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News and resources regarding COVID-19

NEWS 4.28.21: C19 Vaccinations, IA Broadband Boost, SD Medical Marijuana Update, and More

Dakota County Health Department

The Iowa Department of Public Health shows three more deaths due to complications of COVID-19 and more than 500 new cases, including seven more in Woodbury County. Since the start of the pandemic more than 15,000 Woodbury County residents have tested positive for the virus and 224 deaths.

The 14-day test positivity rate in Woodbury County is 4.1%, this is slightly above the state rate of 4%.

Credit Siouxland District Health

The Dakota County Health Department announced plans for a public vaccination clinic in South Sioux City tomorrow. The clinic is scheduled for 2 to 6 p.m. at El Ranchito on Cornhusker Drive. The clinic is open to residents of both Nebraska and Iowa. Pre-registration is recommended, but not required. To sign up go to vaccinate.ne.gov.

With interest in coronavirus vaccines lagging in much of Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds says public health officials planned to make shots available at gathering spots like farmers markets and sports events. Reynolds says the state was holding talks with groups including the Iowa Cubs baseball team and Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market about holding mass vaccination clinics at those sites. It’s part of the governor’s effort to get 65% of Iowans vaccinated by May and 75% by June. From 70% to 85% is believed to be enough to provide significant herd immunity for the state population. Iowa has fully vaccinated just over 1 million people or 32% of the population as of Wednesday. Public health officials Wednesday reported 547 new confirmed cases and three additional deaths.

State health officials say opioid-related deaths increased by more than a third in 2020.

There were 211 opioid-related deaths last year, which is up 54 from 2019.

The Des Moines Register reports it’s unclear whether the pandemic is the entire cause for this increase. However, factors related to the pandemic likely contributed, including isolation and reduced access to health care services. 

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law today aimed at expanding high-speed internet access across the state.

The new law establishes matching grants for companies that expand broadband in underserved areas.

“In the 21st century when access to high-speed internet is growing increasingly necessary for everyday life, from work to entertainment to health care, we needed to act. And I’m proud to tell Iowans we did just that.”  

Reynolds asked lawmakers to allocate 150-million dollars in each of the next three years to fund the grants.

House and Senate Republicans have agreed to provide 100-million dollars. Reynolds says it’s a great start, and she expects to use federal funding to bring the total up to 150-million.

Governor Kim Reynolds says she’s not giving up on her proposed state biofuels mandate if it doesn’t get approved by the legislature this year.

Iowa lawmakers have been working on amendments to her bill, but it hasn’t passed in the House or Senate.

Reynolds says she’ll continue to look for ways to boost the renewable fuels industry. 

“And then what I will do is I will convene all the stakeholders again over the interim and we will continue to have the conversation. We should be partners in this.”

Reynolds’ proposal has faced stiff opposition from gas station companies and transportation interests. Renewable fuel, corn and soybean interests support her bill. 

The Iowa Senate has passed a bill (HF 802) that opponents say could stop schools and state and local agencies from discussing topics related to systemic racism.

A list of banned concepts includes the idea that Iowa or the United States are systemically racist, and that an individual may be unconsciously racist.

An amendment passed in the Senate states that the bill does not prohibit curriculum that teaches about racism. But Democrats speaking against the proposal said schools may choose to avoid it if the bill becomes law.

The bill now goes back to the Iowa House.

The South Dakota Supreme Court is listening to final arguments against the legality of recreational marijuana today. In November, voters in the state supported the move. Meanwhile, the Department of Health issued a request for proposals on setting up a patient registry, verification and licensing system to help implement a medical marijuana program. Medical marijuana will become legal July 1. The state Health Department is responsible for implementing a secure web-based patient verification system by Oct. 29 and a patient registry system by Nov. 18.

The patient verification system will give South Dakota law enforcement officials the tools to accurately identify medical marijuana patients and caregivers they may encounter. A state licensing system will accept applications for medical marijuana establishments.

South Dakota is joining a multi-state lawsuit aimed at stopping federal regulators from making decisions that factor in the social cost that carbon and greenhouse gases have on the environment. The monetary figure is a factor in a wide variety of federal policy decisions, including Environmental Protection Agency regulations and government spending.

Gov. Kristi Noem says South Dakota will join a legal challenge to an executive order signed by President Joe Biden in January that establishes a “working group” to further examine the financial value that society faces from climate change, the Argus Leader reports. The panel in late February issued a report setting the Social Cost of Carbon, or SCC, at $52 a ton. 

A federal judge faced with a motion on whether the Dakota Access pipeline north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation should be shut down during an environmental review is giving the Biden administration another chance to weigh in on the issue. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg held a hearing earlier this month to give the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers an opportunity to explain whether oil should continue to flow during its study. The Corps instead told the judge it wasn’t sure if it should be shut down. Boasberg said in a one sentence order filed late Monday that the Corps has until May 3 to tell him when it expects the environmental review to be completed and give “its position, if it has one,” on whether the pipeline should be shut down.

Credit Associated Press
Joshua Pendleton

A 37-year-old Iowa man has been convicted of fatally beating a pastor outside of his church. Joshua Pendleton was convicted Tuesday of first-degree murder and robbery in the October 2019 killing of the Rev. Allen Henderson in Fort Dodge, about 70 miles north of Des Moines. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 18 and faces a mandatory term of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Police said Pendleton attacked Henderson after the 64-year-old pastor tried to stop him from entering the St. Paul Lutheran Church. According to court documents, Pendleton told police he heard a girl screaming in the church and thought Henderson was assaulting her. Pendleton's family has said he is schizophrenic.

Police have clarified that a man charged with killing an Iowa State Patrol sergeant was speeding and illegally driving without an ignition interlock device when he was initially pulled over. Authorities had said that Michael Thomas Lang was pulled over April 9 by a Grundy Center officer for suspicion of driving while barred. Division of Criminal Investigation assistant director Mitch Mortvedt said Wednesday that was a misstatement. 

Credit Associated Press
Thomas Lang

Lang's interaction with police escalated and ended with Lang allegedly barricading himself inside his home and fatally shooting Patrol Sgt. Jim Smith.

A proposed tax cut for corporations and a tax credit for parents grieving a stillborn child have won initial approval from Nebraska lawmakers, who criticized parts of the package but still gave it strong support. The measure advanced 41-1 Tuesday in the first of three required votes, after hours of public debate spread over two days. The bill combines several proposals, including a gradual reduction in the top corporate income tax rate. Backers argued that the top corporate rate, 7.81%, should be lowered to match the top individual income tax rate of 6.84%. Under current law, many small businesses in Nebraska are allowed to file as individuals rather than corporations.