What We're Reading: Top State Stories 12/3
AZ: Arizona hospitals scramble to boost staffing
A shortage of medical providers could exacerbate Arizona's growing COVID-19 crisis, as hospitals compete for contract labor in the midst of a nationwide pandemic. Arizona hospital officials are most worried about finding enough staff—not PPE or beds—to treat a surge of new COVID-19 patients.
UT: 2 of every 5 riders who left Utah Transit Authority say they won’t return
Utah Transit Authority ridership has been down 57% compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. Worse, two of every five (41%) of those lost customers say it is unlikely they will ever return, even after the pandemic.
MS: Mississippi issues new public health advice after record case spike
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has issued new official public health guidance saying all Mississippians should avoid nonessential activities after the state saw a record spike in daily coronavirus cases. “All residents of Mississippi should avoid any social gathering that includes individuals outside of the nuclear family or household," he said.
WA: Washington misses deadline to bring foster kids back from out-of-state homes
Washington’s Department of Children, Youth & Families said that it would have all Washington foster children back in the state by September, but 25 were still living in out-of-state institutions at the end of October.
IL: In Illinois, more than one-third of PPP funds meant for small businesses went to larger companies
More than one-third of the funds Illinois businesses and nonprofits received through the federal Paycheck Protection Program went to less than 2% of participants, according to data released by the Small Business Administration.
OK: Oklahoma City hospitals turn to COVID-19 overflow tents
Faced with more COVID-19 patients than open beds, St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City added overflow tents to increase its patient capacity. An Oklahoma hospital official expects more facilities throughout the state could add overflow tents as the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 continues to rise.
ID: Idaho's death toll tops 1,000 following new single-day record
Dec. 2, 2020, will be remembered as a particularly sad day in Idaho’s fight against the coronavirus. The Gem State added a single-day record of 35 deaths from COVID-19, pushing Idaho’s total deaths since the start of the pandemic to 1,001.
LA: Pharmacies are key to Louisiana vaccine plans
In Louisiana, a state with many rural pockets, officials have identified local pharmacies as key to getting vaccines out. But small pharmacies may need help to ramp up staff to meet demand.
RI: Rhode Island public defender asks state high court to ease bail guidelines as COVID-19 cases spike
The Rhode Island Public Defender’s office is asking the state Supreme Court to temporarily require judges to free as many suspects as possible on bail as an emergency measure to reduce the population at the Adult Correctional Institutions. Coronavirus cases are jumping at the prison and throughout the state.
OR: Oregon governor again loosens criteria for early release from prison
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said she will expand the criteria for early release from prison as part of the state’s ongoing effort to reduce the prison population in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This is the third time since June that Brown has ordered the Oregon Department of Corrections to review inmates for potential early release.
CO: Colorado governor says prisoners won’t be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine
Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has denied criticism that Colorado’s plan for prioritizing allocation of coronavirus vaccines will place incarcerated individuals ahead of healthy older Coloradans. But the draft plan for prioritizing vaccine allocation that the state sent to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically places people in prisons and jails in a higher priority tier.
AR: Arkansas virus hospitalizations set record for 4th straight day
Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose by 2,212, while the number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals set a new record for the fourth day in a row, rising by 14 to 1,088.
KY: Supreme Court asks Kentucky governor to respond to religious school lawsuit
Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh has asked Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to respond by Friday afternoon to Republican Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's request for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether in-person classes at the state's religious schools can continue.
MO: Missouri lawmakers pass $1.2B virus spending bill
Missouri lawmakers passed a $1.2 billion coronavirus aid package, but left without taking action on Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s proposal to prevent lawsuits against health care workers and businesses during the pandemic.
MA: Amid a tsunami of COVID-19 infections, strain on Massachusetts contact tracing grows
Local health departments in Massachusetts, striving to track and prevent new COVID-19 infections amid an onslaught of new cases, are growing frustrated as testing turnaround times now stretch to a week in some cities and towns.
HI: Hawaii DOH plans to reduce contact tracing
As the state is on the cusp of losing major coronavirus federal relief funding and support from the Hawaii National Guard, the Hawaii Department of Health is planning to cut the size of the contact tracing team because of overstaffing.
WI: Wisconsin speaker offers COVID-19 plan
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos offered a $100 million plan to boost Wisconsin’s response to COVID-19, but his fellow Republicans in the state Senate offered no initial support and the package includes numerous elements opposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Some aspects of the plan could spread COVID-19, such as requiring state employees and teachers to work in person by the end of January.
AK: Alaska leaders support mask mandates; some boroughs want proof they’re legal
Ed Sniffen, Alaska’s acting attorney general, said municipalities, including the state’s second-class boroughs, can mandate face masks using their disaster powers. But seven of Alaska’s second-class boroughs—some with surging numbers of COVID-19 cases—say they don’t have the police powers or general health powers to do that.
FL: Florida businesses to be hit with unemployment tax hike
Spurred by the coronavirus spike in Florida job losses, unemployment taxes paid by businesses will increase next year. Starting in January, businesses paying the minimum rate will owe $20.30 per employee, a $13.30 increase.
SD: Deadline approaching: More than half of South Dakota's $1.25B stimulus remains unspent
South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's administration is scrambling to put more than a quarter billion dollars of remaining pandemic relief funds to use before it's too late.
NE: Governor may consider economic assistance for Nebraskans if Congress fails to act
Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, hailed the approaching arrival of COVID-19 vaccines this month as a long-awaited signal that "help is on the way," and said he would consider providing some form of state economic assistance to Nebraskans if Congress remains deadlocked and the federal government fails to act.