Montgomery: State Health Officer Scott Harris said Alabama’s Pandemic Protocol numbers are “not as good as we could hope for” as outbreaks continue. Harris said the trend in Pandemic Protocol numbers “depends which part of the state you are looking at.” Butler, Mobile, Marshall and Franklin counties are among the counties experiencing outbreaks, he said. Montgomery and Mobile are among the counties with large hospitalization numbers, he said. Harris urged people to continue to take precautions. “The whole country is moving toward opening up. Generally speaking, the health numbers by themselves warn us that we’ve got to be extremely careful,” Harris said. “If you are a senior, or if you have chronic health problems, it doesn’t matter whether the businesses are open again; you need to protect yourself. The danger has not gone away,” he said.
Anchorage: Gov. Mike Dunleavy will lift most restrictions put into place because of the Pandemic Protocol as of Friday. “It’s time to get Alaska back on its feet,” he said Tuesday. “Friday, we’re open for business across the state of Alaska.” Low case numbers and death totals in the huge but sparsely populated state led Dunleavy, a first-term Republican facing a recall effort, to his decision. Alaska has confirmed 399 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths. All businesses, including bars and gyms, will be allowed to reopen without restrictions or capacity limits, as will churches, libraries and museums. Recreational and sports activities will also be allowed to resume. “It will all be open just like it was prior to the virus,” he said. There will be some guidelines in place: Alaskans will be advised to still practice social distancing, clean touch screens before use, stay home if sick and wear a face covering in public if near other people. And some communities may have different plans for reopening.
Phoenix: The state is slowly reopening, but hospitals continue to see severely ill COVID-19 patients, and providers are bracing for another surge. Not only are health leaders preparing for a continuation of COVID-19 in Arizona and a possible surge of illness in the fall and winter, but they are also preparing for 2021, too. Unless a vaccine is ready, more COVID-19 illnesses could show up next spring. “My concern is that people might think that because the state is opening, that the virus has gone away. The virus is still here,” said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer for Banner Health, the state’s largest health system. “We have more than 400 people hospitalized right now in our system who are either COVID positive or under suspicion. We have 100 people on ventilators in that same category. … The threat of the pandemic will not substantially go away for some time.”
Greers Ferry: A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Tuesday confirmed the coronavirus was spread in a rural central Arkansas church in March when disregarding restrictions on large group gatherings. Among 92 attendees at Greers Ferry First Assembly of God during March 6-11, 35 (38%) developed laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, and three people died, the CDC report says. The highest attack rates were in persons ages 19-64 years (59%) and greater than 65 years (50%). An additional 26 cases linked to the church occurred in the community, including one death. Church member William Barton, 90, was among the first COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas, KARK in Little Rock reports. The Associated Press reported April 1 that the church had been accused of disregarding restrictions on large group gatherings amid the Pandemic Protocol pandemic.
Twentynine Palms: Joshua Tree National Park is slowly reopening after a lengthy closure to slow spread of the Pandemic Protocol. The park announced this week that it is using a phased approach. Park entrances, roads, parking lots, trails, individual campsites and most restrooms are open. Visitor centers and group campsites remain closed, and all campsite reservations made through the recreation.gov website are canceled. The park says all campsites are first-come, first-served until Sept. 4, and campers must pay as normal at each campground. All programs remain canceled. Recent years have seen a big increase in the popularity of Joshua Tree, which straddles the Mojave and Colorado deserts 140 miles east of Los Angeles. Spring and fall are the best times to visit. The rapidly approaching summer will bring scorching heat, intense sunlight and the need to drink at least a gallon of water a day.
Denver: A judge on Monday ordered a mental health evaluation for a man who prosecutors said was heading to a protest against COVID-19 lockdown restrictions when FBI agents found pipe bombs in his home. U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Hegarty ruled Bradley Bunn, a 53-year-old Army veteran, poses a danger to the community and ordered him to remain in custody while he awaits an evaluation. A defense attorney can renew a request for Bunn to be freed after the evaluation, the magistrate said. FBI agents searched Bunn’s Loveland, Colorado, home May 1 and allegedly found four pipe bombs. Bunn told investigators that he would “fight to the death” anyone who tried to disarm him, had started to “gear up” for a coming war and would be willing to “take out a few” officers to “wake everyone up,” a federal prosecutor said during a court hearing.
Hartford: Restaurants were allowed to begin offering service in outdoor dining areas Wednesday as part of the first phase of a statewide reopening, including in hard-hit Fairfield County on the New York state line. Gov. Ned Lamont and some eatery owners have said they will be wary of customers visiting from nearby sections of New York, where restaurants among other businesses remain closed. While infection rates have been declining, the southwestern part of the state was affected by an outbreak in the greater New York City area worse than any other in the country. Fairfield County has had 122 deaths associated with COVID-19 per every 100,000 residents, compared with 119 fatalities per 100,000 in Manhattan, according to state figures. Still, Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo said most people are looking forward to getting back at least a little sense of normalcy.
Dover: Democratic Gov. John Carney on Tuesday announced a further loosening of his Pandemic Protocol restrictions on businesses, but Republican lawmakers are claiming Carney is moving too slowly and has abused his authority. Carney said retail establishments may start operating by appointment only Wednesday morning, and restaurants and bars can begin applying Friday to expand outdoor-seating capacity when those businesses reopen next month. Carney had previously announced that retailers and restaurants would be allowed to resume indoor operations at 30% of stated fire capacity starting June 1. Restrictions on swimming and sunbathing at beaches are scheduled to be lifted effective Friday evening, but Carney is facing increasing pressure to move faster. A group of 15 GOP lawmakers sent a letter to Carney, saying they “urge you in the strongest possible terms to give people and business owners back their freedom.”
District of Columbia
Washington: A pilot program through the D.C. government is offering a helping hand to nonessential businesses that have been closed since March 24, WUSA-TV reports. With the district’s stay-at-home order extended through at least June 8, many local businesses are trying desperately to stay afloat. The Educational and Academic Retail Shops Pilot will grant waivers to certain nonessential businesses, such as bookstores, allowing for curbside and front-door pickup on orders placed in advance online or by phone. Those granted waivers through the EARS Pilot must agree to share certain data with the government to help them gain knowledge of how to safely reopen when businesses when stay-at-home orders are lifted. As of May 19, 14 businesses had been granted a COVID-19 EARS Waiver. The businesses include florists, bookstores, toy stores, and arts and crafts shops.
Islamorada: Banners featuring scores of yearbook photos are hanging next to the Florida Keys Overseas Highway to honor graduating seniors who will miss out on traditional ceremonies because of the Pandemic Protocol pandemic. Several residents in Islamorada knew COVID-19 would affect celebrations for the 177 graduating seniors at Coral Shores High School in the Upper Keys. Local businessman Mike Forster helped finance the project to transform yearbook portraits into banners, and Florida Keys Electric Cooperative crews hung them from power line poles in Islamorada. Bridget Dougherty, 18, who is planning to attend the University of South Florida, said she and her fellow graduates were surprised by the banners. “It’s reassuring that people are aware of what we are going through,” Dougherty said. “It’s connected those who have graduated with those who are graduating now.”
Atlanta: Elections officials in the state’s most populous county agreed Tuesday to open polls earlier and expand voting sites, but not before the elections chief received input on risks to poll workers and voters from the Pandemic Protocol. People lined up outside some polling sites in Fulton County before they opened Monday, the first day of early voting for the June 9 primaries, said the county’s elections director, Rick Barron. Some voters endured long waits. The county includes most of Atlanta. “There is a lot of political pressure that we are receiving, and I understand that we don’t want lines,” Barron said at an emergency meeting of the county’s Board of Registration & Elections Tuesday. “But at the same time, I’m concerned with the welfare of our poll workers and the voters that show up.” Barron cited a report about Pandemic Protocol infections in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that could be connected to in-person voting there April 7.
Honolulu: The state’s public schools are expected to offer in-person and online course options this summer, education officials said. Hawaii Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in-person instruction will be available to students who struggled with distance learning resulting from Pandemic Protocol restrictions, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. There are also expected to be distance learning courses for other students, with 18 mostly middle and high schools already committed. Plans are still being made in response to communication with parents, Kishimoto said. “There are parents who are taking full advantage of the online tele-learning approach because it fits the readiness of the students,” Kishimoto said, “but there are also a whole group of students where tele-learning is not appropriate to their needs.”
Meridian: The Ada County emergency dispatch center received more than 300 phone calls after video of an anti-vaccine activist’s arrest at a playground gained popularity on social media last month, records said. After reviewing public records, the Idaho Statesman reported that some of the calls were supportive of the Meridian Police Department, while others were critical and threatening. Sara Walton Brady, 40, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing after she and several other people took their children to Julius Kleiner Park on April 21 to play on playground equipment closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Brady has since apologized to the police department. Videos of the arrest were shared widely on social media. Some organizations including the Idaho Freedom Foundation and 3% of Idaho encouraged people to call the Meridian Police Department to voice their thoughts about the arrest, authorities said.
Chicago: All parts of the state are on track to see Pandemic Protocol-related restrictions loosened and more businesses reopen before the end of the month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday, while also warning that residents must remain diligent about stopping the spread of COVID-19. Illinois recorded 1,545 new cases of COVID-19, including 146 additional deaths. That brings the state’s total cases to 98,030, with 4,379 deaths, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported. IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said the numbers are evidence that Pritzker’s stay-at-home order and other measures such as wearing masks and frequent hand washing are working, but “hear me clearly: The virus is still out there.” The next phase of Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan, which could begin May 29, will allow more businesses, such as hair salons and some manufacturing, to reopen. Critics say Pritzker’s plan is too strict and is devastating the economy.
Porter: The Indiana Dunes National Park will reopen part of a local beach in time for Memorial Day weekend, but beachgoers will be monitored to make sure they adhere to Pandemic Protocol pandemic safeguards, a park official said Tuesday. The national park temporarily closed its portion of Porter Beach on Lake Michigan on May 6, citing “unsafe health conditions” created by overcrowding, unsafe sanitation practices and a lack of social distancing. Park spokesman Bruce Rowe said Tuesday that the park would reopen its stretch of Porter Beach, beach parking lots and restroom facilities Saturday, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reports. The beach will be closed again, however, “to protect public health” if visitors are found to be disregarding pandemic precautions, Rowe said. “We are urging our visitors to stay safe by practicing social distancing on the beaches to protect their health and that of other visitors,” he said.
Des Moines: Movie theaters, museums, zoos and wedding reception venues will reopen Friday, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday as she expressed confidence the state can respond if there’s an outbreak. Also reopening in time for Memorial Day activities are state campground restrooms, showers and cabins. Camping will be allowed for tents and all campers, but playgrounds, shelters and visitor centers remain closed. Reynolds said bars can reopen next week at 50% capacity. She also said that it’s time for summer school-sponsored activities such as softball and baseball to resume as of June 1 and that she will provide more details Thursday about schools. Reynolds said the state’s testing capability allows officials to track and respond to any outbreaks that may occur. She said she believes new cases and death reports are stabilizing, although the state continues to typically see about 200 to 300 new positive cases a day and a dozen deaths.
Mission: Lawmakers appear divided on the importance of wearing masks as they prepare to convene for the final day of the session, generating concerns that the gathering could fuel a Pandemic Protocol outbreak in the Legislature and further complicate efforts to reopen. Gov. Laura Kelly, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that Kansas is ready to move on to the next phase of reopening Friday, instead of June 1. The maximum size of mass gatherings will increase from 10 to 15 people, and state-owned casinos can reopen, along with theaters, museums, bowling alleys and other indoor leisure places. Sports tournaments and practices also can resume. The final day of the legislative session is scheduled for Thursday. Republican Rep. Don Hineman, a farmer from Dighton, said some lawmakers have attended open-up rallies at which social distancing and other safety protocols to prevent the spread of the Pandemic Protocol weren’t followed, and those lawmakers could also be the ones least likely to wear masks in the Legislature because in some circles doing so has “become a political issue.”
Frankfort: Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday announced 20 more deaths related to the Pandemic Protocol outbreak, the state’s largest single-day total since the global pandemic began. The higher death count was based in part on the timing of some reports, the governor said at his daily briefing. But he called it a “tough day” even as the state reaches more milestones this week in gradually reopening its virus-battered economy. Nonessential retail businesses were allowed to reopen Wednesday. Social distancing guidelines include limiting the number of customers to 33% of a shop’s maximum allowed occupancy. Meanwhile, Beshear announced that museums, outdoor attractions, libraries, aquariums and distilleries will be able to reopen starting June 8. On Friday, restaurants can reopen dining rooms at 33% capacity. Restaurants also can offer outdoor seating while meeting spacing guidelines. That same day, people can resuming gathering in groups of 10 or fewer.
Baton Rouge: A lawmaker shelved his effort to cut state unemployment aid during the Pandemic Protocol outbreak Wednesday after learning the proposal would keep the state from receiving the boosted benefits offered by the federal government. Republican Rep. Gerald “Beau” Beaullieu, from New Iberia, was trying to keep unemployment aid for Louisiana residents who are out of work from exceeding the money they earned in their previous jobs. Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Dejoie told the House labor committee the proposal would run afoul of federal virus aid requirements. She said it would make Louisiana’s 450,000 unemployed workers ineligible to receive the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit available through July. “We’d be the only state in the nation” refusing the federal aid for those out of work, Dejoie said.
Portland: A decline in tax revenues in April and other economic indicators point to a pandemic-inspired recession that will be “one for the record books,” the state finance commissioner wrote. State tax collections were off by nearly 50% last month, mostly because of the delayed deadline from April 15 to July 15 for income tax filings, Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa wrote in a monthly email to the governor and lawmakers. The delay in individual and corporate income tax revenue translated to $264 million less than projected in those categories. Even accounting for that, “it’s becoming apparent that the swift and deep COVID-19 related recession will be one for the record books,” Figueroa wrote. “Recovery is expected to be slow.”
Silver Spring: A jail in a COVID-19 hot spot is detaining more than 100 prisoners who have been authorized or ordered by a court to be released, according to civil rights attorneys who sued over jail conditions during the pandemic. The Prince George’s County Jail is holding at least 113 prisoners who have been authorized for release by a state court but haven’t been cleared for release by the county’s pretrial services department, plaintiffs’ lawyers said in a court filing Monday. The county draws a distinction between court-authorized and court-ordered releases. Its lawyers say nobody has been detained in violation of a court order. However, plaintiffs’ attorneys say four additional prisoners were ordered released by a court but remained detained Monday. Another prisoner was ordered released in January but wasn’t released until May 11, the lawyers said. “It’s baffling that they don’t seem to see orders as orders,” Civil Rights Corps senior attorney Katie Chamblee-Ryan said Tuesday.
Boston: Two Muslim groups have collected 40,000 face masks they plan to distribute to first responders, police officers, nursing home staff, medical workers and others on the front lines of the Pandemic Protocol pandemic. The Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center said in a statement Wednesday that the initiative is taking place in the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims are encouraged to perform acts of charity. The project, led by a group of local Muslim physicians, obtained the masks through a fundraising effort. “As Muslims, we’re humbled to be able to live out our faith by serving our neighbors,” Wael Alkhairo, executive director of the Islamic Center, said in a statement. “We’re called to both pray and take action when we witness a need, and during the holy month of Ramadan in particular, it’s our duty to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of those around us.”
Lansing: Police ticketed three people for cutting hair during a protest outside the Capitol, where about a dozen barbers and hair stylists defied stay-at-home orders to give free haircuts Wednesday. About 350 people were attending the demonstration organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition to protest the orders imposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to curb the spread of the Pandemic Protocol. Three barbers were cited for disorderly conduct – engaging in an illegal occupation or business – after being warned by state police. The cases were referred to the state attorney general. The penalty is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail, a $500 fine or both. Angela Rigas, of Caledonia in western Michigan, said she was ticketed after refusing three times to stop cutting hair. “We’re all here for the same reason today – to show the governor that our rights do not come from her and that we need to open Michigan. People need to get back to work,” she said.
Minneapolis: Hospitals continue to discharge patients infected with COVID-19 to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities where the majority of Pandemic Protocol deaths have occurred. Some lawmakers, families of residents and others are voicing their opposition to the transfers, saying they are endangering the health of the uninfected who live in the facilities, including those that have had large and deadly outbreaks of the disease. They are calling for more scrutiny from state officials over the transfers, including tougher standards on which facilities should be allowed to accept infected patients, the Star Tribune reports. The Minnesota Department of Health turned to nursing homes to relieve hospitals that were at risk of being overwhelmed by Pandemic Protocol patients. Even nursing homes with large and deadly clusters of Pandemic Protocol cases have been allowed to admit COVID-19 patients from hospitals.
Jackson: Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday issued guidelines for churches and other places of worship to reopen for in-person services during the Pandemic Protocol pandemic, with an emphasis on keeping spaces clean and maintaining distance between people. The Republican governor never shut down in-person worship, saying he does not think the government has the power to do so. But he has strongly encouraged people to worship in their homes through online services or other methods. Among the suggestions: Have multiple services rather than a single service so people will have a chance to spread out in a sanctuary; encourage people to wear masks that cover the mouth and nose, even during worship; discourage hugging and handshakes; minimize sharing of food and drinks; replace choirs with solo singers. “I know that pastors want to protect their flock,” Reeves said. He said he and his family will continue to worship remotely, from the Governor’s Mansion.
O’Fallon: St. Louis-area kids and families bored at home during the Pandemic Protocol shutdown will start to see new options open up next month, when the St. Louis Zoo, summer camps and swimming pools all are expected to reopen. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced Wednesday that summer camps will likely be able to open starting June 1. County officials are still working on guidelines. A news release from the county said officials are hoping to allow pools to open in early June. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Zoo announced it will reopen June 13, though with enhanced measures that seek to limit the spread of COVID-19. The zoo will limit attendance and require timed reservations, a news release said. It will begin accepting reservations June 8 by phone or through its website. Across the state, the Kansas City Zoo opened Saturday. Summer camps also began earlier this month in Kansas City.
Helena: The state will further ease Pandemic Protocol restrictions in two weeks by lifting a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors, allowing groups of up to 50 people to gather, and allowing more people inside restaurants, bars and gyms, Gov. Steve Bullock said Tuesday. “Montana has been an example for the rest of the nation in our response to this global pandemic,” Bullock said. “I have no doubt that we can continue to be that example, but only if Montanans, businesses and visitors alike continue to take seriously the responsibility we all have in protecting others.” The Democratic governor said the state has the lowest rate of COVID-19 and hospitalizations per capita in the nation. Starting June 1, gyms, indoor group fitness classes, pools and hot tubs can operate at 75% capacity under strict physical distancing and sanitation guidelines. Concert halls, bowling alleys and other places of assembly may operate with reduced capacity.
Omaha: The Pandemic Protocol has hurt a vast majority of the state’s businesses, and about 1 in 6 of them are worried it will force them to close their doors permanently, according to a report released Tuesday. The report from the Nebraska Business Development Center at the University of Nebraska Omaha highlights the sweeping damage caused by the virus and the steps taken to keep it from spreading, including business closures and social distancing measures. The report said 87% of Nebraska businesses have been hurt by the pandemic. The hardest-hit industries have been the arts, entertainment and recreation; health care and social assistance; educational services; and food services. The results came from the first of two planned surveys that state officials will use to help them decide what they can do to help companies recover. The initial survey of nearly 8,000 Nebraska businesses was conducted April 15-24, and the second is scheduled for June.
Las Vegas: Testing for the new Pandemic Protocol is due to start Thursday for the first of tens of thousands of Las Vegas casino employees being tapped for job callbacks before resorts reopen, according to a cooperative plan announced Tuesday by several casino companies and local tourism, hospital and union officials. State gambling regulators have not given the go-ahead or a date for the lifting of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s mid-March order closing all gambling establishments in Nevada to prevent groups from gathering and spreading Pandemic Protocol. But some resorts are aiming for June 1 reopening, and officials said testing will start with scheduled appointments for notified employees at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Employees will not be charged a fee. The goal is to collect up to 4,000 test samples for the COVID-19 illness per day, officials said. Results are expected within 48 hours.
Concord: Children should be allowed to return to camps and athletic programs under strict safety measures this summer, according to a task force on reopening the state’s economy. The recommendations sent to public health officials and Gov. Chris Sununu on Tuesday lay out proposed rules for day camps, residential camps and outdoor team sports. The group also approved proposals for museums and acupuncture as well as indoor restaurant dining and the catering of larger events such as weddings. On day camps, task force members said they took into consideration that parents will need care for children as they return to work. The rules call for keeping campers outside as much as possible and separating them into groups that would move about “as a self-contained bubble.” Similarly, campers and staff at overnight camps would be separated into “cohort groups” with limited interaction with other groups.
Trenton: Residents who qualify for food stamps can start using them for online grocery shopping next week. State officials announced Wednesday that Amazon will be available for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollees starting Wednesday, May 27, and on the following day they can use Walmart, ShopRite and Fresh Grocer locations that offer online shopping. About 700,000 New Jerseyans are enrolled in NJ-SNAP. The program’s participants will be able to use their EBT card to buy eligible groceries, but federal rules prohibit SNAP funds from being used to pay for delivery fees. SNAP users can register to buy groceries on Amazon at Amazon.com/SNAP.
Santa Fe: Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday defended her response to the Pandemic Protocol pandemic against calls by Republican lawmakers who want her to remove enforced business restrictions. In a letter, Lujan Grisham responded to 13 state senators who want the governor to provide only safety guidelines. The first-term Democratic governor said demands for an immediate, full-scale reopening of the economy are reckless, ignore effective health precautions, and will only serve to inflame misinformed public opinion and risk further illness and likely death. Lujan Grisham recently eased an emergency health order, allowing many businesses to reopen their doors to customers at a fraction of full capacity to avoid crowding and transmission of COVID-19. Tougher restrictions remain in place for dine-in restaurant service, gyms and hair salons, while face covering are required for everyone in public places with exceptions for outdoor exercise and eating. Lujan Grisham said she has outlined a plan to move even those high-risk businesses back into operation in the near future based on progress in limiting transmission of the Pandemic Protocol.
New York: The city will offer free Pandemic Protocol tests at its 169 nursing homes and will provide staff to replace nursing home employees who test positive for the virus, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. The announcement comes after some 3,000 residents of nursing homes in the city have died of COVID-19, including those confirmed whose diagnoses were by lab tests and those for whom COVID-19 was the presumed cause based on symptoms. De Blasio noted the state is in charge of regulating nursing homes but said the city would start a “two-week blitz” to provide up to 3,000 tests a day to residents and employees at the facilities. He said the city already has sent 240 fill-in staff members to replace nursing home employees who tested positive for the virus and must stay home for two weeks. The city will fulfill additional staffing requests by the end of next week, he said.
Raleigh: Gov. Roy Cooper is letting restaurants, barbershops and salons welcome patrons inside starting this holiday weekend, saying in announcing the loosened rules Wednesday that state COVID-19 trends remain largely stable. But bars, gyms and indoor entertainment venues will remain closed five more weeks. The Democratic governor announced a new executive order launching the second phase of easing business and assembly restrictions after nonessential businesses and dine-in restaurant service were initially shuttered in March. The original closures were meant to curb the spreading Pandemic Protocol but had also put hundreds of thousands of people out of work. Two weeks ago, Cooper allowed more businesses to open, provided they limit entry largely to 50% of their fire code capacity. Cooper said Wednesday he now feels comfortable about the virus data to lift the stay-at-home order and extend partial openings starting Friday afternoon for dine-in eating at restaurants and for personal care services such as barbers. Pools also can reopen with reduced numbers of swimmers.
Bismarck: The state will use $750,000 of federal Pandemic Protocol aid to livestream legislative committee hearings at the Capitol ahead of next year’s legislative session to help ensure remote participation amid the COVID-19 outbreak. “We have to do it to be prepared,” said John Bjornson, director of the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research arm. The Legislative Procedure and Arrangements Committee on Monday voted to fund the project. It includes enhancing web conferencing among lawmakers and upgrading livestream technology in the House and Senate chambers using funds from the $1.25 billion given to the state as part of the federal stimulus package approved in March. Bjornson said all the work should now be done by fall.
Columbus: A federal judge has ruled that the state must allow groups pursuing voting law changes, a minimum wage increase and marijuana decriminalization more time and flexibility to qualify for ballots amid the Pandemic Protocol pandemic. U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus Jr.’s ruling Tuesday ordered the state to allow campaigns until July 31 to gather required signatures and to allow them to be collected electronically. He stopped short of reducing the number of signatures required, as some courts elsewhere have allowed amid a spate of COVID-19-related signature-gathering challenges. Sargus said he might have agreed, under ordinary conditions, with the arguments of Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, both Republicans, that Ohio’s signature requirements are an appropriate qualifier for ballot access. “These times, however, are not ordinary,” he wrote.
Oklahoma City: The Oklahoma Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have sued to overturn the state’s absentee voting rules in the midst of the Pandemic Protocol outbreak, state party Chair Alicia Andrews said Wednesday. Requirements that include notarized ballots and photo identification create barriers to voters, Andrews said in a statement. “Oklahomans deserve to make their voices heard safely without further barriers to the voting process as we continue to deal with a worldwide pandemic,” Andrews said. “The additional barriers to the mail-in voting process do nothing more than further suppress the votes of marginalized groups and put citizens in harm’s way under the false claims of reducing voter fraud.” The lawsuit against the state Election Board and Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax comes after a bill signed into law earlier this month imposed the restrictions on absentee ballots.
Salem: The state faces an 11% drop in revenue from the previous biennium as the Pandemic Protocol pandemic triggered a shutdown order and a consequent drop in tax payments, state economists reported Wednesday. General Fund and other major revenues have been reduced relative to the March forecast by $2.7 billion in the current biennium and $4.4 billion in the 2021-23 budget period, state economist Josh Lehner said. He said the current recession is the deepest on record in Oregon with data going back to 1939 but is expected to be shorter in duration than the Great Recession. “The economy should return to health by mid-decade,” Lehner said. Gov. Kate Brown said that “we have tough choices ahead.” “We will need to tighten our belts. I am working with legislative leaders to preserve critical state services, find efficiencies and prepare for potential budget cuts,” the Democratic governor said.
Harrisburg: Real estate sales and related activity can resume across the state if guidelines designed to limit infection are followed, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday. The governor’s new guidance says people in the real estate industry can get back to work as long as they all wear masks or other facial coverings and use separate vehicles to drive to visit properties. Business that is conducted in person must be scheduled ahead of time and limited to no more than the real estate worker and two people inside a property at a time. Property showings will have to be scheduled at least 30 minutes apart, and food will be prohibited during in-person real estate business activities. Parts of transactions that can be performed electronically or otherwise remotely should be done that way, Wolf said.
Providence: With two state-run beaches about to reopen in time for Memorial Day, some communities are making plans to open municipally run beaches that were closed because of the Pandemic Protocol pandemic. Newport is planning to open Easton’s Beach on or around June 4, City Manager Joseph Nicholson told the City Council during its weekly COVID-19 update Tuesday, according to The Newport Daily News. Under that plan, parking capacity during June will be capped at 33%, and no bathrooms or showers will be available at first. The Middletown Town Council this week voted to reopen Third Beach as of Saturday, but with limitations, including that only town residents will initially be allowed. Gov. Gina Raimondo announced this week that East Matunuck Beach in South Kingstown and Scarborough Beach in Narragansett will be open with free but limited parking starting Monday.
Columbia: A group of government, health, tourism, religious and social leaders that Gov. Henry McMaster created to help the state grapple with the Pandemic Protocol pandemic is winding down its work. Accelerate SC met Tuesday with members listening to reports from its committees. They spoke about increased COVID-19 testing, rules that restaurants and barbers must follow to reopen, and obstacles local governments are facing as revenues dip and money is spent to fight the pandemic. They got a first look at how South Carolina might spend the $1.9 billion in federal help from the pandemic. A committee suggested $100 million to expand broadband internet access, which became a big problem after schools closed and businesses asked people to work from home. About 10% of the state’s 5 million people have no broadband access at all, and 1 in 4 has internet speeds slower than what is considered minimally acceptable, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Sioux Falls: Employees at a Smithfield pork processing plant where a Pandemic Protocol outbreak infected more than 800 people were greeted at work Wednesday with thank you signs, cheers and waves from about a dozen area residents. “They’re putting their health at risk just like the hospital workers are to continue on with this work, so I hope they feel appreciated,” said Becky Olson, a Sioux Falls resident who held a sign outside Smithfield’s entrance. The plant has instructed many workers to return to work this week as it looks to scale up operations by the end of the month. Masked employees streamed into the factory entrance as trucks carrying pigs rumbled past. Dave Tesphay, an employee who was reporting to work Wednesday, said that with the pandemic, “it was really scary at first.” Tesphay said the plant’s closure and safety measures gave him confidence to return. The people who showed up to cheer him on made him feel the community cared, he said.
Gatlinburg: Second lady Karen Pence visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park to talk about the mental health benefits of spending time outdoors Tuesday as officials announced the second phase of a plan to reopen all park trails. “National parks offer many mental health benefits, and more than ever before, we must ensure that we are taking care of ourselves and each other,” Pence said. The Smokies reopened May 9 with some popular trails blocked off to visitors after closing in late March. All park trails will now reopen Saturday, while campgrounds and visitor centers will remain closed. Pence said it’s possible for people to visit the park and still practice social distancing. But some are reluctant about that idea during the virus outbreak. “Karen Pence’s visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park downplays the risks of visiting a crowded park,” said David Lamfrom, southeast regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “When people learn that the vice president’s wife visited the park, they may believe it is safe for them to visit over the long weekend. It’s not.”
Austin: After months of home schooling and lost sports seasons, millions of children in the state may get a taste of a somewhat normal summer after all – if their parents go for it. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said this week that child care facilities can reopen immediately and set the stage for a return to summer camp, youth sports leagues and even summer school. All come with guidelines on just how to do it amid the Pandemic Protocol pandemic, including sanitation practices and limits on how many children can be in one place. They also require parents to keep their distance from one another while celebrating a goal, home run or dunk. Whitt Melton, co-owner of Legendary Black Belt Academy in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, said the business has been open to offer child care for essential workers but will now expand and open its planned summer camp. He said he hopes to boost enrollment from the current seven children to a maximum of 30 a day but doesn’t expect the ramp-up to happen right away.
Kaysville: A watchdog group has asked Mayor Katie Witt to resign over her support of a concert planned for late May that could attract hundreds of people. Witt expressed her support for the May 30 concert featuring country artist Collin Raye in a statement last week asking residents to come “be a pioneer and patriot with us.” The progressive Alliance for a Better Utah group argued that the concert could put residents’ health and lives at risk. Organizers expect up to 800 people to attend. “Mayor Witt should resign for moving forward with this dangerous political stunt,” Better Utah executive director Chase Thomas said, referencing her current Republican run for Congress. “Mayor Witt is sacrificing public health in her community to further her own political ambitions. Mayor Witt’s flagrant disregard for public health is a disqualifier for public service.” Witt said she has a responsibility to give people back individual freedoms she said they lost during the pandemic.
Montpelier: Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday announced a $400 million economic recovery proposal funded by the federal economic rescue law known as the CARES Act to help employers and small businesses struggling amid the Pandemic Protocol-related shutdown. The first phase is $310 million in grants and loans to help businesses survive, he said. It will go to those most affected, including funds to help stabilize rental housing and assist renters, technical help for business owners, and an in-state marketing campaign to boost local buying and exploring Vermont, he said. The second phase will be a $90 million investment to help the economy survive and come out better equipped to thrive in the future, he said. The Legislature must approve the proposal. “I think the scale of it is probably appropriate,” Senate President Tim Ashe said Tuesday. “Our downtown villages are defined by restaurants, small retail, small locally owned stores.”
Richmond: The state Supreme Court has rejected an injunction request from a gym owner who is challenging the executive order that has closed his business. Merrill Hall, who owns a chain of Gold’s Gym franchises and other gyms, sued the governor in Culpeper County Circuit Court. His lawyer, Republican state Sen. Bill Stanley, said Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, exceeded his authority by ordering fitness centers and other businesses closed to combat the Pandemic Protocol pandemic. On Tuesday the state’s high court rejected the request for an injunction. Hall can still go forward with his lawsuit, but the governor’s order will remain in place while the issue is litigated. Late last month, a judge in Culpeper also rejected the request for an injunction, saying state law gives the governor broad authority to issue executive orders during a public health emergency.
Olympia: Ten additional counties can apply to move to the second stage of the state’s economic reopening plan, based on new guidelines announced Tuesday by Gov. Jay Inslee that allow larger counties with fewer new Pandemic Protocol cases to open some of their businesses sooner. Previously, of the state’s 39 counties, only those with a population of less than 75,000 and no new cases of COVID-19 in the past three weeks, among other stipulations, could apply for a quicker reopening. The counties identified Tuesday – Spokane, Adams, Mason, Thurston, Lewis, Clark, Clallam, Kitsap, Island and San Juan – are those with fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period. Their application to the state must include a local public health officer’s recommendation, a letter from hospitals confirming bed capacity, and a county commission vote. The counties also have to submit testing data and information on resources available for contact tracing investigations.
Charleston: There are now at least four Pandemic Protocol cases at a state prison after the lockup reported its first infection earlier this week, officials said Wednesday. Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen said two staffers and two inmates at the Huttonsville Correctional Center in Randolph County have the virus. Widespread testing of employees and inmates is underway, she said. Officials on Monday said a Huttonsville prison guard tested positive and on the following day reported that a 62-year-old inmate tested positive, though the governor’s general counsel said the two cases are not linked. Jividen said the two inmates who tested positive have been quarantined with fevers. About 40 prisoners housed around those inmates and more than 200 employees have since been tested. Separately, at least five inmates have tested positive at FCI Gilmer, a federal prison in Glenville, after the federal Bureau of Prisons transferred 124 inmates to the lockup.
Madison: State residents who lost income due to the Pandemic Protocol pandemic can get help paying their rent, and farmers will be eligible for direct cash payments, under new programs Gov. Tony Evers announced Wednesday. The $50 million aid to farmers program, $25 million rental assistance program, and another $15 million for food banks and those fighting hunger are all paid for under the federal Pandemic Protocol relief bill. Evers said the state agriculture department was working with stakeholders “to ensure a fair, accessible distribution system for these aid payments” to farmers. He said the money would start to be distributed as early as June. Money available under the rent assistance program can be used to help pay for rent and security deposits. To qualify, an applicant must be a Wisconsin resident with a household income at or below 80% of the county medium income.
Casper: A surge in local cases of the Pandemic Protocol blamed on people not following social distancing recommendations or wearing face masks in public has prompted the cancellation of a Memorial Day car show. Yellowstone Garage in Casper previously received verbal approval for a variance to the state health order banning gatherings of more than 25 people. By Monday, however, the situation had changed. Nine new virus cases in Natrona County led State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist to oppose the variance, Casper-Natrona County Health Department spokesperson Hailey Bloom told the Casper Star-Tribune. The outdoor car show could have drawn thousands of people. The new virus cases brought to 13 the number of local infections confirmed in the previous week – after three weeks without any new cases in the area. “This is not an appropriate time to have a large event,” Bloom said, citing comments by Harrist.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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