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From health care to immigration, find out where the NY-21 candidates stand on big issues

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Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, left, and Democrat Tedra Cobb, right. NCPR file photos

We sent 10 questions to Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik and her Democratic challenger Tedra Cobb. Both are competing for New York’s 21st Congressional District seat on Nov. 3.

Below are their responses and policy positions on a wide range of issues that are important to North Country voters.

Health Care 

How would you rate the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic? 

ELISE STEFANIK: I am proud to have worked with President Trump to deliver more federal funding during COVID-19 to New York than any other state in the nation including $9 billion in direct aid, the Army Corps of Engineers construction of the Javits Center, or sending the Navy Ship USNS Comfort. I worked to secure critical funding through the CARES Act for our North Country hospitals, small businesses, and hardworking families. I am proud to say I worked hard to deliver $165 million to our North Country hospitals and community health centers as they were experiencing significant revenue losses.

By working with Congress, President Trump has delivered the largest economic rescue package in our nation’s history in addition to leading the world in testing and vaccination development. Additionally, I’m proud to partner with the Trump Administration in calling for an independent investigation into New York State’s fatal nursing home policy that led to massive loss of life in our state — I have spoken with many, many grieving families who are outraged at the lack of responsibility Governor Cuomo and the state have taken over this catastrophic policy.

TEDRA COBB: I would rate his response as an abject failure. We are seven months into this pandemic, and we still lack a realistic and consistent federal response. President Trump and Elise Stefanik have failed to take this seriously enough, and the cost is 200,000 lives and the worst economic catastrophe in nearly a century. Millions are out of work, losing their employer-sponsored healthcare and their financial security.

The Affordable Care Act is currently before the Supreme Court and could be repealed with a conservative majority. Do you support repealing this law? And how will you ensure greater access to health insurance during the pandemic? 

COBB: I do not support repealing the Affordable Care Act, especially during a pandemic. While COVID19 didn’t create the gaps in our healthcare system, it certainly cast a momentous spotlight on its deficits. The best way to move forward is with a Medicare public option that would allow people to buy into Medicare. This would allow people a choice. Those who like their employer-sponsored healthcare would be able to keep it, and those without access to care now could get insured.

STEFANIK: I support replacing Obamacare with better healthcare that is more affordable, accessible, and higher quality in rural regions. Obamacare has been fundamentally broken since the start leading to skyrocketing out of pocket costs as well as limited access. I authored the largest fix to Obamacare, signed into law by President Obama, repealing the autoenrollment mandate. I have also worked to pass numerous reforms to Obamacare including leading the effort to repeal medical device taxes and the cadillac tax on union healthcare plans. These fixes point to the underlying truth that private health insurance provides more choice for Americans than government run socialist healthcare like Medicare for All which my opponent ran on for two years.

I support patient-centered healthcare reforms that allow healthcare to be purchased across state lines and allow small businesses to pool together to purchase health insurance to lower costs. I also support protections for those with pre-existing conditions, lowering the cost of prescriptions and cancer treatment for our seniors, and protecting the Medicare Advantage our North Country seniors have paid into.

Military 

Do you support drawing down U.S. presence in Afghanistan?

Rep. Elise Stefanik invited President Trump to Fort Drum in 2018. File photo: courtesy of Watertown Daily Times

Rep. Elise Stefanik invited President Trump to Fort Drum in 2018. File photo: courtesy of Watertown Daily Times

STEFANIK: I believe that we must continue to protect our national security from terrorist threats around the world. The consequences of President Obama’s premature unilateral withdrawal from Iraq led to the rise of ISIS putting our troops and our security at risk. The U.S. has successfully shifted strategy to a train, advise, and assist role in Afghanistan where Afghan Security Forces are responsible for their own security. We must continue to ensure that Afghans have the capability to protect their security. Our troop presence and numbers should be determined by conditions on the ground and our ability to protect against terrorist safe havens.

COBB: This district is home to Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, the most deployed unit in the Army post 9/11. One of the pivotal issues in this election is my opponents’ complete silence on Russian bounties placed on our troops serving in Afghanistan right now. Elise Stefanik has a unique position. She sits on the Armed Services Committee, the Intelligence Committee, and she represents Fort Drum. In her fealty to this president, she has left our troops, their families, and our national security at risk. I will always put our soldiers first.

The Pentagon budget is now over $700 billion, or 3.4% of U.S. GDP. Is the Pentagon’s budget appropriate? Or is it too big or small? 

Tedra Cobb speaking at a downtown coffee shop in Plattsburgh. Photo: Emily Russell

Tedra Cobb speaking at a downtown coffee shop in Plattsburgh. Photo: Emily Russell

COBB: I think this must be a conversation about priorities. We want our military personnel to have the best equipment, the latest technology, and the best safety gear to allow them to protect U.S. interests domestically and abroad. Lost in these conversations is often how we take care of the men and women who wear the uniform.

I think we need to fully fund the Veteran’s Affairs Administration and make access to medical services more accessible for our veterans. This is an issue in this district where veterans often drive hours for appointments in Albany or Syracuse. We need local and community-based solutions. On the County Legislature, I was proud to sponsor legislation that allowed the family of active-duty soldiers to keep their county healthcare plans when their loved ones were deployed.

STEFANIK: I am absolutely opposed to defense budget cuts and have been one of the leading voices fighting back against the devastating consequences of defense sequestration that gutted our nation’s military. As we face a rising China, I do not believe our national defense budget is too large. I support a fully funded national defense and a fully funded military. I’m proud to work each year to secure critical resources for our men and women serving in uniform and those who work to protect our nation in the National Defense Authorization Act. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee to ensure those who sacrifice to defend our nation have the resources they need to keep us safe and keep our nation free.

Climate Change 

What is the biggest thing you think the U.S. should do to address climate change? 

STEFANIK: Climate change is a multifaceted challenge; creating extreme weather events for our farmers, increased water levels along Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence Seaway, and allowing for the spread of invasive species like the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. I believe the United States should continue investment in new technologies like carbon capture that can be used to reduce emissions, reduce dependency on foreign energy, and create thousands of jobs at home.

COBB: Follow the science. I believe in science-based decision making. Our economy, our health, and our way of life depend on clean air and clean water. If elected, I would:

    • Fully fund the EPA.

 

    • Pass the Scientific Integrity Act

 

    • Hold corporate polluters accountable.

 

    • Eliminate subsidies for the fossil fuel industry while incentivizing clean energy technology and jobs in the North Country.

 

Policing/Criminal Justice Reform 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called on all police departments to “reimagine and modernize” their policing. What reforms do you think are most necessary? Be specific.

COBB: I started my career in the New York State prison system. I worked alongside law enforcement. First and foremost, I do not support defunding the police. I think we need full funding for our police departments, and we also need to fund the community partners that help them do their jobs. We need more funding for mental health treatment services and addiction and substance use counseling. I do believe that police reforms are necessary. I support banning choke and strangleholds, eliminating no-knock warrants, and requiring further de-escalation training. In the North Country, our law enforcement officers are integral parts of our community, and they have our full support.

STEFANIK: I oppose Governor Cuomo’s efforts to undercut our law enforcement. The Governor has made it perfectly clear that he does not have our law enforcements’ backs. I do not, and will never, support taking critical resources away from our brave law enforcement who keep our communities safe. I was proud to cosponsor Senator Tim Scott’s JUSTICE Act, which improves transparency and accountability in police forces by requiring additional reporting, increases officer training, and ends excessive force and police brutality. Unfortunately, House Democrats declined to join us in this important effort. I am proud to have earned the endorsement of local, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

Immigration 

Do you believe North Country dairy farmers should continue to employ hundreds of immigrants in the country illegally? Why or why not? 

STEFANIK: Our dairy farmers are the backbone of our North Country economy, the characterization of our farmers in this question is offensive. Our farmers work hard to comply with all state and federal employment laws and go above and beyond to seek out a stable, legal workforce and it is long past time for the federal government to reform our non-immigrant worker programs. I support the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act which will improve the H-2A visa program and establish a mandatory E-Verify process to eliminate the accidental hiring of illegal workers.

COBB: This issue is a product of a broken Washington. For decades we have been talking about immigration reform at the national level. In her three terms in Congress, Elise Stefanik has failed to get anything meaningful done on immigration reform. I believe we need to eliminate the red tape around the migrant worker visa program and allow our agricultural businesses access to a labor pool legally. This includes fair and safe labor standards for these workers.

Do you support creating a path to legal status for “Dreamers”? How? 

COBB: I do support a pathway to citizenship for dreamers. In Congress, I would support legislation like the Dream Act.

STEFANIK: For too long Congress has punted on this issue. I have long prioritized securing a stable, legal workforce for our dairy farms and seasonal businesses that rely on this help to get their products and services to market. Last term I led my colleagues in an attempt to require the House to vote on a series of immigration reform bills. I was supportive of a bill that would provide a path to legal status for DACA recipients while significantly increasing resources securing our border.

Legal status under the proposal I support would allow DACA recipients to remain in the country while they worked, enlisted in the military, or pursued a degree while working toward citizenship. I do not support Democrats’ partisan proposals for amnesty and believe fixes to our immigration must be bipartisan and prioritize security of our borders.

Housing 

Do you think federal housing assistance should be considered an entitlement, like SNAP and Medicaid? Why or why not? 

STEFANIK: I believe the Community Development Block Grant is one of the most successful anti-poverty programs run by the federal government to provide affordable housing because of the flexibility built into the program. I believe we need more dynamism in our federal anti-poverty programs to better respond to the needs of local communities and do not support making our federal programs more rigid and inflexible. For example, earlier this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars across the district to help those who were facing economic hardship and at risk of eviction.

COBB: I do. The North Country has a rental housing crisis. This is an issue I hear about in each corner of this district. I believe that low-income families should continue to receive assistance from the Section 8 housing program. At the same time, we must work at the state and local level to secure and retrofit existing housing structures into affordable family housing units.

Since 2000, incomes have decreased, while rent has increased. What policies do you support to repair rural housing stock and make housing more affordable to low-income North Country residents? 

COBB: This is an important question. I believe that there are things we can do right away that have broad bipartisan support. I would support legislation that would provide tax credits to families who rent and make under $100,000/year. I believe these credits should be granted by need, prioritizing lower-income families.

STEFANIK: Making sure that the North Country is an affordable and attractive place for families to live and work is critically important as we continue to attract businesses to expand and open facilities across the district. I have a strong record supporting funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Community Development Block Grant which has invested millions of dollars in our communities to help develop stable, affordable communities.

Business

How Rich Investors And Ex-Cons Fit Through A ‘Small Business’ Program’s Loopholes

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Loopholes in a federal pandemic relief program allowed the approval of millions of dollars in “small business” assistance for Chicago-area companies tied to notoriously corrupt suburban contractors, the richest member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet and a wealthy Republican congressional candidate in next month’s election, a WBEZ investigation has found.

In late March, soon after the coronavirus pandemic led to shutdown orders in much of the country, Congress and Trump began the Paycheck Protection Program. Intended to save jobs, the forgivable PPP loans quickly channeled more than half a trillion federal taxpayer dollars to more than 5 million companies across the country at a time of spiking unemployment.

Trump and other proponents touted PPP as an effort to help struggling small businesses make payroll. The eligible companies were defined primarily as businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

The loan-application process also included safeguards to keep the money out of the hands of business owners with criminal pasts.

But the U.S. Small Business Administration, which administered the giant program, faced widespread complaints that corporate interests and politically-connected players got PPP loans, even as minority-owned businesses and truly small companies had to wait longer for the money — or never got any.

 

And WBEZ’s investigation found the companies in Illinois that were approved for PPP loans included:

  • The Palumbos, a family that was banned from bidding for federally-funded contracts due to corruption convictions in 1999. Now, a Palumbo family business has come up again in an ongoing government corruption investigation.
  • A Chicago tech firm listed for years on the personal economic disclosure statements filed by Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos. She has invested in a private-equity fund with an interest in the company.
  • The ice cream shop chain of Republican congressional candidate Jim Oberweis — even though he has boasted during the campaign that he employed more than 1,400 people. The free-market conservative has previously spoken out against sending Americans more COVID-19 stimulus checks, even though his family’s business took roughly $6 million from a PPP loan.

The PPP rules are riddled with language that cleared the way for the approval of those loans and others that might appear to contradict the spirit of the initiative, which was a key part of the $2 trillion federal coronavirus aid package known as the CARES Act.

For example, the program’s application form required companies to disclose only felony convictions in recent years or ongoing criminal cases involving their owners.

Nothing stopped companies that have received money from wealthy private-equity funds from being approved for PPP loans.

And there was a long list of exceptions to the cap on the number of people that PPP recipients could employ, including a loophole that opened the way for even big restaurant chains to get millions of dollars each.

“The program had a number of loopholes,” says Aracely Panameño, co-leader of the small business lending team and director of Latino affairs for the Center for Responsible Lending, a national organization based in North Carolina.

She noted that many of the smallest businesses encountered great difficulty accessing PPP loans because they lacked preferential status with the banks processing applications for the funding. That was especially true during the crucial first few weeks after the shutdowns began and the program went into effect.

The rules permitting relatively big companies to participate in the program also were harmful to many businesses that have no employees besides the owner and other “microbusinesses” with less than 20 workers, she said.

“There’s an unfair advantage to those who are well-connected and a disadvantage to those who don’t have the connections,” Panameño said. “It is particularly pernicious to business owners of color.”

The SBA has refused to release the exact amounts of each PPP loan in the taxpayer-funded program. But a WBEZ GFN of SBA data found none of the 250 companies in Illinois approved for the largest loans — between $5 million and $10 million each — identified their owners as people of color.

Out of more than 1,100 companies in the state that got PPP loans of between $2 million and $5 million, only six said they were owned by African Americans, six by Hispanics and six by Asians, according to the data.

Those findings echoed similar reports on the racial inequities in the PPP initiative nationwide.

But the SBA’s regional administrator for the Great Lakes states, including Illinois, told WBEZ much of the data is incomplete and does not reflect all of the loans that went to minority-owned businesses.

“Could we have done a better job? Yeah,” Robert Scott said Monday. “But the goal of the program was to get the money out as fast as possible — save as many businesses and jobs as fast as possible.”

Scott noted that the program began taking applications within a week of getting bipartisan approval from Congress and from Trump.

“We were flying the plane and building it at the same time,” Scott said.

Many rules were added, he said, as the program developed, and that meant some loan money went to businesses that should not have been eligible for PPP assistance.

One of Illinois’ most notorious corruption schemes

The Palumbo family built many of the expressways in the Chicago area but found itself at the center of a notorious corruption case in the late 1990s. Three members of the family — Peter Palumbo and sons Joseph and Sebastian — were sentenced to prison terms for fraud after two of the family’s companies admitted overbilling for construction materials on road projects.

A state employee also got a prison term for taking bribes in the scandal, and the Palumbos promised to pay a total of $15 million in restitution and fines.

When the judge in their case said even those penalties were too little for what they had done, the top federal prosecutor at the time, Scott Lassar, replied that the plea bargain was actually good for the government.

That was partly because it avoided a lengthy trial, Lassar said. And according to news reports at the time, Lassar said the Palumbos agreed to a permanent ban from bidding on road projects funded with federal money.

But more than 20 years after the Palumbos were convicted and did their time, that ban has not kept the family’s current companies from raking in as much as $5.35 million in PPP money from Washington, according to federal and state documents.

Orange Crush LLC has 73 employees and was approved for between $2 million and $5 million on April 8. The managers of the company, which is based in west suburban Hillside, include Sebastian Palumbo, state records show.

A second PPP loan of between $150,000 and $350,000 was approved two days later for Palumbo Management LLC, which has 16 employees and is in northwest suburban East Dundee. Joseph Palumbo is a manager of that company.

The Palumbos did not respond to messages left at their companies.

Another entity involving Joseph Palumbo, PAL Land LLC of East Dundee, also has found itself at the center of a burgeoning corruption scandal this year.

William Helm, a longtime Chicago political operative and city Aviation Department official, has been charged with paying a bribe to a state senator to help win approval for an East Dundee project involving Helm’s consulting client, PAL Land LLC, according to court records and a source close to the investigation. But the Palumbos have not faced any allegations of wrongdoing in the case.

And neither their old criminal records nor the ongoing federal investigation prohibited the Palumbos from getting federal PPP aid.

The blank application forms for prospective PPP borrowers state that applications will not be approved if an owner of the company is “presently incarcerated” for a felony or is currently facing “formal criminal charges.”

The only other ethical problems that could disqualify an applicant are committing a felony such as fraud in a federal loan program during the last five years or getting in trouble for any other felony in the previous year.

The SBA has rejected WBEZ’s requests for copies of completed, successful applications for PPP loans from Orange Crush and other Chicago-area companies, saying privacy exemptions in the open-records law prevent greater transparency.

Scott, the SBA administrator, said the rules limiting the eligibility of ex-offenders were loosened recently to allow for PPP loans to business owners who reformed themselves after criminal convictions.

“Our country, we’re all about second chances,” Scott said. “I understand there’s a lot of public corruption cases in Chicago and Illinois and elsewhere in the country. But there’s also a lot of people who had felonies … that reformed themselves, and started a business, and they’re successful now and turned their lives around.”

DeVos’ profits from Chicago company

DeVos, the federal education secretary, hardly fits the description of a struggling small business owner.

Her net worth was estimated at $2 billion, which meant she had twice as much money as the rest of Trump’s cabinet secretaries combined, according to a 2019 report in Forbes magazine.

The daughter of a successful business owner from Holland, Mich., DeVos married into the family that runs Amway, the multilevel-marketing company headquartered near Grand Rapids, Mich. Her father-in-law was a founder of Amway and her husband was its chief executive.

After Trump was elected in 2016, he appointed DeVos to lead the U.S. Department of Education, and that required her to file an annual public financial disclosure report.

Betsy DeVos observes a classroom in Phoenix wearing a mask
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos observes a classroom setting Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, at the Phoenix International Academy in Phoenix. Matt York / Associated Press

Each year since she joined the Trump administration, she has listed her investment in a private-equity firm in Grand Rapids called Bridge Street Capital Fund I LP. DeVos also has disclosed each year that the fund “owns interests in” several companies, including Callpod Inc., which is based in Chicago’s Greektown. According to DeVos’ statements to government ethics officials, Callpod is a company that “sells universal cellular phone adapters, accessories, software and power modules.”

DeVos reported investing at least $351,000 and as much as $765,000 in the fund. She said the investment yielded no income “or less than $201” in 2016, 2017 and 2018. But in her latest disclosure form, filed on May 14, she said the fund that invested in Callpod had earned her more than $44,000 last year.

Callpod was among the wave of companies that got help from the first round of PPP funding. Federal data show Callpod got approved for a loan of at least $2 million and as much as $5 million to help it meet payroll for 138 employees on April 6.

The SBA disclosed that loan among more than 27,000 in Illinois when it first provided some data on the PPP program in July. But in subsequent data released in August, Callpod was no longer listed among the recipients of active loans.

Nobody at the company would answer questions about its loan application and approval, and federal officials refuse to comment on individual cases.

But the SBA’s Scott said many businesses that had other access to funding, including the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and the Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain, gave back PPP money.

“You can’t fault the businesses for trying to navigate and trying to grab anything that was available to try to keep their employees paid,” Scott said when asked about Callpod. “But as we issued those rules, folks began to give the money back. … The situation you provided me, I’m sure that’s what happened. I don’t know that for a fact but certainly we have several cases where that occurred.”

Darren Guccione is co-founder and CEO of Callpod, and he also leads another company at the same address and office suite where Callpod is based. His other company, called Keeper Security, created “one of the most successful password-security apps out there” and had “earned millions of dollars in profit,” according to a Crain’s Chicago Business story in 2015.

Through a spokeswoman, Guccione declined to comment on the PPP application from Callpod or on the investors in that company.

The founder and managing director at the Michigan investment management firm in which DeVos has a stake did not return WBEZ’s calls. The fund began in 2004 with nearly $30 million, records show.

Private equity firms inherently have big advantages over small businesses and the companies they profit from should not have been able to tap PPP funding, said Don Wiener, a researcher with the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wis.

Private-equity investors “can go into capital markets and raise money with the enormous amount of cash they hold as collateral,” Wiener said. “Small businesses have no such ability.”

On her disclosure form, DeVos also reported income last year from a firm called Renaissance Acquisition Company LLC. That business is in Indianapolis and also got a PPP loan for between $2 million and $5 million, according to the SBA data. DeVos’ disclosure statement described the company as “the largest independent philanthropic solutions provider in North America.”

The Department of Education’s media office declined to comment “since this relates to the Secretary’s personal finances,” and DeVos did not reply to WBEZ.

“The franchise loophole”

In addition to his many runs for office as a conservative, free-market candidate, state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, is best known as chairman of his family business, Oberweis Dairy.

Now, Oberweis is challenging first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood in the November general election. He again made reference to his success as a milk and ice cream magnate after winning the seven-way GOP primary in the 14th Illinois Congressional District in March.

In an interview on a conservative radio program on WIND-AM on March 31, Oberweis talked about how he built up an investment firm that had “$1 billion under management” and later bought the family dairy, now based in North Aurora.

“Since then, we’ve grown it from 50 employees to about 1,400 employees,” Oberweis told the show’s host, Steve Cortes, who later quit his Chicago talk-radio gig to work for Trump’s re-election campaign.

Eight days after that interview, Oberweis’ dairy business got approved for a PPP loan, according to federal records. A spokesman for Oberweis has said the loan was worth between $5.6 and $6 million.

In getting the loan, Oberweis Dairy took advantage of what experts say is perhaps the largest loophole in the PPP rules. Businesses that are in the “accommodations and food services” industries can work around the employee limit if they have “more than one physical location” and have fewer than 500 employees per location.

According to the Oberweis Dairy website, the chain includes dozens of locations in the Chicago area and additional outlets in the suburbs of Detroit and St. Louis.

A hiring sign outside of a Oberweis ice cream and dairy store
A hiring sign is seen outside of a Oberweis ice cream and dairy store in Rolling Meadows, Ill., Wednesday, July 29, 2020. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press

Panameño, the advocate for small business lending, said many fast-food chains capitalized on what she called “the franchise loophole” in the SBA rules for PPP loans.

“They have access to capital that microbusinesses did not have,” she said. “A Black barbershop, an Asian nail salon, a Latina bodega owner who employs their own relatives and a couple other people from their community — they are not associated or affiliated with a large franchise company that provides access to capital. Those are the people that were left out.”

Like Oberweis Dairy, another chain company in Illinois that got a major PPP loan was Potbelly Sandwich Works LLC of Chicago. The chain of sandwich shops initially won funding, then gave it back after a public backlash — only to accept $10 million, after all, on Aug. 7, records show.

The only other companies in Illinois that took advantage of that same loophole in the rules were three Burger King, Marco’s Pizza and McDonald’s franchisees. On its website, the McDonald’s franchisees say they own and operate 24 restaurants with more than 1,200 workers.

Scott, the SBA official, defended the loophole, arguing that it helped low-wage workers in the restaurant industry who could have lost their jobs.

“The PPP program, when it was provided to these franchises, was not only a lifeline to the businesses but also to those employees,” he said.

Oberweis’ congressional campaign aides say he no longer takes a salary from Oberweis Dairy and his son runs it. But the candidate is the company’s chairman, did receive income from Oberweis Dairy last year and owns the “Oberweis Truck Barn” in North Aurora, according to his economic-disclosure filings as an Illinois lawmaker.

Aides to Oberweis did not respond to WBEZ’s questions about how he would vote on future pandemic-relief proposals, if elected next Tuesday.

But in his radio interview in March, Oberweis said he strongly opposed another key component of the CARES Act — the program that sent $1,200 checks from the federal government to many Americans. He told Cortes he opposed any aid of that sort because he thought federal help should have gone just to those who are jobless.

“People who have kept their jobs and are continuing to work are going to be OK,” Oberweis said. “Just issuing people checks — I don’t think that works so well.”

Disclosure note: Chicago Public Media, the nonprofit that operates WBEZ, received $2.8 million in PPP funding that a spokesperson said enabled the company to avoid layoffs or furloughs for the first few months of the pandemic. Chicago Public Media ultimately laid off 12 employees.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him @dmihalopoulos.

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Climate

News from around our 50 states

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Alabama

Dothan: With the coronavirus pandemic worsening in the state, Dothan school officials are planning a “virtual day” to prepare for the possibility that classes will have to quit meeting in person. The southeast Alabama system will have both junior high and high school students participate in online classes Oct. 30 as a way of “proactively preparing for future closures,” The Dothan Eagle reports. A combination of the pandemic, the upcoming flu season and statewide staffing problems created the need for a test run, the system said in a statement. School districts around the state have used a combination of in-person teaching, online learning and varying schedules to cope with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. The pandemic appears to be getting worse in Alabama as residents grow tired of preventive measures like distancing and mask-wearing, which slowed the spread of the disease after a summertime peak, health officials said.

Alaska

Palmer: An early voting location in the city closed temporarily Friday after a poll worker was diagnosed with COVID-19, the Division of Elections said. The division, in a statement, said the risk to voters who cast ballots early at the main administrative offices of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is considered to be low. The worker wore a face covering, and a partition separated the worker from voters, the division said. Early voting at the location began Monday, and the division said the worker was at the location through Thursday. The Palmer location is undergoing cleaning and is set to reopen Monday morning, the division said. The division highlighted as an alternative in the meantime the Wasilla Public Library, which will continue to have voting hours through Election Day on Nov. 3.

Arizona

Phoenix: State health officials on Sunday reported 1,392 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths. It’s the highest reported single-day case total in the state since Sept. 17. Arizona continues to see a slow yet steady increase in the average number of coronavirus cases reported each day as a decline that lasted through August and September reverses. State Department of Health Services officials said the latest numbers increase Arizona’s totals to 238,163 known infections and 5,874 known deaths. In the past month, Arizona has seen a gradual increase in COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations, but levels are well below the thousands of cases reported on some days in June and July when the state was a national hot spot. The outbreak diminished in August and September as many local governments imposed mask mandates and the state revived some business restrictions.

Arkansas

Little Rock: The state on Friday reported 1,337 new probable and confirmed coronavirus cases, the biggest one-day spike since the pandemic began. “Today we see new cases significantly higher than last Friday,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “Let’s avoid those gatherings where groups are not adhering to social distancing and mask wearing.” The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, which have surged to record highs in recent weeks, increased by 12 to 624 on Friday. The state experienced its largest number of hospitalizations on Tuesday with 637. The increase in cases comes amid an outbreak among state legislators. Five lawmakers last week tested positive for the virus. Hutchinson, a Republican, has limited his meetings and public appearances after being exposed to someone with the virus, though he said he has tested negative four times since the exposure.

California

Redding: Shasta County has been moved back to a less restrictive tier for coronavirus infections after pleading with state officials to avoid closing down businesses. The Northern California county will return to the red tier for substantial virus transmission. State health officials recently announced that the county of 180,000 people would be moved to the purple tier for widespread virus transmission, which would have required business closures. County officials said the state reversed course after evaluating more recent coronavirus data and seeing that cases were declining and that local authorities had made progress stemming outbreaks at a nursing home and evangelical college. “This is a huge relief for our local businesses,” said Public Health Branch Director Robin Schurig.

Colorado

Denver: Citing a steady increase in the state’s coronavirus hospitalization caseload, health officials announced new limits Friday on personal gatherings of people from different households in more than two dozen counties. An amended state health order affecting 29 of the state’s counties limits personal gatherings to 10 people from no more than two households. Gatherings of up to 25 people were previously permitted in those counties, Colorado Public Radio reports. Personal gatherings in 30 other Colorado counties were already restricted to 10 people. No new limits were imposed for five counties with lesser caseloads. The Department of Public Health and Environment said it took the action after investigators determined that COVID-19 cases associated with social gatherings and community exposure had been more common since July.

Connecticut

Hartford: The economic toll inflicted on the state by the coronavirus pandemic has been blunted somewhat by what appears to be an influx of newcomers who are boosting both the real estate market and the state budget. Joanne Breen, the 2020 president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, said Friday that it has been the busiest year for agents in at least 12 years. Some of that brisk business is due to people who planned to buy homes anyway, she said. But she also said she believes concerns about COVID-19 have made Connecticut a more attractive place for out-of-staters, including New York residents, to move their families. A survey released last week by real estate giant Re/Max identified the Hartford metro area, which includes Hartford, Tolland and Middlesex counties, as having the third-largest year-to-year percentage increase in sales among 53 metro areas across the U.S. when compared with September 2019.

Delaware

Greenwood: A COVID-19 outbreak at Woodbridge High School has led to the district closing the campus for the next two weeks as a safety precaution. During that time, the situation will be investigated, and the building will undergo cleaning, the district said in a letter to families Friday afternoon. In the meantime, all students will shift to remote learning. Woodbridge was one of the few Delaware school districts that started the year with some in-person classes. Two months into the school year, it is also the first district to temporarily close a school as a COVID-19 safety precaution. Between Sept. 1 and Oct. 23, 24 students and 75 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in Delaware public schools, according to the Division of Public Health. In private schools, 54 students and 26 staff have tested positive.

District of Columbia

Washington: With a bit of rejiggering, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump played host Sunday to hundreds of superheroes, unicorns, skeletons and even a miniature version of themselves as part of a Halloween celebration at the White House. In years past, the president and first lady personally handed out candy to the costume-clad kids. This year, the treats were provided separately as participants walked along a path on the South Lawn. The kids still briefly met the president and first lady, who waved and offered words of encouragement from a safe distance about how much they liked the costumes. Trump and the first lady have both recently recovered from COVID-19. The spooky celebration was changed up a bit as a result of the pandemic. Guests older than 2 were required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. The same went for all White House personnel working the event.

Florida

Orlando: The top health official in one of the state’s most populous counties is discouraging parents from hosting birthday parties for their children, no matter the size, in an effort to prevent outbreaks of the new coronavirus. Dr. Raul Pino, health officer for Florida Department of Health in Orange County, said half of the 30 attendees at a recent Sweet 16 party in the Orlando area came down with the virus. Last month, an Orange County high school closed for two weeks after students who had attended a birthday party tested positive for the virus. “We will continue to see consequences if we don’t act super-responsibly,” Pino said Thursday at a news conference. Orange County, home to some of the nation’s most famous theme park resorts, has seen a moderate uptick in virus cases in the past few days, Pino said. In recent days, the county’s positivity rate has crossed into the 6% range after being in the 5% range.

Georgia

Atlanta: Two staff members for Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler tested positive for the coronavirus, but a test of the senator came back negative, the senator’s office said Saturday. Loeffler was tested Friday after learning about the positive tests of two Senate staff members, her office said in a brief statement. The statement did not say whether the senator had close contact with the staff members or planned additional tests. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 should quarantine for two weeks. Loeffler was “more energized than ever to vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett as the next Supreme Court Justice on Monday before returning home and traveling the state to meet with hardworking Georgians,” the statement said. She also tested negative earlier this month and continued campaigning after coming into contact with President Donald Trump, who was treated for the virus.

Hawaii

Honolulu: The state had more than 65,000 travelers arrive in the islands in the first week of its pre-travel coronavirus testing program, a state effort to get the tourism-based economy moving again amid the pandemic. State officials said in an email to the Associated Press on Friday that 66,644 people were screened between the Oct. 15 launch and Thursday. Of those visitors – including returning residents, tourists and others – 41,783 tested negative for the coronavirus and were allowed to skip the previously required two weeks of quarantine. Some people came to Hawaii with the wrong kind of test. The state accepts only negative nucleic acid amplification tests. Other travelers on the same flights chose to come to Hawaii without being tested at all. More than 7,500 people on the first week’s flights were ordered to quarantine.

Idaho

Coeur d’Alene: Even as the health care situation worsened in northern Idaho, the Panhandle Health District voted to repeal a local mask mandate, acting moments after hearing how the Kootenai Health hospital in Coeur d’Alene had reached 99% capacity. The state is experiencing its largest coronavirus spike since the pandemic began, with new cases increasing statewide by 46.5% over the past two weeks. Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, has declined to take steps such as requiring masks statewide to slow the virus’s spread. Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of St. Luke’s in the Magic Valley region that includes Twin Falls and Jerome, said Thursday that he and other medical professionals are scared. “The purpose of any intervention around coronavirus has been to prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed, and here I am today saying the hospital is being overwhelmed,” he said. A day later, on Friday, his hospital announced it would send younger patients to Boise.

Illinois

Springfield: The state’s public health director on Friday again pleaded with residents to wear face coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus, breaking at one point and pausing to compose herself after reporting the day’s grim COVID-19 statistics. As the numbers of cases rise to levels rivaling the nightmare spring when hospitals scrambled for beds to treat the sick, Dr. Ngoze Ezike rallied residents to resist “COVID fatigue” by thinking of health care and other essential workers who cannot avoid the public on a daily basis. “If you’re talking about COVID fatigue from having to keep wearing a mask, think about the COVID fatigue for health care workers … trying to fight for people’s lives,” Ezike said. Illinois health officials on Saturday reported a one-day record for new confirmed cases, adding 6,161. The Illinois Department of Public Health also reported 63 more people have died of the virus, bringing the statewide total for the pandemic to 9,481.

Indiana

Indianapolis: The state reported its third-highest single-day total of new coronavirus infections Friday as the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 across Indiana continued to rise. The 2,519 new infections reported by the Indiana State Department of Health fell short of the 2,880 new infections the agency reported Thursday, which was a daily high of newly reported cases in Indiana. The department’s daily update of its coronavirus dashboard also showed 1,548 Hoosiers hospitalized with the coronavirus, the most since May 5. Of those, 434 were in intensive care, the most since May 17. A greater percentage of Indiana’s ICU beds are filled than at any other point in the pandemic. Almost 70% of beds were in use Friday, according to the health department, leaving 2,150 available ICU beds. That number was more than 3,270 earlier in the pandemic.

Iowa

Iowa City: The state has among the nation’s highest coronavirus death and infection rates, and residents should avoid gatherings in most counties to fight the virus, federal experts say. The virus infected and killed about twice as many people per capita in Iowa as the national average between Oct. 10 and Oct. 16, the White House Coronavirus Task Force reported. That included a 33% weekly increase in deaths. The number of new cases increased, even after climbing for weeks, as did the state’s test positivity rate, the panel said in an Oct. 18 report released Friday by the Iowa Department of Public Health. The grim statistics came as Iowa’s hospitals faced a surge of coronavirus patients, hitting a record 536, according to data released Thursday. Despite the crisis, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds routinely says that residents need to “learn how to live with” the virus and that stricter public health measures would harm the economy.

Kansas

Topeka: The state set new records Friday for its largest seven-day increases in new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths with what its top public health official called “a generalized spread” of the virus. The state has averaged more than 700 new cases a day this month, and the figure was a record 768 for the seven days ending Friday, beating the previous high mark of 757 for the seven days ending Wednesday. The state Department of Health and Environment reported 1,774 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases since Wednesday, an increase of 2.4% that brought the total for the pandemic to 76,230. Dr. Lee Norman, the state health department’s head, said the generalized spread of the virus in Kansas has resulted from resistance to wearing masks in public, continuing to have mass gatherings, crowded school athletic events, and bringing students back to college and university campuses.

Kentucky

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., speaks at a Second Amendment rally outside the Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort on Jan. 31.
U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., speaks at a Second Amendment rally outside the Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort on Jan. 31.

Louisville: A member of Congress says he won’t be receiving the coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available. Republican U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted Thursday that he hopes a vaccine is developed soon, but he doesn’t plan to use it. When asked about it, Massie said in a statement that he didn’t see the vaccine as necessary for him. “I’m not in a high/risk category and I trust my natural immune system response over a pharmaceutically stimulated response,” he said. Massie’s tweet came after President Donald Trump said during a presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden that a vaccine could come within weeks. Nurse practitioner Alexandra Owensby, who is running against Massie in the Nov. 3 election, said in a statement that “the problem is people feel like the vaccine has been rushed.” Owensby said she hopes at some point most Americans will trust the vaccine enough to get it.

Louisiana

Baton Rouge: Republicans in the state House filed a petition Friday to revoke Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions for a week, as lawmakers finished a special session in which they sought more power over the Democratic governor’s emergency actions but appeared likely to see that effort vetoed. Republicans are invoking a never-before-used process outlined in state law that allows a majority of House lawmakers to nullify the governor’s public health emergency declaration – and all restrictions tied to it – with a petition. House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said Edwards refused to address legislative concerns about his virus rules “in any substantive way.” The petition sent to Edwards was signed by 65 of the House’s 68 Republicans. The governor lashed out at them as ignoring the risks of the virus outbreak for an “unconscionable” partisan political ploy. “Burying heads in the sand and just pretending COVID isn’t a problem isn’t going to help,” he said.

Maine

Alfred: County officials said Friday that a coronavirus outbreak that sickened more than 80 people at a jail is over. The outbreak at York County Jail in Alfred was connected to a larger outbreak centered on a northern Maine wedding and reception. An employee of the jail attended the wedding, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said. The outbreak linked to the Aug. 7 wedding event sickened a total of 178 people and killed eight. The case total includes the cases from the Alfred jail. The County Commissioners of York County said in a statement Friday that no inmates at the Alfred jail are currently receiving treatment and that all staff have returned to work. An inquiry by an outside examiner continues, the commissioners said. A Maine CDC spokesperson confirmed the jail facility met the criteria to close an outbreak investigation Oct. 12. The Maine CDC has said its investigation into the wedding is also closed.

Maryland

Baltimore: Voters can begin to cast ballots in person this week at dozens of sites statewide. Early voting centers open Monday morning and will operate daily until Nov. 2. Maryland has allowed early in-person voting since 2010, but it wasn’t offered during the June primary due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many early voting center locations have changed, with senior centers and privately owned buildings replaced by empty schools to protect health, The Baltimore Sun reports. Local election directors decided on what safety measures to utilize, but socially distanced lines, plastic glass shields and frequent sanitizing of equipment are expected. More than 1.6 million Maryland residents already requested mail-in ballots by a deadline earlier this month. More than 45% of those residents have returned them.

Massachusetts

Boston: The state has ordered the shutdown of every indoor ice skating facility in Massachusetts for two weeks in response to several COVID-19 clusters linked to ice hockey games and practices. The order took effect Friday and lasts until Nov. 7, according to the state Department of Public Health. At least 30 clusters of COVID-19 have been associated with organized ice hockey activities involving residents from more than 60 cities and towns in the state, the department said. Each includes two or more confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, for a total of 108 confirmed cases. “This pause will allow for the development of stronger COVID-19 protocols to further protect players, families, coaches, arena staff and other participants, as well as communities surrounding hockey rinks,” the agency said in a statement. College and professional programs are exempt from the order.

Michigan

Lansing: More than 3,000 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus – the most yet during the pandemic – were reported Saturday amid what a top health official called “alarming increases” in infections around the state. The 3,338 new COVID-19 cases reported by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services surpassed the state’s previous single-day record of 2,030 new cases set Oct. 15. That earlier record had topped the previous record of 1,953 from early April. The state agency also reported 35 more deaths from COVID-19, raising Michigan’s pandemic toll to 7,182 deaths. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive, said in a statement that “if rates continue like this, we risk overwhelming our hospitals and having many more Michiganders die.” She said Michigan is continuing to see coronavirus infection clusters associated with facilities, programs and schools.

Minnesota

Minneapolis: The state reported one of its largest one-day tallies of new coronavirus cases Saturday as 2,268 people tested positive. The number of new cases is the second-highest reported during the pandemic, just below the 2,297 cases reported Oct. 16. The positivity rate of testing has also climbed in recent days, an indication that infections are increasing. The seven-day average positivity rate was 6.53%, according to date from the COVID Tracking Project. Health officials have said the uptick in cases is due to more infections spreading among people rather than increased testing showing more cases. The upward trend in new cases has been followed by an uptick in deaths from COVID-19, with the seven-day average number of deaths above 14. The Minnesota Department of Health reported 14 more deaths Saturday, with nine of those in long-term care and assisted-living facilities, bringing the state’s death toll to 2,328.

Mississippi

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs expresses concern at the public's lack of mask-wearing at Gov. Tate Reeves' COVID-19 press briefing in Jackson, Miss., on July 8.
Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs expresses concern at the public’s lack of mask-wearing at Gov. Tate Reeves’ COVID-19 press briefing in Jackson, Miss., on July 8.

Jackson: State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs and other health officials said COVID-19 is starting to affect more young and white residents in Mississippi as the number of new cases continues to grow. “We’ve seen a pretty dramatic shift where early on, (cases were) two-thirds African American, and now it’s kinda moved to two-thirds Caucasian,” he said during a news conference Friday. Dobbs said even though there are more white residents in the state, things have gotten to the point where the virus is disproportionately affecting that segment of the total population. He encouraged residents to take precautions seriously. “Let’s learn the lessons from the past, and let’s all just be careful,” he said. State epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said younger people, especially the school-age population, are the fastest-growing segment among reported cases. Residents in the 50-59 age range and those over 65 are also seeing higher numbers, he said.

Missouri

St. Louis: Gov. Mike Parson’s coronavirus diagnosis came about a week after he visited a state office building despite being warned about an outbreak among workers, emails show. The emails obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch show that a public relations officer at the Department of Commerce and Insurance asked Parson’s spokeswoman whether the governor wanted to move forward with Sept. 16 event at the Harry S Truman State Office Building in Jefferson City “given the building situation.” Parson, a Republican, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Sept. 23. Parson made numerous other in-person visits elsewhere in the days before he tested positive, including a visit to the Mount Vernon Veterans Home, which subsequently logged its first case of the virus. Though some photographs show Parson wearing a mask during this time, others show him without a mask.

Montana

Kalispell: State and county health officials have started cracking down on businesses that aren’t enforcing Gov. Steve Bullock’s mask mandate, which was put in place in July to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services sought court approval in Flathead County to force four businesses to come into compliance with the mandate, the Flathead Beacon reports. The state is seeking temporary restraining orders against Sykes Diner and Mercantile in Kalispell, Remington Bar and Casino in Whitefish, Your Lucky Turn Tavern in Bigfork and Ferndale Market. The governor’s mandate requires face coverings to be worn in all indoor spaces open to the public in counties that have four or more current cases of COVID-19. It also requires businesses to take “reasonable measures” to ensure customers, employees and others follow the mandate.

Nebraska

Lincoln: State public health officials confirmed another 977 coronavirus cases Thursday, bringing the state’s total to 61,285, according to its tracking portal. The number tracks with a recent surge in cases that led Gov. Pete Ricketts to reimpose some social distancing restrictions to avoid overwhelming Nebraska’s hospitals. State officials say 559,625 people in Nebraska have gotten tested since the pandemic began, and 498,023 have tested negative. They’ve confirmed 587 virus-related deaths so far. Nebraska’s hospitals still have 1,336 beds available for patients, about 29% of their total capacity. They also have 198 intensive care beds available, accounting for 31% of the total supply, and 632 ventilators that can be used, roughly 77% of the total.

Nevada

Sex worker Alice Little stands outside the closed Bunny Ranch brothel in Carson City, Nev.
Sex worker Alice Little stands outside the closed Bunny Ranch brothel in Carson City, Nev.

Reno: Brothels remain closed under state restrictions imposed because of the pandemic, but a rural county is allowing brothels to offer non-sexual escort services. The Lyon County Board of Commissioners approved the new authorization for the four brothels in the county Oct. 15. Because the brothels remain closed, the sex workers must meet customers elsewhere for escort services authorized under the ordinance. More than 500 people were unemployed due to the brothel closings, brothel owner Suzette Cole told the board. Lyon County Manager Jeffery Page said the closures have hurt the local economy. The authorization for escort services will allow brothels to stay in business and provide income for owners and workers, he said. Sex worker Alice Little said many workers, who are considered independent contractors, left the industry to work elsewhere, but she said that is difficult because of the stigma attached to the work.

New Hampshire

Concord: Anyone who went to five restaurants in Portsmouth, Concord and Peterborough on certain days this month should get tested for the coronavirus, state health officials said Friday. The Department of Health and Human Services said at least four people who have tested positive visited Daniel Street Tavern in Portsmouth while potentially infectious, and anyone who was in the bar area Oct. 9, 14 or 15 should get tested. At least one person has tested positive who visited the Goat Bar and Grill in Portsmouth on Oct. 15. In Concord, at least five people who have tested positive visited the Draft Sports Bar and Grill on Oct. 9 and 11 and Oct. 14-18. And at the Barley House Restaurant and Tavern, potential exposure via two people may have occurred Oct. 12, 13, 14 and 16. Exposure also may have occurred Oct. 13 at the Bantam Grill in Peterborough, where at least one person has tested positive.

New Jersey

Red Bank: Gov. Phil Murphy signed two bills into law Friday aimed at addressing staffing shortages and residents’ isolation at the state’s long-term care facilities, two areas of vulnerability exposed during the coronavirus pandemic. The bills signed Friday were an outgrowth of a consultant’s report released in June. More than 7,000 people have died from COVID-19 in New Jersey’s long-term care facilities, about half of the state’s total deaths. In May, the Democratic governor was forced to send the National Guard to nursing homes hit hard by the new coronavirus. The state’s largest facility, in Andover, was fined more than $200,000 by federal health authorities for putting residents in its care at risk. In April, police acting on an anonymous tip found 18 bodies in a makeshift morgue at the home.

New Mexico

Albuquerque: One of the oldest Roman Catholic dioceses in the nation will again be foregoing Sunday Mass indefinitely as the state marks its latest surge of COVID-19 cases. Archbishop John C. Wester is directing churches within the northern New Mexico diocese to cease regular Mass schedules and encouraging Masses to be streamed online or recorded so they can be accessed at home. He’s also calling for funeral services and weddings to be delayed. The guidance comes as state officials have been pushing people to stay home and adhere to the provisions of an amended public health order that took effect Friday. That includes limiting retail hours and temporarily closing businesses the state determines are hot spots for the virus. Wester pointed to data that shows the demographics of cases migrating toward the younger ages and the uptick of hospitalizations, saying there are concerns about the state’s health care system’s capacity.

New York

New York: The number of people hospitalized in the state because of the coronavirus has climbed back over 1,000, officials said Friday. The figure has increased in the past month but is still far below the peak level of the spring. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there were 1,023 hospitalizations around the state as of Thursday. That’s more than double the number that were hospitalized month ago and the first time since late June that the state has seen that many people in hospitals with the virus. At the pandemic’s peak in April, nearly 19,000 people were hospitalized. As is happening around the country to different degrees, New York is seeing an uptick in virus cases as more places like schools and businesses have been opening up. Statewide, 1,637 people tested positive with the virus Thursday, on par with where levels have been for the month.

North Carolina

Charlotte: A state health official on Saturday ordered a large church to close its doors temporarily because of concerns it is helping spread the coronavirus by disregarding social distancing measures. Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris ordered the United House of Prayer for All People to close all its buildings and said the church has not cooperated with efforts to stem the virus’s spread, the Charlotte Observer reports. Harris said at least three deaths and more than 121 confirmed cases of the virus have been linked to the church, which held a weeklong church event earlier this month. The county said the church has continued to hold large gatherings despite recommendations not to do so and has failed to implement social distancing measures. The church did not immediately return a request for comment. On Friday, North Carolina set a new record for a single-day increase in reported COVID-19 cases.

North Dakota

Bismarck: National Guard soldiers have helped to notify 800 people who tested positive for COVID-19 but initially weren’t told, officials said. The notification backlog, which was due to a recent sharp increase in coronavirus cases, was resolved Thursday largely through shifting the role last week of 50 North Dakota National Guard soldiers, health officials said. The soldiers had been informing people they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should monitor their health for signs and symptoms of the virus. On Tuesday, health officials announced the soldiers would instead notify those who test positive for the virus. The North Dakota Department of Health expects the change in contact tracing to be temporary. As part of the new process, public health officials will no longer reach out to close contacts of individuals who test positive for COVID-19. Instead, those testing positive will be instructed to self-notify their close contacts.

Ohio

Columbus: Small businesses, bars and restaurants, low-income renters, arts groups, and colleges and universities are among those eligible for $429 million in federal pandemic dollars being released by the state this week, Gov. Mike DeWine and his fellow Republican legislative leaders announced Friday. The aid package, which the governor has promised for several weeks, is scheduled to go before a bipartisan state legislative spending panel Monday. Its passage is assured with the backing of House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Larry Obhof, who joined the governor at Friday’s virtual news conference. The announcement came on a day when the Ohio Health Department reported 2,518 probable and confirmed cases of the coronavirus, marking the third consecutive day of record-high daily cases in the state.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: A one-day record increase of more than 1,800 newly confirmed coronavirus cases was reported Saturday by the state health department. The Oklahoma State Department of Health report came one day after Gov. Kevin Stitt again extended a state of emergency due to the pandemic. Stitt on Friday extended for 30 days his emergency order first issued March 15. The health department reported 1,829 new cases for a total of 115,685 since the start of the pandemic and 924 people hospitalized due to the virus, down from a record high of 956 hospitalizations Friday. An additional 11 people have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, for a death toll of 1,245. The true number of coronavirus cases in Oklahoma is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.

Oregon

Salem: The Oregon Health Authority reported 550 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday, the state’s largest daily total since the start of the pandemic. Health officials called the number of cases “troubling” and said that based on current COVID-19 modeling, if Oregon remains on the same path, it could reach capacity in its hospitals by mid-December. The previous daily case count record in Oregon, which also occurred this month, was 484. Officials called Friday’s record-breaking number of new cases “a reminder that Oregonians cannot let their guards down.” Shimi Sharief, the Oregon Health Authority senior health adviser, said health officials “remain cautious” about giving a single day’s total “too much weight.” “That said, we believe this increase is due to continued community transmission from social gatherings, as well as household clusters,” Sharief said.

Pennsylvania

Harrisburg: State officials on Friday announced the highest single-day total of new cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and a rise in the number of young people getting sick with the virus. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 2,219 new positive cases of the novel coronavirus Friday. That number is almost as high as the two-day total released Monday and tops the state’s previous high count of 2,060 on April 8. “Seeing the highest percent positivity we have seen in several months is concerning. Seeing the highest number of new cases since the pandemic started in Pennsylvania on March 6 is also concerning,” said Nate Wardle, spokesman for the Department of Health. “Nothing is good right now regarding COVID.” State officials are comparing the rate of transmission of the virus to April, when it moved unbidden through nursing homes. But this time, the virus is infecting younger patients.

Rhode Island

Providence: The two highest single-day totals of new confirmed coronavirus cases in Rhode Island since the pandemic began came last week, but the state is conducting more tests than ever. The state Department of Health on Friday said there were 449 new cases confirmed the previous day out of nearly 14,100 tests, a 3.2% positivity rate. The department also adjusted Wednesday’s new confirmed cases up to 470, out of almost 18,000 tests. The previous one-day high was 412 on April 23, but that was out of fewer than 3,000 people tested. The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Rhode Island has now surged over the past two weeks from more than 1.5% on Oct. 8 to more than 2.4% on Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The new confirmed cases over the two days push the state’s total to more than 30,000.

South Carolina

Charleston: More than 71,000 idled workers in the state already have used up their eligibility for state unemployment benefits as the coronavirus pandemic continues, federal statistics show. The Post and Courier reports that the number of people exhausting their 20 weeks of state unemployment eligibility shows many workers who were laid off in the spring don’t have jobs to which to return even though the number of new layoffs has declined. People without additional eligibility can no longer receive money from the state’s unemployment trust fund, which is managed by the S.C. Department of Employment Workforce. But they can claim benefits from two other federal programs that provide as much as 23 weeks of additional financial support. The most recent employment survey estimated there were 65,000 fewer people employed in South Carolina in September than there were in March, when the pandemic was declared.

South Dakota

The entrance to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
The entrance to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Pine Ridge: The Oglala Sioux Tribe has locked down the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in response to a surging number of COVID-19 cases in the state. The lockdown began at 10 p.m. Friday and lasts until 6 a.m. Oct. 30. During that time, all noncritical travel is barred. The tribe said nonessential businesses should close to the public, and travel to nonessential work to or from the reservation should stop. The tribe also said nonemergency medical appointments that require travel to or from the reservation should be rescheduled. Tribes nationwide have taken an aggressive approach to preventing infections amid fears that Native Americans could be particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus – and this isn’t the first time the Oglala Sioux Tribe has imposed a lockdown since the pandemic began.

Tennessee

Columbia: A hospital is suspending all elective procedures requiring an overnight stay due to a surge in patients hospitalized with COVID-19. As of Friday evening, Columbia’s Maury Regional Medical Center was treating 50 COVID-19 inpatients, 20 of whom were in the medical center’s 26-bed intensive care unit. In response, the hospital is suspending elective surgical procedures that require an overnight stay for two weeks, beginning Monday, it announced Friday. “The time has long passed for our community to take this virus seriously,” Alan Watson, CEO of Maury Regional Health, said in a Friday statement. “We are seeing the impact of our community letting down their guard, and we must make every effort to mitigate the spread of this virus so that it does not further tax health care providers across Middle Tennessee and the entire state.”

Texas

More than 200 vehicles lined up for drive-thru COVID-19 testing in far East El Paso, Texas, on Oct. 14. Many of those waiting for testing said they waited for three hours or more to get tested at the mobile test collection site at the Socorro ISD Student Activities Complex.
More than 200 vehicles lined up for drive-thru COVID-19 testing in far East El Paso, Texas, on Oct. 14. Many of those waiting for testing said they waited for three hours or more to get tested at the mobile test collection site at the Socorro ISD Student Activities Complex.

El Paso: The surge in coronavirus in this border city continued Saturday with a record 1,216 new cases, nearly 20% of the state’s daily count, according to city-county health officials. The city reported 3,346 cases in the previous three days and more than 5,800 in the prior week, according to city-county health reports. El Paso has reported 38,554 total cases since the pandemic began in March. “Now, we need our community to help us by doing their part and staying home, if and when possible, for the next two weeks in order to stop the rapid the spread of the virus,” public health director Angela Mora said in a statement. Gov. Greg Abbott has sent medical equipment and about 500 medical personnel to the region to help fight the virus. President Donald Trump downplayed the toll of the coronavirus during Thursday’s final debate with Joe Biden, claiming that “there was a very big spike in Texas, it’s now gone.”

Utah

Salt Lake City: The state hit another ominous record Friday by tallying the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in a single day as the state struggles to slow a monthlong surge of COVID-19 that is filling intensive care beds at hospitals. After the state reported 1,960 new cases, Gov. Gary Herbert warned in a statement that the state is “on the brink” and once again pleaded with people to adhere to mask mandates in place in 21 of the state’s 29 counties. The Republican governor said people should wear masks anytime they are with people outside their immediate family, even extended family or friends. Capacity at the state’s intensive care units reached 76%, with more people hospitalized last week for COVID-19 than at any other time during the pandemic, state figures show. Four more deaths recorded Friday bring the total to 567. Utah had the seventh-highest rate of newly confirmed infections per capita Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

Vermont

Montpelier: A coronavirus outbreak connected to recreational hockey and broomball at an indoor ice rink has grown to 43 cases, including cases at seven schools in various counties, seven workplaces, two colleges and two hospitals, Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said Friday. The cases linked to the Central Vermont Memorial Civic Center are not within a single community, and people who played those sports live in counties across the state, he said during the governor’s twice-weekly virus briefing. The number of close contacts to the people infected now likely exceeds 240, Levine said. Vermont reported 28 new coronavirus cases Friday, its second-highest number since early June, with Levine saying half of the newest cases are associated with three outbreaks. At least seven positive virus cases have been linked to a wedding held in Cambridge on Oct. 10, the Health Department said.

Virginia

Radford: Another fraternity at Radford University is facing consequences for allegedly violating pandemic-related safety guidelines. TV station WDBJ reports the school’s Kappa Alppha Psi chapter was placed on an interim suspension and is being afforded a conduct hearing after university officials said the fraternity hosted an off-campus party. Radford University administered 270 COVID-19 tests last week, 59 of which were positive, the station reports. University officials said half of the cases were attributed to the party. “We can do better, and we must do better,” university spokeswoman Caitlyn Scaggs said. The fraternity’s national office did not immediately respond to a message from the station seeking comment. The school suspended a different fraternity in August, also in connection with off-campus gatherings.

Washington

Seattle: Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau said Friday that the district will remain in a remote learning model for the rest of the current semester because of an increase in COVID-19 cases. Most students will continue to participate in school virtually through January 2021, Juneau said in a news release. The only exception will be for students who receive special education services that require in-person instruction. Officials made the decision because of a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in King County and after consultation with the district’s Re-entry Leadership Team. Juneau said the team – composed of representatives of the School Board, Seattle Education Association, Seattle Council PTSA, the Principals’ Association of Seattle Schools, and students – will meet regularly to talk about next steps.

West Virginia

Charleston: A teachers union lost its bid Friday to stop the state from using its color-coded map to decide whether counties can hold in-person public school classes and athletic competitions amid the pandemic. Judge Carrie Webster denied the West Virginia Education Association’s request for a preliminary injunction after Gov. Jim Justice’s attorney argued the court lacked jurisdiction and said the union did not have evidence that the map is not a rational approach tailored to West Virginia, WCHS-TV reports. The union’s president, Dale Lee, testified that 67% of teachers surveyed had compromising health issues and fears or relatives who were home sick. After the ruling, Lee said the WVEA was disappointed in the outcome. “By choosing to use the lesser of the infection rate or the percentage of positive tests, WVEA and its members believe the governor’s color-coded map changes have created a false picture of COVID spread,” Lee said in a statement.

Wisconsin

Madison: An appeals court on Friday temporarily blocked Gov. Tony Evers’ restrictions on indoor public gatherings pending appeal, dealing the Democratic governor a setback in his efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The ruling from the 3rd District Court of Appeals follows Evers’ administration issuing an emergency order Oct. 6 that limited indoor public gatherings to 25% of a building or room’s capacity or 10 people in places without an occupancy limit. The order also came as COVID-19 cases surged in Wisconsin, which last week was among the worst states in the nation in daily new cases per capita, and its hospitals are near capacity. But the powerful Tavern League of Wisconsin argued the capacity limits amount to a “de facto closure” order for bars and restaurants and sued to strike down the order.

Wyoming

Cody: Yellowstone National Park officials have proposed an earlier opening date and later closure during the winter at an entrance for snowmobiles and snow coaches. Park officials announced plans to open the East Entrance from Dec. 15 to March 15, The Billings Gazette reports. The East Entrance is currently allocated two commercially guided snowmobile trips, one non-commercially guided trip and one commercial snow coach on each day of the winter season. The updated dates for opening the gate located west of Cody would coincide with the park’s two other winter gates, the West Entrance near West Yellowstone, Montana, and the South Entrance near Jackson, Wyoming. Access to the park at the North Entrance near Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, is the only gate open to automobiles for the entire year. The maximum number of snowmobiles currently allowed in the park from all entrances in a day is 480.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brothel loophole, ice rink outbreaks: News from around our 50 states

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Election

A New Constitution: What the United States Can Learn From Chile

Mish Boyka

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It is not often that a country gets to decide its destiny in one momentous election. I am thinking, of course, of the United States. But I am also thinking of the referendum in Chile, where, this past Sunday, the people of that country decided by a landslide — 78.27 percent of those who voted — to give themselves a new Constitution and thereby drastically redefine the way they wished to be governed.

Though a change in its founding document is not on the ballot in the United States, we should, here in America, pay close attention to what just happened in that distant land at the end of the earth. Heartened and inspired by the sight of ordinary people forcing a small ruling elite to accept, against all odds, the need for radical reforms, we would do well to learn some valuable lessons from that Chilean experience.

Sunday’s victory in Chile did not come easily or swiftly.

The Constitution that Chileans have just voted to supplant was installed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet in a fraudulent plebiscite in 1980, seven years after a lethal coup overthrew the democratically elected Socialist president, Salvador Allende. Pinochet’s Ley Fundamental—As it was called by those who drafted it — ostensibly established an itinerary for a transition to a restricted form of democracy, as there was to be another plebiscite in 1988 to ask citizens if they wished the general to remain in office for another eight ( endlessly renewable) years. In reality, that Constitution guaranteed that, no matter who was in charge of the country, there would be no possibility of questioning the oppressive system that the dictator and his allies had built, particularly the neoliberal economic model of exploitation that had been imposed on workers with unprecedented violence.

And, in effect, when Pinochet lost that 1988 plebiscite and was forced to retire as president (retaining control of the armed forces, of course), the Magna Carta he left behind acted as a straitjacket that, for the next 30 years, blocked all key efforts to create a more just and equitable society. The center-left coalition that has governed Chile for most of that period was able to negotiate a number of amendments to Pinochet’s fascist Constitution — and, significantly, lift a large section of the country’s destitute population out of poverty — but none of those amendments altered the ability of a minority of right-wing legislators to undermine any attempt to alter the way in which wealth and power were distributed. And it was presumed that a populace traumatized by torture, executions, disappearances, exile, and incessant censorship and persecution would not dare to rebel against such an immoral situation.

And that is how things would still be today if a startling revolt had not exploded in mid-October of last year. Sparked initially by groups of students jumping subway turnstiles to protest a small hike in the fares, it soon grew into a nationwide uprising by millions of Chileans who threatened to bring down President Sebastián Piñera’s conservative and unpopular government. Though the demands were wide-ranging — for better salaries, health care, education, housing, environmental protection, clean water; for Indigenous, LGBTQ and women’s rights; for reforms to the miserable pension plans and the untrammeled ferocity with which the police operated — the one issue that united all those who had taken over the streets was urgent need to get rid of Pinochet’s Constitution and its stranglehold on Chilean society.

Alarmed at what such an upheaval might unleash, right-wing leaders who had till then adamantly vetoed any changes to the status quo made up their mind to decompress the situation and avert a full-scale revolution by agreeing to hold a referendum in which voters would decide if they wanted a new Constitution, either choosing Apruebo (approval) or Rechazo (rejection).

Many of those hard-core Pinochetists believed they would be able, as time went by, to derail that referendum. They demanded that the current Congress was perfectly capable, with much less effort and cost, of instituting some of the most salient transformations being called for. They used the pandemic to claim that it was too dangerous to carry out an election in those conditions (though they had no such qualms about opening malls!). And when that delaying tactic failed, they ran a vicious campaign of terror against “socialism,” warning that those in favor of a new Magna Carta were extremists intent on turning Chile into Venezuela.

The people repudiated them. The right-wing proponents of the Rechazo option have garnered a scant 21.73 percent of the vote. It is true that several major figures on the right, sensing where the wind was blowing, came out in favor of a new Constitution, but the verdict is inescapable. The Pinochet era is finally over.

As a native of Chile, I had planned to fly to Santiago with my wife to participate in this historic event, but we were unable to do so due to the perils posed by Covid-19. I would have liked to witness the rebirth of a nation that seemed to have died when the coup destroyed our democracy all those decades ago. I was 28 years old when Salvador Allende became president and such a fervent enthusiast that, three years later, when he was overthrown, I was working at La Moneda, the building where he died, and was only saved from sharing his fate by a chain of incredible circumstances. Along with so many who believed in Allende’s dreams of a liberated Chile, I have spent most of my life since then hoping for a moment when those dreams of his would be echoed by future generations. That has now come to pass. The road to justice has been opened and, by the middle of 2022, Chileans will be governed by a Constitution that embodies the wishes and needs of the vast majority.

If I was unable to travel to Chile to celebrate this triumph of memory and courage over silence and death, I have been struck, as I celebrated this redemptive process from afar, by its significance for the United States, a country where I am also a citizen.

Indeed, along with my fellow countrymen and women, I am voting under a Constitution that severely curtails the will of the people. It is a travesty that we must choose our next president through a seriously flawed and antiquated system, with an Electoral College that does not reflect the preference of the majority. And it is just as much a scandal that we have a profoundly undemocratic Senate, where small states like Rhode Island or Wyoming carry as much weight as gigantic California or Texas. This is the legislative body that is responsible for approving Supreme Court justices, who have disenfranchised large sections of the population and allowed corporations to influence electoral outcome with an endless flow of unaccountable dollars. It is a Constitution, as Alex Keyssar has demonstrated in his remarkable book, Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?, that is tainted by the compromise reached by the Founders with Southern slave-owners and has remained a staunch bulwark of minority, white supremacist interests. It is a Constitution that has been unable to stop a psychopathic, serially mendacious demagogue like Trump from storming the executive office and trashing democracy, its norms, its institutions, its supposedly irreversible restraints of checks and balances. It has established a shameful system where profits matter more than people, where discrimination and racism are rampant, where the very rich can accumulate more wealth than the rest of the country combined.

There are, of course, many splendid features enshrined in that Constitution. Its defenders, including many who notice its limitations, point to the ways in which it often served to expand freedom, maintain stability, and ensure prosperity, and therefore deem it possible to overcome the glaring inadequacies of that 18th-century document with more amendments and stopgap remedies, such as abolishing the Electoral College, introducing radical changes to the justice system, passing legislation that guarantees voting rights, giving statehood to Puerto Rico and senatorial representation to Washington DC.

For my part, I wonder if the current crisis of authority, the sense that the United States has fallen into disarray and madness, could not open the door to a more drastic solution. Would it not make more sense to engage in a process like the one that Chile has just gone through, where the people have taken upon themselves the right and obligation to determine the fundamental tenets and principles of the system and rules that govern their existence? Should we not at least start to envisage the possibility of calling for a constitutional convention as a way of addressing the failure of our country to live up to its promise of a more perfect union? Do the problems that beset us, so similar to those that plague our Chilean brothers and sisters — the systemic racism, the police brutality, the ecological disasters, the offensive disparity of income, the increased polarization of our public — not cry out for a radical reimagining of who we are? Has not the pestilence of Covid-19 revealed that we are woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead?

It could be argued that the economic, political, and historical conditions in Chile and the United States are so different that any comparison between the two is pointless. The US Constitution, for all its shortcomings, did not originate in a fraud like the one perpetrated by General Pinochet. And it is unlikely that enough citizens in the 50 states are so dissatisfied with their lot that they would be willing to undergo the sort of intense re-examination of their identity that Chileans are about to embark upon. I do not doubt, in fact, that most Americans, fearful of disruption, terrified that their country might crumble under yet more divisiveness, would prefer that alterations to their fundamental laws and institutions be carried out, if at all, by their elected representatives.

That was precisely how the Chileans were told change would happen.

What they finally decided, after 30 years of waiting and increasing despair, was to use their extraordinary power as a mobilized people to demand action. What they understood is that the Constitution affected every aspect of their daily existence, even if they had no say in shaping it. The only way that it could cease to be an abstract, faraway document, unrepresentative and unresponsive to their concerns— the only way it could fully belong to them — was to fight for it, risk having their bodies bruised and their eyes blinded by police pellets , risk their jobs and their tranquility to create an order that they could recognize as their own and not imposed from above. What has been most amazing about the year since insubordinate Chileans forced a referendum to take place — and what will be yet more amazing in the year and a half ahead — is the vast educational value of discussing and gauging, measuring and weighing, the pros and cons of all manner of questions that are so often left to a select group of remote experts. The process itself of a joyful, collective reckoning with the past anticipates the sort of country that is envisioned, transforms and makes better those who are part of that communal exploration.

It is a process that, once begun, can be thrilling and emancipatory.

However long it takes for the American people to move in that direction — and the protests of the last months and the tradition of struggle for peace and justice that has always been beating in the epic heart of Martin Luther King Jr.’s country gives me hope that it will be sooner rather than later — there is one message from Chile that should always be borne in mind.

(Pedro Sánchez)

My family in Santiago sent me a photo of some words a young man had scribbled on a placard that he was parading around the city on his bike:

“Lo impensively se volvi posible porque salimos a exigirlo or el país no se vino abajo.”

The unthinkable became possible because we went out to demand it and the country did not crumble.

Or, as Salvador Allende — so alive today! —Said, just minutes before dying in defense of democracy and dignity: The future is ours and it is made by the people.

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