Montgomery Public Schools board Vice President Claudia Mitchell and board President Clare Weil speak during a protest at the MPS central office in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, which was the first day of in-person classes after nine weeks of virtual learning because of the coronavirus. (Photo: Jake Crandall/ Advertiser)
Montgomery: Thousands of students across the state who’ve spent the coronavirus pandemic in virtual classrooms are returning to traditional instruction despite safety concerns and continuing school shutdowns linked to COVID-19. Schools in Jefferson County began allowing elementary students to return to class full time Monday, and additional systems that have offered online classes will reopen buildings on a full-time basis through next week. Walter Gonsoulin, the Jefferson County superintendent, said the system planned to stay open unless there is a state or national mandate requiring a shutdown. As public schools reopened Tuesday in Montgomery, a group of teachers and school workers who contend the system lacks an adequate safety plan held a small protest outside the central office. In Tuscaloosa, where classes resume Monday, social distancing won’t always be possible, spokeswoman Lesley Bruinton told WBMA-TV.
Juneau: The state Supreme Court on Monday affirmed a lower court ruling eliminating witness requirements for absentee ballots for the general election. Last week, Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby ruled enforcement of the witness requirements during the coronavirus pandemic “impermissibly burdens the right to vote.” She waited to put the order into effect, to allow the high court to weigh in. Laura Fox, an attorney for the state, had asked the Alaska Supreme Court to keep in place the witness requirements, arguing that a change in rules, when voting is already underway, “will cause confusion and distrust.” “This is telling the voters, yeah, we know you have all of these printed materials saying that you have to do it one way but … just ignore that,” she said. Justice Susan Carney responded: “Isn’t that the message, ‘Ignore it?’ How hard is that?”
Phoenix: Recent updates showed a decline in new coronavirus cases at Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University as of Monday. Meanwhile, Grand Canyon University continued to see cases rise since resuming in-person classes last month. ASU reported 63 new cases among students and two new cases among employees within the past week. Data reflects a 2.4% positivity rate since Aug. 1. A positivity rate of 5% is considered a good benchmark that the spread is under control. GCU reports a total of 70 COVID-19 cases within the past two weeks, with 66 students and four employees. Northern Arizona University reported 79 active cases among its on- and off-campus students as of Friday, a decrease of 48 cases from last week. Data shows a steady decrease in positive COVID-19 tests at the University of Arizona and a 0.5% positivity rate.
Little Rock: The number of coronavirus patients in the state’s hospitals has once again hit a record high, with 608 people hospitalized Monday, health officials said. Hospitalizations increased Monday by 32, topping the record high set Sunday of 576. Hospitalizations from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, had also reached record levels Tuesday through Friday of last week. “Our hospitalizations continue to be at a high level. This puts stress on our health care workers. While we have sufficient bed capacity in our hospitals, this does strain the system,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday. “This is why we need to work together to reduce our cases and reduce our hospitalizations.” The Arkansas Department of Health said as of Monday, there were 2,579 beds available in hospitals across the state. Health officials said 123 intensive care unit beds were available.
Palm Springs: Riverside County will remain in the red tier this week despite the fact that its COVID-19 metrics continued to worsen for the second week in a row and, under the state’s rules, qualified for a move back to the most strict level of California’s reopening plan. Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s Health and Human Services secretary, said the state has been tracking two large counties – Riverside and Fresno – that did not meet red tier requirements last week, opening them up to a potential regression within the state’s color-coded, four-tier framework. While Fresno County improved and met the threshold this week, allowing it to stay in the red tier, Riverside County continued to worsen. However, the state is not immediately forcing Riverside County back into the purple tier.
Denver: Gov. Jared Polis extended the statewide executive order he initially issued in July requiring mask-wearing indoors in an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The extension of the order includes an amendment in which waivers for certain indoor activities that take place for a limited time period may be granted if such activities cannot practically or safely be performed while wearing a mask. The governor’s office said the waiver will be limited, and a form to apply will be made available by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in the near future. After being reluctant to do so, Polis initially issued the executive order mandating indoor mask-wearing July 16 after a post-Fourth of July spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations occurred statewide. That surge calmed back down shortly thereafter, but another spike is being seen now.
Norwich: More than 400 nurses at a hospital began a two-day strike Tuesday over what union leaders called low wages and struggles to get enough personal protective equipment. Dozens of nurses hit the picket line outside the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich in rainy weather and held signs saying “Nurses on strike for unfair labor practice” and “PPE over profits.” The strike comes amid a breakdown in contract talks between the nurses’ union and hospital management, as well as rising coronavirus cases in Norwich and other eastern Connecticut communities. The Backus Federation of Nurses, AFT Local 5149, and hospital management have been in contract negotiations since June. Unionized nurses voted to authorize a strike last month. Donna Handley, president of Backus and Windham hospitals, said in a statement that Backus will remain open and called the strike “heartbreaking.”
Dover: The state has announced two new deaths related to COVID-19. The Delaware State News reports the state’s total number of deaths is now 656. The Delaware Division of Public Health said the two most recent deaths were in Kent County and New Castle County. One of the people who died was 64 years old. The other was 99. Both people had underlying health conditions. And one was a resident of a long-term care facility, which have seen more than half of the state’s COVID-related deaths. Meanwhile, the state’s seven-day rolling average for people testing positive has stayed on a downward trend. The seven-day rolling average for percent positive is 5.5%. Delaware has recorded 22,289 positive cases. There have been 291,992 negative cases. COVID-19 hospitalizations sit at 105. About a quarter of those are considered critical.
District of Columbia
A student works in class at Meridien Public Charter School, in Washington. Several D.C. charter schools have been doing in-person teaching for small groups of students. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP)
Washington: Returning to school in the nation’s capital during the pandemic has proven to be an ongoing experiment in learning. Tall, three-sided partitions were set up at Meridian Charter School to protect students against COVID-19 – until administrators learned that the enclosures wouldn’t do much to prevent spread of the virus. Now the cardboard is optional, but more than half the students still use them as personalized organizers, taping up calendars, decorations and schedules. “It’s all a learning experience, and it’s all playing out in real time,” said Matt McCrea, Meridian’s head of school. While most of Washington’s 52,000 public school kids are dealing with computer screens and Zoom rooms in a remote learning environment, about a dozen charter schools have essentially chosen to become medical-educational experiments, offering in-person instruction for select groups of students. Smaller and more nimble than the D.C. Public Schools system, the charters have been able to adapt and modify practices on the fly, trading information and pushing the limits of pandemic-era education. “This is our attempt to redesign school,” said Myron Long, executive director of the Social Justice School, which is offering in-person instruction to about 15 of its 50 total students. ”Our size is our best asset.”
Tallahassee: Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, hospitalized last week after contracting COVID-19, says he is feeling better and hopes to go home soon. Bowden, 90, said Monday that “I am doing good. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts, I really do.” Bowden was hospitalized last week in Tallahassee after contracting the virus. He said he has been able to walk around his hospital room. Bowden recently spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and rehab after contracting a leg infection. Bowden said the virus hit him hard. “You get fever, you get frustrated, you don’t feel good, and you wonder if you were able to get up,” Bowden said. “But now that’s behind me.” Bowden coached Florida State for 34 years, retiring after the 2009 season. He is second on the career victories list in major college football with 357, behind only the late Joe Paterno of Penn State.
Atlanta: During their first debate, Democrat Jon Ossoff hammered Sen. David Perdue on his response to the coronavirus pandemic, while the Republican incumbent accused Ossoff of backing a “radical socialist agenda” – an assertion he sometimes backed with false claims. The two rivals in the hotly contested Senate race had few kind words for each other Monday. Perdue called Ossoff “desperate,” and Ossoff said his opponent is so deeply entrenched in the “swamp” of Washington insiders that he lacks empathy for the problems everyday Americans are facing because of the pandemic. Ossoff said the senator has downplayed the risk of COVID-19, compared it to the common flu and enabled President Donald Trump “in a pandemic response that everybody from all parties knows has been a disaster.” Perdue swung back, calling Ossoff’s remarks “idle chatter.”
Honolulu: Demand for bigger homes, reduced inventory and low interest rates have helped Oahu’s housing market set a price record for a second straight month. The median sale price for previously owned single-family homes rose to $880,000 in September, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. A Honolulu Board of Realtors report said the increased price point as of last Tuesday was 13% above the high figure of $777,000 a year ago. The previous record mark set in August was $839,000, which was $4,000 above the high point of $835,000 in July 2019. Some real estate agents said extended government emergency orders aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus have caused many people to spend more time living and working at home, prompting purchases of larger accommodations.
Boise: People who had their coronavirus relief checks wrongly denied or seized because they were behind bars now have a few more days to apply to receive the money. The Internal Revenue Service has extended the application deadline 15 days to Oct. 30 in response to a Sept. 24 ruling by a federal judge who said the payments couldn’t be denied based solely on someone’s incarceration status. That has prison officials scrambling to make sure incarcerated people know they can qualify for the funds. In Idaho earlier this year, the payments were taken away from 48 inmates and returned to the federal agency, said Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray. Now, after receiving new instructions from the IRS late Thursday night, prison officials are working to help those inmates and others get access to the money again and notified them via the prison’s inmate email system.
Macomb: Two Western Illinois University housing officers have been recognized by an international organization for their efforts in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Jessica Butcher and Bridget McCormick were recognized by the “Heroes Program” of the Association of College and University Housing Officers – International. Butcher, assistant director of residence life, revamped training for complex directors, assistant complex directors and resident assistants for the fall semester, according to the university. She is often wearing personal protective gear for intake and transportation of students who have to go into quarantine and isolation after exposure to the highly contagious coronavirus. McCormick is director of residential administration. She worked to readjust hundreds of room assignments for the fall semester as students chose whether to attend class in person or online. She is also doing COVID-19 case management and room assignments for students who test positive. Butcher and McCormick are both members of the university’s “All Hands on Deck” team to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Indianapolis: Health officials on Tuesday added 27 more coronavirus-related deaths to the state’s pandemic toll as its COVID-19 hospitalizations and rates of new infections continue sharp increases. The 1,288 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Monday marked the ninth straight day topping 1,000 after not reaching that high since the end of May, the Indiana State Department of Health reported. Such hospitalizations have grown 70% in the past three weeks, after Gov. Eric Holcomb decided to lift nearly all of Indiana’s restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes that he had imposed to slow the coronavirus spread while keeping the statewide mask mandate. The newly recorded deaths raise the state’s death toll to 3,822, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases, according to the health department. That’s an increase of 111 deaths in the past week. Holcomb faces a decision this week on extending the mask order, which is set to expire Saturday.
People walk along Washington Street during the coronavirus pandemic Saturday in downtown Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo: Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen)
Des Moines: The state passed the milestone of 100,000 coronavirus cases Monday and is on pace for a record number of new cases in October, state data shows. As of 10 a.m. Monday, 100,052 Iowans had tested positive for the coronavirus. Of those, 1,464 have died from COVID-19, the respiratory disease the virus causes. In terms of new cases, September was the state’s worst month since the pandemic began, with 23,842 new cases, nearly a quarter of the state’s count so far, the state’s data shows. It’s still early in October, but on its current trajectory, October’s total will surpass September’s. Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, who retired in 2018 after serving 24 years as Iowa’s state epidemiologist, is concerned about what will happen as cold weather limits people’s opportunity to be outdoors, including to eat or exercise. The virus spreads much more easily indoors, especially when windows are shut to keep out the cold, she said.
Lawrence: Even as the state recorded another record spike in COVID-19 cases, local health officials were hit with a lawsuit over an emergency health order that limits bar hours in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Rita “Peach” Madl, the owner of The Sandbar near the University of Kansas campus, is asking to be freed from rules requiring establishments with liquor licenses to stop serving alcohol by 11 p.m. and shut their doors to in-person clientele by midnight. A previous order required establishments to stop selling alcohol even earlier, The Kansas City Star reports. The Kansas Justice Institute, which helped file the lawsuit Friday, issued a news release Monday claiming the county order “disregards Constitutional rights such as due process and equal protection.” News of the lawsuit came as the state saw an average of 736 new cases for the seven days ending Monday, or 9.8% higher than the previous record.
Frankfort: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s opponent accused him of failing the country with the lack of another coronavirus relief package, while the Republican incumbent described himself as a powerful advocate for Kentucky, in a hard-hitting televised debate Monday evening. In their first and potentially only debate of the campaign, McConnell and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath sparred over the federal response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Supreme Court nomination fight and the Republican incumbent’s decadeslong record. McGrath, a retired Marine combat pilot, was aggressive in blaming the senator for Congress’ inability to secure another round of federal relief for a pandemic-battered economy, calling it a “dereliction of duty.” McConnell blamed congressional Democrats for the stalemated negotiations.
Baton Rouge: Grants offered by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s nonprofit organization to run elections during the coronavirus pandemic have drawn the ire of state Attorney General Jeff Landry and are prompting efforts to rewrite Louisiana law. After Landry learned of the grant offer, the Republican official warned local election officials – registrars of voters, clerks of court and others – not to pursue the money. He’s working with state House GOP leader Blake Miguez to outlaw the ability for Louisiana officials to use such grants for elections. And Landry is asking a court to declare the arrangement illegal under current law. The Advocate reports the nonprofit handing out the money across the nation, the Center for Tech and Civic Life, said 26 election officials across Louisiana applied for grants, with a total potential amount of about $7.8 million. Now, all those applications have been withdrawn after Landry’s intervention.
Jenzy Guzman wears a mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus while making deliveries to restaurants in the Old Port on Tuesday in Portland, Maine. (Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/AP)
Portland: Businesses are dealing with a new set of guidelines designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus in preparation for the cold winter months. The state has increased its limit on indoor seating to either 50% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less, according to the office of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills. The outdoor gathering limit remains 100 people, the office said. The state has also said indoor service at bars may resume Nov. 2. The new rules also slightly relax the face-covering requirements for businesses such as spas and tattoo parlors. Another 26 coronavirus cases have been reported in the state, the Maine Center for Disease Control reported Tuesday. That brings the total number of coronavirus cases in Maine to 5,780, while the number of deaths was unchanged at 143, officials said. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine was about 36, about four more than it was a week ago.
Berlin: Very few positive developments have come from COVID-19, but new data suggests the pandemic could be a reason why Maryland state parks and Assateague Island National Seashore have shattered their previous attendance records. Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday that 17.1 million people have visited the state’s parks this year, which broke the previous record set in 2019 of 14.9 million, according to a press release from the governor’s office. In July alone, 3.4 million visitors went to Maryland state parks, 1.4 million more than in 2019, Hogan said. Maryland state parks also set a new record for how many times they had to close due to reaching maximum capacity, Hogan said. State parks have had to close 260 times this year due to capacity limits, well above Maryland’s 10-year average of 79 closures per year and more than double the state’s previous record.
Boston: Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a new $171 million initiative Monday that he said will help tenants and landlords cope with the fiscal challenges of the coronavirus epidemic. The goal of the initiative is to keep tenants in their homes and ease the ongoing expenses of landlords once the state’s pause on evictions and foreclosures expires Saturday, Baker said in a press release. Baker said the plan was developed by a team assembled by his administration, in coordination with the Massachusetts Trial Court, to manage the end of the moratorium. The bulk of the spending – about $100 million – will go to expand the capacity of the Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program to provide relief to renters and landlords struggling because of the pandemic. Another $49 million will go to rapid rehousing programs for tenants who are evicted and at risk of homelessness.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds a roundtable discussion on health care Oct. 7 in Kalamazoo, Mich. (Photo: Nicole Hester/Ann Arbor News via AP)
Lansing: The state Supreme Court on Monday rejected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s request to delay by 28 days the effect of its decision striking down a law she had used to keep intact sweeping orders designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Justices voted 6-1 against halting the precedential effect of its Oct. 2 opinion until Oct. 30. They also reaffirmed their initial 4-3 ruling that declared the 1945 emergency powers law unconstitutional, this time in a lawsuit brought by the Republican-led Legislature. Executive orders issued under the law “are of no continuing legal effect. This order is effective upon entry,” the court wrote. Whitmer, a Democrat, had asked the justices to give her administration, lawmakers and local health departments 28 days to transition in the wake of the major decision.
Minneapolis: State health officials rolled back rules Monday that prevented many families from visiting their loved ones in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities because of the coronavirus pandemic. The new guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health allow indoor visitations at most senior homes that have not had new infections in the preceding two weeks and when the infection rate in the surrounding county is no more than 10%. The state still recommends that long-term care facilities limit how many visitors a resident can have at once and the duration of indoor visits. The new guidance significantly eased the restrictions that had been in place since March, the Star Tribune reports. Advocates for residents and their families have been clamoring for relief, noting that many elderly residents have suffered anxiety, depression and physical decline because of the social isolation.
Jackson: The state health officer said Monday that he’s troubled by the state’s recent rise in COVID-19 cases, including a significant increase during the past week of people hospitalized because of the highly contagious coronavirus. Dr. Thomas Dobbs said six hospitals have no beds available in their intensive care units, and clinics are seeing an increasing number of patients with COVID-19 symptoms. “All of the indicators are starting to turn in an unwanted direction,” Dobbs said during an online news conference. Although Republican Gov. Tate Reeves ended his statewide mask mandate Sept. 30, Dobbs said it’s important for people to voluntarily do simple things to slow the spread of the virus – wearing masks, keeping social distance of at least 6 feet and avoiding large gatherings. He said the lack of a mandate could add to the problem of increasing cases.
Columbia: More than 150 University of Missouri students have been caught using group chats to cheat on exams since many classes moved online amid the coronavirus pandemic. University spokeswoman Liz McCune said Friday that the school has identified three cheating incidents that each involved more than 50 students, The Columbia Missourian reports. McCune said classmates went to instructors to report that the students were sharing answers through screenshots and over chats. One incident occurred in the spring and the other two this semester. “Unfortunately, it’s just part of our new reality that holding so many courses online has opened up new avenues for students to be academically dishonest,” McCune said. With a greater number of students taking online courses, the university is seeing more incidents of academic dishonesty this semester, she said.
Helena: The state’s most populous county is limiting gathering sizes and urging bars and restaurants to enforce masking and distancing requirements to slow the spread of COVID-19, and the CEO of a Billings hospital warned that facilities and health care workers are overwhelmed as hospitalizations are rising. Meanwhile, an uptick in cases in Flathead County has the health department recommending some additional restrictions. Yellowstone County health officer John Felton said Monday that he would limit public or private gatherings to no more than 25 people, inside or outside, starting Wednesday. Mask-wearing and physical distancing would still be required. The limit does not apply to schools or day cares. Churches can have more than 25 attendees as long as they are physically distanced and wear masks and the number does not exceed 50% of the church’s capacity.
Omaha: The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus and the rate of new cases remain high in the state. The state said Tuesday that 299 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. That’s just under the record of 305 people set last weekend but well above the spring peak of 232 set May 27. Even with the high number of people hospitalized, the state said 31% of Nebraska’s hospital beds, 27% of its intensive care beds and 74% of its ventilators remained available. Nebraska reported 457 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday to give the state a total of 52,839 cases since the pandemic began, according to the state’s online virus tracker. Three new deaths were also reported Monday to give the state 522 deaths so far. The state continues to have the seventh-highest rate of new cases, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.
Carson City: Caleb Cage, the state’s pandemic response director, said Monday that he tested positive for the coronavirus last week after developing flu-like symptoms the prior weekend. “I share my story with all of you now in hopes to remind Nevadans that the mitigation measures can work. The faster we can identify and contain cases, the more we can minimize spread to our friends, family, co-workers and loved ones,” Cage said. Following Cage’s diagnosis, Gov. Steve Sisolak and members of his staff who had interacted with Cage were tested. The entire office transitioned to working from home, and all those tested received negative results. Cage, who was heard coughing throughout an Oct. 7 call with reporters, said his symptoms had subsided, and his diagnosis offered the governor’s office a hands-on opportunity to use the COVID Trace mobile app Nevada rolled out in August to determine possible contacts and recommend individuals for testing.
Concord: As she makes the rounds at universities, Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force said Monday that weekly or regular testing has proven critical in keeping the number of cases low. Birx was speaking at Plymouth State University, which conducts weekly testing and only has one active case among its 3,500 students. But when told by a Plymouth State student about gatherings of more than 100 in basements, she said the university would need to be on guard as the weather begins to turn cold. “As people move indoors, this is a real wake-up call for the university because you may start seeing additional positive tests,” she told a crowd of 75 gathered in the 600-seat auditorium. Everyone wore masks. She also encouraged students at the university where her brother, Donald Birx, is president, to report larger gatherings anonymously so the staff can address them.
Trenton: Indoor sports will be allowed to resume immediately, with restrictions, under an order signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday. The order will allow contact practices and competitions for “medium and high risk” indoor sports including hockey, basketball, cheerleading, group dance, rugby, boxing, judo, karate, taekwondo and wrestling to resume with 25% capacity limits. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for our student-athletes, support staff, and school communities,” Murphy said in a statement. “After consulting stakeholders and medical experts, we have concluded that, with proper public health and safety protocols in place, indoor sports may now resume in a way that protects players, coaches, and staff.” New Jersey Department of Health guidance must be followed, including screenings for participants, coaches and staff; limits on equipment sharing; and disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces and equipment.
Albuquerque: People who have claimed unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic will soon be required to conduct weekly job searches, a requirement previously waived because of large-scale business closures resulting in a smaller job market. The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions plans to reinstate the requirement Oct. 25 barring any changes to the state health order from Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham or the state health department. Claimants receiving regular unemployment benefits must now document at least two work search activities each week starting Oct. 18. Verifiable searches must be reported during the weekly certification process starting Oct. 25 and each week after. The requirement also can be met by attending a workshop offered statewide by New Mexico Workforce Connection Online System, which offers access to openings, job training and career services.
Members of the NY Phil Bandwagon – from left, violinist Fiona Simon, countertenor and producer Anthony Roth Costanzo, violinist Curtis Stewart and viola player Robert Rinehart – perform in the Flushing neighborhood of New York’s Queens borough Oct. 2. The NY Phil Bandwagon travels to three unannounced locations around New York City from Friday through Sunday, for an impromptu pop-up chamber music concert. (Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP)
New York: With performance halls shut because of the pandemic, the best concert venue a violinist could hope for one recent Friday was a sidewalk in the Bronx. Fiona Simon tuned her instrument as she prepared for one of her only public performances with the New York Philharmonic in months. The setting was a far cry from the orchestra’s usual home at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. But Simon said the pop-up concert – one of several the Philharmonic has been playing around the city this fall – filled a need she’s had since indoor performances stopped in March, depriving musicians of not just a paycheck but a sense of purpose. The NY Phil Bandwagon, a red pickup truck, rolls up to the curb carrying a sound system, music stands, lights and orange traffic cones to keep the audience socially distant. The musicians follow in a van. The Philharmonic plans to hold its final Bandwagon concert of the year this weekend and resume the program in the spring.
Raleigh: Some parents in the state are running out of time to ensure they receive additional money for help during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new state law directs $335 payments to go automatically to 2019 tax filers who reported having at least one child age 16 or under. Parents or guardians who didn’t make enough money last year to file a return – generally $10,000 or $20,000 – can still get the “Extra Credit Grant.” But they must file or mail an application by Thursday to qualify. The Department of Revenue also says 70,000 taxpayers who’d otherwise automatically qualify won’t due to a tax software error. These people also have until Thursday to file amended tax returns to address the problem. The law says the money, which will be disbursed no later than Dec. 15, is designed to assist with virtual schooling and child care costs during the pandemic. But there’s no prohibition on using it elsewhere.
Bismarck: Health officials said Monday that the number of active COVID-19 cases rose for the fifth straight day in the state that leads the nation in the number of new cases per capita in the past two weeks. The update showed 475 positive tests in the prior day, for a total of 27,737 since the pandemic began. There were 120 new active cases, for a total of 4,546. The positivity rate Monday was 8.89%. Six deaths were confirmed in the past day. North Dakota’s death toll stands at 345. Officials said 158 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19, an increase of 14 from Sunday’s report. As of Monday, there were 240 total available staffed inpatient beds and 20 staffed ICU beds statewide, according to the health department report. The COVID Tracking Project shows about 860 new cases per 100,000 people in North Dakota over the past two weeks, the most in the country.
Cincinnati: Gov. Mike DeWine says it’s halftime in the fight against COVID-19, and a vaccine could be available to most Ohioans by summer. “No one knows exactly if we’re in the middle – but probably not too far away from that,” DeWine said. The Ohio Department of Health reported 1,447 new cases between Monday and Tuesday, up from the 21-day average of 1,227. During that 24 hours, 12 COVID-19 deaths were reported, down from a 21-day average of 18 deaths per day. Ohio reported 123 hospitalizations in the past 24 hours, higher than the 21-day average of 79. DeWine said Ohioans have avoided a huge spike in cases that could lead to overwhelmed hospitals. But that doesn’t mean the state will ease safety precautions, such as masks requirements and social distancing. DeWine said he was concerned about how cases could rise as winter hits and Ohioans spend more time indoors.
Oklahoma City: A requirement to wear masks in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus was extended to Dec. 7 on Tuesday by the City Council. “I think it’s important that we know again that masking reduces the transmission of infection in the community by 70% to 85%,” Oklahoma City/County Health Department Director Patrick McGough said before councilors approved the extension from the original Oct. 20 expiration date. The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Tuesday reported 1,309 new virus cases and 15 more deaths due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. There have been 101,493 reported virus cases and 1,119 deaths since the pandemic began. The department reports that a record 760 people are currently hospitalized. The department reported 13,872 active cases of the virus and said 86,502 people have recovered.
Klamath Falls: Nearly 60 incoming seasonal contract strawberry harvest workers for Planasa Oregon Operations LLC tested positive for the coronavirus before they started work about two weeks ago. The outbreak is linked to workers who were tested before going to work at the Short Road facility in Klamath Falls, The Herald and News reports. Klamath County Public Health reported that 54 of the 452 people the company tested as a precaution before they started harvest work were confirmed positive for the coronavirus. Oregon Health Authority said last week there were five additional cases reported, for a total of 59 cases, that could include other household members aside from harvest workers. Contract workers for Planasa were immediately placed in protected housing in Klamath Falls after they tested positive, according to Michael Delaney, U.S. Business Director for Planasa.
Harrisburg: The state is extending the application deadline and changing the rules of a key rent and mortgage relief program in an effort to boost participation by landlords and keep more people in their homes during the pandemic, the governor announced Tuesday. The state is using $175 million of its federal coronavirus relief money to provide rental assistance to eligible tenants and mortgage relief to homeowners, but officials say the program has not been working as well as intended. Through the end of September, the program has paid out $9.7 million on behalf of 5,686 renters, according to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency. Some landlords have been reluctant to apply because of a $750-per-month cap on payments, state officials say. Many housing units rent for more than $750, but the program did not allow landlords to ask tenants to make up the difference. That is changing.
Providence: Four bars have been temporarily closed for alleged noncompliance with regulations meant to control the spread of the coronavirus, state health officials say. The violations include serving alcohol after 11 p.m., allowing customers to mingle at bars, not having barriers to separate seated parties and not enforcing mask-wearing requirements, the state Department of Health said in a statement Monday. Three of the establishments that received the Immediate Compliance Orders are in Providence, and one is in Cranston. Before reopening, management must meet with the health department and the Department of Business Regulation. The bars must undergo a thorough cleaning and test all employees. The owners of one bar, Fish Co. Bar & Grill in Providence, dispute the findings, telling The Providence Journal they have video of the inspection that contradicts what the inspectors found.
A container of sanitizing wipes sits at the entrance of a second grade classroom as media members attend a demonstration of a socially distanced classroom at A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School of Engineering on July 20 in Greenville, S.C. (Photo: Chris Carlson/AP)
Columbia: The state’s education superintendent said she has sent $43 million of protective equipment to more than 1,300 schools – fulfilling every item in their requests to help them open for in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. And Superintendent Molly Spearman promised Tuesday that there is enough money left in the billions of dollars the federal government sent to South Carolina for pandemic aid to pay for whatever else schools ask for as she urges every school district to get children back in classrooms at least part of the time. The latest purchases include 300,000 sheets of plexiglass, which Spearman said health experts have told her when combined with masks cuts the distance needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in half to 3 feet. The sheets are going up as barriers between students at desks and tables.
Sioux Falls: The state on Tuesday reported a jump in the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized, hitting an all-time high during the pandemic. The Department of Health released a more detailed picture of hospital capacity across the state, breaking the state into four regions and providing COVID-19 patient numbers by facility. The new numbers revealed that hospitals in the southeastern part of the state, which contains the two largest medical facilities, currently have no open general-care hospital beds. The hospitals do have about 41% of their intensive care units available. Health officials reported 302 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, including 61 in intensive care units. While health officials have said the state has plenty of hospital capacity as it sees a surge of the virus, hospitals have had to juggle patients as they prioritize people with severe cases of COVID-19.
Manchester: The mayor of this small Middle Tennessee city where the annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival is held died Monday from COVID-19, officials said. He was 79. Mayor Lonnie Norman died after being hospitalized for COVID-19 on Oct. 1. He passed away early Monday “after a valiant fight” against the virus. Norman served as mayor during the early ’90s and again since 2012. Norman grew up in Manchester, a growing industrial community halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. Every June, with the exception of this year due to the pandemic, the town of 11,000 transforms into one of the busiest places in the state. As many as 80,000 people descend on Manchester for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, a four-day outdoor concert on a farm. Norman became the first Black mayor of Manchester in 1991.
Coronavirus testing sites across El Paso, Texas, have seen a steady decline in visitors. The once-packed sites are now seeing a fraction of the traffic. (Photo: Mark Lambie / El Paso Times)
Austin: An ongoing wave of COVID-19 cases in the El Paso area prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to announce Monday that a surge team of medical professionals would be dispatched there. The 75 doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists being dispatched will be accompanied by a supply of extra personal protective equipment to support efforts by El Paso hospitals to meet the surge of coronavirus infections. The team will be in addition to the 169 professionals the state previously sent to the area. As of Monday, 313 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties of West Texas. The state estimated that active COVID-19 cases in El Paso County alone soared from almost 4,000 on Oct. 1 to just over 6,000 Monday. Seven cases were fatal during that period. Statewide, the coronavirus caseload since the outbreak began in March continued to approach 800,000 Monday.
St. George: Two more Washington County residents have died from COVID-19, state health officials reported Monday. The two victims, both men, were described as being between the ages of 64 and 85, and both were living in long-term care facilities. The southwest district, which includes Washington, Iron, Kane, Beaver and Garfield counties, has now counted 45 total deaths and 4,925 total cases since the pandemic began. Case numbers have been increasing across the state and especially in the southwestern region in recent weeks. The area’s infection rate – the rate at which tested subjects are testing positive – continues to increase and was about 13.2% for the previous seven days. Statewide, there were five new deaths and 988 new cases reported Monday. Utah had counted 86,832 cases and 522 deaths since the outbreak began. There were 249 people hospitalized statewide Monday, with 64% of all intensive care hospital beds occupied.
Montpelier: The state still has some of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the country, and officials are hoping to be able to keep it that way even though many nearby states and counties are seeing their numbers increase. Officials said during a briefing Tuesday that travel appeared to be one of the main routes of transmission of the virus and that many people were visiting Vermont during the fall foliage season. Gov. Phil Scott said he was hopeful that the end of fall, traditionally one of the most important times of the year for Vermont’s tourism industry, would mean fewer people would be visiting the state from areas with high rates of infection, but there is only so much the state can do. “We can’t shut down our borders,” Scott said. “We can’t check papers as they come across the border. So we have to rely on some sort of honor system.”
Charlottesville: The University of Virginia is giving students the option of receiving course credit without a letter grade. The Daily Progress reports the move is being made in the wake of students suffering stress, anxiety and internet connectivity troubles in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students will be allowed to choose a grading system that includes received a credit or no credit rather than the usual letter grading system. Classes taken under the credit system will have no impact on a student’s grade point average. The move follows student efforts to make the change. Those efforts included online petitions as well as lobbying and a resolution by the UVa Student Council. “We decided to revisit our grading decision after many exchanges with students, student leaders, and faculty and staff who work most closely with students,” UVa Provost Liz Magill wrote Friday in an open letter to students, faculty and staff.
Seattle: A COVID-19 outbreak involving students at the University of Washington’s fraternities and sororities continues to grow with 238 positive cases as of Monday morning. University spokesperson Victor Balta said Monday that the cases were spread among 16 sororities and fraternities in the 45-chapter system, which is north of the university campus in Seattle. The numbers are up from 179 cases as of Tuesday last week and 227 cases Friday. Students who have tested positive or have COVID-19-like symptoms are being told to isolate in their current place of residence, according to the university. At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee expressed frustration about the behavior on Greek Row “that is exposing all of us to great risk.” “They’ve got to step up and take responsibility for this because these things can just blow up, and frankly they are,” he said last week.
Huntington: A health system is again banning visitors from its hospitals as community spread of the coronavirus increases in the region, network officials say. Mountain Health Network announced Monday that most visitors will not be allowed in its medical centers, including at St. Mary’s in Huntington, one of the largest hospitals in the state, news outlets report. Essential caregivers will be allowed for patients in labor and delivery, in the pediatrics unit and in the neonatal units, officials said. Patients nearing the end of their life also will be allowed limited visitors, according to a statement from the system. At urgent care centers and emergency rooms, only one patient will be allowed in an exam room, though a parent or guardian can accompany minors. The policy was first enacted in March as the virus began to spread, but it was lifted in June with Mountain Health medical centers allowing restricted visitation.
Madison: The state has hit a pair of grim coronavirus milestones, with record highs for positive cases and deaths reported Tuesday, on the eve of an overflow field hospital opening near Milwaukee. The state Department of Health Services reported 3,279 confirmed new cases, breaking a record of 3,132 set just five days earlier. There were 34 deaths reported, also a new high, bringing the total number of people who have died to 1,508. Wisconsin’s death count as of Monday was the 30th-highest in the country overall and the 42nd-highest per capita. The 595 new cases per 100,000 people in Wisconsin over the past two weeks ranks fourth in the country for new cases per capita. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers attributed the increase to the state Supreme Court striking down his “safer at home” order in May at the request of Republican opponents, as well as fatigue over wearing masks and taking other steps to slow the spread.
Casper: Low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic continue to take a toll on the state’s economy, according to a new report. Last spring, a global oil price war and the pandemic caused many petroleum operators to halt drilling plans, shut in wells and lay off workers in droves. Last summer, Wyoming’s rig count hit zero for the first time in state history. The situation has improved little this fall. In September, oil prices averaged under $40 per barrel, down 6% from August and too low for many Wyoming producers to profit, according to the Economic Analysis Division report. Only one drilling rig was exploring for oil, and none was exploring for gas in Wyoming in September. Wyoming’s rig count a year ago was 36, the Casper Star-Tribune reports. Wyoming’s workforce nonetheless made small gains, “a good sign that the recovery from the COVID-19 recession is continuing on,” state economist Dylan Bainer said.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
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