Montgomery: The Democratic leader in the state House of Representatives urged lawmakers to wait until summer to pass state budgets to give time to assess the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said in a news conference that it is difficult to craft a budget when the state is still trying to assess the pandemic’s impact on revenue, small businesses, schools, unemployment and other factors. “Moving forward when there are more questions than answers isn’t just illogical, it’s fiscally irresponsible and it’s just bad public policy,” Daniels said. Legislative leaders plan to resume the session on May 4. They said the priority will be passing the two state budgets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Daniels said it would be better to wait until income tax collections are received in July so the state isn’t “budgeting in the the blind.”
Anchorage: Four Alaska oil field service companies have alerted state officials that they will lay off workers at their North Slope operations after oil prices crashed and drilling activity declined because of the coronavirus pandemic. The job cuts include 63 layoffs at Baker Hughes Co., 81 at Schlumberger Technology Corp., about 80 at Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and more than 50 at the Peak Oilfield Service Co., Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Wednesday.The companies sent the layoff notices to the state officials over the past month and the most recent notice was filed Monday. The layoffs include heavy equipment operators, engineers, technicians and mechanics, the notices said. Companies providing oil field services and equipment nationwide are cutting jobs and bracing for bankruptcy filings as the pandemic delivers a devastating blow to the oil and gas industry. Baker Hughes, Schlumberger and Halliburton have dismissed workers and slashed spending at operations across the globe.
Tucson: Three truckloads carrying thousands of pounds of assorted fruits and vegetables made their way Wednesday from the U.S.-Mexico border to three Indian communities in northern Arizona to help feed families struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arizona National Guard members loaded the donated produce Wednesday morning from a warehouse in Nogales, then drove the three refrigerated trucks up north. The trio was destined for the Navajo, Hopi and White Mountain Apache tribes in northeastern Arizona. Bruce Bracker, chairman of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors in Nogales, said it’s an example of Arizona rural communities looking after one another during a trying time. Distributors of imported Mexican produce in Nogales donated the food, storage space and the refrigerated trucks to get the supplies to some of the communities hardest hit by the pandemic. The Navajo Nation, in particular, has been hit hard by the pandemic. As of Wednesday afternoon, the tribe reported at least 1,873 positive cases and 60 deaths. Although the reservation spans four states, tribal data shows that most of the cases are in Arizona. Jesse Thompson, chairman of the Navajo County Board of Supervisors, expressed his gratitude. He said the donated produce would make a big difference to members of the three tribal communities in his county.
Town: Arkansas restaurants can reopen their dining rooms starting May 11, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said as he began lifting business restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hutchinson said restaurants, which have only been allowed to sell food via carryout, curbside and delivery since March 20, will be limited to 33% occupancy and will face other social distancing restrictions. “That’s where we need to start at this particular time,” Hutchinson said. The Republican governor said the state will later raise the capacity limit to 67%. Hutchinson also announced a $15 million grant program that would help restaurants and other businesses comply with new coronavirus restrictions by paying for protective equipment, sanitizer and other expenses. By Wednesday night, the state had stopped taking applications for the grants after receiving more requests than funding available. Arkansas was one of a handful of states that didn’t issue a broad stay-at-home order, but it had other restrictions in place. Hutchinson has eased other limits in recent days, including a ban on elective surgeries and overnight camping in state parks.
Woodland: A homeless man accused of stealing a coronavirus test sample from a Northern California hospital has been rearrested days after he was released from jail under COVID-19 bail changes, authorities said. Shaun Lamar Moore, 40, of Davis was back in court Wednesday in Yolo County to face new charges of petty theft and misdemeanor sexual battery. Instead of the zero-bail amount he received the last time, the court set Moore’s bail at $10,000 and he remained jailed, the county district attorney’s office said. Moore was charged with attempted possession of a restricted biological agent, burglary and petty theft by false pretenses. It wasn’t clear whether Moore had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. Prosecutors contend that on April 11, Moore pretended to be a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employee who was picking up a biological sample believed to contain COVID-19 from Sutter Davis Hospital in Davis. The sample was awaiting testing and a California Department of Public Health courier arrived only minutes after Moore left, prosecutors said. The sealed sample was found hours later in a shopping cart at a pharmacy. It hadn’t been tampered with and was returned to the hospital, authorities said. Moore was arrested but then released without bail until a May hearing, although he had to wear a GPS monitor. On April 20, he was rearrested on suspicion of committing a petty theft in West Sacramento and sexual battery in Woodland, authorities said.
Denver: Colorado’s largest prison has become the site of the state’s largest coronavirus outbreak, with 252 people testing positive as of Wednesday at the Sterling Correctional Facility. Data updated weekly by the state health department showed that 241 inmates and 11 staff members have been confirmed to have COVID-19 at the prison with about 2,500 inmates on the state’s northeastern plains. Four of the inmates have been hospitalized, Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Annie Skinner said. The prison tested 472 inmates last week in order to isolate those who had the disease and minimize its spread. Prisoners have been kept in quarantine in their cells since April 14. Meals are delivered and they are only allowed out to use restrooms and showers, according to the department. Michelle Pemberton of the Northeast Colorado Health Department told The Denver Post that steps taken to protect prison staff have been effective. She said Sterling Regional MedCenter has a surge plan in place but has had no unusual concern about the effects it might see as a result of the outbreak at the prison. The second-largest outbreak in the state involves the JBS USA beef plant in Greeley, where 245 cases and five deaths have been reported.
Hartford: The state’s largest teacher’s union has urged Gov. Ned Lamont to be cautious before deciding whether to reopen schools this spring. Jeff Leake, the president of the Connecticut Education Association, wrote Thursday that the state must not bow to the pressure to reopen public schools and businesses prematurely. “Easing up on social distancing too quickly could be deadly,” he wrote. Before opening the schools, Leake said, the state must develop new protocols designed to keep students and teachers safe. He said those should include staggering start times, implementing new seating formats and changing the way students walk down the halls between periods. The governor’s executive order keeps schools closed through May 20. He has said he will make a decision within 10 days. “Let’s stay the course and continue to flatten the curve, saving the lives of our family members, friends, and neighbors,” Leake wrote. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Dover: A Zoom meeting that included state lawmakers from Delaware as well as members of Congress was hacked. The Delaware State News reported that the hacker displayed a racial slur as well as pornography. The virtual conference call was focused on helping black-owned businesses and organizations that receive federal money. The meeting was hosted by the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus, which is an informal panel of eight state lawmakers. The hacker scribbled a racist term and drew a swastika on the screen. U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt took over and urged participants not to let it bother them. “We rebuke hate, we know that there’s a bigger plan here, and it’s all about love and caring for each other as part of a large community,” she said. A sexually explicit image also appeared onscreen. The call hosts regained control of the call, which ended a few minutes later.
District of Columbia
Washington: Mayor Muriel Bowser said the District will get two new hospitals to “bring equity to D.C.’s health care system.” The mayor signed new funding agreements that will include the construction of the hospitals, a 136-bed facility at St. Elizabeth’s East in Ward 8, and a 225-bed Howard University Hospital on Georgia Avenue NW in Ward 1. Funding of $306–million is available for the St. Elizabeth’s hospital, which is expected to open in 2024. Through a $225 million tax abatement provided by the District, Howard University and its new operating partner Adventist Healthcare, envision a $450 million trauma and academic teaching hospital, with plans to be complete by 2026.
Key Largo: A bus driver was jailed after deputies said he chased a rider down the street and swung a metal pole at him because the rider had pulled down his coronavirus mask. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said a 21-year-old man boarded Denys Santos’ bus in Key Largo on Wednesday night, took a seat and pulled down his mask to talk on the phone. The man told deputies that as he was exiting, Santos used a metal pole to tap a sign saying masks are mandatory on the bus. After a brief argument, the man said he left the bus and was walking away when Santos began chasing him and swinging the pole at him. A witness confirmed his story, deputies said. Deputies pulled over Santos’ bus and found the pole. He was charged with felony aggravated assault and was being held Thursday at the Monroe County Jail. Court records do not indicate if he has an attorney.
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp allowed his statewide shelter-in-place order to expire at midnight Thursday but is extending his emergency powers to June 12 and telling the elderly and medically fragile to stay at home until then. The first-term Republican governor had carved sizable loopholes in his order that applied to all 10 million Georgians and signaled it would end when he allowed some businesses to reopen last week and Monday. Social distancing requirements and bans on large gatherings remain in place. Kemp told the Associated Press in a Thursday interview that he has been pleased with how his effort to reopen some businesses – among the most aggressive in the nation – has gone in the face of a continuing COVID-19 pandemic that has sickened 26,000 people in the state and killed more than 1,100. Last week, Kemp allowed elective medical procedures to resume, and barbers, hair stylists, massage therapists, tattoo artists and bowling alleys to go back to work beginning Friday. Restaurants were allowed to begin serving diners on-site again on Monday. They and other businesses are operating under restrictions meant to retard virus transmission through May 13. But Kemp’s moves drew sharp criticism from within the state and nationwide, including multiple public rebukes from President Donald Trump.
Honolulu: Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Wednesday some businesses will be allowed to restart operations beginning Friday as the city eases its emergency orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Public and private golf courses will be allowed to reopen, as long as patrons observe social distancing requirements. Car dealers would be allowed to resume operations by appointment. Pet groomers who provide service on a mobile basis and do not interact with human customers can also restart. The order will remain in effect through May 18. Caldwell said the city, the governor and the other county mayors were working to determine how to keep everyone safe. The mayor made his announcement after Gov. David Ige approved the rule changes. Ige told a news conference that officials were discussing allowing hair salons to resume operations but noted it’s a business with a high level of contact between people and thus carries a high risk of spreading the disease.
Boise: A committee helping oversee Idaho’s $1.25 billion share of the federal government’s $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package on Wednesday voted to distribute money to local governments based on population. The Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee also unanimously approved caps on how much state agencies will receive. The recommendations that add up to about $150 million now go to Republican Gov. Brad Little for his consideration. Little earlier this month formed the 14-member committee that’s headed by his budget chief, Alex Adams. The committee is planning to meet Friday to look at providing economic support for small businesses. “You’ll see us move quickly on that,” Adams said. It also is looking at using some of the money to improve broadband infrastructure to help schools with distance learning, as well as businesses that have employees working from home. Committee member Seth Grigg, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, said counties were comfortable with the population-based approach. “Cities are on board as well,” said committee member John Evans, the mayor of Garden City.
Chicago: Police officials said they will issue a citation in connection with a wedding party at a North Side residence last week that spilled into the street in violation of efforts to fight the spread of the new coronavirus. The Chicago Tribune reported a video of the April 23 party showed several dozen revelers, all white with some wearing masks, dancing to loud music before officers enforcing Illinois’ stay-at-home orders broke up the crowd. No citation was issued at the time. The announcement that a citation would be issued came two days after police ticketed the owner of the northwest side home where they broke up a large gathering of young blacks over the weekend. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday both incidents should be treated “exactly the same.” “We can’t tolerate it anywhere. It’s not just the black millennials,” Lightfoot said. ”It’s a problem wherever it rears its head.” Police didn’t explain why it was taking longer to issue a citation for the North Side party than for the weekend event. “While officers are provided with enforcement discretion in certain aspects, enforcement of the statewide stay-at-home order is expected to be universal, regardless of neighborhood, community or district,” said Chicago police spokesman Luis Agostini. Janeal Wright, 26, who threw the weekend party captured on Facebook live and prompting the ire of politicians and others, issued an apology Wednesday. He said the party was thrown to honor two friends killed in gun violence in 2018.
Indianapolis: A series of flyovers by the Indiana Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing in several central Indiana cities has been postponed to Saturday because of weather. The flyovers by four A-10 Thunderbolts are intended to salute hospitals and to lift morale during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said. The flyovers now are scheduled for downtown Terre Haute at 11:35 a.m., the Johnson Armory near Franklin at 11:50, then, minutes later, Community Hospital East, St. Vincent Hospital in Carmel, the VA Hospital and University Hospital in downtown Indianapolis, the Lawrence Armory, downtown Anderson at 12:05 p.m., then downtown Muncie, and the Marion VA hospital.
Des Moines: The Iowa Legislative Council voted unanimously Wednesday to continue the suspension of the legislative session until at least May 15. Meeting by telephone, the 24-member council agreed to reconvene at 10 a.m. May 15 unless it meets and sets a different date before then. The council, which makes rules when the legislative body is not in session, has suspended the session since March. House Speaker Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver faced questions by Democratic senators about the criteria they’re using to evaluate whether it’s safe for lawmakers to come back to the Capitol and how the public will be able to participate given the continued concerns about the virus. Whitver said leaders are talking with Gov. Kim Reynolds and state health officials to ensure it’s safe to return. Although Iowa coronavirus cases continue to rise and the state hasn’t yet reached a peak, Reynolds has begun to allow some businesses in some counties to reopen. Democratic leaders have asked that all those entering the Capitol undergo a health screening, use face coverings and hand sanitizer before entering the chamber and that social distancing be enforced. Whitver and Grassley did not commit to those requests but said safety options were under discussion.
Wichita: Spirit AeroSystems is offering voluntary layoffs to all of its union-covered technical and professional workers in Wichita as the company continues to respond to the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX and the coronavirus pandemic. It wasn’t immediately clear how many jobs will be affected by the move, which was announced in an email to employees Wednesday night, The Wichita Eagle reported. The final day of work for those who take the buyout will be no later than May 14. Last year, the employees’ union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, represented more than 1,600 technical and professional workers at Spirit, but the company has since announced several layoffs, early retirement offers and furloughs. The announcement came after Boeing said Wednesday it would cut its workforce by 10% as the demand for new airplanes continues to drop during the pandemic. Spirit spirit also is struggling because it makes about 70% of the Boeing 737 MAX, which was grounded last spring after two deadly crashes. The new voluntary layoffs are a “first step” in the company’s plans to deal with Boeing’s announcement, according to the email from Spirit CEO Tom Gentile.
Louisville: The first Saturday in May has yielded to the legs of a bunch of slowpokes: Seattle Slow headlines a field of turtles will race in the Kentucky Turtle Derby. With Old Forester bourbon signed on as a sponsor, Saturday’s race will run at 7 p.m. on YouTube.com/OldForester. The sounds might be familiar for Derby fans: Triple Crown announcer Larry Collmus is calling the race and bugler Steve Buttleman will serenade viewers before the turtles take off. The race is just one more offbeat sport that has had a moment during the coronvirus pandemic. The Derby, America’s longest continuously held sporting event, had been scheduled for May 2. It will now be run Sept. 5, kicking off Labor Day weekend. It’s the first time the Derby won’t be held on its traditional first Saturday in May since 1945, when it was run June 9. The federal government suspended horse racing nationwide for most of the first half of the year before World War II ended in early May, but not in time to hold the first leg of the Triple Crown that month. Looking for a slower substitute, the first Kentucky Turtle Derby was hatched. The event went down like this: 20 turtles were herded into seven qualifying races and the winners went on to compete in a 20-foot finale. The Kentucky Derby Museum reported that Broken Spring paid $2.50 on his victory and $8,000 was raised to support a local children’s health charity.
Central: A Louisiana police department has been bombarded by callers looking to voice their support of a pastor who was accused of attempting to hit someone with his church bus while violating a ban on mass gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic, police said Wednesday. In a Facebook post, police in the Baton Rouge suburb of Central apologized to residents who couldn’t get through to the agency. Officials said a huge amount of calls supporting Life Tabernacle Church Pastor Tony Spell have tied up the phone lines. Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran said Spell’s mother, Magi, shared the department’s phone number on social media and encouraged people to inundate the line with calls. Corcoran said the phone number is the department’s only line and residents need it to request assistance. He told residents to keep calling if they need help or, in the event of an emergency, to call 911. Spell was arrested April 21 and charged with assault after he admitted to driving his church bus toward a man protesting Spell’s decision to hold mass gatherings in defiance of public health orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Spell was placed on house arrest and on Sunday violated both orders by again holding a church service. District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office didn’t plan to pursue the matter.
Portland: A Maine company that makes specialized swabs for coronavirus testing is teaming with construction company Cianbro and Navy shipbuilder Bath Iron Works to double production, officials said Thursday. The Trump administration is providing $75.5 million to Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products through the Defense Production Act to boost production of the swabs, which are needed to ramp up testing. Cianbro is providing a building in Pittsfield and help setting up the production line, and Bath Iron Works is making 30 machines Puritan needs to increase production, company officials said. Puritan’s production will double to 40 million of the swabs per month through the partnership, said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. The effort will create as many as 150 jobs in Pittsfield on top of the 300 to 500 workers already employed by Puritan in Guilford, officials said. The swabs that are produced by Puritan for coronavirus testing are longer than most swabs and have a synthetic material on the end. They’re used for nasal swabs for tests for the coronoavirus. Puritan is one of two manufacturers in the world that make the specialized swabs in large numbers. The other is in Italy.
Baltimore: Several pounds of free frozen chicken were delivered Wednesday to residents of Baltimore’s west side by street vendors who usually sell produce from horse-drawn carts. Baltimore-based distributor Holly Poultry donated 2,000 pounds of chicken to the University of Maryland-Baltimore’s Community Engagement Center to assist residents for whom it might be difficult to go to a grocery store amid the coronavirus pandemic. The center partnered with the Southwest Baltimore’s Arabber Preservation Society to deliver the chicken door-to-door. Anthony Savoy wore blue disposable gloves and a face mask as he pulled his horse-drawn cart along streets in West Baltimore. Much like his yell when selling fruits and vegetables, Savoy’s yell cried “free chicken.” Residents at one intersection ran up to a cart and lined up while another Arabber handed out a bag of frozen chicken and a bag of hot dog buns to each person. He turned away a woman who was not wearing a mask or gloves and told the crowd everyone needed to be protected. The woman returned and chased the cart while putting on her gloves and mask before receiving the food. The university estimated the distributor’s donation will help 900 families.
Boston: Many of the protective face masks distributed by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in the fight against the new coronavirus were deficient, according to a published report. The state last week began notifying police departments, nursing homes and other recipients that recent tests by Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists revealed that some of the masks provide little protection, The Boston Globe reported Thursday. Although the tests showed some of the masks filtered out more than 90% of airborne particles, none performed as well as the U.S. industry standard N95 mask, which filters out at least 95% of airborne particles, according to the publicly posted results. One type of mask distributed by the state filtered only about 28% of airborne particles, according to the results. According to state data, all of the respirator masks distributed to public safety entities were from China and flown to the U.S. on the New England Patriots’ plane in early April. The MIT tests were performed on all China-made masks, said Sharon Torgerson, a spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center.
Detroit: A handful of loved ones in a chapel on Detroit’s west side and hundreds of mourners participating online said goodbye Thursday to the daughter of a police officer and firefighter who is Michigan’s youngest victim in the coronavirus pandemic so far. The reality of the public health crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Detroit residents was clear in the livestreamed service for 5-year-old Skylar Herbert, who died April 19 after complications from the virus. In other times, her family’s church would have been packed with mourners bidding Skylar farewell. But only about a dozen family members could be seen in the first two pews at the James H. Cole funeral home. Social distancing guidelines prevented more from attending, and each mourner wore a mask, as did the funeral home staff, the pastor and the line of flower bearers. About 800 people viewed the livestream of Skylar’s funeral as the eulogy was read. Two video screens played a montage of photos of the girl and her family to gospel music. A bouquet of pink flowers spelled out her name. After Skylar’s death, Mayor Mike Duggan called her “a real daughter of the city of Detroit.” Skylar’s mother, LaVondria Herbert, has been a Detroit police officer for 25 years, and Skylar’s father, Ebbie, a firefighter of 18 years.
Minneapolis: Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb in Minnesota, but the state is making progress toward more testing, new figures Thursday from the Minnesota Department of Health showed. The department reported 24 new deaths to raise Minnesota’s death toll to 343. A new one-day high of 492 confirmed cases pushed the state’s total to 5,136. And a daily high of 3,532 new tests brought the total to 70,276. Officials have warned that the case count will swell as testing accelerates. Gov. Tim Walz last week announced a partnership with the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic to expand the state’s testing capacity to 20,000 daily within a few weeks. The department also reported that 365 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Thursday, up 45 from Wednesday, and 130 of them were in intensive care, up 11 from the day before. Health officials said the real number of Minnesotans infected with the coronavirus is likely much higher because most people don’t get tested, and studies suggested that people can be infected without feeling sick
Jackson: Gov. Tate Reeves said he will ask state lawmakers to provide legal protection for businesses that might be sued if they reopen and customers or employees become ill with COVID-19. Reeves said he does not think he could provide liability protection through an executive order. The Legislature is scheduled to return to the Capitol on May 18 to restart its session that was put on hold in mid-March because of the pandemic. Reeves was also asked Wednesday whether Mississippi will cut off unemployment payments for people who choose not to return to work because they are concerned about contracting the highly contagious virus. The governor said he strongly encourages people to return to their jobs when possible. He noted that a federal boost to unemployment payments because of the virus expires at the end of July. Reeves said his “safer at home” order, in effect until the morning of May 11, requires people who are medically vulnerable to remain home. He said that category of people, and people 65 or older, “need to work with their employer and try to do the right thing” about deciding when to return to work.
Columbia: Advocates for state workers on Thursday called on Gov. Mike Parson to do more to protect employees from the new coronavirus. Union leaders, Democratic state lawmakers and other advocates for worker rights want no-strings-attached premium pay for workers, more N95 masks and the chance for more employees to work from home. Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for Missouri, Kansas and Iowa, said many workers are getting only cloth face masks at veterans homes and mental health centers where people have tested positive for COVID-19. “No public employee should have to give up their life to provide the service that is essential to the citizens of Missouri, or any state. Period,” Homan said. “Get the PPE equipment to those that need it, and quit calling a stupid cloth mask personal protective equipment.” A request for comment to Parson’s spokeswoman wasn’t immediately returned Thursday. Parson’s administration is offering state employees who show up for work at places where someone has tested positive for the coronavirus an additional $250 per paycheck as long as they don’t miss any days. But Democratic Rep. Keri Ingle of Lee’s Summit called that “a gesture at best.” Ingle said that policy encourages people to come to work sick. She said all state workers should be getting premium pay, and any workers who contract the virus should get two weeks of paid leave without penalty. Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel also said state employees should get free COVID-19 testing before they return to work and members of the public should have their temperatures checked before coming face-to-face with state workers.
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Great Falls: The Great Falls Public Schools Board of Trustees will be meeting at noon on Friday to make its final decisions on reopening schools, graduation and discuss other COVID-19-related board policies. The meeting was originally scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday. Friday’s meeting will not be open for in-person public participation, but can be livestreamed on the GFPS Facebook page. Public comment can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and must include the name and address of the submitter to be read and added to the public record. The complete board meeting agenda can be found online at gfps.k12.mt.us/school-board. Earlier this week, the board discussed the issue of reopening schools before the end of the school year. The district invited guests to weigh in on what steps would need to be taken in order to open schools in accordance with recommendations outlined by Gov. Steve Bullock last week. Following Bullock’s announcement of the phased reopening of the state, the school district asked parents for feedback about the school district reopening before the end of the school year. According to Superintendent Tom Moore, 5,433 parents responded to the survey and 71% indicated that they would keep their child at home and 29% said they would send their child to school. Trisha Gardner, the Cascade City-County Health Department’s health officer, told board members that Bullock’s plan recommends health screenings be performed on everyone coming into schools and that students and staff wear face masks for the duration of the day.
Dakota City: Tyson Foods said Thursday that it was temporarily suspending operations at a Nebraska beef processing plant that serves as the largest employer for neighboring Sioux City, Iowa, after a surge of coronavirus cases in the area. Tyson announced in a news release that it would close the Dakota City plant Friday through Monday to perform a deep cleaning of the facility. State health officials in recent days have reported hundreds of new coronavirus cases in Dakota County, where the plant is located, and Woodbury County in Iowa, where Sioux City is located. Tyson previously disclosed that some workers at the plant had tested positive for the virus, but it has not said how many. The Arkansas-based company said it was screening Dakota City employees for the virus this week with the help of the Nebraska National Guard. The Dakota City facility is one of the largest beef processing plants in the country, employing about 4,300 people. The move follows recent closures of other meat processing facilities across the country because of the virus, which spreads rapidly among workers who often stand shoulder-to-shoulder on production lines.
Las Vegas: Gov. Steve Sisolak is extending his directive asking people to stay at home to limit the spread of coronavirus until May 15. But he will ease restrictions on other outdoor activities and some businesses starting Friday. Sisolak’s office said Wednesday night that he would allow starting May 1 retail businesses and marijuana dispensaries to offer curbside pickup, as restaurants have been doing. He will also allow drive-in church and other religious services, as long participants stay in their cars and maintain at least 6 feet of distance from those outside their household. The governor said he was also again allowing golf courses, pickleball and tennis courts to open Friday, as long as they can do so safely. Frustrated Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Sisolak’s office Wednesday morning seeking definitive timelines for more economic activity to resume and a bipartisan task force to come up with a reopening strategy. They also want more workers hired and shifting of existing government workers to handle the crush of unemployment claims.
Concord: A cargo plane carrying more than 110,000 pounds of personal protective equipment to New Hampshire includes 4.5 million masks the state purchased for VA hospitals nationwide, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday. The shipment left Shanghai, China, on Wednesday and is expected to arrive Thursday afternoon. The masks will be sent to the VA for their distribution, said Sununu, a Republican. The VA will reimburse the state. “When VA Secretary Robert Wilkie reached out to me I knew this was a mission New Hampshire could take on,” Sununu said in a news release Thursday. “We owe those on the front lines taking care of our veterans the protection they deserve.” Wilkie said his department is proud to work with the state “as part of our ongoing effort to ensure our hospitals have access to the equipment they need to take care of our nation’s veterans.” The news release said the shipment was secured with the help of inventor Dean Kamen and others. Kamen had assisted with a previous cargo of PPE for New Hampshire.
Atlantic City: The city’s casinos are teaming with a hospital system to consult on protocols and best practices regarding the new coronavirus before the casinos reopen. No date has been set for the nine casinos to reopen. But The Casino Association of New Jersey said Wednesday it is working with AtlantiCare to share information on the virus and make recommendations, including lessons the health care system has learned in its own hospitals. Neither side gave specifics about things the casinos will do to protect guests and workers from the virus, but casino executives across the country are considering various measures including having everyone wear masks, staggering slot machines, more frequent cleaning and possibly using plexiglass barriers to enforce separation on the casino floor.
Albuquerque: The state’s largest Catholic diocese has filed a complaint against the U.S. Small Business Administration over its inability to apply for federal aid meant to help businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The Archdiocese of Santa Fe claimed the low-interest loan applications that entities must complete state those businesses involved in bankruptcy proceedings will not be approved. The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in 2018 in the wake of clergy sex abuse lawsuits that began decades earlier. The archdiocese said it’s struggling to make payroll because parishes haven’t been able to gather collections during Mass since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a public health order prohibiting gatherings. Church officials said most of their revenue comes from collections, especially during Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Archdiocese spokeswoman Celine Radigan said in a statement that the pandemic and its unknown trajectory is having a significant effect on the organization’s mission to “safeguard the sanctity of life and provide pastoral care and critical resources” to more than 90 parishes, 226 missions and 16 Catholic schools. Without access to the low-interest loans and federal aid, the archdiocese said it might be forced to furlough essential employees. Still, Archbishop John C. Wester was telling parishioners to “stay the course” and heed the advice of medical and public health experts.
New York City: The city will shut down subway service each day from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to increase cleaning of trains and stations during the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday. The announcement came two days after he called conditions in the system “disgusting.” Subway trains, which had been disinfected at least once every 72 hours, will be cleaned once every 24 hours starting May 6, Cuomo said. Buses, vans and other alternative transportation will be provided at no charge for essential workers to get around while the system is closed, he said. Cuomo said the increased cleaning is a “daunting challenge,” but vital to keeping the subways safe as it continues to be a place of high density while much of the rest of society practices social distancing. Images posted on social media in recent weeks have showed packed subway cars. Dozens of transit employees have died of the new coronavirus and the system has become a haven for homeless people during the crisis. Subway ridership has plunged by 92% since the start of the pandemic, and most of the people commuting are health care workers, first responders and other front-line workers who’ve been keeping the city running. The cleaning shutdown affects the slowest part of the day for the subway system, in terms of ridership. Around 10,000 people ride the system during that period of time, Cuomo said. Commuter trains serving Long Island and the city’s northern suburbs will also be disinfected every 24 hours, he said.
Raleigh: College students in North Carolina are suing universities in hopes of getting reimbursements for tuition and fees after campuses shut down and moved classes online during the coronavirus pandemic. The Raleigh News & Observer reported Tuesday that the institutions that are being sued include schools in the University of North Carolina system. Students said in the lawsuits that universities made the right decision to shut down classes. But they claim that they were deprived of a college experience that includes in-person instruction, access to campus facilities and student activities. East Carolina University and UNC-Asheville said they are aware of the complaint and declined to comment on pending litigation. UNC System spokesman Josh Ellis and a UNC-Charlotte spokesperson also declined to comment. The UNC System has started to distribute prorated reimbursements for unused housing and dining services.
Bismarck: The North Dakota Highway Patrol said it will increase patrols to catch intoxicated drivers after most restrictions are lifted on bars, restaurants and other businesses. Troopers said in a statement the increased patrols would run Friday through Sunday and are being done “to remove impaired drivers from the road.” Gov Doug Burgum intends to lift restrictions on most businesses beginning Friday, saying the state has made significant progress to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Columbus: Two prison employees and 27 Ohio prison inmates have died from COVID-19, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. A total of 3,890 inmates have tested positive, but the prisons agency has only conducted universal testing at three facilities to date, leaving actual positive cases up in the air. Correctional officers are being pushed to the brink, working multiple stretches of 16-hour shifts with many colleagues out sick and getting by with the bare minimum of personal protective equipment, especially masks, said Brian Miller, a guard at hard-hit Marion Correctional Institution who is out recovering from COVID-19. The prisons agency has two medical units in Columbus, including one at the Ohio State medical center, and guards there are overwhelmed as their numbers shrink even as the ranks of sick inmates needing treatment soar, said Michael Rider, a guard at the Ohio State facility and the Franklin Medical Center. Prisons director Annette Chambers-Smith said the system started planning for a pandemic after the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, when she was the department’s health director. Once the coronavirus hit, the system prohibited prison visitors early on, stopped movement between prisons, took measures to produce and acquire personal protective equipment, and stepped up sanitation measures, among many efforts.
Oklahoma City: Some Oklahoma businesses remain closed out of fear of being exposed to the new coronavirus, despite being allowed to reopen. Businesses such as barber shops, hair and nail salons, and spas began reopening April 24 in many cities. Gov. Kevin Stitt said they could resume business as long as they followed social distancing and sanitation guidelines. But massage therapist Syd Lowery in Norman said she will remain closed. “It’s a little terrifying to be honest. I work for myself, I go to peoples’ homes. … I don’t think we’re ready to reopen,” Lowery said, adding that massage therapy is “the opposite of social distancing.” In Oklahoma City, Zio’s Italian Kitchen will reopen it’s in-house service on Friday, in accordance with the governor’s guidelines, said Jennifer Holliday, a manager at the venue. Holliday said she has no fear of being exposed through contact with customers. She believes she had the virus in February, though it was not confirmed. “I feel maybe I’ve got some antibodies built up … but it’s my job, I’ve got to do it,” Holliday said.
Eugene: University of Oregon President Michael Schill said leaders are making plans to bring students back to campus after spring and summer terms are conducted online to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Register-Guard reported. “I want to let you all know that we fully intend and are currently planning to be open for in-person, on-campus instruction this fall,” Schill said. He noted there remain many variables to COVID-19 outside of university control, but leaders are making adjustments with the guidance of public health officials. The plans also will comply with Gov. Kate Brown’s framework for reopening establishments throughout Oregon, Schill said. Deans and other administrators of schools and colleges are considering changes such as altering class schedules, reducing class sizes, changing room assignments for more distance and expanding online classes. Schill also noted areas of financial concern for the university, including early projections of low enrollment, and how COVID-19 could affect state funding for universities. Some ideas already circulated include a temporary pay reduction program for employees, which will continue to be discussed with employee groups, Schill said.
Harrisburg: More than 30 Pennsylvania hospitals got $324 million in emergency state aid to help support them during the early stages of the pandemic, the Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Thursday. Hospitals lost revenue as they canceled elective surgeries and appointments, while also spending enormously to get ready for a surge in coronavirus patients.The state’s Hospital Emergency Loan Program, or HELP, is providing hospitals with short-term low-interest aid diverted from unused funds originally set aside for water and sewer infrastructure projects. The money is expected to be repaid, with interest, by the end of September after hospitals receive federal aid authorized in legislation signed a month ago by President Donald Trump.
Providence: Rhode Island’s famous Big Blue Bug has donned a face mask to pay tribute to health care workers and others on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. The painted mask on Nibbles Woodaway, the giant blue termite that overlooks Interstate 95 in Providence and serves as the mascot of pest control company Big Blue Bug Solutions, is also a reminder for everyone to wear a mask in public, company officials said. “This is our way of thanking the incredible work being done every day by front-line workers of all kinds, delivering goods and services, keeping us well, and putting their lives on the line every day for us,” CEO Brian Goldman said in a news release.
Columbia: As parts of the state begin to reopen to commerce and recreation, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott is praising Gov. Henry McMaster’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, measures that have been met with criticism from both sides of the political aisle. “I think his slow progress in trying to find a way to open South Carolina’s economy is consistent with the president’s,” Scott said Thursday during a Facebook live conversation about the state’s business community. “I think the governor has handled this entire crisis really well.” Since beginning a stair-step economic shutdown as the new coronavirus spread in March, McMaster has repeatedly stressed his desire for a swift, yet safe, financial reopening, noting the severe toll the outbreak has had on individual workers and businesses. Hotels can start reopening Friday, and the Myrtle Beach City Council passed rules prohibiting more than one person or family to an elevator and requiring the cleaning of often touched surfaces like stair rails and doorknobs once an hour. The state’s most visited beach will only allow hotels to honor previously made reservations until May 15, when they can start accepting new reservations. Last week, McMaster announced his plans to begin scaling South Carolina’s economy back up, convening a task force set up to advise him on next steps and allowing businesses previously deemed nonessential – department stores, flea markets, florists, bookstores and music shops – to reopen.
Sioux Falls: Several organizations representing South Dakota meatpacking plant workers have signed onto a letter asking Gov. Kristi Noem to meet with representatives of plant workers before Smithfield Foods reopens its Sioux Falls plant. Noem discussed the meatpacking plant’s role in South Dakota, its shutdown and CDC recommendations with Smithfield officials over the last month as a coronavirus outbreak of more than 800 workers occurred at the plant, which has been closed for two weeks. President Donald Trump ordered beef, pork and poultry processing plants to remain open on Tuesday under the Defense Production Act. The move came amid worries of a national meat shortage caused by plants shutting down across the country because of coronavirus outbreaks. The letter, which was sent to Noem’s office on Thursday, asked Noem to meet with representatives of the immigrants and refugee community, as well as workers at Smithfield, before the plant reopens. Representatives said they want to discuss workers’ concerns about “dangerous working conditions” inside the plant and how to protect workers during the pandemic. The letter was signed by 10 organizations and 43 individuals, including state representatives from Rapid City, Pierre and Dell Rapids. Noem said she has seen the letter and is looking into how to facilitate the request.
Nashville: Williamson Medical Center announced plans to resume performing elective surgeries on May 4. The announcement is in response to Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to lift the suspension of elective surgeries previously in place to conserve resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. Elective procedures will reopen in accordance to guidelines provided by the Tennessee Hospital Association. To minimize exposure to the virus, the hospital will screen all elective surgery patients preoperatively. If patients are exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they will be asked to reschedule their procedure. Any essential caregiver accompanying a patient will also undergo the screening process. The hospital said will continue it’s no-visitor policy with limited exceptions determined on a case-by-case basis and will also continue to evaluate all who enter the hospital.
Houston: Oil field services giant Halliburton has closed down two sites in Texas and laid off 240 employees in Oklahoma in response to reduced customer activity because of plummeting oil prices. Halliburton closed its Elmendorf facility and is relocating operations to field camps in southern Texas. The Houston-based company is also closing a Kilgore center and moving operations to Bossier City, Louisiana. The number of people laid off at the Elmendorf location was not immediately available. But a Texas Workforce Commission notice said 233 workers have been laid off at the Kilgore facility. The closures and layoffs are the result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has cut global demand for oil and gas marking a historic industry downturn. On Tuesday, Halliburton laid off 240 employees from a service center in Duncan, Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development. The company laid off 350 personnel at the same facility earlier this month. Halliburton reported losing $1 billion during the first quarter and laying off 5,000 people. The company has laid off nearly 1,500 employees from Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Louisiana in April, filings with state officials show.
Salt Lake City: A federal judge ordered a Utah man to stop selling silver products marketed as cures for the new coronavirus. U.S. District Judge David Barlow issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday against 60-year-old Gordon Pedersen and his companies, My Doctor Suggests LLC and GP Silver LLC, The Deseret News reported. U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber filed a civil complaint against Pedersen on Monday, saying he fraudulently markets silver products as a cure for COVID-19. “The defendants have made a wide variety of false and misleading claims touting silver products as a preventative for COVID-19,” a statement from Huber’s office said. The misrepresentations include claims that “having silver in the bloodstream will ‘usher’ any coronavirus out of the body and that ‘it has been proven that alkaline structured silver will destroy all forms of viruses, (and) it will protect people from the coronavirus,’ ” the statement said. Pedersen and his companies have promoted silver products as a treatment for various diseases including arthritis, diabetes, influenza, and pneumonia since about 2014, the civil complaint said. Prosecutors said in court documents that prices on the My Doctor Suggests website go up to $299.95 for a gallon of the silver solution, a mix of water, extract from silver wire and sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda. Court documents did not list an attorney for Pederson and he did not immediately return an email message from the Associated Press seeking comment.
Montpelier: The state will continue monitoring some traffic at its borders to see how many out-of-state vehicles are entering the state amid the coronavirus outbreak, though it is scaling back the effort. The monitoring started on April 1, with 38 high-priority border crossings staffed, the Bennington Banner reported. As of Tuesday, the number had dropped to 30 monitored border crossings with Canada, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts. At first, Vermont Department of Transportation employees were monitoring traffic 24 hours a day, in 12-hour shifts, said Bonnie Davis, one of those workers. The shifts have been reduced to seven hours, she said this week. The data collected can be used to help determine the effect of measures to slow the spread of the virus, Gov. Phil Scott said. A “number of people” had complained that out-of-state travelers were flooding Vermont, Scott said. Since the monitoring started, the state has seen consistent travel patterns, and nothing to indicated upticks or less compliance with the stay-home order or the travel advisory, Scott’s spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley said in an email on Thursday. That led the governor to scale back the program, she said.
Falls Church: A judge rejected a petition from a gym owner who sought to reopen his facilities despite an executive order requiring the closure of fitness centers and other nonessential businesses. At a hearing conducted by telephone, Circuit Court Judge Claude Worrell said Virginia law gives the governor broad authority to issue executive orders during a public health emergency like the one caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Merrill Hall, who owns a chain of Gold’s Gym franchises and other gyms, sued Gov. Ralph Northam in Culpeper County Circuit Court. He said the governor exceeded his authority and that the closures have him on the brink of financial ruin. Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens argued that Northam’s orders are reasonable considering the public health threat, and that more than 40 other states have acted similarly with regard to fitness centers. Attorney General Mark Herring, whose office defended the governor in the case, said he will continue to support “the Governor’s targeted, effective measures to slow the spread of the virus.” The case is one of several in recent weeks challenging various aspects of Northam’s executive orders shutting down activity in the state to slow the spread of the virus.
Wallula: A Tyson Fresh Meats beef plant near the Tri-Cities will remain closed for a while longer as county health officials await test results on all of the approximately 1,400 workers. Walla Walla County health officials reported Wednesday afternoon the coronavirus test results are still pending. “Once the test results are received, positive cases will be handled by the county in which the employee resides,” said the agency, according to the Tri-City Herald. As of Wednesday, 130 people – employees and others linked to the plant outbreak – have tested positive. They include 120 residents of Benton or Franklin counties, nine in Walla Walla County and one in Umatilla County in Oregon. One Tyson worker, a 60-year-old butcher who lived in the Tri-Cities, has died
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday said he is lifting the statewide stay-home order next week as part of his plan to ease coronavirus restrictions. The Republican said a new rule will go into effect Monday encouraging people to stay home but not requiring them to do so. The move coincides with the reopening of small businesses, outdoor dining at restaurants and barbers on Monday. The governor is pressing forward with an aggressive reopening plan unveiled earlier this week, though he has loosened his testing benchmark without explanation. Justice has based his plan on having the state remain under a 3% positive test rate for three days, reversing a previous goal of having new cases decline for two straight weeks. Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, has said he wanted the two-week benchmark. A White House guideline for states also pushed a two-week criteria.
Madison: Wisconsin’s powerful chamber of commerce urged legislators Thursday to adopt its business reopening plan, telling an Assembly committee that Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order is crushing the economy and that the state has the coronavirus under control. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Executive Vice President Scott Manley told the Assembly’s Republican-controlled state affairs committee that unemployment is skyrocketing and hospitals haven’t experienced an expected surge in coronavirus patients. Some areas of northern Wisconsin haven’t seen any infections. “The economic impact of shutting down our economy and keeping it shut down has been absolutely devastating, and it’s getting worse every day,” Manley said. Committee Democrats complained that Republicans orchestrated the hearing, extending invitations to speak only to business representatives and ignoring workers and health care officials. Rep. Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee said the plan appears designed to reduce unemployment rolls by giving people jobs knowing they won’t go to work because they’re too scared of the virus. Evers’ stay-at-home order is set to expire on May 26 but Republicans are growing impatient as the economy flounders. They’ve asked the state Supreme Court to strike the order down; a ruling that could come any day.
Casper: Travel and tourism experts in Wyoming have estimated a $1 million loss in lodging tax revenue by the end of next year as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered travel plans across the country. The Natrona County Travel and Tourism Board was offered the estimate as one of three predictions for the county’s future tourism industry based on previous years data, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. Brook Kaufman, who leads Visit Casper, the marketing and promotion entity of the board, provided the board a worst, a moderate and a best-case scenario for the next fiscal year. In the worst-case model, the tourism agency could see a $1 million shortfall with an average hotel occupancy of no more than 40% before May 2021, at least 25% less than is considered for a normal summer, Kaufman said. In the best-case model, the county would lose $500,000.
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