Birmingham: The Birmingham VA Health Care System is expanding its ability to vaccinate veterans against COVID-19, provided it can get enough doses. A partnership with the United Way of Central Alabama will allow the agency to provide as many as 1,000 shots a day beginning this week to veterans who are at least 65 years old, the VA said. That’s up from the current daily total of 300 people. The change comes because the VA’s vaccine clinic is moving into a United Way building in downtown Birmingham. Chief executive Stacy Vasquez said the system will schedule as many veterans as it can for shots, but obtaining additional vaccine is key. “Right now, I have enough vaccine to take care of 5,000 people next week. But then after that, unless I get another shipment, I don’t know,” Vasquez told WBRC-TV last week. The VA’s vaccination program operates on a separate track from the one administered by the Alabama Department of Public Health, which is offering vaccines for people 75 and older. It, too, is in need of additional vaccine.
Juneau: The state held the enviable position of having the highest rate of COVID-19 vaccinations per capita in the nation as of last week, its top health official said. Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said Thursday that the progress was the result of community efforts to quickly distribute vaccinations and additional allotments for federal agencies within the state, KTOO-FM reports. Zink told the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce that Alaska receives more doses of vaccine because of allowances above the state’s share for the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service. “We have the highest veterans per capita population. We have a large military presence. And we have a large Indigenous population with over 229 sovereign tribes,” Zink said. “And so, because of those reasons, we did get some additional vaccine in the state via those federal partnerships.” More than 14,000 people in Alaska had received both required doses of a vaccine cycle as of last Thursday, while more than 67,000 people had received at least one of the shots in the series, in a state with roughly 730,000 residents.
Phoenix: With less than 1% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a study issued Thursday found Arizona the least safe state in the country in regard to COVID-19, aligning with other indicators from national databanks. WalletHub compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across five key metrics: the rates of COVID-19 transmission, positive testing, hospitalizations, deaths and the share of the eligible population getting vaccinated. Some statistics referred to the pandemic as a whole, while deaths and positive testing rates only refer to Arizona’s status for the prior week. The study utilized data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID Tracking Project, and rt.live, according to WalletHub. Arizona came in 42nd for its vaccination rate, 51st for test positivity, 51st for hospitalizations, 50th for death rate and 49th for transmission rate. According to testing data from John Hopkins University, the last-place spot for positive testing rates is well-deserved for the past week. Arizona has tallied 129 new positive cases per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the United States.
Little Rock: The state had the eighth-highest rate of new coronavirus cases per capita in the United States at 1,036.86 per 100,000 population, according to data from Johns Hopkins University on Sunday. The seven-day rolling average of new cases in Arkansas declined during the past two weeks from 2,900.57 per day Jan. 9 to 1,831 new cases per day Saturday, according to the Johns Hopkins data, and the rolling average of daily deaths in the state was also down slightly, from 40.14 to 38.57 deaths per day during the same time frame. The Arkansas Department of Health on Sunday reported totals of 284,066 coronavirus cases and 4,606 deaths due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began, increases of 1,071 cases and 43 more deaths than Friday. The health department also reported a decline of 14 in the number of people hospitalized due to the illness, to a total of 1,080 across the state.
San Francisco: Advocates for farmworkers, teachers, grocery store clerks and other essential workers are worried they’ll have to wait until this summer to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as the state considers giving priority to older residents. State officials said the move makes sense given that older people have a much higher rate of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. But with California struggling to get and give the vaccine, it could take until June to vaccinate all residents 65 and older, the Sacramento Bee reports. That could mean teachers and school workers will probably not be vaccinated until this summer, said Debra Schade, a school board member at the Solana Beach School District in San Diego County and a director at the California School Boards Association. Some local governments have already started vaccinating essential workers, and Fresno County said it would begin offering vaccines Monday to about 3,000 farmworkers. By vaccinating older adults first, the state could push down the number of those hospitalized, which could benefit the community as a whole, California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Tomas J. Aragon has said.
Denver: Wesley Morgan has been sending Snoopy-themed cards and letters across the country to ease the solitude of older adults in isolation due to the coronavirus. “He’s kept me from being lonely,” said Nancy Sloane, 67, a retired teacher now quarantined at the Brookdale Senior Living Community in Denver. “I look forward to his letters.” After Morgan, 32, was furloughed from his job at the Denver International Airport in March, he soon ran out of shows to stream and items to craft. “The house was always clean, and I did ‘Tiger King,’ like the rest of the world,” he said. “And then what?” Morgan learned of a friend’s efforts to write to people at a Denver nursing home and felt called to do the same, putting to use his beloved “Peanuts” cards and stationery sets, collected and hoarded over many years. “I couldn’t think of a better way to use this collection,” he said. “It was something I could do from home. I didn’t have to leave.” He has sent over 500 letters and heard back from 142 people. Many have become regular correspondents – his “Peanuts” pen pals, as he calls them. “Almost every time I receive anything back, it is pages,” he said, smiling. “They just have so much to share and talk about.”
Wilton: Local health officials have ordered a home for retired nuns closed to visitors and the public because of a coronavirus outbreak that has infected nearly half of the more than 70 residents there, just as vaccinations were underway. The restrictions on the School Sisters of Notre Dame home in Wilton were ordered by town Director of Health Barrington Bogle, and state health officials were expected to visit the property Monday to help with the outbreak, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said in a statement Sunday. Vanderslice said 30 residents recently tested positive for the virus, as did a number of staff members. Affected residents are being quarantined at a former skilled nursing facility on the property, said Caelie Haines, a spokeswoman for School Sisters of Notre Dame. Any resident who needs more acute care will be taken to a hospital, she said. Fifteen retired nuns recently received COVID-19 vaccinations. The remaining residents and staff were scheduled to be vaccinated Monday. “We are all saddened the outbreak happened prior to those vaccinations,” Vanderslice said. “Please keep this special community of nuns in your thoughts.”
Dover: Health officials say they vaccinated 11,154 people over the weekend at events that were held in Delaware City and Georgetown. The Delaware State News reports some of the people who received shots were in the Phase IB group. That group includes seniors who are 65 years old and older as well as Phase 1A health care personnel. Delays and confusion had plagued vaccination efforts earlier in the weekend. Some people said they had waited in their cars for several hours to get a shot. The Delaware Division of Public Health said some of the delays were caused by people arriving without an appointment, or those who had appointments had failed to complete their pre-vaccination screening online before arriving. State health officials said they implemented improvements to the process Sunday that included separate lanes for Phase 1A health care workers. More personnel and laptops were also employed at one of the sites.
District of Columbia
Washington: President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O’Connor as his physician, replacing President Donald Trump’s doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president. The White House confirmed that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. O’Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden’s doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden’s request. He remained Biden’s physician while assuming a role on the faculty of George Washington University. The White House said O’Connor was being commissioned by the president but was not rejoining the military. He is the first non-active-duty doctor to serve as physician to the president in almost three decades. Conley faced intense scrutiny over his lack of transparency during Trump’s illness with COVID-19. Then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said at the time that Trump’s condition was worse than Conley had let on.
Miami: Gov. Ron DeSantis says the flow of COVID-19 vaccines has been stagnant, and the state needs more to meet the increasing demand from residents. In a news conference at a nursing home in Jacksonville, DeSantis said officials in Washington said the state would start to see its supply increase around this time, but that hasn’t happened. “We are at the mercy of what the federal government sends us, and right now we are able to go through it quicker than what we are receiving,” DeSantis said. At a White House briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back against DeSantis’ comments criticizing the federal government, saying Florida has only administered about half of the vaccines it has been given. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 53% of the doses the state has been supplied so far have been administered. But there can be a lag in the federal data, as health care providers report doses up to 72 hours after they have been administered. Some in Florida have grown frustrated with online platforms that crash or run out of appointments and phone lines that ring unanswered or have no availability. Hospitals have been forced to cancel appointments because of limited supply.
Conyers: A suburban Atlanta nursing home where 22 people died from COVID-19 has been faulted by state inspectors for failing to control infections, but relatives of people who died say they can’t sue because state lawmakers last year blocked lawsuits unless plaintiffs can prove the difficult-to-meet standard of gross negligence. Multiple state reports faulted infection control at Westbury Nursing Home in Conyers, where at least 85 residents have been infected, WXIA-TV reports. That includes an October inspection where Georgia Department of Community Health inspectors found Westbury put residents in immediate jeopardy by keeping coronavirus-positive and -negative residents in the same rooms, improperly performing tests, and failing to notify state officials. In April, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order limiting the liability of employees, staff and contractors of health care institutions and medical facilities during the pandemic, even if they admit to making a mistake. About five months later, the Legislature passed a temporary law preventing many lawsuits against health care facilities and other businesses, as long as owners post signs outside facilities alerting the public they assume the risk if they enter.
Honolulu: About half of the state’s supply of 186,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been distributed through last week, officials said. Hawaii has more than 40 distribution sites for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, KITV-TV reports. Democratic Lt. Gov. Josh Green said state leaders have pressed the federal government to continue supplying doses. “We now have another 50,000 or 60,000 scheduled appointments for people getting their either first shot or second shot,” Green said. “We didn’t want to leave people in the lurch.” Officials remain aware of the ongoing transition between presidential administrations while focusing on the need for each patient to receive two shots spaced weeks apart to receive full vaccine cycles, Green said. “We don’t want people to come get vaccinated and then find out three weeks later, sorry, we can’t complete the series.” More than 5,500 people were scheduled to receive shots at Honolulu’s Blaisdell Center mass vaccination site Monday. Green said he asked Gov. David Ige to allow residents who have received a full vaccine series to be allowed to bypass the state’s mandated quarantine for inter-island travel beginning in mid- to late February.
Boise: Limited availability, confusion over which residents should be vaccinated first and rumors of line-jumpers are all complicating the state’s vaccine rollout. Members of Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee met Friday to help clarify exactly who should have first dibs on the state’s vaccine doses. On average, Idaho is shipped about 21,000 vaccine doses each week. Those shipments are earmarked as “first doses,” with the federal government automatically shipping the second dose for each individual vaccine recipient about three weeks later. So far, the federal government has distributed 178,175 doses to Idaho, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a rate of 9,970 doses for every 100,000 residents, putting Idaho near the bottom of the list compared to the allotment given other states. Only California, South Carolina, Missouri, Nevada and Alabama have received fewer doses per capita. Idaho is also trailing other states – coming in 46th in the nation – at getting shots into residents’ arms, with about 3.4% of residents having received at least one dose so far. Roughly 0.7% of Idaho residents are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Chicago: Mayor Lori Lightfoot received a COVID-19 vaccine shot Monday as Illinois touted online signups and efforts to address racial equity at the start of its latest vaccination phase covering essential workers and residents age 65 and older. The newest round of vaccinations, following health care workers and nursing home residents, covers about 3.2 million people including grocery store workers, teachers and public transit employees. Health officials unveiled a new state website for online signups but cautioned that Illinoisans will face wait times due to limited supplies. The next phase is expected to last about two months. Chicago public health officials said early vaccination data shows alarming racial disparities. In response, Lightfoot announced that Chicago would focus outreach on 15 communities with large Black and Latino populations that have been particularly vulnerable, including by working with community groups. As Illinois’ coronavirus test positivity rate falls, state officials have announced further loosening of restrictions. State officials announced Monday that dozens of counties in northwestern Illinois will be allowed to offer limited indoor dining, among other things, after the Chicago area began allowing it over the weekend.
Indianapolis: Nearly a dozen bills drafted by GOP legislators have sparked debate in the Statehouse over where to draw the line between public health and personal freedom. In the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than 9,000 Hoosiers, lawmakers face contention over emergency health orders, school and business closures, vaccine requirements, and other protocols spurred by COVID-19. In question is whether such precautions are necessary to stem the spread of the coronavirus or infringements on rights. “There’s a majority of the House and Senate in Indiana that like personal freedom and personal choice,” said Republican Sen. Dennis Kruse, who has authored or co-authored three bills. One measure he introduced would prohibit employers from requiring workers to get immunizations against COVID-19 or any other disease. They could decline for medical, religious or reasons of personal “conscience.” They would also be allowed to sue an employer that required immunizations as a condition of employment. But several health and business organizations, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, have spoken against the bill, saying it could make workplaces unsafe, including hospitals and nursing homes, where people work closely together and people’s immunization systems are at risk.
Des Moines: Vaccination teams have reached nearly all the state’s nursing homes, giving at least one round of shots to thousands of the most vulnerable residents, an industry leader said Monday. Brent Willett, president of the Iowa Health Care Association, said 98% of nursing homes had been visited at least once by COVID-19 vaccination teams, mostly from CVS or Walgreens. The teams are set to reach the few remaining nursing homes this week, and they also have reached most of Iowa’s assisted living centers, he said. Nursing home residents, most of whom are frail and elderly, are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease the coronavirus causes. Nursing home residents make up less than 1% of Iowa’s population, but they have accounted for more than 40% of Iowa’s COVID-19 deaths, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Assisted living facilities are also a high priority for vaccination, although their residents tend to be less frail and live more independently than nursing home residents.
Topeka: Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday proposed moving the state’s tourism division into the Department of Commerce, in an effort to boost an economy that has suffered a downturn amid the coronavirus pandemic. The tourism division is currently part of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. The Travel Industry Association of Kansas, the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association and the Kansas Economic Development Alliance all support the move’s potential to promote tourism as an economic development tool, Kelly said in a news release. The plan would take effect July 1 unless the Legislature opposes it. Adam Mills, president of the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association, said his group will be helped by the changes. “At a time when hospitality needs every reform possible, this reorganization will reposition us as we grow out of the recent strains of the pandemic,” Mills said in a statement. Jim Zaleski, president of the Travel Industry Association of Kansas, said it’s the right time to make the change. “Kansas Tourism and the Department of Commerce have a shared goal of bringing revenue into the state,” he said.
Louisville: City officials and local utility companies are now accepting debt relief applications for residents who have fallen behind on their bills during the coronavirus pandemic. The Metro COVID-19 Utility Relief Funds are available immediately for customers who were hit with a “financial hardship” as a result of COVID-19 in 2020, Mayor Greg Fischer and representatives from Louisville Gas & Electric, Louisville Water and the Metropolitan Sewer District said Monday morning. The fund contains $10 million that will be distributed to customers who have outstanding balances on energy and water bills. “This pandemic wasn’t caused by any one of us, so it’s up to all of us and it’s up to Metro government to help the people of our city address their most basic needs,” Fischer said at a press briefing. Anyone, regardless of income level, is eligible to apply, city and utility company officials said. Applications for money to pay off an LG&E bill can be filed through the local Association of Community Ministries or by calling Neighborhood Place at 502-977-6636, while those looking for assistance to pay off a Louisville Water bill can find the application on the water company’s website.
Baton Rouge: The state has confirmed a coronavirus outbreak connected to a wrestling tournament held earlier this month in Ascension Parish, with more than 20 people tied to the event testing positive for the virus. The state Department of Health said athletes, staff and attendees at the Louisiana Classic Wrestling Tournament, which was held at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales on Jan. 15-16, have tested positive. The agency said anyone who attended the tournament should immediately get tested for the coronavirus, even if not experiencing symptoms – and should quarantine for 10 days since exposure to prevent the risk of further spread. Tournament attendees also should monitor for fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, body aches, loss of taste or smell, and other symptoms related to COVID-19, the department said.
Portland: School districts across the state are cutting back on in-person classes in response to staffing shortages in a number of critical areas as a result of a statewide surge in COVID-19 cases that began more than two months ago. The shortages are affecting not just teachers but also transportation and custodial staff, The Portland Press Herald reports. The Maine Department of Education doesn’t track the number of open positions in schools but is responding to feedback from school districts about staff shortages. More than 600 reciprocal and one-year emergency certifications have been issued to date under an executive order from Gov. Janet Mills to provide more flexibility for certifying education professionals. Nearly 2,800 educators have been certified without taking a standardized test that is normally part of the process but was also waived by the executive order. The department is working with Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor to provide free “learning facilitator” training to students who can serve as substitutes or paraprofessionals in schools after a one-week boot camp.
Hagerstown: Three state employees have died of COVID-19 in recent weeks, according to union officials, including a correctional officer who worked at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown. Mark Renner is believed to be the first correctional employee at the Hagerstown prison complex to die of the disease caused by the coronavirus. Leaders with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3 said they did not know whether Renner contracted COVID-19 at the prison, but as a front-line employee working in a congregate setting, he was at increased risk. The union on Friday also reported the death of Jimmy Williams, a correctional maintenance officer at the Baltimore City Correctional Center, and an employee at the University of Maryland College Park who died in December. The union said more than 3,000 state employees have been sickened with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and 10 have died. Council 3 President Patrick Moran blamed state leaders for failing to protect employees who have been working throughout the pandemic.
Video: State expands vaccination eligibility (WCVB Boston)
Boston: The state relaxed some coronavirus restrictions Monday as several key metrics used to measure the spread of the pandemic trend in the right direction. Restaurants, movie theaters and many other businesses will now be allowed to remain open past 9:30 p.m. Also, a rule that required people to stay at home from 10 p.m. until 5 p.m. except for work or other essential travel has been lifted. The restrictions were adopted in November as new cases surged. The latest seven-day average positivity rate in Massachusetts has dropped to 4.83% as of Sunday, down from 7.2% on Jan. 10. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Massachusetts is also on the decline, at more than 4,200 on Sunday, down from at least 6,400 on Jan. 10, according to the COVID Tracking Project. And hospitalizations are falling. Some safety measures remain in place, including a 25% capacity limit for many businesses, including restaurants and casinos. The state Department of Public Health reported 3,750 new confirmed cases and 67 new virus-related deaths Sunday.
Lansing: If the state could administer 50,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses a day, it could hit its goal of inoculating 70% of people age 16 and older by August. At the current rate, about 29,000 per day, it would not finish until a year from now. The issue is limited supply – something Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and health officials hope can be addressed as new President Joe Biden takes the helm amid the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history and as more contagious virus variants spread. “That’s our universal frustration,” the Democratic governor said. “We have the capacity and the plan to do a lot more vaccinations quicker. But the federal government … it’s been hard. They have not gotten us what we need.” Whitmer said she is confident Michigan can carry out 50,000 vaccinations a day, but it’s only getting about 60,000 doses a week of the Pfizer vaccine. The other COVID-19 vaccine, from Moderna, is going to residents and staff in long-term care facilities through a federal program. The state received permission to instead send 120,000 Moderna doses to hospitals and local health departments over this past week and the coming week.
Minneapolis: Gov. Tim Walz on Monday announced changes in the sign-up process for a community vaccine program for seniors, teachers and child care workers after heavy demand last week crashed a website and angered many people who could not get through. State officials have shifted from a first-come, first-served system to a lottery that allows 24 hours to sign up, beginning at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, for Minnesotans over 65 for a chance to be randomly selected for an appointment. The registration system just launched last week, only to be clogged with calls and the website to crash due to significant demand. The state will also hold a mass vaccination event for teachers, school staff and child care workers in the metro area at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul starting Thursday and continuing through Feb. 1. State officials are reserving 15,000 Moderna doses for the event, which will free up the sites in Brooklyn Center and Blaine to exclusively serve seniors this week. The program, which began last week, has administered first doses to more than 13,300 individuals at the nine sites across the state.
Jackson: Because of disruptions caused by the pandemic, Mississippi third graders and high school students will still take state-mandated exams this semester but will not be penalized for poor performance. And although schools will be assessed based on their performance, they will not be assigned new A through F “report card” grades this academic year. The state Board of Education decided Thursday to set aside the new report card grades for schools and the requirement for students to earn passing grades on the third grade reading assessment and high school end-of-course exams. “This year’s statewide assessments will provide valuable information about the impact of COVID-19 on learning and will help identify where accelerated learning opportunities for students are most needed,” Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said in a news release. “The policy suspensions are intended to support schools through this intensely challenging year for educators and students.” Schools will keep the report card grades they earned in the 2018-19 school year. The school assessments were not done for 2019-20 because of the pandemic.
St. Louis: Health experts say the state isn’t vaccinating people quickly enough to create widespread immunity by this summer. To create enough immunity to COVID-19 to make the coronavirus unlikely to spread widely, officials want to inoculate between 70% and 85% of the state’s residents. That means getting 4.3 million to 5.2 million people immunized. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that just 205,000 Missourians have received the first doses of vaccine, or about 3% of the population. “We need more,” said Dr. Steven Lawrence, an infectious disease expert at Washington University. “We need speed.” BJC HealthCare’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Clay Dunagan estimated that vaccinating 5 million residents by the end of June would require 25,000 to 30,000 shots per day. Over the past week, Missouri has been averaging almost 11,000 per day, according to the state. Dr. Alex Garza, chief community health officer at SSM Health and incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch it doesn’t seem realistic right now for the state to administer roughly 30,000 vaccine doses a day.
Helena: Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte will deliver his first State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature on Thursday evening, with some modifications to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Gianforte will outline his legislative priorities in a speech in the House chambers at 7 p.m. In past years, all 150 lawmakers gathered on the House floor, and guests filled the gallery. This year, members of the Legislature who would be uncomfortable crowded into the House will also be able to watch the speech via streaming in the Senate chambers or the Old Supreme Court chambers at the Capitol, as well as online. The Legislature is strongly recommending, but not requiring, lawmakers to wear masks at the Capitol. Gianforte is Montana’s first Republican governor in 16 years.
Omaha: Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday defended the state’s approach to distributing COVID-19 vaccines, saying it won’t redirect doses away from rural areas that are outpacing Omaha and Lincoln with vaccinations. Ricketts made the comments after state officials reported Friday that 15 rural public health districts in Nebraska have already finished the first phase of the state vaccination plan, which focused on front-line health workers. Those districts have since moved on to the next high-priority group, consisting largely of residents who are at least 65 years old and those who are vulnerable because of health conditions. Meanwhile, the public health districts encompassing Omaha and Lincoln are still working through the initial phase and won’t shift to the next group until next week, primarily because they have much larger populations and more medical workers. Ricketts said Nebraska distributed vaccines based on the populations that are most affected by the pandemic. State officials said last week that young, healthy residents who don’t fit into one of the high-priority groups may have to wait four months until they’re eligible to get vaccinated.
Reno: The U.S. Supreme Court refused a rural church’s request Monday to step into a legal battle over the government’s authority to limit the size of religious gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic even after the church won an appeals court ruling last month that found Nevada’s restrictions unconstitutional. Attorneys general from 19 other states had recently joined in support of Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley east of Reno. They were urging the Supreme Court to rule on the merits of the Nevada case to help bring uniformity to various standards that courts across the country have used to balance the interests of public safety and freedom of religion. The Supreme Court rejected the church’s request for an emergency injunction last summer. The church’s latest plea for relief was in the form of a petition for a review of the case on its merits despite the recent ruling by the 9th Circuit and ongoing litigation in district court. Such petitions are rare, and their approval is even rarer, even though they require approval by only four justices. Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford argued the justices should let the federal court in Reno sort out the details before taking the extraordinary step of wading into the case.
Concord: Anyone who owns property in the Granite State will be allowed to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the state, regardless of where they actually live. Property owners, including second homeowners or out-of-state landlords, need only provide proof of property ownership to get vaccinated in New Hampshire. That could include a property tax bill, mortgage statement, utility bill or other documentation. “The intent of the vaccination plan is to make it as easily and efficiently as possible for people in New Hampshire to get vaccinated, not to throw up barriers,” Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Jake Leon told New Hampshire Public Radio. In neighboring states, Maine is limiting vaccines to residents, while Vermont is administering vaccines to residents and those who work in the state. Vaccinations began Saturday for the more than 300,000 people in Phase 1B, which includes those age 65 and older, people with multiple qualifying medical conditions, corrections workers, and those living and working in residential facilities for people with developmental disabilities.
Trenton: The state launched a staffed COVID-19 vaccine hotline Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy said. People with questions about the vaccine can call 855-568-0545 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to reach one of 250 New Jersey-based operators. Murphy said the phone line had 17,000 calls in the first hour it was operating. The line is aimed at helping answering questions about appointments and registration. But it comes as the state’s supply of the vaccine, as in much of the country, is below what is needed. Currently, New Jersey receives about 100,000 vaccine doses a week, but it would need closer to 500,000 to meet demand, health officials have said. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Jersey fell from from 6,005 new cases per day on Jan. 10 to 5,084 new cases Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Santa Fe: The state has surpassed all others in its reliance on Medicaid as the coronavirus wreaks economic havoc and shifts the way people receive health care, New Mexico’s Medicaid director told a panel of lawmakers Friday. Residents have flocked to the federal- and state-subsidized health care program for people living in poverty or on the cusp, with 43% enrollment statewide as of November. Nicole Comeaux, director of the state Medicaid Assistance Division, said enrollment has grown by about 1.5% a month since the outset of the pandemic. That has helped deliver a windfall of federal contributions to Medicaid spending in New Mexico. The federal government provides $4.76 for every dollar in state general funds spent on the program, up from $3.65 pre-pandemic. That equation is providing the state with an additional $385 million, under the condition that it keep Medicaid patients enrolled even as they climb into jobs and out of poverty. The recent expansion could be costly if bonus federal matching funds expire as scheduled in April. Comeaux said the state could see a $170 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year that starts July 1.
New York: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is honoring its 136 employees who have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began with a digital memorial at 107 subway stations, the authority announced Monday. The tribute features photos of the fallen transit workers accompanied by a poem titled “Travels Far” by former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith. The poem was commissioned by the MTA and will appear in multiple languages at the designated stations. The video tribute will play three times a day through Feb. 7, transit officials said. An online version is accompanied by an original score by composer Christopher Thompson. “COVID-19 has been a devastating scourge on our entire country, and, tragically, that includes the MTA’s workforce,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Patrick Foye, who recovered from his own bout with the coronavirus last spring. “We quickly made sure that those families who lost an MTA worker to COVID were taken care of financially, but the launch of today’s memorial is aimed at personalizing the legacies of those who died during the pandemic.”
Raleigh: The state’s Department of Health and Human Services said Friday that North Carolina has seen 1,280 of its COVID-19 vaccine doses get discarded. “Only 0.1% (or 1,280) of the 1.1 million doses which have entered the state thus far have become unusable for any reason and we have not received reports of significant batches being lost,” the department said in a statement to the Associated Press. In a Thursday afternoon news conference, the state’s top public health official, Dr. Mandy Cohen, estimated the waste to be “in the tens of doses.” Doses being administered at county health departments, clinics, hospitals and other places could be tossed out due to a vaccine being stored too long in a freezer or not being administered in a timely manner once it has been taken out of a freezer. There are currently 136 different vaccine providers in the state. The health department said some providers are working to extract as many doses as they can out of multi-dose vials. Low dead-volume syringes allow for a sixth dose to be taken out of a vial of the Pfizer vaccine. North Carolina expects to continue getting about 120,000 new first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines each week.
Bismarck: Hospitalizations due to the coronavirus have fallen to their lowest total since Aug. 20, with Sunday’s update by the North Dakota Department of Health showing 49 people being treated in medical facilities, down one from Saturday’s report. The state’s hospital tracker showed 38 staffed intensive care unit beds and 421 staffed inpatient beds available throughout North Dakota. Officials confirmed 99 new COVID-19 cases out of 3,079 tests that were processed in the prior day, for a positivity rate of 3.7%. A total of 96,817 people in North Dakota have tested positive since the start of the pandemic. No new deaths were listed in Sunday’s report. There were about 284 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks in North Dakota, which now ranks 50th in the country for new cases per capita, according to the COVID Tracking Project. One in every 756 people in North Dakota tested positive in the past week.
Cincinnati: The state reported 4,334 new coronavirus cases and 57 COVID-19 deaths Monday, continuing a trend of declining infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks. Virus numbers tend to be lower on Mondays, due to lab closures and reporting delays over the weekend. But newly reported cases have fallen in recent weeks, averaging 5,366 per day last week compared to 7,098 the week before and 7,941 during the first week of January. In total, 44,981 Ohioans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at some point during the pandemic, with 198 newly reported since Sunday. On Monday, 3,037 COVID-19 patients occupied hospital beds statewide, including 760 in intensive care, the Ohio Hospital Association reported. That’s below the seven-day moving average of 3,381 hospitalized. The number of coronavirus tests given each week has declined in recent weeks, but so has the percentage returning positive. Ohio’s average positivity rate dropped below 10% last week for the first time since Nov. 8. The seven-day moving average was 8.9% on Saturday, the most recent day that information is available.
Oklahoma City: Health officials have stopped sending a portion of the state’s COVID-19 vaccines to pharmacies contracted to administer doses to some of the most vulnerable residents. Keith Reed, Oklahoma’s deputy commissioner of health, said the temporary pause in vaccine allocations is meant to allow CVS Health and Walgreens to catch up on the doses set aside for residents and staff in long-term care facilities. In a legislative budget hearing last week, state health officials blasted the pharmacy chains for the pace at which long-term care residents have been vaccinated as lawmakers questioned why the vaccine rollout to vulnerable communities is taking longer than expected. Neither CVS nor Walgreens responded to requests for comment or questions about how far along the companies are in vaccinating Oklahoma’s long-term care residents and staff. Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye on Wednesday said the pharmacy chains are not providing much information on how many Oklahomans they’ve vaccinated. “We have not been satisfied with CVS and Walgreens,” he told members of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health.
Salem: The state Department of Corrections has reported the 39th COVID-19 death among adults in custody. The man, who was not identified, was incarcerated at Two Rivers Correctional Institution and died in the infirmary Saturday, corrections officials said Sunday. He had tested positive for the coronavirus and was between 75 and 85 years old. Last week, Santiam Correctional Institution, a minimum-security prison in Salem, reported an outbreak of COVID-19, prompting a 14-day quarantine of the entire facility. Oregon DOC is responsible for the care and custody of 13,000 adults in custody who are incarcerated in 14 institutions across the state. More than half of the incarcerated population has been identified as COVID-19-vulnerable, based on community standard criteria, according to a release from the corrections department.
Harrisburg: A Democratic lawmaker criticized the state’s vaccine rollout as muddled Friday, saying other states are doing a much better job at distribution and communication, while unions representing police and prison guards expressed outrage at having been shoved farther back in line for COVID-19 shots. Although Republicans have been more than happy to attack Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf over his handling of the pandemic, the scolding from a fellow Democrat was remarkable – and a sign of mounting frustration over the stubbornly slow pace of vaccinations in Pennsylvania and shifting guidance about who is eligible to get them. “Pennsylvanians are confused and anxious to receive a vaccine, and they deserve clearer communication and more concrete answers,” wrote Sen. Lindsey Williams of Allegheny County. “I am asking the Department of Health for a transparent, clearly communicated, and efficient vaccine distribution plan for Pennsylvanians.” In Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, demand for shots has overwhelmed supply, and residents have been forced to navigate a patchwork distribution system involving hospitals, pharmacy chains, municipal health departments and even grocery stores.
Providence: The state has received an infusion of more than $70 million in federal funding to bolster its coronavirus testing and vaccination programs, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed announced Monday. The money from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be used to expand testing and COVID-19 vaccine distribution across the state, the Democrat said in a statement. Nearly $61 million is allocated to support the state’s COVID-19 testing capacities, contact tracing, and containment and mitigation efforts, while an additional $9.5 million will enhance vaccine distribution. The money comes from a $900 billion emergency COVID-19 relief and rescue measure passed and signed into law in December. More than 59,000 Rhode Islanders have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly 15,000 have received their second dose, the state Department of Health said Monday.
Greenville: Students’ fall test results showed lower scores in both English language arts and math, with young students sliding the most in math. But the results also showed student scores might not have dropped as much as other states did so far this academic year. South Carolina officials are looking at these early test results to see how remote learning could have affected student performance this past fall. The scores are based on benchmark tests given to students to show teachers what areas students need help in and to get an idea of how well they will do on end-of-year standardized tests. When schools closed last March, South Carolina’s nearly 800,000 students were sent to learn from home indefinitely to help mitigate COVID-19. Students completed lessons online, others picked up paper packets from schools, and a small number went silent as the shutdown stretched through the end of the school year. The Education Oversight Committee’s report did show some glimmers of hope – in most grades and subject areas, South Carolina test scores did not decline as much as students in other states this fall. But South Carolina typically lags the nation in test scores.
Sioux Falls: State health officials on Monday reported 32 new cases of the coronavirus, the lowest daily total since late July. The results came on a light day of processed tests, with 832, but continued a downward trend that began in mid-November. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has decreased by 42.4%, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. There were about 434 new cases per 100,000 people in South Dakota over the past two weeks, which ranks 43rd in the country for new cases per capita. One in every 550 people in South Dakota tested positive in the past week, researchers said. No new deaths were listed in Monday’s update, keeping the fatality count at 1,705. There were 161 people hospitalized with COVID-19, one fewer than Sunday. Of those patients, 37 required intensive care, and 26 were on ventilators. Health officials say 43% of staffed hospital beds are available in South Dakota, with 5.8% occupied by COVID-19 patients. A total of 107,180 COVID-19 cases have been reported across the state since the start of the pandemic.
Nashville: The B.1.1.7 variant strain of the coronavirus, which is believed to be more contagious than the common strain, has been detected in the state and is expected to be the “dominant” strain in Tennessee by March, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Friday. Tennesseans should continue the same precautions they are taking now – social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing – to prevent the spread of the new strain, Piercey said. It is believed the COVID-19 vaccines being distributed across the state are also effective at warding off the new strain. “If it transmits more easily, it is more likely there will be bigger case numbers and wider case spread, and the more cases you have, ostensibly the more hospitalizations and deaths that you have; I don’t want to downplay what could happen,” Piercey said. “But it doesn’t change anything we are doing. We need to remind people that the same thing that prevented them from getting the current strain are the same things that will prevent them from getting the new strain.” The detection of the B.1.1.7 strain comes just as Tennessee is gaining ground on the coronavirus for the first time in months.
Austin: The state has seen a decrease in the number of reported new deaths due to COVID-19, according to the state health department. There were 208 additional deaths reported across Texas on Sunday after 407 new deaths were reported Saturday following three consecutive days of more than 1,200 new deaths, according to the department. The death toll stands at 34,322. The health department reported more than 11,000 new virus cases for a total of 1.96 million since the pandemic began. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized decline from 13,309 to 12,899. The seven-day rolling average of deaths in Texas has risen during the past two weeks from 260.57 per day to 326.14, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The state ranked ninth in the United States in the number of new cases per capita with 1,012.33 per 100,000 residents, according to the Johns Hopkins data. The Johns Hopkins information also shows the positivity rate in Texas has declined from 24.89% to 16%, and the seven-day rolling average of new cases fell from 23,043.57 per day to 18,771.57.
Salt Lake City: The state Capitol building has reopened to the public after being closed for the first four days of the legislative session due to concerns about potential protests following the deadly breach of the U.S. Capitol. Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said Friday that public input is essential in maintaining the legislative process. Only a handful of protesters showed up at the Capitol last week. Residents are still encouraged to participate in committee hearings virtually. Masks and physical distancing will be required in the Capitol, where three cases of the coronavirus were identified in staffers and an intern early last week, the Deseret News reports. No lawmakers have tested positive, Senate leaders said. Lawmakers are also recommending that people who want to come to the Capitol first get a rapid coronavirus test at the Utah State Fairgrounds. Testing is not required. Utah Highway Patrol troopers will be stationed at the four public entrances to the Capitol conduct bag checks, lawmakers said in a statement.
Brattleboro: Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce has named the whole community as its 2020 person of the year. “All of you probably know an individual or an organization, an unsung hero who has gone above and beyond to take the sting out of the pandemic,” Tracey John, past president of the chamber’s board of directors, said at the chamber’s annual meeting held remotely Thursday, the Brattleboro Reformer reports. So the chamber “is proud to salute all of the unsung heroes in our corner of southern Vermont who rose up to support their neighbors and keeping our community moving forward by naming them and each of you our 2020 Person of the Year,” he said. Each year since 1954, the chamber has recognized someone for having a positive impact on the community. It would be impossible to pick just one for last year, John said. “We’ve all been challenged, and more lies ahead, but over the last year – with ingenuity, perseverance, acts of kindness and by coming together – our community has demonstrated that we can rise to and meet the challenge,” John said.
Richmond: State officials announced Monday that the first case of a new variant of the coronavirus has been identified in Virginia. The variant was identified in a sample from an adult resident of northern Virginia who had no reported recent travel history, the Department of Health and Department of General Services said in a news release. Health experts have warned that the more contagious and possibly more deadly variant sweeping through Britain will probably become the dominant source of infection in the U.S. by March. It has been reported in over 20 states so far. Another mutant version is circulating in South Africa. “We know this variant strain spreads more quickly between people than other strains currently circulating in our communities, but we still have more to learn about whether it causes more severe illness. As our state public health officials closely monitor the emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant in our Commonwealth, it is important that all Virginians continue following mitigation measures,” State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said in a statement.
Olympia: State House and Senate Democrats on Friday released a plan that looks to spend $2.2 billion in federal aid money on COVID-19 relief efforts. The Seattle Times reports the plan includes $618 million to boost vaccination efforts and contact tracing. It also includes $668 million for school assistance, $365 million to aid renters and landlords, and $240 million for grants to businesses. The bill also looks to spend $50 million for emergency child care funding and $65 million for the Immigrant Relief Fund. House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said in a statement that by working with Senate lawmakers and figuring out how best to use the federal aid, “we have developed a great first step that pushes dollars out the door to communities and businesses in need.” The new legislation is one a series of bills being fast-tracked in the Legislature to provide different types of relief. A measure that would exempt businesses from paying taxes on COVID-19 aid they received by the government, such as the Paycheck Protection Program or grant money distributed by Gov. Jay Inslee, was unanimously passed by the House on Friday.
Charleston: The numbers of deaths, people hospitalized and confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state trended downward last week as vaccinations continue apace. The 119 virus-related deaths recorded last week were a 41% drop from the previous week and the lowest since 109 deaths were reported in the week ending Dec. 6. The 597 people in the hospital for the virus Sunday were the fewest since 595 were hospitalized Nov. 30. The 4,090 confirmed virus cases last week were the lowest since early November. In addition, last week marked the first time there has not been a record-high number of weekly cases in successive weeks since early October. “We are surprised that they are low,” said State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad. “We like to be hopeful. But, West Virginians, we still need to wear our masks, even after you’ve been vaccinated.” Gov. Jim Justice said it would likely take 80% of the state’s 1.78 million population to be vaccinated and some time for the nation to catch up to achieve herd immunity. About 9.3% of West Virginia’s population has received at least one of the two doses from the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Madison: The Wisconsin Medical Society on Monday announced its opposition to a Republican-authored resolution that would overturn the statewide mask mandate put in place by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The board of directors for the medical society, which represents doctors and advocates on their behalf, voted Saturday to support continuation of the mask mandate issued by Evers and oppose the GOP resolution. The group, the state’s largest for individual doctors, announced the action Monday. “Other than vaccines, mask-wearing is one of the few tools we have in our arsenal to help prevent spreading COVID-19 even further than it already has,” Dr. Bud Chumbley, chief operating officer of the medical society, said in a statement. “We ask all of our government leaders to support physicians and other front-line health care workers by promoting mask-wearing as an effective tool against COVID-19.” The resolution overturning the mask order has nine co-sponsors in the Senate and 19 in the Assembly, all Republicans. Neither Assembly Speaker Robin Vos nor GOP Majority Leader Jim Steineke has co-sponsored the resolution or said if the Assembly would take it up.
Bondurant: The coldest town in the state now contains another curiosity: the only free-standing ice bar in America. The Ice Bar at Jackson Fork Ranch was built at the direction of ranch owner Joe Ricketts, who had seen ice structures on his travels and always wanted to create one on his working bison ranch in Bondurant, said representative Morgan Fischer. The outside of the snow-and-ice structure is nondescript, blending in with small ranch outbuildings. Once visitors pull on the bison horn door handle and step inside, wonder awaits. Glistening blocks of ice form a service bar, cocktail tables and couches. Seating is covered in elk hides with coyote fur armrests. Sitting at about 6,600 feet of elevation, 400 feet higher than Jackson, Bondurant is the coldest place in Wyoming, with an average low January temperature of 5 degrees below zero. It’s surrounded by mountains and is a “cold sink,” according to Mountain Weather columnist and meteorologist Jim Woodmencey.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Transit memorial, pen pals, White House doctor: News from around our 50 states