases of COVID-19 have been increasing sharply in recent weeks, and highly populated Ada County that includes Boise reverted to more restrictions in late June and shut down bars. The Labor Department said that for June, the number of unemployed Idahoans dropped to about 50,000. The agency also said that the number of workers with jobs rose to about 842,000, a nearly 5% increase from May.
Chicago: Manish Mallick, a chef at a popular downtown Indian restaurant, has personally delivered thousands of meals cooked and packed by his staff –- among them, chickpea curry and tandoori chicken with roasted cottage cheese, sweet corn, peas and rice. Volunteers from neighborhood organizations then take them to children, retirees and the multitudes who have been laid off or fallen sick during the coronavirus pandemic. “We all need to help each other,” Mallick said. “That’s the best way to get through a crisis.” His restaurant, ROOH Chicago, is one of more than 2,400 eateries, from New York City to Oakland, California, working with the nonprofit World Central Kitchen to provide meals to the hungry. Traditionally, the organization has set up kitchens to feed people affected by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. Now the organization is focused on this crisis and is paying restaurants $10 for every meal they provide to those in need. It is part of a larger effort bolstered by food banks and other nonprofits, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is buying produce, meat and dairy products from farmers for its growing food box program. Many U.S. children also have been receiving meals provided by a large network of public and private sources at school pickup sites.
Indianapolis: Woody Myers, the Democratic nominee for governor, has called for more widespread mask use in schools and for school leaders to turn more toward online coursework rather than having students return to classrooms in the coming weeks. Myers, a physician and former state health commissioner, said because of rising coronavirus cases and deaths in the state he had a “strong desire … that we get masks in the schools in every circumstance.” Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is seeking a second term in the November election, said last week he would not issue a statewide mask-wearing mandate or direct school districts on whether they should have children return to classrooms for the start of new school years. Myers criticized Holcomb and the Trump administration for a lack of guidance on how schools can reopen safely and for pushing them to have students return. Several school districts in the Indianapolis area have either delayed the starts of their academic years or decided to open the year with online classes. The South Bend schools are planning for virtual lessons for the first weeks of the school year, and the Fort Wayne district plans to have middle and high school students in classrooms only half the time. Myers argued that smaller class sizes were necessary to allow enough distancing during school days. “The highest risk is for full-size, in-person classes where students cannot properly follow social distancing guidelines,” Myers said.
Dubuque: Coronavirus testing will be reduced to only 100 tests per day at a Test Iowa site in Dubuque, despite a sharp increase in cases in Dubuque County. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office ordered the site to reduce its testing, Dubuque officials announced Monday. The site will be opened only from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday. The site had been testing between 400 and 550 people per day, The Dubuque Telegraph-Herald reported. U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, whose district includes Dubuque County, wrote a letter to Reynolds on Tuesday criticizing the decision and asking the governor for further explanation. Reynolds’ spokesman, Pat Garrett, said in an email to media Monday that the governor ordered the test reduction at Dubuque “to ensure their process is in line with others across the state of Iowa. We want to maintain consistency and high quality performance across all Test Iowa sites.” Garrett did not respond to follow-up questions about what processes were being questioned at Dubuque. He also did not say how long the tests would be limited or whether other Test Iowa sites have been placed on similar restrictions, The Des Moines Register reported.
Topeka: A local public health official plans to close bars and restrict restaurant hours in the state’s largest city and the surrounding area until after Labor Day because of a surge in reported coronavirus cases over the past six weeks that has been far worse than the state’s spike. Dr. Garold Minns, Sedgwick County’s health officer, told county commissioners Tuesday that he will issue an order to close bars and nightclubs until Sept. 9 and direct restaurants to close at 10 p.m. He said he also plans to drop the limit on public gatherings from 45 to 15 and prohibit fairs, parades and festivals. Minns announced his plans the day before the Republican-controlled State Board of Education planned to vote on Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan to delay the reopening of the state’s public and private K-12 schools for three weeks, from mid-August to Sept. 9. Kelly issued an order Monday requiring mask use and daily temperature checks for staff and students statewide, but Kansas law requires her to get the state board’s approval to delay the start of fall classes. “We need to do what we can to get this thing back under control,” Minns told Sedgwick County commissioners during a live-streamed meeting. “If we want schools to go back in session, whether it’s August or September, we need to get the cases down.”
Frankfort: State officials plan to hold a virtual town hall on Thursday about reopening schools. The event will focus on reviewing the major points of the state’s “Healthy at School” guidance, according to statement from the Kentucky Department of Education. It is geared toward state educators and other school support staff but is open to the public, the statement said. Education and health officials along with Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman will participate in the two-hour virtual town hall on the Kentucky Department of Education media portal. “Our main goal is to go over the five main areas of the flagship document as well as give a high-level overview of the state-level guidance documents we have issued and how to find them on the KDE COVID-19 website,” said Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown. “We want to communicate with all of our educators and staff about our statewide guidance documents.”
Baton Rouge: Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday that he will keep Louisiana’s mask mandate and business restrictions in place for at least two more weeks, as the number of coronavirus patients at hospitals surges in all regions of the state. The Democratic governor’s regulations were set to expire Friday but will extend until at least Aug. 7. The rules limit restaurants to 50% capacity for in-person dining, restrict bars to takeout and delivery only and place occupancy limits on gyms, salons and other businesses deemed nonessential. Face coverings are required for anyone age 8 and older, with medical exceptions. Indoor gatherings above 50 people are banned. “We still have a lot of COVID-19 in Louisiana, more than we want, and it’s widespread all across our state,” Edwards said. He added: “There is no doubt we have a long way to go and the situation is very serious, especially as it relates to hospitalizations.” More than 1,500 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Tuesday. Alex Billioux, the governor’s top public health adviser, said hospital capacities are becoming more strained, with some hospitals having to send patients to other facilities because they don’t have the space to treat them. Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said the governor lacked “a clearly articulated and creative pathway to a safe, reopened society, school system and economy.” “Businesses and families all across the state are suffering from the economic impact of this pandemic, and every day we don’t reopen, more and more of those people and companies inch closer to insolvency,” Waguespack said in a statement.
Portland: The Maine Principals’ Association is delaying the start of fall sports in hopes of salvaging a shortened season for high schools. The start of fall practice has been delayed from Aug. 17 to Sept. 8, which is the day after Labor Day. The preseason will last only two weeks, with the first games no earlier than Sept. 18. “We hope to be able to offer a full fall season,” MPA Executive Director Mike Burnham told the Portland Press Herald. The MPA canceled the spring sports season in April and is limiting interscholastic activities throughout the summer. Its Interscholastic Management Committee voted Tuesday to delay the start of the fall season. Exactly how many schools will be able to participate remains to be seen.
Rockville: One of Maryland’s largest public school districts said it only will have virtual, online classes through at least Jan. 29 and is canceling all fall and winter sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In a message posted on the district’s website, Montgomery County schools superintendent Jack Smith said officials will determine in November if it can safely implement a “phased blended model” of online and in-person classes after the first semester ends in January. Smith said he expects Gov. Larry Hogan and Karen Salmon, state superintendent of schools, to provide an update this week on the state’s plans for schools. “We will review their guidance and make all necessary adjustments to align our plans,” Smith said. Most of the region’s largest districts also have announced that they will start the fall semester with online-only classes.
Boston: Mayor Marty Walsh is defending his administration’s decision to award a $1 million, no-bid contract to retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s consulting firm to help with the city’s coronavirus response. Walsh told WGBH that the McChrystal Group was retained to bring a military-style approach to coordinating and communicating among city agencies during the pandemic. Documents obtained by the radio station show eight people from the Alexandria, Virginia-based firm worked with Boston, none with public health expertise. Walsh maintained the administration couldn’t follow the traditional public bidding process because of the urgency. “This isn’t the typical no-bid contract,” he told the station. “This is where we had literally 10 days before coronavirus just exploded all over.” Walsh’s office announced the McChrystal contract in late March, but the city has offered few details about the firm’s work. The administration said the work will likely be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with other virus-related expenses. McChrystal commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan during President Barack Obama’s administration.
East Lansing: Michigan State University said it will take a residence hall out of regular service and use it for students who test positive for the coronavirus. Students who live on campus can move to Akers Hall or return home for a certain period if they test positive. The dorm can hold roughly 500 people, said Kat Cooper, spokeswoman for Residential and Hospitality Services. “As we watched cases rise around the country, we decided we needed more options for that available to us,” Cooper told MLive.com. The Akers strategy could create a housing shortage, although it’s not seen as likely at this time, she said. MSU students, staff and visitors are required to wear masks on campus. “We know decisions to wear masks and maintain physical distancing can have a positive impact on the health of our students, colleagues, instructors, loved ones and friends,” President Samuel Stanley Jr. told students in an email last week. The fall term starts Sept. 2.
St. Paul: Gov. Tim Walz said the state is making progress in stemming coronavirus infections in the state’s long-term care facilities. Walz and state health officials cited a dramatic drop in deaths and new cases of COVID-19 at nursing homes and other facilities over the last two months. Residents of long-term care facilities still make up the majority of coronvirus-related deaths in Minnesota, but officials said their interventions since mid-May have led to a significant drop in daily deaths and outbreaks in congregate care settings. “We are certainly not taking a victory lap,” Walz told reporters. “The key here was controlling infections.” Officials scrambled to respond as deaths at long-term care facilities rose in late April and early May. Walz outlined a “battle plan” in early May that included expanded testing, more personal protective gear for health workers and ensuring “adequate” staffing levels when workers fall ill. Officials said Tuesday those collective efforts have worked. In early May, there were 23 facilities reporting new cases each day. That number is now about six per day, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.
Jackson: The state on Tuesday saw by far its largest single-day increase in reported cases of COVID-19, as health officials continued to warn that hospitals face dire circumstances as caseloads keep growing. It was the first time that the state Health Department reported an increase of more than 1,600 cases over the previous day. Mississippi has had several recent days with increases of more than 1,000 cases. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, have been pleading with people to take steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including wearing masks in public and avoiding large crowds. Reeves has declined to issue a statewide mask mandate, but he has signed an executive order that requires people to wear masks in public in 23 of the 82 counties – the places with the largest or fastest-growing caseloads. The order also tells people in those places to avoid large crowds. Reeves said it applies to about 55% to 60% of Mississippi’s population.
Springfield: Lindberg’s Tavern, the oldest bar in Springfield, closed temporarily after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The storied establishment on Commercial Street, a restaurant and music venue, notified the public about the closure Sunday in a Facebook post. It read, in part: “We will reopen only after all necessary staff have been tested, cleared, and we have had the restaurant completely sanitized. We have appreciated those who have supported us during this difficult time, and hope for continued support when we open back up, thank you.” It was not immediately clear how soon the tavern will reopen. An online fundraiser on GoFundMe was organized Monday by Krista Meadows to raise money for Lindberg’s. The goal was to raise $10,000. According to the post, Lindberg’s has struggled in recent months because of the pandemic.
Great Falls: Malmstrom Air Force Base has raised its Health Protection Condition from moderate to substantial in response to more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Montana, officials said. The base increased its condition from HPCON Bravo to HPCON Charlie, officials said. The HPCON Charlie designation indicates a substantial health threat which requires increased measures such as stricter guidelines on social distancing and shelter-in-place procedures. Bravo is a moderate level, reflecting increased community transmission. Charlie is substantial, with sustained community transmission. “Force health protection is our top priority, and we will continue to ensure that all of Team Malmstrom have the most up-to-date information on appropriate (measures) to prevent potential spread of the virus,” 341st Missile Wing commander, Col. Jennifer K. Reeves, said in a news release. The decision was made Monday, based on the recommendation of the Malmstrom Public Health Emergency officer, officials said. There are some exceptions: obtaining food, caring for a relative or family member, seeking necessary health care or going to an essential job, officials said. Base officials said in late June that an airman had tested positive, making it their first confirmed report of the respiratory illness. Officials said the airman had recent duty outside the local area when the positive result was confirmed. The person will remain in isolation at home on base. Malmstrom Public Health officials are conducting contact tracing.
Lincoln: The University of Nebraska’s new president expressed confidence Tuesday that all four university campuses will be ready for in-person classes this fall despite the threat of the coronavirus. Ted Carter said the campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney have taken steps to welcome back students while minimizing the risk that the virus will spread. Carter said students who arrive on campus for the fall semester will see smaller, spread-out classes, less crowded dorms, mandatory masks and buildings that are cleaned more frequently. “We’re not going into this with hope and a prayer,” Carter said at a news conference with Gov. Pete Ricketts. “We’re going into this with a bias for action.” University officials have left open the possibility that they will return to online learning if the pandemic worsens. But Carter said it’s important for the university to offer in-person instruction. He said university surveys have shown that the vast majority of students and faculty members want to return for in-person classes, and extra precautions will taken for those who are at greater risk. “You cannot get the same level of education through a Zoom call,” Carter said. Carter said the university is better-positioned than many other schools because each of its campuses is spread over large areas, making it easier to keep people at a safe distance. The university has roughly 51,000 students and 16,000 faculty and staff members at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Nebraska at Kearney and the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Reno: A rural church trying to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to suspend Nevada’s 50-person cap on worship services is accusing Gov. Steve Sisolak of adding the church’s county to a list of those with elevated cases of COVID-19 as part of a “litigation tactic.” Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley east of Reno also argues Sisolak should no longer be allowed to defend the attendance cap as a “temporary” emergency response necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus. “Far from being a temporary measure, the governor’s restrictions on houses of worship have spanned nearly four months, with no end in sight,” the church’s attorneys wrote. “Even the rosiest predictions are that a safe and effective vaccine will not be ready before next year.” Sharpening their attack on a policy they said illegally treats casinos and other secular businesses more leniently than religious gatherings, the attorneys pointed to Sisolak’s July 10 emergency directive mandating bar closures in seven counties with elevated disease transmission. Casinos, restaurants, arcades, hair salons and water parks are among the businesses statewide still allowed to operate at 50% or normal capacity instead of a hard attendance cap. Lyon County’s Calvary Chapel appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last month after a U.S. judge in Nevada upheld the state’s policy. The appellate court is still considering the appeal, but it has denied the church’s request for an emergency injunction. The ruling July 2 pointed to the Supreme Court’s refusal in May to strike down California’s limit on the size of religious gatherings.
Concord: School bus drivers can’t be “mask police,” the president of the New Hampshire School Transportation Association told state lawmakers. “They need to focus on their driving, keep their eyes on the road,” Mark Raposo said Tuesday, New Hampshire Public Radio reported. Raposo said as school districts plan for the fall during the coronavirus pandemic, additional staff might be necessary to monitor students on the bus and help with sanitation between runs.
Fairview: Susan Coracurcio, CEO and executive director of the Franciscan Community Development Center in Fairview, has witnessed the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as it devastated her community’s most vulnerable residents. Her organization is one of the many combining their strength in Bergen County’s new Food Security Task Force, which launched on July 15 to fight a hunger crisis worsened by the pandemic. The new task force aims to connect wide-ranging organizations in a collaborative effort to fight food insecurity within the county. “I’ve talked to so many people who are on the front lines,” said Bergen County Freeholder Tracy Zur. “The needs in our community are really profound, and it’s heartbreaking.” Partners include nonprofit organizations such as Greater Bergen Community Action and Family Promise, pantries that are both faith-based and run by municipalities, representatives from Bergen County’s Meals on Wheels program, and the interim superintendent of schools for Bergen County, Louis DeLisio. The task force had its first virtual meeting last week. “The only thing that made that possible was that the community came together,” Coracurcio said. “And I am inspired for what the county had the wisdom and the vision, and most of all, the heart, to do for this task force. Because collectively, we’re only as good as our collaborations.”
Silver City: Officials at Western New Mexico University are opting for an online start to the fall semester. The school announced Tuesday that classes will be offered online from Aug. 17 through Sept. 7. A hybrid model with some face-to-face and hands-on activities will be in place after the Labor Day holiday through November. Online classes will then resume as students won’t be required to return to campus after Thanksgiving break. University President Joseph Shepard said facts and science will guide officials’ decisions rather than emotions and politics. “Above all, we will keep students, faculty and staff safety as our primary objective and focus,” he said. New Mexico has reported more than 17,500 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. More than 481,000 tests have been done
Albany: Bars are trying to work around, and in many cases protest, an order issued last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that requires a patron to buy food in order to be served alcohol. There’s the “Cuomo Cheese Plate” for $1 at Irondequoit Beer Company outside Rochester, or the “Cuomo Chips” for $1 in Saratoga. Sickenberger Lane in Utica said on Facebook it has “our house-made potato chips all night long to be served with your alcohol or nonalcohol beverage purchase.” The goal, Cuomo said, was to ensure that outdoor dining is just that – dining, not “block party bars.” The order seeks to ensure people are seated at tables rather than congregating in crowded areas in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. “The law never allowed outdoor bars,” Cuomo said Friday. “They took the outdoor dining provision and the additional space and turned into outdoor bars.” But the decision has drawn a sharp and at times snarky response from bar owners, many of whom said they have diligently followed the state’s COVID-19 restrictions and fear their livelihood is at stake if they can’t sell alcohol. “DINE IN you DO have to order food. We are now offering the ‘Cuomo Cheese Plate’ for $1. But we also have other AMAZING food too,” the Irondequoit Beer Company wrote on Facebook. Each bar, restaurant or brewery has to serve food that is “consistent with the food availability requirement” of their liquor license. That means a tavern, for example, has to serve sandwiches, soups or similar items, at a minimum. A brewery or winery, on the other hand, can get away with serving cheese, fruits, breads, crackers and the like.
Raleigh: A hearing has been scheduled for next month in litigation from Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest challenging several COVID-19 restrictions issued by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. State Judge James Gale on Tuesday set Aug. 4 as the date for arguments before him. Forest sued the governor three weeks ago, saying a half-dozen executive orders that Cooper issued during the pandemic should be voided because the Council of State didn’t sign off on them. Some orders shuttered businesses and mandated face coverings in public places. Forest, who is trying to unseat Cooper in the November election, wants Gale to block the enforcement of the orders while the case goes to trial. Cooper has said he followed the law while making health and safety decisions. In different litigation, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended Gale’s July 7 decision that had allowed several dozen bowling alleys to reopen while the judge’s ruling is appealed. Gale overturned Cooper’s executive order that had kept the lanes closed. The judge agreed with a trade association that Cooper wrongly treated its members differently than other businesses the governor let reopen. The Supreme Court issued last week a temporary stay on Gale’s order that Cooper’s state attorneys sought. Tuesday’s decision essentially extended that stay.
Bismarck: North Dakota’s electric cooperatives that power rural homes and businesses are trying to obtain federal relief because of the coronavirus outbreak. Companies are asking for the ability to refinance loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service at lower rates without incurring prepayment penalties, the Bismarck Tribune reported. Many businesses in the state have closed temporarily or reduced its operations when the virus first emerged resulting in low power usage. Randy Hauck, general manager of Verendrye Electric Cooperative, said the company’s sales tax revenue, which sits at 60% of the amount collected in Minot last year, shows how hard the company has been hit. “That means 40% of commerce has gone away,” Hauck said Monday on a call with reporters organized by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The cooperative serves seven counties in the Minot area. Republican Sen. John Hoeven is sponsoring bills introduced in the House and Senate that will help these cooperatives. The legislation could help the cooperative as it replaces aging infrastructure, Hauck noted.
Cincinnati: Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday issued a statewide mask order, saying that “the jury’s back, the verdict’s in: Masks work.” The order goes into effect at 6 p.m. Thursday. “Wearing masks will make a difference,” DeWine said. “It will determine what our fall looks like. We want kids to go back to school, we want to see sports – to do that, it’s very important that all Ohioans wear a mask.” DeWine initially proposed wearing masks statewide in April but reversed course the next day. He said then that some Ohioans found mandatory masks “offensive.” In reversing course Wednesday, DeWine said early data is showing mask mandates in some Ohio counties have been slowing the spread there. DeWine is following the lead of governors across the nation who have issued statewide mask orders, including Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Oklahoma City: The state’s largest public school district delayed the start of its school year by three weeks and will have online learning only until at least November in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Board of Education for Oklahoma City Public Schools voted late Tuesday to delay the start of the school year from Aug. 10 to Aug. 31. The board also decided to have virtual instruction only for at least the first nine weeks. “The best education is when we have teachers and students face to face and we want to get there as quickly as we can, but we want to be safe and thoughtful about it,” district Superintendent Sean McDaniel told reporters during a conference call Wednesday. McDaniel said a recent study revealed as many as 30% of the district’s 45,000 students were without either internet connectivity or computer access, but that the district used federal coronavirus relief funds to purchase 1,500 internet hot spots and will be distributing computers to all of its students. “We are searching far and wide to make sure kids don’t fall through the cracks,” he said. McDaniel said a decision on whether to hold some fall sports, including high school football, has not been made.
Portland: A federal judge has denied a petition to bypass state-required signatures to qualify as a ballot measure its proposal for 17 counties to divorce from Oregon and become part of Idaho. U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane ruled Monday that the group Move Oregon’s Border was not “reasonably diligent” in attempting to collect signatures, even amid the unusual limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Oregonian reported the judge found that Move Oregon’s Border provided scant evidence of a conscientious effort to obtain signatures thus far. The plaintiffs only held one rally, in Roseburg on March 7, collecting 389 signatures. The group also pointed to the approximately 9,195 members on its Facebook group, the judge noted. The state mandates petitioners obtain a minimum number of signatures in order to qualify for the ballot. But Move Oregon’s Border had argued COVID-19 restrictions had made the usual methods of signature gathering impossible.
Harrisburg: Lebanon County on Wednesday sued to compel Gov. Tom Wolf to release $12.8 million in federal coronavirus relief funding that he withheld after county leaders defied his shutdown orders and sought to reopen on their own. Wolf yanked the funding from Lebanon County, where local Republican leaders voted in mid-May to lift pandemic restrictions in a direct challenge to the Democratic governor’s authority. Wolf’s decision to retaliate left Lebanon as the only eligible Pennsylvania county to have been cut off from a $625 million pot of federal coronavirus relief money distributed by the state. The county’s lawsuit, filed in Commonwealth Court, cast the Board of Commissioners’ vote to unilaterally move Lebanon to the less restrictive “yellow” phase of Wolf’s reopening plan as merely symbolic. The lawsuit said Wolf had no legal right to withhold funding appropriated by the Legislature, accusing him of a “gross abuse of power” and acting like a “de facto King.”Wolf’s office had no comment on the lawsuit. Wolf has repeatedly addressed his decision to withhold the funding, saying Lebanon County had to pay a price for its recalcitrance.
Providence: Gov. Gina Raimondo is confident in her plan to safely reopen the state’s schools in late August, despite doubts being expressed by teachers, administrators and parents that the coronavirus pandemic is not under adequate control. “I am not in any way diminishing how hard it’s going to be, how much work is going to be required,” the Democrat told WPRO radio on Tuesday. “I understand they’re nervous, you know, I understand that. But we’re going to put our back into it because we owe it to our kids and our teachers in order to be able to get everyone back to school and do it safely.” Raimondo’s plan calls for reopening schools Aug. 31. She said it’s important for the mental and physical health of children to be back in the classroom. Raimondo has the support of Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, who said in-school learning is the best option for children. “We’ve been working countless hours to prepare for a safe return to school,” Alexander-Scott said. Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island, the state’s largest teachers’ union, doesn’t see students returning to school by the end of August. He expressed concerns about ensuring social distancing in classrooms and on school buses.
Columbia: State and local education officials are still trying to determine how to return South Carolina students to school in several weeks – whether in person or online – as COVID-19 cases spike across the state. During a special House committee Wednesday, education officials promised a small group of legislators the new school year would be nothing like what happened in March when the virus caused the sudden closing of schools and teachers and administrators scrambled to implement online learning in days. Attendance will be taken every day and there will be academic standards just like a normal school year, state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said Wednesday. “The expectations will be much higher – that students must be engaged every day,” Spearman said. There has been no summer vacation for Spearman and local school administrators across the state as they try to revamp decades of education norms, such as classes of 20 or 30 students, buses full of children and even recess.
Sioux Falls: Lawmakers on Tuesday called for formal consultation processes between tribal and state governments following Gov. Kristi Noem’s handling of a conflict over coronavirus checkpoints set up by tribes. Legislators on a committee tasked with navigating the relationship between tribes and the state criticized the governor for escalating the conflict and suggested that an established process for reaching agreements could help avoid future disputes. The Republican governor and the leaders of several tribes have exchanged legal threats and barbs after Noem threatened to sue tribes in May if they didn’t remove checkpoints on federal and state highways. Several tribes, including the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Rosebud Sioux Tribe, have set up checkpoints on roads leading to their reservations in an effort to keep unnecessary visitors away during the pandemic. Tribal leaders have feared the coronavirus could decimate their members, including many who have health conditions and lack access to a robust health care system.
Nashville: A federal judge said he will not block three Tennessee laws dealing with absentee voting for the Aug. 6 primary election amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying the groups that sought the action should have requested it earlier. U.S. District Judge Eli Richardson in Nashville issued the order on the laws that bar first-time voters from voting absentee unless they show an ID at the local election office, make the unsolicited distribution of requests for applications for absentee ballots a misdemeanor for people who are not election workers and spell out a signature verification process for those voters. The groups sought a requirement that voters get the chance to fix signature matching issues with their ballots. Richardson wrote that he will still consider whether to block the laws for the November election. The ruling follows a decision last month by a state judge to expand absentee voting to most Tennessee voters during the pandemic. The state is appealing that ruling in the Tennessee Supreme Court, where a decision likely needs to happen sooner than later – the first day to request an absentee ballot for the general election is Aug. 5.
Fort Worth: More than 500 women at a federal medical prison have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, in one of the largest confirmed outbreaks at a federal prison, the Bureau of Prisons said. The number of confirmed cases at the Federal Medical Center-Carswell in Fort Worth jumped to 510 on Tuesday, just two days after the Bureau of Prisons reported that 200 women there had tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Only the federal prison in Seagoville, also located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, had more infected inmates, with 1,156 cases as of Tuesday. “We’re like a whole bunch of hamsters in a cage chasing our own tails,” said Carswell inmate Holli Chapman. Three weeks ago, the prison had reported only three confirmed cases of the virus among inmates. One prisoner, Andrea Circle Bear, died in April. On July 12, 69-year-old Sandra Kincaid became the second woman to die there from the virus. The third, 51-year-old Teresa Ely, died Monday. FMC-Carswell holds female inmates with medical and mental health issues. It currently has 1,357 prisoners. Since April, many inmates have told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram that they were concerned the virus could spread through the prison.
Salt Lake City: People in the live-events industry who were forced out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic marched Tuesday to draw attention to the plight of people and businesses who put on concerts, theater and sports. About 100 people came to the march organized by the recently formed Utah Live Event Industry Association, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Most of them wore black T-shirts and black pants, the traditional outfit of stagehands and tech crews. They represented about 40 local businesses, said Peter O’Doherty, the association’s president. Utah’s live-events industry represents 30,000 jobs and some $4 billion in revenue lost this year. Even as states begin to reopen, the industry is still largely closed down. They hope the government will extend bolstered unemployment benefits to the end of 2020, and grant loans to help them stay afloat.
Montpelier: Vermont has the lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the country and hasn’t had a death from the illness in more than a month but the state has to remain vigilant because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus in other parts of the country, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday. “In looking across the country, we continue to see a forest fire spreading in the south and west and things could shift back towards us so we have keep our guard up,” said Scott during his regular virus briefing. The state is considering expanding its mask mandate, Scott said, although he added that he’s concerned that “a mandate will create unnecessary conflict.” “With the numbers that we see in Vermont, particularly in our most rural areas, the data hasn’t yet supported a change to the status quo,” said Scott, who said he would have more information on Friday. He advised Vermonters to be smart about where they travel and only go to areas that the state has identified as low risk. Residents who are traveling from other locations or taking a flight or public transportation to Vermont should quarantine for 14 days, he said.
Falls Church: The nation’s 10th-largest school system, which faced criticism from the Trump administration for offering only two days a week of in-person instruction in the fall, is now backing away from offering any in-person instruction. The recommendation made Tuesday by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand comes after weeks of planning for a hybrid opening in the fall, in which families could elect full-time distance learning, or an in-person option that featured two days of in-person learning plus two days of independent online learning. Roughly 60% of families had chosen in-person learning. A majority of teachers, though – 52 percent – said they wanted to teach online only. Brabrand cited a resurgence of the virus nationally as a major reason for the change, even though in Fairfax County and northern Virginia the rate of coronavirus cases has essentially remained steady for more than a month after falling dramatically from a peak in in April and May.
Seattle: The governing body of high school sports in the state has decided to move the football season to the spring of 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Seattle Times reported the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association on Tuesday night announced the delaying of the season. For the 2020-21 school year, cross country, softball, girls swimming and golf and tennis will be in the fall. The WIAA will take a break during November and December, and in early January the usual winter sports – basketball, bowling, boys swimming and diving, gymnastics, cheerleading and wrestling – will take place. The football season would now run from early March into May. Moving football, which officials said is considered high-risk for COVID-19 exposure, would it allow games to be played when the outbreak might be better under control. However officials acknowledged that even the sports considered low risk now scheduled for the fall could see their seasons pushed back.
Wheeling: A financially strapped hospital in West Virginia announced unspecified staff reductions Tuesday, the latest in a series of medical center cutbacks in the state over the past year. Wheeling Hospital said in a statement that employees will have until Aug. 4 to decide whether to participate in a severance plan. Further reductions might occur if the goal is not met. The 223-bed hospital is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and has a medical staff of nearly 300. CEO Douglass Harrison said Wheeling Hospital suffered an $11 million loss in fiscal 2019 and has lost more than $18 million this fiscal year. “We are hopeful that by acting now, we are assuring that the hospital continues to maintain its viability and clinical excellence to meet the ongoing needs of the community in the future,” he said. The hospital said it has implemented other cost-cutting moves such as pay reductions for administrative staff and physicians, a short-term elimination of retirement matching funds and capital spending reductions. The statement said the hospital also is preparing for a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The hospital is facing a federal lawsuit accusing it of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid of millions of dollars through improperly issued payments and kickbacks to physicians since 2008.
Madison: There have been more than twice as many suspected opioid overdoses in Wisconsin during the coronavirus pandemic than during the same period last year, which likely can be attributed at least partially to the added stress and isolation many are feeling, health officials said Wednesday. Preliminary figures from Wisconsin emergency departments show that there were 325 suspected overdoses from March through July 13, compared with 150 during the same time span in 2019, according to the state Department of Health Services. Paul Krupski, director of Opioid Initiatives at DHS, said in a news release that the pandemic struck just as the state was making strides in reducing opioid-related deaths. The department’s secretary, Andrea Palm, said in the release that financial pressures and isolation stemming from the pandemic can exacerbate behavioral health and substance abuse problems. Krupski told reporters during a video conference that users have been increasingly turning to synthetic opioids fentanyl and isotonitazene.
Jackson: Wyoming has approved a countywide mask mandate with some exceptions in Teton County during the coronavirus pandemic. State Health Officer Alexia Harrist signed the order Monday, hours after the Teton County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a resolution for the mandate, the Jackson Hole News & Guide reported. Her signature was required to make the order law. The mandate is in effect through July 31 and defines a mask as “a covering made of cloth, fabric, or other soft or permeable material, without holes, that covers the nose and mouth and surrounding areas of the lower face.” Residents of Teton County must now wear masks inside of or in line for any retail or commercial business, when obtaining health care, and when using public transit or riding in a private, commercial vehicle, such as a tour bus. Under the order, people who have a physical or mental health reason to not wear masks are exempt and do not need to provide documentation for their condition. People under 18, people eating at restaurants or working out at gyms are also exempt. Businesses in the county must also post notices stating that face coverings are required. Employees, owners and volunteers at retail or commercial businesses will be required to wear masks.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 50 States