Montgomery:Gov. Kay Ivey became one of the first governors on Monday to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, bidding to build public confidence in the vaccinations that will have to be widely administered to ease the pandemic. “We want to send a clear message to all Alabamians that we can have confidence in this vaccine and its effectiveness. I want to assure people it is a safe thing to do and if everybody will take the vaccine voluntarily we’ll have good strong immunity and it will stop COVID-19,” Ivey said at a news conference. She spoke after getting the first of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine at Baptist Medical Center South in Montgomery. State Health Officer Scott Harris and State Chief Medical Officer Mary McIntyre also received the vaccine. The 76-year-old Republican governor, a lung cancer survivor, said she had no hesitation about taking the vaccine and urged others to take it as it becomes available. “Shoot, a sore arm for a few days is a lot better than three months on a ventilator,” Ivey said.
Juneau: A mask mandate in Juneau has been extended for at least six months. The ordinance passed by the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly upholds the requirement for masks to be worn in all indoor public settings and outdoors when within 6 feet of other people. Alaska is one of 12 states without a statewide mask mandate. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said that although he acknowledged the efficacy of masks, which has been corroborated by studies from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization, the issue is best delegated to local governments. But many local officials in the state have said they do not have the power to implement mask mandates or that they would let businesses decide for themselves. In Juneau, where a mask mandate was imposed when the state was experiencing roughly 10% of the cases it has reported in December, some business owners said they have embraced the policy change.
Window Rock: The Navajo Nation reported 158 new coronavirus cases on Monday and two more deaths from COVID-19. The latest figures from the Navajo Department of Health bring the total number of cases on the reservation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to 21,177. The Navajo Nation has reported 748 deaths since the pandemic hit. Tribal officials are urging residents of the vast reservation to stay vigilant to help stop the spread of the coronavirus amid the holiday season when families usually gather to celebrate. “We saw a spike in new COVID-19 cases following Thanksgiving, so we want to avoid that happening again,” said Navajo President Jonathan Nez. He encouraged everyone to spend Christmas with only the people in their household. A stay-at-home order is in effect until Dec. 28, along with a weekend lockdown where business hours are limited. The tribe also requires masks to be worn in public.
Little Rock: Arkansas received more doses Monday of coronavirus vaccines as the number of virus-related deaths continued to mount in the state, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.The state reported 58 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, though about one-third of those were delayed reports, Hutchinson said. The state saw 1,457 new cases of the virus, and more than 1,000 people remained hospitalized. Also Monday, Arkansas began receiving shipments of the newly approved coronavirus vaccine from Moderna, with 5,900 doses and additional shipments planned for Tuesday and Wednesday, Hutchinson said. The state also received 18,575 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. “While this news provides hope for many, it is a continued concern to see the loss of 58 additional Arkansans … We must steel our resolve to take every precaution to keep everyone safe,” Hutchinson said.
San Francisco: Much of California has exhausted its usual ability to staff intensive care beds, and the nation’s most populated state is desperately searching for 3,000 temporary medical workers to meet demand during a recent surge of coronavirus cases. State officials are reaching out to foreign partners in places like Australia and Taiwan amid a shortage of temporary medical workers in the U.S., particularly nurses trained in critical care. California hospitals typically turn to staffing agencies during flu season, when they rely on travel nurses to meet patient care needs. It is the only state in the nation with strict nurse-to-patient ratios requiring hospitals to provide one nurse for every two patients in intensive care and one nurse for every four patients in emergency rooms, for example. However, those ratio requirements are being waived at many hospitals as virus cases surge. But the pool of available travel nurses is drying up as demand for them jumped to 44% over the last month, with California, Texas, Florida, New York and Minnesota requesting the most extra staff, according to San Diego-based health care staffing firm Aya Healthcare. It is one of two companies contracted by California to fulfill hospitals’ staffing requests.
Denver: Lawmakers will pause their upcoming new legislative session soon after convening in January as they wait for COVID-19 cases to subside, Democratic leaders said Monday. Lawmakers will begin the new session Jan. 13 and address any urgent business and required actions, like swearing in new members, as quickly as possible before temporarily going into recess, Senate President Leroy Garcia, incoming House Speaker Alec Garnett and others leaders said in a joint announcement. The tentative plan is to reconvene Feb. 16 when leaders hope the peak of the coronavirus pandemic will have subsided and there will be less of a health risk for those at the state Capitol. However, they said that lawmakers would resume work earlier that if there is an emergency that requires immediate attention. Earlier this month, lawmakers wrapped up a short special session to approve assistance to restaurants and food pantries struggling to keep their doors open during the pandemic.
Hartford: The second approved vaccine to fight COVID-19 began arriving in Connecticut on Monday as a state advisory panel met to discuss who gets vaccinated next. Workers at Hartford Hospital began unloading 8,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine shortly after 10:30 a.m. to the applause of health care workers. Critical care nurse Mandy Delgado was the first at the hospital to get a Moderna shot, saying she was hopeful vaccinations will lead to fewer patients being admitted with the virus. “Working in critical care, I’ve been exhausted, overwhelmed, seeing patients come in needing more oxygen and able to talk and progressively getting worse, then actually dying, and families not being there,” she said. Gov. Ned Lamont said the state expects to receive 63,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, as well as 24,375 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. That is in addition to the 31,200 doses of the Pfizer vaccine the state received last week, Lamont said. The doses arriving this week are targeted for front-line health care workers and those in nursing homes.
Wilmington:Those who plan to attend Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day in one of the 74 Catholic parishes or mission churches in Delaware or Maryland’s Eastern Shore are urged to check their parish’s website or bulletin before heading out, as some are requiring advanced reservations in order to comply with state mandated attendance limitations because of the recent uptick in area COVID-19 cases. “We want to avoid having to turn people away at the door,” said the Most Reverend W. Francis Malooly, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington. “Parishes are following government guidelines to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy during Christmas and beyond. Limiting attendance, social distancing, wearing masks and other requirements will be in place to assure that we will all be around when our Christmas Masses are once again standing room only.” The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Day Masses that Malooly instituted in March remains in place in the Diocese of Wilmington. Many parishes are livestreaming or posting prerecorded Masses on their YouTube, Facebook or web pages. Catholics are encouraged to check their parish website or bulletin to find out if and when their Christmas Mass will be available online. Christmas Eve Mass with Malooly will be livestreamed from the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Wilmington at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Viewers can watch it live or recorded at youtube.com/dioceseofwilm.
District of Columbia
Washington: Dr. Ankoor Shah, interim principal deputy director of DC Health, said the District is expecting to get 12,600 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 4,700 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, WUSA-TV reported. D.C. will also be getting more than 16,000 additional doses of vaccine through an agreement with Maryland and Virginia to help vaccinate DC health care workers who live in those states. Shah said the District was allocated vaccine doses from the federal government based on its population, not on the size of its health care workforce, which has put it below where it needs to be. “We are getting less than what we deserve, and that is a simple fact,” Shah said.
Tallahassee:A former Florida Department of Health employee sued the state on Monday over a search warrant executed on her house after investigators said they identified a message sent from a computer at the address to health department employees. Rebekah Jones, who was fired in May for insubordination after repeatedly violating department policy about communicating with the media, helped create the state’s coronavirus dashboard. She contended that she was fired for not falsifying data. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement served the search warrant earlier this month. Jones posted a 31-second video of officers entering her home, and the department later released more than 20 minutes of bodycam video that showed she refused to respond to phone calls and knocks on her door. The message that led to the search warrant implored employees still at the Health Department “to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero.” Jones has had several run-ins with law enforcement over personal issues, but has gained international attention by disputing Florida’s COVID-19 statistics. She was paid almost $48,000 a year as a Department of Health employee, but since May has raised nearly $260,000 on a GoFundMe account after criticizing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. No charges have been filed in the investigation.
Atlanta:Georgia K-12 public schools have the option not to count year-end tests toward students’ final grades this year because of schooling hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic following a vote Monday by the state Board of Education. State law requires scores on the annual Georgia Milestones tests to account for 20% of the cumulative grades for most of the state’s public-school students, from the third grade up to their senior year of high school. But this year, the Milestones scores can be counted essentially zero after State School Superintendent Richard Woods won approval for his proposal to water down the tests so students and teachers can have some relief as they continue working through tremendous challenges due to the virus. School districts now have leeway to recalculate final course grades for the fall semester and count the tests as 0.01% if they want, a state Department of Education spokesperson confirmed. The same 0.01% weight can also apply for year-end tests in the upcoming spring semester.
Honolulu: Hawaii’s rural island of Kauai had only 61 known coronavirus cases from March through September. But after Oct. 15, when the state launched a pretravel testing program to reignite its decimated tourism economy, Kauai had at least 84 new cases in the ensuing seven weeks. The surge seeded community transmission and led to the island’s first – and so far only – COVID-19 death: Ron Clark, who worked for decades as a tour driver. Despite Hawaii’s cautious effort at reopening that allowed travelers who tested negative for COVID-19 before they flew to the state to sidestep quarantine rules, the Kauai spike illustrates the difficulty of preserving public health – even on an isolated island – when economic recovery relies on travel. Kauai officials have decided the cost of vacationing in paradise, for now, is too high. Clark got COVID-19 in November and died about 10 days later. The day after Clark’s death, Kauai officials said they would opt out of the state’s testing program and require visitors to again quarantine for two weeks whether they test negative for COVID-19 before arriving. Kauai officials say the single-test scheme did not do enough to protect the people who live there. With only nine ICU beds and 14 ventilators, the island’s health care system could quickly become overwhelmed by a large outbreak, said Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami. After the Kauai surge, the state Department of Health traced most of the island’s October and November cases to returning residents and tourists who brought the virus in despite the pre-flight testing program.
Idaho Falls: Life could be back to normal in about four months with coronavirus vaccinations now being administered, Gov. Brad Little said. The Republican late last week said health care workers and long-term care facility residents should have their vaccinations by the end of January. He said the next wave of vaccinations to essential workers such as firefighters and police could be done by June. But he said it will be longer than that before everyone who wants a vaccination can get one. “With the vaccines coming, we are maybe 120 days away from, for the most part, life back to normal,” Little said, the Post Register reported. “And it will be longer than that before everyone gets vaccinated.” About 3,500 people have been vaccinated since the initial shots started last week. Little said he expects vaccinations to pick up in the coming weeks as federal authorities have now approved two different vaccinations. “It’s going to be my responsibility to help make the point, and have our public health officials make the case to people to choose to get that vaccine,” Little said.
Chicago: An Illinois woman who ordered flags for her grandmother’s garden got a surprise when the package arrived – someone’s apparent coronavirus test specimen. Andrea Ellis was wrapping Christmas gifts at her aunt’s house in East Moline, in northwestern Illinois, when she opened a padded envelope containing the flags she ordered weeks ago from the department store chain Kohl’s, according to The Quad City Times. “I pulled out the flags and I told my aunt, ‘Look how cute these are,’ ” she said. “I pulled out the packing slip and then noticed something deeper inside the envelope and pulled that out. It was a biohazard bag containing someone’s COVID-19 test specimen.” Ellis, who didn’t immediately reply to a phone message from the Associated Press, called the police, who referred the issue to the county health department, according to East Moline police Chief Jeff Ramsey. Janet Hill, the chief operating officer at the Rock Island County Health Department, told the AP that she picked up the biohazard bag over the weekend and that it appeared to contain a used nasal swab and identifying information of a person from Virginia. She said she was figuring out what to do next, including contacting health officials in Virginia and trying to determine if the specimen was still viable. Wisconsin-based Kohl’s issued a statement apologizing for “this very unusual and inexplicable experience” and saying the package was sent from an “outside direct ship vendor” and not directly from the retail chain. The company said it launched its own investigation, but it declined to give further details, including the name of the vendor.
Kokomo: Fiat Chrysler has pushed back the reopening of a shuttered Indiana factory until late 2021, blaming delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Company officials had announced in March a $400 million plan to convert a Kokomo transmission factory so that it could begin engine production within the first three months of 2021. That reopening has been delayed until 2021’s last quarter, in part because of the company’s eight-week shutdown earlier this year, Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson told the Kokomo Tribune. Older equipment has been removed from the factory and interior walls and offices torn down as part of the conversion project, Tinson said. Steel is being raised to add a 30,000-square-foot addition to provide more manufacturing space. Fiat Chrysler said it plans to make the factory into the U.S. production site for the Global Medium Engine Turbo 4 for Jeep Wranglers and Cherokees, which is now built in Italy. Officials said the project would retain about 1,000 jobs and add nearly 200, bringing the total Fiat Chrysler workforce at its Kokomo-area factories to more than 8,000.
Des Moines: Iowans are heading into the winter holidays with few restrictions on gathering or social activities despite significant numbers of recent COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations in the state. The state Health Department on Monday reported 600 new confirmed cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus but no new deaths from it, though fewer tests were conducted in the past few days and there was a delay in the reporting of deaths. The state reported 138 deaths on Sunday after listing none in the previous two days. Public health officials revised the state’s method of calculating deaths earlier this month and said the new system would likely delay the reporting of COVID-19 deaths by up to a week. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Iowa has risen slightly, from nearly 44 per day in the two weeks that ended Dec. 5 to nearly 46 per day during the two weeks that ended Dec. 19, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
Topeka: Kansas will need far more doses of coronavirus vaccines than it’s set to receive in the coming days to start giving shots to all residents 75 or older, officials at a major health care system said as the state reported its worst seven-day spike in COVID-19 deaths of the pandemic. State officials expect Kansas’ 49,000 doses of a vaccine made by Moderna set to arrive this week to go to local health departments and community health care centers, so that they can vaccine health care workers, said Ashley Jones-Wisner, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The state’s first vaccine shipments last week, 23,750 doses made by Pfizer, went to hospitals for at-risk health care workers. The state’s vaccine distribution plan calls for vaccines first to go to health care workers, workers in nursing homes and nursing home residents, though Jones-Wisner said another shipment of Pfizer’s vaccines, expected to be 17,550 doses, will be used to start those shots. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses. “Somebody’s going to feel left out, because there’s not enough,” said Dr. Steve Stites, the chief medical officer for the University of Kansas Health System. “We just have to have a lot more of the vaccine.”
Louisville:Together with top state lawmakers, Gov. Andy Beshear and first lady Britainy Beshear received COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday. The Democratic governor thanked the top two Republican legislative leaders, House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers, for joining him in “setting the right example for the people of Kentucky.” The head of the Kentucky National Guard, the lieutenant governor and state police commissioner will receive vaccines on Wednesday, Beshear said. “As more quantities become available, we will be providing them to more officeholders and or critical physicians,” he said. “Again, we’re doing this in a way that preserves 99.99% of these for front-line workers and for long-term care but builds confidence as we go.” About 7,000 Kentuckians, the vast majority of them health care workers in hospitals, have been vaccinated since Dec. 14.
Baton Rouge: The Louisiana Supreme Court on Monday sent a legal feud between Gov. John Bel Edwards and House Republicans over coronavirus restrictions back to district court, saying the judge ruled too quickly that the state law the GOP used to try to nullify the restrictions was unconstitutional. The justices wrote in their opinion that Baton Rouge Judge William Morvant should have held a full hearing on other issues raised in the lawsuit over the Democratic governor’s statewide mask mandate, business restrictions and crowd size limits aimed at fighting the spread of COVID-19. “We find the district court acted prematurely in reaching the issue of constitutionality,” the justices wrote. The high court’s decision requires Morvant to hold another hearing in the case. The Edwards administration intends to continue enforcing its COVID-19 rules while the case is pending. The governor has since issued tougher restrictions than those that drew objections from House Republicans, as Louisiana sees a spike in coronavirus cases.
Portland: The bishop of Maine’s Roman Catholic diocese called on Catholics in the state to observe social distancing and other precautions this Christmas. Bishop Robert Deeley said 2020 is a year for “a different Christmas” because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he plans to stay home and celebrate livestreamed Masses on Christmas morning at midnight and 10 a.m. this year. Deeley said it’s a good year to “put more lights up outside the house but bring less people into the house.” He also encouraged the use of facial coverings in any gatherings that involve people from different households. Deeley previously called on the state’s Catholics to use the coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available to them
Williamsport:The town has announced plans to line Byron Memorial Park with luminarias Saturday night to honor those who have died from COVID-19 and those who have contracted the disease, as well as others who have been impacted by the pandemic. Williamsport Main Street Manager Kathyrn Gratton said in a news release that living through 2020 has been challenging but strength has been found in those challenges. The luminarias that will placed throughout the park will be meant to shine a light on that strength, Gratton said. The event, made possible by a partnership between the town and the Williamsport Lions Club, will involve the lighting of the luminarias starting at dusk, according to the release. The luminarias will remain lit through the night and will coincide with ongoing holiday displays in the park. The event is also meant to honor the business community, all first responders who have been on the front line in the pandemic and the community as a whole, according to the release. Those coming to the park to view the lights are being asked to practice safe measures such as social distancing and use of masks. For those who wish to remain home, a Facebook Live video will be shown on the Town of Williamsport and Main Street Williamsport Facebook pages.
Amherst: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has temporarily closed again in response to the latest statewide spike in COVID-19 cases. The closure that began Monday is precautionary, Alexandra Kennedy, executive director of the museum told The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Staff will continue to go into the museum on an as-needed basis and the museum’s bookshop will offer curbside service, she said. “We are hoping we can reopen to visitors early in the new year,” Kennedy wrote in an email. Museum officials said they will monitor state health data and reopen as soon it’s safe for staff, visitors and the community. Everyone who has purchased advanced tickets will be issued a refund. The museum closed in March at the start of the pandemic and reopened in August with strict protocols in place, including advanced registration for most visits and limited capacity.
DeWitt Township:Hundreds of toys were distributed Tuesday in honor of a Lansing-area police officer who died of COVID-19. The toys were donated to DeWitt Township by the First Responders Children’s Foundation, the Lansing State Journal reported. Sgt. Bill Darnell died in November at a time when COVID-19 was having a major impact on the community of 15,000 people, north of Lansing. The DeWitt Township police department had to close for a week and get help from other police agencies because of the virus. “We want to get these (toys) to kids and families who need them, who want them,” said Police Chief Mike Gute. “We just want to do a good thing in honor and memory of Bill.”
Minneapolis: State officials are encouraging high school students who lost their jobs because of the pandemic to apply for unemployment assistance, hoping to get the help to more people who might not be aware of a recent state Court of Appeals ruling that made them eligible. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and other state officials held a virtual roundtable with several youth activists on Monday to get high school workers across the state who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic to apply for an estimated $14 million to $28 million in unemployment insurance funds provided by the federal CARES Act, for which they are now eligible. “Those first few months were extremely challenging for my family and if I had been allowed benefits at the time, it would have taken an immense amount of stress off of my shoulders,” said Rahma Farah, a 17-year-old high school student from south Minneapolis and one of the teens who helped with the effort.
Jackson: The state surpassed its previous record for the highest number of coronavirus deaths reported in a day Tuesday with 79. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the state is on track to surpass 1,000 deaths in the month. Close to 4,500 people with the coronavirus have died in Mississippi since the start of the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health. “We’re all going to suffer,” Dobbs said during a virtual briefing Tuesday. “I think more and more people are seeing the impact on our families from personal experience.” The 79 deaths were reported as of Monday night. Fifty-six of the people died at different times within the last 10 days and were identified as coronavirus-related fatalities later using death certificates, according to the Department of Health. Dobbs, the state’s top health official, said he could not share the names of the dead because of privacy laws. But he took a moment at the start Tuesday’s briefing to honor some of those 79 who died. He listed individuals by age, sex and race: A Black woman in her late 30s, an 84-year-old white man and a 52-year-old Black man among them. “These are people, but for COVID, would be with us for next Christmas,” Dobbs said. “These are people who didn’t have to die.”
O’Fallon: CVS Health said it plans to administer about 100,000 coronavirus vaccinations next week at Missouri long-term care facilities as the vaccination roll-out expands beyond health care workers, the company said Monday. The pharmacy chain will vaccinate residents and staff at more than 40,000 long-term care facilities across the U.S. The first of those vaccinations have begun, but Missouri facilities will see their first vaccinations starting Monday, CVS Health spokesman Charlie Rice-Minoso said. CVS and its competitor, Walgreens, are facilitating the inoculations at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Walgreens didn’t immediately reply to a Monday email seeking further information about that company’s plan in Missouri.
Helena: Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte signaled he won’t continue a statewide mask mandate in place since July, though he said he plans to wear a mask himself and get vaccinated against COVID-19. If Gianforte, a Republican, reverses outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s mask order, Montana will be just the second state after Mississippi to lift its mandate. Thirty-eight states now have statewide mandates. “I trust Montanans with their health and the health of their loved ones,” Gianforte said in a recent interview with KHN. “The state has a role in clearly communicating the risks of who is most vulnerable, what the potential consequences are, but then I do trust Montanans to make the right decisions for themselves and their family.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said masks help prevent transmission of COVID-19. At least one study has found that states with mask requirements have had slower COVID growth rates compared with those without mandates. “We’re going to encourage people to wear masks,” Gianforte said. “I’m personally going to lead by example, wearing a mask in the Capitol.”
Omaha: Health officials said it’s important to remain vigilant about social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus, even though vaccines have started to be administered and the state’s virus numbers have improved recently. Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour said the arrival of vaccines this month offers hope, but it will be some time before enough people have been vaccinated to make a difference in the pandemic. “Until 60% to 70% of the community is vaccinated, you still need to wear the mask, you still need to have social distancing, you still need to take all of those precautions,” Pour said. Over the past several weeks, the virus numbers have been improving in Nebraska. The rate of people being infected with the virus went from the fifth-highest in the nation early this month to the 29th-highest rate on Monday. The state said the number of people hospitalized with the virus remained unchanged Monday at 582. That is significantly lower than the peak of 987 set on Nov. 20 although it is still more than 2.5 times higher than it was on Oct. 1.
Las Vegas: Nevada is open for visitors with precautions in place, tourism and coronavirus response leaders said Monday, despite a weekend where the state passed the 200,000 mark in known COVID-19 infections and totaled 73 new deaths. In Las Vegas, where New Year’s fireworks that typically draw 300,000 people to the resort-lined Strip have been canceled, casinos are “open within the limits of the capacity determined by the governor,” Nevada tourism promotions chief Brenda Scolari said in a media call with state COVID-19 response leaders. Gov. Steve Sisolak in November tightened occupancy limits for restaurants, bars, casino floors and gyms, and set capacity at 25% for many businesses in a bid to stop a surge of coronavirus cases that are driving up hospitalizations. “We are very much promoting that properties in Las Vegas are acting with safety of visitors in mind and have every measure in place that’s necessary to make New Year’s Eve safe and memorable,” Scolari said. But a handful of Las Vegas Strip resorts have announced midweek closures because of a lack of demand. The Mirage said that starting in January, it will only be open from noon on Thursdays through noon on Mondays. Although some casino-resorts have only announced weekday closures for hotel reservations, the Mirage plans weekday closures of all of its operations, including its casino floor, restaurants and volcano show out front that erupts four times a night.
Manchester: New Hampshire’s largest art museum has closed until at least mid-January because of the coronavirus pandemic. Officials at the Currier Museum of Art said they will reopen the museum when COVID-19 infection rates start to decrease, and noted that many museums across New England have taken similar steps. “Our region has recently experienced an alarming spike in cases and the Currier Museum is doing all it can to contain the spread of COVID-19 and avoid burdening local health resources,” officials said. In the meantime, the museum will expand its online programs, including the family-friendly “Noon Year’s Eve” event.
Trenton:The Murphy administration defended itself Monday and seemed to shift some blame to the federal government after missing a deadline to start vaccinating staff and residents of nursing homes this week against COVID-19. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy dismissed a top Republican’s call for Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli to resign over the delay, saying “the last thing we need is people who don’t know what they’re talking about from the cheap seats.” Murphy did not say where the responsibility lies for the Department of Health’s failure to submit the required paperwork to the federal government in time to begin vaccinating staff and residents in the locations hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he urged patience and understanding as his administration rolls out a vaccine that was developed in record time and on a massive scale. “This is not an easy, straight-line process,” Murphy said. “It is one of the most ambitious federal government initiatives ever undertaken, and folks have to understand that.” The Department of Health missed by a day a federal deadline that would have allowed the pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens to begin vaccinating in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities Monday. In order to start vaccinating, the agency needed to submit information on more than 650 long-term care facilities throughout the state by Dec. 7. Now the vaccines should start being distributed Dec. 28.
Albuquerque: Health officials said Tuesday they are hoping to boost the number of people getting tested for COVID-19 through a new program that will provide free, at-home test kits to anyone who requests one. Through a partnership with Vault Medical Services, the saliva tests can be ordered online. All that’s needed is an internet connection, an email address and photo identification. State officials acknowledged the lack of broadband access across New Mexico and said the new at-home option expands what they described as one of the most wide-reaching testing programs in the nation. The state Health Department has been operating in-person testing locations in every county since early in the pandemic, including in spots that have connectivity issues. The state is now averaging more than 14,000 tests a day and that’s expected to grow with the new program. In all, more than 1.8 million tests have been done since the beginning of the pandemic.
New York City: The city’s public school system will conduct special social, emotional and academic behavioral screenings next year for students in 27 neighborhood hard hit by the coronavirus, officials said. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said the screenings, beginning in September, will allow educators to get a jump-start on treating mental health issues related to the virus or the disruption of schooling that might linger into adulthood. The city is hiring 150 additional social workers for the effort and will expand a partnership between schools and the city’s public hospital system. Carranza said he would like to bring such services to all city schools, but can’t afford it without outside funding. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, heads up the city’s mental health initiatives. She described the new screenings as an important extension of a child’s annual pediatric exam.
Raleigh: Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Monday making it easier for businesses to sell alcohol without customers having to show up in person for their purchase. The order, in effect through the end of January, lets restaurants, hotels, clubs, bars and some distilleries holding certain permits from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission to sell alcoholic products for delivery or curbside pickup. The move is intended to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. “This order will help people avoid settings that can contribute to increased viral spread while giving restaurants and bars a financial boost that they need right now,” Cooper said in a statement. “With cases and hospitalizations high around the country, let’s all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 while supporting local, small businesses safely.” The 10-member Council of State approved Cooper’s action. Members include the Democratic governor and several other statewide elected officials.
Bismarck: Gov. Doug Burgum signed an amended executive order that paved the way for bars and restaurants in North Dakota to return to regular hours of operation on Tuesday, as the active number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined in the state. The food service establishments had been closed to in-person service between 10 a.m. and 4 a.m. since Nov. 16. The order Burgum signed Monday allows them to return to normal hours, consistent with any local requirements. But to keep the virus in check, the bars and restaurants must follow other state and local rules, including limiting capacity to 50% and allowing no more than 150 people inside until Jan. 8. Social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions also remain in place. A state order requiring masks to be worn in indoor businesses, indoor public settings and outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible remains in effect until Jan. 18. Banquet, ballroom and event venues also remain limited to 25% percent of maximum occupancy until Jan. 8.
Columbus:From TV commercials to a new mailing of masks to seniors, spending on a state public awareness campaign to persuade residents to play it safe in dealing with the coronavirus now totals more than $24 million. The state aging and health departments in recent days began a $13.5 million program to mail masks and COVID-19 precaution information to more than 2 million Ohioans age 65 and older. Including a new spot last week featuring four of the front-line nurses tending to virus patients, the Ohio Department of Health had spent $8.3 million with federal aid to produce and air an ongoing series of TV commercials counseling COVID caution.
Oklahoma City: CVS Health said it plans to begin administering vaccines to more than 27,000 patients at 176 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities across Oklahoma. Those workers are in the first phase of the state’s vaccine distribution plan. More than one-third of the COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma, or about 685 people, have been residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities, according to the most recent data from the State Department of Health. Oklahoma health officials reported 2,596 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Monday and six additional deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 263,434 and the statewide death toll to 2,218.
Salem:As protesters and police clashed outside, lawmakers met in a special session Monday to pass measures to deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the third time lawmakers have met for an emergency session in what has been an extraordinary year, marked by the pandemic, widespread protests and blistering wildfires. Lawmakers extended a statewide ban on evicting renters until the end of June, narrowly managing to stave off a major crisis for thousands of Oregon renters. Between 27,700 and 56,100 Oregon households risk getting evicted on Jan. 1, the day after the current moratorium ends, according to a legislative analysis that cited data from the National Council of State Housing Agencies. “Now more than ever, preventing evictions is an investment in the well-being of every Oregonian,” said Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, who carried the bill on the floor. Rep. Mark Meek, D-Clackamas County, said that although he supported extending the state’s moratorium on evictions, he didn’t support the bill, which he said doesn’t provide “meaningful relief to housing providers” through a fund set up to compensate landlords.
Harrisburg: Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday delivered a mixed review of Congress’ newly passed pandemic relief package, as Philadelphia extended its coronavirus restrictions affecting indoor dining, in-person instruction at colleges and other activities. Wolf, a Democrat, said the $900 billion in federal aid package will provide vital support for people, small businesses and efforts to fight the virus. But, he said, it lacked direct aid to state and local governments trying to prop up crucial services, and more aid is needed for a hard-hit service industry – such as restaurants and bars – and in direct payments to individuals and families. The bill would establish a temporary $300-per-week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, plus money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction. In Philadelphia, city officials extended restrictions on indoor dining, indoor events, theaters, casinos, colleges and indoor organized sports for two more weeks, through Jan. 15. Museums, outdoor sports, gyms, in-person instruction in high schools and outdoor catered events can resume Jan. 4, with capacity limitations, unless state restrictions set to expire that day are extended by Wolf, city officials said.
Providence: Providence Public Schools and its food vendor are making sure the city’s children don’t go hungry over the holidays amid the pandemic. The schools and Sodexo on Tuesday as part of the grab-and-go program are offering students 13 days’ worth of meals, enough to cover the holiday break, at its eight meal sites across the city. The grab-and-go meal sites will not be active during the break. The Home for the Holiday meal pack includes a turkey or pork roast, potatoes, mandarin oranges, macaroni and cheese, cereal, milk, juice and other items. Parents and guardians may pick up a student’s meal pack, provided they have the student’s school ID number.
Columbia: The state’s health board selected a retired military doctor to head the state’s health and environmental department, which has been overseeing South Carolina’s coronavirus response. The Department of Health and Environmental Control board unanimously voted Tuesday to hire Dr. Edward Simmer, who previously oversaw civilian medical and dental care for the Defense Health Agency in Virginia and served three decades in the Navy. The board-certified psychiatrist also holds a master’s degree in public health.
Sioux Falls:Monument Health, the largest hospital system in the western part of South Dakota, began administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to hospital workers and staff at long-term care facilities in several locations. Meanwhile, the largest hospital systems in the eastern part of the state planned to distribute the vaccine in the coming days. The state’s distribution plan calls for medical workers in hospitals and long-term care facilities to receive the vaccine first, followed by residents of long-term care facilities. The Department of Health reported that 7,844 people have received the first dose of the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and expects to receive enough doses of the Moderna vaccine for 14,600 people.
Nashville: Democratic U.S. Rep. London Lamar said Tennessee is “setting a world example of how to kill people during a pandemic” by not requiring masks and other measures. Dr. Jason Martin of a physician’s group said Gov. Bill Lee has “betrayed your oath and abandoned the people you were elected to serve,” and has rebutted Lee’s contention that there’s argument and dissention about “what’s the right tactic” among health professionals. The president of the Tennessee Medical Association, Dr. Kevin Smith, said his group hasn’t heard from any of its 9,000-plus physician members who oppose mask requirements now. The association is calling for mask mandates in counties that top 10 new cases per 100,000 people a day – currently, the whole state, since the best county was eight times worse in the last week, Smith said.
Austin:Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday joined the ranks of governors receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in hopes of assuring the public that the inoculations are safe. Abbott, a Republican, said after getting the vaccine at a hospital in the state capital that federal health officials have urged governors to set an example. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey also received the first dose this week, and other governors have said they will wait. A resurgence of the virus in Texas has put the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients back over 10,000 for only the second time during the pandemic. Nearly 11,000 people were hospitalized in July during a deadly summer outbreak. Abbott has said he won’t impose new lockdown measures as cases climb.
St. George:Thirty-seven of the 128 deaths of southwestern Utah residents attributed to COVID-19 have come since Dec. 1, making it the deadliest month since the pandemic began, according to new state figures released Monday. Two more deaths were added to the count Monday, including a Washington County man between the ages of 45 and 64 and another between the ages of 65 and 84. The numbers have accelerated in recent weeks. There were a total of 57 deaths by the end of October, and then 35 in November before the increase in December. In addition, another 40 people were hospitalized with the disease as of Monday, according to the Southwest Utah Public Health Department.
Montpelier: Gov. Phil Scott said he is relaxing restrictions on gatherings over the holidays to allow two trusted households to gather as Vermont’s coronavirus case numbers have stabilized, although they are still higher than the administration would like to see. “It’s been a little over a month since we took significant steps to slow the rising spread of the virus. And it’s clearly working,” Scott said. The state has seen several days of fewer than 100 cases, which is still high but shows vast improvement, he said. Gathering with only one trusted household will be allowed from Wednesday to Jan. 2, with other stringent measures still in place, Scott said. Gathering with more than one trusted household on different days is not permitted, he said. And if one of the two households is from out of state, everyone must quarantine for seven days and get a negative test or quarantine for 14 days afterward, he said. Scott also announced that residents can participate in outdoor recreation with others outside of their households provided that they can physically distance and wear a mask. Starting Friday, school-based and youth recreational sports teams may begin practices with skills, strength and conditioning drills with no contact and physically distancing and mask-wearing at all times.
Richmond: State officials announced a temporary policy change Tuesday that will provide about $200 million in payroll tax relief next year to Virginia businesses that laid off workers amid the pandemic. Under an executive order from Gov. Ralph Northam, the Virginia Employment Commission won’t be counting layoffs that took place in April, May or June against businesses when calculating unemployment insurance tax rates for 2021, Northam’s office announced. Without the change to what’s called the experience tax, about 10,000 more businesses than last year would have had to pay the full amount of about $600 per year per employee, according to Megan Healy, Northam’s chief workforce development advisor. She said the tax relief will be offset by about $210 million in federal stimulus money that lawmakers directed to the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund during the special session. Nicole Riley, Virginia state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said Northam’s decision would relieve some of the financial pressure on employers and ultimately make it easier for them to put people back to work.
Olympia: Gov. Jay Inslee has announced new travel restrictions for people arriving from the United Kingdom and South Africa where a new and seemingly more contagious strain of the coronavirus is circulating. Inslee said Monday he would issue a proclamation requiring passengers who arrive from the United Kingdom and South Africa to quarantine for 14 days, including passengers who have arrived from those countries in the past few days. It also encourages those people to get tested for the virus. “Today’s action is a commonsense public health measure and … is another attempt to keep Washingtonians safe,” Inslee said. The quarantine measures are precautionary and meant to stem a possible surge in cases that could overwhelm hospitals, he said. The quarantine is mandatory and although it’s legally enforceable, Inslee said no one will be taken into custody over it. Dozens of countries have restricted travel from Britain in recent days because of the new strain. Inslee said he wasn’t aware of other states issuing restrictions. British Airways canceled the only nonstop flight from London to Seattle on Monday, according to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport spokesperson Perry Cooper, but he said the reason behind it wasn’t immediately known.
Charleston: The state reported a single-day record of 42 deaths linked to the coronavirus on Tuesday, with victims ranging in age from 48 to 100. The state reported 787 confirmed coronavirus cases, down from a high of 1,257 last week. There are 22,864 active cases in the state. West Virginia has received nearly 21,100 doses of a coronavirus vaccine so far, administering more than 15,900. Gov. Jim Justice said Monday a combined 44,300 doses of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech will arrive this week. Officials expect to administer doses at all nursing homes and long-term care centers by the end of the month.
Madison: The University of Wisconsin System paid out nearly $70 million in coronavirus-related refunds to students in the last year, according to a report released Tuesday. The Legislative Audit Bureau released findings that show the system paid out $68.5 million in housing and food service refunds to students after campuses closed in March as the pandemic was taking hold in Wisconsin. The report didn’t say how much the system might have saved by closing down dorms and food services. State Auditor Joe Chrisman didn’t respond to a message seeking further information. Auditors also found that the Board of Regents approved reductions in other student fees at four two-year schools and at UW-Milwaukee heading into the fall semester to reflect a lack of athletics and performing arts programming. Student fees support both areas. The fee reductions ranged from $36 per student at UW-Milwaukee’s Waukesha branch to $187 per student at UW-Milwaukee. The report went on to say that the system received $94.2 million in federal pandemic relief funds. Half of that money had to go for financial aid for students for pandemic-related expenses; the rest had to be used to cover changes in instruction delivery or student aid.
Gillette: The 70 new confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded in Campbell County on Monday afternoon pushed its total to 3,646 since the pandemic began, according to the Wyoming Department of Health. Campbell County Memorial Hospital continues to feel the strain of its resources as its COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high, despite a noticeable decrease at other hospitals throughout the state, the Gillette News Record reported.
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