Montgomery: Auburn University said a number of students are quarantined after four COVID-19 cases were reported in a campus residence hall and a fraternity house, a university spokesman said Wednesday. “Auburn is aware of multiple students who have tested positive for COVID-19 in a campus residence hall and a fraternity house. The university has taken immediate action to quarantine the impacted students and is going above and beyond all guidance from public health officials,” spokesman Preston Sparks wrote in an email to the Associated Press. Sparks in a follow-up email said it involved four COVID-19 cases. The school did not name the fraternity or dorm. The university said that 32 students and eight employees tested positive for COVID-19 last week. Sparks said the students will remain quarantined until each has received medical clearance. The students will complete coursework remotely while quarantined. Auburn has about 30,000 students on its main campus. The university is requiring face coverings, both indoors and outdoors on campus, and has taken other steps to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Anchorage: The University of Alaska Anchorage will drop its men’s hockey program and three other sports next year because of significant reductions in state funding, the university said Wednesday. The school also will cut men’s and women’s skiing and women’s gymnastics. The moves will save about $2.5 million a year, chancellor Cathy Sandeen said. “This comes at a difficult time as they are already facing much uncertainty surrounding this year’s season due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sandeen said. The Seawolves will go from sponsoring 13 sports to nine. The hockey team began play in 1979. The ski program dates to 1970, and the Seawolves have had nine skiers win national championships. About 55 athletes, seven coaches and two athletic department staff members are impacted. Travel to the Lower 48 states for competitions exacerbated the athletic department’s financial woes. Recent budget issues made the situation untenable.
Phoenix: Arizona’s downward trend of coronavirus cases means parts of the state could meet all three metrics the state’s health and education departments set for at least a partial reopening of schools by Labor Day, according to a former state health director. And bars and nightclubs in at least some counties could meet the parameters for reopening shortly after that, according to Will Humble, who now leads the Arizona Public Health Association. But caution is the word of the day, according to Humble and Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the ASU Biodesign Institute, which has been tracking the virus in Arizona. “Arizona continues on what I would consider a positive trend, a good trend for us,” LaBaer said Wednesday at his weekly media briefing. Humble credited local government officials for requiring masks and gives the Republican governor credit for closing bars. The third element in the case drop, he believes, is some level of so-called “herd immunity” that came from lots of people being infected.
Little Rock: Arkansas is seeking $300 in additional weekly federal unemployment benefits, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday as the state reported 729 new confirmed coronavirus cases. Hutchinson said the state is submitting its application to the federal government for the unemployment extension. He said state lawmakers are also reviewing the request. Arkansas is the latest state to seek the extended benefits under an executive order issued by President Donald Trump this month. Congress approved payments of $600 a week at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, but those benefits expired Aug. 1 and Congress has been unable to agree on an extension. Hutchinson opted against seeking $400 in weekly benefits, which would have required the state to pay a quarter of the cost. Hutchinson has said that would cost $265 million and would require tapping into coronavirus relief money the state has received that’s already been allocated for other programs.
Los Angeles: Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that he authorized shutting off utility services at a home in the Hollywood Hills that has been the site of raucous parties despite a ban on large gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. “Despite several warnings, this house has turned into a nightclub in the hills, hosting large gatherings in flagrant violation of our public health orders,” Garcetti said. “The city has now disconnected utilities at this home to stop these parties that endanger our community.” The city did not identify the home’s address or the owner. Garcetti announced earlier this month that he would ask the city’s Department of Water and Power to shut off service to houses and businesses hosting parties. With bars closed in town, large house parties can become “superspreaders” of COVID-19, Garcetti said. The announcement came days after an Aug. 3 party at a mansion where hundreds of people gathered without masks or social distancing. The party ended in a shooting that killed a woman and wounded two other people.
Pueblo: With the looming start of the 2020 Colorado State Fair, Pueblo County’s COVID-19 testing site will be temporarily relocated. The Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment said the site will move while the expo is in session, and an announcement about where the new site will be will be made soon. The site will be moved from Monday through Sept. 9, according to the health department. Testing will remain from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The testing site is expected to move back to the fairgrounds once the state fair has ended. The site opened in April and 8,652 tests have been conducted there. There have been a total of 14,369 COVID-19 tests completed in Pueblo County to date. The fair runs from Aug. 28-31.
Storrs: University of Connecticut officials have evicted several students from on-campus housing after learning of a crowded dormitory room party with no mask-wearing or social distancing, which violated the school’s coronavirus rules. School officials notified the campus community of the disciplinary actions and investigations in a letter Tuesday night. Students began returning to campus Aug. 14, all were tested for the virus and all were supposed to limit their contact with others during their first 14 days back on campus. Video of the party was posted on social media. “Students were not wearing masks, closely assembled, and endangering not only their own health and well-being, but that of others at a time when UConn is working to protect our community and resume classes in the context of a deadly global pandemic,” said the letter sent by Eleanor Daugherty, associate vice president and dean of students, and Pamela Schipani, executive director of residential life. Temporary disciplinary action was taken against an undisclosed number of students and they were removed from student housing pending a school investigation, they said. Many colleges have changed course and moved all undergraduate classes online as schools struggle to contain outbreaks and students continue to gather in large groups without masks or social distancing. UConn officials, however, said there is no outbreak at the Storrs campus and the students’ actions were not representative of the entire student body, most of which has been following the coronavirus protocols. About 5,000 students are on campus.
Wilmington: Delaware and New Castle County are giving out $100 million in grants for small businesses and nonprofits in the state. The program known as DE Relief Grants, which was announced on Wednesday afternoon, will provide grants ranging from $30,000 to $100,000 to 3,000 small businesses and nonprofits, according to a news release from Gov. John Carney’s office. Organizations can use the money to buy equipment such as PPE, air purifiers or plexiglass to make the workplace safer during the COVID-19 pandemic; refinance debt incurred because of COVID-19, including the state’s HELP loans; advertise efforts undertaken as a result of COVID-19; and fix expenses accrued during COVID-19. The size of the grant will depend on the organization’s 2019 revenue. The Division of Small Business is administering the program and will start accepting applications in early September at business.delaware.gov/relief.
District of Columbia
Washington: As of Wednesday, 600 people have died from COVID-19 in the District of Columbia, WUSA-TV reported. The District reported 29 new cases of the coronavirus – its lowest daily number of cases since July 4. D.C. health has now reported successfully contact tracing more than 90% of new coronavirus cases for 60 consecutive days.
Tallahassee: With more than 28% of Florida voters casting ballots, Tuesday’s pandemic-shaded elections drew the largest state primary turnout in 18 years – setting the stage for what could be another record in November. The primary can prove a tough sell to voters, but almost 3.9 million cast ballots in the primary – almost 1 million more than during 2016 presidential year. The turnout also was the largest in a presidential year Florida primary since 1992, when 35% of voters cast ballots. About 1.1 million people voted at the polls on Tuesday.Much of the primary turnout increase was powered by the 2.3 million vote-by-mail ballots submitted, which represented about 59% of all votes cast.
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp defended his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in fiery remarks Wednesday after a report from the White House coronavirus task force said Georgia led the nation last week in new cases per capita. The White House report, dated Sunday, recommends several steps to curb the virus that Kemp has declined to take, including closing bars and issuing mask mandates in counties with 50 or more active cases. Kemp was among the first governors to ease earlier restrictions this spring, and although infections declined for weeks afterward, they began to rise in June and peaked in late July. First reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the report said “Georgia’s small gains are fragile and statewide progress will require continued, expanded, and stronger mitigation efforts, including in all open schools.” Kemp insisted Wednesday that other markers he’s watching paint a different picture. The report from the White House coronavirus task force says that last week Georgia had 216 new cases per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 112 new cases per 100,000 residents. State health officials say more than 243,000 people in Georgia have contracted the virus and at least 4,849 people have died from COVID-19.
Honolulu: The Hawaii attorney general’s office denies threatening a Republican state House of Representatives candidate with arrest for violating a traveler quarantine mandated to protect the islands from the spread of the coronavirus. Lori Ford was in California visiting family when Hawaii’s 14-day quarantine on arriving travelers went into effect in March. She returned in May to file candidacy papers and then returned to California. Agents from the Hawaii attorney general’s office contacted her and told her she would be arrested for violating the quarantine, Ford and her attorney Bilal Essayli said. Because of that threat, she remains in California. “Our office has communicated with Ms. Ford’s attorney, and we informed him that if Ms. Ford were charged, we would contact him so he could assist her in receiving the Complaint and a penal summons to appear in court,” Krishna Jayaram, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said in a statement. “These communications did not contemplate or threaten Ms. Ford with arrest should she return to Hawaii.” Ford said she didn’t attempt to seek an exemption to the quarantine so that she could file her candidacy papers. Essayli said she was required to appear in person at the elections office by June 2. However, Nedielyn Bueno of the state Office of Elections said Wednesday a candidate is not required to file candidacy papers in person. “Candidates may have a representative deliver or submit the required documents by mail,” she said. Authorities have routinely arrested tourists and returning residents for violating the quarantine.
Boise: Gov. Brad Little on Wednesday called the part-time Legislature back into a special session because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Republican governor in a news release said the special session will start Monday. He said lawmakers will consider election law changes as well as establishing temporary civil liability standards related to the pandemic. Lawmakers meeting in special working groups comprised of senators and representatives from both parties have been calling for a special session to address those two issues. Election officials have testified before those lawmakers that polling places for the November election could be limited because of a lack of volunteers afraid of getting the virus and some facilities declining to be polling places. That has led to suggestions of polling centers with expanded voting times as well as using National Guard soldiers at polling places. Election officials have also sought changes in the absentee ballot system to make vote counting more efficient due to possibly much larger numbers of absentee ballots. Another group of lawmakers said that a liability shield law is needed to protect government, schools and private businesses from frivolous lawsuits. Lawmakers said that if someone gets the virus at a school or workplace, they could file a lawsuit. But others said such a liability shield would remove responsibility from businesses, schools and government.
Chicago: Gov. J.B. Pritzker touted a University of Illinois saliva test on Wednesday as a potential “game changer” in the fight against COVID-19. The test, which involves spitting into a test tube, can offer results in hours and is expected to cost about $10. The university has performed more than 50,000 tests since making it available at no cost to faculty, staff and students last month. University officials said Wednesday that the test had become the latest to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The university expects to test up to 20,000 students at a day when the fall semester begins next week and students will be required to be tested twice a week. Pritzker said there are possibilities for the tests to be used statewide, particularly for K-12 schools. “If ongoing research continues to yield positive results, this has potentially game-changing implications for our statewide testing complex as well as for testing on a national level,” Pritzker said. “The potential here is enormous.”
Indianapolis: State officials are working to develop a public website that will track the number of coronavirus cases among students, teacher and other employees at Indiana’s K-12 schools. Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said her goal was to have the website available by mid- to late September and that the information would broken down by individual school. The public tracking system is being developed as school districts across the state have struggled with reopening decisions. Gov. Eric Holcomb and state health officials have declined to set benchmarks for the circumstances when schools should close their doors to students. Several of the state’s largest school districts have started the academic year with only online classes. Some opened with in-person classes only to backtrack after facing coronavirus cases.
Coralville: An increase in coronavirus cases prompted Iowa prison officials on Wednesday to stop admitting inmates from county jails to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Coralville. The Department of Corrections said 59 inmates tested positive in the last week out of nearly 800 tests conducted at the center. When officials believe the virus is no longer spreading in the facility, it will end the suspension. Staff implemented enhanced quarantine and testing measures after an inmate tested positive for the coronavirus last week. Inmates typically are temporarily assigned to the center before being sent to another prison in Iowa’s system. The Coralville center usually admits about 65 inmates a week from jails.
Lawrence: University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod is seeking permission to obtain a $20 million, short-term line of credit in case the coronavirus pandemic significantly modifies the 2020 football and basketball seasons. The Lawrence Journal-World reported that Girod said in an email calling an emergency meeting of the governing board that oversees Kansas Athletics that the line of credit is just to provide “emergency liquidity.” Girod said the credit would also allow Kansas athletics to continue its operations in such a scenario without having to ask the university for financial assistance. The university is facing a budgeting shortfall of at least $120 million on its own during the current fiscal year. The meeting will take place through a group email, with the results of each board member’s vote made public. Votes must be submitted by 5 p.m. Friday. Girod, as chairman of the board, also requested that members give University of Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long permission to refinance nearly $30 million in outstanding bond debt. If board members allow Long to undertake the financial restructuring, both the refinanced bond debt and emergency line of credit will be up for a final discussion and vote at the board’s September meeting.
Frankfort: Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has ruled that the state cannot force religious schools to close as long as they are following health recommendations put in place to protect against the coronavirus. Cameron wrote in the Wednesday opinion that a forced closure of religious schools by Gov. Andy Beshear would violate the U.S. Constitution and state law, news outlets reported. When asked about the opinion, Beshear said Wednesday that “nobody is trying to close any school that is complying with guidelines and preventing outbreaks.” “I don’t know where that came from,” the Courier-Journal quoted him as saying. Republican state Sen. Wil Schroder requested the opinion, according to the ruling. Cameron said in a statement that religious schools were protected by the Constitution, even during the pandemic. “Religiously affiliated schools are an important extension of faith for many Kentucky families, and the state cannot prevent them from operating so long as necessary health precautions are observed,” according to the statement. The opinion comes after Beshear recommended Kentucky schools begin the year with online learning until Sept. 28 to give more time to bring a recent surge in virus cases under control. The Archdiocese of Louisville and other religious schools, as well as some public districts, have decided to move ahead with or have already begun reopening for in-person classes, the newspaper said. Others have said they plan to start virtually.
Baton Rouge: As college students return to campus, Gov. John Bel Edwards is urging them to take precautions against the coronavirus, worried the schools could undercut recent progress the state has made in fighting the pandemic. Louisiana continued Wednesday to have one of the nation’s highest per capita virus infection rates in recent weeks. But the average number of new confirmed cases per day has fallen by more than 50% over the past 14 days, to about 1,000. The number of people hospitalized with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus also has significantly declined. But elementary and secondary schools started opening this month, and move-in days began last week at Louisiana’s universities, raising fears of a new spike in COVID-19 just as the state is making strides to contain its second surge of the disease. “This is going to be a lot more movement, a lot more activity and people coming into contact with one another than we have seen on our campuses since March … so we have to be especially vigilant right now,” Edwards said. Louisiana’s universities are planning to hold classes through a mix of in-person and online learning, with a wary eye toward the experiences in other states. Edwards is asking college students to wear masks as the state requires, maintain social distancing and to “think twice about going” to a party or event if it will be packed with people not following those rules.
Portland: The largest school district in Maine has approved a plan for the upcoming school year that will mix in-person learning with remote instruction. The Portland Board of Public Education unanimously approved the proposal on Wednesday. The school year will begin on Sept. 14. The proposal calls for elementary students to return to school full-time on Oct. 13. The possibility of more in-person learning for middle-schoolers is scheduled to be reassessed after the first trimester, school officials said. The plan also calls for students in grades 10 through 12 to take courses remotely four days a week and receive in-person instruction in a learning center one day a week. District officials said they hope to “maximize in-person learning time for students in grades 10-12 starting in October.” The district has more than 6,700 students.
Towson: Multiple Maryland inmates have filed federal lawsuits alleging a leak spilled sewage into cells for days and that rules meant to protect against the coronavirus are being repeatedly ignored in state facilities. Baltimore County inmates Keith Wiggins and Reginald Dorsey said in separate complaints filed last week in U.S. District Court that they were forced to sit in dirty jails without running water for at least four days in April, The Baltimore Sun reported Thursday, citing the lawsuits.The men said staff members were slow in responding, and when they did, they shut off the water in the cells and kept inmates locked inside. The allegations join those that were contained in several other federal complaints recently filed against the Baltimore County Detention Center. Inmates are seeking damages and asking the court to address what they said are chronic health and safety issues, as well as repeated violations of coronavirus guidelines. Another inmate, Renardo Whitehead, alleged in a separate federal lawsuit that he asked for a coronavirus test several times and was denied. He added that staff has ignored social distancing orders, allowing groups of nearly 20 people to congregate. Other inmates accused prison officials of failing to provide proper access to protective equipment and overlooking mask mandates. The Director of the Baltimore County Department of Corrections contended the department has been following safety measures.
Boston: Ten people who work at a Massachusetts courthouse have tested positive for the coronavirus, and the building will remain closed until further notice, according to a court official. In addition to the 10 employees at New Bedford District Court who tested positive, 25 have tested negative for the disease and additional test results are pending, trial court spokeswoman Jennifer Donahue told The Standard-Times. The facility closed for cleaning and disinfecting last week after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Donahue said in an email Wednesday that court officials do not yet have a reopening date for the public. “The Trial Court is analyzing the protocol in response to this situation and working with the Department of Public Health,” she said, “There are still virtual hearings going on, and in-person matters for New Bedford are currently taking place in Fall River.”
Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Wednesday that her administration is assessing the risk of reopening Michigan businesses that have been closed for five months under her orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus, saying she will have more to say next week. Movie theaters, gyms and indoor pools are among the places that remain barred from operating in much of the state amid the pandemic. The Democratic governor told reporters her office is working with the state health department to “drill down” into businesses that are closed, “where we can do another assessment on risk mitigation and determine if we might consider making some improvements in the policy.” Whitmer said other states have taken “bad” steps that “we don’t want to do,” but there are “perhaps some things that they have done and been successful.” She has come under criticism from the owners of theaters and fitness clubs – which are now open with capacity restrictions in many other states – for letting Detroit casinos reopen at 15% capacity about two weeks ago while keeping their businesses shut except in northern counties. Other closed operations including amusement parks, arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, indoor climbing centers, indoor dance areas, skating rinks, trampoline parks, water parks and other similar recreational or entertainment facilities.
St. Paul: Minnesota’s unemployment rate fell to 7.7% in July from 8.6% a month earlier, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development said Thursday, but cautioned that job growth is slowing as the coronavirus pandemic persists. The agency said Minnesota added 32,500 payroll jobs in July on a seasonally adjusted basis, while the U.S. added 1.8 million jobs in July. The U.S. unemployment rate was 10.2% for July, down from 11.1% in June. “We’re moving in the right direction, but job growth is slowing, a sign that this recovery will likely take some time,” DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said in a statement. Minnesota’s unemployment rate was 2.9% before the pandemic struck, according to the department’s revised figures. Some groups of Minnesotans have been more affected more than than others during the pandemic. Based on six-month moving averages, the agency said, unemployment for Black Minnesotans was 15.3% in July, up 9 percentage points from 6.3% one year ago. For Hispanic Minnesotans, unemployment was 8.6% in July, double the rate from July 2019. White Minnesotans had a jobless rate of 6.3% in July, up from 3.1% one year ago. Seasonally adjusted job gains in July were led by the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 17,200, or 9.8%.
Jackson: Outbreaks of the new coronavirus have been found at two of Mississippi’s eight public universities within the first days of students returning to campuses, the state health officer said Wednesday. Dr. Thomas Dobbs said cases at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and Mississippi University for Women in Columbus appear to have originated off-campus. The University of Mississippi said in a memo Wednesday that 13 student-athletes and one employee had tested positive for COVID-19. The memo said 11 of the athletes are on the same team, but it did not name the sport. “These individuals were tested earlier this week as part of a mass screening for student-athletes returning to campus and were instructed to quarantine until test results were received,” the memo said. Mississippi University for Women said on its website Wednesday that seven students had reported testing positive for the virus since Friday, and each had been on campus within a week before the diagnosis. Dobbs said some of the Mississippi University for Women cases can be traced to the Cotton District in Starkville, an area with restaurants and bars that are popular with students from MUW and Mississippi State University.
St. Louis: A businessman who went to prison in June after pleading guilty in a pay-to-play scandal that brought down a top St. Louis County elected official has asked to be released because he has the coronavirus. John Rallo, 55, asked a federal judge to allow him to serve some of his 17-month prison sentence under home confinement with family in Salt Lake City because of health concerns, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Rallo pleaded guilty last summer to three bribery counts as part of a scheme involving former Democratic St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who pleaded guilty in May 2019 to corruption charges for providing political favors in exchange for campaign donations. Stenger is serving a sentence of nearly four years in prison. Rallo was sentenced in early March but his date to report to prison was pushed to late June because of the pandemic. In an Aug. 11 letter to U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber, Rallo wrote that his cellmate, Taiwan Davis, died after contracting COVID-19. Rallo’s attorney, Curtis Poore, told the newspaper that Rallo tested positive for the virus on Aug. 2, and that he has been very ill and is still having difficulty breathing. He said Rallo has a compromised immune system because he has thyroid cancer and a blood disorder. “No one deserves to be put in harms way and exposed to COVID-19 as I have been for the last several weeks,” Rallo wrote in his handwritten letter to the judge.
Billings: Visitation to Yellowstone National Park has increased substantially despite the coronavirus pandemic, park officials said. Visitation rates were higher in July than they were in the same month last year. This comes after the park’s overall visits had been down 49% from last year through the end of June. The park’s visitation rates were down 32% in June compared to the same month last year. The park hosted 955,645 people in July, up about 2% from July 2019. The influx of visitors occurred despite the fact that campsites and hotels inside Yellowstone have drastically reduced their capacity. Just over 1,000 campsites have been used inside Yellowstone this summer, compared with more than 57,000 last year. Park-operated campgrounds have seen 198,500 people this year compared with 380,900 last year. Concession lodging was down 84% from last year, with 72,700 this year and 465,000 in 2019. Backcountry camping in the national park was down by half. Visitors have used surrounding national forest campgrounds or lodging in bordering gateway communities for shelter instead, The Billings Gazette reported. Grand Teton National Park just to the south of Yellowstone also experienced a 3% increase in July visitors. “We are seeing visitors from all 50 states,” said Wendy Swenson, marketing director for the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce, who added that most visitors are from Idaho, California and Utah. Yellowstone was closed in full from March to May as a result of the pandemic. Its two Wyoming entrances reopened its doors on May 18. The park’s three Montana entrances followed suit on June 1.
Omaha: Thirty-five confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Omaha-area schools in the early weeks of the school year, Douglas County health director Adi Pour said. Seventeen students and 18 school staff members have tested positive as of Tuesday night, Pour said Wednesday. Another 152 students, staff and faculty who had close contact with those who are ill were in quarantine, The Omaha World-Herald reported. Pour told the Douglas County Board of Health she was surprised more cases haven’t been confirmed but attributed that in part to the Omaha Public Schools teaching only remote classes for the first quarter. Positive cases have been confirmed at the Millard, Gretna and Ralston school districts in recent days, she said. County health department employees and experts from the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center are working with schools to respond to the coronavirus.
Las Vegas: A veteran Las Vegas police lieutenant who died from complications of COVID-19 was remembered Wednesday for his police career and for leading a program supporting families of officers injured or killed in the line of duty. Departmental honors for Lt. Erik Lloyd included a vehicle procession on area freeways and the Las Vegas Strip, and a memorial at a church in suburban Henderson. Lloyd, 53, died July 29 at a hospital in Las Vegas in what Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo classified as the line of duty. Lloyd was a police officer for nearly 30 years and was president of the Injured Officers Police Fund for 16 years. He and his wife, Minddie Lloyd, coordinated support for wounded officers and their families. They recently organized a fundraiser for Officer Shay Mikalonis, who is being treated for paralysis after he was shot June 1 during a protest on the Las Vegas Strip. Lloyd was a married father of two with five grandchildren. He was originally from Downey, California, and became a patrol officer in Las Vegas in September 1990. He became a narcotics detective and served in roles in internal affairs, counter-terrorism and use-of-force investigations.
Concord: Communities can require that voters and poll workers wear face coverings on Election Day to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to state officials. Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and Secretary of State Bill Gardner released a 10-page document Wednesday with guidance for the Sept. 8 primary and Nov. 3 general election. They said they agreed with town moderators that decisions about mask requirements should be made locally given the wide variation in the size of polling places, expected volume of voters and other factors. Communities that require face coverings for voters must, however, provide alternatives for those who can’t or won’t comply, the officials said. Although the officials said they believe towns likewise have the right to require poll workers to wear masks, they also highlighted the “risk of a legal challenge” and urged local officials to consult their attorneys. They noted that some voters might feel uncomfortable encountering unmasked poll workers, and that it might be hard to attract sufficient workers without a mandate. The guidance also clarifies issues around absentee voting, which has been temporarily expanded to allow the coronavirus pandemic as a reason for voting absentee. Municipalities can set up drop boxes to collect absentee ballots from those who don’t mail their ballots – both before Election Day and on Election Day – but the boxes must be staffed by election workers.
Trenton: The agency that oversees high school sports in New Jersey has decided that indoor fall sports will be delayed until early next year, but outdoor sports will start their seasons in about a month. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Sports Advisory Task Force released its “Return to Sports Plan” on Thursday. It features condensed schedules and will keep most contests local. The plan also prohibits out-of-state competition except for “exceptional circumstances” and states postseason play will be limited and local, with no statewide championships. Under the plan, outdoor fall sports – football, cross country, field hockey, girls tennis and soccer – will begin practice on Sept. 14. The girls tennis season will start two weeks later, while cross country, field hockey and soccer will begin competition on Oct. 1. Opening day for football will be Oct. 2. The indoor fall sports – gymnastics and girls volleyball – will be moved to a new, special season that will begin with practices on Feb. 16. They will start their seasons on March 3. The task force noted that if circumstances force the outdoor fall sports to be postponed, their seasons will also be played during this “special season” time frame. Winter sports teams will be allowed to start practicing on Dec. 3, with competition commencing on Dec. 21.
Albuquerque: The Albuquerque Public Schools Board voted to extend online instruction through the end of the first semester. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had said classes would take place remotely until at least Sept. 7. The public schools board conducted a survey sent out to all 59,000 parents that said 56.3% of the nearly 14,000 who responded said they were “very uncomfortable” with their children returning to school in person. About 61% of parents who responded said that sending their children back to school in person was an “unnecessary risk.” That same survey found about 29% of the responding parents are thinking about transferring their children to a school that is teaching in-person and just over 34% are thinking about switching their children to home schooling. About 10% have transferred their children’s schools, and just below 12% have switched their children to home schooling. Three public schools in the jurisdiction have had positive cases of the coronavirus. East San Jose Elementary has seen two cases and Hawthorne Elementary and Hayes Middle School have had one each. All three schools are closed.
Albany: Gov. Andrew Cuomo dismissed concerns that his state’s coronavirus death toll in nursing homes could be a significant undercount, saying it makes sense to include only those residents who died on the home’s property. Unlike the federal government and every other state with major outbreaks, only New York explicitly said that it counts just residents who died on nursing home property and not those who were transported to hospitals and died there. “If you die in the nursing home, it’s a nursing home death. If you die in the hospital, it’s called a hospital death,” the Democratic governor said Wednesday during an interview on Albany public radio station WAMC. “It doesn’t say where were you before.” Cuomo said if New York were to count a death as a nursing home death and a hospital death, that could lead to a “double count.” “And if I’m a nursing home operator, I say: ‘Don’t say that person died in my nursing home, because they didn’t,’ ” Cuomo said. “‘They died in the hospital. And if the hospital did a better job, they wouldn’t have died. So why do I get the blame for the death when it didn’t happen in my nursing home?’ So it depends on how you want to argue it.” Some New York lawmakers have accused Cuomo’s administration of refusing to divulge the complete count to make it appear that his state is doing better than others on the nursing home crisis and make a tragic situation less dire.
Raleigh: Certain touch-screen ballot-marking machines will remain in use in North Carolina this fall, a judge ruled in a case in which voters questioned the equipment’s accuracy and health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state NAACP joined the four voters who demanded in April that the ExpressVote machines – already used in roughly 20 of the state’s 100 counties since last year– be barred from future elections. They wanted hand-marked paper ballots used instead. But Wake County Superior Court Judge Rebecca Holt rejected their request, saying no tabulation errors have been reported since the machines were first used last fall. There’s also no evidence their use will increase the likelihood of the virus’s spread, especially with cleaning guidelines issued by the State Board of Elections, Holt wrote. The names of the voters’ choices are printed on the ballot by the ExpressVote machine. They correspond with bar code data that’s also printed on the same ballot and tallied by a separate counting machine.
Bismarck: Gerald VandeWalle, North Dakota’s longest-serving Supreme Court justice, is expected to be released from a hospital this week, where he has been recovering from COVID-19. VandeWalle, who has been on the court for 42 years, has been hospitalized at Sanford Health in Bismarck since Aug. 3. The 87-year-old justice said the virus has been much more debilitating than a typical cold or flu. VandeWalle told the Bismarck Tribune that he lost a lot of his strength while being confined to his room. He said he has been keeping up with his work on the court, reading emails and printed briefs and drafting opinions. But VandeWalle said he hasn’t been able to communicate as well with his law clerks and four fellow justices. VandeWalle said he isn’t sure how he contracted COVID-19. He had been working from the state Capitol amid the pandemic and has worn a mask and gloves while shopping.
Middletown: A 9-year-old girl who fought brain inflammation, COVID-19 and body paralysis for nearly three months died Wednesday, according to the family’s online fundraiser. Dorielis Reyes-Paula, a fourth-grade student, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on May 10 after her mother Doranny Escolastico noticed her walking strangely and dragging one foot. Doctors found brain inflammation during an MRI scan. She was sent home with medication and returned to the hospital on July 19 after suffering from severe headaches and having an epileptic seizure. She also lost her ability to walk. Dorielis continued to get sicker while doctors at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital tried to figure out what was causing the brain inflammation, speech impairment and paralysis. During her stay at the hospital, she endured several biopsies, MRIs, blood tests, and treatments. At one point, the doctors tested her blood to see if cancer was causing the illness. Escolastico said her oxygen levels constantly fluctuated. Escolastico, a single mother of four, started a GoFundMe fundraiser to help cover bills and purchase household items for her other children. To date, the account has raised more than $19,000. The goal was $15,000.
Stillwater: Mayor Will Joyce has signed an emergency proclamation limiting the number of people in bars and requiring people to be seated in order to be served after videos emerged last weekend of packed bars in the city that’s home to Oklahoma State University. The proclamation signed Wednesday closed dance floors and requires tables to be 6 feet apart and all customers to wear masks except while eating or drinking. All employees – including musicians and disc jockeys – must also wear masks. Bars are limited to 50% of maximum capacity or the maximum number of customers possible under the distancing guidelines, whichever is fewer people. The order took effect immediately and is set to expire Nov. 30. Meanwhile, one of the headliners at a three-day music festival in Stillwater called “Weedstock” canceled his appearance after testing positive for the coronavirus. Musician Parker McCollum said on Twitter that he had no symptoms. Stillwater’s mayor has expressed concern about the event, which was set to start Thursday, but he said the venue, Tumbleweed, is outside the city limits. A Tumbleweed official did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment and a recorded message said the venue follows U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that include masking, social distancing and personal hygiene.
Salem: Democratic and Republican lawmakers lawmakers said county governments should directly receive tens of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds rather than having the state government funnel them to communities. The Legislature has debated how to spend $1.4 billion in COVID-19 money for months, but last week more than half of Oregon’s lawmakers signed a bipartisan letter – addressed to Gov. Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland – requesting a $200 million payout that they said had been promised to local governments. “By keeping a disproportionate amount of the funds, the state has created inadequate resource distribution with significant statewide inequities in the amount of aid provided to local governments to help their communities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter, signed by 47 of 90 lawmakers, read. The bipartisan letter specified that according to United States Federal Treasury guidelines, 45% of the funds must be given to local government – about $625 million.
Harrisburg: Republican-sponsored legislation that would give Pennsylvania school districts the final say over whether to hold sports and other activities during the pandemic cleared a House committee Thursday, a day before the governing body for interscholastic sports was to decide the fate of the fall season. With dozens of parents, students and coaches staging a “Let Our Kids Play in PA” rally on the steps of the Capitol in Harrisburg, the House Education Committee passed a bill that would give “exclusive authority” to public and private schools to make decisions on sports, and require them to develop safety protocols. Majority Republicans in the Legislature introduced the legislation after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf issued a “strong recommendation” that all youth athletics be canceled until 2021 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Wolf and his administration have repeatedly said the decision on whether to hold fall sports rests with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and individual school boards. Some districts and leagues have canceled fall sports, saying the risk of spreading the virus is too great, and others plan to play if they get the PIAA’s blessing. Several Pennsylvania high schools have already reported virus cases among athletes, prompting temporary shutdowns of sports programs. The bill passed the committee largely along party lines, though it attracted the support of two Democrats. The PIAA had been making plans to start the season as scheduled when the Wolf administration recommended Aug. 6 that scholastic and recreational youth sports be put off until January.
Providence: Rhode Island’s slow recovery from the economic shutdown prompted by the coronavirus continued last month as the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 11.2% and the economy added nearly 14,000 jobs, the state Department of Labor and Training said Thursday. The July unemployment rate was down 1.4 percentage points from the revised June rate of 12.6%. The rate in July 2019 was 3.6%. The national unemployment rate was 10.2% in July, down from 11.1% the previous month. With the addition of 13,800 jobs in July, the state has recovered more than half of the 98,100 jobs lost in March and April when the economic shutdown meant to control the spread of the virus took effect, the department said. The accommodation and food services sector accounted for about 4,000 of the jobs added July as full service and limited-service restaurants steadily continued to add employment to their payrolls, the department said. The health care and social assistance sector, which includes dentist’s offices, added about 1,600 jobs in the month.
Columbia: The University of South Carolina is joining a handful of universities nationwide to implement saliva tests for COVID-19, as part of its plan to reopen for classes this week. The tests will be free for students, faculty and staff on the school’s Columbia campus, the university said in a news release Tuesday. The tests, which require a spit sample, are an alternative to nasal swab tests and typically deliver results within 24 hours. The implementation of the tests comes amid the university’s attempt to hold classes, which are set to begin Thursday, in person. Other higher education institutions in the state, including Clemson University and the College of Charleston, are delaying the start of in-person teaching because of the pandemic. The University of South Carolina is now the only school in the state to receive state certification for the saliva tests, and one of a handful of universities nationwide approved for the tests. The school said West Columbia-based Nephron Pharmaceuticals donated 50,000 sample tubes and a robot for processing samples.
Sioux Falls: State health officials warned Thursday that a number of people who attended the 10-day Sturgis Motorcycle Rally this month, including some who came from out of state, have come down with COVID-19. Department of Health officials did not give an exact number of attendees who tested positive, but they said it was below 25. The rally, which ended Sunday, brought hundreds of thousands of people from far and wide to the city in the western part of the state. Even before it kicked off, some locals and officials expressed concern that COVID-19 could spread rapidly at the rally and that it would be hard to track attendees who got infected before heading home. The state’s health department has received reports from other states that people who traveled from the rally have tested positive, state epidemiologist Josh Clayton said. Contact tracers have been able to work with most people to determine who they were around and might have infected. But the health department has issued public warnings for two bars in the region because they were not able to track all of the people at the bars who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Sturgis is planning to conduct mass testing of its residents next week to stem a possible outbreak of infections from the rally.
Nashville: State authorities cannot pursue perjury charges against voters who seek mail ballots by concluding on their own that they, or someone in their care, have a health condition that increases their risk for COVID-19, an attorney for the state said in court Thursday. The comment by Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter came during questioning by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle as the state and the groups that sued over absentee ballot access continued to argue about transparency in the state’s vote-by-mail eligibility parameters. Earlier this month, Tennessee’s Supreme Court sided with the state by overturning a vote-by-mail option ordered by Lyle for all eligible voters. Afterward, the state removed mentions of COVID-19 from the absentee ballot application. The plaintiffs argued the form doesn’t follow the Supreme Court’s order, which requires instructions for people with underlying health conditions to vote by mail. The state counters that underlying conditions are mentioned on its website and it has sent out news releases to publicize the change, which requires voters to check existing boxes on the form for either illness or caretaking. The state did change its form in another way. A new section on the absentee application offers a reward of up to $1,000 for reporting voter fraud that leads to a conviction. Additionally, the absentee application continues to requires voters to attest to the information they provide under the penalty of perjury.
Austin: Texas on Thursday joined the growing list of states that will pursue President Donald Trump’s plan to offer a stripped-down boost in unemployment benefits to millions of Americans amid the coronavirus pandemic. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced that Texas will apply for federal grants allowing the state to increase unemployment checks by $300. An Associated Press survey found that as of Thursday, at least 25 states have said they intend to pursue the money while two states, Mississippi and South Dakota, have said they won’t. Abbott previously was noncommittal about whether Texas would accept the money while expressing optimism that Trump and Congress would reach a deal on a broader new coronavirus relief plan. People out of work had been receiving an extra federally funded $600 a week, but the boost expired at the end of July. The president signed an executive order on Aug. 8 to extend the added weekly benefit, but cut it to $300 or $400 a week, depending on which plan governors choose. “The Lost Wage Assistance program will provide crucial financial support to Texans who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Abbott said in a statement.
Salt Lake City: Utah overhauled crisis guidelines Thursday that could have put people with disabilities at the back of the line if hospitals become overwhelmed during the coronavirus pandemic, adopting a new plan that federal officials said should serve as a national model for removing bias from life-or-death decisions. The changes settle a complaint from disability advocates and set a new standard for other states in removing bias from making potentially agonizing decisions, said Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “When the going gets tough you don’t throw the most vulnerable overboard,” he said. Utah was one of several states facing complaints over state guidelines meant to help doctors and nurses making life-or-death decisions about who gets care if faced with a nightmare scenario like a shortage of ventilators. Advocates said the criteria devalued older people and those with disabilities, putting their lives at risk in worst-case scenarios. Complaints have also been filed in places like Kansas, Washington state and Oklahoma. Five states have settled so far.
Montpelier: Federal coronavirus relief funding is now available to Vermont farmers, sugar makers, meat processors and agricultural food and forest products businesses to help cover losses and costs related to the pandemic. A total of $8.5 million in grants is available and will be distributed to applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. The deadline to apply for the Agriculture and Working Lands Assistance Application is Oct. 1. “Farmers have not stopped working since the pandemic and are providing us with food but many of their markets were disrupted, creating economic hardship,” said Gov. Phil Scott in a written statement. “These grants are intended to alleviate losses and added expenses due to the impacts of COVID.” Applicants are advised to complete a W-9 form and collect records of losses and costs since March 1 that are related to the public health emergency. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture will hold webinars on the application process, with the first one happening at noon Friday.
Hopewell: A prison staff union representative said nearly a third of inmates at a federal correction facility in Virginia have tested positive for the coronavirus. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Wednesday that the outbreak is at the Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg complex. It includes a work camp, as well as a low- and medium-security prisons in Prince George County. Michael A. Castelle Sr., a union representative for the facility’s prison staff, shared an email with the newspaper from a prison official that said that 60 of 187 inmates are currently positive for the virus. The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on specifics. Emery Nelson, a bureau spokesperson, told the newspaper that all of its institutions “have areas set aside for quarantine and isolation. Inmates are treated at the institution unless medical staff determine they require hospitalization.” Nelson added that all inmates are managed per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The Bureau of Prisons has reported that 1,378 federal inmates and 592 staff have currently tested positive for the virus across the country.
Spokane: Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday updated his coronavirus proclamation so that it requires agricultural employers to test their workforce broadly when health officials identify an outbreak that passes certain thresholds. Since the governor first issued his proclamation on May 28, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Washington has increased from 21,138 to 67,721, an average of more than 500 new cases per day. Many of the new cases are appearing at farms and food-packing facilities, where employees often work, travel, and live together in close contact. “From the data, we know that people of color have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, and while we have much work to do to address that, this is one step in the right direction,” Inslee said. In addition, Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman ordered Gebbers Farms, located in Okanogan County, to test all its employees in coming weeks. Gebbers Farms has suffered a significant outbreak of COVID-19, including the deaths of three employees. “We call upon all agricultural employers to join us in proactively safeguarding against workplace outbreaks,” Inslee said. “When employers are unable to do so on their own, local health jurisdictions and state Department of Health will be ready to intervene.”
Charleston: A child has a rare, serious immune system condition associated with the coronavirus, health officials said Thursday. The Department of Health and Human Resources said the child was the first in the state to be diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 570 children in the U.S. have contracted the condition and 10 have died. “This development is an unfortunate reminder that COVID-19 does not just affect the elderly,” Dr. Ayne Amjad, the state’s health officer, said in a news release. “We must continue to be diligent in our efforts to protect each other by social distancing, wearing masks in public and following all recommendations of local, state and federal health experts.” Forty other states had reported similar cases from mid-February to mid-July. The CDC said a study found many of the patients with the condition had severe complications, including inflammation of the heart, shock and kidney damage. Nearly two-thirds of the cases overall were admitted to intensive care units, and the average ICU stay was five days.
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Green Bay: Fifty-seven people have tested positive for the coronavirus at the Green Bay Correctional Institution, according to state officials. All of the prisoners who have tested positive are being isolated and anyone who was exposed is being quarantined, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections said. All inmates and staff at the prison are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 with the help of the National Guard. “As we’ve all learned about COVID-19, due to asymptomatic cases, mass testing is the only way for us to identify all persons in our care infected and isolate them from the uninfected,” DOC Secretary Kevin Carr said in a statement. Three staff members are among the 57 positive cases, the State Journal reported. Corrections officials completed a mass testing of inmates and staff at each of its 37 prison facilities at the end of July and just nine people tested positive. Green Bay prison staff have been required to wear masks, except while eating or drinking or while alone in an office, DOC said. Inmates are required to wear masks in common spaces. The only other major outbreak DOC has reported in a Wisconsin prison was at the Waupun Correctional Institution in May and early June, when there were 228 positive COVID-19 cases. among prisoners. All since recovered from the virus.
Casper: The total number of coronavirus cases in Wyoming grew by 67 on Wednesday, with the number of confirmed cases rising by 59, the Casper Star-Tribune reported, according to the Wyoming Department of Health’s daily update. The newly confirmed cases come from Albany, Campbell, Carbon (eight), Converse, Crook (two), Fremont (14), Goshen, Laramie (six), Natrona (two), Park (four), Sheridan (nine), Sublette, Sweetwater (six), Teton, Uinta and Washakie (two) counties. The 59 confirmed cases are tied for the fourth-most announced in a single day in Wyoming, and the 67 total cases are the third-most.
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