Best of the West Special Edition: Virtual courts in California; funding for distance learning; COVID-19 in Native American communities

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest COVID-19 related news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting April 6, 2020. Photo courtesy of Alaska Public Media.

Virtual Courts: The California legal system has embraced virtual court proceedings in order to keep the wheels of justice turning in light of the social distancing measures necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the state’s courts have put criminal trials on hold for the foreseeable future, according to Governing Magazine, arraignments, plea negotiations, input from crime victims, and, with the defendant’s consent, pleas and sentences, are now occurring via video and telephone conferencing. Learn how these adaptations may affect the Golden State’s legal system long-term.

Contact Tracing: A critical element of public health officials’ response to COVID-19 involves “contact tracing,” a practice that Alaska Public Media reports “entails finding, quarantining and monitoring people exposed to a disease, along with identifying the infection’s original source.” In Alaska, this responsibility falls on a team from the state’s Department of Health and Social Services, along with local healthcare providers, and even school nurses who found themselves out of work after classes were canceled. Read more about their story.

Distance Learning Funding: With COVID-19 forcing schools around the country to go digital, the U.S. Department of Education has announced a program that would, according to Route Fifty, allow schools to repurpose existing federal dollars to pay for “technology infrastructure and teacher training on distance learning.” The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, recently signed into law, outlines a waiver process whereby states to can apply to deviate from federal funding requirements. In the West, Oklahoma has already taken advantage. Find out more about how states can benefit from the new system.

COVID in Native Communities: Members of Montana’s Blackfeet Nation have expressed concerns about the impact of the novel coronavirus on Native American communities across the region, where many residents often live with generations of extended family members. Native American communities also “suffer from disproportionately high rates of diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illnesses and other conditions, putting them at a greater risk of contracting a severe form of [COVID-19],” The Great Falls Tribune reports. Here’s how members of the Blackfeet Nation are working to keep their tribe members safe.

Ripple Effect: When two restaurants closed in Vail, Colorado due to COVID-19 concerns, it set in motion an economic chain reaction. Now, according to The Colorado Sun, a fourth-generation rancher from Edwards is facing a $20,000 bill, unable to pay it back without the money he makes selling his cows to the shuttered eateries. This ripple effect is only one example of the large-scale economic devastation that is plaguing the country, including tourist-dependent communities such as Vail. Discover how local businesses are trying to weather the storm.

The Latest on the Western Governors’ COVID-19 Response

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