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News and resources regarding COVID-19

News 8.6.20: Oromo Protest, Schools Update, Drought and More

AUGUST 6, 2020
Siouxland Public Media

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds provided a few more details on Thursday about requirements for school districts for in-person learning this fall.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds is requiring schools to hold at least half of their core lessons in person.

Reynolds held a news conference this morning in Des Moines where she was joined by a superintendent of a small district in southeast Iowa. 

Reporters who attended questioned Reynolds about issues facing larger districts in the state.  She says talks have been underway with the school board for the state’s largest school district in Des Moines. 

Reynolds also said she didn’t want to talk about hypothetical scenarios.  After about 37 minutes she abruptly left the news conference after making a final statement.

“We’re doing everything we can to get schools to comply with the state law, this isn’t something we haven’t just thrown together.”

Reynolds also says students need to get back to class in a safe and responsible manner.

She did say students exposed to COVID-19 will be asked to self-isolate.  However, teachers are considered essential workers and could be asked to teach if they are exposed and not symptomatic.

Individual school district can come up with their own plans for teachers.

The spokesperson for the Sioux City Community School District says an illness policy and protocol is not being released yet.

There are seven counties in Iowa now reaching the threshold to potentially move to on-line learning only this upcoming school year. 

The state of Iowa coronavirus website coronavirus.iowa.gov is now tracking the 14-day average of positivity rates for a specific county. 

Anything over 15% allows a school district to apply for a waiver or if 10% of students are out sick.

Webster County has the highest positivity rate at 22%.  Two counties in northwest Iowa are at 15%; Lyon and Emmet counties. Woodbury is at 8%.  The two counties with the lowest rate in the region are Ida and Sac with 3%.

And, when students attending 23 Catholic schools in the Sioux City Diocese return to class later this month, they will likely wear facemasks. 

The Diocese says each school has a plan for both onsite and online learning.  There’s also, a hybrid model that includes a combination of the two.  .

Masks are highly recommended.

The Diocese Superintendent, Patty Lansink, says many educators hoped for guidelines from the state, but since they received none they had to more work on their own.  They collaborated with local health officials and schools to figure out the best safety practices for staff and students.  Most of the Catholic start class the week of August 24th.In a 24-hour period the Iowa Department of Public Health showed almost 650 more Iowans have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.  Thirteen have died of complications of COVID-19.

Siouxland District Health reports 11 new cases in Woodbury County.  There have been 51 deaths.

Dozens of members of Sioux City Oromo community held another peaceful protest to bring awareness to recent unrest in Ethiopia. 

Wearing masks and carrying signs the group marched from the Mary J. Treglia Community House to the Federal Building in downtown Sioux City.

There they met with representatives of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

The protesters were bringing attention to violence against Oromo people in Ethiopia after the killing of a popular, political singer Hachalu Hundessa.

This is the fourth local protest, since his death in late June.

According to international news reports, his murder was followed by weeks of protests, lawlessness and looting.  Armed gangs roamed towns, brutally killing people with clubs and machetes and burning homes and businesses to the ground. Several days ago, the government reported at least 239 people have been killed. 

A debate has been scheduled for the two candidates running for U.S. Senate in Iowa.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst and Democratic nominee Teresa Greenfield face off on October 15th.  This is the same night a presidential debate is planned between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Senator Ernst voiced her support of the executive order signed yesterday by Governor Kim Reynolds that restores voting rights for Iowa felons after they compete their sentences.

Outgoing Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King tweeted in opposition to the executive order hours after Gov. Reynolds signed it.

Included in the tweet, King said it will cost Senator Joni Ernst 15-thousand votes in her re-election bid this November.

Asked on a call with Iowa reporters if she thinks it will cost her votes, Ernst said the decision is NOT about political calculus, it is the right thing to do.

For the first time this year, the U.S. Drought Monitor lists a portion of eleven Iowa counties in extreme drought.

The western Iowa counties in our region experiencing extreme drought are Sac, Crawford, Shelby, Calhoun, Carroll and Audubon counties.

Dry conditions have increased in west central Iowa and that’s where soil conditions are the worst.

The latest report shows nearly 80% of the state is abnormally dry, while 34% is in moderate drought. More than 15% of the state is now in severe drought.

Rain is expected to fall in some of the areas that need it most later today.

An Iowa appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a law passed last year that does not require Medicaid to pay for sex reassignment surgeries for transgender residents. It agreed with a lower court finding that the legal challenge was speculative because the two transgender residents who sued hadn't yet been denied Medicaid coverage for surgeries. The lawsuit claimed the law violated the inalienable rights to liberty, safety and happiness and equal protection sections of the Iowa Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa says it's reviewing the ruling.

A measure that would generate $82 million in Nebraska state tax revenue by eliminating a deduction for high-income earners has hit a snag in the Legislature after business groups objected to the idea. The proposal debated by lawmakers would restore some of the estimated $250 million the state is expected to lose over the next three years as a result of the federal coronavirus tax cuts for businesses. Some lawmakers cast the measure as tax increase on businesses that are still struggling from the coronavirus pandemic, and mounted a filibuster to keep it from coming to a vote. After three hours of debate, senators left the issue unresolved and adjourned for a four-day weekend.

South Dakotans have received about $267 million in unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic started to take hold in the U.S. in mid-March. The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation said Thursday the state has paid $70 million in regular unemployment claims since March 16, while new federal unemployment programs have paid the rest. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provided the additional $600 weekly, paid $187 million to the unemployed in South Dakota. Those payments ended July 31. 

Top South Dakota Republican lawmaker Kris Langer is dropping out of her campaign for reelection. Langer was the Senate majority leader and worked closely with Gov. Kristi Noem. She had received a formal rebuke from fellow senators after she was found to be intoxicated during the final hours of the legislative session in March. Langer says she is looking forward to spending more time with her family. Two independent candidates are running for the Senate seat occupied by Langer. The South Dakota GOP has until Aug. 11 to name a candidate to replace Langer.

A Canadian company says two people working on the Keystone XL oil pipeline have tested positive for the coronavirus in northern Montana, prompting a temporary shutdown of a pipe yard. Calgary-based TC Energy says the first pipe yard worker in Phillips County tested positive at a local clinic on July 28, Yellowstone Public Radio reported. Testing on six close contacts found a second worker with the virus. Native American tribes and others along the pipeline’s 1,200-mile (1,930-mile) route have raised concerns that workers could bring the virus into rural communities unable to handle an outbreak.

U.S. testing for the coronavirus is dropping even as infections remain high and the death toll rises by more than 1,000 a day. It's a worrisome trend that officials attribute largely to Americans getting discouraged over having to wait hours to get a test and days or weeks to find out the results. An Associated Press analysis finds that the number of tests per day slid 3.6% over the past two weeks to 750,000, with the count falling in 22 states. That includes places like Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Iowa where the percentage of positive tests is high and continuing to climb, an indicator that the virus is still spreading uncontrolled.

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