You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Country venue blues, ice shanty dining, turkey sightings: News from around our 50 states

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/5/2021 From USA TODAY Network and wire reports, USA TODAY
a man standing in front of a store: Downtown honky-tonk owner Steve Smith speaks to reporters outside Tootsies Orchid Lounge on Tuesday afternoon. © Sandy Mazza Downtown honky-tonk owner Steve Smith speaks to reporters outside Tootsies Orchid Lounge on Tuesday afternoon.

Alabama

Montgomery: State medical groups are sponsoring a video contest to explain why it’s important to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Hospital Association and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama are sponsoring the “Mask Up Alabama” video contest. A Health Department news release says the contest is for Alabamians of all ages to share why they feel it is important to wear a mask. The videos should be 30 seconds or less and need to highlight basic information related to mask-wearing and COVID-19. The deadline for submissions is noon Jan. 11. There is no fee to enter the contest, and the full rules can be found on the Health Department website. A statewide panel of judges will pick the top 10, and then the five winners will be chosen through a public online voting process. The first-place winner will receive $600, and the second- and third-place winners will receive $400 and $200 respectively. Two other honorable mention videos will be posted online along with the winners’ videos for use by media outlets and on social media.

Alaska

Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.

Juneau: The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says it has allocated $3.2 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to hire two public relations firms based in Anchorage to help with coronavirus communications across the state. Blueprint Alaska LLC was first contracted in June and is expected to work until April, and Brilliant Media Strategies was first contracted in October and is expected to work through June, Alaska’s News Source reports. Blueprint Alaska was initially awarded a two-month, $440,000 contract approved by department communications director Clinton Bennett and deputy commissioner Sana Efird through emergency procedures that allowed the firm to bypass the normal competitive bidding process. The contract has since been extended three times, and the firm can be paid up to $1 million for its services, department officials said. Elizabeth Manning, department communications manager, said those services include messaging on social media, mailing information to residents, and setting up events related to safety guidelines and vaccine distribution.

Arizona

Phoenix: State health officials have reported 5,158 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths. The latest figures released Monday by the Arizona Department of Health Services come as the number of people hospitalized due to the virus hits a new high. Officials say 54% of inpatient hospitalizations across the state are COVID-19-related. The number of patients in intensive care units due to the virus is also at a record high for Arizona. According to state health officials, only 7% of ICU beds remain available. The crush of COVID-19 patients has caused some Phoenix- and Tucson-area hospitals to suspend elective surgeries and turn away ambulance patients or transfers from other hospitals, while still accepting walk-in patients needing emergency care. Hospital officials have discussed triage protocols that the state could order to decide which patients get access to limited resources.

Arkansas

Little Rock: The number of hospitalized patients with the coronavirus remained at a record level Sunday as Arkansas continued to grapple with a surge in virus cases. There were 1,234 people hospitalized with the virus Sunday, up from Saturday’s record level of 1,216 hospitalizations, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. The state also saw 2,033 more cases of the virus and 20 more deaths, Hutchinson said. “New cases lead to increased hospitalizations, which affect anyone needing treatment in a hospital, not just those with COVID-19,” he said. Over the past two weeks, there were 1,056 new cases per 100,000 people in Arkansas, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. That ranks fifth in the country for new cases per capita, according to Johns Hopkins. One in every 162 people in Arkansas tested positive for the virus in the past week.

California

Los Angeles: The pandemic is getting worse in Los Angeles as the coronavirus spreads rapidly within households and Californians let their guard down, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who said Sunday that the nation’s most populous county is recording a new COVID-19 case every six seconds. Garcetti said on the CBS program “Face the Nation” that he’s concerned news of a vaccine rollout “has made everybody so hopeful” that they feel they can relax their behavior. “We cannot. We cannot let up,” the mayor said. “This is a virus that preys off of our weakness, preys off of our exhaustion.” Overall, Los Angeles County is seeing high compliance of mask-wearing and people abiding by stay-home orders, Garcetti said. Despite that, the state is reporting enormous numbers of new cases, including more than 12,400 in Los Angeles County on Sunday. “This is the fastest acceleration of new cases than at any other time during the pandemic,” the LA County Department of Public Health said in a weekend statement. The county, which has a fourth of the state’s population of nearly 40 million, has seen 40% of its virus deaths.

Colorado

Denver: A statewide relief fund for those in need because of the coronavirus pandemic has been taken offline after raising nearly $23 million since March. The Colorado COVID Relief Fund website indicates contributions aren’t currently being accepted, and a statement on the site says that “over 12,000 generous Coloradans have stepped up to support our neighbors at times of greatest need.” The website provides an email address for those who want to continue contributing to relief efforts. Elizabeth Kosar, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jared Polis, wrote in an email to The Denver Post that a seventh round of grants was recently distributed. “Conversations are underway with the philanthropic community and the Legislature about the best way to sustain support for Coloradans for the recovery phase of the pandemic in a more permanent infrastructure, so this will likely be our last round,” she said. The fund was started in March with $2.8 million. At the time, the governor said the money would be spent on medical supplies, volunteer services, nursing home and homeless shelter staffing, cleaning supplies, and helping struggling workers, families and small businesses to help “weather the storm” of coronavirus.

Connecticut

Hartford: The leader of Connecticut’s largest teachers union is urging school superintendents statewide to switch all classes to remote learning until at least the middle of this month, citing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Jeff Leake, president of the Connecticut Education Association, said many students and educators were to return to classrooms Monday, before potential virus surges from the holiday season are over. He said many school districts already have moved to strictly distance learning through mid-January. “While no one is more eager to return to the classroom than Connecticut’s dedicated teachers, detecting and stopping the spread of COVID-19 must be the top priority,” Leake said in a statement Sunday evening. He also called on the state to mandate more coronavirus testing and said a new survey by his union and the American Federation of Teachers shows that “schools are not the safest places for children or educators” amid a pandemic. Gov. Ned Lamont and state education officials have been allowing local school officials to decide whether to switch to all-remote learning but have been advocating for schools to be kept open, saying it’s better for students.

Delaware

Dover: The state’s poultry processing plants and health officials say they are well-prepared for a winter surge of coronavirus cases. Dr. Rick Pescatore, the Delaware Division of Public Health’s chief physician, said the implementation of best practices is mostly complete. DPH cultivated a close relationship with the plants as they rolled out coronavirus testing for employees in late spring. “We’ve been able to strengthen our relationships with the poultry companies and others, and so we’ve been able to empower them throughout the year to take this on,” Pescatore said. Poultry workers also fall into the category of critical infrastructure personnel. Pescatore said they would be some of the first to receive the coronavirus vaccine. But vaccination will most likely be on a volunteer basis and not required as a condition of employment.

District of Columbia

Washington: More than 2,000 faith leaders and religious activists are calling on members of Congress to honor the result of November’s election and avoid “a delayed and drawn out objection” this week when President-elect Joe Biden’s win is set to be certified. Signatories to the statement released Monday include many prominent religious liberals, such as Barbara Williams-Skinner, co-convener of the National African American Clergy Network, and the Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop of Washington’s Episcopal diocese. Also signing on are a handful of evangelicals who have criticized President Donald Trump despite his overwhelming popularity among white evangelical voters, including World Vision president emeritus Rich Stearns. “As faithful citizens, we are praying for a peaceful, smooth, and dignified transfer of power,” said the statement, whose signatories were shared with the Associated Press ahead of their release. “A delayed and drawn out objection on January 6th would not overturn the will of the American people and change the outcome of the election,” it said.

Florida

Tallahassee: The state posted nearly 10,400 new coronavirus infections, and the state’s death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic ticked upward by nearly 100, the Florida Health Department reported Sunday. Since the outbreak began, the state has recorded more than 1.3 million of its 21 million residents infected with the disease. In all, 21,987 have died. As of Sunday morning, 6,956 people were hospitalized because of COVID-19. The new numbers come after a record surge in new cases. On New Year’s Eve, the state reported the highest daily jump in COVID-19 cases ever detected in Florida, with 17,192 new cases. On Saturday, health officials reported a two-day total 30,767 new cases of the coronavirus and 217 new deaths.

Georgia

Augusta: New coronavirus cases leaped in the state in the week ending Saturday, rising 21.2% as 56,334 cases were reported. The previous week had 46,488 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19. Georgia ranked No. 8 among the states where coronavirus was spreading the fastest on a per-person basis, a USA TODAY Network analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. Within Georgia, the worst weekly outbreaks on a per-person basis were in Upson, Pike and Hancock counties. Adding the most new cases overall were Gwinnett County, with 5,089 cases; Cobb County, with 4,226 cases; and Fulton County, with 4,153. Weekly case counts rose in 137 counties from the previous week. The worst increases from the prior week’s pace were in Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb counties. The share of Georgia test results that came back positive was 18.9% in the latest week, compared with 13.1% in the week before, a USA TODAY Network analysis of COVID Tracking Project data shows. In the latest week, 218,514 tests were administered; a week earlier, that figure was 277,425.

Hawaii

Hilo: Hawaii’s optional coronavirus notification app is expected to launch statewide Wednesday. The AlohaSafe Alert app aims to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by notifying users about potential exposure to someone who tests positive for the virus, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. When the app senses another app in use nearby, the devices will exchange a secure, random, anonymous code. A person’s location, name and other identifiable information would not be included. A user who tests positive would get a text message with the option to notify other app users who may have been exposed. The notification would go out to all users who were within 6 feet of the person who tested positive for at least 15 minutes. The app has already launched on the Big Island, Lanai and Maui. “For me, the big takeaway is this is one other way that we can start protecting our island against the coronavirus and keep all of us safe,” Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said. He acknowledged that not everyone will use the app but called it an extra tool that will speed up contact tracing.

Idaho

Boise: U.S. officials have released a new plan involving methods to deal with a microscopic pest in southeastern Idaho that threatens the state’s billion-dollar industry that supplies a third of the nation’s potatoes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture late last week released the final rule that takes effect at the end of January. It sets out years­long criteria for killing off the pests and reopening quarantined fields to production. The new rule follows a 2018 court decision in a lawsuit filed by potato farmers that found the U.S. government illegally quarantined some Idaho potato fields infested with the pale cyst nematode first discovered in 2006. Farmers with quarantined fields aren’t allowed to sell potatoes grown in them. Nematodes feed on potato roots and can reduce crop production by 80%. When the pests were first discovered, Canada, Mexico and Korea would not accept Idaho potatoes, and Japan banned all U.S. potatoes. The countries ultimately lifted their bans, the latest coming late in 2017 when Japan opened its market again.

Illinois

Springfield: The Central Illinois Foodbank plans to use an anonymous donor’s $500,000 gift to expand its reach during a time of growing need amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, its leader says. Outside of grants, the donation is the single largest gift in the food bank’s 38-year history, and the gift’s timing is “impeccable,” said Pam Molitoris, its executive director. She said the donation will be used to address the growing need for food assistance throughout the group’s 21-county service area as the pandemic’s economic impact continues into 2021. “The timing is impeccable as we think of gearing up for possibly an extended period of time of high need,” Molitoris said. “This gives us that motivation and that inspiration that we can get it done.” The food bank distributes over 10 million pounds of food annually to more than 160 food pantries, soup kitchens, residential programs and after-school programs in its region. Since March, the group has provided food at 85 drive-thru distribution events in underserved urban and rural areas. The food bank has increased its distribution by nearly 2 million pounds, a 25% increase since the same time last year.

Indiana

Whiting: Some Illinois residents fed up with their state’s second ban on indoor dining amid the pandemic are heading to restaurants in adjacent Indiana so they can dine out with others. Restaurants in Illinois towns like Calumet City and Lansing that border northwest Indiana say they are seeing customers lured away by Indiana eateries not subject to the same restrictions, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reports. Sylvia Coco, who owns Kilroy’s and Dixie Kitchen and Bait Shop in Lansing, said her business is off substantially, perhaps more than than 50%, and one constant has been the looser rules for restaurants and bars in the Hoosier State. “Indiana is pretty much open and doing whatever they want,” Coco said. Tom Dabertin, a board member of the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce, said he’s noticed the influx of Illinois diners. “We’re seeing increased business in both restaurants and stores, even at local drive-thrus,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot more traffic and revenue due to the bans in Illinois. People come here to eat a meal and then shop.”

Iowa

Des Moines: As Iowans on food stamps are set to receive increased benefits under a new stimulus package signed into law Dec. 27, those seeking to use their electronic benefit transfer cards to order groceries online are seeing their options grow. Aldi, in partnership with the delivery service Instacart, on Dec. 17 became the latest grocery chain to offer the service to Iowa participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps. The chain joined two large retailers, Amazon and Walmart. During the pandemic, more retailers in Iowa have joined other states in a pilot program to allow for grocery delivery and curbside pickup to participants in SNAP, an option long unavailable for them. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend limiting visits to grocery stores and using online services when possible. Food Bank of Iowa president and CEO Michelle Book said that in addition to helping people remain safely at home during the pandemic, broadening options for ordering groceries online using EBT payments will help those who lack transportation and would have to spend considerable time on a bus to travel to a supermarket.

Kansas

Topeka: Topeka Presbyterian Manor began giving the COVID-19 vaccine to residents and staff Saturday, as part of a watershed moment in nursing homes’ fight against the coronavirus that has ravaged their communities. As part of a partnership with CVS, the retirement community began administering the first round of vaccinations Thursday to at-risk residents in health care and assisted living, as well as essential health care workers. “There’s no doubt the senior population has been hit hard by the virus, along with the health care workers who’ve treated them,” Heather Pilkinton, executive director at Topeka Presbyterian Manor, said in a release. “We couldn’t be happier to know there’s finally a bit of light at the end of such a difficult year.” As part of the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, CVS is administering the Pfizer version of the COVID-19 vaccine to Kansas’ retirement homes and communities. Nursing homes first began distributing shots Dec. 28. All of those receiving vaccines in the next few days will need to receive a second dose 21 days after their first inoculation.

Kentucky

Frankfort: After months of watching mostly from the sidelines as Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear doled out pandemic relief and issued orders to combat the spread of the coronavirus, Republican lawmakers are ready to put their own imprint on policymaking in Kentucky. Republicans begin this year’s legislative session in an increasingly dominant position after expanding their House and Senate supermajorities in the 2020 election. Wielding the power to override any Beshear veto, Republicans will be able shape legislation to their liking, including bills dealing with COVID-19 or policies for the post-pandemic world as vaccines roll out to more people. They’ve signaled their intent to rein in some of the governor’s emergency powers. The General Assembly convenes its 30-day session Tuesday. Passing another state budget tops the agenda – a heavy lift after lawmakers opted to pass a one-year budget, rather than the traditional two-year spending plan, in 2020 because of uncertainties caused by the pandemic. Other virus-related issues are also expected to receive considerable attention. Those include efforts to provide protections from lawsuits for businesses that followed virus protocols.

Louisiana

Baton Rouge: The state has unveiled the list of 107 pharmacies that will begin offering the coronavirus vaccine this week to people ages 70 and older. With demand certain to outstrip limited supplies and interest running so high, the state website crashed within minutes of the information’s release Monday. The Louisiana Department of Health quickly reworked the website to get the list back online. Hoping to avoid long lines seen in other states with people awaiting vaccination, the agency stressed that appointments for the immunizations are required. Still, people started showing up at their local pharmacies and inundating them with phone calls days ahead of the expanded eligibility, seeking vaccines for themselves or elderly family. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration called for patience. “Patients who arrive without an appointment will not be vaccinated. Do not arrive at a location without an appointment,” the health department said as it announced the list. An estimated 640,000 people in Louisiana are newly eligible for the shot this week, but only about 10,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine were initially shipped to the state’s pharmacies for this cohort, leaving each pharmacy with no more than about 100 doses available to their customers.

Maine

Augusta: A group of Republican lawmakers plans to travel to the Statehouse on Tuesday to call on their colleagues to get back to work, accusing Democratic leaders of dragging their feet. Legislative leaders countered that the work already is underway and that the appropriations committee is meeting Tuesday. Republicans protested in the summer and fall when the Legislature failed to reach a consensus for reconvening during the pandemic. The current plan is for the bulk of committees to convene in a few weeks. Republican Rep. Shelley Rudnicki, of Fairfield, said her group will gather in the House Chamber to make a point. “We are a co-equal branch of government, and the governor is making decisions without any input from the Legislature. It’s time for us to get to work,” said Rudnicki, who accused the governor of “unprecedented and draconian” actions while the Legislature was sidelined. Republicans decried some of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ executive orders imposed because of COVID-19, but the Legislature failed to reconvene when Republicans and Democrats couldn’t agree on the scope of work to be conducted. Rudnicki acknowledged Tuesday’s action is a symbolic gesture since both chambers are controlled by Democrats.

Maryland

Baltimore: Students in central Maryland will continue to attend school virtually at a time about half of the students in the nation will be able to go back to their school buildings. The Baltimore Sun reports there is no clear idea of when those Maryland students might get back to in-person classes. Few students in suburban Maryland counties have been back inside a school during the pandemic. Experts say the reasons include politics, union opposition, and the failure of federal and state leaders to set clear guidelines as the pandemic began. Meanwhile, a contingent of some parents are furious that schools aren’t open. And they say they’ve sent emails and letters and held protests with no success. Maryland’s governor and state superintendent have advocated for schools to reopen. But they have stopped short of ordering schools to open because they say that it is up to local school boards and superintendents.


Video: Gov. Mike DeWine announces quarantine policy changes for Ohio schools (WLWT Cincinnati)

Gov. Mike DeWine announces quarantine policy changes for Ohio schools
UP NEXT
UP NEXT

Massachusetts

Boston: Dozens of positive coronavirus cases have been traced back to Christmas services at a church, authorities said. The Woburn Board of Health has been working with the state to notify people who attended one of four services Dec. 23-24 at Genesis Community Church in Woburn, Mayor Scott Galvin told The Boston Globe. The church is cooperating with authorities, the mayor said. At least 44 cases have been traced to the church, authorities said. Genesis said in a statement that it is encouraging anyone who attended the services to get tested, whether symptomatic or not, and helping those who need to quarantine to prevent further transmission. Services are now being held online. “We are deeply saddened to learn that people within Genesis tested positive for COVID-19 and we are doing all we can to make sure this does not spread any further,” the statement said. Under state guidelines, houses of worship are limited to 25% of capacity. The church said it took proper precautions, including preregistration to attend and requring masks and social distancing.

Michigan

a person driving a car: Sophia Schiepek, 19, of Roger City, takes part in a voluntary coronavirus test during a move-in day for students at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on Aug. 5. © Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press Sophia Schiepek, 19, of Roger City, takes part in a voluntary coronavirus test during a move-in day for students at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan's Upper Peninsula on Aug. 5.

Marquette: The state’s Upper Peninsula turned into a COVID-19 hot spot during the latest surge as nearly 1,400 children got sick from the virus, overall infections tripled, and deaths spiked even more – all while many infected Yoopers went to work, church and weddings when they were symptomatic, ignored social distancing and refused to cooperate with contact tracers, according to new data obtained through open records requests. In the past two and a half months alone, more than 13,500 people in the U.P. contracted the novel coronavirus, a threefold increase since the pandemic began in March, the data shows. The death toll during this second wave was even starker: 337 dead in 10 weeks, compared to 46 deaths in the previous seven months. Children were especially hard-hit: 1,388 schoolchildren got COVID-19 in the second wave, compared to 149 in the previous seven months. This harrowing U.P. snapshot is based on new, demographical data obtained by Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation’s Documenting COVID-19 project in collaboration with the Detroit Free Press.

Minnesota

Verndale: A central Minnesota restaurant owner has turned one of the state’s favorite winter shelters into an indoor-outdoor dining experience during the coronavirus pandemic. Brian Hagen, who owns the Pirates Den on busy U.S. Highway 10 in Verndale, is serving his meals in fish houses. As the temperature last week dipped into single digits, patrons could be seen basking in the glow of space heaters in the kind of village usually spotted on wintertime Minnesota lakes, the Star Tribune reports. “We love it! It just feels so Minnesotan,” said Becky Munston, who made the 30-mile trip from Perham to celebrate the birthdays of her husband, Mike, and their friend Tim Wacker. Hagen said his phone has been “ringing off the wall” since he posted his plan on Facebook. Also the owner of a fish house manufacturing company, Hagen said the idea came to him when he looked at some unsold fish houses in his inventory. “People are fed up with the COVID and the shutdown,” he said. “They want to get out, have a cocktail, have a meal prepared for them.”

Mississippi

Hattiesburg: A new device aimed at helping in the recovery of people with COVID-19 shows promising results, says a doctor who has been using the device. Dr. Brian Rifkin, a nephrologist with Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg who is working with pulmonologist Dr. Steven Stogner, said the Seraph 100 Microbind Affinity Blood Filter has helped most of the patients who have received the treatment as part of their recovery. “We have treated 17 patients to date,” he said in an email. “Twelve have been discharged, four are still hospitalized and one died of complications unrelated to COVID or Seraph treatment.” In general, it only takes one treatment, which lasts four to six hours, to begin seeing results, Rifkin said, with patients beginning to see improvement in the first 48 hours after treatment. The filter works in a manner similar to dialysis, which removes blood from a patient, filters it and reintroduces the cleansed blood to the patient’s bloodstream. “A dialysis filter has pores to remove waste and water from the body in a patient with kidney failure,” Rifkin said. “The Seraph filter, in contrast, has coated beads that bind various particles.”

Missouri

O’Fallon: A 32-year-old assistant prosecutor in the Kansas City area has died from the coronavirus. Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker said on Twitter that JoEllen Engelbart died Saturday. Engelbart is among 5,562 Missourians who have died from COVID-19. The state passed the 400,000 mark in confirmed cases over the weekend and added another 1,196 cases Monday, bringing the total to 402,957. The state reported no new deaths Monday. Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Lisa Cox said Monday’s numbers may have been affected by limited reporting from counties due to the New Year’s holiday. While many hospitals across Missouri remain dangerously crowded with COVID-19 patients, the numbers have stabilized enough in recent weeks that St. Louis County on Monday allowed indoor dining to start again, albeit with restrictions. Under the new order, capacity is limited to 25%. Another provision requires the establishments to maintain records of a customer’s name and contact information in case contact tracing becomes necessary. That provision has drawn criticism from some, including Republican County Councilman Tim Fitch.

Montana

Helena: New Gov. Greg Gianforte has signaled he won’t continue a statewide mask mandate in place since July, though he said he plans to wear a mask himself and get vaccinated against COVID-19. If Gianforte, a Republican, reverses former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s mask order, Montana will be just the second state after Mississippi to lift its mandate. Thirty-eight states now have statewide mandates. “I trust Montanans with their health and the health of their loved ones,” Gianforte said in a recent interview with Kaiser Health News. “The state has a role in clearly communicating the risks of who is most vulnerable, what the potential consequences are, but then I do trust Montanans to make the right decisions for themselves and their family.” Gianforte has said he plans to announce his COVID-19 policy for the state the week he assumes office, according to the Associated Press. He was sworn in Monday, becoming the state’s first Republican governor in 16 years. Montana is the only state where control of the governor’s office is changing parties as a result of November’s election. And among the 11 governors being sworn in this month, Gianforte will be the only one new to managing his state’s response to the pandemic.

Nebraska

Omaha: Officials who are leading the state’s pandemic response said Monday that they expect a large increase in coronavirus vaccinations over the next two weeks after a slowdown over the holidays. Nebraska has given 36,360 vaccinations so far out of the 94,697 doses in its possession, according to new data on the state’s tracking portal. Most who have received initial doses at this point are front-line health care workers who were given first priority. Nebraska began vaccinating people Dec. 15 but saw sharp drops in daily doses administered Dec. 25 and the two following days. The numbers rose to roughly 3,000 per day afterward but dropped again to 1,579 on Jan. 1, according to the data. “Certainly we would like to see more vaccines go out more quickly, but if you look at relative to what’s going on in the rest of the country and the holidays and everything, we expect we’ll see a pickup in the pace of vaccines,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said at a news conference. Ricketts said the slowdown was compounded by health care workers who took time off for the holidays and weren’t available to get vaccinated.

Nevada

Las Vegas: Instruction resumes Monday in Las Vegas-area schools, but most students won’t be in classrooms. Nearly all the more than 330 campuses in the sprawling Clark County School District will return to the distance-learning programs adopted last March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The district is among the largest in the U.S., with more than 300,000 students, and a Las Vegas Review-Journal report found that most of the other nine have restored at least some in-person instruction. Clark County school trustees are approaching a decision Jan. 14 about whether to adopt a phased-transition timetable for reopening Las Vegas-area campuses, even with COVID-19 case numbers continuing to surge. An agreement last month between district administrators and the teachers union calls for a phased return to in-person classes, starting with preschool through third graders. District Superintendent Jesus Jara has said a date for resuming in-class instruction will be depend on the coronavirus pandemic, and the best-case scenario could see some students in class in February.

New Hampshire

a black bird standing next to a forest: Wild turkeys in Nottingham, N.H. © Getty Images/iStockphoto Wild turkeys in Nottingham, N.H.

Concord: Turkey sightings are on the rise in the state, possibly because of the coronavirus pandemic. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department said results from its 2020 winter survey reflect 2,309 flocks totaling 40,476 turkeys statewide. That was more than four times as many turkeys counted in 2019 and twice as many as reported in 2018. “With many people spending more time at home last winter, there was an increase in backyard bird feeding as well as bird watching, which may have contributed to the uptick in reports,” said Allison Keating, a state turkey biologist. More than 46,000 people have tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, including more than 1,300 confirmed cases announced Sunday that include numbers for several days. Eleven additional deaths were announced, bringing the total to 780. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire decreased over the past two weeks, going from 766 new cases per day Dec. 19 to 750 new cases per day Saturday.

New Jersey

Trenton: The state Attorney General’s Office has convened a grand jury that is investigating state-run veterans homes – where 202 people have died from COVID-19 – for possible criminal charges. A subpoena and letter dated Oct. 23 from the office’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit demand that a records custodian from the New Jersey Veterans Home at Paramus supply a litany of documents to investigators and possibly appear before a state grand jury to give testimony. It is not known whether the grand jury is focusing exclusively on the veterans homes in Paramus, Menlo Park and Vineland or is also looking at other nursing homes statewide with high numbers of deaths, as Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced he would do last spring. Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said Monday that he would not offer any specifics on the investigation. The Paramus and Menlo Park facilities have seen a combined 191 residents and two caregivers die from COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March – among the highest COVID-19 death tolls at nursing homes across the nation.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: More than 230,000 residents have signed up since the state launched its vaccination registration website two weeks ago, state health officials said Monday. The New Mexico Department of Health said the site has been updated to allow people to complete a comprehensive profile that includes personal medical conditions, employment information and other data. Officials said the site was created to help manage distribution once more vaccines become available. Those who register will be notified when they become eligible and shots are available in their area. Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins has said the state is working on plans for distribution to groups beyond the initial waves of front-line health care workers and staff and residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. “Our highest priorities remain the same: ensuring that vaccine goes to those who are most exposed to infected people or infectious materials, and preventing vaccine from going to waste,” Collins said in a statement issued Monday. The state also plans to launch a call center to provide additional support for those who wish to register or ask questions about the process.

New York

New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that he won’t receive the coronavirus vaccine until the general public – including Black, Hispanic and poor New Yorkers in his age group – is able to receive it. Cuomo made the pledge during recorded remarks to the congregation at Abyssinian Baptist Church. “Race or income will not determine who lives and who dies,” he said. “I move around a lot and come into contact with many people, and I would feel much safer if I took the vaccine, but I will not take the vaccine until the vaccine is available for my group in Black, Hispanic and poor communities around the state.” Cuomo is considered an essential, public-facing worker and would be eligible to receive the vaccine in the second phase of distribution, along with high-risk, elderly members of the general public. Subsequent phases will prioritize high-risk and low-risk members of the general public. Cuomo noted that the pandemic has exposed racial disparities in the health care system, both in the availability of testing and in the rates of infection and fatalities. Black people have died at double the rate of whites and Hispanics at one and a half times the rate, he said.

North Carolina

Raleigh: State education officials recently estimated educators can’t account for about 10,000 to 15,000 public school students this school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers and educators worry more students are falling through cracks in the system than is presently known, as the coronavirus pandemic upends students’ learning plans and keeps some out of virtual or physical classrooms. David Stegall, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s deputy superintendent of innovation, told lawmakers last month that a survey the state conducted of some districts concluded that the whereabouts of about 0.7% to 1% of the state’s 1.5 million K-12 public school students are unknown. This happens when a school has lost contact with a student, often because the student dropped out without alerting the school or moved elsewhere without the parent notifying the school or responding to repeated requests to get their kid back in class. If a student misses at least 10 consecutive days of school in North Carolina, they are typically unenrolled, and the school works to account for them.

North Dakota

Bismarck: The state’s efforts to make its legislative session safer during the coronavirus pandemic should also make it easier for citizens to observe the proceedings and participate in government, leaders and longtime observers say. Legislative leaders have spent more than $2.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to beef up livestreaming and remote technology to allow people to watch committee meetings and floor sessions in real time. The public will be able to give remote testimony and not have to worry about driving to Bismarck in the middle of winter. “They will be able to follow certain issues that they’re interested in from the committee room to the chamber, and if it passes and goes to the next chamber, they’ll know everything that’s said, everything that’s done,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, who spearheaded the upgrades. House and Senate floor sessions have been livestreamed, archived and indexed online since 2013, The Bismarck Tribune reports. But much of the action, including hearings on bills, takes place in committee meetings, North Dakota Newspaper Association attorney Jack McDonald said.

Ohio

Columbus: The newly elected state Senate president will be sworn into office from his home Monday after contracting COVID-19 over the holidays. Senate President Matt Huffman experienced mild symptoms before the new year and is doing well, spokesperson John Fortney said. Huffman, a Republican from Lima, joins a list of more than a dozen Ohio lawmakers who have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began in March. Huffman was chosen to succeed former Senate President Larry Obhof for the 134th General Assembly following a session filled with pandemic-related hurdles, a federal bribery scheme and infighting within the majority party. Fortney said Huffman will return to the Statehouse after following CDC quarantine guidelines and Senate policy. The Ohio Statehouse has become the scene of a partisan divide over mask-wearing in recent months, with Republicans continuing to push down Democrats’ motions to require all Statehouse staff to wear masks while in session and committees.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: The state has set a new record for COVID-19 deaths in a week, as health officials on Sunday reported more than 8,000 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus over two days. Oklahoma had 170 deaths from COVID-19 over the prior seven days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The previous one-week record of 168 deaths was set in early December. State health officials recorded 5,002 new cases of the virus Saturday and another 3,015 on Sunday, as well as 20 additional deaths. The actual number of cases is believed to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested, and some who get sick don’t show symptoms. There were more than 36,000 active cases of the virus in Oklahoma and 1,910 people hospitalized with it Sunday, according to the State Department of Health. Over the prior seven days, nearly 1 in 5 coronavirus tests in Oklahoma has come back positive, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Oregon

Salem: An anti-mask rally is planned for Saturday outside the WinCo Foods store in south Salem after an employee allegedly denied service to a customer who refused to wear a mask. WinCo stores, like many businesses, have adopted a policy requiring customers and employees to wear masks inside the store. Their policy allows for some medical exemptions. It is unclear whether a video of the incident – titled “Senior Citizen Denied Food at WinCo Grocery Store for Not Bowing to the Mask Police” – is connected to a string of videos showing people entering businesses in Oregon and refusing to put on masks while filming employees. The video was posted on YouTube and Parler, a microblogging website favored by conspiracy theorists, right-wing extremists and those fleeing what they claim is censorship on other social media sites. The rally, set to take place outside the store at 1 p.m. Saturday, comes in the wake of a string of right-wing protests that have resulted in violence, arrests and property damage in Salem.

Pennsylvania

Harrisburg: Along with once again being able to dine indoors, Pennsylvanians were able to go to the gym or watch a movie at a theater starting Monday, under an easing of restrictions by Gov. Tom Wolf. The updated state guidance is the next step in the state’s relaxation of the closures Wolf put in place in December to combat the spread of the coronavirus. “Our mitigation efforts over the past several weeks are working, and I thank everyone who abided by the restrictions put in place to protect us,” Wolf said. “Every time we make a small decision to avoid risk – or take steps to make our actions a little bit less risky – we are helping to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.” But just because a business or church can open doesn’t mean it will. Wolf has encouraged Pennsylvanians to stay home as much as possible and continues to urge vulnerable residents, such as those over 65 or with preexisting medical conditions, to remain home as much as possible. And while much of the focus has been on the restaurant industry, museums, aquariums and wedding reception venues are among the other businesses allowed to reopen.

Rhode Island

Providence: A recently retired state Supreme Court justice has tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting a change in at least two swearing-in ceremonies. Francis X. Flaherty, who retired Dec. 31, was supposed to swear in new Rhode Island House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and Warwick Mayor-elect Frank Picozzi on Tuesday. News of the positive test came in a news release about Picozzi’s ceremony. On his Facebook page, Picozzi said he has spoken with Flaherty, and “he’s as disappointed as I am.” District Court Judge Stephen Isherwood will take Flaherty’s place. House spokesman Larry Berman said Monday that Flaherty called Shekarchi on Saturday to advise him that he would not be able to administer the oath of office to him. Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg will step in for Flaherty to swear in the speaker.

South Carolina

Columbia: The superintendent of the state’s public schools said Monday that she had tested positive for the coronavirus and was experiencing “mild symptoms” but would continue to do her work from home. Cases of the virus have rocketed to record highs in South Carolina recently, and the news of Superintendent Molly Spearman’s positive test came the same day the state’s 780,000 public school students returned to classes following the holiday break. In a tweet, Spearman said she learned Sunday that she had tested positive for the virus Dec. 31 and “is fortunate to have only mild symptoms.” Spearman said she had already been quarantining after her husband and son tested positive earlier last week. While isolating, Spearman said, “I plan to continue to work from home and meet virtually as so many others in the education community have done this school year.” Just before Christmas, Gov. Henry McMaster’s office announced that the 73-year-old Republican had tested positive and would receive outpatient monoclonal antibody treatment for “mild symptoms.” His wife, 73-year-old Peggy McMaster, also tested positive but was asymptomatic. A spokesman said Monday that both were “out of isolation and feeling well.”

South Dakota

Rapid City: One of the state’s largest hospital systems announced Monday that it is planning to increase testing for the coronavirus, as the state saw a drop in new cases but a high positivity rate of testing. Monument Health, the largest health care provider in western South Dakota, plans to test more people who do not have symptoms of COVID-19, including running mass testing events. Hospital administrators said the availability of testing supplies has improved in recent weeks. The state Department of Health reported 111 new coronavirus infections and no new deaths Monday after the New Year’s holiday weekend, for the lowest daily tally in three months. But the positivity rate of RT-PCR tests, which detect the virus’s genetic material, topped 16%. Emily Leech, Monument Health’s director of laboratory services, said a community’s test positivity rate should ideally be below 5%. “We’re doing everything we can to increase testing in our communities,” she said in a statement. Monument said its volume of testing in December was about half the rate in November, when the state saw a surge of cases.

Tennessee

Nashville: The city’s once-thriving party scene – a hefty chunk of its economic base – took yet another direct hit in the Christmas morning bombing that tore up blocks in the center of downtown. In the hours after the attack, tourism and marketing officials rushed to cancel a new ad campaign, already delayed as coronavirus cases surged, aimed at luring out-of-town visitors. Now the question of when tourists will be welcomed back is weighing heavy on minds and pocketbooks across town. “We’re predicting January and February tourism to be virtually nonexistent,” said Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. CEO Butch Spyridon. “The only thing I know is it will be bad.” Many honky-tonks, bars and restaurants that managed to limp through the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns are now unsure when they can safely reopen. Honky-tonk owner Steve Smith said he’s so frustrated that he’s losing sleep and called on Mayor John Cooper to reinstate regular hours. The city is in the third phase of its COVID-19 reopening strategy, and bars and restaurants must have last call at 10 p.m. Downtown business owners have argued for months that it’s safer to allow them to operate as much as possible with social distancing measures so people aren’t having parties at homes or other places where they’re in closer proximity.

Texas

Austin: The Texas Capitol, shuttered to the public since the coronavirus pandemic took root in March, reopened Monday with protocols in place aimed at minimizing the risk for new infections. “At this time, a mask worn over the nose and mouth is required at all times inside the building,” said an online message from the State Preservation Board, the agency that operates the buildings in the Capitol complex in the heart of Austin. The state will also provide no-cost coronavirus testing for anyone who wants it before they enter the building. Also, capacity will be limited, and social distancing is required. Only one of the four public entrances will be open. Before the building was officially reopened, a large tent was erected outside the entrance on the Capitol’s north side to administer tests. Only a few visitors stopped by during the first hour of operation. The reopening comes just eight days before the start of the 2021 legislative session.

Utah

Salt Lake City: Republican Spencer Cox called for unity amid “hateful rhetoric” in national political discourse after being sworn in Monday as Utah’s first new governor in more than a decade. Cox denounced misinformation and division that he said have further taken hold throughout the pandemic. As he stood in front of red rock in southwestern Utah, Cox referred to a group of anti-mask protestors who lined a road to the ceremony calling for an end to the state’s coronavirus restrictions. “We are more divided than at any time in our lifetimes as the news is filled with civil unrest and protests, including one right outside this venue here today,” Cox said. “We are facing a crisis of empathy, a scourge of contempt. Very little feels ‘united’ about the United States today.” The new governor said that “it’s not too late” and called on the state’s residents to join together. Cox is succeeding Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who chose not to run for reelection after more than a decade in office. Cox, who became Herbert’s lieutenant governor in 2013, won the gubernatorial election in November.

Vermont

Montpelier: The Legislature is getting ready to kick off the 2021 session with almost all of the pomp and circumstance occurring remotely. Even as late as Monday, some of the moving parts of the Wednesday opening of the 2021 session were still developing. Once lawmakers are sworn in and settle into their jobs, the primary focus of this session is expected to be the state’s continued response to the coronavirus pandemic. “We are trying to make it a normal first day of session, except that we are on Zoom,” said Democratic state Rep. Jill Krowinski, the presumptive incoming speaker of the House. “All of the same traditions will be happening.” The House will be governing remotely for at least all of January and February, she said. The Senate will also be meeting remotely, but Lt. Gov.-elect Molly Gray will be sworn into office Thursday in the Senate chamber. Gray said she would then preside over her first session from the podium in the Senate chamber while senators will be attending remotely. Republican Gov. Phil Scott will be sworn in for his third term Thursday, after which he is scheduled to give his inaugural address.

Virginia

Norfolk: More than 1,400 long-term care facilities in the state are expected to receive doses of the coronavirus vaccine in the coming weeks. The Virginian-Pilot reports CVS and Walgreens will administer the vast majority of the doses. The pharmacy chains are partnering with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to take vaccines directly to the facilities so residents don’t have to travel. Virginia is putting front-line health care workers and long-term care residents in the top-tier priority group for immunizations. The state has received 388,000 vaccine doses collectively from Pfizer and Moderna. State health officials said nearly 65,000 vaccinations had been administered before New Year’s Day. But that number is believed to be low because of lags in reporting. No one has received the complete two-shot series because injections must be spaced three or four weeks apart, depending on the brand. Long-term care facilities are also rushing to get consent forms signed by residents or the individuals who make decisions for them.

Washington

Seattle: King County is starting 2021 with plans to buy as many as a dozen hotels to permanently house hundreds of homeless people and provide them with services. “We have every reason to believe that homelessness will get a lot worse after this pandemic unless we take bold action,” said Leo Flor, director of the King County Department of Community and Human Services. The initiative is called Health Through Housing, KING5 reports. It uses revenue from a 0.1% sales tax increase to develop a network of apartment-like shelters, with the goal of getting people out of tents, off sidewalks and into safe, clean homes. The county hopes to eventually house 45%, or 2,000 people, of its chronically homeless population of 4,500. The goal for 2021 is to create housing units for 1,500 people countywide, in former hotels and nursing homes throughout the county. Flor said hotel owners are already approaching the county and offering their properties, which are struggling to fill rooms during the pandemic.

West Virginia

Charleston: Officials announced Sunday that an officer at the Saint Marys Correctional Center in Pleasants County died Saturday while under treatment for COVID-19. Cpl. Mark Rustemeyer, 58, had worked at the prison since 1998. The prison has 253 active cases of the new coronavirus. Rustemeyer’s was the first virus-related death of a state corrections employee.

Wisconsin

Madison: The Legislature kicked off its two-year session Monday with an inauguration unlike any before it, with Assembly Democrats skipping the event because they thought the COVID-19 precautions were inadequate. During the ceremony, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester announced he had reached a deal with his fellow Republicans who control the state Senate on new coronavirus legislation. He said he wanted to act on the bill this week, but he did not immediately release a copy of it. It was unclear if it could win the support of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who renewed a call earlier in the day for compromise legislation. For the Assembly’s inauguration, members of both parties wore masks. In the Senate, Democrats wore them, but many Republicans did not. In both houses, lawmakers kept one or two desks between them to limit the spread of COVID-19. Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee pleaded with Republicans who eschewed masks to think about Wisconsinites who are more vulnerable. “Anybody in this body not wearing a mask does not care about my father, who has the blood type that is most susceptible,” Taylor said. “I have the right to tell you I do not appreciate the disregard for life.”

Wyoming

Gillette: After closing last March through May in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Devils Tower National Monument has set visitation records every month since September. August saw more 113,000 people visit the park that month alone, more than 13,000 visitors than in 2019. September saw a record number of visits at 68,726, 6,000 more for the month than 2019. October continued the trend with nearly 30,000 people coming to the park, up from October 2019’s 17,290 visitors. November typically sees a steep decline in tourists to Devils Tower. In 2020, more than 9,000 recreational visits were recorded – a nearly 110% spike over 2019. Overall, the park had seen 420,330 recreation visits last year through November, down only 7% from 2019 despite the pandemic’s impact, the Gillette News Record reports. Ogden and Rosanne Driskill, owners of Devils Tower KOA campground, both said 2020 was by far the best year they’ve ever had in terms of business. “The vast majority were distancing in an RV, were tired of sitting in a city, locked in a room where they couldn’t get any fresh air,” Ogden Driskill said.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Country venue blues, ice shanty dining, turkey sightings: News from around our 50 states

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From USA TODAY

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon