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NEWS 11.23.21

As Iowa’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been increasing going into Thanksgiving, Governor Kim Reynolds is highlighting that Iowa is in a better position than last year.

This time last year, hospitalizations were near their highest point in the pandemic and hospitals were full. Reynolds says now, vaccines are available and hospitalizations are lower than last year’s peak.

 “When you take a look at where we were last year, we were at almost 1500 and so it’s around 597 right now or in that ballpark. We still have, you know, a good chunk of Iowans that have been vaccinated, fully vaccinated, our numbers continue to go up. So that’s positive.”

Reynolds says she’s encouraging Iowans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 “if they want to” and that Iowans should also get a flu shot. She says she got a flu shot, and hasn’t yet gotten a COVID-19 booster but plans to.

Health experts in the state are concerned a bad flu season and increasing COVID-19 spread will overburden the already strained health care system. They’re encouraging Iowans to get vaccinated and meet in well-ventilated spaces, along with using other public health precautions.

The number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Nebraska increased last week to their highest levels since January. The Omaha World-Herald reports that data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the state recorded 6,461 COVID-19 cases last week, up from 6,137 the previous week. That marked the fourth-straight week of increases. Hospital capacity remains strained across the state with 513 people being treated for the virus on Monday. Nebraska also reported 60 more deaths, up from 47 the previous week. The latest virus numbers prompted public health officials to renew their calls for people to get vaccinated.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will soon apply a herbicide on the north bay of East Lake Okoboji to try to combat an invasive plant. Curly-leaf pondweed can get quite dense and impedes fishing, swimming, and boating.

DNR fisheries biologist Mike Hawkins tells Radio Iowa a herbicide called Sonar has been around since 1986 and is used in more environmentally sensitive projects, but it’s never been used in the Iowa Great Lakes before. With a low dose needed for treatment Hawkins says there will be no restrictions for fishing or swimming.

Hawkins says native plants in the Iowa Great Lakes are dying off, as they do in the fall, but curly-leaf pondweed is just starting to sprout and will keep growing under the ice.

Hawkins says the DNR may expand its mechanical harvesting of curly-leaf pondweed next year. The plant has thick roots, blooms in the spring, and dies in late July.

The two Fairfield teenagers charged with murdering their high school Spanish teacher will be in court this afternoon as the judge in the case considers motions filed to reduce their bond.

Bond for Willard Miller and Jeremy Goodale, both 16, is currently set at $1 million each.

Tuesday afternoon a judge will hold a hearing for bond reduction, which was requested by attorneys for both. They say their bond should be lowered since they have no prior criminal record.

Prosecutors reject the reduction citing the brutality of the crime.

Police say the two students plotted and then carried out the murder of Nohema Graber, a teacher at Fairfield High School, at Chautauqua Park in Fairfield on November 2. Authorities say she died from trauma to the head and then the two tried to hide her body.

Police say social media posts show how Miller and Goodale planned to attack Graber.

Neither of the suspects has entered a plea in the case yet and the official arraignment for the two is scheduled for November 29th.

A hedge fund with a record of cutting jobs at newspapers is making a bid to buy out a newspaper chain with a large presence in the Midwest.

The deal would give Alden Global Capital control of more than 70 papers owned by Davenport-based Lee Enterprises, including the Sioux City Journal and Omaha World Herald.

In an offer letter to the Lee board of directors, Alden says sharing costs on the back end of news operations is important to manage declining print revenue.

But Kyle Munson says previous rounds of consolidation have not solved the problem. He’s board president of the Western Iowa Journalism Foundation which supports community newspapers.

"I just think we have yet to see where scale, for these local communities, really makes up the difference unless you change the economic foundations of the news operation."

Munson says he worries newsroom cuts made under Lee Enterprises could grow worse under Alden Capital. Lee’s board of directors must approve Alden’s offer, which values the company at around 141 million dollars. I’m Grant Gerlock, Iowa Public Radio News.

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital, one of the country’s largest newspaper owners with a reputation for intense cost cuts and layoffs, has offered to buy the local newspaper chain Lee Enterprises for about $141 million. Alden said in a Monday press release that it sent Lee’s board a letter with the offer. It already owns 6% of Lee’s stock and is proposing to buy the rest for $24 a share. A Lee spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Lee’s papers include the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Buffalo News, along with dozens of smaller papers.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is railing against the chancellor of the University of Nebraska’s flagship campus in Lincoln, saying he was misled about a plan designed to address racial disparities on campus, even as the university system’s president tried to de-escalate the situation. Ricketts says he has “lost all faith” in University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green, who has endorsed the plan as a way to make the campus more diverse and inclusive. Ricketts says Green told him the plan was an effort to increase the number of minority faculty, staff, and students on campus, which he applauds. But Ricketts says Green didn’t tell him about other parts of the initiative that say racial discrepancies are caused by systemic racism.

A South Dakota newspaper is preparing to launch a second lawsuit if the House Speaker does not disclose the names of lawmakers who called for a special legislative session this month. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the South Dakota Newspaper Association have argued that House Speaker Spencer Gosch violated state open records laws by keeping secret a record that triggered legislative action. The Legislature met earlier this month without the public knowing which lawmakers had petitioned for the special session. Lawmakers were considering whether to impeach the state’s attorney general for his conduct surrounding a fatal car crash last year.