Choctaw crisis, Space Needle, teen outbreak: News from around our 50 states


Tuscaloosa: City leaders are moving to limit nightlife in the college town during the pandemic as thousands of students return to school for the fall semester. The Tuscaloosa News reports a divided City County approved a measure Tuesday night that allows Mayor Walt Maddox to enact rules aimed at combating a surge in coronavirus cases in the city. Among the regulations is a move to reduce the capacity at bars to 50% after 9 p.m. There’s currently no limit. Another rule would reduce the occupancy of entertainment venues to 25%, down from 50%. The limits, which are expected to take effect Thursday, are in addition to statewide rules that include masks for anyone who is in public and can’t socially distance. Students already are arriving for the fall at the University of Alabama, where classes begin Aug. 19. The city of about 100,000 people also is home to Shelton State Community College and Stillman College.


Anchorage: Alaska Airlines said 331 employees among the company’s workforce in the city may lose their jobs Oct. 1. The company said the Anchorage layoffs are part of companywide job cuts because of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, Alaska Public Media reports. Alaska Airlines said 4,200 workers may be furloughed or laid off across the company beginning in October. The 331 workers account for about 26% of the airline’s workforce in Anchorage, company spokesman Tim Thompson said. Thompson said the number of layoffs may be lowered by Oct. 1, a day after the federal government’s multibillion-dollar payroll support program is set to expire. The airline announced in an alert to state and local governments that the jobs being considered for elimination include 135 Anchorage flight attendants, 76 customer service agents, and maintenance technicians and ramp service workers.


Phoenix: A judge has ruled Gov. Doug Ducey’s closure of gyms across the state in response to the pandemic violates the due process rights of health clubs, and he set an Aug. 11 deadline for the governor to set up a system for giving fitness businesses a chance to apply to reopen. Judge Timothy Thomason wrote in the ruling that clubs that have been shut down for more than a month might not be able to survive yet were denied due process because they couldn’t apply to reopen until Ducey ended the shutdown. “It is imperative that their constitutional rights be respected,” Thomason wrote. Tom Hatten, chief executive of Mountainside Fitness, one of the two health club chains that challenged the order in the case, said he plans to reopen his clubs Aug. 11. The judge said a health club would be allowed to reopen once it attests it is following COVID-19 prevention guidelines, though the state could still deny applications as long as it’s providing due process.


Little Rock: Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday said scammers fraudulently filed on his behalf for unemployment assistance intended for people affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as officials said thousands of claims have been frozen over potential fraud concerns. Hutchinson said he received a notice over the weekend that he had been approved for unemployment assistance intended for independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed. Hutchinson said he never applied for the assistance. “It can happen to anyone,” Hutchinson said. The Republican governor said the FBI is investigating a scheme that includes other fraudulent applications. State Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said 27,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims and another 10,000 unemployment claims have been frozen after they were flagged for potential fraud. Preston said several other Cabinet secretaries had received similar notices to Hutchinson’s.


Los Angeles: Figures showing the state has slowed the rate of coronavirus infections may be in doubt because a technical problem has delayed reporting of test results, the state’s top health official said. For days, California hasn’t received full counts on the number of tests conducted nor the number that come back positive for COVID-19, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday. He blamed an unspecified technical problem affecting the state’s database that provides test results to local health departments. Ghaly said it’s unclear when the issue would be fixed, adding that the state is relaying information manually to county health officials. The announcement came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom gave his most optimistic report on the state’s virus efforts since a second surge of cases in early June.


Denver: Gov. Jared Polis is urging Congress to go beyond simple renewal of earlier federal pandemic assistance and provide a more extensive package of aid to blunt the economic fallout of the coronavirus. Polis, a Democrat, said he wants food stamp benefit increases, home heating and child care assistance, support to meet anticipated surges in Medicaid demand, and an automatic extension of immigrant work visas for workers in health care and agriculture. The requests, in a Tuesday letter to the state’s congressional delegation signed by Democratic Treasurer Dave Young as well, also ask for more U.S. financial support for water projects, clean energy and public lands infrastructure – key initiatives of Polis’ administration. Polis insisted Tuesday that the initiatives would be long-term job generators and said Congress should “use this opportunity to invest in resilient, climate-focused solutions as our communities recover” from the pandemic.


Hartford: An online portal has been launched to help state residents who need housing assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said the website came about after a call center that opened last month was swamped with calls, resulting in busy signals and long wait times for callers. Connecticut is offering two new programs that provide rental assistance and mortgage assistance for those struggling to pay their housing costs due to a job loss, a reduction of work, a furlough or the closing of a business because of COVID-19. Details on the two programs and eligibility can be found by visiting the Department of Housing website for renters and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority website for homeowners. Applicants can submit questionnaires online to determine if they’re eligible, as well as contact the call center at 1-860-785-3111 during business hours.


Wilmington: Gov. John Carney approved a hybrid start to the school year Tuesday, allowing schools to use a combination of in-person and online learning when classes resume in the fall. Schools must also follow extensive health and safety precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. The decision comes after weeks of the governor monitoring data and alluding to the likelihood of a hybrid school reopening. The state will provide free COVID-19 testing for teachers and staff before the school year begins and monthly throughout the school year using an at-home testing option. Schools across the state will also host community testing sites for students wishing to get tested before the school year starts. Schools are encouraged to offer some sort of in-person teaching, especially for students who would have difficulty learning in a fully remote setting, such as those with special needs, low-income students, homeless students or English learners.

District of Columbia

Washington: Mayor Muriel Bowser is asking residents to continue going to their scheduled doctor’s appointments despite concerns surrounding health centers during the pandemic, WUSA-TV reports. Hospitals are safe, ready and waiting to help, officials said. Bowser is also urging parents to take their children to the doctor to make sure they are up to date with vaccinations even though they will be returning to school virtually. District leaders want students to be ready to enter an in-person learning environment when it’s safe, Bowser said. “One pandemic is enough, and we do not want an epidemic in our pandemic,” said Dr. Laquandra Nesbitt with D.C. Department of Public Health.


Jacksonville: During a Tuesday roundtable at a nursing home in the city, Gov. Ron DeSantis returned to a familiar theme: protecting the state’s most vulnerable from the coronavirus. The governor said he was looking for “a pathway to get families access” to the 1.5 million loved ones who are finding themselves socially and emotionally isolated in nursing homes and senior facilities. “Four and a half months are a long, long time,” the governor said. Though Florida has managed to bring down the proportion of pandemic deaths stemming from nursing homes by keeping them on lockdown and other measures since March, infections have been surging in those facilities alongside community spread throughout the state this summer. The number of residents of long-term care facilities in the state testing positive for COVID-19 was about 5,800 as of Tuesday, roughly double that of early July.


Macon: Organizers of the annual Macon Film Festival say they will hold the event despite the coronavirus, but the bulk of the film entries will be streamed online. Festival board chairman Steven Fulbright told The Telegraph the event is important to Macon and filmmakers. It will run from Aug. 13 through Aug. 30. Fulbright, who is also Visit Macon’s director of tourism, said attendees to the Macon event will have a variety of ways to enjoy the films while staying safe. Two feature films will be screened at the Grand Opera House on weekends, including a new documentary about Macon-based piano player Chuck Leavell. Leavell played the keyboard for the Allman Brothers Band and the Rolling Stones. Other film entries will be streamed online at scheduled times for a fee.


Honolulu: Many private schools in the state expect to begin the new year with in-person instruction. The private schools are typically smaller than their public counterparts and can more easily make adjustments to cope with the pandemic, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. Philip Bossert, executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, said flexibility is a hallmark of its 120 member schools. “They can move pretty fast and do things responsibly without asking 10,000 people,” Bossert said. “To my knowledge all of them have a plan to open face-to-face, but when will be entirely up to each of them. And they have a plan also to switch back to remote learning if necessary.” The Hawaii Association of Independent Schools has sent daily updates and hosted numerous virtual discussions for school leaders, Bossert said.


Boise: Gov. Brad Little said Wednesday that he’ll call a special session in late August due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Republican governor said in a statement that the special session will start the week of Aug. 24 and possibly include how to conduct the November general election amid the pandemic. Little also said the session might include legislation creating a liability shield for protection against lawsuits during declared emergencies such as the pandemic. A majority of House and Senate lawmakers on the Judiciary and Rules Working Group last month concluded that such a law is needed to protect government, schools and private businesses from frivolous lawsuits. A timeline calls for lawmakers to give the governor specific legislation by mid-August to be considered in the special session. Little would then issue a proclamation Aug. 17 detailing the exact issues to be considered during the special session.


Chicago: The mayor on Wednesday announced that the nation’s third-largest school district will not welcome students back to the classroom, after all, and will instead rely only on remote instruction to start the school year. The city’s decision to abandon its plan to have students attend in-person classes for two days a week once the fall semester starts Sept. 8 came amid strong pushback from the powerful teachers union. When Chicago officials announced their hybrid-learning plan last month, they said it was subject to change depending on families’ feedback and how the coronavirus was faring in the area. On Wednesday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot attributed the change in plans to a recent uptick in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city. A survey also showed 41% of parents of elementary school students and 38% of parents of high school students didn’t plan to send their children back to the classroom this fall, the district said in a news release.


Indianapolis: The state’s second-largest teacher organization announced Tuesday that its members may resort to striking to ensure a safe return to school as the state continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The Indiana chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 4,500 teachers and education staff statewide, said schools should reopen for in-person instruction only if teachers and school staff are provided with adequate personal protective equipment, funding is provided for necessary safety resources such as masks and cleaning products, and cases in the community are under control. If those safeguards aren’t met, AFT Indiana President GlenEva Dunham said union members would consider a strike. Dozens of Indiana school districts have already reopened for in-person classes or are planning to in the coming weeks, and Dunham said concerns remain about the precautions in place for brick-and-mortar settings.


Des Moines: Doctors running the city’s intensive care units say they’re witnessing the consequences of many Iowans’ lax attitudes toward the coronavirus. “We’re seeing people suffering that don’t need to suffer, people dying that don’t need to die. This didn’t need to happen,” said Dr. Jason Mohr, who is the lead physician for UnityPoint Health’s intensive care units at Iowa Methodist Medical Center and Iowa Lutheran Hospital. The intensive care units have been refilling over the past few weeks as the virus surges again. During the first coronavirus spike, in spring, most severely ill patients were elderly or worked in jobs that put them at particular exposure to the virus. Many adults in their 30s or 40s, with no known risk factors, are now being brought to the intensive care units because they’re stricken with COVID-19, said Mohr and his counterpart at Des Moines’ MercyOne Medical Center, Dr. Brad Wilcox.


Overland Park: Nearly a quarter of the state’s almost 29,000 coronavirus cases have been linked to cluster sites, according to health officials. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment identified 360 outbreaks that have infected 7,710 people and led to 243 of the state’s 365 COVID-19 deaths, the Kansas City Star reports. Dr. Lee Norman, the state health department’s top administrator, said Tuesday that he expects to see a rise in cases linked to gatherings following the upcoming Labor Day weekend. The state’s clusters include 132 at private businesses, 95 at long-term care facilities and 54 from gatherings. Nursing facilities account for most of the deaths related to clusters, at 193. Meatpacking facilities and state prisons also accounted for some clusters. In Chanute, Kansas, 11 school administrators who attended a leadership retreat last week in Branson are in quarantine after six of them tested positive for the virus.


Frankfort: Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday that he supports local school leaders who decide to begin the academic year with online instruction as a precaution against the coronavirus. On a day that Kentucky reported 700 new virus cases, the Democratic governor said he’s not surprised some school districts are opting for digital learning, rather than in-person instruction, at the outset of the school year. “Right now we still have a very high rate of cases in Kentucky,” Beshear told reporters. “While we believe we have stopped what could have been a very severe escalation, it’s still concerning with the number of cases that we see.” The governor recently recommended that public and private schools wait until at least the third week of August to resume in-person classes to help curb the spread of the virus.


Baton Rouge: The state’s agriculture department said a dog has tested positive for the coronavirus, the state’s first confirmed case in an animal. A nasal swab test determined the dog’s infection, the department said. Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said no evidence suggests pets play a significant role in helping to spread the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, and he urged people not to abandon their pets because of worry. “It appears that people with COVID-19 can spread the virus to animals during close contact. It is important for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to avoid contact with pets and other animals to protect them from possible infection,” Strain said in a statement. “At this time, routine testing of animals is not recommended.” The agriculture department refused to provide details about the dog, where its owner lives or any information that could help identify the pet owner, citing federal health privacy laws.


Milbridge: State officials are investigating a group of positive coronavirus cases among blueberry workers. Four employees of Wyman’s who had just arrived to begin working at a location in Milbridge have tested positive. It was the third cluster of coronavirus cases at a blueberry processing facility or farm in the state, the Portland Press Herald reports. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said the workers were tested before they began work. The cases have come at a time when the state is struggling to fill agricultural jobs. Maine public health authorities reported 17 new cases of the virus Wednesday. They also reported an additional death. The state has had more than 3,900 reported cases of the virus and 124 deaths.


Baltimore: Health officials said a nightclub was shut down after it was found in violation of coronavirus safety regulations, making it the first time an establishment in the city was ordered to close for violations. The decision came after a video posted on Instagram showed a large day party outside Euphoria Nightclub on Sunday, The Baltimore Sun reports. In addition, officials have received more than 300 complaints about the establishment, Adam Abadir, a spokesperson for the city’s Health Department, told The Baltimore Sun. “Events like those depicted on social media at Euphoria are exactly the type of ‘super-spreader’ events that have led to dozens of cases around the country,” Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said in a statement Monday.


Boston: Thousands of travelers to the Bay State have begun filling out forms required by the state to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Charlie Baker said Tuesday. On Saturday, the state began requiring visitors to comply with a new executive order mandating they quarantine for 14 days or face a $500-per-day fine if they refuse to comply. That includes residents returning home from out-of-state trips. Travelers who can produce a negative COVID-19 test result that has been administered up to 72 hours before their arrival in Massachusetts are exempt. Those visiting from a lower-risk state as designated by the state Department of Public Health are exempted from filling out the form. Current lower-risk states include New England states, New York, New Jersey and Hawaii.


Lansing: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday announced additional steps to combat racism, declaring it a public health crisis and ordering state employees to complete implicit bias training as the state confronts what she called systemic inequities highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic. The governor also created an advisory council of Black leaders. Black people account for 39% of Michigan’s nearly 6,500 confirmed and probable deaths related to COVID despite making up 14% of the population. In cases where race and ethnicity are known, the infection rate among Black residents is 14,703 per 1 million compared to 4,160 for white residents. Whitmer said the overall daily count of new cases has plateaued recently, but she wants to see a decrease. “Now is no time to spike the football,” the Democrat said on a day Detroit’s casinos were allowed to reopen after being closed since March.


Minneapolis: A group of voters sued Gov. Tim Walz and other officials Tuesday to try to block a requirement that voters wear face masks at polling places to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Members of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, backed by Republican lawmakers, argue that Walz’s mask mandate conflicts with a 1963 state law making it a misdemeanor for someone to conceal their identity with a mask. The Star Tribune reports the group is seeking a federal court order to block the rule for people who vote in person in next Tuesday’s primary. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a statement standing behind “the legality and constitutionality” of Walz’s executive order. Ellison’s office noted that the lawsuit is the 11th legal challenge against Walz or the state over COVID-19 restrictions.


Philadelphia: The state’s only federally recognized American Indian tribe has been devastated as COVID-19 has ripped through Choctaw families, many of whom live together in multigenerational homes. Almost 10% of the tribe’s roughly 11,000 members have tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 75 have died. The once-flourishing Choctaw economy is stagnant, as the tribal government put in place tighter restrictions than those imposed by the state. July brought a glimmer of hope, with some numbers dropping among Choctaws, but health officials worry the reprieve is only temporary. Choctaw Indians used to live across millions of acres in southeastern Mississippi but were forced off the land. Under an 1830 treaty, they were to move to Oklahoma. Those who remained in Mississippi endured segregation, racism and poverty. The tribe has long been a target of hate, members say, and the virus has only made things worse, with many blaming Choctaws for high case numbers.


Kansas City: The American Royal will not hold this year’s World Series of Barbecue because it could not find a way to make the event safe during the coronavirus pandemic, the organization announced Tuesday. Glen Alan Phillips, president and CEO of the American Royal Association, said it was “painful” to cancel the barbecue contest for the first time since it began, The Kansas City Star reports. The barbecue, which draws competitors from more than 30 states and several countries, was scheduled for Sept. 17-20 at the Kansas Speedway. “It gets really challenging to have a large public component to your event, which then leads to major financial revenue issues with not being able to sell tickets,” Phillips said. The organization also canceled this year’s Pro Rodeo, which was scheduled for Sept. 25-26. But Phillips said most equine shows and the livestock show will be held this year.


Great Falls: The state listed 115 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, hours after Cascade County reported an “outbreak” of six incidents at a long-term living facility. This brings the state total of confirmed cases to 4,429 and 65 deaths, which was one more fatality than was listed Tuesday. There have been 2,820 recoveries, and 1,544 cases remain active. The state reports 79 people remain hospitalized out of 248 hospitalizations during the pandemic. The Cascade City-County Health Department said Tuesday evening that it “has identified an outbreak of six total COVID-19 cases in connection with a long-term care facility in Cascade County.” They said they would not release the names of the facility or further details at this time. The health department said it is working with the facility to determine appropriate strategies for containing and preventing further spread of the respiratory illness.


Omaha: More court hearings are being handled over video conference in Douglas County because of a coronavirus outbreak at the jail in the state’s most populous county. Inmates who test positive for COVID-19 or who have been near people with the virus aren’t being transferred to the courthouse for routine hearings, officials say. “We’re not going to bring them over and spread it to the courthouse,” Douglas County District Court Administrator Doug Johnson said. Thirteen correctional officers and six inmates recently tested positive, Corrections Director Mike Myers said. A total of 46 employees, 59 inmates and two contractors have tested positive at the jail, which houses nearly 1,200. Presiding Judge Horatio Wheelock said judges are doing as many hearings by video conference as possible in Douglas County District Court. The number of video hearings has steadily increased to 331 in July, up from April’s 288.


Las Vegas: State officials said Tuesday that 95% of new coronavirus cases reported statewide during the prior day emerged in the Las Vegas area. State coronavirus response chief Caleb Cage said Clark County residents accounted for 931 of the 980 positive COVID-19 tests reported to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Fewer than 3% came from the Reno area. Confirmed cases in the state topped 52,000, and 15 more deaths were reported – bringing the total to at least 862. Separately, Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office issued a report tallying $16.7 billion in federal coronavirus funding to the state since Congress approved a $2.2 trillion rescue package to help businesses, workers and the health care system deal with the pandemic. State administration chief Laura Freed said almost $11.8 billion has been allocated or spent on economic relief and development.

New Hampshire

Concord: A plea to those visiting northern New Hampshire from a chamber of commerce: Please pick up your trash and wear a mask. The Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce says even with the threat of a $100 fine and towing, cars crowd the roads near popular swimming holes and waterfalls, and visitors leave a trail of trash. And not all are following guidelines to wear a mask and practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. “We continue to see and hear stories at the chamber about the general disregard for good old American manners. It’s taken us all by surprise,” Janice Crawford, the organization’s executive director, said Tuesday.

New Jersey

Cresskill: A COVID-19 outbreak among teens in the borough may be the result of numerous recent house parties and a prom, authorities say. Chris Ulshoefer, Cresskill’s fire chief and coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management, said in a letter to residents Monday that “these events, along with improper social distancing, may be related to an outbreak of COVID-19 in our community.” Ulshoefer said in an interview Tuesday that he had learned of 20 teens who may have tested positive for the coronavirus, although that has not been confirmed by Bergen County health officials. Mayor Benedict Romeo said he was “disgusted” after hearing that teens in the borough could have been infected with COVID-19 at parties with no social distancing.

New Mexico

Albuquerque: The city’s zoo will partially reopen next week to visitors wearing face masks or other face coverings after being closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Outdoor exhibits of the ABQ BioPark Zoo will reopen Aug. 12, but indoor facilities such as the reptile and crocodile buildings will remain closed to the public, Mayor Tim Keller announced Wednesday in a statement. Also, high-touch attractions such as the carousel and trains will not operate, and daily public feedings and shows that draw crowds remain canceled temporarily, Keller said. Limited tickets will be available, and guests are asked to reserve their tickets in advance online to secure their spot, Keller said. “We’re excited to bring this family favorite back in a safe way.” The zoo will reopen Friday to BioPark Society members to test run the new ticketing system and experience procedures, Keller said.

New York

New York: Travelers coming to the city from 35 states and territories on the state’s COVID-19 quarantine list may be met at bridges and train stations and told to fill out travel forms under a program announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio. He said Wednesday that the city will set up checkpoints at Penn Station and other entry points to the city to tell travelers from places with high COVID-19 infection rates that they must quarantine for 14 days. The travelers will be given a health form to complete so that contact tracers can follow up and make sure they are quarantining, he said. The checkpoints will be set up at different entry points each day starting with Penn Station on Thursday, de Blasio said. Sheriff Joseph Fucito said there will be “a random element,” and every sixth or eighth car on a bridge might be checked. Travelers who refuse to fill out the travel form could be fined up to $2,000, de Blasio said.

North Carolina

Raleigh: A federal judge on Tuesday refused to order a wide array of changes to the state’s election rules sought by voting advocacy groups worried about how COVID-19 could limit ballot access. But he told election officials they can’t reject mail-in absentee ballots unless there’s a way that voters can fix errors. U.S. District Judge William Osteen said people turning in an absentee ballot should be told why it won’t otherwise count and be given a chance to address the problem. The issue is poignant this year as more registered voters are considering voting by mail to avoid the risk of contracting the coronavirus at traditional in-person voting centers and precincts. Democracy North Carolina and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, two plaintiffs in the case, presented evidence to Osteen showing about 15% of absentee mail-in ballots were rejected in the March primary.

North Dakota

Fargo: A medical research company in the city will conduct two clinical trials that could lead to a vaccine for COVID-19. Lillestol Research is among several facilities across the nation participating in “Operation Warp Speed,” the federal government’s plan to provide 300 million doses of coronavirus vaccine by January 2021. Lillestol operations director Jamie Brown said the company plans to begin recruiting patients for the trial soon. She said patients chosen for the study will be tracked regularly to see if they contract coronavirus, KFGO reports. Participants will be compensated, but the company did not say to what extent. “These trials are placebo-controlled, meaning patients will get real vaccine or a placebo, which is inactive. We won’t know who is getting which type,” Brown said. “They will be followed for approximately two years. They’re really followed closely that first year.”


Columbus: A statewide rule prohibiting bars and restaurants from serving alcohol after 10 p.m. will remain in place after a Franklin County judge on Wednesday rejected a request to put a temporary hold on the mandate. Common Pleas Judge Kim Brown denied a temporary restraining order requested by a group of Columbus bar and restaurant owners who filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the Ohio Liquor Control Commission’s emergency action imposed as a means of slowing the spread of COVID-19. The ruling means Ohio’s bars and restaurants, which normally can serve alcohol for on-premises consumption until 1 or 2:30 a.m., must continue to abide by the emergency rule requiring sales to end at 10 p.m. and consumption by 11 p.m. Brown said limits on business operations imposed during the pandemic have been upheld by courts around the nation, and the plaintiffs’ lawsuit is unlikely to succeed.


Yukon: The mayor of an Oklahoma City suburb alleges she was threatened by a state lawmaker because of a mandate she issued requiring bar and restaurant workers to wear masks in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Republican State Rep. Jay Steagall on Tuesday denied threatening Yukon Mayor Shelli Selby and said he was talking to her about his constituents’ concerns. “I’ve never threatened anyone,” Steagall told the Associated Press. “I’ve tried to take constituent concerns to her.” No court records show that charges have been filed. Selby, whose voter registration records indicate she is a Republican, issued the proclamation last month. In a police report, Shelby complained that “she was being harassed and intimidated for political reasons” by Steagall on July 29. She said she sent a letter of complaint about Steagall to state House Speaker Charles McCall.


Salem: Health officials reported 342 confirmed coronavirus cases Tuesday, increasing the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 19,699, with five new deaths related to COVID-19, the Oregon Health Authority said. The total death toll is 333. On Monday the state reported one of its highest weekly coronavirus testing positivity rates – 6.1%. The previous week it had been less than 5%. Oregon Health Authority officials said they continue to receive widespread reports of extended turnaround time from commercial laboratories, with some case results being reported two weeks after the test. The state’s increased positivity rate raises concerns about the possibility for students returning to school in the fall. School reopening guidelines released last week say the county where the school district is located must have 10 or fewer new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, and the countywide and state test positivity rate must be 5% or less over the span of a week.


Harrisburg: State lawmakers heard about the slew of challenges ahead when schools reopen during a pandemic, as two days of hearings that ended Wednesday offered little reason for optimism. In hours of testimony before the House Education Committee, school officials and other experts said there have been months of planning, but there are also concerns about what lies ahead. Among the issues are questions about what standards schools should use to decide whether to shut down a school or a district when an outbreak occurs, a prospect that looms large as the school year is about to begin. “What happens if a student tests positive, a teacher?” asked Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-Schuylkill. “Because if you don’t have a plan in place, you can be prepared to hear exactly what we’ve been hearing, which is what the hell have you been doing to prepare for this?”

Rhode Island

Providence: The Rhode Island Family Court is holding night sessions to deal with a backlog of cases because of the coronavirus pandemic, court officials say. Chief Judge Michael B. Forte will preside over nine uncontested divorces Thursday evening and another nine on the evening of Aug. 20. The sessions, starting at 6:30 p.m., will be conducted remotely, with Forte presiding from home and other participants from their homes or offices. Proceedings will be streamed live and are expected to last about three hours. “When I learned in early July that the earliest a couple could get a hearing on an uncontested divorce was November, that was unacceptable,” Forte said in a statement. “We want to address the backlog, but we also want to take advantage of the remote hearing technology we have been using since this past spring and provide hearings during evening or non-working hours that are more convenient for many people.”

South Carolina

Laurens: The first trial in a South Carolina courtroom since the COVID-19 pandemic began included spread-out jurors, a glass shield around the witness stand and bailiffs reminding everyone that masks are required. The murder trial started Tuesday in Laurens County and was the first case tried in front of a jury since courts closed in mid-March as the virus began spreading, Solicitor David Stumbo said. Two additional rows of chairs were placed in front of the jury box so jurors could stay socially distant, The Index-Journal of Greenwood reports. Only three spectators could sit in any one row, outside of the families of the defendant and the victim. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers sat on the opposite side of the courtroom from jurors. Everyone had to wear a mask, and bailiffs were quick to point out when noses and mouths were not covered.

South Dakota

Sioux Falls: The state on Wednesday reported 89 new cases of COVID-19 and one death amid an uptick in the average number of daily new cases over the past two weeks. During those two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by 20, an increase of 31%. The Department of Health also reported the highest number of active cases since June, with 951 people. But the number of people hospitalized from the coronavirus has remained low, now sitting at 43 patients. During the course of the pandemic, a total of 9,168 people have tested positive for COVID-19 statewide, and 88% of those people have fully recovered, while 137 have died. Minnehaha County, which is the state’s most-populated area, saw the largest increase with a daily tally of 27 cases. The latest death was a man in his 70s from Davison County, according to Department of Health data.


Nashville: Gov. Bill Lee reversed course Tuesday by announcing that Tennessee will release data on COVID-19 in schools despite initially declaring such information would not be collected by the state. The move marks yet another concession from the Republican’s administration to be more transparent only after Lee faced loud pleas from the public to release more information during the pandemic. “This is a health crisis. Privacy around personal information around someone’s health is incredibly important,” Lee told reporters during a COVID-19 briefing. “It’s a real balance to determine how to protect that privacy and at the same time to give transparency to folks who need to know.” Lee’s state health agency had stated last week that it would neither collect nor report data regarding the virus in schools, which are currently in the early stages of opening for the new school year.


Houston: The state board that licenses doctors has warned physicians that it could take action against anyone who falsely advertises a cure for COVID-19. The Texas Medical Board issued its warning after a Houston-area pastor and doctor, Dr. Stella Immanuel, very publicly touted hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the disease caused by the coronavirus, the Houston Chronicle reports. Multiple studies have found that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t help against the virus, and the Food and Drug Administration has cautioned against using it to treat patients with the disease because of reports linking it with heart problems and other injuries and disorders. In a video that went viral last week and caught the attention of President Donald Trump, Immanuel said that if everyone took hydroxychloroquine, it would stop the virus in its tracks within 30 days. She said it was “fake science” to say that the drug doesn’t work as a cure.


South Salt Lake: Hundreds of teachers and parents gathered in northern Utah to argue whether school district reopening plans intended to limit the spread of COVID-19 are too restrictive. Two demonstrations Tuesday in Farmington and South Salt Lake showcased opposing views in response to their respective school districts’ reopening plans, the Deseret News reports. About 250 people gathered outside the Davis School District building in Farmington to demand a return to normalcy. The district announced plans to implement a hybrid learning model where students will alternate between in-person and online classes. Another protest was held outside the Granite School District building in South Salt Lake. The district announced parents have the option to choose distance learning, while students who attend in-person classes will be isolated by classroom groups. Most protesters in South Salt Lake called for a hybrid plan – the exact thing the protesters in Farmington denounced as “absurd,” “tough on working families” and “political.”


Jay: A federal judge has granted the request of the receiver overseeing Burke Mountain and Jay Peak ski resorts, whose owner was charged with fraud, to execute a $3.2 million federal government coronavirus relief loan to help keep the resorts open and employees working. The resorts have reopened after being closed down for several months due to the pandemic and hope to prepare for the ski season and boost staffing by November, federal receiver Michael Goldberg told U.S. District Court, according to Caledonian Record. The loan through the Paycheck Protection Program would be financed by City National Bank. Miami businessman Ariel Quiros, who owned Jay Peak and Burke, pleaded not guilty in May 2019 to 12 felony charges, including seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of false statements.


Doswell: A theme park that is one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions and economic boosters will not open this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Richmond-Times Dispatch reports Kings Dominion in Hanover County will remain closed for the rest of 2020. It’s the first time since the park’s 1975 opening that visitors won’t ride the Dominator or reach the top of a 323-foot reproduction of the Eiffel Tower. Tony Johnson, the park’s vice president and general manager, cited Virginia’s Phase Three reopening restriction of limiting the park to only 1,000 guests. Kings Dominion said in late June that the 1,000-people limit was not economically sustainable. The park employs up to 4,000 seasonal employees each year and is one of the state’s top employers.


Seattle: The Space Needle has reopened to visitors after recently completing $1 million in upgrades intended to provide a safer experience during the coronavirus pandemic. Chief Operating and Marketing Officer Karen Olson said the skyline-defining tourist attraction, which closed in March, has focused on air quality, sanitation and touchless procedures, The Seattle Times reports. The Space Needle has installed ultraviolet lights designed to kill airborne viruses and bacteria, a fresh air circulation system in the elevators, and reverse-ATM kiosks that will convert cash into a card for a more touch-free experience. “We really focused in on how to have a safer experience, and not just for guests, but for team members and guests,” Olson said, adding that the attraction also bought 250,000 surgical masks to hand out more than two months before mask mandates were implemented.

West Virginia

Huntington: Two Huntington Fire Department firefighters have tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said Monday. Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader said the first firefighter tested positive Friday, and a second tested positive Monday, as officials work to quarantine and test additional staffers. Stations and trucks are being professionally cleaned and sanitized, according to a news release. Mayor Steve Williams said he is working with union representatives to ensure the city still has enough fire department staff while also maintaining a safe work environment.


Madison: A federal judge on Wednesday questioned whether it would be right to order an easing of the state’s absentee voting regulations ahead of the November presidential election, saying the coronavirus might pose less of a threat to in-person voting by then. Democrats and allied groups filed a series of lawsuits ahead of Wisconsin’s presidential primary election in April demanding that Judge William Conley ease absentee voting and voter registration requirements to simplify voting by mail because of the pandemic. Conley decided to extend the deadlines for requesting and filing absentee ballots, but conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the extensions the day before the election. The plaintiffs renewed their lawsuits for the November election. Wisconsin is expected to be a key battleground state in Democrat Joe Biden’s bid to unseat Republican President Donald Trump, who narrowly won the state in 2016.


Jackson: A new animal attack response team will rescue people attacked by grizzly bears in the northwestern Wyoming backcountry. The Teton County Sheriff’s Office, Teton County Search and Rescue, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Grand Teton National Park are behind the effort. Grizzly attacks in Wyoming often involve elk hunters. Officials hope to have the team ready to go when hunting season begins in September. It’s becoming more common for several different agencies to get called to attacks, Wyoming Game and Fish large carnivore biologist Mike Boyce told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. With more people and bears alike in the backcountry, grizzly attacks have been increasing. A fatal attack a hunting guide on a mountain two years ago, which left the guide’s client in need of rescue with the bear nearby, led to the idea for the response team, Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr said.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

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