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Dakota danger, not making a Peep: News from around our 50 states

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

Published 4:41 AM EDT Sep 14, 2020


Tuscaloosa: White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx on Friday praised Alabama’s response to the pandemic but expressed concern about the number of men she saw not wearing masks as she visited the state. During a stop at the University of Alabama, the site of a recent outbreak, Birx praised the state leadership, university administrators, students and citizens for their response to the virus. But she noted a gender gap in mask-wearing, one of the tools to curb the spread of the virus. Birx said she purposely drives on visits so she can see what happens in gas stations, coffee shops and as people are “going around their everyday life.” “What we saw is a lot of women wearing masks but not all the men of Alabama wearing masks. So, if I could just remind the men of Alabama, you get this disease just as much as anyone else,” Birx said.


Juneau: The city issued an emergency public health order mandating that all bars close indoor service as of Saturday. The move came after local public health officials reported that two more people in the city tested positive for the coronavirus Friday after being in a bar. At least 13 people have had confirmed cases of the coronavirus after one large gathering that many local bartenders attended in late August, KTOO-FM reports. Bars that have outdoor seating can still serve people, but the seating must fulfill federal guidelines for social distancing, Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said in an email. Bars are also still able to conduct curbside and delivery services. The order will be in place for at least 15 days. The order also requires restaurants to hold at most 50% of their normal indoor capacity and to accept only those customers who have made reservations.


Phoenix: The VRBO vacation rental site says it is implementing a months­long ban on one-night rentals in the state in response to concerns about large gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The single-night rental ban will run through January and was disclosed in a letter Tuesday to Gov. Doug Ducey. The site’s parent company, Expedia Group, plans to develop long-term steps to help eliminate large gatherings through changes in the reservation system and through identification “of bad actors after the fact to prevent future incidents,” the letter said. Pandemic-related concerns about large gatherings have added to previously voiced complaints about short-term rentals of homes used for frequent parties and other gatherings that produce loud noise, rude behavior and street congestion. The issue has festered since Arizona lawmakers in 2016 approved legislation prohibiting municipalities from banning rentals. That allowed them to flourish.


Little Rock: The state reported a new daily record for confirmed coronavirus cases Friday, surpassing the one-day record increase set a week prior. The Department of Health reported 1,107 people tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, and an additional 78 people were positive through antigen testing. The increase came after four straight days of fewer than 400 new cases. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he’s not considering new restrictions but said the state may look at action in other areas such as contact tracing if it continues seeing multiple days of cases exceeding 1,000. “You don’t want to take action broadly in terms of restrictions and businesses if they’re not related to an increase in cases,” Hutchinson said. Colleges and universities remained a major driver of the state’s increase, with 13% of the new cases coming from campuses.


Sacramento: With millions of people out of work in the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law giving tax breaks to small businesses that hire more workers by Dec. 1. The law will reduce how much state taxes some small businesses owe if they have more employees working between July 1 and Dec. 1 than they did between April 1 and June 30. Businesses of 100 employees or fewer would get a $1,000 credit for the net increase of each new worker. It only applies to businesses that lost at least half their revenue from April to June this year vs. the same time period last year. The credit is capped at $100,000 per business. Businesses get the credit only if they hire employees, not contractors. Small businesses owned by large companies are not eligible. Newsom called it “one of the most significant tax credits in our state’s history” because of the provisions that restrict the benefits to small businesses affected by the pandemic.


Boulder: Enrollment at the University of Colorado Boulder for incoming freshmen is expected to drop by more than 12% this year, contributing to the additional $25 million budget shortfall amid the pandemic, officials said. Chancellor Phil DiStefano told the university system’s Board of Regents on Thursday that overall enrollment is expected to decline by 2%, the Daily Camera reports. “The decrease in enrollment was disappointing and is coming at a time when we’ve made significant investments in returning students to campus, but it’s within our range of budgeting for this year,” DiStefano said. Enrollment numbers are lower than what was predicted in June, but departments have already prepared for a 5% budget cut, which is likely to remain in that range. DiStefano said the cuts could mean layoffs, salary reductions and positions held vacant, as well as cuts to operating, facilities, technology and library budgets.


Storrs: University of Connecticut and local health officials have ordered about 700 students living in an off-campus apartment complex to quarantine for two weeks after tracing several COVID-19 cases to homes there. Student living in the The Oaks on the Square are being asked to remain inside their apartments except for “solitary activity” or to pick up food, according to the letter sent to Oaks residents. Nonstudents living in the complex are not subject to the quarantine, which was agreed to Friday by officials from UConn, the Eastern Highlands Health District and the town of Mansfield. The quarantined students will be required to switch any in-person classes to online for an indefinite period of time. As of Saturday, the school has reported 121 positive tests for the new coronavirus on campus since about 5,000 students returned in August and 92 cases among those living off-campus.


Dover: The state is expanding access to free coronavirus testing. Gov. John Carney announced Friday that Delaware is shifting testing from mobile sites to permanent sites that can handle a greater volume of testing. The shift will take place beginning Monday. The 19 fixed testing sites are located throughout the state, including eight drive-thru Walgreens locations, six public health clinics and five state service center sites. Walgreens sites do not require advance registration, but the others do. Testing will be offered five to seven days per week, depending on the location. All testing is free, with results expected within two to three days.

District of Columbia

Washington: The Art All Night show, a multiday event curated to celebrate artists and inspire aspiring artists, has gone virtual, WUSA-TV reports. Kristi Whitfield, director of the D.C. Department of Small and Local Development, said the shift to an online model for the event that started Sunday and runs through Sept. 26 was made in an effort to shield as many people as possible from the coronavirus threat. “We will still be together, and we will still celebrate the culture of the city; we just have to do it a little bit differently this weekend,” Whitfield said. “We’re gonna make sure that the elements of it remain the same, which is gathering and creativity.” For the past 11 years, Art All Night has featured artists from all genres from around the district. This year, with the pandemic, emphasis is being placed on financially supporting the curators of culture and entertainment.


Miami: The state moved closer to fully reopening from its coronavirus restrictions as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that Florida’s two most-populous counties will loosen some stringent regulations on businesses and set the stage for their schools to resume classroom instruction. DeSantis said Miami-Dade and Broward counties on Monday will move into Phase 2 of the economic recovery program, becoming the last two in the state to advance to that stage. This will allow those counties’ schools to resume on-campus teaching, though that won’t happen immediately. Both county school boards will devise plans and set target dates, and parents will be allowed to keep their children home and take classes online. By moving to Phase 2, Broward and Miami-Dade can also join the rest of the state in allowing more indoor entertainment centers such as concert halls and theaters to open at 50% capacity with mandatory masks.


Atlanta: State court judges may begin calling grand juries to consider indictments, as courts take another step toward resuming trials suspended due to the pandemic, Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton said. The head of the state’s judicial system said judges should consult with district attorneys and move forward “as local conditions allow.” Melton also told each county to develop rules on how to resume trials, saying he was likely to authorize trials to resume in October, if local judges decide that is safe. Because it takes a month or longer to summon grand jurors and trial jurors, Melton said that means grand juries won’t begin meeting until October at the earliest, and in-person trials won’t resume until November. The court system is encouraging courts to space out grand jurors and consider larger rooms – even spaces outside courthouses if necessary. Meanwhile, Melton said judges should continue to hold hearings remotely as much as possible.


Honolulu: Lt. Gov. Josh Green has tested positive for the coronavirus. Green told Hawaii News Now on Friday that he feels fine but will continue to monitor his symptoms. The deputy governor has been one of the top officials in the state’s effort to suppress the spread of the virus. A deputy sheriff assigned to protect Green had tested positive for the coronavirus earlier in the week. Green said he guesses he was infected by the deputy, whose wife also tested positive. The 50-year-old said he will quarantine in a condominium separate from his family. Green’s 14 staffers are self-isolating and seeking testing. “Just please, everybody, be thoughtful about who you’re around and how quickly you can spread disease,” Green said. “I’m 50 years old and pretty strong and healthy, but it’s a worry.”


Boise: Gov. Brad Little on Friday restored $99 million in K-12 education funding he cut earlier this year amid budget shortfall concerns due to the pandemic. The Republican governor also announced another $50 million will be made available to parents so they’re less likely to leave the workforce or dip into household money while their children learn during the challenges posed by the pandemic. “The stresses on our kids, families and educators right now are enormous,” Little said. The money is coming from Idaho’s $1.25 billion share of the $2.2 trillion emergency relief package approved by Congress last spring. The money is on top of $122 million already provided to K-12 education from the relief money. The $99 million cut earlier this year has already been absorbed by the state’s school districts, and school officials said it will be up to the local districts on how to spend the replacement money.


Peoria: A civic center is seeking about $4 million to keep afloat during the coronavirus pandemic that has caused the facility to lay off staff and lose money. The financial woes for the Peoria Civic Center began when the state ordered it shut in March due to the virus outbreak, which led to it absorbing a $250,000 loss and cutting staff from 350 to 16. “It’s no secret,” Civic Center Authority Board Chairman Matt Bartolo said. “We have a problem.” The solution comes with a $3.8 million price tag. “We don’t have it. And we’re going to need it in the next 60 days because we’ll be out of money in October,” Civic Center General Manager Rik Edgar said. “If that happens, the Civic Center will close. Permanently.” Edgar is slated to lead a group this month that will ask the Peoria City Council for about $4 million, which would cover full pay for staff and other building expenses, the Journal Star reports.


Indianapolis: Lawmakers are preparing to partially move some of their 2021 legislative session activity out of the Statehouse over coronavirus concerns. A joint House-Senate committee last week endorsed a plan aimed at allowing the 100-member House to hold its floor sessions and committee meetings in the auditorium and conference rooms of a state office building next to the Statehouse in downtown Indianapolis. The 50-member state Senate is planning to keep meeting in its Statehouse chamber but will convert its public gallery into seating for senators in order to allow sufficient distancing when the legislative session starts in January. Committee members decided against using the nearby Indiana Convention Center for the legislative session, citing concerns about cost and the farther distance from the Statehouse. But the convention center could be used as a location for the governor’s annual State of the State speech to all 150 lawmakers.


Iowa City: State officials have granted the city’s public schools a two-week extension to teach all classes online as the district seeks to avoid the spread of the coronavirus among students and staff. The state granted the request Wednesday – the same day it was received from the Iowa City Community Schools District, one of the largest in the state. School districts must request a waiver from the state in order to pursue two weeks of online-only classes due to the coronavirus. The Iowa City district already went through the process last month, garnering permission to hold classes online for two weeks when the school year began Tuesday. On Wednesday, the district submitted a new request seeking another two-week waiver, noting in the request that Johnson County’s 14-day positivity rates had been climbing and had reached 20.4% on Wednesday as thousands of college-age students returned to the city.


Topeka: A mostly Republican state council voted Friday to extend Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s emergency declaration providing services to combat the coronavirus in Kansas, but only after language was added clarifying that the governor doesn’t intend to use her authority to close businesses as she did in the spring. The State Finance Council’s unanimous vote came after a lengthy, contentious meeting during which Kelly and the GOP members accused each other of playing politics with the declaration. The resolution, which had been scheduled to expire Tuesday, will now be in effect until at least Oct. 31, when Kelly could seek another extension. Kelly and Adjutant General David Weishaar warned before the vote that letting the declaration expire would stop the state from providing many services, including the delivery of personal protective equipment and assistance with community-based testing.


Frankfort: A prominent infectious disease specialist who was hailed by the governor as a “front line hero” has died after a nearly four-month battle against COVID-19. Dr. Rebecca Shadowen, who tested positive for the virus May 13, died Friday night, Med Center Health in Bowling Green said. Gov. Andy Beshear tweeted Saturday that he was “heartbroken” to hear of her death and urged people to follow her advice and “wear a mask in her honor.” Before contracting the virus, Shadowen led Med Center Health’s work in National Institute of Health trials of patients’ treatment for the virus, according to media reports. Shadowen had said she believed she contracted the virus after an elderly family member received care at home from an infected caregiver. “COVID-19 does not discriminate in its ability to penetrate our homes and communities,” Shadowen said when announcing in the spring that she had tested positive for the virus.


New Orleans: Bars in a handful of parishes will be allowed to reopen under new, looser coronavirus restrictions announced Friday by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Bars in the state have been closed since July unless they have licenses to operate as restaurants. Under the guidelines announced Friday, bars in parishes where the percentage of positive COVID-19 deaths is 5% or below for four weeks can open if parish leaders give the OK, Edwards said. Dr. Alex Billioux, an assistant state health secretary, estimated the criteria currently apply in only five of Louisiana’s 64 parishes, which are the equivalent of counties in other states. New Orleans (contiguous with Orleans Parish) fits the criteria, but Mayor LoToya Cantrell has made clear bars will remain closed for the time being. None of the state’s other large cities are in parishes that meet the two-week, 5% threshold. Those parishes that do are Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist, Jefferson Davis and Bienville.


Portland: A federal appeals court will make a ruling about whether rules designed to prevent spread of the coronavirus in the state are unconstitutional. The restrictions applied by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills have been the subject of three federal lawsuits, and federal judges in Maine have ruled in favor of the governor each time. Plaintiffs have appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, the Portland Press Herald reports. The lawsuits concern restrictions on gatherings, mandatory 14-day quarantine periods for visitors and restrictions on operating a business. Maine officials have defended the state’s rules as necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, which has taken less of a toll on Maine than it has on many states. Some of the rules have changed since the original lawsuits were filed. For example, visitors from other states can now avoid the 14-day quarantine period if they produce negative test results.


Annapolis: Gov. Larry Hogan says the state will be the first member of a multistate coalition to purchase a large amount of rapid COVID-19 antigen tests. Maryland will buy 250,000 antigen tests made by Becton, Dickinson and Co. “This is the latest state-of-the-art technology in rapid testing, which will help to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help our state to speed up economic recovery,” Hogan said at a news conference. Antigen tests can offer results in 15 to 20 minutes. The tests will first be deployed at nursing homes, assisted living facilities and correctional institutions. Hogan said the state is also considering providing the tests for use at college dormitories. The purchase comes at a cost of about $8 million, or roughly $30 per test. The tests will be paid for with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Worcester: School officials are asking the city to explore the creation of a municipal broadband network after many families were unable to access online schooling during the coronavirus pandemic. A school panel on internet access asked the City Council on Thursday to prepare a cost analysis and take other “concrete steps” to look into the possibility of creating a city broadband network. A July report from the Worcester Regional Research Bureau found that nearly a third of households did not have broadband, and 18% had no internet at all. The area’s broadband is provided by Charter Communications. The city’s school district bought thousands of wireless hot spots for families that did not have internet, but the leader of the internet access panel said those “piecemeal efforts” are not a permanent solution.


East Lansing: Health officials are strongly recommending that Michigan State University students living on or near the school’s East Lansing campus self-quarantine immediately because of an outbreak of COVID-19. At least a third of the 342 people affiliated with the university who have tested positive for the virus since Aug. 24 attended parties or social gatherings, the Ingham County Health Department said Saturday. At least a third of those gatherings were associated with fraternities or sororities. “This is an urgent situation,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda S. Vail said. “If we do not slow the spread immediately, we will be dealing with the consequences across the county for months to come.” The state has reported more than 110,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 6,500 deaths from the disease since the pandemic started.


Minneapolis: State health officials on Sunday confirmed 741 new cases of the coronavirus and 13 deaths resulting from COVID-19. Nine of the people who died were residents of long-term care and assisted-living facilities, the Minnesota Department of Health reported. A total of 1,919 people in the state have died since the pandemic began. The latest Minnesotans to die ranged in age from 60 to 99. Hennepin and Ramsey counties each reported three deaths. St. Louis and Waseca counties each had two deaths. Anoka, Freeborn and Kanabec counties each reported one death. Officials say hospitalizations dropped from 247 to 241 over the prior day, and patients in intensive care have decreased from 140 to 136.


Natchez: The mayor has tested positive for COVID-19. Mayor Dan Gibson was already on a 14-day self-imposed quarantine after a person with whom he had lunch tested positive for the coronavirus. The last day of that restriction was Tuesday. Gibson said he waited until then to get tested for the virus and for antibodies and was notified later Tuesday that he was positive for the virus, The Natchez Democrat reports. Gibson said he had not felt any of the symptoms associated with the virus. “It is the weirdest, strangest virus,” Gibson said. “At the very first onset of the quarantine I was tired, but I was also working 10 to 18 hours a day.” Gibson said he thought the tiredness came from how hard he was working in the first days of his term as mayor. Because he has tested positive, Gibson said he would follow CDC guidelines and remain quarantined for another 10 days.


Jefferson City: The state has reached a grim milestone, topping 100,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ coronavirus dashboard cited 1,974 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 101,134. The number is likely higher since many people with the illness go undiagnosed. The state also added three news deaths. All told, 1,704 Missourians have died from COVID-19. And the number of cases is growing at a rate faster than most places. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that over the seven-day period of Sept. 4-10, Missouri saw the sixth-highest number of new cases among all states. The rise became more dramatic after Republican Gov. Mike Parson allowed Missouri to reopen for business in mid-June.


Helena: A long-term care facility reported the deaths of four more residents due to complications of COVID-19 on Friday, while four other deaths were reported around the state. Officials with Whitefish Care and Rehabilitation in Whitefish have confirmed the outbreak at their facility, which has led to the deaths of 10 residents, the Flathead City-County Health Department said. More than 75% of the facility’s residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since August, health officials said. The facility’s executive director, Reid Crickmore, has told the Flathead Beacon that the outbreak stemmed from an asymptomatic staff member. Montana reported another 124 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the number of known cases to nearly 8,800. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because not everyone has been tested, and people can be infected with the virus without having symptoms.


Lincoln: The owner of a bowling alley who has been at loggerheads with city officials for weeks over orders intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus is suing to stop the mandates from being enforced. Benjamin Madsen, general manager of Madsen’s Bowling & Billiards, filed the lawsuit Thursday against the city and its mayor, police chief and health director, the Lincoln Journal Star reports. The lawsuit alleges they have no legal authority to issue civil penalties or shut down businesses that don’t follow the mandates. The bowling alley has also filed a $10 million claim against the city making the same allegations. Also Thursday, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced plans to end nearly all of his state’s social-distancing restrictions this week, even as the number of new coronavirus cases trended upward.


Las Vegas: Gov. Steve Sisolak said President Donald Trump has denied the state’s request to have the federal government fund all of the cost of deploying the National Guard to help with Nevada’s coronavirus response. National Guard members have established coronavirus sample collection sites, aided in contact tracing efforts, distributed food and maintained the state’s stockpile of personal protective equipment. From April until August, the federal government had been covering all of the cost for every state’s Guard deployment. The White House announced last month that Nevada, along with several other states, would have to pay 25% of the cost of deploying the Guard starting Aug. 21. The federal government would pick up the rest of the bill through the end of of the year.

New Hampshire

Nashua: Students in two school districts were subjected to pornography and other inappropriate behavior during remote classes last week, authorities said. A teacher in Nashua reported a pornographic image being shown to the entire class during a remote lesson, Gregory Rodriguez, Nashua’s director of technology told WMUR-TV. The teacher closed down the class right away, he said. “We’re working with the Nashua Police Department, trying to figure out ways to investigate this,” Rodriguez said. In Concord, there have been several reports of inappropriate behavior during remote high school lessons. Two were pornographic, one was racial, and one involved a toy gun in the background behind a student, said Pam McLeod, the district’s IT director. The Concord police computer crimes unit is investigating.

New Jersey

Trenton: Almost three-fifths of people who respond to the state’s COVID-19 contact tracers are refusing to cooperate, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday. Murphy called on people to cooperate with the state’s roughly 1,800 contact tracers, whose ranks he built up with the aim of smothering any new outbreaks. He suggested people are worried the tracers might pass information along to law enforcement, particularly for those associated with underage drinking parties. But he sought to allay those concerns. “It’s not a witch hunt,” he said. Overall, 82% of people getting initial calls from tracers answer them. He said 59% refuse cooperation, which he called “bad news.” Despite that, he said 20 out of 21 counties have exceeded his goal of hiring 15 contact tracers per 100,000 people. There are 21 contact tracers per 100,000 people on average, he said.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: State labor officials say they have started paying out supplemental federal unemployment benefits of $300 a week. The Workforce Solutions Department announced Friday that it has begun processing supplemental benefits for the five-week period starting July 26. That is when a larger $600 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits expired. Recipients for the new payments must already qualify for state unemployment benefits of at least $100 a week. They could receive up to $1,500 in a separate payment from standard benefits. New Mexico was among the first states to receive approval for the new unemployment benefits channeled through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The statewide unemployment rate surged to 12.7% in July – a rate surpassed in just seven other states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The tourism, hospitality, arts and energy sectors have been especially hard-hit.

New York

New York: The president of the city’s teachers union warned that it wouldn’t let New York City schools open later this month if the city doesn’t do what’s needed in terms of issues like getting protective equipment issued properly, testing, and school cleanings. In a video issued Friday to United Federation of Teachers union members, UFT President Michael Mulgrew was visibly angry about how the week’s efforts had gone and chastised the city for not acting with enough urgency. The return of students to in-person learning in city schools was delayed from Sept. 10 to Sept. 21 to continue working on coronavirus safety precautions. “We are responsible for working and taking care of children. We are responsible for wearing a mask in the school, for keeping our social distancing. We understand what we’re responsible for,” Mulgrew said. “But we also know what you’re responsible for.”

North Carolina

Raleigh: A judge refused Friday to place more controls upon the state prison system after inmate advocates argued it wasn’t doing what he previously ordered to protect the incarcerated against COVID-19. Superior Court Judge Vince Rozier wrote there wasn’t enough evidence to issue additional enforcement orders upon the Department of Public Safety and its leaders. Rozier has been presiding over a lawsuit about health and safety within state prisons during the pandemic. In June, the judge ordered mass testing of all prisoners and said the state should expand the factors that would allow offenders at risk for the virus to be released sooner. Lawyers for prisoners told Rozier last month that prison officials have failed to adequately address sanitary conditions and that the criteria for the release of prisoners hadn’t been expanded enough. They also alleged some prisoners were facing retaliation for speaking about poor conditions.

North Dakota

Bismarck: A county that is among the state’s COVID-19 hot spots has voted unanimously against creating a public mask mandate. The Bismarck Tribune reports nearly a dozen people spoke out against the idea at the Morton County Commission meeting Thursday. Morton and Burleigh counties include the Bismarck metropolitan area and have taken over as the state’s hot spot for the virus in recent weeks, accounting for 25% of its active cases. Gov. Doug Burgum in July announced a task force for the counties to address the spike in coronavirus cases in the region. The panel last week requested that local governments enact mask mandates and make guidelines for businesses requirements. Morton County Commissioner Andy Zachmeier moved to deny a mandate on several points, including lack of public support, no plan for enforcement and the belief that a mask mandate should come from the governor. Burgum has resisted that.


Oxford: A college student house held a party over the Labor Day weekend that included people who had recently tested positive for the coronavirus, according to police body camera footage. Oxford police cited six men who attended a house party near Miami University on Saturday for violating the state’s mass gathering and quarantine ordinance. Bodycam footage shows an officer arriving at a home near the campus and finding men without masks on the porch. One of the men tells police that 20 people have gathered at the house – twice the number allowed to congregate in Ohio. The officer asks the group to disperse while he runs the ID of one of the residents. “There’s an input on the computer that you tested positive for COVID?” the officer asks. “Yes,” the student answers, adding that he tested positive a week before and that every single person at the party has COVID-19, including two people from the house across the street.


Oklahoma City: Health officials reported six additional deaths from the coronavirus Sunday as the state’s death toll surpassed 900. The Oklahoma State Department of Health said the death toll is now 905. Health officials also reported 695 new cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. The total number of reported cases so far has reached 69,354. The actual number of cases is likely higher because many people haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick. Health officials say more than 58,000 people have recovered from COVID-19 in Oklahoma. There are currently almost 10,000 active cases in the state.


Salem: Oregonians who were unemployed between July 26 and Sept. 5 can certify for the $300 weekly Lost Wages Assistance benefits through the Oregon Employment Department. The certification is required by FEMA for those who receive regular unemployment, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or extended unemployment benefits. Residents can apply online at the Oregon Employment Department’s website. Claimants automatically qualify for the Lost Wages Assistance program if they have received unemployment benefits from July 26 through Sept. 5 and have certified they are unemployed due to COVID-19. The certification is retroactive for that five-week period.


Bethlehem: Peeps treats are going on hiatus for several months – another consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. Just Born Quality Confections said it won’t be producing the popular marshmallow sweets for Halloween, Christmas or Valentine’s Day as the Bethlehem-based company prepares for next Easter, reports. Production of the holiday-shaped candies was suspended in the spring as the coronavirus spread across the state. Limited production resumed in mid-May with protocols in place to protect employees, Just Born said. For confectioners, Easter is one of their biggest and busiest times of the year as children – and adults – use the holiday as an excuse to indulge in candy eggs and chocolate bunnies. Just Born, which has been in business since 1923, said its other seasonal confections are expected to return to store shelves by Halloween 2021.

Rhode Island

Providence: The state will send applications for mail-in ballots to every registered voter in advance of the Nov. 3 general election, officials announced Friday. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea said she’s taking the action to make it easy to vote from home and to avoid crowding polling places during the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s going to ensure that voters don’t have to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote,” she said. Joined at a press conference by a member of the state’s Board of Elections, Gorbea said she has the authority to send mail-in ballot applications without any specific approval by the Legislature. State officials are expecting record turnout for the general election, Gorbea said. Members of the Rhode Island National Guard are being called upon to sort mail-in ballots, she said, but they will not process any ballots.

South Carolina

Columbia: Three inmates at a state prison have died after testing positive for COVID-19, bringing the death toll at the facility up to five, officials said. Broad River Correctional Institution inmates Terry Lee Alewine, 61, Paul Earl Jeter, 73, and Sam Harold Smith, 78, suffered from coronavirus-related deaths last week, news outlets report. The South Carolina Department of Corrections said 21 inmates have died throughout the corrections system after testing positive for COVID-19. All three men had underlying medical conditions before they were diagnosed with COVID-19. As of Thursday morning, 360 inmates and 54 staff members at Broad River have tested positive for COVID-19, officials told The State newspaper. Broad River has the second-highest positive rate, behind Tyger River Correctional Institution, where 444 prisoners have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

South Dakota

Brookings: Coronavirus infections in the Dakotas are growing faster than anywhere else in the nation, fueling impassioned debates over masks and personal freedom after months in which the two states avoided the worst of the pandemic. The argument over masks raged this month in Brookings as the City Council considered requiring face coverings in businesses. The city was forced to move its meeting to an arena to accommodate intense interest, with many citizens speaking against it before the mask requirement ultimately passed. North Dakota and South Dakota lead the country in new cases per capita over the past two weeks, ranking first and second respectively, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. South Dakota has also posted some of the country’s highest positivity rates for COVID-19 tests in the past week – over 17% – an indication there are more infections than tests are catching. Infections have been spurred by schools and universities reopening and mass gatherings like the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which drew hundreds of thousands of people from across the country.


Chattanooga: School leaders in Hamilton County have approved a $2.1 million surface disinfectant vendor contract in taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The local Board of Education voted to hire HES Facilities Management to manage COVID-19 cleaning and disinfecting of school buildings districtwide, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The Knoxville company partners with K-12 schools and higher education institutions nationwide to provide custodial, maintenance, groundskeeping and landscaping services, according to its website. The one-year contract – good through May 2021 – will be paid for by a combination of federal coronavirus funding and savings from the general operating budget, the newspaper reports. Fifteen Hamilton County Schools employees are currently infected with the coronavirus. About 29 students have active infections, according to the district’s tracking website.


Houston: The state’s most populous county can move forward with plans to send all registered voters a mail-in ballot application for the November general election, a state judge ruled Friday. The ruling came a week after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, sued Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins to stop his office from sending mail-in ballot applications to all 2.4 million Houston-area voters. The county announced earlier this month that it planned to send registered voters an application, regardless of whether they qualify to vote by mail. In Texas, mail-in ballots are generally restricted to voters who are 65 or older, disabled or will be outside the county on Election Day. In a press conference Thursday, Hollins said that he felt “confident” the judge would rule in his office’s favor and that the office always operated under the law.


St. George: Since the reopening of the shuttle system in July, Zion National Park’s shuttles have been filled to the brim while operating at limited capacity due to COVID-19. Two weeks later, more shuttles by local vendor St. George Shuttle were put into the gateway town of Springdale to help the crowds there. And now two months later, more shuttles are coming to Zion Canyon via St. George Shuttle to help the ever-increasing amount of people escaping the indoors and into the country’s third most-visited national park. On Sept. 1, the Washington County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution adding one to two new buses provided by St. George Shuttle to more easily funnel people through the canyon from now to Nov. 30. The buses will cost about $800 per day, according to Commissioner Gil Almquist – all funded with federal money allotted to the county to help alleviate the financial effects of the pandemic.


Montpelier: Republican Gov. Phil Scott on Friday extended Vermont’s coronavirus-related state of emergency to Oct. 15 and, on the 19th anniversary of 9/11, said the unity, determination and resolve the country found following the terrorist attack are needed now amid the pandemic. “We need to harness the same care and compassion that allowed us to move forward then in order to get us through the deadly emergency we face today,” Scott said during his regular virus briefing. The state’s ability to continually move forward and not have to take steps back amid the pandemic has been incredible, particularly when considering what’s happening in other parts of the country, Scott said. “Vermonters should be proud. You’ve stepped up, put on a mask, been smart about keeping your distance and limited the number of people you connect with,” he said, adding that Vermonters also found ways to work and vacation from home.


Richmond: Two inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 died Saturday as the state struggled with an outbreak of more than 400 active cases at a prison that houses many older and ailing male inmates. Lisa Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Corrections, said in a news release that 407 inmates at the Deerfield Correctional Center in Capron currently have the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Kinney said a total of six Deerfield inmates have died from COVID-19, the most deaths at any prison in Virginia. Virus testing is ongoing throughout DOC facilities. Deerfield recently tested the entire population of approximately 925 inmates. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports 22 inmates at Deerfield are currently hospitalized. Virginia prison officials say more than 10% of the state’s 27,000 inmates have now tested positive for COVID-19. A total of 19 inmates have died.


Seattle: As coronavirus cases spike at the state’s largest psychiatric hospital, workers are pleading with officials to save them not just from the disease but from the violence that continues to plague the facility. “It’s disheartening. You see an ambulance come not to bring a patient but to take one of your peers out of here because our management fails to staff this facility,” said John Henson, a mental health technician at Western State Hospital. “Our members are getting hurt, getting beat up.” Last week, a social worker suffered a head injury when she was assaulted “and will never be the same,” Mike Yestramski, a psychiatric social worker, told the hospital’s CEO in a recent email. They had six patient-on-patient assaults on one ward during a recent shift, and a discharge team driver was assaulted a few weeks back, he said. As of Thursday, 23 patients and 74 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, numbers that have doubled since mid-July.

West Virginia

Charleston: Marshall University will impose pay cuts affecting 650 employees due to the coronavirus pandemic reducing enrollment, the school’s president announced Thursday. The school faces a fall enrollment decrease of 4.6%, which is better than initial expectations, according to a news release. But the school has fewer out-of-state and international students, resulting in a revenue hit of $3.6 million. Marshall University had previously cut pay for 140 employees making $100,000 or more annually. “I sincerely regret that we have to take this step,” university president Jerome Gilbert said in a statement. “We had all hoped this second phase of salary cuts would not be necessary.” The pay reductions are on a sliding scale for employees making between $50,000 to $100,000, from cuts as low as 1% up to 5%. The cuts are not expected to last longer than a year.


Madison: The state Supreme Court has temporarily blocked an order that prevented most students in Dane County from attending school in person as health leaders tried to control the coronavirus’ spread. The court, by a 4-3 vote, agreed Thursday night to hear a lawsuit challenging the Public Health Madison and Dane County order. The county’s order issued Aug. 21 required that students in grades three through 12 be taught online. Three groups of religious schools and parents had asked the conservative-dominated court to take the case directly, and it issued a temporary injunction on the county’s order, which means schools across the county can open immediately. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi derided the court’s decision, saying it comes as the COVID-19 pandemic “hits a new peak in this community.” Newly reported coronavirus cases in Wisconsin logged their highest single-day total Thursday, with nearly a third in Dane County.


Casper: The University of Wyoming plans to restart in-person classes Tuesday after switching to online learning when a cluster of coronavirus cases emerged. President Ed Seidel temporarily halted in-person instruction Sept. 2 after the university confirmed seven cases of the coronavirus within a 24-hour period. The school had previously said it would postpone classes on campus if more than five cases were reported in a day. School officials say the number of positive tests has been encouraging. They haven’t confirmed a new case among students since Tuesday, the Casper Star-Tribune reported Friday. Seidel said the campus would reopen next Tuesday “barring a significant increase in cases.” Random sample testing will continue through the end of the year, the school said. The pause of in-person learning was in effect until Wednesday afternoon, but the university extended it through Monday.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

Published 4:41 AM EDT Sep 14, 2020

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