Coronavirus weekly update: August 27, 2020

Ballotpedia, The Encyclopedia of American Politics: Coronavirus Weekly Updates
The Coronavirus Weekly Update summarizes major changes due to the coronavirus pandemic in politics, government, and elections. Today, you will find updates on the following topics, with comparisons to our previous edition released on Aug. 20:

  • Election changes
  • School closures and reopenings
  • Lawsuits about state actions and policies
  • Travel restrictions
  • Ballot measure changes
  • 1918 story
  • Federal responses
  • Stay-at-home orders
  • Eviction and foreclosure policies
  • Diagnosed or quarantined public officials
  • State legislation
  • State legislative sessions
  • State courts

For daily news on state reopening plans and which industries and activities are permitted across the country, subscribe to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery.

Election changes

Read more: Changes to election dates, procedures, and administration in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview: 

  • Twenty states have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
    • No new states have postponed elections since Aug. 20.
  • Nineteen states have modified their candidate filing requirements.
    • No new states have made candidate filing modifications since Aug. 20.
  • Forty states have modified their voting procedures.
    • One state has modified voting procedures since Aug. 20.
  • Political parties in 19 states have modified party events on a statewide basis.
    • No state parties have modified party events since Aug. 20.

Details:

  • New York: On Aug. 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law legislation extending absentee voting eligibility in the general election to any voter who is “unable to appear personally at the polling place of the election district in which they are a qualified voter because there is a risk of contracting or spreading a disease causing illness to the voter or to other members of the public.”

School closures and reopenings

Read more: School reopenings in the 2020-2021 academic year after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

Overview:

In March and April, 48 states closed schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Those states accounted for 99.4% of the nation’s 50.6 million public school students. Montana and Wyoming did not require in-person instruction for the year. Montana schools were allowed to reopen on May 7 and Wyoming schools were allowed to reopen on May 15.

The current status of school reopenings is as follows:

  • Four states (N.M., R.I., Vt., W.V.) have a state-ordered school closure.
  • Two states (Calif., Hawaii) have a state-ordered regional school closure.
  • Three states (Del., N.C., Va.) are open for hybrid or remote instruction only.
  • Four states (Ark., Iowa, Mo., Texas) have state-ordered in-person instruction.
  • Thirty-seven states have reopenings that vary by school or district.

Details:

  • Arkansas – On Aug. 24, schools in Arkansas reopened to in-person instruction. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement announced that district-level data on testing rates and active coronavirus cases would be made available online.
  • Delaware – On Aug. 26, Gov. John Carney (D) signed the 25th modification to his emergency declaration, requiring students in kindergarten and above to wear face coverings inside schools at all times. The order also requires school districts and charters to notify parents when a positive coronavirus case is identified in their child’s building.
  • Florida – On Aug. 24, Florida Second Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson issued a temporary injunction against Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s order requiring schools to open for in-person instruction by the end of August. Dodson said Corcoran’s order is “unconstitutional to the extent that it arbitrarily disregards safety, denies local school boards’ decision making with respect to reopening brick and mortar schools, and conditions funding on an approved reopening plan with a start date in August.”
  • Iowa – On Aug. 20, Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) announced that schools suffering storm damage from the Aug. 11 derecho will be allowed to use primarily remote learning to begin the 2020-2021 school year. Previously, only schools with a 15% coronavirus positivity rate or 10% absenteeism were allowed to primarily use remote learning.
  • Massachusetts – On Aug. 21, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued guidance instructing teachers and support staff in districts starting the school year with remote learning to teach and work from school buildings.
  • Michigan – On Aug. 20, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) signed an education package consisting of three bills that guide how school districts can reopen for the school year. The bills stipulate that although school districts aren’t required to offer in-person education, school boards must review their district’s instructional plans each month. Schools that do reopen to in-person instruction must prioritize that option for K-12 students. The legislation also weights per-pupil funding based on 75% of last year’s enrollment and 25% of the current enrollment.
  • Texas – On Aug. 20, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said the Texas Education Agency and the Department of State Health will soon begin to publish COVID-19 case numbers at schools. School districts will be required to report confirmed cases to the state within a day.

Lawsuits about state actions and policies

Read more: Lawsuits about state actions and policies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 819 lawsuits, across all 50 states, dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 309 of those lawsuits.
    • Since Aug. 20, we have added 73 lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked an additional 22 court orders and/or settlements.
  • Ballotpedia has separately followed another 220 lawsuits, across 46 states, dealing with election issues during the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 135 of those lawsuits.

Here are three lawsuits that have either garnered significant national media attention or involve major advocacy groups.

  • County of Los Angeles v. Grace Community Church of the Valley: On Aug. 15, a three-judge panel of the California Second District Court of Appeal halted a lower court order, which would have allowed a Los Angeles County church to hold indoor services, despite state and county COVID-19 restrictions. The appellate court stayed Judge James Chalfant’s temporary restraining order, which would have permitted the church to offer indoor services coupled with social distancing and face coverings. The appellate court found that the balance “between the harm that flows from the heightened risk of transmitting COVID-19 … and the harm that flows from having to conduct religious services outdoors instead of indoors” favored the issuance of a stay. The church pastor, John MacArthur, conducted indoor services the day after the appellate court issued the stay. Los Angeles County filed a motion asking the court to hold the church, parishioners who attended indoor services, and MacArthur in contempt of court and fined a total of $20,000. At an Aug. 20 hearing, Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff declined to issue a final written decision on the sanctions, with the two parties disagreeing on his oral findings. Attorneys for the church said Beckloff had ruled in the church’s favor: “There is no court order prohibiting Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church from holding indoor worship services.” Meanwhile, county officials said they were “grateful that the court recognized the vital importance of our health officer orders in protecting the public health and continue to seek an opportunity to work with Grace Community Church to bring its services into compliance.”
  • Florida Education Association v. DeSantis: On Aug. 24, Judge Charles W. Dodson, of Florida’s Second Circuit Court for Leon County, blocked an emergency order requiring that school districts physically open their schools or risk state funding. Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued the emergency order. The court combined two lawsuits alleging the order violated the Florida Constitution. The plaintiffs, including the Florida Education Association (FEA), said the order pressured school districts to physically reopen schools, as only those schools with state-approved reopening plans would be granted flexibility on student enrollment reporting. This policy effectively removed state funding for students who attend school online instead of on campus. Dodson found the order “unconstitutional to the extent it arbitrarily disregards safety, denies local school boards decision making with respect to reopening brick and mortar schools, and conditions funding on an approved reopening plan with a start date in August.” Dodson said, “the day-to-day decision to open or close a school must always rest locally with the board or executive most closely associated with a school.” The state appealed to Florida’s First District Court of Appeal, which automatically stayed Dodson’s order. The plaintiffs filed an emergency motion to dismiss that stay. FEA president Fedrick Ingram said, “Shame on a Commissioner of Education who would spend taxpayer dollars to try and reinvent some kind of privileged defense when you already have been proven that you are wrong.” Corcoran said he was “100% confident we will win this lawsuit.”
  • Washington v. DeVos: On Aug. 21, Judge Barbara Rothstein of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s (D) request to block a U.S. Department of Education interim final rule regulating distribution of roughly $13.5 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) aid. In its complaint, the state argued U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had violated “the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), separation of powers, and the Spending Clause in the United States Constitution,” when she issued a rule “contrary to the clear, express statutory language of the CARES Act.” The state said the rule would prevent Washington’s public elementary and secondary schools from receiving emergency relief funds, as it would “either limit which public schools can use the funds, or reallocate significant funds to private schools regardless of student need.” Rothstein ruled for the state, finding that “private schools [would] receive a larger share of CARES Act funding than they would under a straight-forward application” of the Act’s poverty-based formula. Rothstein said the rule “was in excess of statutory authority and not in accordance with law.” Neither party has publicly commented on the ruling. Rothstein was appointed to the bench by President Jimmy Carter (D).

Travel restrictions

Read more: Travel restrictions issued by states in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • Governors or state agencies in 25 states issued executive orders placing restrictions on out-of-state visitors. At least 14 of those orders have been rescinded.
    • Since Aug. 20, three states have revised their travel restrictions.

Details:

  • Connecticut, New Jersey, New York – Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced on Aug. 25 that Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Maryland, and Montana had been removed from the joint travel advisory list. The territory of Guam was added to the list.

Ballot measure changes

Read more: Changes to ballot measure campaigns, procedures, and policies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • At least 19 lawsuits were filed in 13 states seeking court orders suspending or changing signature requirements and deadlines.
  • Rulings or settlements have been issued in 18 cases, with appeals and motions for stays pending in some.
  • Ballotpedia has tracked 27 statewide initiative petition drives that suspended signature gathering.
  • Seven states and D.C. changed ballot measure procedures through executive orders or legislative action.
  • At least four initiative campaigns initially targeting 2020 reported they would shift their focus to 2022.

1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish Flu) and the 1918 midterm election cycle

Read more: 1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish Flu) and the 1918 midterm election cycle

The United States held midterm elections as scheduled during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. More than 50 million people perished from the disease worldwide, including about 675,000 in the U.S., making it one of the deadliest pandemics in recorded history. Each week, we’ll look back at a story from the 1918 elections to see how America met the challenges of holding elections during a national health emergency.

On Sept. 29, The Milwaukee Journal reported on congressional efforts to combat the spread of influenza throughout the country.

Congress hurriedly appropriated $1,000,000 to the medical branches of the war and navy departments with which to fight Spanish influenza.

Urging immediate passage, Representative Gillett informed the house that both Speaker Champ Clark and Democratic House Leader Kitchin have fallen victims to it.

When the appropriation was called up in the senate, Senator Penrose, Pennsylvania, minority leader of the senate finance committee, declared that the measure had not been before the committee and asked whether any executive department of the government had requested it.

Senator Martin, Virginia, majority leader, said he did not know, but urged immediate passage as the situation, he said, is rapidly becoming more serious in the New England States and in camps and cantonments.

Click here to read the original article, courtesy of the University of Michigan Center for the History of Medicine and Michigan Publishing’s Influenza Encyclopedia.

Federal responses

Read more: Political responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

  • On Aug. 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention removed a recommendation that travelers quarantine for 14 days after returning from overseas or areas with high rates of COVID-19 spread.
  • On Aug. 21, the Department of Defense announced agreements meant to strengthen the domestic industrial base with four companies under the 1950 Defense Production Act. The companies are BioFire Defense, AQYR Technologies, Leonardo Electronics US Inc., and Aero Turbine. The agreements total $17.4 million and cover molecular diagnostic testing, satellite communications, laser electronics, and aircraft engine repair.
  • On Aug. 23, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency order authorizing the use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19.
  • On Aug. 26, the Pentagon lifted travel restrictions on five Air Force bases and three Army bases. The restrictions, originally enacted in March, limited the movement of military personnel and their families between military installations.

State stay-at-home orders

Read more: States with lockdown and stay-at-home orders in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

As of Aug. 27, stay-at-home orders have ended in 41 states. Nineteen of those states have Republican governors and 22 have Democratic governors (including Wisconsin, where the state supreme court invalidated the stay-at-home order). Seven states never issued stay-at-home orders.

California and New Mexico, both of which have a Democratic governor, are the only remaining states with an active stay-at-home order.

Eviction and foreclosure policies

Read more: Changes to rent, mortgage, eviction, and foreclosure policies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • Twenty states have moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
    • Since Aug. 20, one state ended a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Four states extended moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
  • Twenty-two states have ended moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
  • California has current local moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.
  • Seven states did not issue a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures on the state or local level.

Details:

  • New York – On Aug. 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) extended the statewide moratorium on commercial evictions and foreclosures through Sept. 20.
  • Connecticut – On Aug. 20, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) extended the statewide moratorium on evictions through October 1.
  • Hawaii – On Aug. 20, Gov. David Ige (D) extended the eviction moratorium through Sept. 30.
  • Illinois – On Aug. 21, Gov. Gov J.B. Pritzker extended the statewide moratorium on evictions through Sept. 19.
  • Kentucky – On Aug. 25, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) issued an order lifting the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. The order requires landlords to waive late fees accrued since the pandemic began and give tenants 30 days notice before beginning eviction proceedings.

Diagnosed or quarantined politicians identified by Ballotpedia

Read more: Politicians, candidates, and government officials diagnosed with or quarantined due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

  • Federal
    • One federal official has died of COVID-19.
    • Thirteen members of Congress have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
    • Forty-three federal officials quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
  • State
    • Four state-level incumbents or candidates have died of COVID-19.
    • Seventy-eight state-level incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19
    • Seventy-seven state-level incumbents or candidates quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.
  • Local
    • At least two local incumbents or candidates have died of COVID-19.
    • At least 22 local incumbents or candidates have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
    • At least 27 local incumbents or candidates quarantined after possible exposure to COVID-19.

Since Aug. 20, two members of the U.S. House, including the Delegate from Puerto Rico, and two state senators tested positive for coronavirus.

Details:

  • Rep. Dan Meuser (R-Pa.), who represents Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District, announced on Aug. 22 he had tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (New Progressive Party), who represents Puerto Rico’s At-Large Congressional District, announced on Aug. 24 she tested positive for coronavirus.
  • Virginia state Senator Bryce Reeves (R), who represents District 17, announced on Aug. 25 he tested positive for coronavirus.
  • California state Senator Brian Jones (R), who represents District 38, announced on Aug. 26 he tested positive for coronavirus.

State legislation

Read more: State laws in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview: 

  • To date, 3,011 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
    • We have tracked 84 additional bills since Aug. 20.
  • Of these, 395 significant bills have been enacted into law, about 13 percent of the total number introduced. This total omits ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business.
    • We have tracked seven additional significant bills since Aug. 20 (also omitting ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business.)

State legislative session changes

Read more: Changes to state legislative session dates in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview: 

  • Five state legislatures have suspended their sessions. All five of those have since reconvened.
  • Thirty-seven legislatures have either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
  • Five state legislatures are in regular session.
  • Three state legislatures are in special session.
    • One state legislature has convened a special session since Aug. 20.

Details:

  • Idaho – The Idaho legislature convened a special session on Aug. 24.

State court changes

Read more: State court closures in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020

Overview:

  • Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide
    • Since Aug. 20, two courts have extended restrictions on in-person proceedings and the suspension of jury trials.
  • Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings at the local level

Details:

  • Vermont – On Aug. 20, the Vermont Supreme Court extended the judicial emergency through Jan. 1, 2021. The Court declared the judicial emergency in March. The emergency prohibits jury trials and requires most proceedings to happen remotely.
  • New Hampshire – On Aug. 25, the state’s first jury trial since March began in Cheshire County as part of a pilot program. The judicial branch required everyone in the courtroom to wear a mask, and jurors were spread out in the gallery.
  • North Carolina – On Aug. 24, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley issued an order extending and modifying some directives related to the coronavirus. The directives waived most notary requirements and allowed most court proceedings to occur remotely. Additionally, Emergency Directive 22 requires senior resident superior court judges to submit plans for the resumption of jury trials by Sept. 30.

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About the author

Cory Eucalitto

Cory Eucalitto is a managing editor at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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