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News and resources regarding COVID-19

News 4.16.20: More Restrictions for NE Iowa, Packing Plant Concerns and More Unemployement

Iowa Department of Public Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has now claimed 60 lives in the state of Iowa after Governor Kim Reynolds announced seven more deaths today.

She provided an update at a news conference this morning.

There were 146 new cases for a total of 2,141.  That includes one more person in Woodbury County for a total of 23 positive cases.

Reynolds also increased restrictions for northeast Iowa after that region of the state reached a level 10 out of 12 for infection.

But, she stopped short of a “stay-at-home” order.

The Iowa Department of Public Health broke up the state in six regions.  Currently, northwest Iowa is a level 4 out of twelve.

Anything over a 10 triggers extra efforts to try and stop the spread of disease.

Reynolds says she is banning “all gatherings” for social, community, recreational and leisure purpose in the region that includes Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque.

Previously, the governor had banned all gatherings larger than 10 statewide.

Reynolds said that residents can only gather with household members, with few exceptions, and they must do everything possible to stay six feet away from others in public.

They can go outside for work and essential errands.

Black Hawk County is reporting a dramatic spike in positive COVID 19 cases from 88 on Wednesday to 150 on Thursday.

Sheriff Tony Thompson says he is confident many of the new cases being reported are in the Tyson meatpacking plant in Waterloo.  

He also says he’s concerned that the increased caseload will overwhelm the area hospitals and clinics..

“So just at the time when Black Hawk County is starting to surge, I can no longer get PPE for my healthcare providers. This is a horrible time for this to happen and for this to be attributable to one location, to one isolated business, really, really frustrates me.”

Thompson says county officials visited the Tyson plant last Friday to monitor sanitation procedures.

He says he believes it was quote “too little too late.”  There is no word on whether the Waterloo Tyson plant will shut down because it has been designated as an essential business. 

Iowa officials are sending machines that can conduct rapid coronavirus testing to health care facilities in rural areas, including some that currently have few confirmed cases. The office of Gov. Kim Reynolds said the machines are being stationed at hospitals in Osceola, Red Oak, Spencer, Mount Ayr, Manchester, Algona, Storm Lake and Boone. The machines are also being sent to the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown and hospitals in Waukon, Washington, Columbus City, and Independence. A spokesman for the governor, Pat Garrett, says the Iowa Department of Public Health focused on communities that do not have other testing resources close by, have high populations of elderly citizens and could serve as regional hubs.

Newly released information shows Latino and black Iowans make up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases in the state.

About 17 percent of Iowans confirmed to have coronavirus are Hispanic or Latino, and 9 percent are black. But Iowa’s population is only 6 percent Hispanic or Latino and 4 percent black.

Nicole Novak is an assistant research scientist at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. She says this is consistent with disparities found across the country. 

“Here in Iowa, our communities and economy are set up in a way that many black and Hispanic Iowans are more likely to get exposed to the coronavirus and many have risk factors that make it more likely to develop a severe set of COVID-19 symptoms.” 

Novak says state and local leaders could help limit racial and ethnic disparities by providing information tailored to specific communities, and by holding employers accountable for protecting workers from COVID-19.

South Dakota health officials have announced one new death from the coronavirus and a total of 1,311 cases.

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus continued to rise by over a hundred.

Over half of the total cases have been tied to an outbreak at a Smithfield pork processing plant in Sioux Falls.

The plant is one of the largest known clusters of COVID-19 cases in the country.

One 64-year-old employee of the company died on Tuesday, according to his pastor.

Health officials did not say if the death they announced Thursday was the Smithfield employee, but the details they gave match the age range and county of the employee.

Smithfield Foods will temporarily close two meat processing plants in Wisconsin and Missouri after a small number of employees tested positive for COVID-19.

The plant near Milwaukee will be closed for two weeks while the facility in Missouri is closed indefinitely.

The Missouri plant receives raw material from the company’s Sioux Falls, South Dakota facility, which is also closed.

Smithfield Foods has reported 518 infections in employees in Sioux Falls and another 126 in people connected to them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has staff in Sioux Falls today touring the Smithfield Foods, Inc. plant. They are assessing conditions and developing an action plan needed to safely reopen the hog harvesting facility that's been shut down for nearly a week, according to Gov. Kristi Noem's office.

Two employees at a pork processing plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa have died, the company confirms, as the facility deals with an outbreak of COVID-19.

Many pork producers in Iowa are wondering where they’re going to take their pigs after Tyson and Smithfield Foods have closed some hog processing plants after workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Marv Van Den Top of Boyden sells about 15-hundred hogs a week to be harvested at the Smithfield plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Now he has no place to bring them. He says it’s quote “pretty devastating”.

“Other plants are all running at capacity and I can’t get them in anywhere else to have them harvested.” 

He says he’s changing his pigs’ diet to try to slow their growth. But if producers have their hogs on site longer, their quality could decrease.

Lee Schulz is an Iowa State University Extension livestock economist.

“You could get lower prices because of price discounts for heavier carcasses or more fat on those animals.”

Schulz says producers are losing money every day they hold onto the animals. Hog prices this week have declined 25 percent compared to late January.

Shutdowns brought on by the coronavirus outbreak continue to drive jobless claims in Iowa.

According to Iowa Workforce Development, just over 46 thousand Iowa workers filed for unemployment assistance last week.

Over the last four weeks around 214 thousand people filed initial unemployment claims. That number includes people who live out of state but claim unemployment for jobs in Iowa.

Workers in the health care and social services sector accounted for the largest number of filings, followed by manufacturing and retail.

Kansas ranchers eager to prepare their land for cattle grazing have mostly brushed off the plea from state health officials to voluntarily cut back this spring’s prairie burning so as to reduce air pollution during the coronavirus pandemic. Air quality monitors this past week have picked up “significantly high readings” downwind from Kansas in the Lincoln and Omaha areas of Nebraska, with smoke from Kansas reaching as far north as South Dakota. Rick Brunetti, director of the Bureau of Air at at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says they are seeing very little, if any, reduction in the amount of burning in Kansas.

Residents in Nebraska and Iowa are bracing for a spring snow storm that could drop three-quarters of a foot of snow in some places. Snow began falling overnight in western Nebraska, and is expected to continue throughout Thursday as the storm moves east across the state into Iowa. The National Weather Service has issued weather advisories for most of Nebraska until 7 p.m., and for the southern half of Iowa until 7 a.m. Friday. The service says a swath from Scottsbluff to Omaha could see up to 6 inches of snow, while Lincoln could get up to 8 inches. In Iowa, the service says some parts of southern Iowa could get up to 9 inches.

Sheila Brummer returns to her radio roots as a Reporter/Special Projects Producer for Siouxland Public Media KWIT-KOJI.