US Beckoning tourists, evangelical outreach, vaccine sweeteners: News from around our 50 states

18:35  13 may  2021
18:35  13 may  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

Minaret vaccination, Rushmore fight, enrollment drops: News from around our 50 states

  Minaret vaccination, Rushmore fight, enrollment drops: News from around our 50 states How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every stateStart the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.

a crowd of people at a beach: Thousands flocked to Ocean City to enjoy Labor Day on the beach and boardwalk. Beachgoers are seen Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. © Stephen Mathews for Salisbury Daily Times Thousands flocked to Ocean City to enjoy Labor Day on the beach and boardwalk. Beachgoers are seen Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.


text: Signs in the window of Mellow Mushroom in downtown Montgomery, Ala., on Monday announce that the restaurant is short-staffed and hiring. © Mickey Welsh / Advertiser Signs in the window of Mellow Mushroom in downtown Montgomery, Ala., on Monday announce that the restaurant is short-staffed and hiring.

Montgomery: With the state’s jobless numbers already nearing pre-pandemic levels and competition on the rise in a changed job market, the search for hospitality workers may not end with Alabama’s participation in federal supplemental unemployment benefits. Some who lost jobs in the industry “went off and found a job that has more … dependable wages,” said Jacqueline Allen, spokeswoman for state workforce development agency AIDT. “Everybody who basically wants a job right now has a job.” That’s My Child youth nonprofit founder Charles Lee said every member of his teens-to-work training program now graduates with a job, and the phone keeps ringing with employers asking for more. Meanwhile, he said federal relief payments and jobless benefits have changed people’s outlook on what’s possible. “It’s the most money some people have ever seen,” Lee said. “I think it’s just whoever is willing to go up to that $15 is going to get that workforce.” Transportation and child care issues were complicated by the pandemic, too. Child care alone is pricey in the best of times, if it’s available at all. Sam Addy of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama estimated better access to child care could bring 120,000 more people into the state’s labor force.

Class pets, weed boom, school robots: News from around our 50 states

  Class pets, weed boom, school robots: News from around our 50 states How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every stateStart the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.


Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.

Anchorage: The runoff race for mayor remained too close to call after Tuesday’s election, with the two candidates separated by only about 100 votes and thousands of ballots still uncounted. Preliminary election results showed Forrest Dunbar leading opponent Dave Bronson by a slim margin, garnering 50.08% of the votes tallied thus far, Anchorage Daily News reports. The election was on track for a record number of votes cast. An unknown amount of ballots cast in person Tuesday, left in secure ballot boxes throughout the city or postmarked by Election Day continue to arrive. As more ballots arrive, it’s likely that turnout will eclipse the city’s last record in the 2018 race for mayor. While technically nonpartisan, the mayoral race has been heated, fomenting partisan divisions among residents who disagree over how the city should move forward. The two candidates take starkly contrasting approaches to issues like the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the homelessness crisis and the city’s economy. Bronson has criticized Anchorage’s public health measures and restrictions on businesses and targeted Dunbar over the city’s handling of homelessness. Meanwhile, Dunbar has largely supported the city’s pandemic policies, saying that without them, more people would have died from COVID-19.

Ballpark bargain, beef passports, concerts for the vaccinated: News from around our 50 states

  Ballpark bargain, beef passports, concerts for the vaccinated: News from around our 50 states How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every stateStart the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.


Phoenix: Gov. Doug Ducey’s order last month rescinding the mask mandate for schools inflamed and confused the debate over face coverings, as many parents incorrectly interpreted it as a “masks off” directive. Ducey’s action tossed the decision to school administrators, putting them in the driver’s seat on mask policy. For many, it has been a hot seat. “It’s been pretty wild,” said Deb Dillon, president of the Prescott Unified School District board. Prescott opted to make mask usage voluntary last month but reversed itself May 4 after a coronavirus outbreak. The Prescott meeting was orderly, in contrast to earlier events in southern Arizona, where anti-mask protesters crowded into lobbies outside the board meetings of the Vail and Tanque Verde districts, demanding to speak. Both meetings were canceled. The protesters at Vail held a mock election to appoint themselves school officials. That led to incorrect accounts that circulated nationwide that their complaints had scared the official board members into quitting. The Arizona School Boards Association issued a statement condemning actions that threaten school board members. “Too often this year they have been treated as faceless bureaucrats who are optimal targets to release rage and frustration over the circumstances of the pandemic,” the statement said.

NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 7, 2021

  NHL's COVID protocol-related absences for May 7, 2021 Players in the COVID protocol are: Colorado's Devan Dubnyk and Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov.Anaheim – TBA


Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday formed a panel to come up with ways to spend the $1.5 billion the state is receiving from the latest federal coronavirus relief package. The Republican governor formed a 15-member steering committee for the state’s share of the $1.9 trillion relief measure that became law in March. Hutchinson formed a similar committee for the coronavirus relief money that was approved last year. The panel will be made up of eight Cabinet members and three members each from the state House and Senate. “We have to be methodical about this and not rushed,” Hutchinson told reporters. The U.S. Treasury Department on Monday issued broad guidance on how the relief funds can be spent. Hutchinson said he believed the priority for the state’s share of the relief spending should be capital investments, citing broadband and cybersecurity as two areas he’d like funded with the additional money. “It needs to be investments we can make that do not incur long-term spending and indebtedness of the state,” Hutchinson said. Because Arkansas’ unemployment rate is not significantly higher than its pre-pandemic level, the state is eligible to receive just half of its $1.5 billion allotment immediately, with the rest being provided one year later.

States scale back vaccine orders as interest in shots wanes

  States scale back vaccine orders as interest in shots wanes States asked the federal government this week to withhold staggering amounts of COVID-19 vaccine amid plummeting demand for the shots, contributing to a growing U.S. stockpile of doses. From South Carolina to Washington, states are requesting the Biden administration send them only a fraction of what's been allocated to them.From South Carolina to Washington, states are requesting the Biden administration send them only a fraction of what's been allocated to them. The turned-down vaccines amount to hundreds of thousands of doses this week alone, providing a stark illustration of the problem of vaccine hesitancy in the U.S.


Long Beach: The city is offering tickets to the Aquarium of the Pacific as an incentive to overcome resistance to COVID-19 vaccinations. Long Beach will give two aquarium tickets to anyone receiving their first dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at city-run vaccination sites, the city said Tuesday. The offer runs through Saturday. “While we have made tremendous strides in vaccinating 60% of eligible Long Beach residents and 96% of our seniors, we know that vaccine hesitancy for some is real,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement. “We are going to do everything we can to encourage folks to get vaccinated, and that includes incentives.” The Aquarium of the Pacific is one of the Los Angeles region’s major attractions, drawing about 1.7 million visitors annually. A regular adult general admission ticket costs $36.95. City Health and Human Services Director Kelly Colopy said the recent slowdown in vaccinations in California includes Long Beach, and officials are looking for innovative solutions.


Colorado Springs: Some health officials have warned that continued high numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations point to the pandemic not being over yet despite the state’s average infection rate decreasing by nearly a third since April. Colorado was averaging 1,731 newly confirmed coronavirus cases each day in late April – the most since Jan. 19 – but the numbers have fallen nearly every day since then, The Gazette reports. The state has averaged 1,182 newly confirmed cases over the past week, health officials said. “Colorado is heading in a positive direction again, and vaccination coverage is almost certainly playing a key role in this decline,” said Glen Mays, chair of the Colorado School of Public Health’s department of health systems. But Elizabeth Carlton, who also works for the department, said there are more worrying metrics, including hospitalizations. Carlton said the state was averaging about 100 new hospital admissions from COVID-19 daily since April 28, but that figure has risen to more than 650 as of Monday. Carlton said the metric means the “the number of people developing severe COVID-19 in Colorado doesn’t appear to be declining right now.” Some researchers said infection control efforts have fallen, and the time people spend away from home is rising, meaning current trends could continue.

The Latest: Germany OKs J&J, AstraZeneca jabs for all adults

  The Latest: Germany OKs J&J, AstraZeneca jabs for all adults BERLIN — Germany is making the one-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine available to all adults as it did with the AstraZeneca vaccine, though the bulk of the expected deliveries is still some way off. Germany has recommended the AstraZeneca shot mainly for over-60s because of a rare type of blood clot seen in an extremely small number of recipients. But amid a push to get as many people inoculated as possible, the government decided to allow doctors’ offices to vaccinate any adults with it -- putting aside a priority system under which the oldest and most vulnerable have been vaccinated first.


Hartford: Nursing home workers continue to struggle with severe staffing shortages, a lack of protective equipment and low pay during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released Monday, days before planned employee strikes across the state. The report also accuses nursing home owners of failing to follow federal guidance on the use of protective equipment and having inadequate infection control, testing and quarantine procedures during the pandemic. It alleges state officials haven’t done enough to oversee nursing homes and hold them accountable. The report, titled “We Were Abandoned: How Connecticut Failed Nursing Home Workers and Residents During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was written by Yale Law School students for the Service Employees International Union’s District 1199 New England, which represents about 5,000 nursing home workers in Connecticut. “These workers risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones back home to care for these residents in unsafe conditions and for low pay,” Yale student Aaron Bryce Lee said at a news conference Monday. “The state must make the financial investments necessary to improve compensation, benefits and staffing levels.” Workers at 33 nursing homes are ready to strike beginning Friday if demands for better wages, benefits and staffing aren’t met.


Dover: Delaware State University will cancel more than $700,000 in student debt for recent graduates who “faced financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the school announced Wednesday. The average eligible student will qualify for about $3,276 in debt relief, the school said. The funds, which will total $730,655, became available through the federal government’s latest coronavirus relief package. More than 200 students qualify, according to the university. A spokesperson for the school, Carlos Holmes, said most students should already know if they’ve qualified, but they can check with financial aid. School President Tony Allen said the debt reduction is consistent with the school’s initiatives to keep student debt manageable. “We haven’t raised our tuition in over six years; we issue every incoming student an iPad or a MacBook; we are replacing traditional textbooks with less expensive digital editions, and our Early College High School saves the average family of nearly $50,000 in college expenses,” he said in a statement. “Our students don’t just come here for a quality college experience. Most are trying to change the economic trajectory of their lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. Our responsibility is to do everything we can to put them on the path.”

Turkey eases COVID-19 restrictions but keeps many curfews

  Turkey eases COVID-19 restrictions but keeps many curfews ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s interior ministry on Sunday lifted a full lockdown that had ordered people to stay home to fight COVID-19 infections, shifting to a less-restrictive program that still involved curfews on weeknights and weekends. In a new directive, the ministry called the steps that apply from Monday to June 1 a “gradual normalization.” Shopping malls will be able to reopen. Some businesses will remain closed, including gyms and cafes, but restaurants will be able to offer take away in addition to delivery. Preschools will resume in-person education but upper grades will continue remote learning.

District of Columbia

Washington: Residents face a Friday deadline to apply for a local program to help those who have fallen behind on their mortgage because of the pandemic, WUSA-TV reports. The Home Saver Program, offered by the D.C. Housing Finance Agency, has $4 million on the table to aid families in need, said Christopher Donald, executive director and CEO of the agency. “You’ve got to be a resident of the District of Columbia,” Donald said. “If they own a home here, and it’s their primary residence, and they’re behind on their mortgage, they’re either unemployed or underemployed, they can get up to 16 months of assistance, up to $60,000.” Money is also available through the Restore Program for people who have returned to work but need a boost to get out of the red. “The assistance does cover delinquent condo fees and HOA fees,” Donald said. The money comes in the form of a grant, so it doesn’t have to be paid back, and there is no income requirement to apply. Relief is also available for small landlords who have taken a financial hit during the pandemic.


Pensacola: Hot dogs, hamburgers, minor league baseball and COVID-19 shots are coming together. This week at Blue Wahoos Stadium, adult ticket buyers are eligible to receive the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at several games. The shots were distributed Tuesday and will also be available at games Saturday and Sunday. J&J’s vaccine requires only one dose. Shots will be available to eligible fans for free, with no appointment necessary. “The Blue Wahoos’ mission statement is to improve the quality of life in our community, so when we had the opportunity to partner with the Florida Department of Health, it was a no-brainer for us,” said Donna Kirby, the team’s vice president of operations. “We thought, ‘Absolutely.’ What great fun to have fans back for baseball, to be able to provide them with vaccinations if they so choose.” A total of 500 doses will be administered at the ballpark on a first-come, first-served basis. They will not be divvied up over the course of the three games, Kirby said, so there is a possibility that all 500 shots could be administered before the end of the three-game stretch. To get in the spirit, team President Jonathan Griffith will receive his shot during the seventh-inning stretch of Saturday’s game.

In the ballpark, more vax lottos, Austin City Limits: News from around our 50 states

  In the ballpark, more vax lottos, Austin City Limits: News from around our 50 states How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every stateStart the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.


Atlanta: Twelve-year-old Jane Ellen Norman is looking forward to a little more freedom in her life and a possible return to summer camp after getting her first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, one day after U.S. regulators expanded its use to children her age through 15. Georgia is one of the first states to open up the shots, Reuters reports. Being able to see her friends without staying far apart and worrying they might get sick was top of mind for Jane Ellen after her shot at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta. “I hope they all get vaccinated,” the sixth grader said. Jane Ellen’s mom, English Norman, said she scheduled an appointment for her daughter and 14-year-old son immediately after hearing about the FDA authorization. She said her kids have been good about wearing masks, washing their hands and staying socially distant, but they’ve still been very anxious about leaving the house. “I think it’s exciting that now their anxiety can start to lessen and they can feel safe,” she said. Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said Monday that the authorization brings the country “closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic.” For Jane Ellen, that means a chance to go back to her summer camp, which was canceled last year as the pandemic raged. “I’m excited to go there and see all my camp friends,” she said.


Honolulu: The chief executive of a company accused of defrauding banks of money meant to assist businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic pleaded not guilty Wednesday. Martin Kao, CEO of Martin Defense Group LLC, formerly known as Navatek LLC, is charged with bank fraud and money laundering. Authorities say he defrauded banks of more than $12.8 million through the Paycheck Protection Program, which Congress authorized to provide emergency financial assistance through forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and other expenses. Kao transferred more than $2 million into his own personal accounts, according to an indictment. Investigators talked to an executive and a former employee who said the company wasn’t affected by the pandemic, court documents said. Authorities describe his company as a “research, engineering, design, and innovations company that specializes in novel systems for the Department of Defense and other partners in academia and other scientific fields.” During a brief arraignment via telephone Wednesday, defense attorney Michael Green entered the not guilty plea on behalf of Kao.


Boise: The state is moving into a new stage of Gov. Brad Little’s coronavirus reopening plans and lifting restrictions on the size of gatherings. Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen made the announcement Tuesday, noting that the state’s health care system isn’t strained and that plenty of vaccine is available for interested residents. “Eighty-three percent of hospitals are operating as normal, and there’s no hospital in the state that has a resource limitation going on,” Jeppesen said during a news conference. In November and December, some hospitals were intermittently turning away people or sending them elsewhere because they didn’t have enough healthy staffers or available beds to admit them. In Stage 3 of the reopening plan, gatherings were supposed to be limited to 50 or fewer people, though political, religious, educational and health care events were exempt from the restriction. The current move to Stage 4 means there is no limit on gatherings, though public health officials are encouraging people to follow guidance from federal and local health agencies on how to gather safely. Face coverings are still recommended at times when physical distancing is difficult, and people and businesses should continue to follow physical distancing and sanitation recommendations, Jeppesen said.


Springfield: Capitalizing on the availability of vaccines, cabin fever and an imminent easing of pandemic restrictions, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday launched a $6 million advertising campaign to promote road-trip tourism and revive Illinois’ devastated hospitality industry. The “Time for Me to Drive” campaign makes use of a play on words from the 1978 song “Time for Me to Fly” by REO Speedwagon, a rock band that got its start in Champaign. The campaign will focus on attracting visitors from within Illinois and from surrounding states to hundreds of sites where they can enjoy Chicago architecture, southern Illinois wineries, hiking in state parks, restaurants throughout the state, and Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. “More and more travelers are ready to get back out there,” Pritzker said at a news conference at the presidential library. “Recent surveys show that half of Americans plan to travel this summer, and half of them intend to drive. ... After an incredibly difficult year in which the pandemic kept us all close to home and staying apart, lifesaving vaccines are bringing us back to life and heading toward a summer of fun and venturing out.” More than 60 potential driving itineraries are available online at enjoyillinois.com.


Fishers: The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is bringing back its popular Symphony on the Prairie performances, a year after the pandemic forced the cancellation of the long-running outdoor concert series. Officials announced Monday that this year’s Kroger Symphony on the Prairie season will begin June 25 with the symphony’s rendition of songs by the Beatles performed for an audience on the grassy lawn at suburban Indianapolis’ Conner Prairie. A series of other performances will be held throughout the summer at the venue in Fishers, just north of Indianapolis, with the last performances set for early September. Tickets go on sale May 24. This year’s concerts will be different after last year’s shows were canceled for the first time in the events’ 40-year history due to the threat that the coronavirus posed to musicians, staff and patrons. The symphony plans to sell only up to 4,000 tickets – or 50% of the venue’s capacity – for the first concerts to help patrons maintain social distance. The dance floor in front of the performance stage will also be closed, and there will be limits on table rentals and reserved seating. People will also have to wear masks when entering the venue, on pathways, in restrooms, and when they wait in line for food and drinks.


Indianola: Simpson College won’t require students, staff or faculty to get vaccinated before the fall semester, but it also plans to hold off on returning to normal campus operations until most have gotten their COVID-19 shots. The college’s crisis management team, led by Heidi Levine, vice president for student development and planning, and Simpson President Marsha Kelliher’s leadership cabinet, announced the decision on the college’s online COVID-19 dashboard last week. According to the announcement, the team hopes to see 80% of the campus community vaccinated before transitioning to a “Green” operating phase, but it also plans to strongly encourage everyone on campus to get vaccinated. Some colleges across the country have recently announced vaccine requirements, “but that is still the minority of colleges,” Levine said, adding that Grinnell College is the only Iowa college of which she’s aware that plans to require students to be inoculated by August. Grinnell College officials announced the requirement last month but said students will be able to request an exemption for medical or religious reasons.


Kansas City: The families of 16 students have sued two suburban Kansas City school districts, arguing their children should be allowed to attend school during the pandemic without wearing masks. “The parents are terribly, terribly upset. There’s a groundswell of dissatisfaction,” said their attorney, Linus Baker. The Kansas City Star reports the lawsuit against the Blue Valley and Olathe school districts in Johnson County argues students should be granted individual exemptions to mask mandates. The parents contend masks are interfering with their children’s ability to learn. Districts offer medical exemptions, generally for students with special needs or disabilities. They also relax mask rules for students during some sports and other activities. Two parents already have medical exemptions but are suing to seek reimbursement for the costs to obtain them. Both districts have fielded challenges since the Legislature passed a bill that empowers parents to fight COVID-19 restrictions. But their school boards have so far upheld their mask mandates. District officials have argued that the mandates cannot be repealed under the new law because they were enacted last summer. The law requires individuals to contest them within 30 days.


Frankfort: The state government will receive more than $2.1 billion from the latest round of federal coronavirus aid – a smaller-than-projected amount due to the commonwealth’s improving economic performance, Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday. The U.S. Treasury announced state allocations based on a formula that included each state’s share of the nation’s unemployed from October through December 2020, Beshear said. Kentucky performed better than expected during that period, he said. As a result, its allotment will be $2.18 billion, down from an initial estimate that state government would receive $2.44 billion, he said. “In other words, Kentucky has recovered stronger than the federal government anticipated, faster than most, and it impacted a little bit on the dollars that will be available to us,” the Democratic governor said at a news conference. Beshear has pointed to a recent series of upbeat economic developments – from record sales tax collections to a credit rating agency’s upgraded assessment of the state’s financial outlook – in touting Kentucky’s prospects as more people get COVID-19 vaccines. He has used the economic news to try to deflect criticism from some prominent Republicans calling for a much faster pace in lifting remaining virus restrictions.


Shreveport: New research being done at LSU Health Shreveport offers an up-close view of how SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, can spread to the brain. The study helps explain the alarming array of neurological symptoms reported in some patients with COVID-19 and reveals clues as to why some patients suffer severe neurological effects, while others experience none at all. The researchers, working with colleagues at Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha in Spain, report evidence that SARS-CoV-2 can infect both neurons, the nerve cells that power the brain, and astrocytes, the cells in the brain and spinal cord that support and protect neurons. “Our findings suggest that astrocytes are a pathway through which COVID-19 causes neurological damage,” said Dr. Ricardo Costa, a postdoctoral fellow at LSU Health Shreveport and the study’s first author. “This could explain many of the neurologic symptoms we see in COVID-19 patients, which include loss of sense of smell and taste, disorientation, psychosis and stroke.”


Portland: The state is rolling out free fishing licenses, baseball tickets and L.L. Bean gift cards to encourage more residents to get vaccinated before the end of the month, Gov. Janet Mills announced Tuesday. The Democratic governor unveiled the public-private program, “Your Shot to Get Outdoors,” during a virtual discussion President Joe Biden hosted with several governors. The items include up to 5,000 hunting licenses, fishing licenses, Maine Wildlife Park day passes and state park day passes, along with up to 10,000 $20 L.L. Bean gift cards and up to 5,000 Portland Sea Dog tickets and passes for Oxford Plains Speedway. “Whether you’re an angler or a hunter, a baseball fan or a racing fan, or someone who just all-around enjoys being outside, now is a great time to protect yourself from COVID-19 and take to the outdoors,” Mills said. The program led by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services comes as the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered dipped to less than 63,000 last week, down from a peak of more than 125,000 doses in the first week that eligibility opened to all adults. The state hopes the new program along with federal approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for younger teenagers will encourage more vaccinations.


Ocean City: Seeking a big comeback after a pandemic-decimated 2020, city officials are hoping a new ad campaign will remind Americans of just why they love visiting the resort for summer vacation. About this time last year, Ocean City was reopening its hotels, beach and Boardwalk after COVID-19 forced closures. Despite reopening for the 2020 summer season, the pandemic wreaked havoc on Ocean City, causing businesses and the town to lose millions. This May, hotels, as well as the beach and Boardwalk, are all open, and “the pathway to the summer much brighter than it was last year,” Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan said. This year’s ads offer a relatively traditional message, reminding viewers of the memories they’ve made at the beach and encouraging them to come make new ones. In one commercial, heartfelt music plays as a narrator reminds viewers that the 10 miles of beach in Ocean City aren’t “just made of sand and water; it’s made of memories.” That message has been carefully crafted since the end of last year, said Jessica Waters, the city’s acting tourism director. The two ads, “10 Miles of Memories” and “Ocean Calling,” were developed to focus on the “simple moments” and memories people create at the beach.


Boston: While there was a slight increase in the overall number of confirmed and suspected opioid-related drug overdose deaths in the state in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, overdose deaths among Black men soared by almost 70%, health officials said Wednesday. There were 2,104 confirmed and suspected opioid-related overdose deaths in the state last year, a 5% increase over the prior year, according to a report from the Department of Public Health. Among Black, non-Hispanic males, the confirmed opioid-related overdose death rate increased 69%, from 32.6 to 55.1 per 100,000 people – the highest increase of any ethnic or racial group in 2020. “The disparities in overdose trends among Black men underscore the need to continue our public health-centered, data-driven approach to the opioid epidemic that is disproportionately impacting high-risk, high-need priority populations,” Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel said. Battling opioid use was complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, but Massachusetts is among the states with the smallest increases in all drug overdose deaths last year, officials said. “Both the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic have underscored the importance of supporting disproportionately impacted communities,” Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement.


Lansing: Health officials on Wednesday urged primary care physicians to enroll to administer COVID-19 vaccines, as the state prepared to quickly begin vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds following U.S. authorization. “The most important thing we can do right now is to make vaccines available for whenever someone is ready,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive and chief health deputy, said during a news conference. “We know that patients trust their doctors, and when they are ready to get vaccinated, we want you to have vaccine on hand.” She encouraged doctors to check whether their patients have been vaccinated and ask if they have any questions. About 55% of Michigan residents ages 16 and older have been inoculated. The push to make doses available in physicians’ offices will complement the state’s focus on taking mobile clinics to places such as churches and vaccinating people who are homebound. Dr. Srikar Reddy, president-elect of the Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, said it is time to shift attention to residents who are hesitant about the vaccine and to the newly eligible children. “It only makes sense to visit your family physician to get vaccinated and to get your teenager vaccinated, too,” he said.


Minneapolis: The state government will get about $200 million more than it was expecting under President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief package, and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz expressed hope Monday that new guidelines for how states can spend the aid might help speed up the slow pace of negotiations over Minnesota’s next budget. The legislative session is due to adjourn next Monday, but the governor and leaders of the divided Legislature have yet to agree on target numbers for a dozen broad spending bills at the core of the state’s next two-year budget, which is expected to come in at about $50 million. Walz told reporters that at least they now know how Minnesota can and can’t spend its $2.8 billion in federal relief. “The clarification from Treasury is huge,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been waiting on.” Republican leaders said the new federal guidance clears the way for Minnesota to exempt Paycheck Protection Program loans and extended unemployment insurance benefits from state taxes, which have been GOP priorities this session. Democrats have sought to cap the PPP exemption so that larger, profitable companies would pay taxes on forgiven loans.


Jackson: The state will stop accepting supplemental unemployment benefits from the federal government next month, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday. Reeves said the weekly supplement of $300 per person was intended to help people “who are unemployed through no fault of their own” because of the coronavirus pandemic. “After many conversations over the last several weeks with Mississippi small business owners and their employees, it has become clear that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and other like programs passed by the Congress may have been necessary in May of last year but are no longer so in May of this year,” Reeves wrote on Facebook. He said he’s directed the Mississippi Department of Employment Security to tell the federal government that the state will opt out of the additional federal unemployment benefits June 12, the earliest date allowed by federal law. Without the federal supplement, the maximum weekly unemployment benefit in Mississippi is $235, according to the department. “It has become clear to me that we cannot have a full economic recovery until we get the thousands of available jobs in our state filled,” Reeves wrote. A 40-hour-per-week job at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour would pay $290 a week before taxes are taken out.


Jefferson City: State lawmakers pushed back Wednesday against local coronavirus restrictions, passing legislation limiting the duration of public health orders that have shut down businesses and schools and limited how many people can gather. The legislation would limit emergency orders restricting businesses, churches, schools or gatherings to 30 days, unless extended by the local governing body. It would take effect immediately upon Gov. Mike Parson’s signature, meaning it could affect pandemic restrictions still in place in St. Louis County or other jurisdictions. It also would affect any future local health orders. “We want to be able to get this enforced as soon as possible,” said House Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, who handled the bill. The House and Senate passed the legislation by overwhelming votes and with little discussion. Lawmakers have complained repeatedly during this year’s session about local pandemic restrictions that they say infringe on individual liberties and the ability to earn a living. The bill would allow local governing bodies to halt public health orders at any time by a majority vote. It also would prohibit cities and counties that receive public funds from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to use public accommodations or transportation systems.


Helena: The state is sharing COVID-19 vaccines with Canadian truck drivers from neighboring Alberta. About 2,000 truck drivers from the province who transport goods from Canada to the U.S. are eligible to be vaccinated at a highway rest stop near Conrad through May 23, according to a memorandum of understanding signed between the state and the Canadian province. “By working together and taking this critical action, we keep our trade channels open between Montana and Alberta,” Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement. The border between Canada and the U.S. has been closed to all but essential traffic since last spring. “Alberta depends on trade with our American neighbors and this program will ensure our goods get to market while stopping the spike of COVID-19,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement. The province has reported record numbers of new COVID-19 cases this month. A similar program to vaccinate truck drivers from Canada began in North Dakota last month. The announcement came after the Blackfeet tribe in northern Montana gave about 1,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to their relatives and neighbors across the border last month.


Omaha: A sweeping bill that would shield businesses and local governments from coronavirus-related lawsuits won initial approval from state lawmakers Tuesday, despite complaints that senators haven’t done enough for workers who were at risk. Lawmakers advanced the proposal, 39-3, through the first of three required votes. The measure would bar pandemic-related lawsuits against businesses or governments as long as they were following federal public health guidelines. At least 29 other states have enacted laws addressing the issue, including 12 that are similar to the Nebraska proposal, said state Sen. Tom Briese, of Albion, the measure’s sponsor. He said Nebraska businesses face the threat of “needless, unwarranted” lawsuits from the pandemic if lawmakers don’t pass legal protections. The proposal has strong backing from Nebraska businesses, hospitals, schools, counties and cities. Organizations representing Nebraska trial attorneys and public school teachers opposed it. Some senators also criticized the bill because they said lawmakers haven’t done enough to help on-the-ground workers who faced the pandemic directly, risking their own health. Lawmakers this year have rejected paid sick-leave requirements for businesses and additional coronavirus protections for meatpacking workers.


Las Vegas: Gambling giant MGM Resorts International on Wednesday joined a growing number of Las Vegas Strip casinos with state regulatory approval to open casino floors at 100% capacity and no person-to-person distancing requirement. The company said the Nevada Gaming Control Board granted its waiver for nine properties based on its workforce vaccination rate. “We will continue working to vaccinate as many people as possible and remain vigilant with health and safety protocols,” company CEO & President Bill Hornbuckle said in a statement. Approval applies to casino floors at the Bellagio, ARIA, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, New York-New York, Luxor, Excalibur and Park MGM. Three-foot distancing and 80% occupancy restrictions remain at restaurants, swimming pools and other non-gambling areas. Masks are still required. Clark County lawmakers with jurisdiction over Las Vegas-area businesses have approved plans to allow 100% occupancy once 60% of eligible county residents get a vaccine shot. As of Tuesday, the figure was 47%. Southern Nevada Health District Chief Health Officer Dr. Fermin Leguen said the county might not reach the threshold by June 1, given lagging demand.

New Hampshire

Concord: The Prouty, an annual event to raise money for cancer research, is allowing some in-person participation this year, its 40th, after going virtual last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Prouty combines cycling, walking and other events to raise funds for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center. This year, in-person options include golf July 9 in Grantham, a 20-mile cycle July 10 in Hanover and a 5K walk July 11 in Hanover. Designated start times will be assigned to small groups to meet capacity restrictions. Local health guidelines and enhanced safety protocols will be followed. People can participate in activities virtually between June 1 and July 10. “The Prouty has always been about hope, and this year’s hybrid model is a stepping stone to a return to normalcy from the pandemic,” said Jacklynn Rodriguez, executive director for the Friends of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. Since its inception in 1982, The Prouty has raised more than $50 million to support cancer research and patient and family support services.

New Jersey

New Brunswick: For the second year in a row, Rutgers University will host virtual commencement ceremonies for graduates of its New Brunswick, Newark and Camden campuses. However, the school announced Tuesday that it will commend the graduates of 2020 and 2021 with in-person celebrations this fall. A notice on the university’s website asks students to save dates for their campus’s events: Rutgers New Brunswick and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences on Oct. 22-23, Rutgers Newark on Nov. 8-10 and Rutgers Camden on Dec. 1-4. “While we had hoped to bring you together sooner, the continuing public health emergency associated with the pandemic prevented us until now,” said a statement signed by University President Jonathan Holloway and each school’s chancellor. Details on the events will be posted to the university’s website at a later date. “We are excited that Rutgers will have the opportunity this fall to bring you together in person and salute you for your accomplishments,” the announcement said.

New Mexico

Las Cruces: A year after holding only drive-thru graduations, the school district for the state’s second most populous city has scheduled in-person graduation ceremonies at the district’s soccer stadium for its six high schools over two days later this month. Las Cruces Public Schools scheduled ceremonies May 21 for Onate and Mayfield high schools and Arrowhead Park Early College High School and on May 22 for Las Cruces and Centennial high schools and Rio Grande Preparatory Institute. Each graduating senior can invite up to 16 ticketed people, with the limit set due to the COVID-19 pandemic plus construction-related traffic in the area of the Field of Dreams stadium. Social distancing and mask-wearing will be required for all attendees while inside the venue. “I do want to thank all the graduates for their continuous resilience throughout this whole pandemic and really doing the best that they can,” interim Superintendent Ralph Ramos said. “We want to have this ceremony.” Ramos said the district is looking into ways to celebrate the class of 2020, which didn’t have a normal graduation.

New York

Albany: State regulators will soon draft rules that will require employers to protect workers from airborne infectious disease. A new state law tasks state labor and health officials with coming up with minimum workplace standards around things like the availability of personal protective equipment, social distancing and quarantine requirements. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law last week. Employers will have to come up with safety plans that comply with the yet-to-be written state standards and provide them to workers. Employers who don’t comply could face fines. Workers could also sue for up to $20,000 from employers who don’t follow safety standards or retaliate against workers for reporting noncompliance. The law was intended to help people like Maritza Ovalles, who has worked in the nail salon industry for over two decades but left her job when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and left her exposed in a workplace that she said lacked adequate health and safety protections. “When the pandemic began, the level of risk of not having proper protections was life or death,” said Ovalles, who advocates for better working conditions as a member of the NY Nail Salon Workers Association.

North Carolina

Asheville: Public health officials across Western North Carolina are asking the public to get involved as they work to identify the most pressing health needs for the next three years, such as impacts from COVID-19, cancer or infant mortality. National research firm PRC will conduct phone surveys with 300 Buncombe County residents through June, a confidential survey asking about residents’ health status, behaviors and experiences, according to a statement announcing the start of data collection. The 20-minute surveys will go to randomly selected households, but even folks who don’t get the call can take the survey online at www.buncombecounty.org/publichealth. Buncombe County Public Health Director Stacie Saunders urged residents to take part. “If you receive the call to participate, please do lend your voice to the survey,” she said in the release. “This is your opportunity to help us identify health priorities in our community.” Buncombe is joining 17 other counties this year in the regional community health assessment, WNC Healthy Impact, a collaboration with hospital organizations, public health departments and other community partners.

North Dakota

Bismarck: The United Tribes Technical College International Powwow and associated events will return late this summer after a year’s hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the Tribal Leaders Summit that’s traditionally held at the Bismarck Event Center before the outdoor powwow has been called off for a second year. The Bismarck Tribune reports this year’s powwow will be the weekend of Sept. 10-12, starting with the grand entry Friday night and continuing through Sunday. Associated events will include Powwow Youth Day that Friday, a golf tournament Friday, a three-day softball tournament and a three-day youth basketball tournament beginning Friday, and the Powwow Thunderbird Run on Saturday. The powwow put on by the five American Indian tribes in North Dakota typically brings about 10,000 people to Bismarck and boosts the area economy by more than $4 million, according to the college. It attracts dancers from dozens of tribes across the U.S. and Canada and awards more than $100,000 in prize money. It’s considered one of the top powwows in the nation. United Tribes uses proceeds to fund student scholarships.


Cincinnati: State lawmakers have passed changes to ensure that if Kroger is allowed to sell flowers during a pandemic, the local florist can, too. Senate Bill 134, also known as the Business Fairness Act, passed the Ohio Senate 31-0 on Wednesday. The measure would prevent Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration from closing small businesses while their larger competitors remain open, assuming everyone can follow the same safety guidelines. “I would argue you are safer in a small business where you may be the only customer in that business at that time,” Sen. George Lang, R-West Chester, said on the floor Wednesday. The disparity came to light in March 2020 when DeWine’s state health department closed a slew of businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19 but allowed groceries, pharmacies and other businesses to remain open. The result: Wal-Mart and Kroger stayed open, while the local jeweler had to close. “The playing field must be level,” said Chris Ferruso, a lobbyist for Ohio’s National Federation of Independent Business. “The government should not be picking winners and losers.” And small businesses were among the losers last year. A survey of National Federation of Independent Business members found 1 in 3 closed because of COVID-19 orders.


Oklahoma City: A new state law that creates a sales tax exemption for the University Hospitals Authority and Trust will grant OU Health funding to train more medical professionals. The law recently approved by the Legislature and Gov. Kevin Stitt restores a sales tax exemption that will allow the health system to train 160 additional nursing graduates and nurse practitioners annually and 70 additional medical residents within three years. State lawmakers and University of Oklahoma officials said the law will help address Oklahoma’s nurse and physician shortage and improve medical care across the state. Oklahoma has 40% fewer nurses per capita than the national average, said OU College of Nursing Dean Julie Hoff. “These nurses will soon be on the front lines of health care, allowing our facilities to increase their staffing levels and making it easier for everyone in the state to get the care they need,” she said. The state is 46th in the nation for physicians per capita, OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. said at a news conference Tuesday.


Portland: Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday announced statewide and county COVID-19 vaccination targets, with the hope of reopening the state’s economy. Most statewide restrictions will be lifted when 70% of residents 16 and older receive their first vaccine dose, Brown said. In addition, counties will be eligible to move into the “lower risk” category when 65% of the area’s eligible population is vaccinated. “We still have some work to do to reach our 70% goal, but I am confident we can get there in June and return Oregon to a sense of normalcy,” Brown said. “We each play a part.” Currently, more than half the state’s eligible population has received a first dose. “For the first time since the start of the pandemic, we’ll be able to say the virus no longer controls the timelines in our lives – we will if enough Oregonians make the choice to get vaccinated,” said Pat Allen, the Oregon Health Authority’s director. Counties with 65% of their 16-and-up population inoculated will be eligible for the “lower risk” category, which permits indoor gatherings of 10 people or outdoor gatherings of 12 people. Restaurants, gyms and indoor and outdoor entertainment can open up to 50% capacity. Benton and Hood River counties have already vaccinated more than 65% of adult residents and are ready to move to the lower risk category May 21, unless they opt out.


Harrisburg: The state is allowing more people at indoor and outdoor events. Beginning Monday, occupancy limits will be increased to 50% of capacity for indoor events, up from 25%, and to 75% for outdoor events, up from 50%. “As more Pennsylvania adults get vaccinated and guidance from the CDC evolves, we can continue to move forward with the commonwealth’s reopening efforts,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement Tuesday. The state has previously announced that nearly all pandemic restrictions will go away on Memorial Day, including capacity limits on bars, restaurants and other businesses, as well as indoor and outdoor event gathering limits. The state’s mask mandate will remain until 75% of adults are fully vaccinated. Statewide, about 45.6% of people 18 and older had been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Philadelphia, meanwhile, city officials announced pandemic restrictions will be eased beginning later this month and will go away almost entirely June 11. Starting May 21, retail stores and offices will no longer have to operate at reduced capacity, and the city is lifting its rule that bars and restaurants can only serve alcohol with food. Capacity limits on gyms, exercise classes and theaters will be eased, as well as for catered events.

Rhode Island

Pawtucket: With no baseball team in town, McCoy Stadium is being put to good use with the opening of a vaccination clinic at the site on Wednesdays. The drive-up, walk-up site will be open every Wednesday from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., according to a statement from the city. Residents can make an appointment for a COVID-19 shot at the state’s vaccine signup portal, but people without an appointment are also welcome and encouraged, city officials said. The goal is to make getting vaccinations as convenient as possible. “We want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to get a vaccine,” Pawtucket Public Health and Equity Leader Elizabeth Moreira said. “We believe that opening this site gives everyone another great option for vaccination appointments later on in the day.” The clinic will be run in partnership with the Rhode Island National Guard and Rhode Island Medical Reserve Corps Disaster Medical Assistance Team. The coronavirus testing site at the stadium will continue operating.

South Carolina

Columbia: The state’s public schools chief on Wednesday said the governor had no legal basis for allowing parents to opt their children out of wearing masks in schools, writing that Gov. Henry McMaster is “inciting hysteria and sowing division” as the school year ends. In guidance sent to state education superintendents Wednesday, education officials said the agency could find “no legal grounds” for the governor to set aside a policy instituted by another constitutional officer, under his or her own powers and not due to an emergency declaration. On Tuesday, the Republican governor issued an executive order letting parents opt their children out of wearing masks in public schools, citing widespread COVID-19 vaccine access for adults across the state. In response, education officials said state Superintendent Molly Spearman had opted to rescind a face-covering policy, with the exception of a federally instituted school bus mask mandate, “rather than wage a debate over constitutionality that would pit elected officials, students, and families against one another.” Guidance had required that students, teachers and staff wear face coverings while entering school buildings, moving through hallways and other instances where social distancing is not possible or optimal.

South Dakota

Pierre: The South Dakota Department of Health said Wednesday that the state has crossed the 50% threshold for the percentage of adults fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Health officials say more than 304,000 residents have received their shots. “I want to take this opportunity to thank all South Dakotans who have chosen to get their COVID-19 vaccine– protecting themselves, their family and their community,” Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said. “Vaccines are safe and are the quickest way out of this pandemic.” State health officials began Phase 2 of South Dakota’s vaccination plan April 5. It made vaccines available to all residents age 16 and older, in addition to any eligible person who had not been inoculated in the first phase. Parents, schools and vaccine clinics are rushing to begin inoculating younger children after U.S. regulators this week endorsed Pfizer’s vaccine for those as young as 12, a decision seen as a breakthrough in allowing classroom instruction to resume safely around the country. A handful of cities started offering shots to children ages 12 to 15 less than a day after the Food and Drug Administration gave the vaccine emergency use authorization for that age group.


a woman standing next to a window: Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey leaves her office at the Department of Health office in Nashville, Tenn., to attend a meeting on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. © Josie Norris / The Tennessean Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey leaves her office at the Department of Health office in Nashville, Tenn., to attend a meeting on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.

Nashville: As she oversees the state’s response to the pandemic, Dr. Lisa Piercey knows getting back to normal may hinge on her ability to convince Christians and conservatives to get vaccinated. Piercey, 43, Tennessee’s top health official, is navigating a crisis of vaccine hesitancy that runs rampant in the rural swathes of the Volunteer State. “Being the hands and feet of Jesus is the way to go,” said Piercey, a 2019 appointee of Gov. Bill Lee. “They might not do it for themselves, but they should do it to help other people.” She said her office is unleashing a media campaign aimed partly at the people who are most hesitant, and she is reaching out to faith leaders to convince those residents on the virtues of vaccination. “It’s their pastor they trust,” Piercey said. And she’s confident the approach will work because she is one of them. An evangelical Christian farm girl from West Tennessee, Piercey said she doesn’t believe in evolution and struggles with the timelines of dinosaurs and man, but she still wears a mask around other people and has strict vaccination rules in her family. On May 20, the mother of four’s triplets will turn 16. “On that morning, they will get the vaccine first and their driver’s licenses second,” Piercey said.


Austin: With the coronavirus pandemic not yet licked, some activities will look a little different again this summer, including dips in the city’s beloved, “68-degrees-year-round” watering hole, Barton Springs Pool. Starting later this month, anyone planning a swim at Barton Springs will need to make an advance reservation online. Two-hour time slots will help the pool “to manage capacity for the safety of staff and guests,” according to the city’s website. Those who have purchased a season pass, are older than 80, are city employees, or are veterans or active military members will be allowed to enter the pool without a reservation, but that won’t apply to anyone accompanying them. At this time, Barton Springs Pool is not accepting group reservations. Reservations can be made on a city website. A reservation fee will cost Austin residents $2 if they’re between 1 and 11 years old, $3 for those 12-17, $5 for all adults and $2 for anyone over 61. For nonresidents, it’s $4 for those 1-11, $5 for those 12-17, $9 for all adults and $5 for anyone over 61. All payments must be completed online ahead of time. Those with a seasonal swim pass will also not need to reserve a spot ahead of time before visiting Barton Springs. Passes went on sale earlier this week.


Roy: A resident has said a hacker stole her personal information and swapped out her banking information to steal about $400 of weekly unemployment benefits. “I feel like being robbed at gunpoint would’ve been better than what’s going to happen now,” said Heidi Howell, who lost her job in March and had her identity and unemployment check stolen. Howell told KUTV-TV that she is now waiting to find out if she can still claim the unemployment check. She also froze her credit reports, filed a police report and changed her bank account numbers. Kevin Burt, director of the Utah Unemployment Insurance Division, said this is the first case he’s seen among 450,000 people seeking benefits in the state during the coronavirus pandemic. He believes the hacker got her login information from another website. “Make sure that you have a secure password,” Burt said. “I think that helps quite a bit – that’s different than your other passwords that you use for more casual online interactions.” Howell said she used a unique password and is not sure how someone gained access. Burt said the state has not seen much of a rise in hacks to the unemployment system, although fraud is up nationwide because of the historic volume of claims being filed.


Burlington: A community group of members of the state’s minority populations is working to make sure as many of those residents as possible are vaccinated against COVID-19. The Vermont Health Equity Initiative said it will be providing vaccinations for those who are Black, indigenous and people of color through July 10. Clinics are being offered with support from the Vermont Department of Health and the City of Burlington. So far, the initiative has collaborated to deliver more than 2,800 total doses of the vaccine. The group said that as of Monday, about 70% of white, non-Hispanic Vermonters in Chittenden County had received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 58% of minority members had received at least one dose. The clinics were established in an effort to close the racial gap in vaccinations to protect the larger community and in response to the city of Burlington’s declaration of racism as a public health emergency in July 2020. “We’re offering an in-person experience that has been missing for vaccinations for these members of our community,” said Belan Antensaye of the Racial, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Department of the city of Burlington and the Vermont Professionals of Color Network.


Richmond: Restaurants and drinking establishments will be able to seat up to 100 patrons indoors and a maximum of 250 guests outdoors starting May 15, Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced, but establishments say they may not be able to accommodate more guests due to a shortage in workers. Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, estimated about 100 Richmond restaurants closed in 2020 but said there have been minimal closures this year. Many restaurants are likely nearing 80% of their pre-pandemic revenue levels, according to Terry. While full recovery for the industry is underway, Terry said the biggest revenue factor is a restricted labor force. “I was on the phone yesterday with two restaurant operators who said they are having to close two days a week because they can’t get enough staff,” he said. The new limit will double the number of indoor guests allowed as of April 1. Restaurants may return to selling alcohol past midnight, and dining room closures between midnight and 5 a.m. will no longer be required. Northam has said all restrictions will be lifted June 15 if the number of new COVID-19 cases remains low and vaccinations rise. But restaurants with limited staff will not be able to accommodate diners at full capacity, Terry said.


Seattle: Authorities say schools in the state won’t consider a requirement to mandate COVID-19 vaccines in schoolchildren until a vaccine is fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA on Monday signed off on emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. The state’s secretary of health, Umair Shah, said Tuesday that more than 370,000 Washington teens and adolescents are in that age group. Vaccines undergo rigorous review before they’re fully approved, but the FDA can allow use under so-called emergency use authorization in instances when vaccines meet certain criteria and there are no approved alternatives. The Seattle Times reports that until a COVID-19 vaccine is formally approved, officials from the Washington State Board of Health – the board that oversees state vaccine policies – say they won’t consider adding it to the list of required immunizations. “The board would not require a COVID-19 vaccine for school entry until it’s approved by the FDA and recommended by Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices,” Kelie Kahler, spokesperson for the board, wrote in an email, referring to a committee housed within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that sets national vaccine guidance.

West Virginia

Charleston: Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is joining first lady Jill Biden and actor Jennifer Garner during a visit to the state Thursday. Biden’s office announced Wednesday that she and Manchin will arrive at Yeager Airport in Charleston before joining Garner at a COVID-19 vaccination center and delivering remarks at Capital High School. A previously announced visit to Arnoldsburg Elementary School in Calhoun County has been scrubbed due to a coronavirus quarantine in the school district. Biden and Manchin will then visit with members of the West Virginia National Guard and their families at the airport before departing, the first lady’s office said in a statement. Garner grew up in Charleston. She has previously testified before Congress in support of education programs for preschoolers in poverty.


Madison: Native Americans are struggling to overcome increased drug abuse related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a tribal leader said in the annual State of the Tribes address. Speaking to Assembly lawmakers at the state Capitol on Tuesday afternoon, Lac du Flambeau President John Johnson Sr. said increased drug abuse has claimed those most vulnerable during the public health crisis. “The flow of drugs into the Northwoods has escalated during the pandemic, as mental health, economic and social challenges exert growing pressure on our people and families,” Johnson said. He said Gov. Tony Evers’ budget proposal for a regional mental health center in northern Wisconsin is “a crucial building block and a foundation of dismantling the scourge of drugs,” Wisconsin Public Radio reports. Evers has proposed investing more than $150 million in mental health services, including more than $25 million over the next two years for regional crisis centers, training and other services. Republican state lawmakers have stripped hundreds of proposals from the governor’s budget. Johnson also said tribes continue to face harassment and racism as they defend their federal treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather. He specifically highlighted harassment of those spearfishing in northern Wisconsin.


Casper: The governor has announced that the state will end its participation in federal supplemental benefits intended to address high unemployment across the U.S. caused by the pandemic. Republican Gov. Mark Gordon said Tuesday that the decision will end the weekly $300 payments starting June 19 and no longer expand eligibility to people who previously could not collect benefits, such as self-employed residents, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services reported last month that the unemployment rate in the state was 5.3% in March – below the national 6% rate. “Wyoming needs workers; our businesses are raring to go,” Gordon said. “I recognize the challenges facing Wyoming employers, and I believe it’s critical for us to do what we can to encourage more hiring.”

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Beckoning tourists, evangelical outreach, vaccine sweeteners: News from around our 50 states

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