Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Record numbers of Vermonters hunt and fish during pandemic ... Oklahoma recruits out-of-state tourists while feds urge limits on travel ... Hawaii governor warns of deep budget cuts.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged federal restrictions for flights from the United Kingdom in response to reports that a more contagious strain of the coronavirus has emerged there.
The new variant of the virus, which health officials said could be up to 70% more transmissible, has spread quickly in London and southeast England. There’s no evidence that it’s more deadly or would be less susceptible to vaccines. Still, more than 40 countries have already banned flights from the UK, while others require passengers to be tested for the coronavirus before flights depart.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had planned to loosen restrictions for the December holiday season but reversed that decision after cases of the new strain of the virus increased. Swaths of Great Britain are now on tier 4 lockdown, prompting thousands of Londoners to cram into train stations to leave the city.
Cuomo said Monday that the new strain was “very concerning,” a day after he released a statement requesting the federal government to issue an outright ban on flights from the UK.
“The United States has a number of flights coming in from the UK each day and we have done absolutely nothing,” he said. “How many times in life do you have to make the same mistake before you learn? The federal government is being grossly negligent...and every day they do nothing on this problem, they do something.”
Cuomo said the state had requested that the three airlines with direct flights from the UK to New York airports—British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic—test their passengers before departure. As of Monday afternoon, only British Airways had agreed to do so.
De Blasio said Monday that the emergence of the new strain made him “even more worried” about the after-effects of holiday travel in New York City and said the federal government should consider implementing a travel ban from all of Europe.
“We need to be aggressive,” he said at a press briefing. “This is a decisive moment. If we get it right now, if we’re careful during the holidays, and we give time for a vaccine to be distributed, we can really turn the corner.” [The Hill, BBC, The Guardian, Daily Mail]
SEAWEED SURPLUS | Despite its reliance on the restaurant industry, the Maine-based seaweed harvesting and farming industry has flourished during the pandemic. Atlantic Sea Farms, a Saco, Maine-based company that works with two dozen seaweed farmers, said it harvested nearly 450,000 pounds this year, nearly double last year’s take. The industry succeeded by selling more of its products—confections like seaweed sauerkraut and frozen kelp cubes, which are used in smoothies—at retail locations rather than restaurants. That growth is likely to continue into next year, Atlantic Sea Farms said—its farmers are expected to harvest more than 800,000 pounds in 2021. [Associated Press]
HUNTING AND FISHING BOOM | Hunting and fishing licenses hit a 30-year high in Vermont this year, a surge that wildlife officials said was spurred by pandemic-induced cabin fever among state residents. “Uncertainty and difficult times were leading people to think about what they really wanted to spend their time doing this year,” Louis Porter, commissioner of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, told VT Digger. “Being with family in nature, doing things that are safe during a pandemic, like hunting and fishing, fit that extremely well.” About 87,000 Vermonters bought fishing licenses this year, up from 71,000 last year, while 141,000 residents paid for hunting permits, up from 120,000 in 2019. [VT Digger]
AN OPEN INVITATION | Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is urging people in neighboring states to come visit, even as Covid-19 infections continue to soar and a record number of his constituents are hospitalized. “Today, we all need a place that offers hope,” Stitt says in a 30-second promotional video. “Oklahoma is open to the challenge. We’re open with new, exciting places to explore safely. We’re open with amazing meals and safe surroundings. We’re open to living, learning and dreaming under wide open skies.” The video, titled “An Open Invitation from Oklahoma’s own Governor Kevin Stitt,” is part of an advertising blitz that will run through the end of the month. It was posted to YouTube on Nov. 19, the same day the federal government advised against traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday. A spokesman for the governor told the Oklahoman that the campaign, designed to support businesses that have been hardest hit by the pandemic, was in motion before the current travel guidance was in place. [The Oklahoman, YouTube]
ISLAND BUDGET CUTS | Hawaii Gov. David Ige warned lawmakers to expect more cuts in his forthcoming budget proposal, saying last week that the state simply doesn’t “have the revenues to sustain government as it existed.” The warning came after Ige had already implemented multiple other cost-cutting measures, including twice-a-month furloughs for thousands of state employees. He also previously told state agencies to prepare for cuts of up to 20% of their general fund spending in addition to the furloughs. Ige’s administration had aimed to cut $600 million per year from the annual state operating budget in the face of an anticipated $1.4 billion shortfall for each of the next four years. The state’s budget woes largely stem from the pandemic’s impact on its tourism industry. Some officials told the governor they expect tax revenue to rebound next year, but Ige remained skeptical. [Honolulu Civil Beat]
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.
NEXT STORY: 'A Lost Generation:’ Community Colleges Report Record Enrollment Declines