Montgomery: A state expert on infectious diseases in children is urging school systems to listen to health organizations regarding masks in schools, saying he fears what lies ahead with the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus. Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of UAB and Children’s of Alabama’s Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, told reporters Tuesday that the delta strain is highly contagious and spreading at the same time students are returning to classrooms. Kimberlin said he supports in-person learning, and the “best practice is undoubtedly to have mandatory masking in schools.” He urged people to take the recommended precautions including wearing masks indoors and getting vaccinated against COVID-19 if eligible. “The delta variant has changed the game,” Kimberlin said. “This virus is the real deal. It does cause severe disease in children. We are ill-advised to take it lightly.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Alabama Department of Public Health and others have recommended mandatory masks in schools. Alabama is leaving the decision to local districts. A spokeswoman for Gov. Kay Ivey last month said the Republican has been clear there will be no statewide mandates and trusts “school officials to make the best decision possible.”
Juneau: State law enforcement agencies failed to collect DNA samples from more than 21,000 people arrested for or convicted of certain crimes over the past 25 years, in part because of confusion caused by changes to Alaska law, officials said. The state Department of Public Safety identified 21,577 individuals who were required to have a DNA sample on file but did not. Of those, 1,555 are dead, the report says. Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Tuesday announced plans for the state to pursue samples in the remaining cases. It’s not clear, though, how long that process might take or how many might successfully be gathered. The state plans to begin with those convicted of a class of felonies that includes violent crimes and sex crimes. That group is smaller than 600 people, KTOO Public Media reports. A 1995 law first required the collection of DNA samples from people convicted of these felonies. The law has been changed eight times, expanding those covered. Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore said the revisions have contributed to the failures. Skidmore said there had been confusion over who should be involved in the DNA collection. And changes to the law added challenges “in terms of trying to figure out what’s supposed to be collected when,” he said.
Phoenix: Arizona State University on Wednesday announced the school will require masks in certain indoor settings such as classrooms and labs regardless of vaccination status to combat the spread of COVID-19. An ASU policy statement said other settings where masks will be required include “close-quarter environments where physical distancing may not be possible,” such as facilities that serve the general public, meeting rooms, workshops, production and design studios, and any indoor areas designated by posted signage. “Additionally, consistent with CDC guidance, face covers may be required in some crowded outdoor settings or activities that involve sustained close contact with other people,” the policy statement said. The school continues to recommend that students and others wear masks at all times indoors. While state budget legislation enacted last June and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey bars schools districts from requiring mask-wearing, a separate provision dealing with higher education does not include a broad ban. Instead, that provision only prohibits universities and community colleges from issuing mask-wearing requirements affecting only unvaccinated students.
Little Rock: The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations hit a new record high for the second day in a row Tuesday as a surge in coronavirus cases continued to overwhelm its health system. The state Department of Health said there were only 12 intensive care unit beds available in the entire state. “Everybody has to realize, this is not a good time to get sick because space is limited,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at his weekly news conference. Arkansas, where the vaccination rate is low, ranks third in the country for new virus cases per capita, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers. Hutchinson said the state is working with the state hospital association to free up space and noted that lawmakers approved a plan to use $129 million in federal virus relief funds to aid hospitals. The Republican said the state is also looking at suggestions from a federal “surge response team.” Project Manager Jeff Tabor of COVIDComm, the state’s system for matching COVID-19 patients with hospitals, said the latest surge is worse than over the winter “because we don’t get the sense that it’s letting up.” The surge has been straining health care workers. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said some nurses have walked off in the middle of their shifts because they can’t take it anymore.
Greenville: The state’s largest single wildfire in recorded history continued to grow Wednesday after destroying more than 1,000 buildings, nearly half of them homes, as historic drought conditions have left lands parched and ripe for ignition. Burning through bone-dry trees, brush and grass, the Dixie Fire has destroyed at least 1,045 buildings, including 550 homes, in the northern Sierra Nevada. Newly released satellite imagery showed the scale of the destruction in the small community of Greenville that was incinerated last week during an explosive run of flames. By Wednesday morning the Dixie Fire, named after the road where it started July 14, covered 783 square miles and was 30% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. At least 14,000 remote homes were still threatened. The Dixie Fire – the biggest single fire in California history and the largest currently burning in the U.S. – is about half the size of the August Complex, a series of lightning-caused 2020 fires across seven counties that were fought together and that state officials consider California’s largest wildfire overall. The fire’s cause was under investigation. Pacific Gas & Electric has said it may have been sparked when a tree fell on one of its power lines.
Denver: Several of the city’s trendiest restaurants are joining other dining establishments and bars in requiring employees and customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. KUSA-TV reports the latest include the Bonanno Concepts group of eateries, which will impose the requirement Sept. 30. The group operates Mizuna, Luca, Osteria Marco and other establishments. Chef and proprietor Frank Bonanno noted that masks were required and that customers had to sign health declarations when his restaurants reopened last year after a temporary closure. “For our restaurants that are mostly reservations, you sign a health declaration, and if you want to lie to us and come in, yeah, you could be that person. We’re not going to fight you; we’re not going to be the police on this,” he said. “It just seems like it’s the right thing to do.” The Triangle Denver bar, Bar Max and To the Wind Bistro are implementing or have implemented similar policies, asking patrons to present vaccination cards, KUSA reports. With delta variant cases surging and hospitalizations rising, Denver is mandating that all city employees and private-sector workers in high-risk settings be fully vaccinated Sept. 30.
Hartford: Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, a top Democrat in the General Assembly, is calling for all state and municipal employees – including teachers, professors and police officers – to be required to get COVID-19 shots. Refusing to get vaccinated is not a right under public workers’ union contracts, Duff said. “There’s no bargaining in my opinion,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s the right thing to do.” Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont has said he’s willing to consider requiring state employees to get vaccinated or possibly face weekly testing, saying it’s an issue he wants to discuss with state employee union representatives and the General Assembly. “It’s really important for us to continue to beat the drum of people getting their vaccines, to continue to educate folks, but also have a firm hand and say, ‘Yes, we need to mandate these vaccinations,’ ” Duff said. “Because without that, it continues to put our state and country in harm’s way.” Duff, who lives in Norwalk, said he also believes day care staff and all health care workers should be required to be vaccinated, while medical offices should disclose whether their staff members have gotten their shots. Last week, Lamont directed that all employees of long-term care facilities receive at least the first dose of a vaccine by Sept. 7.
Dover: Democratic Gov. John Carney is imposing a mask mandate for all public and private school students and staff in the state effective next Monday. The indoor mask requirement announced Tuesday applies to everyone kindergarten-age or older, regardless of vaccination status. The mandate also extends to child care homes and centers for everyone kindergarten-age and older. Child care centers and homes are strongly encouraged to require masks for children as young as 2 years old. Carney’s office said the mask requirement will be formalized later this week and is consistent with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Carney also said state employees and visitors to Delaware government facilities must wear masks indoors starting Monday. Additional COVID-19 vaccination and coronavirus testing requirements for state employees and others are expected to be announced in the coming days. While the mask mandates apply regardless of inoculation status, Carney said that “vaccination remains the best way to finally put an end to this pandemic.”
District of Columbia
Washington: Several area venues will start requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to attend events later this month, WUSA-TV reports. According to posts on the venues’ Facebook pages, anyone attending events at The Anthem, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Lincoln Theater or 9:30 Club will be required to show proof of inoculation against COVID-19 or a negative coronavirus test from 72 hours prior to the event. Attendees must also bring a photo ID. Accepted proof of vaccination includes showing a physical vaccine card or a photo of the card. The requirement will start Sunday. “We can’t wait to enjoy the return of live events with you shortly,” the venues said in a shared graphic on social media.
Fort Lauderdale: Doctors say they’re seeing many more coronavirus infections among children just as students begin to return to classrooms. There has been “an enormous increase” in COVID-19 cases among kids in July and August at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronald Ford said. Most of those children have been treated in emergency rooms and sent home, but “those that are admitted are sicker than what we’ve seen before, and many of them are requiring care in our intensive care units,” Ford said. About 20 coronavirus-positive children sought treatment at the South Florida hospital’s emergency department in June, he said. “That number went to well over 200 in July, and, even at this point in the month of August, we are already up to over 160. So we’re well on the way to breaking July’s record,” Ford said. On Tuesday, the hospital had nine patients admitted with COVID-19, with five in the ICU, Ford said. Ford’s advice to parents sending their children back to school: Get information from authoritative sources. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there about COVID-19, about testing, about the vaccine,” Ford said. “The best thing you can do to protect your child is to keep them away from the virus.” Masking works, reducing the incidence of transmission and chance of children getting the virus, he said.
Atlanta: Gov. Brian Kemp is telling business leaders that crime is “the most significant threat” to the state’s future, keeping up his emphasis on the issue as he seeks reelection in 2022. The Republican, speaking to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday in Columbus, said chamber members have a responsibility to publicly advocate against crime and for ways to decrease it. “Simply put, if crime is rampant on the streets of your local community, businesses will look elsewhere, workforces will leave, visitors won’t show up, and investment will stop,” Kemp said in a speech broadcast by video. The governor has used Atlanta as a frequent target in his discourse about crime but acknowledged Tuesday that “it is a also a challenge facing many of our communities across Georgia.” Ahead of 2022 elections, many Republicans are trying to make the case that voters shouldn’t trust Democrats on crime, a continued reaction to efforts by a few Georgia Democrats to limit police funding as part of the Black Lives Matter protests and an increase in deadly shootings in Georgia and many other states. Georgia state government has traditionally had a limited role in fighting crime, with most of the responsibility falling to local sheriffs, police departments and district attorneys.
Hilo: Big Island residents whose homes were destroyed or damaged during a 2018 eruption of the Kilauea volcano are selling their properties to the county. The first phase of Hawaii County’s Voluntary Housing Buyout Program saw 284 applicants out of 294 eligible residences identified by the program, Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. The county will pay the 2017 value of the property up to $230,000. No one has received a payout yet, and the process for each applicant should take about six months, said Doug Le, Kilauea recovery officer. The program is funded by $83.8 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grants. An additional $23.7 million in HUD grant funds is pending and will be directed toward the project.
Boise: An emergency trap-and-truck operation of Idaho-bound endangered sockeye salmon because of high water temperatures in the Snake and Salmon rivers netted enough fish at an eastern Washington dam to sustain an elaborate hatchery program, wildlife officials said Tuesday. Idaho Fish and Game officials captured 201 salmon at Lower Granite Dam last month that are now at the Eagle Fish Hatchery in southwestern Idaho. In all, more than 600 sockeye salmon reached Lower Granite Dam this year. More than 400 passed the dam to attempt the final leg of the journey to central Idaho unaided – a 45-day trip on average. About 100 are expected to survive. Two have arrived so far, the first on Saturday. “I’ve been really pleased with the success that we’ve seen through trap and haul,” said John Powell, a fisheries research biologist with Fish and Game. “It’s really amazing that we also have fish that are able to make it all the way back (to central Idaho) given the temperature and flow conditions that they experienced this year.” Water temperatures in some areas have surpassed 75 degrees, lethal for salmon. Fish arriving in central Idaho will also be taken to the Eagle Fish Hatchery to join the 201 trapped at the dam. Some will be spawned at the hatchery, and others will be released into Redfish and Pettit lakes in central Idaho to spawn naturally.
Chicago: More than 90,000 Chicago-area homes and businesses remained without power Wednesday morning following severe overnight thunderstorms that came one day after at least seven tornadoes touched down in parts of northern Illinois. As of 7 a.m. CDT, about 96,000 Commonwealth Edison customers remained without power – with most of those in Cook, Lake, McHenry and Kane counties – after a Tuesday storm raked the area with wind gusts of up to 70 mph, according to the utility. Residents in Evanston and Plainfield reported extensive tree damage, while about 6,000 customers lost power in Evanston, where there were reports of malfunctioning street lights, traffic signals and street flooding, National Weather Service meteorologist Ricky Castro told the Chicago Sun-Times. The weather service said a survey crew had confirmed Tuesday that at least seven tornadoes touched down Monday in northern Illinois, with three of those storms given preliminary ratings as EF-1 tornadoes, which produce winds between 86 and 110 mph. Three of the other tornadoes were weaker, and the strength of the seventh storm had not yet been determined, according to the weather service, which said Monday’s storms damaged trees and some structures in portions of Ogle, DeKalb, and Kane Counties.
Indianapolis: A federal judge ruled Tuesday that several of the state’s laws restricting abortion are unconstitutional, including a ban on telemedicine consultations between doctors and women seeking abortions. The judge’s ruling also upheld other state abortion limits that were challenged in a broad lawsuit filed by Virginia-based Whole Woman’s Health Alliance in 2018 as it fought the denial of a license to open an abortion clinic in South Bend. U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued a permanent injunction against the telemedicine ban, along with state laws requiring in-person examinations by a doctor before medication abortions and the prohibition on second-trimester abortions outside hospitals or surgery centers. Barker also ruled against state laws requiring that women seeking abortions be told that human life begins when the egg is fertilized and that a fetus might feel pain at or before 20 weeks. The state attorney general, whose office has been defending those laws in court, said Barker’s ruling contradicted higher court decisions and pointed toward a possible appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. “We will continue to fight to defend Indiana’s commonsense abortion laws and to build a culture of life in Indiana,” Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a statement.
Des Moines: A group of animal rights and public interest groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the latest Iowa law designed to criminalize investigations into animal treatment on livestock farms. The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges violations of First Amendment free speech rights. It asks the court to declare the law unconstitutional and issue an order preventing officials from enforcing it. It is the third attempt by Republican lawmakers in the state to outlaw farm investigations. The law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in June makes trespassing at a food operation an aggravated misdemeanor that carries up to two years in prison and a fine of $8,540. A second offense is a felony that carries up to five years behind bars. Those are far harsher penalties than trespassing elsewhere, a simple misdemeanor that carries up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $855. Lawmakers say they increased the penalties for trespassing at livestock operations to protect farmers from harassment and deter intrusions that threaten the safety of the state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry. A law passed in 2012 was struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2019, and the state appealed that decision.
Topeka: The state has committed to expanding mental health services to help move more than 600 people from adult care homes into their communities, advocates and state officials announced Tuesday. The promises to improve services over the next eight years result from a 13-page agreement among two state agencies and five organizations. The agreement heads off a potential lawsuit by the organizations and follows a Disability Rights Center of Kansas report in 2019 alleging that the state violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act by keeping people in adult care homes unnecessarily. “They have known this has been a problem for decades,” said Rocky Nichols, the center’s executive director. The agreement involves 10 homes known as Nursing Facilities for Mental Health. The state denies that the homes’ operations violate Kansas or federal law, but advocates said a lack of services and case workers prevents people from leaving them for less restrictive living. The state expects to spend $450,000 a year on additional staff and training, but advocates said it’s not clear how much more it will spend on services. Laura Howard, the state’s top disability services official, on Tuesday hailed the agreement as “progress for individuals” living in the homes.
Science Hill: Parents in Pulaski County received an earful Tuesday, when they began receiving voicemails calling Gov. Andy Beshear a “liberal lunatic” for enacting a mask mandate in the state’s schools amid the coronavirus’ latest concerning surge. A voicemail reportedly sent by Science Hill Independent School District Superintendent Jimmy Dyehouse said: “As you already know and probably have already heard, this liberal lunatic that we have up in Frankfort has signed another executive order mandating masks for all students and adults in school. What this means is the professional opinion of your superintendent doesn’t matter. The opinion of your school board doesn’t matter.” The comments came in response to Beshear’s announcement Tuesday that he was enacting the mask requirement for all Kentucky schools. The voicemail continued: “And you as parents, your opinion doesn’t matter because I know exactly how you all feel about your children wearing masks. And believe me, I’m as frustrated as you are over this. Starting in the morning, all students will have to wear masks on the bus and inside the building, as well as adults inside of our buildings will have to be masked tomorrow. We’re hoping this will be fought in court this week, and we’ll get this overturned. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear something further. I’m sorry. Thank you.”
New Orleans: An English professor and folklorist at a historically Black private university will become Louisiana’s poet laureate Saturday. “It is such an honor to represent my home state. It is something I never thought would happen,” Dillard University professor Mona Lisa Saloy said in an interview Tuesday, after Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities announced her appointment. She succeeds John Warner Smith, who was on the endowment’s nominating panel. “Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy beautifully captures the culture and essence of Louisiana in her mesmerizing poetry,” Edwards said in a news release. “She understands the importance of using art to preserve our stories and pass them down for generations.” Saloy has taught at Dillard since 1991, working in the city where she grew up. Her students have included Jericho Brown, who won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry. “He would laugh. He would pen me what he thought was trash, but I could see the gems. I hope I encouraged him to believe in his creativity,” Saloy said. “And he took off. He was going to be a lawyer. I asked him, ‘What are you going to do with this gift?’ It was unmistakable and moving.” Saloy also has brought in major grants for and expanded Dillard’s English and creative writing programs, according to the news release.
Portland: Retailers in the state sold $9.4 million in adult-use cannabis products in July – 45% more than the previous month. Business owners credit the boom to summer tourism, the July Fourth holiday, a larger array of products and falling prices, the Portland Press Herald reports. Sales for recreational marijuana have increased each month since the market first opened in the state last October. The average price of smokable marijuana, called flower, has fallen from $16.68 per gram at market launch to $12.90 per gram, the newspaper reports. That is largely because more growers and manufacturers have been licensed, leading to greater supply and more diverse products. Also for the first time, July sales in recreational marijuana essentially matched sales of medical marijuana in the state. The Maine Office of Marijuana Policy said it collected $943,500 in sales tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales in July and about $3.8 million total since the market opened.
Annapolis: The groundwater of at least nine military installations near the Chesapeake Bay is contaminated with high levels of toxic fluorinated “forever chemicals,” according to a report Wednesday by an environmental group that cites Defense Department records. The Environmental Working Group’s report focuses on installations along the bay and concerns about contamination mostly from chemicals in firefighting foam containing PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment. The group said it’s the first time an analysis of the concerns has been conducted publicly at military sites across the nation’s largest estuary, whose large watershed includes the six states of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York. The bay also is troubled by pollution from nitrogen fertilizer runoff and other pollutants. The EWG report notes that records show PFAS may be present in groundwater at several other installations near the bay, where the Defense Department has not tested to confirm the presence of chemicals. For years, the military used a film-forming foam in training to fight aircraft fires. The department no longer uses foam with the chemicals for firefighting training, unless it can be contained.
Boston: The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is getting nearly $860 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to help maintain services and jobs as the pandemic drags on, federal transportation officials said Wednesday. The funding for the Boston-area public transit system is part of more than $30 billion for public transportation included in the American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. “Public transportation has been a lifeline for communities and the American people throughout this pandemic,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. The T will use the ARP funds, along with previous COVID-19 relief funds, to balance its operating budgets into the beginning of the 2024 fiscal year, a T spokesperson said. “The funds are necessary to plug the massive revenue shortfalls due to significantly lower ridership (and lower fare collections),” the T said in a statement. Ridership on public transit systems across the nation has plummeted during the pandemic as people either lost their jobs or were asked to work from home.
Detroit: Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday that she will not run for governor in 2022, putting an end to speculation about the former Trump administration Cabinet member and partner in one of the state’s most influential Republican couples. “I am not running for governor,” DeVos told The Detroit News, which reported the announcement first. “It’s not going to be me. I appreciate that some folks are interested in that, but I think the rumor and interest really only serves to highlight how desperate Michiganders are for new leadership.” Advisers to DeVos, 63, said she never weighed a campaign to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, despite weeks of chatter in Michigan’s political class. Though a billionaire able to finance a campaign and former state party chairwoman with key connections, DeVos would have faced complications in a Republican primary and the general election. Despite four years on former President Donald Trump’s Cabinet, DeVos quit her post a day after the deadly U.S. Capitol siege in January, blaming the defeated president’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen for inflaming tensions as Congress prepared to certify the 2020 presidential election. DeVos would also be the face of her husband Dick’s decadelong effort to curb union power in the manufacturing state.
Minneapolis: A judge ordered Tuesday that jurors should remain anonymous for the case against a former suburban Minneapolis police officer charged in Daunte Wright’s death. Former Brooklyn Center Officer Kim Potter, who is white, fatally shot Wright, a 20-year-old Black motorist, on April 11. She’s scheduled to go on trial Nov. 30 on a charge of second-degree manslaughter. The city’s former police chief said he believed Potter meant to use her Taser instead of her handgun. Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu ruled Tuesday that court personnel and attorneys involved in the case shall not divulge the names or other identifying information about the jurors and alternates except to a very limited number of people. She said the court won’t release the jurors’ names and contact information until sometime after the trial. Jurors will be referred to in court only by their numbers. Under Chu’s order, deputies will keep people away from the jury during the trial during the day, and they’ll be fully sequestered during deliberations. Leita Walker, an attorney for a coalition of news media organizations, said the anonymity restrictions are similar to those imposed by Judge Peter Cahill during this year’s murder trial of ex-Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in the death of George Floyd.
Jackson: This month’s Mississippi Book Festival has been canceled amid concerns of contagion from the latest surge in coronavirus infections. “Authors were very uncomfortable traveling, and we didn’t want to take any chances,” the festival’s executive director, Holly Lange, said Wednesday. “We did not want to be a superspreader event and put any more stress on the hospital system.” The free event was to have been held Aug. 21 inside and outside the state Capitol and at nearby Galloway United Methodist Church in downtown Jackson, with than 180 authors signed up to speak during 48 panel discussions. Scheduled speakers had included novelists Kiese Laymon and Ellen Gilchrist; historian Lonnie G. Bunch, who is secretary of the Smithsonian Institution; and former Time magazine editor Walter Isaacson, who is now a history professor at Tulane University. Among the topics this year were panels on civil rights, the Gulf South, Afrofuturism, cooking and young adult fiction. Lange said some author panels will have online presentations instead. The 2020 festival was also canceled because of the pandemic, but past festivals have attracted thousands of people.
Kansas City: Only 35 of the more than 70,000 people who attended Garth Brooks’ concert in the city Saturday took advantage of a chance to get a COVID-19 vaccine, the Kansas City Health Department said. The mobile vaccination clinic operated for four hours in the Arrowhead parking lot before the concert, and fans were offered a chance to get upgraded floor seats to the concert if they were inoculated. Brooks, who has said he is fully vaccinated, had encouraged his fans to get the shots. Maggie Green, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City manager’s office, said the 35 people vaccinated Saturday were in addition to 333 shots the health department administered at events and clinics last week, KCUR reports. She said the health department will continue to partner with community events to increase vaccinations, including at the upcoming Planet Comicon Kansas City, scheduled for Aug. 20-22.
Helena: All state employees will be required to return to work in person Sept. 7, even as Montana faces a surge in coronavirus infections. The Department of Administration announced the return-to-work mandate in an email to government workers Friday, the Montana State News Bureau reports. It came as health officials reported 493 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the highest number tallied in a single day since January. The seven-day average – just above 200 cases per day – is similar to that seen last February. The email from department director Misty Ann Giles encouraged employees to get vaccinated and to stay home if they’re feeling sick. The memo also noted that rapid testing will be available, although it doesn’t specify any requirements for testing. Most state employees are not required to wear masks at work. COVID-19 vaccinations are not required of state employees, and vaccination rates in Montana remain below the national average. Less than half of eligible residents are fully inoculated. Of those hospitalized with the virus in June and July, nearly 90% were unvaccinated.
Omaha: The state’s largest public school district will require students to wear masks indoors when they return to classrooms next week. The Omaha Public Schools board voted 8-1 Monday to require all people to wear masks indoors at school, effective Tuesday. The resolution made note of recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending universal masking for all teachers staff, students and visitors to K-12 schools in an effort to fight the growing spread of COVID-19 cases, the Omaha World-Herald reports. The resolution won’t require masks to be worn outdoors or while eating and drinking. Teachers and staff may also shuck the mask if they’re alone in their classrooms or offices. “We have an issue in this country with a variant,” board member Tracy Casady said during the Monday meeting. “Until we can get a handle on it, I think this is the best possible solution we can do in our community to try to get our kids back in school and keep them there.” Board member Spencer Head was the lone vote against the mask resolution and tried unsuccessfully to have the mask mandate sunset Oct. 18 unless the board took action before then to extend it. Districts including Lincoln, Grand Island, Ralston and Westside are also requiring face masks when school starts this fall.
Reno: Taxable room revenue generated by hotels and motels in Washoe County has rebounded to pre-COVID-19 levels. In fact, the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority said the $45.2 million reported in June is the second-highest total monthly total ever recorded. It was topped only by $46.7 million reported in August 2019. “Seeing the destination thrive during a challenging time speaks volumes about where Reno-Tahoe is headed,” said authority President and CEO Charles Harris. “The most significant indicator from June is the fact that we had more occupied rooms in Reno-Tahoe than we did in June of 2019.” KOLO-TV reports that due to the March 2020 pandemic shutdown of Reno-Tahoe’s major resort hotels, the RSCVA is emphasizing statistical comparisons to 2019. Prior to the record monthly total in August 2019, the previous highs were $44.4 million in August 2018 and $44 million in August 2017.
Concord: An off-the-grid man’s days living as a hermit appear to be over amid an outpouring of support from people in the community and across the country. “River Dave,” whose cabin in the woods burned down last week after nearly three decades on property that he was ordered to leave, says he doesn’t think he can return to his lifestyle. “I don’t see how I can go back to being a hermit because society is not going to allow it,” David Lidstone, 81, said in an interview Tuesday. He said even if he could rebuild his cabin, “I would have people coming every weekend. … I’ve hidden too many years, and I’ve built relationships, and those relationships have continued to expand.” A logger by trade who chopped his firewood and grew his food in the woods along the Merrimack River in the town of Canterbury, Lidstone initially built the cabin with his estranged wife, though he said they are still married. He said he’s not grieving the loss of his life in isolation. “Maybe the things I’ve been trying to avoid are the things that I really need in life,” said Lidstone, who drifted apart from his family. “I grew up never being hugged or kissed, or any close contact. … I’ve never loved anybody in my life. And I shocked myself because I hadn’t realized that. And that’s why I was a hermit. Now I can see love being expressed that I never had before.”
Trenton: The state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a suspect’s recorded phone call made from a police station can’t be used as evidence against him and a friend because they weren’t notified it was being monitored. The case involved a Middlesex County man arrested in 2018 after fleeing a traffic stop. In a call from the Piscataway police station, he told his girlfriend to look for a weapon at his residence, according to police, who used the phone call to file charges against the two. In a 7-0 ruling, the Supreme Court wrote Tuesday that the call can’t be used as evidence because no notice was given that it was being recorded. “Few would dispute that an arrestee has a lesser expectation of privacy within the confines of a police station,” the court wrote. “A police station, however, is not a constitution-free zone.” The state had argued that the two had no reasonable expectation of privacy because it’s common knowledge that police station phone calls are recorded. Denise Alvarez, an attorney who argued as a friend of the court on behalf of the defendants, called the ruling “a privacy win” that reaffirms the right to be free from government officials “arbitrarily prying into our personal conversations.”
Santa Fe: Universities and colleges across the state appear to be getting COVID-19 shots to young people at higher rates than the general public. With and without mandates, leaders of colleges and universities say they’re on track to increasing vaccination rates on campuses to levels far higher than their surrounding communities. The state’s largest public universities announced vaccine mandates last week, requiring virtually all students and staff to be inoculated by the end of September, a few weeks into the fall semester. The University of New Mexico system, the state’s largest, said it’s already vaccinated 48% of students, higher than the state average for the 18-24 age group, which is 42%. People traveling to campus who opt out through medical or religious exemptions must undergo regular coronavirus testing. In the state’s rural, conservative southeast, one Christian college says it’s having success vaccinating students without a mandate. “I suspect we’ll probably be 80% to 90% vaccinated by the time the term starts,” said University of the Southwest Dean Ryan Tipton. That’s an ambitious goal in Lea County, where the adult vaccination rate stands at 43%.
New York: President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced his nominees to lead high-profile U.S. attorney offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Biden picked Damian Williams for the top spot in Manhattan’s Southern District of New York and Breon Peace to head Brooklyn’s Eastern District of New York. Both men are Black, and Williams would be the first Black person to run the Manhattan office. Both offices have been involved in attention-getting investigations and prosecutions. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District in 2018 oversaw the prosecution and subsequent guilty plea of Michael Cohen, at one time the personal lawyer of former President Donald Trump, on campaign-finance violations and other charges. In the Eastern District, the office is overseeing the investigation of Tom Barrack, the chair of Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee, who has pleaded not guilty to charges that he secretly lobbied the U.S. on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. Williams is currently chief of the securities and commodities task force in the Southern District office, where he oversees more than 20 prosecutors. Peace worked in the Eastern District office from 2000 to 2002, under former Attorney General Loretta Lynch when she was the U.S. attorney there. The nominees must be confirmed by the Senate.
Raleigh: Republicans pressed ahead Tuesday with legislation that would repeal the state’s century-old practice of requiring residents to obtain a permit from the local sheriff before buying a handgun. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to recommend the measure, which passed the House three months ago. The bill must clear one more committee before reaching the Senate floor. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has supported gun restrictions in response to the mass shootings of recent years, is likely to consider vetoing the bill if it gets to his desk. The bill is opposed by the gun-control group North Carolinians Against Gun Violence but has the backing of the gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina and the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association. For years, the association had opposed eliminating the permit requirement. But now the process has become duplicative because the federal background checks that licensed gun dealers conduct have become more robust, association lobbyist David Ferrell told the committee. Bill supporters say the federal checks effectively reveal problems with potential gun buyers, such as involuntarily commitments for mental health, or substance abuse treatment.
Watford City: Authorities say fires involving three oil wells in McKenzie County were brought under control over the weekend after they had burned for 16 days. Crews put out the fire at the first well northeast of Watford City last Tuesday and extinguished the final well Saturday, said Beth Babb, a spokesperson for Petro-Hunt, the company operating the well pad. An inspector from the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality was headed to the site to talk with personnel and do a visual inspection, The Bismarck Tribune reports. An early estimate Petro-Hunt provided the state indicated 4,200 gallons of oil and 4,200 gallons of produced water spilled in the incident. Produced water, also known as brine or saltwater, comes up alongside oil and gas in wells. State officials believe any fluids that spilled either burned up or were contained. The cause of the fire is under investigation, but the blaze began at one of the wells and then spread to the other two, all of which are on the same well pad. Bill Suess, who has worked for Environmental Quality since 2008, said he could not remember another oil well fire in North Dakota that burned for as long as this one.
Columbus: The city is tied for first in the nation for how quickly homes sold in July, according to a new report that also hints at some relief ahead for central Ohio home shoppers. According to Realtor.com, Columbus-area homes sold in a median of 17 days last month, tied with Denver; Nashville, Tennessee; and Rochester, New York, for the fastest pace in the U.S. Homes in the Cincinnati area sold in 30 days, and in Cleveland they sold in 36 days, both faster than the national average of 38 days, according to the report. Despite the frenzied pace for home shoppers, the report also found more Columbus-area homeowners are sticking for-sale signs in the yard. The number of homes listed in the area jumped 43% in July over a year ago, by far the biggest jump in the country and well above the U.S. average of 6.5%. “July housing trends show a market still working its way back toward some version of normal,” Realtor.com Chief Economist Danielle Hale said in a news release. “New listings grew at an unusually high rate for the summer months, further helping the inventory crunch.” Hale noted that many of the new listings tend to be smaller homes. “Still, if these changing inventory dynamics continue, we could see a wave of real estate activity heading into the latter part of the year,” she said.
Tulsa: Two siblings who survived the Tulsa Race Massacre are going to visit Africa for the first time, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Viola Fletcher, 107, and 100-year-old brother Hughes Van Ellis are scheduled to fly to Ghana on Friday and return Aug. 21, accompanied by family members and others. The all-expenses-paid trip to Accra is being co-sponsored by Our Black Truth, a Virginia-based social media platform, and the Diaspora Africa Forum in Ghana, the Tulsa World reports. “We are sending out our treasures to, just for a moment, share them with the motherland,” said state Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa. Organizers have arranged for the siblings to meet President Nana Akufo-Addo, as well as Ghanaian tribal chiefs and other government officials. They also plan to visit the Diaspora Africa Forum embassy and will take part in a traditional naming ceremony, during which Fletcher will be honored as a queen mother and Van Ellis as a chief. “From the moment they touch down in Ghana, they are going to be treated like celebrities, like royalty,” said Michael Thompson, who will accompany them on the trip. “They are really rolling out the red carpet for us.” The siblings are two of three known survivors of the 1921 massacre. Lessie Randle, 106, declined an invitation for the trip but said she’d be there in spirit.
Salem: A new set of gates will further limit access to the Little North Santiam Canyon and Opal Creek area and stay in place at least through the summer of 2022, Marion County officials said this week. The narrow river canyon east of Salem and northeast of Mehama, often known as the North Fork, has been closed to visitors since March, following extensive damage from the Beachie Creek Fire. The latest move will mean only residents and their guests will be able to drive into what was once among Oregon’s most popular recreation destinations. Before last year’s wildfires, the North Fork and Opal Creek area was a popular place to hike, swim, kayak and camp that could see upward of 5,000 people visiting on a hot weekend, according to Forest Service data from 2020. The decision to shut the area down with gates came for multiple reasons, Marion County spokeswoman Jolene Kelley said. The area remains dangerous, and despite the earlier closure and signs threatening $2,000 fines, people have been trespassing into the area on a regular basis this summer, officials said. The Marion County Sheriff’s Office issued 237 warnings or citations to people trespassing into fire-burned areas this summer.
Harrisburg: A rural, Republican-majority county board on Tuesday accused a state senator of creating “unnecessary chaos” in pushing for a detailed review of how the county collected and counted votes in former President Donald Trump’s reelection defeat last year. The three Tioga County commissioners all read portions of a statement at a board meeting urging state Sen. Doug Mastriano to reverse his demand that Tioga and two other counties turn over election records and equipment to the Intergovernmental Operations Committee he chairs. “It is time for Sen. Mastriano to withdraw his demands and to let responsible Republicans get back to work on subjects such as recovering from COVID-19, addressing the opioid crisis and the ‘help wanted’ issue,” the statement said. Mastriano said a week ago that he expected to have a committee vote within two weeks on his proposal to subpoena the elections material from the vote last November as well as from the May primary. There are indications he may face opposition from fellow GOP senators; so far he has not issued the public notice required for a committee to vote. The statement said Mastriano “began his one-man quest with a false accusation” that not agreeing to his demand would indicate the county has something to hide.
Providence: Brown University has systematically and repeatedly failed to protect women from rape and other sexual misconduct, according to a federal class action lawsuit filed recently by four current and former female students. The suit, filed Friday in Providence federal court, alleges the Ivy League school actively prevented the reporting of incidents of sexual violence and perpetuated a culture of silence on campus. One of the women said she was advised against making a formal complaint after being sexually assaulted at a party hosted by rugby team members because it happened off-campus, where officials said it would be more difficult to hold someone accountable. Another said the university found her alleged assailant responsible for her sexual assault but then named him a speaker at the school’s commencement ceremony while he was appealing the case. The woman said the university overturned his assault finding and sanctioned her after she went public with her concerns about his role in commencement. The male student ultimately didn’t speak at graduation. Kim Evans, one of the lawyers representing the women, said Monday that the women’s experiences dealing with university administrators are particularly shocking given they come years after the #MeToo movement sparked a global reckoning on sexual misconduct.
Columbia: An Anne Frank Center is opening at the University of South Carolina that will be the first museum in North America and fourth in the world where visitors can walk through the famed story of the teenage Holocaust victim. “The Anne Frank Center at USC is unlike anything the university has ever done before,” interim university President Harris Pastides said during an announcement ceremony Tuesday, according to news outlets. “Through the eyes of this little girl – who still lives, I would argue – we can change the world.” The 1,060-square-foot center on the Columbia campus features a rendering of the attic where the girl’s Jewish family hid from the Nazis for more than two years during World War II. That exhibit includes a reproduction of the desk where Frank wrote what was eventually published as “The Diary of a Young Girl,” which has been translated into 70 languages. While the museum shares the history of the Holocaust, it also tells Frank’s story through the lens of the American Jim Crow and civil rights eras. A reference is made to Black U.S. track star Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, according to The Post and Courier. The tour also mentions the story of Emmett Till, a Black teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955.
Sturgis: The number of injury crashes has risen this year at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. As of Wednesday’s report, there had been 62 crashes at the rally, with 36 involving injuries. Last year there had been only 33 injury crashes reported by the rally’s fourth-day report. There has been just one fatal crash this year. The data comes from a department press release about South Dakota Highway Patrol citations connected to the event. Among the injury crashes was an incident in which a bighorn sheep was struck by a motorcycle on Highway 385 in Deadwood. While arrests for driving under the influence have been lower in 2021 compared to the previous year, Wednesday’s data showed DUI arrests on the rise with 74 arrests made thus far. Last year there had been 82 DUI arrests by the fourth day’s report, according to the data. Drug arrests continue having the biggest gap in numbers compared to the previous year. In total there have been 154 drug arrests, 45 fewer than 2020’s 199 arrests, according to the data. Citations are up by 131 this year, with 865 citations given. Warnings are up by a larger number, with 2,340 given compared to the 1,774 from last year’s rally, according to the data. The 81st annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally officially started last Friday and spans 10 days, formally concluding Sunday.
Nashville: Officials say the state saw a lower rate of decline in tourism spending than the country as a whole in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development said the state had $16.8 billion in domestic and international travel spending last year in a report from the U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics. That’s a 31.6% decline from the previous year, compared with a 42% drop for the nation at large. The numbers coincide with efforts from Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration to drum up tourism amid the pandemic. The approach has also drawn critics who think the state isn’t doing enough to fight the pandemic.
Austin: Officers of the state House of Representatives delivered civil arrest warrants for more than 50 absent Democrats on Wednesday as frustrated Republicans ratcheted up efforts to end a standoff over a sweeping elections bill that stretched into its 31st day. But after sergeants-at-arms finished making the rounds inside the Texas Capitol – dropping off copies of the warrants at Democrats’ offices and politely asking staff to tell their bosses to please return – there were few signs the stalemate that began when Democrats fled to Washington, D.C., in July in order to grind the statehouse to a halt was any closer to ending. The latest escalation threw the Legislature into uncommon territory, with neither side showing any certainty over what comes next or how far Republicans could take their determination to secure a quorum of 100 present lawmakers – a threshold they were just four members shy of reaching this week. Democrats, who acknowledge they cannot permanently stop the GOP voting bill from passing in Texas, responded to the warrants with new shows of defiance. Refusing to attend legislative sessions is a violation of House rules – a civil offense, not a criminal one, leaving the power the warrants carry to get Democrats back to the chamber unclear. They would not be jailed.
Salt Lake City: The top health official in the state’s most populous county said Tuesday that she will seek a mask mandate in schools for kids under age 12, who are unable to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Salt Lake County Health Director Angela Dunn said she issued an order of constraint requiring children under 12 to wear masks in school. Dunn, who was targeted by anti-mask protesters when she served as state epidemiologist until stepping down a few months ago, made the announcement with Mayor Jenny Wilson, who said she supports the decision. The order comes about a week before children return to school and would only apply in indoor settings. “It is in the best public health interest of our students for them to be in masks in the fall, to keep them in-person learning with the least disruption possible and the least health concerns possible,” Dunn said. Last year masks were required in schools, but under a new state law, school mask mandates are banned. Local health departments can issue a rule – but only with the support of elected county leaders, and anti-mask advocates have been vocal in their opposition. Dunn’s order now moves to the Republican-controlled Salt Lake County Council.
Burlington: The City Council has again rejected a proposal to raise the cap on the number of sworn city police officers that was imposed earlier this year. Early Tuesday, the council did approve the Burlington Police Commission’s request to hire two community service liasons. Last year, the panel voted to cap the number of officers at 74 and to allocate resources elsewhere. The Burlington Police Commission last week recommended raising the cap to 82 following recent crime in the city and concerns about staff shortages overnight. Mayor Miro Weinberger supports adding more officers, saying that the department lost nearly 20 officers in about a year and that more than half the officers still on the force are looking for new jobs, WCAX-TV reports. “If that happens, we will cease to have a functional police department in the city of Burlington,” Weinberger said before the vote. The City Council also rejected raising the cap in February.
Manassas: A northern Virginia mosque is asking the Biden administration to release a set of religious tiles that were confiscated at Dulles International Airport after they were deemed to violate sanctions on Iran. At a news conference Tuesday at the Manassas Mosque, Imam Abolfazl Nahidian said the custom-made tiles were shipped in June from the Iranian city of Qom, to be used in construction of a new mosque a few miles away. He said the tiles were a gift, and he paid no money for them, but a Customs and Border Protection officer at the airport blocked the mosque from claiming the tiles, citing the sanctions. Nahidian said he has received other tile shipments throughout the years without incident. A letter from Customs and Border Protection informed the mosque that the tiles must be shipped back to Iran or destroyed. Destroying the tiles, which are adorned with Quranic verses, would be especially disturbing, Nahidian said. Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said it makes no sense to enforce the rules on a benign piece of religious art. “They are not weapons of mass destruction,” Awad said. “We believe the government should have common sense.” Speakers at Tuesday’s news conference suggested anti-Islam sentiment may be responsible for the confiscation.
Seattle: The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is trying to keep a proposed Seattle charter amendment that would change how the city handles homelessness off the November ballot. In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in King County Superior Court, the ACLU and other homelessness activists said the “Compassion Seattle” measure, officially known as Charter Amendment 29, is beyond the scope of local initiative power and violates state law on how local governments can address homelessness. The measure, which recently qualified for the ballot, directs the city to provide 2,000 units of emergency or permanent housing within a year and requires the city to ensure that parks, playgrounds, sidewalks and other public spaces remain clear of encampments. According to the lawsuit, state law gives local legislative bodies – city and county councils – the exclusive authority to develop plans targeting homelessness. Further, it says, the amendment would undermine the city’s binding agreement with King County creating a regional homelessness authority and would unlawfully waive land-use regulations to speed the development of emergency and permanent housing. Proposed Charter Amendment 29 has received mixed feedback from mayoral candidates and City Council figures.
Charleston: Gov. Jim Justice presented the final cash prizes in the state’s vaccination sweepstakes Tuesday, part of a push to entice residents to get their COVID-19 shots – with mixed results – just as cases are again spiraling upward. The Republican governor presented a nearly $1.6 million check to real estate agent Wally Board of Spencer as the grand-prize winner in the lottery for vaccinated residents that began seven weeks ago. Earlier Tuesday, Justice presented a $588,000 second-place check to Kara Waldeck, a pharmacy worker from Charles Town whose job includes administering doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Justice also handed out custom pickup trucks, four-year college scholarships, lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, shotguns, hunting rifles, and weekend trips to state park lodges. The final drawing had been postponed by a week after the state cited a system glitch that had closed the registration process early for some scholarship hopefuls. State data shows more than 69% of residents ages 12 and up have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Justice had set a goal of vaccinating 85% of residents 50 and up, a group that currently has 83% coverage. He also is close to a goal of getting 90% of those 65 and older to receive their shots. The state has seen far less success in getting people under 30 inoculated.
Madison: Wildlife officials set a 300-animal limit Wednesday for the state’s fall wolf hunt, exceeding biologists’ recommendations as they study the impact of a rushed spring season that saw hunters take almost twice as many wolves as allotted. State Department of Natural Resources scientists asked its policy board to cap kills at 130 animals, saying board members must be cautious because the four-day season in February took place during wolves’ breeding season, and the long-term ramifications on the population are unknown. But conservative-leaning members of the board countered that the population is still well above the DNR’s goal of 350 animals and that they have a responsibility to manage the pack and protect livestock from wolf attacks. The board ultimately voted 5-2 to set aside the department’s recommendation and up the quota to 300 animals. However, the working quota for state-licensed hunters will almost certainly be less than 300. The state’s Chippewa tribes are entitled to claim up to half the quota under treaty rights dating back to the 1800s. The Chippewa consider wolves sacred and refuse to hunt them. If the tribes claim their full half of the quota, state-licensed hunters will be allowed to kill only 150 wolves.
Evanston: A pickup truck struck and killed a 2-year-old boy in southwestern Wyoming. The boy, Nico Ringer, had run into a street in downtown Evanston before being hit by the Chevrolet Silverado about 9 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Wyoming Highway Patrol. He was the 64th person killed on roadways across the state in 2021, compared to 74 total in 2020 and 103 in 2019, KTWO Radio reports.
From USA TODAY Network and wire reports
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Reformed hermit, seized tiles: News from around our 50 states