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Paintings by pups, burning masks, memorial mural: News from around our 50 states

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6/3/2021 From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
a large brown dog standing in front of a building: Keeper, a therapy dog for the Kitsap chapter of Therapy Dogs International, sits in front of some paintings he created during the COVID-19 pandemic while the dogs were out of work. © Jessie Darland / Kitsap Sun Keeper, a therapy dog for the Kitsap chapter of Therapy Dogs International, sits in front of some paintings he created during the COVID-19 pandemic while the dogs were out of work.

Alabama

Montgomery: Gov. Kay Ivey announced Wednesday that she’s running for reelection, citing Alabama’s “bucket load of common sense” in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Ivey, 76, made the announcement in a video message released by her campaign. The Republican emphasized her administration’s investment in infrastructure, job creation, Alabama’s pandemic recovery and its low unemployment rate. “Alabama is working again, and the best is yet to come,” Ivey said in her distinct Southern drawl. Ivey faced both praise and criticism for her handling of the pandemic. Unlike some Southern governors, she issued a statewide mask order, a move that was criticized by some conservatives but won her praise from health officials and others for following scientific recommendations. That mask order has ended. She has often embraced GOP priorities during her four years in office, including signing the nation’s most stringent abortion restrictions into law, making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases. The 2019 law, swiftly blocked by the courts, was part of a wave of restrictions passed by Republican-led legislatures that were aimed at getting the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the issue of abortion.

Alaska

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Juneau: The state has begun offering COVID-19 vaccines at airports, a move that was anticipated for the start of the summer travel season. The state health department said vaccine eligibility has been expanded to include anyone in Alaska who is at least 12 years old, including visitors from other states or countries. Prior eligibility was limited to those who live or work in Alaska. Vaccines will be offered outside the areas secured by the federal Transportation Security Administration at airports in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. Plans call for the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to have available all three vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S., including the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the health department said. The two-dose Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for those as young as 12. The Johnson & Johnson and two-dose Moderna vaccines have received emergency authorizations for those 18 or older. The department said testing services will be available at the three airports and at airports in Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, Cordova, Gustavus, Wrangell and Yakutat.

Arizona

Phoenix: Businesses across the nation generally had a tough time grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and economic-lockdown measures that came with it. But Arizona’s larger public corporations, for the most part, had a solid year. The 33 most valuable companies – those with a stock market worth above $2 billion each – earned a combined $8.7 billion in 2020 despite a recession early last year, increased safety and sanitation costs in dealing with the health emergency, and other disruptions. While the profit total was down from the combined $9.5 billion earned in 2019, the difference was entirely attributable to one action: a divestment made that year by NortonLifeLock, when the Tempe-based corporation sold its large-enterprise cybersecurity business to focus on the consumer market. Net income for the other 32 large Arizona companies was up nearly $2.5 billion. There was no overarching catalyst for the improvements aside from an economic climate that faltered initially but began to revive quickly. Some Arizona corporations saw no real falloff in customer demand. Others capitalized on changing consumer preferences, such as in homebuilding. A few benefited from one-time tax or other windfalls, but some others also were bit by the same.

Arkansas

Little Rock: The state’s surplus for the fiscal year is approaching $1 billion, the state’s finance office said Wednesday, as it reported a major boost in income and sales tax collections. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration said the state’s net available revenue for the fiscal year that began July 1 totals $6.1 billion, which is $980 million higher than forecast. The state’s revenue is $941 million more than the same point last year. The state’s net revenue in May totaled $655 million, which is $289 million more than the same month last year and $263 million above forecast. The state’s revenue collections were above forecast in all major categories, the department said. The latest figures comes as Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pushing for an income tax cut that he wants lawmakers to take up in a special session this fall. The Republican governor touted the surplus, saying it shows the state can afford another reduction. “This shows we can fund education, raise teacher pay and protect public safety at the same time we are lowering our tax rate,” he said in a statement.

California

Sacramento: Democrats in the Legislature said Tuesday that they think the state will have about $20 billion more to spend over the next four years, highlighting a disagreement with Gov. Gavin Newsom about the trajectory of the state’s finances as it emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. California has an extra $76 billion to spend this year. State law says about half of it must go to public education, be put in reserves or be used to pay down debt. Newsom and state lawmakers can spend the rest of it however they want. Newsom wants to spend most of that money on things that do not need ongoing funding – including giving $8.1 billion of it back to taxpayers in the form of rebates. Democratic leaders in the Legislature on Tuesday agreed to do most of the things Newsom wants. But they also committed to spending billions of dollars on programs that require ongoing spending. Lawmakers pledged to spend about $1.3 billion giving government-funded health insurance to low-income immigrants living in the country illegally who are 50 or older. They said they would spend $1.1 billion to increase the rates for state child care and preschool providers. And they agreed to give local governments $1 billion per year to combat homelessness.

Colorado

Colorado Springs: A children’s hospital has declared “a pediatric mental health state of emergency” after an unprecedented number of children 8 and older have reported needing immediate treatment, mostly for suicidal thoughts and attempts. Children’s Hospital Colorado CEO Jena Hausmann said the facility is overrun with “kids attempting suicide and suffering from other forms of major mental health illness.” Children’s Hospital Colorado Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Brumbaugh said between a dozen and two dozen children systemwide may wait hours or days on any given day to get a behavioral health bed. As a result, Hausmann has suggested setting up emergency centers, like those that emerged for COVID-19 patients, to accommodate the overflow. Dr. Jenna Glover, director of psychology training at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, said children are coping with pandemic stress primarily through substance use, withdrawal from normal involvement and eating-disorder behavior. “It’s not going to go away next year,” she said. “Now they just have to reengage in life, and they don’t have the resources. They’re burned out. They’re hopeless.” Colorado Springs has seen a steady increase of children in therapy since the pandemic began, Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Executive Director Cass Walton said.

Connecticut

Hartford: Speaker of the House Matt Ritter warned Wednesday that state lawmakers who continue to drink alcohol excessively during legislative sessions could face serious consequences, including losing coveted committee assignments. The Hartford Democrat said both he and House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, have recently admonished members of the Democratic House caucus “on multiple occasions” about drinking in the legislative complex, including the parking garage, while the House is in session. Drinking alcohol in lawmakers’ offices, especially during lengthy debates on late nights, has occurred for years at the Connecticut State Capitol and others around the U.S. But this year, as part of pandemic precautions, the Connecticut Capitol building remains closed to the public for the rest of the session, which ends June 9. While a limited number of lawmakers are allowed to participate in person for House and Senate debates, some legislators are watching and voting remotely from their legislative offices. All committee hearings and votes were held virtually this year. It’s been during those House and Senate floor debates that Democratic leaders said some lawmakers have been drinking excessively, though they did not say how many.

Delaware

Wilmington: Fifty-one state employees made more than $200,000 in 2020 – nearly double the number of people paid that much the year before – according to a database of state employee salaries provided by the state Office of Management and Budget. The plethora of high earners is due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic demanding more hours of top health officials and Black Lives Matter protests prompting police to clock in an unrivaled amount of overtime. Dr. Rick Hong, the medical director of the Division of Public Health, was the highest-paid employee last year and the only one to top $300,000. Hong is one of 11 health department employees who made more than $200,000 last year. Also on the list was Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, who was the state’s fourth-highest-paid employee with $256,519 total earnings. Normally, senior-level managers like Rattay and Hong don’t make overtime, but the COVID-19 pandemic made for special circumstances, according to Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Jill Fredel. The two officials, who over the course of the pandemic became two of the leading faces of Delaware’s COVID-19 response, became eligible for overtime due to the activation of the State Health Operations Center at the start of the pandemic, she said.

District of Columbia

Washington: As many people developed new hobbies and ways to stay busy during the past year-plus of the pandemic, a local couple used their time together to develop a mobile app for finding live music in the nation’s capital, WUSA-TV reports. Nameer Rizvi and girlfriend Naomi-Grace “NG” Panlaqui came up with the idea during one of their date nights before clubs and venues shut down in March 2020. Both discussed how annoying it was to plan a night out by searching several different websites to find live music, Rizvi said. Though life has begun returning to a sense of normalcy, most stages remain quiet. Rizvi and Panlaqui, both web developers, began working on their project to stay busy in quarantine. Rizvi said they launched as a website in September but didn’t get a lot of traction, so they decided to change it to a mobile app. Since pivoting to mobile, Rizvi said, the DC Music Live app has gotten more attention on social media, as well as feedback that Rizvi said was valuable when plotting next steps in development. “We’re trying to build something that makes live music as accessible as possible,” he said. “We hope this helps not only revitalize the local music scene but transforms the city into one where going to a live show is just part of the day-to-day for Washingtonians.”

Florida

a group of people standing around a table: Florida State University students pick up packs of five free reusable face masks and a flyer with guidance for using them on the first day of classes for the fall semester in Landis Green Monday, August 24, 2020. © Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat Florida State University students pick up packs of five free reusable face masks and a flyer with guidance for using them on the first day of classes for the fall semester in Landis Green Monday, August 24, 2020.

Tallahassee: Florida State University is asking a judge to reject a potential class-action lawsuit that seeks to recoup money for students who were forced to learn online because of the pandemic. FSU attorneys last week filed a document in Leon County circuit court arguing that a judge should dismiss the case or issue a judgment in the university’s favor. In part, the document pointed to sovereign immunity, which helps shield governmental entities from lawsuits. The attorneys also argued that no contract existed between named plaintiff Harrison Broer and the university. Attorneys for Broer, an Auburndale resident who was a FSU law school student in spring 2020, filed the lawsuit last month. Like similar lawsuits filed in Florida and elsewhere, it contends that students paid to learn in person but were shortchanged last spring when they had to take classes remotely because of the pandemic. The lawsuit came after the Legislature in April passed a bill designed to shield colleges and universities from such cases. The bill has not formally been sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis and would take effect July 1.

Georgia

Savannah: The city lifted its mask mandate this week after nearly a year in place. The first executive order was signed by Mayor Van Johnson in July 2020, and the latest extension expired Monday night. The order has been downgraded to a mask advisory, which essentially means masks are still highly encouraged but not mandated, according to Johnson. “I still ask businesses, particularly those with limited indoor spaces, to consider requiring masks inside their establishments,” he said Tuesday morning. Along with the updated guidance, the city is now working through a phased reopening for city-owned buildings and facilities and programs that are open to the public. Masks will still be required in city buildings, and entry protocols will remain in place. Other changes include the number of people allowed for city-permitted events. Previously the number was capped at 100, but that’s now up to 250 as long as social distance is taken into consideration. Johnson said the city’s decision follows the science and the plateau of the community transmission rate, but while hospitalizations are still trending down, so are vaccination rates, he said. “Georgia is 33% fully vaccinated, and only 39% of Georgia’s residents have had at least one dose. That falls below the national average, and our local vaccination rates fall below that,” he said.

Hawaii

Hilo: A coronavirus outbreak at a Big Island jail is growing, and state officials say reluctance to get vaccinated is driving the spread. The state Department of Public Safety announced Tuesday that the outbreak at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center has grown to 77 inmates and nine staff members, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said contact tracing is underway. “The jail population is transient, and as long as inmates continue to come in from the community, there will always be concern for new virus introduction,” Schwartz said. A quarantine is in place for all inmate housing, and officials have suspended movement outside the facility. The Department of Health and Hawaii National Guard are helping with coronavirus testing. Mayor Mitch Roth said in a statement Tuesday that because employees are being infected, the community needs to be aware and careful. “With those employees being from and very much a part of our communities here on Hawaii Island, we are asking our residents to remain cautious,” Roth said. “What is happening at HCCC is a very real and stark reminder of how fast the virus can spread in such a short amount of time.”

Idaho

Idaho Falls: The state has fallen short of a goal to get 80% of senior citizens inoculated against COVID-19 by June, the Post Register reports. Just over 75% of residents 65 and up had gotten at least one dose of a vaccine by Tuesday, with only about 71% fully vaccinated, according to the newspaper. Idaho also hopes to have 80% of all residents inoculated by September but is little more than halfway to that level.

Illinois

Springfield: The state continued to see new lows in coronavirus cases Wednesday, even as vaccinations stall going into June. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 478 new cases, marking the second consecutive day with fewer than 500 new cases. It’s the first time since March 27-28, 2020, that Illinois reported so few cases on consecutive days. The positivity rate also continues to stay down, coming in at 1.8%, with the rate as a percentage of total tests also remaining low at 1.5%. The state reported nine COVID-19 deaths. Despite the low case totals, daily vaccinations continued their decline, with just 29,322 new COVID-19 shots being recorded Wednesday by IDPH. The seven-day average now sits at 41,234, the lowest since Jan. 29. But 67% of adult residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 51% fully vaccinated. Overall, the state has reported 11,338,305 vaccinations, with 5,297,585 people being fully vaccinated, representing 41.58% of the entire population.

Indiana

Indianapolis: A big increase in Hoosier Lottery ticket sales during the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled what officials expect will be a record amount of annual profit going into the state’s bank accounts. Officials told the State Lottery Commission late last month that they projected scratch-off ticket sales would be up almost 27% for the fiscal year ending June 30 compared to a year ago. Sales for daily draw and big jackpot games such as Powerball and Mega Millions are expected to finish 19% ahead of last year. That will result in an anticipated $368 million for the state from about $1.7 billion in lottery sales. That profit is up about $63 million, or 20%, from a year ago, when overall sales dropped during the early months of coronavirus-related shutdowns. The company hired to operate the lottery, however, doesn’t expect another jump next year as coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted and people can take part in more activities. “We have budgeted a decrease from the historical year that we’ve experienced,” said Melissa Pursley, IGT Indiana’s chief operating officer. “As Hoosiers begin to have more options to spend their entertainment dollars, we believe that our sales will be impacted.”

Iowa

Des Moines: The state finished May with fewer than 100 people hospitalized with COVID-19, the lowest total in nearly 14 months, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. The number of COVID-19 patients in Iowa hospitals peaked at more than 1,500 in mid-November. “Having fewer than 100 Iowans hospitalized with COVID-19 is a significant milestone and a true signal that we are on the right path,” Iowa Department of Public Health interim Director Kelly Garcia said in a statement. Hospitalizations have declined even as vaccinations have slowed. Des Moines infectious disease doctors say vaccines are helping to slow community spread and prevent the worst outcomes for those who’ve been inoculated. But the decline in hospitalizations is no reason to skip vaccination, said Dr. Leyla Best with UnityPoint Health. Those still being hospitalized are complicated cases, she said, and she couldn’t think of one COVID-19 patient she treated in the past several weeks who was fully vaccinated. Research shows the three approved vaccines all provide remarkable protection against severe symptoms and prevent almost all hospitalizations and deaths. Vaccinations peaked in Iowa in early April, when more than 51,000 shots were administered in a single day. The number failed to top 10,000 any day last week, state reports show.

Kansas

Topeka: If people can’t leave their homes to get a COVID-19 shot, public health officials in the Kansas City area can send someone out. One community is signing up churches, businesses and apartment complexes for group vaccinations. Health departments in Johnson and Wyandotte counties have offered home inoculation visits for months, and Wyandotte County recently added a team to help businesses or groups wanting shots for employees or members. The state has seven trailers allowing it to set up clinics at remote sites, including NASCAR’s Kansas Speedway in Kansas City and Melvern Lake later this week. Geary County’s health department brings vaccinations to employers, and Sedgwick County has 17 mobile clinics scheduled this month, including three at its zoo. With demand down, Gov. Laura Kelly has said Kansas is changing its strategy for reaching herd immunity, away from mass clinics and toward having individual health care providers give shots. But some counties see a need to do more. “This is kind of a joke, but why not put it on an ice cream truck, and when the guy is coming down the neighborhood with his ice cream truck with his bells and his music blaring, also, you know, offer vaccination at that point?” said Dr. Dana Hawkinson, director of infection control for the University of Kansas Health System.

Kentucky

Frankfort: The state’s senior centers will reopen at full capacity starting June 11, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday in announcing the latest coronavirus-related restriction nearing an end. The reopening date for senior centers will come on the same day that most of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. The increasing number of vaccinations makes it safe to let Kentuckians gather once again at senior centers, the Democratic governor said at a news conference. “These things are miracles,” he said of the vaccinations. “They have effectively ended death and hospitalization for the most vulnerable. They are saving lives every single day. And we’ve got to make sure more people get them.” People entering senior centers will be required to follow county-level mask guidance, he said. Closing Kentucky’s nearly 200 senior centers for more than a year amid the pandemic “was a hard thing to do, but it was the right thing to do,” the governor said. The virus ravaged Kentucky’s older population, but now more than 80% of residents 65 and older have been vaccinated. While senior centers were closed, Kentuckians “stepped up” to ensure that services continued for senior citizens, Beshear said. That included a 200% increase in meal deliveries statewide, with 4 million meals served to seniors during the pandemic, he said.

Louisiana

Shreveport: Caddo Parish administration’s use of the term “lottery” as it pertains to the Caddo Parish Emergency Rental Assistance Program has caused a lot of public confusion. Public comments from local organizer Omari Ho-Sang, along with comments submitted online to the commission during Tuesday’s work session, laid out story after story about how someone in need who applied for funding did not receive it and how people were hearing that receiving payments was based on a “lottery system.” Caddo Parish launched the federally funded program April 1 to serve eligible citizens who have been financially affected and unable to pay rent and electricity costs as a result of COVID-19. Caddo Parish Commission President Lyndon B. Johnson said Tuesday following the meeting that something is being done to address the confusion. “There’s been a lot of miscommunication in the community that the program is (operating on) a lottery system,” Johnson said. Commissioner Steven Jackson tried on several occasions to get clarification on the “lottery” term used by the administration when talking about the program. Johnson said officials will no longer use the term when talking about the rental assistance program.

Maine

Bangor: The city is bringing back its Fourth of July celebration with a road race, parade and fireworks. Organizers say Gov. Janet Mills’ decision to lift restrictions and physical distancing requirements last month gave them the green light to move forward with the celebration. “It’s going to be nice to get back out in the sunshine, see the parade units rolling down across two cities, and have a lot of money go up in smoke basically,” Michael Fern, president of the Greater Bangor 4th of July Corporation, told WABI-TV. Most of the events are expected to take place, with the exception of a pancake breakfast and charity concert. Such Independence Day celebrations are going to be hit or miss across the state. Portland already announced that Portland Symphony Orchestra will not perform on the Eastern Promenade, but it hasn’t yet decided whether there will be fireworks.

Maryland

Annapolis: The governor has announced that the state will discontinue enhanced federal pandemic unemployment benefits and reinstate work-search requirements next month, sparking objections from Democrats. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that the state will stop paying jobless residents an extra $300 a week and discontinue three other programs, including aid for self-employed workers. People claiming unemployment will have to show they are looking for a new job. “While these federal programs provided important temporary relief, vaccines and jobs are now in good supply,” Hogan said in a news release. “And we have a critical problem where businesses across our state are trying to hire more people, but many are facing severe worker shortages.” Without the federally funded enhancements, Maryland’s maximum unemployment benefit is $430 weekly. Ending the programs with 30 days’ notice seems abrupt and will hurt families, said Del. Eric Luedtke, the Democratic majority leader in the House of Delegates. He is still hearing from constituents who need help and said he doesn’t believe the unemployed just need to be nudged back to work. “I don’t think we have a labor shortage. We have a low-wage labor shortage,” Luedtke told The Baltimore Sun. “There are plenty of workers if you pay a decent wage.”

Massachusetts

Boston: Gov. Charlie Baker is facing increasing criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 crisis at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, with calls mounting for a legislative response to the outbreak that killed 76 veteran residents last spring. The tragedy led to the removal last year of Bennett Walsh, the former superintendent of the 240-bed, state-run facility, and the signing last month of a $400 million spending bill to finance construction of a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. Walsh faces five counts of causing serious bodily injury and five counts of criminal neglect. He has pleaded not guilty. But critics say investigations of the outbreak, including one headed by a former federal prosecutor commissioned by Baker, have raised more questions than answers. A report last month by The Boston Globe claimed the investigation by ex-prosecutor Mark Pearlstein didn’t fully explore the decision to hire Walsh or his qualifications for the job. The newspaper said Walsh was a politically connected hire with no background in health care administration. Baker on Friday acknowledged he’d interviewed Walsh for a half-hour before he appointed him to lead the home in 2016, despite the governor claiming last year that he’d never met the former superintendent before swearing him in. Baker said at a press conference that he forgot about the meeting with Walsh.

Michigan

a person posing for the camera: A mural memorializing Detroit victims of the COVID-19 pandemic was unveiled at the fire station on Seven Mile Road near John R Road in Detroit on Sunday. © Sean Work, Detroit Free Press A mural memorializing Detroit victims of the COVID-19 pandemic was unveiled at the fire station on Seven Mile Road near John R Road in Detroit on Sunday.

Detroit: A large mural honoring a firefighter and other Detroit public employees who died from COVID-19 has been unveiled next to a fire station. Fire Capt. Franklin Williams dominates the painting. But there are images of a bus driver who made an emotional plea for protection from COVID-19 before he caught the coronavirus and of 5-year-old girl Skylar Herbert, who was the daughter of a firefighter and police officer. “This mural represents community heroes representing those institutions who also fought for our country by putting on a uniform and fighting an unknown enemy: COVID-19,” said Odie Fakhouri, chief operating officer of the Arab American and Chaldean Council, which owns the building on Seven Mile Road. Williams, 57, was eligible to retire from the fire department but wanted to work until age 60. He died last summer. “Some of them became ill, some of them were hospitalized, and Franklin made the ultimate sacrifice,” Fire Commissioner Eric Jones said at the Sunday unveiling. The mural was created by artist Charles “Chazz” Miller with assistance from students at University of Detroit Mercy. The mural has the face of bus driver Jason Hargrove, 50, who died early in the pandemic. He became ill four days after posting an angry, profanity-laced Facebook video about the risks when coughing passengers don’t wear masks. “Everybody in America” should watch Hargrove’s video, Mayor Mike Duggan said at the time.

Minnesota

Minneapolis: The Twin Cities are ending their coronavirus mask requirements as vaccination rates are on the rise. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey imposed the indoor mask mandate last spring, two months before Gov. Tim Walz issued a similar statewide mask order. Frey said the mandate was lifted because more than 78% of city residents ages 15 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. “It certainly helped control spread, and the data has shown how effective masks have been up to this time,” Frey said. “Now that we are getting close to the 80%, we do plan to lift the mask mandate.” St. Paul officially ended its mandate Wednesday. “While we are yet to reach the benchmarks set by local public health experts, the reality of a maskless Minneapolis limits the logic and efficacy of maintaining a masking order alone,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said, adding that he urged all residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The statewide mask mandate was ended May 14, shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks.

Mississippi

Columbus: The local library is asking the public to donate artifacts to document how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their lives. The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library System put out a call to county residents on social media requesting information and items including diaries, photos, videos, drawings and masks. “We’re just really hoping to be able to collect things so that future generations will look back and research what we lived through – kind of almost like the 1918 pandemic,” library archivist Mona Vance-Ali told WCBI-TV. It will all go into the library’s vault, which contains documents that date back 200 years. One aspect of the pandemic in which the library is particularly interested is how people relied on technology to interact with loved ones during quarantine. “One of the things that we want to document is, ‘How did technology make living through a pandemic different than in previous eras?’ ” Vance-Ali told the television station. The information collected will also be used to track how the pandemic influences society in the future. Vance-Ali told WCBI she sees the work as a responsibility to future generations. “I feel like I’m contributing to something that has a much bigger purpose than myself,” she said.

Missouri

O’Fallon: Two neighboring counties in rural northern Missouri are seeing big increases in coronavirus cases, spikes blamed in part on new variants and in part on the behavior of residents. Health officials in Linn and Livingston counties are urging precautions to slow the spread of the virus, though they’re not certain residents will follow that guidance – both counties lag well behind the state and national averages in vaccinations. The COVID-19 hub for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Wednesday showed Livingston County with 348 cases per 100,000 residents for the seven-day period ending Sunday and Linn County with 243 cases per 100,000. The statewide average for the period was 27 cases. The two counties combined have 27,000 residents. Both are a little over 100 miles northwest of Kansas City. Health officials in Livingston and Linn counties blame strains of the virus first identified in the United Kingdom and India. The World Health Organization has said both variants are concerning because they appear to spread easily. Sherry Weldon, administrator of the Livingston County Health Department in Chillicothe, said the outbreak’s spread has come not from any single event but from several modest-sized gatherings.

Montana

Kalispell: Hundreds of nurses at Logan Health began a three-day strike Tuesday over demands for better wages and working conditions. More than 100 nurses who were scheduled to work during the strike said they would still work their shifts, the Daily Inter Lake reports. Meanwhile, nurses who oppose the union said they were gathering signatures to hold a vote to end the nurses’ relationship with the Service Employees International Union. The group called Nurses and Community Unite said it will be filing for a decertification election with the National Labor Relations Board to sever ties with the SEIU. “Not only has the SEIU failed to get a contract, they have created a hostile and divisive work environment,” said Shelly Olbert, a registered nurse and spokesperson for Nurses and Community Unite. Throughout the pandemic, members of SEIU did not receive hazard pay increases and other benefits that staffers in other departments received, the anti-union group said. The group said more than 40% of Logan Health nurses have signed a petition for a decertification election, more than the 30% needed. The union has been seeking increased staffing, improved wages and benefits, and a voice for nurses in staffing decisions, including more warning when their schedules change. The bargaining began 19 months ago.

Nebraska

Lincoln: State officials are dropping plans for a two-tier system to cover voter-approved Medicaid expansion. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that all Nebraskans covered by the expansion will get a full range of benefits starting Oct. 1, the Omaha World-Herald reports. The announcement is a change from earlier plans by Gov. Pete Ricketts’ administration to offer a two-tier system that would include a “basic” plan covering physical and behavioral health care services and a “prime” plan that would also cover dental, vision and over-the-counter drugs. The two-tiered system would not have applied to those who receive benefits through the traditional Medicaid program, only those who qualify for the expanded coverage by meeting work or volunteer benchmarks or participating in educational or job-training programs. They also would have had to meet with a health care provider for a wellness assessment. Tuesday’s announcement means the state will provide the full range of benefits without the extra requirements. The Trump administration approved Ricketts’ two-tier plan last year, prompting a lawsuit by advocacy group Nebraska Appleseed. But the Biden administration made clear early this year that it would not approve the system.

Nevada

a clock tower in the middle of a park with Nevada State Capitol in the background: The Nevada Capitol in Carson City. © RGJ file The Nevada Capitol in Carson City.

Carson City: The Nevada Capitol has reopened for people with appointments and guided tours. The limited public access began Tuesday after more than a year of closures because of the pandemic. People inside will be asked to comply with the latest guidance on masks from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which say those who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks indoors. Guided tours will resume with up to five people. Self-guided tours are still off limits, and people arriving for a public meeting will only be allowed to attend the event.

New Hampshire

Concord: A federal appeals court says it will rehear a case involving a challenge to holding in-person legislative sessions without a remote option in the state during the coronavirus pandemic, and it has invited U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to weigh in. Earlier this year, seven Democratic lawmakers sued House Speaker Sherman Packard, a Republican, arguing that not allowing a remote option violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state and federal constitutions and forces them to either risk their lives or abandon their duties as elected officials. A federal judge in Concord ruled in Packard’s favor. But the Boston-based 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April to send the case back to the judge to hold further proceedings to determine if the plaintiffs are “persons with disabilities within the meaning” of the ADA or the federal Rehabilitation Act. The appeals court changed its mind after the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, which is representing Packard, asked for a rehearing. The office had argued that the 1st Circuit did away with legislative immunity in the case “on the broad swath of potential claims arising under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act.” The appeals court scheduled the rehearing for Sept. 10. Garland’s office has been asked to respond by June 28.

New Jersey

a dog sitting in front of a window: Otter, adopted in spring 2020 from the St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, with owner Linda Farkas of Ringwood. © Courtesy of Linda Farkas Otter, adopted in spring 2020 from the St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, with owner Linda Farkas of Ringwood.

Madison: While shelters in some parts of the country are seeing a wave of pandemic pets being returned to them, North Jersey rescues and shelters say they have so far escaped that disheartening trend. Pet fever set in early in the pandemic, when people realized they would be stuck at home. As the world begins to return to some semblance of what it was, there are fears that those animals, particularly dogs, will be cast aside. So far, “we are not finding that to be the case,” said Diane Ashton, director of communications at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison. Petpoint.com, which collects data related to animal ownership, reports that returns of dogs previously adopted from the same organizations increased 50% in April from the previous year. Owner surrenders of all dogs were up 79.9%. Those numbers may be skewed by shutdowns in 2020. St. Hubert’s, however, saw 2,061 animals surrendered between March 2019 and March 2020 and only 1,300 between March 2020 and March 2021. Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge in Oakland, Father John’s Animal House in Lafayette and A Pathway to Hope in Hawthorne were no different. Amy Hofer, founder and president of A Pathway to Hope, said the rescue’s screening process is fairly intense and helps to weed out less prepared, less committed adopters.

New Mexico

Santa Fe: The state bet big Tuesday that cash can persuade people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, offering the largest single cash prize among the growing number of states staging lotteries to promote inoculations. Vaccinated residents who register on New Mexico’s “Vax 2 the Max” portal can win prizes from a pool totaling $10 million that includes a $5 million grand prize, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced. “Getting vaccinated is the right thing to do – for yourself, for your family and for your state,” Lujan Grisham said. “I’m excited to add a little fun to our nation-leading vaccination push.” At least 55% of eligible residents in the state are fully vaccinated, but the Department of Health wants to reach 70% and close in on possible herd immunity. The prize money would go far in the state that’s one of the poorest in the country, ranking 48th in per capita income of roughly $45,800, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. Lujan Grisham said the lottery program is funded by federal pandemic relief money. Starting next week, officials will draw prizes of $250,000 in each of four regions, as well as smaller prizes ranging from lottery “scratcher” tickets to in-state vacation packages and museum tickets. The $5 million drawing will be held in August.

New York

New York: A play about young Black men trapped on a street corner has positioned itself as the first Broadway show audiences can watch live when the Great White Way restarts. Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu’s “Pass Over” will begin performances at the August Wilson Theatre on Aug. 4, several weeks before any other show. Riffing on “Waiting for Godot,” the play is seemingly perfect for a post-COVID-19 Broadway, with just three actors and an intermission-less 85-minute running time. Producers said they will follow federal and state protocols determined later this summer. The play was first staged in 2017 in Chicago and was filmed by Spike Lee. It was most recently produced at Lincoln Center’s off-Broadway theater in 2018, and that cast will make the leap to Broadway. Before “Pass Over,” the reopening of the musical “Hadestown” was going to be the first show to welcome audiences on Broadway since the pandemic, setting a return date of Sept. 2. The first Broadway show to welcome a live audience is likely to get a lot of attention. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had said Broadway theaters could reopen Sept. 14, but producers “may make their own economic decision as to when they reopen.” They’ll also be allowed to decide their own entry requirements, like whether attendees must prove they’ve been vaccinated.

North Carolina

Raleigh: Giving bonuses to the state’s unemployment benefit recipients who get a job soon would help businesses struggling to fill vacancies and residents who need a nudge to return to work, Republican lawmakers said Tuesday. The state Senate voted 35-10 for legislation that would provide $1,500 to people who accept reemployment within 30 days of the bonus program starting. The payment would drop to $800 if they begin employment on or after 30 days but before 60 days. The bonuses would come from federal funds that have raised individual unemployment benefits by $300 per week during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the one-time payments won’t happen unless the U.S. Department of Labor allows the state to use the money that way. That can’t occur unless Congress first passes its own law permitting such use, said Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson County Republican, the bill’s chief proponent. Edwards said he’s worried that the supplemental benefits on top of state payments are acting as a disincentive for people to return to work at a time when the economy is ready to surge as the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs and employers can’t attract applicants. “Let’s face it, it is easier to not work than it is to work,” Edwards said. The bill now goes to the House, which hasn’t yet voted on such a measure.

North Dakota

Bismarck: A quarterly report shows the state’s economic outlook is improving as the coronavirus pandemic begins to wane. The second-quarter outlook from North Dakota State University shows a growing labor force, an increase in gross state product and steady total tax collections, the Bismarck Tribune reports. One cloud in the improved outlook is lingering difficulties in the labor market, where wages and salaries are projected to decrease, and unemployment might increase. The unemployment rate is projected to increase early in the second and third quarters before leveling off near 6.5%. Overall, “the current forecast shows a continuation of positive trends for the state with variances between the different regions,” said economics professor Jeremy Jackson, director of the Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise. The Bismarck metro is poised for growth in its labor force, with wages expected to hold steady, while Fargo and Grand Forks may have more difficulty rebounding from the pandemic economy, the report said. The outlook is prepared by the university’s Center for the Study of Public Choice and Private Enterprise.

Ohio

Columbus: Republican politicians are burning their face masks on social media in celebration after the state’s mask mandate and other restrictive orders were officially lifted Wednesday. Former state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who’s running for U.S. Senate, posted a 10-second video of himself calmly lighting a mask on fire and unceremoniously dropping it on a concrete floor. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who had a bad case of COVID-19 in late December, posted a short video of him removing a surgical mask and dousing it with lighter fluid and torching it. Yost added a little theatrical flourish at the end of the edited clip, an intended homage to Jimi Hendrix, who famously burned his guitar at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. State-set restrictions have waned in recent months, first in February with the elimination of the curfew and most recently with exemptions for fully vaccinated people. As of Wednesday, there is no state order requiring adults to wear face coverings indoors. Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, mask mandates became a political issue in a sharply divided America. Fights over masks broke out on airplanes, in stores and parks. Some conservatives, who viewed public health mandates as a government overreach, staged protests at the Ohio Statehouse and elsewhere.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to privatize much of the state’s Medicaid program is unconstitutional. In a 6-3 ruling Tuesday, the court determined the Oklahoma Health Care Authority did not have the legislative approval to move forward with the plan, dubbed SoonerSelect. “We find no express grant of legislative authority to create the SoonerSelect program nor do we find the extant statutes implicitly authorize its creation,” the ruling says. The court also determined a constitutional amendment approved by voters last year to expand Medicaid to more low-income people did not authorize a new managed-care program like SoonerSelect. And the court found that OHCA, the state’s Medicaid agency, should have made the rules governing competitive bidding widely known prior to implementing a request for proposal and the awarding of contracts. Stitt, a Republican, has pushed the plan to outsource management of the state’s Medicaid system to for-profit insurance companies, maintaining that the approach will maximize health care quality while cutting costs. A group of medical organizations filed suit in February. “Oklahoma physicians were virtually united in opposition to this plan,” Allison LeBoeuf, executive director of the Oklahoma Osteopathic Association, said in a statement.

Oregon

Salem: State lawmakers have passed a bill allowing the sale of to-go cocktails to continue after the COVID-19 pandemic. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that Senate Bill 317, which allows licensed establishments to sell “mixed drinks and single servings of wine in sealed containers for off-premises consumption,” previously passed the Oregon Senate in March. It cleared the House on Tuesday by a vote of 51-7. The legislation now moves to Gov. Kate Brown. As new coronavirus restrictions brought drinking and dining to a standstill across America in March 2020, many states rushed to overturn laws banning takeout cocktail sales, many of which had been on the books since Prohibition. Sponsored by Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, and Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, the new bill means Oregon will join roughly 15 states and the District of Columbia in making to-go cocktail sales permanent.

Pennsylvania

Philadelphia: The city’s annual celebration of the nation’s birthday returns this summer with the traditional July 4 free concert in a different venue but concluding as usual with a fireworks display over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Wawa Welcome America on Wednesday announced an expanded 2021 celebration following last year’s pandemic-spurred virtual-only festivities, with events beginning this year on June 19 to include the Juneteenth celebration marking the end of slavery in the United States. The July 4 concert headlined by Bebe Rexha and Flo Rida will take place at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts rather than on the parkway, but people will be allowed to gather on the parkway for the traditional fireworks display closing out the festivities. The expanded celebration will also include free movie screenings and museum admissions, gospel and pops concerts, and other events.

Rhode Island

Providence: Artists and workers in the state’s cultural institutions who have suffered hardship during the coronavirus pandemic can now apply for help through the latest round of grants from the Artist Relief Fund, the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts announced Wednesday. The fund was launched in March 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 crisis when artists had to postpone and eventually cancel shows, residencies, school performances and workshops. It has been providing small grants to artists and culture workers in the state since then, helping people stay safe and pay for living and incidental expenses. “Income for artists essentially stopped, and artists had trouble paying rent and putting food on their table,” Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the arts council, said in a statement. “It is vital that we continue to offer support and assistance to artists and culture workers, who have and continue to add tremendous value to our state’s economy and the creative life of our communities.” Applications can be made on the arts council’s website through June 14. The relief fund is also still accepting donations. The funds raised will go directly to the arts community.

South Carolina

Columbia: Some state prisons will allow in-person visits this month, more than a year after officials canceled visitations due to the coronavirus pandemic. Visitation will resume June 19 for vaccinated inmates at four minimum-security institutions across the state, the South Carolina Department of Corrections announced in a news release Wednesday. Visitors at these facilities must test negative for the virus within three days of the visit or provide a card indicating they have completed their COVID-19 vaccine shots. The one-on-one visits must be scheduled ahead of time and are limited to an hour a week. About two-thirds of people incarcerated at SCDC facilities have been offered the vaccine so far, with 54% choosing to get the shots, according to the agency. The four facilities set to reopen for visits are Goodman Correctional Institution and Manning Reentry/Work Release Center in Columbia, Livesay Correctional Institution in Una, and Palmer Pre-Release Center in Florence. The corrections department said it will continue to suspend visitation, as well as volunteer, work release and labor crew programs, at all other state facilities through the end of this month.

South Dakota

a group of young children sitting in a room: Music teacher Lora Moriarty asks questions to socially distanced students Jan. 27, 2021, at Robert Frost Elementary in the Sioux Falls School District. © Sioux Falls School District/Submitted Music teacher Lora Moriarty asks questions to socially distanced students Jan. 27, 2021, at Robert Frost Elementary in the Sioux Falls School District.

Sioux Falls: Mask-wearing for students and staff in summer programs in the city’s school district is changing from “expected” to “optional” as the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease. Contact tracing will also no longer be done in the school setting, spokeswoman DeeAnn Konrad said in an email to families in the district Tuesday. However, the South Dakota Department of Health will continue contact tracing outside the school setting, and the district will uphold DOH findings. “We will continue to identify and exclude symptomatic and positive cases,” Konrad said. “If the circumstances in the community change, we will reinstate mitigation measures as needed.” Social distancing is still encouraged in all settings when practical and possible, according to the district’s summer learning plan for 2021. District and school offices will be open for regular business throughout the summer during posted summer hours and can be accessed by students, parents, community members, staff and other guests. Students and staff will have the personal option of wearing a mask unless required in the situations listed in the district’s summer 2021 guidance for personal protective equipment.

Tennessee

Nashville: More students were absent from school desks or in front of computer screens thanks to pandemic-related disruptions this school year, a new report finds. In a study across six Tennessee districts serving about 150,000 students, researchers from the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, led by Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, found that 1 in 5 students was chronically absent during the fall 2020 semester. The report, released last month, found more students were chronically absent last fall than in previous years. Chronic absenteeism increased the most among English learners, students of color and students who are economically disadvantaged. Tennessee considers a student chronically absent if they miss 10% or more of their instructional days – a different measure than the legal definition of “truant,” which applies to students who have five or more unexcused absences. Though TERA researchers declined to identify the districts studied and surveyed for the report, the six districts offered a mix of virtual and in-person instruction during the fall 2020 semester. The number of chronically absent elementary school students increased by 88% in the six districts compared to a 92% increase among middle school students and a 33% increase among high schoolers.

Texas

Austin: High school seniors who have struggled to pass up to five required standardized tests can now petition to graduate, thanks to legislation that took effect Monday. House Bill 999 allows a senior who failed any of the required State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams to petition an individual graduation committee, showing alternative work deserving of graduation. The legislation temporarily expands the petition option for current high school seniors because of learning difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, only a high school senior who failed up to two of the five end-of-course tests but passed all classes and fulfilled other requirements could petition to graduate. “Thousands of otherwise academically prepared students now have a clear shot at graduating,” state Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, one of the bill’s authors, said in a statement. “After the past year and a half, the last thing that should matter is a test.” Educators came out in support of the legislation, which they said was needed because of the diminished opportunities for STAAR preparation and retakes during the pandemic.

Utah

Salt Lake City: Search and rescue calls are on the rise this spring along the Wasatch Front. Salt Lake County Search and Rescue received about double the amount of calls in May that it did last year, a pattern exemplified when a hiker and a climber both died in a single weekend, KUER reports. Officials say a low snowpack and the pandemic could be to blame. Encountering snow can make people realize they are unprepared quickly, while warmer weather can entice people to go farther than they normally would, increasing possible risk, according to Ryan Clerico with Salt Lake County Search and Rescue. Utah County’s search and rescue team has gotten about the same amount of calls this spring as last spring. But both are more than it typically got before the coronavirus pandemic, Sheriff Sgt. Spencer Cannon said. “Last year people got in the habit of going outside and realized how much fun it could be,” he said. Officials recommend people prepare by packing extra clothes, water and food. They’re also urged to tell someone where they’re going and when they expect to be back.

Vermont

Brattleboro: The town is ending its mask mandate Friday. The select board voted 4-1 on Tuesday to lift the order requiring masks inside establishments. Board member Jessica Gelter voted against the move, saying she had concerns about immunocompromised community members and children who cannot yet get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Brattleboro Reformer reports. The state ended its mask mandate for fully vaccinated people May 14 following federal guidance. Unvaccinated people are still urged to wear face coverings, and municipalities and establishments can keep their own mask rules. The Montpelier City Council voted last week to do away with the mandate that’s been in place for nearly a year in the capital city, mychamplainvalley.com reports. The South Burlington City Council also revoked its mask mandate last week, while council members in Vergennes voted to leave theirs in place. Burlington is keeping its mandate, which the City Council will revisit Monday. “I think the best way we can act to help the retail community is to rescind the order, allowing people to wear masks if they choose and allowing us to come back and strike up the order again” as needed, Brattleboro Select Board Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin said.

Virginia

Staunton: The state’s Democratic primary next week will look a little different in terms of COVID-19 guidelines than other elections in the past year. With the pandemic came a raft of restrictions put in place to allow the general public to vote safely. But restrictions have eased along with updated guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the reopening of Virginia under Gov. Ralph Northam’s orders. On June 8, Democrats will be voting on candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Northam cannot seek reelection due to limits on consecutive terms. Democratic candidates running for governor include former Gov. Terry R. McAuliffe, Richmond resident Jennifer L. McClellan, Virginia Military Institute graduate Jennifer Carrol Foy, Marine Corps veteran Lee J. Carter and current Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax. No-excuse absentee voting is allowed for those who’ve already requested their ballots, and early in-person voting began May 23. Those casting their ballots in person are generally expected to wear masks to the polls, though plans vary by jurisdiction. Some counties have said they won’t require masks or social distancing.

Washington

Silverdale: A group of therapy dogs out of work since the onset of COVID-19 got to visit some friends at Crista Shores Senior Living last week while displaying the art on which they’ve been hard at work during the pandemic. Members of the Kitsap chapter of Therapy Dogs International visit care facilities around the county. But the dogs were unemployed while visitors were prohibited at care facilities during the pandemic. Residents missed the dogs. And the dogs missed visiting, their owners said. Katha Miller-Winder decided to keep her dog D’Artagnan entertained by letting him try out painting after seeing a video posted by a dog rescue. She gave her Great Pyrenees a canvas, put some paint down and put plastic wrap over the paint, creating a barrier. On top of the plastic, a tasty treat like peanut butter or cream cheese encourages the dog to lick an abstract design into the canvas. After trying it with D’Artagnan, Miller-Winder told the other handlers to give it a try with their dogs. Their works of art were presented at an artists’ reception at Crista Shores so residents could enjoy the paintings and visit with the dogs for the first time in over a year. Their paintings were displayed outside on a wall with a photo of the dog and a bio.

West Virginia

Charleston: The state’s vaccine lottery for those who received a COVID-19 shot will include prizes ranging from hunting rifles to $1 million. Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced more details about the program Tuesday. The first winners will be announced June 20, which marks West Virginia’s birthday and Father’s Day. It’s also the date on which the statewide mask mandate will be lifted. Prizes on that day will include two four-year scholarships to any higher education institution in the state for vaccinated residents ages 12 to 25. The state will give away two Rocky Ridge version Ford F-150 trucks, 25 weekend getaway packages to state parks, five lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, five custom hunting rifles, and five hunting shotguns. One person will also receive $1 million. The weekly giveaways will last until Aug. 4. All West Virginia residents who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine are eligible for the lottery.

Wisconsin

Madison: The state should get tougher on unemployed people who apply for jobs to meet work-search requirements but then skip out on the interview, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Wednesday as he advocated for eliminating a $300 enhanced payment for the unemployed. Business leaders at a roundtable discussion organized by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce told Vos and fellow Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu that the labor shortage problem has reached a breaking point. “This has gone from an annoyance pre-pandemic to a crisis,” said Scott Mayer, chairman of staffing agency QPS Employment. He said his company has more than 5,000 job openings in Wisconsin, and the supply chain is in danger of breaking down because there are not enough available workers. “This is a very, very serious situation,” Mayer said. “It is a real crisis situation. If we don’t do something, and quickly, it’s not going to be like flicking a light switch to get the supply chain back.” Vos, the owner of a food packaging business, said that amid the pandemic he has been fearful he would go bankrupt. Vos said he’s still battling worker shortages now and is offering gift cards to employees who show up to work on time five days a week.

Wyoming

Cheyenne: A next-generation, small nuclear plant will be built at a soon-to-be retired coal-fired power plant in the state in the next several years, business and government officials said Wednesday. The plant featuring a sodium reactor and molten salt energy storage system will perform better, be safer and cost less than traditional nuclear power, Microsoft co-founder and TerraPower founder and chairman Bill Gates said. Bellevue, Washington-based TerraPower is working with Rocky Mountain Power, an electric utility serving Wyoming and other Western states, to put the Natrium reactor at one of four of the utility’s power plants in Wyoming, with the location to be decided later this year. “We think Natrium will be a game-changer for the energy industry,” Gates said by video link to a news conference hosted by Gov. Mark Gordon. “Wyoming has been a leader in energy for over a century, and we hope our investment in Natrium will help Wyoming to stay in the lead for many decades to come.” Wyoming is the top uranium-mining state, and the reactor would use uranium from remote mines on the high plains, officials said. Wyoming also is the top coal mining state. But the industry has suffered a dramatic downturn over the past decade as utilities switch to cheaper and cleaner-burning gas to generate electricity.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Paintings by pups, burning masks, memorial mural: News from around our 50 states

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