Montgomery: The state prison system on Wednesday reported its fourth case of COVID-19 in an inmate. The Department of Corrections said the inmate at the Elba Community Based Facility/Community Work Center was moved to the Easterling Correctional Facility and placed in an isolation cell, where he’ll receive medical treatment. Inmates at the Elba facility have been quarantined. The prison system has so far reported four COVID-19 cases and one prisoner death. Inmate advocates and health experts have expressed concerns that the state’s overcrowded prisons would become a breeding ground for a deadly outbreak and urged additional changes. Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said the prison system is distributing masks and taking other precautions. Alabamians for Fair Justice, an advocacy group, donated more than 3,200 bars of antibacterial soap and other hygiene supplies to the system, which said the items will be distributed to inmates deemed at high risk.
Juneau: Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed disbursing more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid through a process that would not require the Legislature to reconvene. A legislative attorney, however, has raised questions with that approach. Dunleavy has asked the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee to review his plan to distribute funds to help municipalities, nonprofits, small businesses, schools and other areas. State law lays out a process by which a governor can submit to the committee plans to accept and spend on a budget item additional federal or other program funds. Even if the committee disagrees, a governor can proceed. But Megan Wallace, director of Legislative Legal Services, raised concerns with use of the process for the federal aid in a memo responding to questions from Sen. Bill Wielechowski.
Phoenix: Nearly $18 million of federal funding provided to the city in response to the coronavirus outbreak would pay for housing support that includes renting hotel rooms for homeless people and providing aid to other low-income people. Mayor Kate Gallego said the City Council’s unanimous approval Tuesday for use of a grant is the largest investment in fighting homelessness in the city’s history. The city’s plans for spending the money include renting about 100 rooms at a hotel to house 100 seniors or people with chronic health issues who are at higher risk for COVID-19. Other parts of the city’s plan include more shelter beds and housing support. The city estimates it could reach 200 individuals and 555 families experiencing homelessness.
Little Rock: Next week the state will ease its ban on elective surgeries during the coronavirus pandemic, and an announcement could also come on the lifting of restrictions on other businesses, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday. The state will allow hospitals and clinics to resume some elective surgeries starting Monday, Hutchinson said. The state had ordered health care providers to reschedule procedures that could be safely postponed. State Health Secretary Dr. Nathaniel Smith said the providers will have to meet certain conditions, including requiring patients to be tested for the virus 48 hours before the procedure. Smith said the the ban is being lifted for procedures that don’t require an overnight stay in the hospital. It was not immediately clear whether the order would clear the way for the resumption of surgical abortions, which the state has halted.
Sacramento: The California Highway Patrol said Wednesday that it is temporarily banning rallies at the Capitol and other state facilities because of the pandemic. The change in policy came after hundreds of protesters gathered on the Capitol grounds in Sacramento on Monday, many without wearing masks or following recommendations to remain more than 6 feet apart to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The same group had planned additional rallies in coming days against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders that people remain at home except for essential activities. The CHP said it was caught by surprise when protesters ignored public safety recommendations. The event permit “was issued with the understanding that the protest would be conducted in a manner consistent with the state’s public health guidance. That is not what occurred, and CHP will take this experience into account when considering permits for this or any other group,” it said.
Denver: More than 67,000 more people filed for unemployment in the state last week, bringing the total number of new applications for the past month to just over 279,000, the Department of Labor and Employment said Thursday. The number of new unemployment applications last week was less than the 104,217 new claims reported during the previous week. However, self-employed and gig workers and others not previously able to collect unemployment benefits were only allowed to start filing claims Monday and are not included in the latest official count. Like other states, Colorado had to come up with a new process for accepting those claims and verifying the amount of money to which those workers were entitled. So far, more than 30,000 people have filed claims through the new application, the department said.
Hartford: Experts are expressing concern about the effects the pandemic is having on those needing help for drug addiction and other behavioral health services. Dr. J. Craig Allen, the medical director at Hartford HealthCare’s Rushford treatment center, said isolation and anxiety can wreak havoc on those with substance abuse issues in the best of times. He said there has been a decline in those seeking help at the same time there has been a rise in sales of things such as alcohol, vaping products and cigarettes. Hartford HealthCare has set up what officials are calling a “warm line” for those who need to talk to a recovery specialist. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services announced Wednesday that it has been awarded a $2 million federal grant to address behavioral health care needs of different populations heavily affected by the pandemic.
Dover: Prison officials in the state say they have no plans to expedite the release of inmates because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Delaware State News reports Department of Correction facilities are operating at less than 75% capacity. The department said COVID-19 has largely been limited to a minimum-security housing unit at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. Officials said there is ample space to handle more cases. DOC Commissioner Claire DeMatteis expressed concerns about where inmates would go if they were released and the fact that there is still a risk to exposure on the outside as well. “The other side of releasing inmates is where do they go,” she said. “We’re all about reentry; now we’re just going to release a bunch of people with no place to go, no health care, no job, no prospect for a job. Exactly how does that help us?”
District of Columbia
Washington: The board that oversees the metropolitan area’s Metrorail system is taking advantage of decreased ridership by greatly expanding a series of planned maintenance closures over the summer. The expanded summer shutdowns will affect northern Virginia in particular – the entire Silver Line, which serves Reston and the Tysons Corner areas, will be closed. Nine stations in Fairfax and Arlington counties will close. Service on the Orange and Silver lines will terminate in Virginia at the Ballston station. Several of those stations had already been slated for closure this summer to repair rider platforms and perform other maintenance. Metro officials say ridership declines of as much as 95% due to the coronavirus provide an opportunity to do even more maintenance with less disruption. The closures begin May 23 and are expected to run through the fall. Free shuttle buses will run from some of the closed stations.
Miami: A shipment of 1 million face masks en route to South Florida for firefighters was confiscated last week by the federal government, Miami-Dade’s top emergency management official said. Frank Rollason, the director of emergency management for Miami-Dade County, told WLRN on Wednesday that the masks were for firefighters who planned to begin at-home new coronavirus testing for homebound Miami-Dade residents who can’t make it to drive-thru testing sites. “We thought we were in pretty good shape with having that amount coming in, and they were – we were – usurped,” Rollason said. Miami-Dade has the largest number of confirmed cases in Florida, with almost 10,300 as of Thursday morning. Statewide, there are more than 28,500 confirmed cases. WLRN reports that other shipments of masks meant for municipalities also have been confiscated by the federal government.
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to begin cracking open the economy faces two major hurdles – the state is struggling to increase testing for new coronavirus infections and to boost tracking of those in contact with infected people. Without those capabilities, Georgia risks a quick rebound of the COVID-19 illness as Kemp allows some businesses to reopen in coming days. The Republican governor’s decision has been questioned because the state has yet to show continuing progress in those areas, and it could be difficult to catch up. “The virus moves faster than government does,” said Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “So if I had to bet on who would come out of the gate faster, it would be the virus.” Georgia has ranked in the bottom 10 per capita in testing.
Hilo: Daily arrests on the Big Island have plunged 33% since the governor issued a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Hawaii County Police Department said. Hawaii Police Chief Ferreira confirmed the decrease in arrests during the period after Democratic Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation took effect March 25, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. The decrease has various explanations, including an expanded use of citations by officers to deal with some crimes, Ferreira said. “We’re not actively going out there and pursuing (suspects on) bench warrants,” Ferreira said. Another factor is the smaller number of people committing crimes in their vehicles, including driving under the influence. “Because the bars are closed, and because of the stay-at-home order, you have less people on the roadway,” Ferreira said.
Boise: Gov. Brad Little’s efforts to flatten the curve and slow the rate of infection and spread of the coronavirus after it made a rapid entry into the state last month have succeeded. But with infections slowing, the Republican governor is facing growing unrest within his own party, and groups are chafing at his stay-at-home order and the closure of nonessential businesses despite the risk of a second wave of infections. Calls to disobey have increased along with a smattering of defiant actions across the state. “I think once it looks like we’ve got past the worst of it, it makes it seem like, ‘Why don’t we open back up?’ ” said Jaclyn Kettler, a Boise State University political scientist. “At the same time, there’s a lot of risk we might not fully understand.” Idaho is unique in that most states facing coordinated pushback for virus closures have Democratic governors.
Springfield: Republicans in the state’s House on Tuesday suggested ways to slowly reopen businesses and relax restrictions on public interaction as the threat from COVID-19 potentially recedes. With Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order scheduled to expire April 30, GOP lawmakers are seeking relief for a devastated economy and frustrated constituents. Rep. Mark Batinick of Plainfield said he hoped their proposed modifications would get “buy-in” from the public. There was no specific start date mentioned. The proposal came just a day after Pritzker raised the specter of a stay-at-home extension when he announced that the rising number of COVID-19 cases, expected to peak in the latter half of April, now won’t top out until mid-May. At his daily briefing later Wednesday, Pritzker gave a lukewarm response to the GOP plans, which include reopening car dealerships, golf courses, state parks, department stores and hair salons.
Indianapolis: The state’s first coronavirus infections occurred at least a couple of weeks before the first illness for a resident was confirmed in early March, the state health commissioner said Wednesday. That would indicate the virus could have been spreading around Indiana for perhaps six weeks before the statewide stay-at-home order took effect March 25. “We tracked cases that we thought probably went back to at least mid-February,” said the health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box. The earlier infections are in line with the determination of two coronavirus deaths in California in early and mid-February, showing that the virus was spreading in the U.S. well before health officials realized it. “There will be individuals that never hit the hospital system that may very well have had COVID-19, and they won’t know that until we have that good antibody test out there to show that they are immune,” Box said.
Des Moines: The state’s livestock producers face tumbling prices after hundreds of meatpacking workers have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in Midwest processing plants significantly slowing production or closing. The situation could turn tragic for pork producers, who face the possibility of euthanizing thousands of animals backed up on farms across the state. “Producers face horrible choices,” said Dermot Hayes, an Iowa State University agriculture economist. Pork processing capacity has shrunk by about 25%, crushing hog prices, which have tumbled about 50% since January. Iowa is the nation’s largest pork producer, with nearly 25 million pigs in confinements. U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said Tuesday he’s heard estimates that the country has about 100,000 pigs that should be slaughtered each day but aren’t. “Apply that over 10 days, and with a million pigs, you’ve got a big problem,” the Iowa Republican said.
Topeka: Gov. Laura Kelly has suspended multiple regulations licensing medical professionals to make it easier for them to work in health care facilities and nursing homes. The executive order Kelly issued Wednesday suspends requirements that doctors supervise physician assistants, advanced practice practical nurses and licensed practical nurses. The order also allows nurses with inactive or lapsed licenses to provide services and permits medical or nursing students to volunteer to work in health care facilities. “Our health care facilities need as much flexibility as possible as we approach our projected peak infection rate in the coming days to ensure that hospitals do not become overwhelmed,” Kelly said Wednesday. The governor said the order is a “first step,” and health care providers face “broader and more complex challenges.” She said she cannot address them with an executive order and called on the Legislature to consider rewriting licensing laws.
Louisville: Making it through the first Saturday in May without a Kentucky Derby will be tough for a lot of people in the Bluegrass State. Churchill Downs has a plan, though. The home of the Run for the Roses is planning to host a daylong, at-home, virtual Kentucky Derby party that’ll feature a virtual race among all 13 past Triple Crown winners to raise $2 million for COVID-19 emergency relief funds. The 146th Kentucky Derby has been postponed until Sept. 5 due to public health concerns over the growing coronavirus pandemic. A special broadcast will air on NBC from 3 to 6 p.m. May 2 featuring the 2015 Kentucky Derby that kicked off American Pharoah’s historic Triple Crown run. In addition, the broadcast will highlight Churchill Downs’ first-ever virtual horse race – The Kentucky Derby: Triple Crown Showdown, a computer-simulated version of a race under the historic Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.
New Orleans: Masks will be recommended attire even when stay-at-home orders and restrictions on business activity are eased during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday. He noted medical experts’ guidance saying proper masks keep patients infected with coronavirus from spreading it to others. “Think of wearing a mask in public as just being polite to others,” Edwards said at his daily news conference, calling mask-wearing part of “new normal” of life when restrictions are lifted. It remained unclear exactly how and when restrictions will be lifted, but Edwards said he expects to deliver more information as early as Monday. Louisiana’s current stay-at-home emergency order, banning gatherings of more than 10 people and forcing closure of many nonessential businesses, expires April 30. The Democratic governor has been reluctant to speculate on what will be done next.
Portland: Unemployment claims have slowed somewhat in the state but remain much higher than historical averages. A total of 11,560 people made initial claims for unemployment compensation in the week that ended April 18, the Maine Department of Labor reported. That was the lowest number of initial claims in the past five weeks. Meanwhile, new cellphone data suggests about 40% of Mainers are staying put in their homes on any given day, abiding by the governor’s stay-at-home order. The percentage of Mainers staying home grew steadily to about 35% after the state’s first coronavirus case was announced March 12, the Bangor Daily News reports. The figure rose to its current level after Mills issued a formal stay-at-home order March 31. The newspaper cited an analysis by SafeGraph.
Baltimore: Crime in the city is continuing to fall during the coronavirus pandemic. The Baltimore Sun reports property crime was already on a steep decline. Violent crime is falling as well, although not as much. Police reported 71 total violent crimes for the week ending April 18. That’s a stark decline from the previous week, which had seen 152 violent crimes reported. There were 196 violent crimes reported for the week ending March 21. For the past month, total violent crimes are down 26% compared with the same period last year. Total shootings and gun-related homicides are also down by a third during the past month compared to last year. Experts had expected crime to decline in the wake of the stay-at-home orders that have been imposed in an effort to curb the virus’s spread and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
Boston: The state’s death toll in the coronavirus pandemic surged past 2,000 on Wednesday, about doubling in just seven days as the Boston area becomes a hot spot. Public health officials said there were 221 new deaths, pushing the overall toll to 2,182. It was the most deaths reported in a single day since the outbreak in Massachusetts began, and it marked the first time the state has recorded more than 200 in a day. Massachusetts saw its first COVID-19 death March 20, and the outbreak has intensified despite strict social distancing measures and contact tracing aimed at slowing transmission. The state passed 1,000 deaths April 15, when 1,108 were reported. There were more than 1,700 new cases reported Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed cases close to 43,000. More than half the deaths – 1,205 – were reported in long-term care centers, such as nursing homes. The average age of people who have died of confirmed COVID-19 is 82, officials said.
Detroit: A major health care provider in southeastern Michigan said the number of COVID-19 patients had dropped below 500 this week for the first time in nearly a month. Henry Ford Health System reported 490 patients Thursday morning at five hospitals, a sign that the coronavirus was slowing down. It had 426 patients March 28 and more than 700 on April 8. COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the virus. Henry Ford said it has discharged 1,549 patients during the outbreak. Beaumont Health has also reported a significant drop in patients at its Detroit-area hospitals. Both health care providers are temporarily laying off thousands of people due to a lack of revenue from medical procedures that have been suspended.
Minneapolis: Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday ordered schools to stay closed through the rest of the academic year amid the COVID-19 crisis. Walz, a former teacher, called it “a heartbreaking decision.” The Democratic governor said he feels sorry for all the students who will miss out on graduations, tournaments and end-of-year celebrations. But Walz said the health and safety of Minnesotans is his top priority, so distance learning will continue through the end of this school year. “While I recognize distance learning is a challenge for many families, it is critical to social distancing in Minnesota and supports the health of Minnesota’s families. We will continue looking for ways to improve the current system and better support our children,” Walz said in a statement. He also outlined his approach for gradually loosening restrictions on businesses over time, saying his decision will allow up to 100,000 Minnesotans to return to work in industrial, manufacturing and office settings next Monday.
Tupelo: The switch to virtual events during the coronavirus pandemic includes a festival honoring the king of rock ’n’ roll. Organizers for the Tupelo Elvis Festival announced Wednesday that the music event slated to be held in June will now be a virtual gathering. “The health and safety of our patrons is most important, but we are excited to share our festival with the world,” Debbie Brangenberg, the executive director of the festival, told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. The annual fest honoring Tupelo-born Elvis Presley features performances from musicians and gospel groups and includes a competition to qualify for the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Contest held in Memphis. Organizers are offering refunds for those who do not want to attend a virtual festival.
O’Fallon: Leaders of counties on the edge of the state’s two metropolitan areas are showing an increasing urge to end business shutdowns necessitated by the coronavirus, breaking with urban leaders who have extended stay-at-home orders for several weeks. The majority of confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, have occurred in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. Democratic leaders of St. Louis city and county, Kansas City and Jackson County have extended stay-at-home orders until at least mid-May in hopes of containing the spread of the disease. But amid a growing backlash to social distancing restrictions and the economic fallout, Republican leaders of counties adjacent to the urban core are opting to allow businesses to reopen sooner. Clay and Cass counties near Kansas City announced Wednesday that their stay-at-home orders will expire May 3, the same day Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s emergency order expires.
Helena: Churches can hold services Sunday, and some businesses will be able to reopen Monday as long as they practice social distancing, Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday in easing coronavirus restrictions while asking residents to continue many of the precautions they have been taking. Because Montana took the coronavirus pandemic seriously and acted quickly and because residents made sacrifices to follow directives to stay at home and use social distancing, the state had the lowest numbers of hospitalizations per capita, Bullock said. The health department reports 59 people were hospitalized and 14 people have died from COVID-19. Two deaths were reported Wednesday. Reilly Neill, a former Democratic state representative and publisher from Livingston, said she thinks Bullock is acting too quickly without enough consideration for the amount of asymptomatic spread of the virus or plans for methodical statewide testing and tracing.
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Lincoln: A new state website designed to ramp up testing for the coronavirus logged about 20,000 new registrations on its first day, and the data that residents submit could help determine which parts of the state get tested first, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday. Ricketts said the $27 million program, similar to ones Iowa and Utah, will help state officials decide where to first use the 540,000 new tests that were included in the deal with a private contractor. He said front-line medical and public safety workers will get first priority for testing, followed by people who report a lot of symptoms on the Test Nebraska website, followed by people with just a symptoms and then potentially people who are asymptomatic. “Part of it, frankly, will be driven by people filling out the assessment,” Ricketts said at his weekday coronavirus news conference.
Las Vegas: State officials condemned comments Wednesday by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman after she called for casinos and other nonessential businesses to reopen and suggested the city could serve as a test case to measure the impact during the coronavirus pandemic. One local official called her comments “reckless and dangerous,” and another described them as an “embarrassment.” Goodman, during a 25-minute interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN, said she wants everything back open, including casinos, restaurants and small businesses, and a return of conventions. The politically independent mayor suggested that “viruses for years have been here” and said she had suggested that the residents of Las Vegas become “a control group,” serving as “that placebo side,” to see how relaxing closures and restrictions would affect the city.
Stratham: Some summer fairs in the state have already been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Stratham Fair, annually the first in a season of fairs that stretches into October, on Wednesday called off the event, scheduled for July 16-19. The annual Lancaster Fair, held during Labor Day weekend, also was canceled. “At this time of year, the Fair Board would typically be fundraising, hiring entertainment, entering into contracts, and making decisions about our fair programs,” the directors said in a statement Wednesday. “During this public health pandemic, when our entire community is under such an intense strain, it is not feasible to request or make such commitments.”
Trenton: Gov. Phil Murphy says the two drive-thru testing sites operated with the federal government cannot yet begin taking asymptomatic residents. Murphy corrected an earlier statement from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office that said the testing for residents without symptoms would begin. Murphy said the state first needs to obtain a waiver from the federal government. The state operates the drive-thru facilities with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. One is at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, Monmouth County. The other is at Bergen Community College in Paramus. Beyond the two federally affiliated facilities, New Jersey has nearly 90 sites other testing centers across the state and conducts about 9,000 tests a day, according to Murphy, who said he thinks the state needs to double the number of tests it does daily.
Santa Fe: Mental health and substance abuse programs in the state will be getting an infusion of funding as part of the U.S. government’s relief efforts related to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Members of the state’s congressional delegation say a $2 million grant has been awarded to the state Human Services Department to fund behavioral health services during the pandemic. Officials expect the demand for such services to increase because of the public health toll of the outbreak. “We can’t allow this pandemic to create any lapses in behavior health care for New Mexicans who need it,” Sen. Martin Heinrich said in a statement. “Our state has long faced challenges providing adequate behavioral health resources. That has only been exacerbated during this crisis.” To boost access, the state has launched NMConnect, a new app that provides free 24-hour crisis and non-crisis support.
New York: More evidence is emerging that far more New Yorkers have had the coronavirus than the number confirmed by lab tests, officials said Thursday. A state survey of about 3,000 people found that 13.9% had antibodies suggesting they had been exposed to the virus, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at his daily news briefing in Albany. In New York City, 21% of the people tested had antibodies. Cuomo cautioned that the data was preliminary. The sample of people tested was small, and people were recruited for the study at shopping centers and grocery stores, which meant they were healthy enough to be out in public. Experts also say having antibodies is not necessarily proof someone is immune to the virus. But Cuomo said knowing how many people have antibodies could potentially help set policy on when to reopen parts of the state. Earlier Thursday, New York City’s health commissioner said many as 1 million people in the city may have been exposed.
Charlotte: A number of beer and wine distributors in the state are volunteering their tractor-trailers to help stock grocery stores and food pantries in the midst of the coronavirus. The NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers and NC Retail Merchants associations have joined forces to provide its trucks and commercial drivers to get products to the stores, The Charlotte Observer reports, noting the groups are acting with the approval of the state ABC Commission. Since Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order went into effect March 17, distributors lost about a quarter of their business that normally delivers to restaurants and bars, said Tim Kent, executive director of NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association. “I’ve got drivers willing to help anyone having distribution difficulties,” Kent said. “These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures.”
Bismarck: Health officials said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state now exceeds 700. The North Dakota Department of Health on Thursday also reported one new death, a woman in her 80s from Cass County with underlying medical conditions, bringing the state’s total to 15. Health officials said 32 additional people tested positive for COVID-19 since Wednesday, bringing the state total to 709. Health officials said two previous cases reported earlier were people who lived out of state and were removed from the state’s tally. There were 18 coronavirus patients who were hospitalized Thursday. Officials said 741 people have been screened since Wednesday, bringing the total tested in North Dakota to 16,330. They said 15,621 of those tests have come back negative.
Columbus: Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday announced an easing up on the prohibition of elective surgeries during the coronavirus pandemic. DeWine said that doctors can now review postponed procedures and surgeries with patients in terms of their current health situation and quality of life, after which doctors and patients can make a joint decision about whether to proceed. DeWine said patients must be informed of the risk of contracting COVID-19 and must also be told of the impact of contracting the illness during the post-operative recovery process. “I’ve heard stories that some surgeries that we had no intention of stopping have been postponed,” DeWine said. “That has concerned me a great deal, so we are starting back one step at a time.” The governor gave the example of someone who might have postponed hip replacement surgery but now is experiencing severe pain.
Oklahoma City: Nine additional deaths in the state have been attributed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, while the number of hospitalizations in the state declined by 15, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Thursday. At least 179 people have now died of COVID-19 in Oklahoma, with eight of the additional deaths in the 65 or older age group and one who was 50-64, the department said. The number hospitalized is 284, down from 298 reported Wednesday. At least 3,000 people have tested positive for coronavirus in the state. Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday announced plans to begin reopening businesses in the state, starting Friday when barbershops, hair and nail salons, pet groomers and spas can reopen in cities that do not have additional restrictions. The personal care businesses must continue social distancing, and employees and customers must wear masks if they are within 6 feet of each other.
Salem: Gov. Kate Brown announced Thursday that she will lift her order delaying non-urgent medical procedures, if health care providers can demonstrate they have met new requirements for COVID-19 safety and preparedness. Hospitals, surgical centers, medical offices and dental offices that meet those requirements will be able to resume non-urgent procedures May 1, Brown said in a statement. “As anyone waiting for an elective surgery knows, ‘non-urgent’ does not mean ‘minor,’ ” Brown said. “This is incredibly important medical care that we would not have told providers to delay if the threat of COVID-19 had not made it necessary.” The Oregon Health Authority on Wednesday reported 57 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to nearly 2,060. The agency for the first time in several weeks reported no new deaths in its daily report. At least 78 people have died from the coronavirus in the state.
Harrisburg: The Pennsylvania Department of Health slashed the state’s COVID-19 death toll by 201 on Thursday, saying probable deaths it had previously included in the count were eliminated after further investigation. The overall death toll now stands at 1,421, down from 1,622 reported a day earlier. The number of deaths confirmed by a positive virus test actually rose overnight by 69, to 1,394. But Health Secretary Rachel Levine said Thursday that 270 probable deaths that had been added to the death toll in recent days have been removed after further investigation. State health officials had recently changed the way they count COVID-19 deaths – now including probable deaths along with confirmed deaths – which resulted in a doubling of the state’s death toll in just four days. A probable death is one in which a coroner or medical examiner listed COVID-19 as the cause or contributing cause, but the deceased was not tested for the virus.
Providence: The state has launched a new website that allows residents to check whether they are at risk of getting or may have contracted the coronavirus, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday. The site, covidselfcheck.ri.gov, launched by the state Department of Health in conjunction with Diagnostic Robotics, asks residents about their symptoms, their possible exposure and other risk factors – in English, Spanish or Portuguese – and recommends whether they should see a health care professional. “It’s not a substitute for consulting a doctor but a guide to help you figure out if you should do that,” the Democrat said at her daily news briefing. The site also uses predictive technology to recognize possible outbreaks before they occur.
Columbia: More than 341,000 people in the state have said they lost their jobs since the coronavirus pandemic began. The 73,000 jobless claims filed for the week ending April 18 marked the first drop since businesses began closing for COVID-19 in March, according to figures released Thursday from the state Department of Employment and Workforce. But all the people reporting they are out of work over the past five weeks represent more than 14% of the workforce in February in South Carolina. Amid that alarming backdrop, Gov. Henry McMaster called his first meeting Thursday of a group he calls “Accelerate South Carolina.” More than two dozen mayors, presidents of institutions of higher learning, business owners, health care professionals and lawmakers are tasked with figuring out how to reopen the state after closing for the coronavirus pandemic.
Sioux Falls: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended that the operators of a meatpacking plant where nearly 800 workers contracted the coronavirus implement a strict social distancing policy and find ways to overcome language barriers. Smithfield Foods closed its Sioux Falls plant indefinitely because of the outbreak and faced complaints that it wasn’t doing enough to protect its workers. A CDC team toured the plant last week and reported the company had slowed down production lines to space workers farther apart and installed about 800 Plexiglas barriers along the lines. But even though there were only a few workers left in the plant, some were still gathering closer than 6 feet apart when not at their work stations or not wearing face masks, the team found. Plant management told the CDC that more than 40 languages were spoken at the plant, making it difficult to communicate guidance to employees.
Nashville: State officials on Wednesday finally released more detailed information surrounding confirmed cases and COVID-19-related deaths in its long-term care facilities after open-government advocates, Democratic lawmakers and others urged for its release. The state’s Department of Health had previously held off disclosing such information, saying the state needed to protect “patient privacy.” Similar to previous attempts by the state to withhold certain information during its fight against the coronavirus, officials eventually reversed course by conceding that the information was valuable to the public. According to the state, 37 deaths have occurred in the state’s long-term care facilities, and at least 375 cases have been confirmed. Yet discrepancies in the newly released data remain between what the state and local governments are reporting.
Beaumont: Mayor Becky Ames says she did not violate the city’s stay-at-home order when she visited a closed nail shop. After a picture that circulated on social media sparked criticism of the mayor showing her nails soaking in a bowl, Ames explained she wasn’t getting a manicure but was soaking her fingertips in acetone to remove the artificial nails. Ames said the salon owner told her that the shop wasn’t open but that she would mix up some solution for pickup, according to Beaumont Enterprise. The photograph was taken while Ames was soaking her nails to learn how to take them off. Ames said she didn’t know who took the photo or even realize there was a third person in the salon. The owner said it was an employee who had stopped by to pick up nail polish to use at home. The worker has been informed she cannot return to the shop, though it was not immediately known for how long.
Salt Lake City: The state launched a new cellphone app Wednesday to track coronavirus symptoms and identify people who may have been exposed, known as contact tracing. The state has a contract worth up to $2.75 million with the social media company Twenty, which makes an app that helps people use location data to find their friends to hang out. The company used its technology to build an app called Healthy Together for the state. People who download the app will get daily reminders to self-report any symptoms, then be directed to testing if they’re at risk. If a case is confirmed, the app will use cellphone location data to trace back everyone they may have exposed to the virus, even those people who they don’t know or with whom they never spoke. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said data privacy is “of upmost concern.” People would have to opt-in, and location data will be deleted after 30 days, except in cases where there are legal requirements to keep it longer.
Montpelier: The Vermont House of Representatives held its first full, online floor session Thursday, a legislative response to the COVID-19 epidemic’s need to stay apart while finding a way to pass legislation. From homes across the state, 153 members of the House and a handful of staff, some of whom were in the Statehouse, met electronically. A few lawmakers called in and weren’t visible online. The session came after lawmakers held 14 committee practice sessions and many smaller online meetings since the House gave preliminary approval last month to a resolution authorizing the online sessions. The first order of business was to formally adopt the the online voting system, which under the rule governing the meetings required approval by three-quarters of the lawmakers online. “This remote system for representing our constituents and meeting our constitutional responsibilities is clearly flawed,” Rep. Anne Donahue, a Northfield Republican. “I cannot pretend that I feel able to function in the way I would normally consider to be necessary to meet those duties.”
Culpeper: Two Republican state senators are representing a gym owner who is suing the governor over his executive order that closed down nonessential businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic. State Sen. Bill Stanley and Ryan McDougle filed the lawsuit in Culpeper County on Tuesday on behalf of Merrill C. “Sandy” Hall, who owns several Gold’s Gym franchises. The lawsuit argues Gov. Ralph Northam exceeded his authority when ordering the closure of nonessential businesses, including fitness centers, on March 23. It also seeks relief from the executive order so Hall can open up his businesses. While announcing the lawsuit, Stanley said the doors of the gyms should “no longer be shuttered” and “need to be reopened,” The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. McDougle, who chairs the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, accused Northam of failing to isolate people infected with the virus so that Virginians could be protected “against government overreach.”
Seattle: In a historic setting, the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday while sitting alone in their separate chambers using Zoom technology in a case that seeks the release of inmates in the state’s prisons due to the coronavirus outbreak. “They don’t have the ability to keep themselves safe,” said Nicholas Straley, a lawyer representing the inmates. “They’re reliant on the state to provide them the opportunity to be safe. We can all hold out in our homes. We can decide who we allow into our homes. People in prison do not have that option.” Assistant Attorney General John Samson said the corrections department has handed out face masks, created separated sleeping space, tested 300 inmates for COVID-19 and released some offenders, but releasing thousands more could pose a threat not only to the public but also to the inmates, who could end up homeless. The court concluded the hearing without saying when it would rule on the case.
Cross Lanes: The cars snaked out of the parking lot, up the road and onto the interstate as a newly opened restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic caused quite a stir among cooped-up residents in this small town. Cook Out’s soft opening Wednesday was a smashing success. Thursday’s first full day had customers jammed three cars across to get to the drive-thru window in Cross Lanes, a community of about 10,000 that, until now, had not seen traffic like this in weeks. Residents from nearby towns who had been stuck indoors for more than a month got their reason to get outside, even in Thursday’s heavy rains. Gov. Jim Justice has ordered residents to stay home unless they have a pressing need to go somewhere. And when they do, people aren’t supposed to gather in crowds of five or more. Wednesday’s soft opening on a sunny spring day prompted a dozen people at times to stand outside the walk-up window.
Madison: Organizers of a rally against the state’s stay-at-home order said Wednesday that they’ll proceed with the event even though their permit to hold it on the grounds of the Capitol was denied. Two local sheriffs, meanwhile, cast doubt on whether they would enforce the state’s recently extended order that was designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The protest planned for Friday would be the latest in a string of events across the country against such orders that demonstrators say are damaging the economy. It has the potential to be the largest yet in Wisconsin; as of Wednesday, more than 3,300 people said on Facebook that they are going, and 12,000 were interested. The extension of the statewide stay-at-home order until May 26 has prompted the sheriffs in Racine and Polk counties to say they’re not planning heavy enforcement.
Cheyenne: The Trump administration on Thursday urged government intervention to rescue U.S. uranium mining and nuclear fuel industries in a tough global marketplace, from making it easier to mine public lands out West to blocking some imports of foreign nuclear fuel. Republican Sen. John Barrasso of the mining state of Wyoming, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said Thursday that Russia had “weaponized” its nuclear fuel to undercut uranium miners in the U.S. “The coronavirus pandemic has clearly demonstrated why America should not rely on other nations to supply critical materials. That includes uranium,” Barrasso said in a statement.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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