News from around our 50 states

News from around our 50 states


Tuscaloosa: Concerns over furthering the spread of COVID-19 have prompted officials with the Tuscaloosa Public Library system to again close its branches. The closures will remain through at least Jan. 5, said library spokesman Vince Bellofatto. All three locations of the Tuscaloosa Public Library are expected to reopen Jan. 6. “TPL made this choice to support the overall health and well-being of Tuscaloosa city, county and Northport and for the safety of our patrons and staff,” Bellofatto said. “It was a very hard decision, as TPL is dedicated to serving the patrons, but the best way to serve our community now, is to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.” Library officials will remain in contact with the library’s board of trustees and, if needed, additional measures might be taken. The library initially closed the Main, Weaver Bolden and Brown branches in March as the coronavirus made its way into Tuscaloosa County. A gradual reopening began about a month later, but rising COVID-19 cases have influenced the decision to shut them down again.


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Anchorage: A women’s prison that had just three confirmed coronavirus cases last week said it now has more than 100. The Hiland Mountain Correctional Center reported 109 active cases of the virus on Monday. The state Department of Corrections said the prison can house about 400 inmates. Randy McLellan, a correctional officer at the women’s prison, said the prison has been on lockdown since the new cases were reported. “To leave to have communal meals can’t happen, recreation or any programs they want to participate in or religious services – all that stuff is affected, it’s all limited,” McLellan said. “They get no visitors. They’re essentially cut off from everything because of this outbreak. And it’s very unfortunate.” Three of the state’s 12 prisons have more than 100 active coronavirus cases each, including the Anchorage Correctional Center and Goose Creek in Point McKenzie, Alaska Public Media reported. Goose Creek, the state’s largest correctional facility, has reported a total of more than 1,000 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The prison reported 402 active cases of the virus on Monday.


Phoenix: A record number of COVID-19 patients are in intensive care units in Arizona. A record 988 patients with the disease were occupying ICU beds Sunday, accounting for 56% of the beds statewide, according to the Department of Health Services. Arizona is having its worst surge since July, when 970 people with the virus were in the ICU – accounting for 57% of available beds. The number of available ICU beds is about 10%. Daily cases have been much higher in December, but deaths have been much lower than the triple-digit daily totals reported in July. The health department recorded three deaths Sunday, bringing the toll to 8,427.


Little Rock: Coronavirus hospitalizations in Arkansas rose Sunday to near their recent record high, as state health officials reported more than 900 news cases of COVID-19 and 41 more deaths linked to the disease. The Department of Health said there were 1,093 state residents hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday, 34 more than Saturday. The state record was set Wednesday, when there were 1,110 patients hospitalized. There were 649 newly confirmed coronavirus cases Saturday, according to the department. Health officials have warned holiday gatherings and travel are likely to further spread the virus.


Sacramento: State officials on Sunday reported that California has had 2,122,806 confirmed cases and more than 24,000 deaths. The figures are from Saturday, the most recent data available. Most of the state is under stay-at-home orders. The state’s total confirmed cases rose by more than 50,000 – an increase of 2.4% – over the previous day, data showed. Some of the cases reflect two days of data from Los Angeles County, which had an internet service interruption Friday and caused delays in reporting. There were 237 additional deaths reported in the state, a figure believed to be an undercount because of LA County’s delayed reporting. The stay-at-home orders require regions to have ICU capacity projections to be above or equal to 15%. Northern California’s ICU capacity projections are at 28.3%, and the Southern California and San Joaquin Valley projections are 0%. The Greater Sacramento region stands at 17.8% and the Bay Area is at 11.1%, state figures showed. “It is likely that the Regional Stay at Home Order will extend for many regions in California,” officials said in a news release Sunday.


Denver: The Denver Zoo was closed for nearly three months early in the pandemic, then imposed restrictions on crowd sizes since reopening to the public on June 12. That has cut into profits and led the zoo to join other zoos across the country in turning to supporters asking for donations to cover the nearly $1 million annual food budget for the facility’s denizens. The hay and vegetables for Groucho, a 12,000-pound Asian elephant, cost $76,000 a year. “It costs us about $100,000 per day to operate the zoo, and $1 million per month on animal care alone. Although we’re open and welcoming guests to the zoo each day, we’re still facing a significant deficit,” said Bert Vescolani, the zoo’s president and CEO. Over a year, the nutrition team will handle 400 tons of food, everything from frozen mice for raptors to fish from Newfoundland for the sea lions. Every day, the nutrition team members formulate, prepare and deliver hundreds of pounds of hay, meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, grains and other items to the animals, said Brian Aucone, the zoo’s senior vice president for animal sciences.


Plainfield: The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic drop in northeastern Connecticut public transit ridership numbers that seems to also have led to few people taking advantage of the recently reintroduced Plainfield bus line. During the recent Northeastern Connecticut Council of Governments’ annual meeting, Executive Director John Filchak said the number of passengers using the transit district’s deviated/fixed bus service is down 57% since March, with 80% fewer clients using the transit district’s elderly and disabled service. “We don’t expect those to see a rebound in those numbers until the crisis is over,” he said. In September, Plainfield welcomed back transit district service decades after the offering was eliminated because of low ridership. The “orange line” service created new internal connections between the Wauregan, Central Village, Moosup and Plainfield villages; added five daily connections to the South East Area Transit system via stops at the Lisbon Landing shopping plaza; and enabled riders to choose between four connections to northern stops by way of the Wauregan Post Office. The two-year, $200,000 orange line pilot program is funded through a combination of local, state and NECCOG funding and will be assessed to determine if a permanent Plainfield route will be instituted.


Smyrna: A 54-year-old inmate at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center died Dec. 22 from complications of COVID-19 and other illnesses, the Department of Correction said. Prison officials said Jose Rivera, a Wilmington native, tested positive for the virus on Dec. 5 after displaying symptoms. That same day, he was admitted to Bayhealth Hospital’s Kent Campus. He was placed on a ventilator on Dec. 16, according to the prison. Rivera, who suffered from asthma and other conditions, is the 12th inmate in Delaware to die after a positive coronavirus test and first during the recent surge in cases at the department’s facilities after 3½ months without a virus-related death. In total, nearly 1 in 4 prisoners who have spent at least three weeks in Delaware prisons since April have tested positive for the virus.

District of Columbia

Washington: A D.C. doctor is taking efforts to ease fears around taking the COVID-19 vaccine a step further, WUSA-TV reported. Dr. Michael Knight not only made getting his shot public, but he has been documenting his experience in the days after taking the vaccine on social media. “It’s my job as a health care professional to help you understand the facts,” he said. Knight, an associate professor at The George Washington University, took the Pfizer vaccine. He immediately began posting a picture and videos on Instagram telling his followers about some of his symptoms and how long they lasted. Knight reported having body aches, headaches, and fatigue in the first couple of days after taking the vaccine but explained those symptoms quickly went away. “I’d just gotten so many questions from people – from my friends, family members, people who are in healthcare – educated who are very scared,” he said.


Orlando: Fred Piccolo, spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis, deactivated his Twitter account Wednesday after he tweeted in the middle of night that photos of each dead COVID-19 victim should be balanced with 99 photos of people who survive the disease. In response to a Reuters photo gallery on COVID-19, Piccolo wrote, “I’m wondering since 99% (of) Covid patients survive shouldn’t you have 99 photos of survivors for every one fatality? Otherwise you’re just trying to create a narrative that is not reality.” According to a screenshot captured by WLRN reporter Danny Rivero, Piccolo was responding at about 4 a.m. to a tweet by Corinne Perkins, the North America editor for Reuters Pictures. “This thread is dedicated to those saying we aren’t seeing images of the reality of COVID-19 in hospitals across the U.S.,” Perkins wrote. “This is not an exhaustive list but I wanted to highlight the stories @reuterspictures photographers bring to light.” The thread included pictures of victims, despondent doctors and nurses, grieving families and overwhelmed funeral homes over the course of the pandemic, which had killed almost 328,000 people in the U.S. as of Wednesday. Piccolo’s account was deactivated shortly after the tweet. Piccolo told the Souh Florida Sun Sentinel on Wednesday he had planned to leave the social media site.


Atlanta: The Small Business Development Center at the University of Georgia will offer free online seminars this week to update business owners on the $900 billion coronavirus relief package Congress passed last week and that President Donald Trump signed into law on Sunday. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act includes $284 billion for a new round of small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. Within that appropriation is $15 billion targeted specifically for live performance venues, independent movie theaters and other cultural institutions that have experienced revenue declines of at least 25%. The one-hour seminars will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday. Also available on demand will be a session that was prerecorded and reflects the most up-to-date information available at the time of the recording. Registration information can be found on the Small Business Development Center’s website at


Lihue: Kauai County is seeking approval to impose a post-travel resort bubble system that would allow incoming travelers to test out of their coronavirus quarantine after three days. If the plan is approved by Gov. David Ige, incoming tourists that test negative for the coronavirus and who stay at a county-approved property could bypass a state-mandated 10-day quarantine with a negative coronavirus test that is taken after he or she has spent at least three days on the island, the Garden Island reported Thursday. The program, if approved, would go into effect on Jan. 5. “We recognize this is not what we asked for, but we see this as progress toward our effort to allow more incoming travelers to Kaua‘i while keeping our residents safe,” Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said. The voluntary program would be specific to those staying in resort bubbles, Kawakami said. The county’s six resort bubbles would be The Cliffs at Princeville, Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay, Koa Kea Hotel & Resort at Poipu, The Club at Kukuiula, Timbers Kauai Ocean Club at Hokuala and Kauai Marriott Resort at Kalapaki Bay.


Rexburg: A couple that had been married for more than 48 years died from the coronavirus within five days of each other earlier this month. Debbie Morgan died on Dec. 15 and her husband, Craig, died on Dec. 20. “They’re happy being back together,” said their daughter Kelly Romine. Doctors had diagnosed Craig Morgan with the coronavirus on Dec. 11 and admitted him to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center on the same day his wife died. Debbie Morgan had spent the last two years residing at an assisted-living center while being treated for multiple sclerosis. She contracted the coronavirus in November, the Standard Journal reported. Craig Morgan received a phone call from his daughter telling her that his wife had died shortly before he was intubated. “I let him know my mom had passed away,” Romine said. “I could tell he was really sad. From there, he was put on a ventilator that was never taken off. He was on it from Tuesday until we took him off on Sunday. He wasn’t conscious.” Craig and Debbie met in 1971 at Ricks College, which was turned into a four-year institution and renamed the Brigham Young University-Idaho in 2001. The couple married in 1972.


Chicago: United Airlines on Monday began asking passengers traveling from London to Chicago and other cities for proof of a negative coronavirus test before departure to stop the spread of a new mutant strain. The Chicago-based airline said the new policy, which requires a test to be taken within 72 hours of a flight, applies to passengers who are older than 5 and whose travel originates in the U.K. The policy affects people departing London Heathrow Airport to O’Hare International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport. The new policy won’t affect passengers who have U.S.-connecting flights at Heathrow. Beginning next month, United will operate two daily flights from London Heathrow to its hubs in Chicago and Newark. United will accept results from a molecular or antigen coronavirus test before departure, and said a site offering rapid tests is available at Terminal 2 at London Heathrow for passengers. In the past week, some countries have shut down travel to and from the U.K. after discovering a new strain of the virus that is said to be up to 70% more transmissible.


Indianapolis: Nearly 600 additional cases of COVID-19 in Indiana schools were reported Monday by the State Department of Health, even as schools across the state were on winter break. Even so, the majority of the cases occurred last week, according to the weekly dashboard update. Of the additional cases reported Monday, 390 occurred in students, 98 occurred in teachers and 103 occurred in school staff members. Schools across the state were closed last week leading up to the Christmas holiday and will continue with their winter breaks this week. Most will resume instruction – in-person or otherwise – next week. The state health department said it was still asking schools to report COVID-19 exposures happening at school-sponsored activities that occur during the winter break. Schools are not required to report cases among students, teachers or staff members that have no contact with the school community and thus don’t present a risk for exposure, like those that occur in virtual students.


Iowa City: It has been nearly 10 months since Neil Bennett of Iowa City became Iowa’s first person hospitalized for the coronavirus, and the 74-year-old is still dealing with the impact. Bennett said he sometimes becomes impatient with his progress and craves a sense of normalcy – even if it’s just getting up on a ladder and changing a light bulb. He also hasn’t escaped the psychological impact. “Sometimes I start to reflect back to the beginning, and it’s easy to get emotional and think ‘I almost died,’ ” Bennett said. Bennett, his wife and their daughter and more than a dozen others became infected after traveling to Egypt in February. Their cases were among the first reported in Iowa. Bennett was admitted to a hospital in early March, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported. Although he long ago returned home, Bennett still uses a cane and walker and undergoes physical therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation to build up strength in his body and lungs. He was admitted in early March to the intensive care unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and was soon placed on a ventilator, which was required for several weeks. Bennett spent about five months in health care facilities before he was finally allowed to go home in August.


Topeka: Tens of thousands of workers and residents at Kansas long-term care facilities will get vaccinated over the next three months. But families aching to visit after such a long separation might not have easy access to their loved ones for several more months at least. “We will not be clicking our fingers and returning to normal,” said William Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard University. “There is not a silver bullet.” Even for young people, the new vaccines don’t offer a 100% guarantee against contracting coronavirus. And the shots might be less effective for older people. That means nursing homes still need to be cautious by insisting workers and others who enter their buildings continue to don masks and diligently screen any visitors for the virus or possible signs of it. As the broader public gets vaccinated and community transmission slows, that will lower the risks that even asymptomatic family members can unwittingly pose. Reaching that point will take several months, at least.


Frankfort: Since Thursday, Kentucky has added 68 new deaths related to COVID-19 – 53 of those deaths were reported on Christmas Eve, Gov. Andy Beshear said. According to Beshear, Dec. 24 held the second-highest number of deaths reported in a day in the state since the beginning of the pandemic, raising the state’s total to 2,534. In the past three days, Kentucky also added 5,309 new cases, raising the state’s total to 255,563. As of Saturday, 396 people were in intensive care units and 1,511 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized – a drop from 1,689 people on Thursday. The rate of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus is at 8.04%. The number of Kentuckians on ventilators increased from 206 on Thursday to 237 on Saturday. The most reported deaths in a day came on Dec. 17 with 54.


a group of people sitting at a desk: Louisiana Medical Director Jimmy Guidry is retiring Thursday after more than 30 years with the agency.

© Greg Hilburn/USA Today Network
Louisiana Medical Director Jimmy Guidry is retiring Thursday after more than 30 years with the agency.

Shreveport: Louisiana Medical Director Jimmy Guidry, who has often been the face of the Office of Public Health through hurricanes, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic, is retiring Thursday after more than 30 years with the agency. Guidry, whose three decades of service included a job as Acadiana’s regional medical director, testified during a Sept. 30 House Education Committee hearing that Louisiana would likely suffer a third COVID-19 surge during flu season. “We’re going to see as much if not more than we saw in the spring,” Guidry accurately forecast then. Dr. Joe Kanter, who serves as the state’s top coronavirus response official and is well-known for sharing the stage during Gov. John Bel Edwards’ COVID-19 news conferences, will replace Guidry. Kanter is already serving as interim secretary for the Office of Public Health, which he took over earlier this year after Dr. Alex Billioux left the agency.


Bangor: A toilet paper factory that opened months before panic-buying ensued at the start of the pandemic has enjoyed a “banner” first year, its owner said. But things are beginning to slow and Tissue Plus is focusing on a delayed renovation of its building in Bangor, Marc Cooper told the Bangor Daily News. The company’s original plan was to supply tissue products to commercial customers such as hotels, airports and offices. Instead, it launched a mail-order business that now has customers across 40 states, he said. In addition to providing toilet paper and other paper products, the company provided the raw material for antiseptic wipes. Now the company is hoping to continue with its original business plan of providing finished paper goods to industrial and commercial customers. “We see that away-from-home market coming back as people are able to travel more and go back to the office,” Cooper said.


Baltimore: State health officials reported 1,758 news coronavirus cases and 31 more deaths. The Baltimore Sun reported that the new numbers were released Sunday following the Christmas holiday weekend. This month has seen the highest number of new cases since the pandemic began in Maryland. That’s more than 67,000 cases for the month of December, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. It could get worse. More Marylanders flew out of the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport last week than any other point since mid-March. As a result, experts predict a spike in transmissions. Overall, the state has seen 267,198 confirmed cases since the pandemic began. There have been at least 5,545 deaths.

Video: EEOC: Employers can require employees to get COVID-19 vaccine (Fox Business)

EEOC: Employers can require employees to get COVID-19 vaccine




Boston: The plan to give the coronavirus vaccine to all residents and workers in long-term care facilities in Massachusetts began Monday. A retired teacher who lives at the Benjamin Healthcare Center in Boston’s Mission Hill neighborhood was scheduled to be one of the first people to get the vaccine, according to the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders has said about 115,000 long-term care residents and staff statewide need to be vaccinated. Those receiving the vaccination from pharmacy companies CVS and Walgreens must give their consent first. Older residents of long-term care facilities are at higher risk from the coronavirus. More than 60% of coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts have been in residents of such facilities, according to state health officials.


Port Huron: The nonprofit Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County has helped more than 350 businesses directly and has aided others with answering coronavirus pandemic order questions and connecting them to grants and other resources, the Times Herald of Port Huron reported. Port Huron restaurant Bangkok Star received a $3,000 grant managed by the alliance. The funding helped with bills like rent and utilities. Bangkok Star also didn’t have to further increase prices or reduce employee work hours during the pandemic, according to co-owner Chris Bevins. “It meant a lot to be honest with you,” he told the newspaper. “It’s a good resource for knowledge for different things you as a business owner may need to know.” The alliance has helped manage $1.5 million in grants and will be administrating two more programs with more than $115,000.


Minneapolis: Pharmacy chains CVS Health and Walgreens launched a large-scale effort on Monday to help vaccinate residents and staff of Minnesota long-term care facilities for the coronavirus. CVS Health planned to vaccinate more than 63,000 residents and staff of nearly 600 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities across Minnesota during a 12-week effort that began in several states last week. The pharmacy will make three visits to each facility to ensure residents and staff receive both doses of the vaccine, spokeswoman Abby Major said. Walgreens aims to vaccinate nearly 3 million residents and staff in a nationwide effort that includes Minnesota. State health officials said long-term care facilities will be receiving the Moderna vaccine, which the state received in an initial shipment of 94,800 doses last week. The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported 1,087 new cases of the coronavirus and 13 deaths –- the lowest number of single-day deaths reported since mid-November when case growth began to dramatically increase across the state.


Jackson: Former Mississippi lawmaker Nolan Mettetal died Monday after being hospitalized with pneumonia from COVID-19, his wife, Kay, said. He was 75. Kay Mettetal said in a Facebook post Dec. 23 that her husband was “in the hospital in Oxford fighting with COVID pneumonia in both lungs.” She posted Monday that had died. Nolan Mettetal was a pharmacist from Sardis. He was in the Mississippi Senate from January 1996 to January 2012, then served eight years in the House in a district includes parts of Lafayette, Panola and Tallahatchie counties. He was chairman of the House Universities and Colleges Committee. He did not seek re-election in 2019, saying that he and his wife wanted to spend more time with their family. Kay Mettetal was frequently at the Capitol with her husband during legislative sessions. Nolan Mettetal was first elected as a Democrat and became a Republican in early 2008. He switched parties months after narrowly winning a Democratic primary and then defeating a Republican in the general election.


Jefferson City: The Missouri Department of Labor said Monday it is awaiting guidance from federal authorities on implementing new legislation signed by President Donald Trump that extended unemployment benefits. The president on Sunday signed a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill that extends unemployment assistance programs through March 14. It also provides an extra $300 per week for those who are unemployed because of the coronavirus pandemic. State labor officials said on the agency’s Twitter account Monday they are required to wait for federal information on how to implement the legislation. The department encouraged unemployed Missourians to continue to file weekly claims.


Helena: Montana reported 284 new cases and five new confirmed deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday. There were 6,127 people infected by COVID-19, with 200 hospitalized as of Sunday, The Billings Gazette reported. The state has reported 924 deaths and 3,451 hospitalizations from the virus since the pandemic began. Two out of 10 large hospitals in Montana reported having limited bed availability or being near capacity, according to a report from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Five out of 10 large hospitals on Saturday reported intensive care units with limited availability or nearing capacity.


Omaha: Nebraska reported 637 new coronavirus cases and no deaths Sunday, and the state had the 33rd-highest rate of infection in the nation. The state’s numbers have been improving since early this month when it had the fifth-highest rate of new cases in the nation. As of Sunday, the state has been averaging 679.69 new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Nebraska said 527 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday. That was up from 503 the day before but still well below the peak of 987 set on Nov. 20. The state said it has had 161,974 cases and 1,559 deaths linked to the virus since the pandemic began.


Las Vegas: More than 1.8 million travelers passed through the Las Vegas airport in November, a slight drop from October and less than half the prepandemic traffic the airport saw a year earlier. McCarran International Airport reported Monday that number of passengers tallied in November 2020 was 57% lower than November 2019. Air travel has been among the hospitality and visitor industries in Nevada that has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. The passengers that did pass through McCarran last month were almost all domestic travelers. The number of international passengers at the airport has fallen 94% from 2019, down to just 19,000. McCarran has recorded about 21 million passengers to date this year. That’s less than half the 47 million recorded by the same point in 2019.

New Hampshire

Concord: The COVID-19 relief bill signed by President Donald Trump includes $120 billion for unemployment insurance, but about 21,000 people in New Hampshire will miss out on a week of benefits, state officials said. The massive, year-end catchall bill that Trump signed into law Sunday revives supplemental federal pandemic unemployment benefits but at $300 per week through March 14 instead of the $600 per week benefit that expired in July. Richard Lavers, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Employment Security, told WMUR-TV that gig workers, those who are self-employed and others will miss out on a week of benefits. But they should file for last week, which was a payable week, he said.

New Jersey

a man holding a baby: Efraim Siegfried comforts Mildred Clements, 103, as she receives a coronavirus vaccine from James Kee at the Roosevelt Care Center in Old Bridge, N.J.

© Ed Murray/NJ Advance Media pool photo
Efraim Siegfried comforts Mildred Clements, 103, as she receives a coronavirus vaccine from James Kee at the Roosevelt Care Center in Old Bridge, N.J.

Old Bridge: New Jersey began vaccinating long-term care residents and staff on Monday in a bid to build a firewall against the coronavirus and protect a group that has been devastated by the disease. With Gov. Phil Murphy looking on at the Roosevelt Care Center, 103-year-old Mildred Clements, now in her second pandemic, and nurse Esther Moodey were among the first to get vaccinated. “The vaccine brings hope and optimism about the future and promise of a new normal,” Moodey said. Moodey spoke Monday at a news conference that kicked off a vaccine program for New Jersey’s 655 long-term care facilities. The program was delayed by a week after the state missed a federal deadline when filling out its application. It provided a ray of hope at the end of a bleak year. Nearly half of the state’s 16,685 confirmed COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care facilities, and the Murphy administration has scrambled to develop procedures to better contain the disease.

New Mexico

Carlsbad: State officials are hoping an appetite for outdoor recreation during the coronavirus pandemic will help its economy recover. The New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division requested more funding for outdoor programs and support initiatives to be considered during the next legislative session scheduled to begin in January, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported. The division, under the state’s Economic Development Department, requested more than $3 million to fund its Great New Mexico Trails Package, which would provide funding to local communities and agencies who have plans to develop and maintain hiking trails statewide. The division also requested about $1 million for the Outdoor Equity Fund to support programs intended to give funding to youth programs that center on outdoor recreation. Division Director Axie Navas said outdoor recreation was one of the state’s fastest-growing industries and would “be key to our recovery. We’re looking at this one-time appropriation as a way to jump-start communities.”

New York

Albany: State officials are working with the medical community to increase hospital capacity as the number of residents hospitalized with COVID-19 reaches the highest level since mid-May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday. Officials said 7,183 people were hospitalized with the virus as of Saturday, an increase of nearly 300 over the previous day. The state on Sunday also reported 115 new deaths attributable to COVID-19, bringing the state’s official death total to 29,511. A single-day spike of 18 deaths was reported in Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse. The Finger Lakes region reached a seven-day average positivity rate of 8.12%, surpassing the state seven-day average of 5.66%, according to the new data. “As we near the end of the holiday season, New York remains locked in a footrace between the vaccine’s quick distribution and COVID-19′s continued spread,” Cuomo said in a news release. “It has been a tough year and we still have several tough months ahead, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel and we will make it there if we all do our part to slow the spread.”

North Carolina

Raleigh: North Carolina saw a record high for COVID-19 hospitalizations Sunday, state health officials reported. A total of 3,123 patients were in the state’s hospitals being treated for the virus, a day after the state reported surpassing a half-million positive tests over the past 10 months. That’s 25 patients above the previous high of 3,098 the state reported three days earlier. December has shown a big jump in hospitalizations as cold weather drove more people indoors and Thanksgiving travel exposed more people to the virus. Hospitalizations have doubled since mid-November. The number of adults being treated in hospital intensive care units has also climbed above 700 in the past four days, state data showed. It hit a high of 726 on Christmas Day, and dropped slightly to 721 adults on Saturday. Officials have urged people to limit their travel during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays to try to reduce the virus’ spread.

North Dakota

Fargo: Elected officials in North Dakota’s largest city are providing pandemic relief to bars and restaurants by waiving utility charges and providing liquor license rebates. The Fargo City Commission program eliminated utility fees to qualifying businesses from Jan. 1 through June, and provides retroactive license refunds. The costs will be covered by federal funds designated for COVID-19 relief, the city said in a release. Fargo has about 440 licensed bars and restaurants, which have been among the hardest-hit businesses nationwide during the coronavirus crisis. Meanwhile, virus cases across North Dakota have declined dramatically in December. State health officials on Monday confirmed 94 positive readings out of 2,194 tests processed in the last day, for a positivity rate of 4%.


Columbus: New coronavirus cases ticked down Monday as Ohio trudged toward the end of its deadliest month of the pandemic and as more Ohioans got their first dose of a vaccine. The state reported 4,519 new infections on Monday, bringing its total since the start of the pandemic on March 9 to 675,044. That’s down from 5,857 new cases reported Sunday and from 6,548 new infections reported a week ago. Weekend counts reported on Sunday and Monday typically are lower than the rest of the week. Sixty-two people were reported on Monday to have died from the virus, pushing the state’s death toll to 8,571 since the start of the pandemic. Vaccines have started rolling out to Ohioans, with 52,920 getting an initial dose of the two-shot protocol as of Monday. Health care workers and those living and working in nursing homes were first in line for the vaccine, and Gov. Mike DeWine said last week that those age 65 and over and school employees would be up next. About 500 Ohio National Guard members who are assisting in missions at long-term care facilities, food banks and COVID-19 testing sites also began receiving the vaccine last week. The rollout of vaccines to Guard members is separate from the state’s general allotment.


Oklahoma City: An Oklahoma City firefighter whose uncle, a 20-year veteran of the city’s fire department, died from COVID-19 was the first to receive a vaccine against the disease as the department began administering 500 doses. Corporal A.J. Davis, a nephew of Major Andy Davis and son of Deputy Chief Tony Davis, was the first firefighter vaccinated, the department said. A.J. Davis is with Fire Station 6C. Andy Davis died on Christmas Eve from COVID-19; the major was with Fire Station 10-C near downtown. He left behind his wife, Lisa, and their four children, McKenzie, Gracie, Gabe and Beau. The department has about 1,000 uniformed firefighters. Under Oklahoma’s four-phase plan for the vaccinations, first responders are in Phase 2. Hospitals began vaccinating front-line health care workers two weeks ago, and pharmacies began vaccinating nursing home residents and staff last week. The Oklahoma City Fire Department received 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Christmas Day and devised a plan to administer vaccinations on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the department said in a news release.


Salem: Marion County had its highest number of new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday as the state reported its highest number of new cases in two weeks, according to data released by the Oregon Health Authority. Marion County had 362 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, a day after it had three cases reported on Saturday. The previous high number of cases in a day was 218 on Dec. 6. Polk County had 44 new cases reported Sunday, one fewer than its previous record of 45 on Nov. 28. Reporting lagged in the previous few days surrounding the Christmas holiday. There were five new deaths reported in the state to increase the death toll in Oregon to 1,427. One person was reported to have died in Marion County, a 98-year-old woman who tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 17 and died Dec. 26 in her residence.


Harrisburg: CVS Health and Walgreens began vaccinating residents and staff at Pennsylvania nursing homes for the coronavirus on Monday, the department of health said. Residents and staff at 126 skilled-nursing facilities across the commonwealth are set to get their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said. The effort is part of a plan to vaccinate up to 4 million residents and staff at over 40,000 long-term care facilities nationwide. The program started last week in Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Vermont. It expanded to Pennsylvania and 35 other states Monday, according to a news release. A complete list of the 126 Pennsylvania facilities where CVS and Walgreens will administer the vaccine has not been released yet, but that information is expected to be available later this week. The focus on vaccinating front-line health care workers, which includes hospital workers, EMS staff, long-term care facility employees and dialysis workers, will continue into January. At least 72,762 Pennsylvania health workers have received their first doses of the vaccine, Levine said. This week, 47,775 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 26,100 doses of Moderna vaccine are scheduled to be delivered to Pennsylvania hospitals.

Rhode Island

Providence: An effort to administer the coronavirus vaccine to about 7,500 residents and 10,000 workers at nursing homes across Rhode Island started Monday. It might take several weeks before everyone eligible receives their first dose of the vaccine, being administered by CVS and Walgreens pharmacies in conjunction with state health officials, authorities said. The effort will start in long-term care facilities in some of the state’s hardest-hit communities. More than half the facilities in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls will get the vaccine in the first week, state Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken said Sunday. About 1,500 first doses will be administered Monday, he said. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses. About 70% of Rhode Island’s more than 1,700 coronavirus deaths were in residents of nursing homes or assisted living centers, according to state statistics.

South Carolina

Myrtle Beach: Some evictions are still taking place in South Carolina during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a federal moratorium on evictions that runs until January from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the rules are confusing, and enforcement is inconsistent. More than 21,000 eviction cases have been filed during the pandemic across five of South Carolina’s most populous counties – Richland, Charleston, Lexington, Greenville and Horry, according to an examination of court records by The Sun News of Myrtle Beach and The State newspaper. About 10% of those cases resulted in a “writ of ejectment,” meaning their cases have advanced far enough in court that those 2,100 or so renters and their families could be ordered by authorities to leave. The eviction moratorium isn’t a blanket order. Renters have to sign a legal document saying they can’t pay their rent because of the pandemic. Tenets whose leases expire with unpaid rent can be evicted along with those who violate their leases by having unauthorized long-term guests or pets. “While I do believe the CDC’s intentions were good, it’s clear that this was a very hastily issued order,” said Nicole Paluzzi, a housing attorney for Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services. “I think we’ll see a lot of the negative repercussions of this come January when cases resume.”

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: South Dakota on Monday reported the lowest number of daily new coronavirus cases in two months, totaling 267 people who had tested positive, though testing also slowed after the Christmas holiday. The Department of Health reported the results of 1,162 tests, a large drop from the average of 4,309 daily tests over the previous seven days. Health officials indicated that 14.3% of the RT-PCR tests performed came back positive, which is an indication that more people might have infections than tests are showing. South Dakota has seen a significant drop in coronavirus cases after infections peaked in November. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has decreased by 47%, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. The Department of Health’s count of people with active infections dipped below 7,000 for the first time since October. No new deaths from the virus were reported.


Memphis: The in-house COVID-19 testing program at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is one of the fastest labs in the Memphis area, handling nearly 9,000 tests in a two-week period with a result turnaround time of less than a day, according to recently released state data. The lab at Regional One Health likewise had a listed turnaround time of less than a day for its roughly 1,600 tests in the same 14-day period, mid-to-late November. Three other major COVID-19 labs in the Memphis area – University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Poplar Healthcare and AEL – each had a turnaround time of about a day in November. The lab at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare had a turnaround time nearly as good, an average of 1.68 days. Fast turnaround times matter for COVID-19 testing because if labs take days to return results, contact tracing becomes all but impossible. Additionally, public health officials urge people to remain isolated pending COVID-19 results, and slow results can lead to lengthy spells of isolation, causing major disruptions to work and family life. People who get tested at a clinic, hospital or public site don’t necessarily know which lab will process the result. But testing times have improved dramatically in the greater Memphis area, making the distinction between collection sites less important than before — the data suggest that wherever you go, chances are you will receive a reasonably fast result.


Dallas: Southwest Airlines is lifting the threat of furloughs or pay cuts for thousands of workers now that U.S. airlines will get up to $15 billion more in taxpayer aid contained in the federal coronavirus relief bill. American and United Airlines, which together furloughed 32,000 employees in October, said Monday they will bring those workers back temporarily. The $900 billion relief package signed after some delay by President Donald Trump on Sunday night includes $15 billion for airlines to keep all their employees on the payroll through March 31. A previous round of $25 billion in payroll aid expired Sept. 30, leading to the furloughs at American, United and smaller carriers. Delta and Southwest avoided furloughs by convincing thousands of workers to take voluntary buyouts or early retirement and, in the case of Delta, negotiating contract concessions from pilots. This month, Southwest warned nearly 7,000 workers that their jobs could be in danger if their unions did not accept pay cuts of about 10%. Southwest Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly told employees Monday that federal relief “was always our preferred plan, and it means we can stop the movement toward furloughs and pay cuts that we previously announced.” Kelly said Dallas-based Southwest doesn’t expect the need for any furloughs or pay cuts in 2021. But, he added, the airline is “still overstaffed in many areas,” and he appealed to employees to consider voluntary time off.


a canyon with a mountain in the background: A scene from the 2020 Christmas Bird Count at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

© K. Sophie Will
A scene from the 2020 Christmas Bird Count at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

St. George: Nearly 30 people braved single-digit temperatures in Bryce Canyon National Park to participate in “citizen science” and to keep a tradition going even during a pandemic. The annual Christmas Bird Count contributes to a database going back a century dedicated to “study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America,” according to the Audubon Society. Twenty-nine citizens and park staff broke off into eight groups to hike, drive and scour a 15-mile circle for elusive species of birds in the trees. Bryce Canyon spokesperson Peter Densmore said people were “incredibly cooperative” about wearing masks and social distancing, saying “it wasn’t as bad as I feared.” He said Bryce Canyon is the perfect place to conduct the bird count as it contains the perfect medley of red rock and dense forestry, and birds are a highly accessible species to lead people to participate in citizen science.


Montpelier: The average number of passengers who traveled through Burlington International Airport over Christmas was down 80%, according to airport officials. Airport Manager Gene Richards called the low number “great” because he hopes it will help Vermont avoid a spike in cases following the holidays. Richards told WCAX-TV an average of 11,000 travelers usually come through the Burlington airport this time of year, but this year there have been about 2,000. “This is a real blessing in our eyes to have less people traveling in and out of Vermont,” Richards said. “We know that the bounce from the holidays will hopefully be a little less because of it.”


Petersburg: In the two weeks since the COVID-19 vaccine was released to the market, 57 front-line health care workers in Petersburg have received it, according to data released by the Virginia Department of Health. That total is the largest among the Tri-City area but it is also not surprising because Petersburg is home to the largest hospital in the immediate vicinity with Bon Secours Southside Regional Medical Center. Eligible personnel there began rolling up their sleeves last week. Hopewell, home to the area’s other major hospital in HCA John Randolph Medical Center, reported 52 vaccinations of its health personnel. Prince George County, which has Fort Lee within its limits, also reported 42 vaccines administered. Colonial Heights, with its two long-term care facilities and free-standing trauma center, recorded 44 vaccines. So far in Virginia, roughly 20,000 people have received the first of the two-dose vaccine.


Olympia: The state will spend $54 million to provide one-time payments to nearly 100,000 gig and self-employed workers cut off from unemployment benefits because of the impasse over the federal COVID-19 relief and spending bill, Gov. Jay Inslee said Sunday. Later this week, 94,555 people in Washington who were enrolled federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program as of Nov. 21 will get payments of $550, which is roughly the equivalent of two weeks’ worth of benefits, he said. The PUA program, set up to provide unemployment benefits to workers who usually do not qualify for them, expired at midnight Saturday. The program was extended to March 14 when President Donald Trump signed the relief bill into law on Sunday night. Even though Trump signed the bill, those who had been getting PUA payments would lose at least one week of benefits, Gov. Jay Inslee said, calling that “unacceptable.”

West Virginia

Charleston: West Virginia reported a daily record for the percentage of positive coronavirus tests among all tests given. The daily positive rate of 16.4% on Sunday broke the record of 12.6% set Dec. 22. That rate had been the highest since April. There were 302 confirmed virus cases Sunday, but the overall number of tests reported administered was much lower than the average from recent weeks. The number of positive virus cases reported statewide last week, 5,634, was the lowest in a month and was down nearly 18% from the record 6,848 confirmed cases reported for the week ending Dec. 20. The virus usually results in only mild to moderate symptoms, but is particularly dangerous for the elderly and people with other health problems.


Madison: Gov. Tony Evers said he will in the next year extend the statewide face mask mandate to help contain the spread of coronavirus, likely veto any new legislation that would place stricter rules on voting and is considering asking state lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana to boost revenue. Evers said he’s convinced his administration will clear by Jan. 1 a backlog of thousands of unresolved unemployment claims that have languished at his workforce agency for months in some cases, leading to catastrophic decisions – like choosing between paying for meals or shelter. After Evers issued a stay-at-home order in March closing thousands of businesses, and as the pandemic keeps many people at home, the state’s Department of Workforce Development has been swamped with unemployment claims. At its peak, the state workforce agency received 321,000 weekly claims. In comparison, the highest number of weekly claims during the Great Recession of 2008 was 194,000.


Powell: A total of three residents of a senior living facility have died after contracting the coronavirus, the Cody Enterprise reported. Park County Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin said two of the deaths have not yet been reported to the state, but would raise the number of deaths in Park County attributed to the virus to nine. There were 110 active confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county as of Sunday morning, with one case diagnosed in the last 24 hours.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Denver Zoo, resort bubble, nursing home shots: News from around our 50 states

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