LAS VEGAS — Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak has signed an emergency order adjusting the minimum distance between performers and audience members that previously challenged the return of productions in Las Vegas.

The tourist destination built for excess and known for bright lights, big crowds, indulgent meals and headline shows has slowly begun to reopen after the pandemic halted business in March. Businesses, especially on the Strip were struggling because of limited air travel, lack of mid-week convention business and an absence of arena events and entertainment options.

Previously, performers were required to maintain 25 feet (7.6 meters) of space between the audience as a precaution against the coronavirus. But some smaller venues could not accommodate that restriction.

Sisolak signed the new emergency directive on Friday, updating the minimum distance to 6 feet (1.8 meters) if performers are wearing masks and 12 feet (3.6 meters) when performers are unmasked.

The order is effective immediately and applies to all live entertainment and performances at all sizes of public gatherings and events.

“This is amazing news,” said Angela Stabile, co-founder of Stabile Productions, Inc., which has been operating three different shows at Harrah’s Las Vegas Hotel and Casino and Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. “It was an extreme guideline to begin with. This is another step in the right direction.”


Other shows including “The Australian Bee Gees Show” at Excalibur Hotel & Casino, David Copperfield at MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino and Terry Fator at New York-New York Hotel & Casino were planning to resume performances this month, the Las Vegas Sun reported. Now, smaller venue productions are also planning to reopen because of the new guidelines.

Nevada on Saturday reported 500 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases and 16 deaths, raising the state’s pandemic totals to 295,960 cases and 5,036 deaths.

California counties ask to opt out of centralized vaccination plan 

LOS ANGELES — Counties across California are increasingly asking to opt out of the state’s centralized vaccination program run by Blue Shield.

The Los Angeles Times reports that none of the state’s 58 counties have signed contracts with the insurance giant even as California moves ahead plans to bring 10 counties under Blue Shield oversight beginning this week.

The state is in the process of switching over to a vaccine appointment and delivery system run by Blue Shield, intended to ensure doses are distributed equitably and reach low-income communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.


But some county leaders call the system too bureaucratic and don’t want Blue Shield’s oversight.

Arizona lifts capacity limits; 19% vaccinated

PHOENIX — One day after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey lifted capacity restrictions at restaurants, gyms and other businesses, the state reported 1,735 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Arizona doesn’t have a statewide mask mandate. With 54 more confirmed deaths on Saturday, the totals rose to 825,119 cases and 16,323 deaths.

The number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations dipped below 1,000 for the first time in four months. On Friday, 966 COVID-19 patients occupied inpatient beds, down from 1,043 Thursday and the Jan. 11 pandemic high of 5,082.

Nearly 19% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of vaccine and about half of those people are fully vaccinated. The Health System Alliance of Arizona, a group representing major hospital systems, opposes Ducey’s move to lift capacity restrictions.


“Now is not the time to relax our mitigation efforts; we must stay the course to ensure that our vaccination efforts can outpace the spread of the virus,” the group says.

Ducey’s order didn’t lift the state’s requirements for social distancing and masking requirements for businesses nor affect local governments’ mask mandates.

Washington vaccinates 45,000 people per day

OLYMPIA, Wash. — State health officials say Washington has reached its goal of vaccinating 45,000 people per day against COVID-19.

The Department of Health says more than 1.8 million vaccine doses had been administered in the state. Officials say that’s three-quarters of the 2.4 million doses that have been delivered to the state’s providers and long-term care programs.

The state also has been told to expect an increase in weekly dose allocations in the next few weeks. Health officials are encouraged the state is moving in the right direction. Washington has recorded 343,868 total cases and 5,041 confirmed deaths.


Senate OKs $1.9T COVID bill, nears final passage

WASHINGTON — The Senate has passed a sweeping pandemic relief package over Republican opposition, moving closer to a milestone political victory for President Joe Biden.

The $1.9 trillion bill approved Saturday carries direct payments of up to $1,400 for most Americans, extended emergency unemployment benefits and spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing. It also provides billions to states and cities, schools and ailing industries.

Democrats say their “American Rescue Plan” will help the country defeat the virus and nurse the economy back to health. Republicans criticize the measure as more expensive than necessary.

The bill now heads to the House for final passage.

Read the full story here.


Pandemic forces route change, other precautions for Iditarod

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The world’s most famous sled dog race starts Sunday, but this year’s edition of the Iditarod will see a lot changes forced by the pandemic.

The race will be shorter this year, only 860 miles instead of a thousand. This will be the first time in race history that the finish line won’t be in Nome. Instead, mushers will go to the ghost town of Iditarod and loop back to the Anchorage area for the finish. Mushers will undergo vigorous COVID-19 testing before and during the race and if anyone gets a confirmed positive test, they are out of the race.

Most of the rural Alaska villages will be bypassed for safety reasons, leaving mushers to sleep in tents.

Alabama extends mask mandate until April 9

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s governor extended the mask mandate for another month and state Health Officer Scott Harris is recommending people keep wearing masks in public after it expires.


Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday extended Alabama’s mask order until April 9. Harris says he hopes April 10 will look a lot like April 9 across the state.

“There is nothing magical about the date of April 9. We don’t want the public to think that’s the day we all stop taking precautions,” he says.

Alabama has the second-highest positivity rate in the nation at 19.9%. State health officials urge people to maintain precautions, particularly during spring break and Easter gatherings, as the state tries to ramp up vaccinations.

So far about 14% of the state’s 4.9 million people have received at least one shot. Harris says they expect to deliver another 750,000 shots before the mask mandate expires. This week, the state reached 10,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

12 new cases, one death from COVID-19 in Navajo Nation

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — The Navajo Nation on Friday reported 12 additional COVID-19 cases and one death from the virus.


In all, the tribe has reported nearly 30,000 confirmed cases and 1,195 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began a year ago.

Health facilities on the reservation and in border towns are conducting drive-thru vaccine events or administering doses by appointment. The Navajo-area Indian Health Service has vaccinated more than 135,000 people so far.

A daily curfew from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. and a mask mandate remain in effect for residents of the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Ireland reaches half a million vaccinated after two months

LONDON — Ireland has given out half a million coronavirus vaccinations about two months after the first inoculation.

Prime Minister Micheal Martin says the health department announced the figure on Saturday. It includes both first and second doses and comes 63 days after the first shot was given to a Dublin senior citizen.


“Good news,” Martin tweeted. “The vaccines are having a significant impact on mortality and serious illness.”

Ireland has experienced a spike in infections at the start of the year after getting through the early days of the pandemic.

With a population of 4.8 million, Ireland has reported 222,169 cases and 4,405 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus. It’s one of the 10 European countries where the British variant of the virus is dominant.

First case of Brazil variant in Illinois

CHICAGO — The first case of the Brazil variant in Illinois has been detected in a Chicago resident, health officials say.

City and state public health officials say Northwestern University researchers found the so-called P.1 variant in a test sample from a Chicago resident who came down with the disease. The infected person told contact tracers they hadn’t recently traveled outside Illinois.


The P.1 strain was first found in Brazilian travelers who arrived in Tokyo in early January. It appeared in Minnesota later that month and has since been identified in several other states.

Evidence suggests this variant can spread more easily than most currently circulating strains of the coronavirus, health officials say. The variants from Britain and South Africa have previously been identified in Illinois.

Hard-hit Slovakia sending COVID-19 patients to Germany

BERLIN — Coronavirus patients from hard-hit Slovakia are arriving in Germany for treatment.

The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia in western Germany says the first two patients were expected to arrive at Dortmund airport Saturday on board a chartered plane. They will be treated at a hospital in the city.

More patients may follow in the coming days. German news agency dpa reported that North Rhine-Westphalia says it has offered to take in a total of 10 patients from Slovakia.


Patients from France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium have previously gone to Germany for treatment during the pandemic.

The number of people in Germany needing intensive care has declined significantly in the past two months.

Hundreds protest restrictions in Stockholm

STOCKHOLM — Police has dispersed hundreds of people who had gathered in central Stockholm to protest against coronavirus restrictions set by the Swedish government.

Swedish authorities say Saturday’s demonstration was illegal because it was held without permission.

Police say on their website they cut short the gathering when number of participants exceeded what is currently allowed at public gatherings under Sweden’s pandemic laws.


Video footage aired on Swedish media showed a sizable group of people without masks gathering to the Medborgarplatsen square in Stockholm city center, not far from the Old Town.

Black Sea provinces see alarming rise in COVID-19 cases

ISTANBUL — Turkish health ministry statistics show a significant increase in coronavirus cases in Turkey’s largest cities and alarming rates in Black Sea provinces.

A weekly, provincial map of infections shared by Health Minister Fahrettin Koca showed more than 111 positive cases identified in Istanbul per 100,000 people in the past week. That rate was about 60 the week of Feb. 6. Cases in Ankara and Izmir were also on the rise.

This week, Istanbul was categorized as a “high risk” city for COVID-19. Restaurants and cafes have re-opened and weekend lockdowns were reduced to only Sundays except for “very high-risk” cities. Istanbul residents filled the streets and restaurants, many ignoring mask and social distancing rules.

Northeastern provinces along the Black Sea have been categorized as “very high-risk,” where restrictions continue. The seven-day average of cases across the country rose back above 10,000 this week, bringing the total number of cases to more than 2.7 million and the confirmed death toll to 28,901.


California OKs reopening of ball parks, Disneyland

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California has cleared a path for fans to hit the stands at opening day baseball games and return to Disneyland nearly a year after coronavirus restrictions shuttered major entertainment spots.

The state relaxed guidelines for reopening outdoor venues. COVID-19 infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have plunged, and vaccination rates are rising. New rules allow concert stadiums and sports arenas to reopen with limited attendance on April 1.

This week, the seven-day average rate of positive results from tests dropped to 2.2%, a record low.

Theme parks can reopen in counties that have fallen from the state’s most restrictive tier. In all cases, park capacities will be limited, and coronavirus safety rules such as mask-wearing requirements will apply.

More than 10 million doses had been given in the three months since the first vaccination, the Department of Public Health says. Just over 3 million people have been fully vaccinated, or about 10% of the population 16 and older.


Europe staggers as infectious variants power virus surge

MILAN — Europe recorded 1 million new coronavirus cases last week, an increase of 9% from the previous week and a reversal that ended a six-week decline, according to the World Health Organization.

Among the hard-hit places is the Milan suburb of Bollate, where the virus swept through a nursery school and an adjacent elementary school with alarming speed. In a matter of just days, 45 children and 14 staff members tested positive.

Genetic analysis confirmed it was the highly contagious variant first identified in England late last year. The surge is leading to new restrictions across the continent.

Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, says the spread of variants is driving the increase, but so is “the opening of society, when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”

The British variant is spreading significantly in 27 European countries monitored by WHO and is dominant in at least 10 by the agency’s count: Britain, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Spain and Portugal.


Read the full story here.

German official ‘very skeptical’ of Easter travel plans

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff says he is “very skeptical” about prospects of people traveling at Easter but expects the situation will have changed by late May.

Merkel and Germany’s state governors this week agreed to extend lockdown measures until March 28, while laying down a roadmap for relaxing some rules in areas with relatively low infections. But many issues have yet to be addressed.

Merkel’s chief of staff, Helge Braun, told the Funke newspaper group in an interview published Saturday that he is “very skeptical as far as travel at Easter is concerned.” Easter falls on the first weekend in April this year.

But he says he expects “that we can talk in a significantly more relaxed way about travel and leisure from Whitsun,” on May 23.


Braun says Germany could return to full normality in the summer — if vaccine manufacturers keep to their delivery pledges and no new coronavirus mutation arises “that raises questions over the whole success of vaccination.”

Germany has given 5.7% of its population a first dose of vaccine and 2.8% two doses. A fall in new coronavirus cases has stalled as a more contagious variant first detected in Britain spreads.

Dalai Lama receives first shot of AstraZeneca vaccine

DHARMSALA, India — The Dalai Lama, the 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader, has received the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine at a hospital in the north Indian hill town of Dharmsala.

After receiving the injection, he urged people to come forward, be brave and get vaccinated.

Dr. G.D. Gupta of Zonal Hospital, where the shot was administered, told reporters that the Dalai Lama was observed for 30 minutes afterward.

Ten other people who live in the Dalai Lama’s residence were also vaccinated, Gupta said. All eleven received the Covishield vaccine, which was developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, and manufactured by India’s Serum Institute.

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