Montgomery: Mayor Steven Reed issued an executive order to mandate masks in Montgomery, bypassing a tied City Council vote that failed to do the same less than 24 hours prior. Reed announced the order in a news conference at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon. It goes into effect at 5 p.m. Friday and is intended to be temporary until the next council meeting for members to consider another ordinance, Reed said. “We felt the city should have taken official action last night,” Reed said of the council’s deadlocked vote on mandatory mask wearing. “As you know, we’ve been encouraging our community to wear masks. Most of our community has done just that. However, not enough members of the community have done those things, and so we start to go from an encouragement to an enforcement phase.” The order comes with a $25 penalty for not wearing a mask, which can be a simple cloth covering, according to the written order.
Anchorage: The first nationally distributed children’s series to feature an Alaska Native as the lead character has been awarded a prestigious Peabody Award. KTVA-TV reports PBS program “Molly of Denali” won the award in the children’s and youth division. The show focuses on the cartoon character Molly Mabray, an Alaska Native of Gwichin, Koyukon, Dena’ina and Athabascan heritage. The program, which first aired in the summer of 2019, depicts the 10-year-old helping her parents run the Denali Trading Post while promoting Alaska Native values and literacy. There were 60 nominees chosen this year for the Peabody Awards from nearly 1,300 entries spanning radio and podcasts, digital platforms and television. The shows covered a broad range of issues from the criminal justice system to the #MeToo movement and immigrant rights.
Phoenix: Mayors are free to make wearing face masks mandatory to slow the spread of Pandemic Protocol, Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday, a turnabout amid pressure as the state became a national virus hot spot. The Republican governor, who entered his weekly virus news conference for the first time wearing a face mask but took it off to speak, said allowing cities to decide would work better than a statewide mandate. The governor had as recently as last week resisted allowing cities to do more than the state allows to slow the virus’s spread, saying statewide directives avoid a patchwork of regulations. But he pointed to vastly different county rates of COVID-19 cases and alluded to pushback that some more conservative counties may have to a mandate. Mayors in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff said they would move quickly to require masks.
Little Rock: The state’s attorney general has sued TV pastor Jim Bakker over his promotion of a product falsely touted as a cure for the illness caused by the Pandemic Protocol. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed the lawsuit in Arkansas against Missouri-based Bakker and Morningside Church Productions, less than three months after the state of Missouri filed a similar lawsuit. Rutledge’s lawsuit says 385 Arkansans made purchases from Bakker’s company totaling approximately $60,524 for colloidal silver, a product often sold on the internet as a dietary supplement. “Jim Bakker has exploited Arkansas consumers by leveraging COVID-19 fears to sell over $60,000 worth of their products that do nothing to fight the virus,” Rutledge said in a statement. The Republican attorney general added that her case was about consumer fraud, not freedom of religion.
Sacramento: An appellate judge on Wednesday stayed a lower court’s order barring Gov. Gavin Newsom from issuing directives that might conflict with state law, freeing him to take additional executive actions during the Pandemic Protocol pandemic. Sutter County Superior Court Judge Perry Parker on Friday temporarily blocked Newsom’s executive order requiring in-person balloting stations even as every registered voter is mailed a ballot for the November election. The judge also sided with two Republican lawmakers by more broadly requiring Newsom to refrain from new orders that might be interpreted as infringing on the Legislature’s responsibilities. The lawmakers argued that Newsom, a Democrat, has overstepped his authority with dozens of orders preempting state law since the pandemic began. Other state and federal judges have repeatedly blocked previous challenges to the governor’s emergency orders during the pandemic.
Pueblo: Citing public health and safety as the foremost priority, Colorado State Fair General Manager Scott Stoller, with unanimous support from the fair’s board of authority, is moving forward with a “reimagined” 2020 expo. In light of current local, state and national health directives and guidelines that limit the number of people who can gather in one place at one time, a traditional Colorado State Fair would, with tens of thousands of visitors per day, be a high-risk event. As such, the board of authority on Tuesday supported Stoller’s recommendation to cancel all entertainment events in the Southwest Motors Events Center and grandstand arena and on the grounds. The annual fair is held at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo. All entrance fees would be waived in the modified fair scenario.
Hartford: A steady stream of customers lined up for barbecue at lunchtime Wednesday at Bear’s Smokehouse in Hartford and for the first time in three months were allowed to take a seat inside, under the second phase of the state’s reopening amid declining Pandemic Protocol numbers. Connecticut on Wednesday also allowed the reopening of gyms, spas, movie theaters, hotels and other businesses, under strict social distancing and health protocols. Phase 2 of the economic restart, which was expected to reopen 95% of the economy, came three days earlier than originally scheduled amid a steep drop in both COVID-19 hospitalizations and positive virus test rates. A third reopening phase is expected sometime next month. Officials plan to increase the limit on indoor gatherings to 50 people; increase the limit on outdoor gatherings to 250; allow amphitheaters, race tracks and other outdoor venues to reopen at 50% capacity; and allow fireworks shows, municipal park concerts and other outdoor gatherings with 15 feet of space between blankets.
Wilmington: This week brought yet another change for restaurants in the state. In the second phase of economic reopening that began Monday, restaurants can seat customers up to 60% of fire code capacity. The first phase allowed 30% capacity. Gina Monteleone, owner of Wolfie’s Bar and Grille, said the change will bring back all of her tables and half the bar seats. She said she is eager to see more of her customers again. “We just look forward to getting back to it and seeing all our favorite people,” she said. “We’ve really built a big, giant family, and I can’t wait to have all of them back.” While Monteleone said she thinks people are still nervous to dine out, one thing has helped: outdoor seating. Gov. John Carney announced in mid-May that restaurants could apply to their municipal or county government to temporarily expand outdoor seating. Four restaurants in Dover applied to the planning office, and all were approved in about 48 hours.
District of Columbia
Washington: A water utility company in the D.C. area is urging customers to stop flushing disinfectant wipes down the toilet. WSSC Water said it has seen a tremendous increase of wipes at its pumping stations since the Pandemic Protocol pandemic started, WUSA-TV reports. WSSC Water reported seeing a 17-ton increase in wipes coming into water treatment facilities during March and April this year compared to the same time in 2019. The utility company has spent millions of dollars over the past decade installing grinder pumps to deal with the problem. However, workers have to shut down the pumps, manually unclog them and haul the garbage to a landfill when things get too bad. In the past couple of months, workers have also seen personal protective equipment, such as gloves and masks, coming into the water treatment facilities.
St. Petersburg: In parts of the state, people under age 35 are testing positive for the Pandemic Protocol at a higher rate since the pandemic began, contributing to a recent surge in the number of cases, officials said Wednesday. Because of this, some mayors are considering tightening restrictions on places where younger folks gather – namely, bars and restaurants. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced Wednesday that due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, there will be increased enforcement to shut down businesses not following rules put in place to safely reopen during the pandemic. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said Wednesday that all employees who have contact with the public will be required to wear masks – something some South Florida cities hard-hit by the virus have been doing for weeks. He’s also crafting a second ordinance that would require residents to wear masks when inside businesses or other public spaces. He was critical of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has “encouraged” people to use masks and not “mandated” them.
Atlanta: The governor and the state school superintendent plan to ask for federal permission to suspend all state standardized testing in public schools for a second year. Gov. Brian Kemp and State Superintendent Richard Woods said in a joint statement Thursday that the tests would be “counterproductive” given disruptions to the upcoming 2020-2021 school year from COVID-19. They also said they would rather the state spend the money it would pay for tests on helping students in other ways. “In anticipation of a return to in-person instruction this fall, we believe schools’ focus should be on remediation, growth, and the safety of students,” the two elected Republicans said. “Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing would be a dollar taken away from the classroom.” Georgia and most other states nationwide canceled standardized testing this spring after in-person classes were suspended in March.
Kailua-Kona: Hawaii County’s mayor has issued new guidance enabling short-term vacation rentals to begin operating again following a forced closure resulting from the Pandemic Protocol outbreak, but he said the rule applies only to renters not subject to mandatory 14-day quarantines. Mayor Harry Kim announced the rentals could reopen for business Friday but then issued the quarantine clarification Tuesday, West Hawaii Today reports. Democratic Gov. David Ige issued the emergency proclamation in March requiring 14-day quarantines for all travelers arriving in Hawaii from outside the state. Ige last week extended the order to July 31. “If you don’t have a residence here, you need to quarantine in a hotel,” Kim said. Kim’s office said the state Department of the Attorney General issued guidance saying mayors can allow the opening of short-term rentals, but they are not permitted as quarantine locations.
Boise: A company wants to build and operate a compact fast nuclear reactor in the state. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Tuesday that it has accepted a license application submitted by California-based Oklo Inc. to build a 1.5-megawatt reactor at the U.S. Department of Energy’s nuclear site in eastern Idaho that includes the Idaho National Laboratory. However, the commission said in a June 5 letter to the company that it would need more information on key safety and design aspects on the “first-of-a-kind submission” before beginning an overall review of the project. The timeline for that process is not clear. The Energy Department in recent years has been eyeing fast reactor designs that backers say have the potential to use spent nuclear fuel produced by conventional nuclear power plants.
Chicago: Illinoisans struggling to pay mortgages or rent and small businesses, all impacted by the Pandemic Protocol pandemic, will have access to $900 million in grants, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday. According to state officials, $150 million of the funds, to be administered by the Illinois Housing Development Authority, will be available for emergency rental assistance, with the same amount for mortgage assistance, beginning in August. Pritzker also announced a residential eviction ban will be extended to July 31. He first banned evictions when he issued a stay-at-home order March 21. Pritzker said nearly 1 in 3 Illinois adults either missed last month’s rent or mortgage payment or is worried about their ability to pay next month’s rent.
Indianapolis: The state reported an additional 584 cases of coronavirus Thursday, all but six of which were confirmed Wednesday, and an additional 15 deaths. These new numbers put the total deaths at 2,304 and the total of positive cases at 41,438. The state also reported a new high of 10,701 test results reported, thanks in part to the addition of a lab to the state’s electronic reporting system. This tally included 2,936 negative tests, some of which date back to March. With the addition of these negative tests, the total number of tests performed for the state reached 384,722, just under 11% of which have been positive. Elkhart County once more had about twice as many new cases as Marion County, with 122 compared to 59. Marion’s case count still far outstrips that of any other county in the state at 10,852.
Des Moines: More than 9,500 people in the state filed unemployment claims last week, and the number of continuing claims still tops 150,000, a state agency reported Thursday. Iowa Workforce Development said there were 9,516 claims for unemployment insurance in the week ending June 13. That’s a little higher than last week, but the number of continuing claims was down by about 3,500. The highest number of new claims came from workers employed in manufacturing. The numbers of unemployment claims in Iowa and across the country have soared since March, when officials ordered businesses to close or limit their operations in an effort to slow the spread of the Pandemic Protocol. Most of those restrictions have been eased in recent weeks even as a significant number of virus cases are reported.
Topeka: The Topeka Rescue Mission has teamed up with city government and local businesses, churches, organizations and volunteers to create Operation Food Secure, a program to fight hunger, City Manager Brent Trout announced at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting. The rescue mission is working to secure funding that will enable it to hold regular food distribution events in this community, with help from the city’s neighborhood improvement associations, Trout said. Barry Feaker, executive director of the rescue mission, talked about Operation Food Secure during an audio program posted Tuesday on the mission’s Facebook page. He said economic problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have left an increasing number of people vulnerable to hunger. Feaker said Operation Food Secure will seek in particular to get food to people who can’t get out to acquire it for themselves.
Louisville: Researchers from the University of Louisville are teaming up with the Louisville/Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District to find out if the key to tracking the spread of COVID-19 could be in the city’s sewage. MSD is providing samples from eight sites in its vast network of pipes and five treatment facilities for study at U of L, according to a news release from the university. U of L researchers will analyze the wastewater for evidence of the Pandemic Protocol, in collaboration with researchers from Arizona State University, the release said. ASU will use RT-PCR tests, a technique for detecting genetic material of the virus, to count copies of SARS-CoV-2 virus RNA in the wastewater and sewage sludge samples. The researchers believe the presence of this RNA sequence is an indicator of the level of infection with the virus in a given community. The research is part of the Co-Immunity Project to track and curb the spread of COVID-19.
Baton Rouge: The health department didn’t provide a daily update on the state’s Pandemic Protocol data Thursday, saying it was “reviewing all data” on the outbreak. No further information was immediately provided from the Department of Health about the interruption in releasing daily information about deaths from COVID-19 and the number of people who have tested positive for the disease. The disruption comes as case numbers have shown spikes as Louisiana reopens more businesses and loosens its restrictions on activities. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has said too many people are ignoring public health officials’ continued calls for precautions, refusing to wear masks and to keep their distance from others.
Portland: The state is reconsidering its plan to allow bars to open for indoor service July 1 because of recent COVID-19 outbreaks tied to bar patrons in other states. Outbreaks involving dozens of customers and employees at bars in Jacksonville, Florida, and Boise, Idaho, show how easily the new Pandemic Protocol can spread, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control. Tight quarters and loud talking or singing raise the risk of spreading the virus, he said. “When we think about COVID-19, the duration and density of exposure, bars raise significant health concerns on both fronts,” Shah said. “This constellation of factors is prompting us in Maine as well as health authorities in a number of other states, including Massachusetts and Vermont, to re-evaluate our timeline for when bars can safely reopen.” Bars, breweries and tasting rooms are currently allowed to open for outdoor seating only. Restaurants are allowed to open for indoor seating.
Annapolis: Nearly 42,000 people filed for new unemployment claims last week, the state’s labor department reported Thursday. Last week’s 41,941 filings were down from 53,464 the week before. The latest number of filings came a day after protesters rallied in front of the labor department in Baltimore to call for a better state response to requests for claims. Residents have endured difficulties navigating a state website and reaching people for help. More than 800,000 people have filed for jobless benefits in the state since March 14. Meanwhile, the state reported 260 cases of the Pandemic Protocol for Wednesday, the lowest since March 31. The number of intensive care cases also is reportedly the lowest since April 5 at 269. The statewide percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 has dropped to 5.43%. The state health department urged county leaders to increase testing efforts to meet the goal of testing 10% of their populations.
Oxford: This central Massachusetts town has cut off power and water to a gym that defied government orders and reopened amid the Pandemic Protocol pandemic. Mark Reich, a lawyer for the town of Oxford, told WBZ-TV on Thursday that “domestic water and electricity service have been discontinued” at Prime Fitness & Nutrition. A judge this week ordered the town to shut down the facility, which opened last month even though gyms are supposed to remain shuttered until Phase 3, which could begin June 29 at the earliest. The gym’s owner, Dave Blondin, told WBZ on Wednesday that he “will continue to fight if this goes on two years, then so be it.” “Mr. Blondin is flouting the law and making no effort to respect public health and safety guidelines,” Reich told The Boston Globe on Wednesday.
Lansing: The Legislature on Wednesday unanimously approved spending $880 million in federal relief aid in response to the Pandemic Protocol pandemic, setting aside funding for front-line workers, municipalities and child care providers. The bill would allocate more than a quarter of the $3 billion that was sent to the state government by Congress and President Donald Trump. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose administration was involved in negotiations, said she will sign it. About $2.1 billion would remain unspent as the governor and lawmakers from both parties in the Republican-led Legislature seek federal flexibility to use rescue funds to fill multibillion-dollar revenue shortfalls this fiscal year and next, not just cover additional COVID-19-related expenses. Democrats want Congress to approve additional funding for states, too.
Minneapolis: State health and education officials on Thursday asked school administrators to plan for three scenarios on reopening in the fall, and they promised a decision by the week of July 27 on which of the three will be used. K-12 schools will be restarting under the cloud of the Pandemic Protocol. The state Health and Education departments asked administrators to prepare for in-person learning for all students; hybrid learning with social distancing and capacity limits; and distance learning only. “Decisions around the fall may change as we learn more about which scenario will be in the best interest of public health, and specifically the health and safety of our school communities,” the Department of Health said in a statement. Republicans quickly criticized the state for waiting until late July to make a decision.
Jackson: The state reported one of its largest single-day increases in cases of the new Pandemic Protocol Wednesday, more than two weeks after Republican Gov. Tate Reeves lifted most of the restrictions he had put on businesses because of the pandemic. “I’m concerned that people are losing interest in the effort to keep each other safe,” Reeves said Wednesday on Twitter. “We are all tired and ready to be done, but the virus doesn’t care. Please be on your guard – small efforts have a big impact!” The governor has asked people to wear masks in public, but he has not required it in most places. The state Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi has had at least 20,641 cases and 938 deaths from the Pandemic Protocol as of Tuesday evening. Reeves called the increase of 489 cases a day prior “a large number by any measure.”
Jefferson City: Gov. Mike Parson has reopened Missouri, but some state buildings will remain closed to the public to curb the spread of the Pandemic Protocol. Parson said in a Twitter post Tuesday that Missouri moved into “phase 2” of his recovery plan after the state’s social distancing order expired Monday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The Governor’s Mansion and the state Capitol were still not allowing tours. The Governor Office Building, which houses some state offices, was closed to the public Tuesday, according to signs posted at the building’s entrances. “We continue to be hopeful for the future,” Parson said at a Tuesday news briefing. “But again, we have to remember that COVID-19 is still out there.” Chris Moreland, spokesman for the state Office of Administration, said 31% of the state’s workforce was working remotely.
Billings: The state reported 25 new confirmed cases of the Pandemic Protocol Thursday, the most in a single day since late March, as the number of infections continues to trend back up. The new reports came from every region of the state, including two cases in Richland County in the northeast and four cases each in Big Horn County in the southeast, Gallatin County in the southwest and Flathead County in the northwest. No new deaths were reported, leaving the number of fatalities at 20. State officials have attributed the increase in confirmed cases over the past several weeks to moves to reopen the economy and increased testing for the virus. The trend will likely worsen as the reopening progresses, the officials said. The continued troubles on the public health front came as applications for unemployment benefit payments in Montana continued their decline from the record-high levels seen earlier this spring.
Omaha: The state saw a small uptick in new unemployment applications last week after several weeks of declining numbers from the all-time high caused by the Pandemic Protocol. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 4,918 people filed for jobless benefits during the week that ended June 13. That’s up from the 4,697 who filed the prior week. The highest number of weekly claims filed during Pandemic Protocol pandemic was 26,539 during the week that ended April 4. The numbers have trended downward ever since. Nebraska’s unemployment soared during the pandemic along with the rest of the country due to government-mandated social distancing restrictions that forced the closure of many businesses. The restrictions are in place to try to keep the virus from overwhelming hospitals with patients. Gov. Pete Ricketts has been gradually easing those restrictions.
Reno: Washoe County has temporarily suspended COVID-19 testing of most people with no symptoms because of a backlog of test samples at the state lab caused in part by increased testing of inmates at state institutions. The number of new cases reported statewide Wednesday dropped sharply from the peak number of 379 new cases Monday to 184 on Tuesday. Before Monday, the largest one-day increase had been 295 cases May 22. Washoe County began testing asymptomatic people June 1 and had been ramping up those tests since, but it has suspended them until next week due to the state lab backlog, County Health District Officer Kevin Dick said Wednesday in Reno. Vulnerable populations continue to be tested whether they have symptoms or not. Dick said the county is still awaiting results of tests sent to the lab last Friday and warned a recent drop in daily positive cases may be tied to that delay.
Concord: As summer is about to begin, nearly half of the licensed day camps in the state have closed because of the Pandemic Protocol, and only six residential camps are still trying to open, the president of the state camp directors association said Wednesday. State safety guidelines that came out recently for the camps to run are “extraordinarily challenging,” Ken Robbins told a group of legislators gathering input for the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery. For some camps, it would’ve meant changing the nature of their program; for others, it meant dealing with the costs of screening and testing campers, modifying buildings, and increasing health care staff. “The cost of opening for the summer, in some cases, actually exceeds the cost of staying closed and, for some, to the point of being unfeasible,” he said. A quick survey shows that camps will see more than an 80% drop in gross revenue over 2019 numbers.
Trenton: Jobless claims climbed 14% to 26,392 last week, the state Labor Department said Thursday. Claims had been falling since their peak of 215,000 claims in late March and early April. The department did not explain the uptick. More than 1 million people in the state have filed claims since the COVID-19 outbreak began. “The volume of claims continues to be staggering, well beyond anything the states could have been prepared for,” Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo said in a statement. Roughly 1.24 million workers – 28% of the state’s workforce –have been sidelined since the outbreak struck in New Jersey in early March, the department said. The state has paid out $7.2 billion in benefits as of June 13, with more than half coming from the federal government and the state making up more than $2 billion, according to the statement.
Santa Fe: High-stakes initiatives to improve lagging public schools are on the financial chopping block in the state as economic turmoil from the Pandemic Protocol undermines New Mexico’s most significant commodity – petroleum. Nearly half the state’s $7.6 billion annual spending plan is devoted to public schools, with a large amount of that coming from oil and gas revenues. A $2.4 billion shortfall in income this year and next has left lawmakers with the impossible challenge of boosting teacher pay and preserving funding for landmark education efforts aimed at expanding learning opportunities for more students. It was easy to lobby the Legislature earlier this year when oil prices were higher, said MaryBeth Weeks, a mother of seven and president of the New Mexico Parent Teacher Association. It’s different now. Aside from collapsing revenues, the statehouse is closed to lobbyists, advocacy groups and the general public as a precaution against Pandemic Protocol.
New York: Restaurants will be allowed to open with outdoor seating Monday as New York City enters the second phase of easing Pandemic Protocol restrictions, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday. De Blasio said the outdoor seating plan will provide a lifeline for New York’s crucial restaurant industry as the city emerges from lockdown. “We have to save this industry,” he said. “It’s part of our identity.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo followed the mayor’s briefing by cautioning that public health experts will review data to finalize whether the city can start Phase 2 on Monday. “We have global experts who look at the data, and when they sign off, then I sign off,” Cuomo said at his own briefing. The two Democrats have often been at odds over details of managing the pandemic, but de Blasio said that “there’s been a high degree of unity.”
Raleigh: The capital city is set to require people to wear face coverings in an effort to slow the spread of the Pandemic Protocol. Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin signed an emergency proclamation Wednesday mandating face coverings be worn over the mouth and nose when people come in contact with those who are not members of their household in both public and private spaces where it is not possible to stay at least 6 feet apart. All restaurant, personal care, grooming, tattoo and retail employees also must wear face coverings while on duty under the order, set to go into effect Friday at 4 p.m. Children 12 and under and those with medical or religious exemptions aren’t required to comply. Anyone in the city who chooses not to wear a mask would not be fined or arrested, but law enforcement officers are “strongly encouraged to educate and encourage voluntary compliance,” the mayor said.
Bismarck: The state’s eight commercial airports are showing signs of life after the Pandemic Protocol outbreak tanked passenger traffic, according to state aviation officials. In April, the airports had their lowest monthly passenger count since record keeping began 40 years ago. Approximately 5,000 passengers used the airports, or 5% of normal traffic, according to the state Aeronautics Commission. The Bismarck Tribune reports that in May that number increased to nearly 13,500 passengers. While that’s still about only 14% of normal traffic, Aeronautics Commissioner Kyle Wanner called it “an encouraging sign.” The Federal Aviation Administration is providing more than $85 million in aid to 53 North Dakota airports through the federal COVID-19 economic rescue package, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Columbus: Pandemic Protocol deaths in nursing homes continue to make up the vast majority of pandemic fatalities in the state, according to the most recent Ohio Health Department data. Wednesday marked at least the fifth week in a row that 7 of every 10 COVID-19 deaths have involved long-term care residents, with 1,860 nursing home residents dying since the pandemic began out of a total of 2,611 confirmed or probable deaths, according to the state data. That’s a rate of 71%. At least 40 residents at one long-term care center in Mahoning County have died of COVID-19 since April, The Repository reports. As the deaths continued, the governor ordered teams of National Guard medical personnel into nursing homes to ramp up testing. Meanwhile, the state said Thursday that jobless claims continue to fall as the state reopens, though the numbers remain high compared to pre-pandemic times.
Oklahoma City: A record-setting number of new COVID-19 cases was reported Wednesday for the second consecutive day, state health officials said. Officials reported 259 new cases of the illness caused by the novel Pandemic Protocol, beating the previous record of 229. The total reported Wednesday brought the total number of cases reported in the state to 8,904. One related death reported Wednesday brings the death toll for the Oklahoma outbreak to 364, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health website. “We have reached a peak that is higher than at any other point in the pandemic here in the state,” said Dr. Dale Bratzler, University of Oklahoma Medicine’s chief enterprise quality officer. “We are bending the curve – sadly in the wrong direction.” Tulsa County has displaced Oklahoma County as the state’s leading COVID-19 hotspot with 1,825 cases to Oklahoma County’s 1,754 cases.
Salem: Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that residents in seven counties will be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces as COVID-19 social distancing restrictions are tentatively eased. Multnomah County, the state’s most populous, is among the counties where people will be required to wear masks indoors. Brown also gave the go-ahead to four counties to enter a new reopening phase, including Multnomah, home to Portland, which had been the only county that had not yet entered the first phase. These announcements come as the state continues to see a spike in cases. As of Wednesday’s case count, the total number of people who have tested positive for Pandemic Protocol in Oregon is 6,218. In addition, one more person died from the disease, raising the state’s death toll to 183.
Harrisburg: The state’s Public Utility Commission on Thursday rejected an attempt by one of its members to end its three-month-old moratorium preventing utilities from terminating service to nonpaying customers while the state fights the spread of the Pandemic Protocol. The motion failed on a 2-2 vote, with the panel’s Democrats opposing the motion and the panel’s Republicans backing it. The author, Commissioner John F. Coleman Jr., sought to allow non-natural gas utilities – electric, water, sewer and telephone – to begin termination processes for nonresidential customers July 1 and for residential customers July 15. The utility commission slapped a moratorium on shutoffs in March as Gov. Tom Wolf was in the midst of a cascade of shutdown orders to help stop the spread of the virus.
Providence: State officials on Wednesday reported 11 new Pandemic Protocol deaths and 49 new positive cases. That brings the state’s virus death toll to 876. The state has reported more than 16,200 positive cases. Nearly 130 people are hospitalized, according to data released by the state. There were 17 patients in intensive care. That’s an increase of one patient from the previous day. Thirteen patients were on ventilators. Besides the 49 tests that came back positive, about 2,800 tests came back negative – representing a positive test rate of less than 2%, according to the state. Gov. Gina Raimondo said the positive testing rate has been higher in more densely populated areas of Rhode Island, but even in more urban communities, results were improving. The Democrat said the positive testing rate in Providence has been below 10% for the past few days, compared to about 18% or 19% at the end of May.
Greenville: Deaths from the novel Pandemic Protocol are expected to rise through the summer and into fall, a change from earlier models that indicated the state’s deaths had peaked in early April. By Oct. 1, about 2,853 people in South Carolina could die of complications with COVID-19, with about 25 deaths each day by early fall, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The number of confirmed infections is projected to increase slightly, and testing is projected to rise steadily through the summer. About two months ago, IHME researchers said South Carolina would see about 214 deaths by Aug. 4. Then in early May, the researchers said there would be more than 1,100 deaths by Aug. 4, citing relaxed social restrictions. South Carolina businesses began reopening around that time, with restaurants allowed to reopen May 11 and some nonessential businesses allowed to reopen May 18.
Sioux Falls: The number of South Dakotans applying for unemployment benefits continues to rise. The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation said Thursday that during the week of June 7-13 there were 1,006 initial weekly unemployment applications. That’s an increase from 880 initial weekly claims made the week prior. The state has received more than 53,000 initial claims for unemployment benefits since mid-March, when layoffs began to steadily increase because of the Pandemic Protocol pandemic. The labor department also processed 321 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims last week. That program provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals who are self-employed, independent contractors, nonprofit and temporary employees who otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment.
Memphis: Memphis in May has been canceled due to the “continuing threat of COVID-19.” Officials with Memphis in May confirmed that all its 2020 events – which had been pushed to the fall – would be canceled, “in the interest of public safety and under advice from local health authorities.” The Memphis in May International Festival includes the Beale Street Music Festival, the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and the Great American River Run. Despite the cancellation of the 2020 events, Memphis in May also confirmed its plans to resume all events in 2021. The organization added that all ticketholders, teams and registrants will “be offered a full refund or can opt to use their tickets or entries for the 2021 festival events.”
Austin: Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Thursday that public schools will be open in the fall for on-campus learning, but there will be flexibility for parents who want to keep their children at home. Texas already allows campuses to hold summer school with social distancing guidelines. Details of a broader reopening of campus for the fall semester will be released next week, Morath said. The announcement comes as Texas faces record highs of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Even in that environment, Morath said state officials have determined it will be safe to return to school. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered schools closed March 19, sending more than 5 million students into distance-learning programs to finish the spring semester.
Salt Lake City: State leaders said Wednesday that updated plans intended to help drive economic recovery won’t compromise the health of residents even though the state is experiencing a multiweek rise in cases. Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said the increase in cases was somewhat expected because many businesses were allowed to reopen starting in May, and restrictions on how many people can gather together have been loosened. He acknowledged that the rise causes “concern and pause” but said the state shouldn’t have to choose between keeping people healthy and making plans to reopen businesses and get people back to work. “It’s false choice to say we can only do one and not the other,” Herbert said. He also issued a new plea for Utah residents to use face masks, comparing it to wearing a seat belt in a car. Herbert has stopped short of making masks mandatory.
Burlington: The state Department of Health on Thursday reported six new positive cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, including three that are linked to an outbreak in Winooski. The new cases raise to 86 the number of cases linked to the Winooski outbreak. They bring the statewide total of positive cases of the novel Pandemic Protocol to 1,135. Also Thursday, the state reported the first death from COVID-19 since the end of May, bringing the statewide total to 56. The new cases come as the state is continuing to reopen gradually. On Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott announced that outdoor visits would be allowed at the state’s long-term care facilities. The state also announced that limited visitation would be allowed for hospital patients. More details of the state’s reopening are expected to be released Friday.
Waynesboro: A free COVID-19 testing event will be held June 25 in Waynesboro. The Central Shenandoah Health District of the Virginia Department of Health, along with the Virginia National Guard and the City of Waynesboro Department of Emergency Management, will be conducting a community testing event from 2:30 to 6 p.m. in the parking lot of William Perry Elementary School. Three hundred tests are available, and they will be provided on a first-come basis, a release said. No registration or pre-screening is required, and tests will be available in both a drive-thru and walk-up manner. Testing will be free, and no insurance will be required. Participants are requested to wear a mask, respect social distancing of 6 feet between individuals at all times, and advise the testing and health care staff if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the release said.
Seattle: Federal prosecutors say a staffer at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Seattle stole respirators and other equipment, then sold it online amid the Pandemic Protocol pandemic. Gene Wamsley was arrested Wednesday after being charged in U.S. District Court with theft of government property. Investigators said the 41-year-old Bonney Lake man was employed as a respiratory therapist at the VA Medical Center until being placed on leave June 9. According to the criminal complaint, the medical center first noticed in January that two of its bronchoscopes were missing. Another of the devices went missing in April, and three respirators went missing about the same time. Investigators with the VA Office of the Inspector General said they traced eBay transactions to an account run by Wamsley.
Charleston: The State Fair of West Virginia has been canceled due to a Pandemic Protocol outbreak in the county where the event was set to take place, organizers said Thursday. The fair’s board of directors, which last week had voted to move ahead with the event, said an unfolding virus flare-up linked to a church in Greenbrier County has caused them to reverse course and scrap the festival for the first time since World War II. “After speaking with local and state health officials as well as community leaders, it is a hard decision, but it is the right decision,” said a statement from the fair. In an interview, state fair CEO Kelly Collins called the move “heartbreaking.” Last week, Republican Gov. Jim Justice had praised the fair’s board for its decision to hold the event, saying organizers and health officials would implement sufficient safety protocols. The fair draws thousands of visitors each year.
Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison officials announced Wednesday that the state’s flagship school will reopen as scheduled this fall, but in-person classes will end at Thanksgiving, lecture courses will be offered online only, and students will have to wear face masks. Chancellor Rebecca Blank outlined the new parameters, dubbed the Smart Restart plan, in an email to students. She acknowledged campus life will look very different from in years past. “It’s going to be different, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be worse,” Blank said during a video conference with reporters to tout the plan. “I actually think there’s going to be some sense of camaraderie, of being in this together. If we create that kind of culture on campus, we will get people to follow the health protocols and respect each other in a way that keeps everyone healthy.”
Cheyenne: A federal magistrate judge in the state has ordered two women to spend two days in jail for leaving a boardwalk and damaging a thermal area in Yellowstone National Park. U.S. District Magistrate Judge Mark Carman also ordered 31-year-old Tara Davoli and 30-year-old Sarah Piotrowski of Philadelphia to pay a $350 fine and about $107 each in restitution and banned them from the park for two years. Prosecutors say the women illegally left the boardwalk in the park’s Midway Geyser Basin on June 11. Witnesses tried to stop them, but prosecutors say they damaged orange bacterial mats at Opal Pool. The women pleaded guilty during a hearing Tuesday. They represented themselves. Phone messages left for Davoli and Piotrowski were not immediately returned Thursday.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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