Beyond the conservative Facebook memes and viral YouTube videos, has California reached a breaking point?
At first, Stephanie Morris was nervous about leaving Modesto. She’d lived in the Central Valley her whole life, but her family couldn’t keep paying $850-a-month for her sons to share a living room while she, her husband and the baby slept in their apartment’s only bedroom.
The anxiety faded by the time her family pulled out in a U-Haul bound for Salt Lake City on a smoky September night. Morris, 31, had still never been to Utah — her husband liked it when he worked there as a truck driver — but she had discovered a whole world of people planning similar escapes online. They posted faraway landscapes on Pinterest, smiling family photos on Instagram and memes about leaving “Commiefornia” in Facebook groups like “Conservatives Leaving California.”
“I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not moving out of California to a third-world country,” Morris said. “I’m leaving a third-world country to join America.”
Unaffordable housing. High taxes. A Democratic stranglehold on state politics. The concerns driving transplants like Morris out of the country’s richest state during the COVID-19 era are not new. What is changing quickly is how disillusioned California residents are coming together by the tens of thousands on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere online, fueling a cottage industry of real estate agents, mortgage lenders and political advocates stoking social division to compete for a piece of the much–discussed California Exodus.
Facebook groups like “Life After California” are full of stories about $4,000 U-Haul bills and home bidding wars in Texas, but it’s too early to tell if more people are leaving during the pandemic. People move for all kinds of reasons — a new job, to be near family, to buy their first house — and while many online moving groups target conservatives, a parallel migration of more liberal transplants has also scrambled the politics of some red states.
Early polls show that up to 40% of Bay Area tech workers will consider leaving if remote work continues. Recent tax proposals have also triggered familiar warnings about wealthy residents fleeing the state.
Even before COVID-19, California’s population growth had slowed considerably. Since 2015, the state has lost at least 100,000 more people than it gained each year from other U.S. states, including growing numbers of working class and Black residents. But California is still a top U.S. destination for people moving from other countries, plus affluent transplants from other states. From July 2018 to July 2019, California saw a net loss of 197,594 people to other states.
Now, the pandemic has stripped away amenities used to justify California’s high costs, and created a backlog of 1.6 million unemployment claims in the state with the nation’s highest functional poverty rate. Though Gov. Gavin Newsom styles California as a semi-autonomous progressive enclave, economic stimulus measures that promised near-term relief withered in Sacramento this summer. In November’s election, the biggest state battles revolve around commercial taxes and gig work — and in the meantime, the state’s national profile promises to keep rising as a political piñata in the culture wars that surround President Donald Trump.
Scott Shepard has watched these forces collide from his new home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The California-bred realtor started relocation website ExitCalifornia.org and a namesake Facebook page early last year, when he saw a business opportunity in the endless stories of friends and neighbors moving out of state. Now, during the pandemic, the site is so busy he doesn’t even have to pay for online ads.
“It’s starting to kind of take on a life of its own,” Shepard said. “I would be straight and say that it is primarily political. Then it really does come down to the cost and taxes.”
The anti-California Dream
Exit California is emblematic of a growing number of online relocation companies marketed heavily on social media. They target prospective transplants who skew white, right and over age 30, though renters post alongside members in the market for million-dollar houses. Between photos of tidy brick facades, crystal-clear pools and recommended moving truck routes, the Facebook pages revolve around ominous articles about Black Lives Matter protests, crime, immigration and, of late, pandemic shutdowns.
Prospective movers who click through to the website can pick a state — Arizona, Idaho, Tennessee, Texas — and see financial incentives to use selected realtors, mortgage lenders or other service providers. Beyond the mechanics of buying a house, the online groups are a platform for places to pitch fed-up Californians who don’t know where to start.
“There’s a fair percentage of them that don’t know where they wanna go,” said Scott Fuller, an Arizona transplant and real estate investor who started LeavingTheBayArea.com and LeavingSoCal.com three years ago. “They just know they want to go somewhere else.”
That’s not surprising to Bill Bishop, author of “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart.” He’s studied how over the past several decades, neighborhoods across the country have become increasingly politically homogeneous. Where people choose to live has become “a stage,” he said, to flaunt their values as old anchors like a one-company career fade into a blur of unstable jobs, anxiety and dwindling time with family and friends.
“What they’re doing is selling a way of life that then corresponds to political choice,” Bishop said. “It’s kind of pathetic, actually, but what the hell?”
It’s not just real estate agents using social media to reach jaded Californians. Sometimes, the California Exodus content is bankrolled by people in high places.
Take the YouTube video “Fleeing California,” which has racked up 2 million views since it was posted in March. It starts with sweeping L.A. views of palm trees and Spanish-tile roofs, then fades to a grainy montage of sidewalk tent cities and a person being pushed in front of an oncoming truck. A moment later, in Texas, viewers see happy kids getting off a school bus and a golden retriever bounding down a jungle gym while Republican Sen. Ted Cruz talks in the background.
The video was made by PragerU, a conservative digital media nonprofit that produces other titles like “Make Men Masculine Again” and “Dangerous People Are Teaching Your Kids.” The California video was commissioned by a donor, producer Will Witt said: Texas ranching and oil scion Windi Grimes, a board director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and member of Trumpettes USA, a women’s group formed in Beverly Hills five years ago to boost President Trump as the country’s “savior.”
How many people are persuaded to pack up and move by similar videos, social media content or Joe Rogan’s recent podcasts on moving to Texas could help shuffle the country’s electoral map at a pivotal moment. Some of California’s last Republican strongholds, like Orange County, are seeing their residents decamp for other states — a net loss of nearly 25,000 people last year alone — along with notoriously liberal urban areas like L.A., which posted a net loss of more than 97,800 people.
The anti-California political spectacle playing out online has become a hobby for 30-year-old Texas country singer Charley Austin, who started the “Conservatives Leaving California” Facebook group last year. Some members post memes warning newcomers “Don’t California My Texas.” But Austin, who says he has campaigned for Trump, sees an opportunity to keep the state red as cities like Austin (“the San Francisco of Texas,” he said) go farther left.
“There’s nothing really we can do to stop people moving here,” Austin said. “The best thing you can do is help people that move here get acclimated to the state.”
Making the move
By August, Juliette Saunders had been fighting the state of California for almost six months over her missing unemployment checks. Her business doing wine and paint nights in Orange County disappeared overnight when the virus hit, and she was getting by with free lunches from her daughter’s school while her resumé with a master’s degree got turned down at Target.
Fed up with her cramped apartment, Saunders and her daughter left to visit her sister in Prosper, Texas, where she and her husband had built a 5,000-square-foot house near an artificial lagoon. They should move, too, Saunders thought, and the deal was sealed when her California boyfriend came to visit and proposed.
“We’re gonna miss Laguna Beach and the art scene, and you know, Disneyland,” said Saunders, 53, whose now-fiancé was furloughed from his job as a security guard at the amusement park. “But none of those things are open right now.”
Saunders will also have work after she moves. She plans to go into business with her sister, real estate agent Marie Bailey, who’s busy managing her 20,000-member Facebook group “Move to Texas From California!” She moved from Orange County three years ago with her husband, who works in tech, to the gun-friendly Dallas suburb that feels “almost like a country club resort.”
In online groups like Bailey’s, much of the conversation is pragmatic: whether to drive to Reno to save on a moving truck; how to change your car registration in Phoenix; which little league team to join in Frisco. Members compare notes on median home prices — $725,000 in San Diego, versus $260,000 in Fort Worth or $619,000 in Scottsdale — but there are also other trade-offs.
“Don’t expect California in Texas,” said Tommy Vasquez, 46, who moved to the Houston area with his wife and three children over the winter. “The climate is different. It’s flat out here. But everything is green.”
Vasquez was happy to trade his three-hour commute from Hesperia to Miraloma, where he kept driving all day doing deliveries for Costco, for a role as a night supervisor eight minutes away from his new house in Texas. Property taxes are still high, but he knew from Facebook that gas and air conditioning are cheaper, and his neighborhood is nicer.
Competing with other prospective Texas buyers was the challenge for Julie Druyor, 40, and her family as they planned to leave Livermore this spring. They lost two houses near Frisco after bidding wars that she vented about online, but they bought the third one sight-unseen. She’s embracing new economic freedom to stop working as a marriage and family therapist and stay home with her kids, who have started at better public schools.
“It’s miles different,” Druyor said. “You feel like you matter.”
As California expats scatter, there are groups pushing others considering joining them to move in-state instead. “We’re smarter, more dynamic and wealthier than all those other states,” said Barry Broome, CEO of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council.
He should know. During the last recession, Broome was making the same low-tax, bigger-house arguments to California companies and their employees on behalf of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. At the time, business groups were melting down about a proposed tax on high earners to fund education, Prop 30.
Broome says he did pick off about 30,000 back office workers from California companies, and recent reports show that hundreds of businesses have continued to move facilities out of state. So in Sacramento, Broome is now offering startup grants or new incentives in biotech and finance tech. There are small signs of momentum; his group purchased cell phone location data from “consumer intelligence technology” company Buxton, which estimated that 193 people who work for Facebook have already moved to Sacramento.
While politicians in other parts of the state similarly stake their hopes of economic recovery on remote work and inland relocation, Broome worries that recent tax bills and labor reforms like AB 5 could undercut those efforts. Still, he’s not expecting a mass exodus this time around, either.
“These economies are a lot more intertwined than people ever really want to admit,” said Broome, a former union worker from Ohio. “It speaks to sustainability. We’ve been eroding the middle class for a generation.”
Economists also wonder how this recession will be different. At Stanford, Professor Mark Duggan said the state will have to make big decisions about generating revenue to stave off major budget cuts after borrowing billions from the federal government to pay unemployment claims. Political sacred cows like residential property tax cap Prop. 13 may need to be reconsidered, he said.
“I worry a lot about if we’re complacent,” Duggan said. “We’ve been able to get away with not-great policies because of the amenities.”
For now, people like Terry Gilliam will keep selling the Red State Dream in Facebook groups like “Life After California.” Though it’s been harder to convince his own family to leave the East Bay, he has a plan: the mountains near a place like Prescott, Arizona, where the scenery is dramatic but the climate is mild — “much like the Bay Area,” he said.
How Rich Investors And Ex-Cons Fit Through A ‘Small Business’ Program’s Loopholes
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.
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.
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.
News from around our 50 states
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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