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NEWS 8.2.21: C19 Closes Area City Hall, Petition Drive Grows, IDPH Lawsuit, and More

The City Hall and Community Center in Sergeant Bluff are closed this week due to COVID-19. In a statement sent to Siouxland Public Media, the city clerk says an “unusually large number” of staff members were exposed to COVID-19. So, they decided to close City Hall and the Community Center to protect the public. They hope to have all facilities open by the weekend.

A petitioncondemning an Iowa law banning mask mandates in schools is seeing more support. The petition, organized by a leader of the Siouxland COVID Safety Alliance, surpassed 5,000 signatures. The petition found on change.org says “face coverings are now a well-studied, proven, simple, effective and inexpensive public health tool.” 

Iowa’s most populous county now has a high level of coronavirus transmission, according to the CDC, up from last week’s designation of “substantial” spread. A total of 75 of the state’s 99 counties now have a substantial or high level of spread.

Polk County leaders and doctors are urging more residents to get vaccinated and to wear masks in indoor public places. Central Iowa medical professionals say the vaccine isn’t perfect, but it’s very safe and effective in preventing serious illness from COVID-19.

Local governments are prohibited from enacting city or county-wide mask mandates that affect private property under a law passed by the Iowa Legislature earlier this year. Schools in Iowa are also banned from requiring masks.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem says she has no plans to ratchet up her messaging to urge people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Other Republican leaders across the country are trying to persuade vaccine skeptics to roll up their sleeves and take the shots as a new, more contagious variant sends caseloads soaring in some parts of the country. 

The Republican governor says she believes her messaging has reached “a saturation level where people start to tune you out.” But it has been months since the governor used her position to encourage the vaccine. Infections in the state are on the rise again.

Students at South Sioux City will be getting free lunch for the new school year.

The USDA once again approved a food program allowing local school districts to provide no-cost meals.

Funding will depend on families filling out free and reduced meal applications.

The Iowa Department of Public Health, already fighting formal complaints claiming it has repeatedly violated Iowa’s Open Records Law, is now being sued over access to records related to a $26 million no-bid contract.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch reports Suzette Rasmussen, a lawyer from Utah, is suing the Iowa Department of Public Health and its spokesperson, Sarah Ekstrand.

The lawsuit is based on an April 2020 decision by the state to award a $26 million no-bid contract to Utah companies, including Nomi Health.

Rasmussen is also seeking injunctive relief requiring the state to comply with the law and turn over the records for examination and copying.

Rasmussen recently sued the governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, for allegedly delaying access to records tied to Utah’s COVID-19 response. That lawsuit, filed July 2, alleges that the open-records requests Rasmussen filed between mid-March and mid-May are still unfulfilled.

Rasmussen told the Salt Lake Tribune she filed the suit on behalf of a client. Paul Huntsman of Utah recently acknowledged he is that client and is now backing a multi-state effort to access government records related to COVID-19. Huntsman is the brother of Jon Huntsman Jr., whom Cox defeated in last year’s Republican primary.

A judge has denied a convicted man’s request for a new trial in the 2018 killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. The ruling clears the way for sentencing to proceed in the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera.

Bahena Rivera was to be sentenced to life in prison last month, but the judge postponed sentencing to allow defense attorneys to present a new theory about who killed Tibbetts based on information two witnesses gave police.

Law enforcement agencies are preparing for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and are on alert for increased outlaw gang activity. The weeklong event that begins Friday is in its 81st year, and some believe that may mean a larger Hells Angels presence than usual. The number “81” is metonym, and shorthand for Hells Angels, with H being the 8th letter of the alphabet, and A the first. Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin says law enforcement is aware of the significance. Merwin said that although the biker crowd is largely respectful to law enforcement, they’re preparing for any confrontation that may occur.

An 8-foot bulge near the north end of Offutt Air Force Base’s single runway will disappear during a $198 million reconstruction project that is the most extensive in its history.  The Omaha World-Herald reports that for the past five months construction equipment has been swarming over Offutt’s 2-mile runway, chewing it to bits and depositing it into giant piles of rubble. Much of that concrete will eventually be recycled, mixed with other fill, and compacted to form a base for the new runway. The runway had deteriorated so badly by 2015 that it was ranked as the worst of any at the 17 bases operated by the Air Force’s Air Combat Command.

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