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ACROSS OUR STATE & NATION

Ohio offering

$100 vaccination incentive to

state employees

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — State employees will receive $100 for getting the coronavirus vaccine and their spouses will receive $25 if they also get vaccinated, under a new incentive program offered by Gov. Mike DeWine.

The Republican governor announced the offer Wednesday as state vaccination efforts stall amid spiking case numbers and hospitalizations.

“Vaccines are the most effective strategy at stopping the spread of COVID-19 and preventing serious illness,” DeWine said.

Only about 5.4 million people or 46% of the population have completed the vaccination process as of Thursday, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio has risen over the past two weeks from 319.43 new cases per day on July 13 to 874.57 new cases per day on July 27, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

DeWine said Monday that 99% of the 17,129 Ohioans hospitalized for COVID-19 since January were unvaccinated.

Also Monday, the Health Department’s chief medical officer said that while Ohio doesn’t plan to mandate masks in schools this fall, health officials strongly recommend that students and staff wear face coverings if they aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19.

Some of Ohio’s largest districts, including Columbus and Cleveland, already decided to require masks for everyone when the school year begins.

Columbus sees early win in

alternative 911

response teams

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A six-week pilot program aimed at reimagining police response to 911 callers suffering from mental health and addiction issues in Columbus yielded promising results, city officials announced Thursday.

Data collected over a span of 72 operation hours showed more than 60% of the calls received did not require immediate police or fire dispatch, Mayor Andrew Ginther’s office said in a release.

Nearly half of those calls were either fully resolved by the group of mental health professionals and dispatchers or were redirected to local community services.

The experiment, which started in June, imbedded a “triage pod,” of paramedics, public health clinicians and dispatchers to review the best response to non-emergency 911 calls.

“What this program so clearly demonstrates is the need to strengthen and diversify our front-line responses so that police officers can focus on what they were always intended to do: address violent crime and keep our neighborhoods safe,” Ginther said.

For calls requiring a police response, the city said the pod actively worked with officers to provide de-escalation and information prior to arrival to the scene to “help ensure a successful outcome.”

Plans to expand the program’s hours of operation and build additional units are underway.

Esports arena

in the works

near Ohio

amusement park

SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) — Amusement park operator Cedar Fair Entertainment plans to add esports to its lineup of roller coasters and water parks.

It wants to build a 1,500-seat esports arena in Ohio for gaming tournaments near Cedar Point, its flagship amusement park in Sandusky, the company announced Thursday.

The Ohio-based amusement park chain hopes to begin construction on the $28 million arena by the end of the year. The company believes it will be a draw for gamers across the Midwest.

Plans call for the arena to have 200 gaming stations and host tournaments year-round beginning in the first half of 2023. It also could be used for concerts and other events, the company said.

The building will have locker rooms, a food court and dormitory rooms for esports participants.

The booming esports industry is especially popular among teens and youngers adults, which also is a target audience for the company’s 11 amusement parks and four separate water parks across the U.S.

Biden orders

tough new

vaccination rules for federal workers

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new pandemic requirements aimed at boosting vaccination rates for millions of federal workers and contractors as he lamented the “American tragedy” of rising-yet-preventable deaths among the unvaccinated.

Federal workers will be required to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else comply with new rules on mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and more. The strict new guidelines are aimed at increasing sluggish vaccination rates among the huge number of Americans who draw federal paychecks — and to set an example for private employers around the country.

“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say, ‘If I’d just got the vaccine,'” Biden said in a somber address from the East Room of the White House. “This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”

However, pushback is certain to Biden’s action. It puts him squarely in the center of a fierce political debate surrounding the government’s ability to compel Americans to follow public health guidelines.

The federal government directly employs about 4 million people, but Biden’s action could affect many more when federal contractors are factored in. New York University professor of public service Paul Light estimates there are nearly 7 million more employees who could potentially be included, combining those who work for companies that contract with the government and those working under federal grants.

Ex-Cardinal

McCarrick charged with sexually

assaulting teen

BOSTON (AP) — Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked after a Vatican investigation confirmed he had sexually molested adults as well as children, has been charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy during a wedding reception in Massachusetts in 1974, court records show.

McCarrick is the first cardinal in the U.S. to ever be criminally charged with a sexual crime against a minor, according to Mitchell Garabedian, a well-known lawyer for church sexual abuse victims who is representing the man alleging the abuse by McCarrick.

“It takes an enormous amount of courage for a sexual abuse victim to report having been sexually abused to investigators and proceed through the criminal process,” Garabedian said in an email. “Let the facts be presented, the law applied, and a fair verdict rendered.”

McCarrick faces three counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14, according to documents filed in the Dedham District Court on Wednesday.

Barry Coburn, an attorney for McCarrick, told The Associated Press that they “look forward to addressing the case in the courtroom,” and declined further comment.

Robinhood CEO tells AP it’s

eyeing expansion beyond trading

NEW YORK (AP) — Robinhood has already changed how people trade stocks and who’s doing it. Now its sights are on the rest of the financial industry.

Shares of Robinhood Markets traded for the first time on the Nasdaq Thursday, following the highly anticipated initial offering by the company that’s drawn a new generation of investors into the market and forced the industry to stop charging fees for trading. Shares swung sharply through the day before ending with an 8.4% drop. But while the IPO is a milestone, it’s not a culmination, according to CEO Vlad Tenev.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Tenev said he wants Robinhood to be the only app that people use on their phones for money. That covers everything from depositing paychecks to paying bills to splitting payments with friends.

Tenev, who founded Robinhood with fellow Stanford graduate Baiju Bhatt in 2013, also said he accepts how his company has become synonymous with the boom in trading by smaller-pocketed and novice investors, for both good and ill. Such investors are getting their first chance to grow their wealth, after years of falling further behind stock-owning households, but they also have been criticized for making too many risky trades with their newfound app.

Early this year, they almost singlehandedly sent GameStop and a group of other “meme stocks” to heights professional investors called dangerously irrational. The mania led to big losses for some hedge funds, multiple halts in trading for stocks and congressional hearings asking who was getting hurt. It also forced Robinhood to temporarily bar its customers from making some GameStop trades, after it suddenly had to post much more in collateral to its clearinghouses that process its trades.

Biden to allow

eviction

moratorium

to expire Saturday

BOSTON (AP) — The Biden administration announced Thursday it will allow a nationwide ban on evictions to expire Saturday, arguing that its hands are tied after the Supreme Court signaled the moratorium would only be extended until the end of the month.

The White House said President Joe Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium due to spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. Instead, Biden called on “Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay.”

“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” the White House said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”

Aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Sherrod Brown, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said the two are working on legislation to extend the moratorium. Democrats will try to pass a bill as soon as possible and are urging Republicans not to block it.

In the House, a bill was introduced Thursday to extended the moratorium until the end of the year. But the prospect of a legislative solution remained unclear.

Congress passes bill to fund

Capitol security, Afghan visas

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress overwhelmingly passed emergency legislation Thursday that would bolster security at the Capitol, repay outstanding debts from the violent Jan. 6 insurrection and increase the number of visas for allies who worked alongside Americans in the Afghanistan war.

The $2.1 billion bill now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature. The Senate approved the legislation early Thursday afternoon, 98-0, and the House passed it immediately afterward, 416-11.

Senators struck a bipartisan agreement on the legislation this week, two months after the House had passed a bill that would have provided around twice as much for Capitol security. But House leaders said they would back the Senate version anyway, arguing the money is urgently needed for the Capitol Police and for the translators and others who worked closely with U.S. government troops and civilians in Afghanistan.

The bill loosens some requirements for the visas, which lawmakers say are especially pressing as the U.S. military withdrawal enters its final weeks and Afghan allies face possible retaliation from the Taliban.

The money for the Capitol — including for police salaries, the National Guard and to better secure windows and doors around the building — comes more than six months after the insurrection by former President Donald Trump’s supporters. The broad support in both chambers is a rare note of agreement between the two parties in response to the attack, as many Republicans still loyal to Trump have avoided the subject. The former president’s loyalists brutally beat police and hundreds of them broke into the building, interrupting the certification of Biden’s election win.

Scarlett Johansson sues Disney

over ‘Black

Widow’ release

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Scarlett Johansson is suing the Walt Disney Co. over its streaming release of “Black Widow,” which she said breached her contract and deprived her of potential earnings.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, the “Black Widow” star and executive producer said her contract guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release. The Wall Street Journal first reported the news of the lawsuit.

Johansson’s potential earnings were tied to the box office performance of the film, which the company released simultaneously in theaters and on its streaming service Disney+ for a $30 rental.

“In the months leading up to this lawsuit, Ms. Johansson gave Disney and Marvel every opportunity to right their wrong and make good on Marvel’s promise,” the lawsuit said. “Disney intentionally induced Marvel’s breach of the Agreement, without justification, in order to prevent Ms. Johansson from realizing the full benefit of her bargain with Marvel.”

Disney said the lawsuit has “no merit whatsoever.”

“The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Disney said in a statement. “Disney has fully complied with Ms. Johansson’s contract and furthermore, the release of Black Widow on Disney+ with Premier Access has significantly enhanced her ability to earn additional compensation on top of the $20M she has received to date.”

After its release was delayed more than a year because of COVID-19, “Black Widow” debuted to a pandemic-best of $80 million in North America and $78 million from international theaters three weeks ago, but theatrical grosses declined sharply after that. In its second weekend in release, the National Association of Theater Owners issued a rare statement criticizing the strategy asserting that simultaneous release lends itself only to lost profits and higher quality piracy.

Portland bans homeless camps

in forest areas

amid wildfires

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland, Oregon, has banned homeless people from camping in forested parks to both protect them from potential wildfires and prevent them from accidentally starting blazes during a summer of drought and record-breaking heat.

The City Council adopted the rule Wednesday for “high-risk hazard zones,” including in and around Portland’s famous Forest Park and in heavily forested wetlands and natural areas around the city. The ban will apply during wildfire season or whenever a county burn ban is in effect. The 8-square-mile Forest Park in the heart of Portland is one of the largest urban forests in the U.S.

There have been frequent reports of fires at unsanctioned campsites and at clusters of RVs around the city from illegal burning, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

The city stressed that the rule was to prevent fires from starting in the city but also to protect homeless people from blazes started near encampments by others.

Nonprofit groups working with the city will visit the camps, provide information about fire risk and help residents relocate voluntarily before any aggressive sweeps take place, the newspaper said.

“I do not like sweeps, and I do not like that we have a shortage of housing that people can afford to live in,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said. “But I cannot stand by and do nothing as people are at risk of dying by fire.”

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