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NEWS 1.25.21: Winter Storm, COVID-19 Rates Fall in Woodbury County, School Choice Debate, & More

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National Weather Service/Sioux Falls
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SPM NEWS 1.25.21 - 4:32PM

A major winter storm is expected to blanket a large section of the middle of the U.S with snow and travel troubles as more than a foot of snow falls in some areas, including western Iowa and southeast Nebraska.

The National Weather Service out of Sioux Falls says most of the heavy snow will stay south of Sioux City. 

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Credit Associated Press
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Two people hold hands while walking south on Madison Street toward 27th Avenue in Bellevue, Neb., during a winter storm warning on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.

Sioux City is forecasted to get up to 5 inches with up to 12 inches in Monona County.

Some schools did dismiss early today, including South Sioux City where there is a snow emergency in effect until 6 tomorrow night.

COVID-19 cases and positivity rates, and hospitalization continue to fall in Woodbury County.

Siouxland District Health recorded a dozen new cases on Monday for a total of more than 13,100 or about 13% of the population. There have been 181 deaths and a 14-day test positivity rate of 10%.  That’s down more than three-percent points from a week ago.

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Credit Siouxland District Health
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Currently, there are 23 people hospitalized in Sioux City’s two medical facilities.  That’s a decrease of 45% in 7-days.  But, much lower than the record high of 108 set on December 1st.

Most of Iowa’s nursing homes are expected to have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this week.

Brent Willett is the president of the Iowa Health Care Association. He says the mass vaccination effort implemented by a federal partnership with chain pharmacies has moved slower than expected. That’s due in part to the high number of long-term care facilities per capita in Iowa.

But Willett says he’s now quote cautiously optimistic most of the state’s facilities will get their second dose of the vaccine by mid- to late- February.

"We are aware that every nursing facility, and assisted living facility in Iowa has a schedule for their, their second dose. And we haven't seen those really move or change."

Willett says 90 to 95 percent of Iowa’s nearly 450 nursing homes will have their first doses by the end of this week.

Tonight, the Sioux City Community School Board votes on boundary changes for the district. Any modifications would be phased in during the next few years starting the next school year.

Board member Dan Greenwell has said the goal is to have similar sized enrollment at Sioux City’s 3 high schools.

The Iowa Senate Education Committee has advanced a bill that would allow some parents to use public funding to cover private school tuition.

The scholarship accounts would be available to students at low-performing public schools.

It also creates a charter school system that would operate separately from local school districts.

Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP opposes the bill. She said in an earlier subcommittee meeting that it could create a cycle of defunding and school segregation.

"Allowing wealthier families to flee public schools for less diverse charter or private schools and reducing funds for poor and minority students."

Supporters say the bill makes public districts accountable to parents for poor performing schools.

The Education Committee also advanced a bill requiring schools to offer full-time in-person learning during the pandemic.

Both bills are priorities of Governor Kim Reynolds and could come up for a vote in the Iowa Senate later this week.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has introduced a bill that would ban abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis. The bill was introduced Monday as part of the legislative session and noted that Friday was the 48th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe versus Wade, which protects a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

Noem said she looks forward to the day when the Supreme Court “recognizes that all preborn children inherently possess this right to life, too.” Noem unveiled the proposal during her State of the State address earlier this month.  

State officials have canceled the annual count of South Dakota’s unsheltered homeless population because of the coronavirus pandemic and other concerns.

The count is usually done on the last Tuesday of January.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development made the decision not to do the count this year because of the pandemic, lack of personal protection equipment and an insufficient number of volunteers.

A count of homeless people in shelters will still take place Tuesday. Officials are concerned about how the decision will impact the level of federal funding. 

A lawyer for Democrat Rita Hart’s campaign is defending her case before the U.S. House challenging the election results in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District. Hart is asking for the House to count 22 ballots that voters testified were legally cast but wrongfully excluded, plus a full recount.

Republican Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks has filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that Hart should have followed precedent in first appealing to a state court.

Hart’s attorney, Marc Elias, says throwing out the case would amount to disenfranchising the 22 voters.

“Isn’t the process to make sure that voters’ voices are heard? I mean shouldn’t Miller-Meeks’ top priority be to make sure that those 22 voters have their votes counted?”

Now that both sides have filed their petitions, it’s up to the Committee on House Administration to determine the next steps in the case.

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