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News and resources regarding COVID-19

NEWS 8.25.21: C19 Increases, Iowa Mask and Benefit Lawsuits, Ravnsborg Plea Deal Expected, and More

Associated Press

Public health officials in Iowa’s largest county are sounding alarms that too few people are wearing masks and getting vaccinated as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations climb in the state to levels not seen since January. The surge of the delta variant of COVID-19 comes as schools go back into session banned from requiring masks by a Republican legislature and governor. The Iowa Department of Public Health in its weekly update Wednesday added 42 deaths, bringing the state total to 6,268 deaths. The state reported 7,619 positive tests in the past seven days. It said 17% of the positive tests were among those under age 17, up from 13%.

Siouxland District Health released a weekly update on COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Hospitalizations are on the way up. They were in the single digits last week. Now, there are 18. Almost 80% of the patients have not been vaccinated. There were 155 new cases, almost the same rate as last week. The positivity rate over 7-days is 7.4%, an increase of more than one-half percent.The mother of two Council Bluffs elementary students is suing Governor Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Department of Education over a law that bans school districts from requiring masks.

Credit Siouxland District Health

It’s the first suit to be filed against the law that was passed in May. The mother set up aGoFund Me account for legal fees.

Reynolds has said she continues to believe parents should decide whether their children wear masks at school.

The governor also faces a class-action lawsuit surrounding her decision to end enhanced unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of residents. 

The lawsuit seeks to make claimants eligible for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in unemployment aid they have been denied since Iowa in June ended federal pandemic relief programs that provided an extra $300 per week and expanded eligibility criteria.

Reynolds says ending benefits encouraged people to return to work, although the impact has been unclear.

A prosecutor says South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg will avoid a trial and take a plea deal on misdemeanor traffic charges in a crash last year in which he hit and killed a man who was walking near a rural highway.

Ravnsborg, a native of Cherokee, Iowa will enter the plea Thursday.

The widow of the man killed has indicated she plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Ravnsborg.

Ravnsborg told investigators he thought he hit a deer while driving home from a fundraiser late on Sept. 12.

Two people have been charged with stealing copper from electrical substations in northwest Iowa, which authorities say caused several power outages and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt says 40-year-old Craig Keller, of Onawa, Iowa, and 30-year-old Whitney Reynek, of Tekamah, Nebraska, were arrested Monday.

Monona County authorities received numerous calls on Saturday about fires at electrical substations in the western half of the county.

Utility workers discovered someone had removed copper from grounding rods in the substations.

Four universities in South Dakota are partnering on a new center to disrupt criminal networks. The schools will use a $4 million state grant to create the Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy. The University of South Dakota in Vermillion will be involved in the project.

The Sioux City Journal reports a $1.75 million agreement to settle 16 lawsuits against Big Ox Energy and the city of South Sioux City has been finalized, and 15 of those suits were dismissed Tuesday.

The dismissals end legal battles dating back to 2017, when homeowners living near the one-time plant started suing over odors and gas releases they said ruined their homes and caused health problems.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services added 5,000 new cases of COVID-19 in one week. That is a decline from a week before, for a total of more than 140,000 cases statewide since the starts of the Pandemic. Three-percent of the cases were due to variants of COVID-19. Almost 30,000 more Nebraskans received vaccinations in the past seven day, for 52% of residents being fully vaccinated.