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NEWS 1.3.22

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The Iowa Department of Public Health released the first COVID-19 report of the year, showing a spike in new infections with hospitalizations down just slightly.

There were almost 18,000 new positive cases in a week, up from nearly 13,000.

The state’s 14-day positivity rate jumped from about 12% to 13.5%. The level in Woodbury County is 9% for seven days.

There are 768 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Iowa, down five patients since Friday. Of those hospitalized with the virus, almost 80% are unvaccinated.

About 80% of Iowans 12 and older have at least one dose. In Woodbury County, the level is about 9% less than the state rate of those 12 and older with a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Iowa Department of Public Health releases new data each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on the state coronavirus website.

The South Dakota Department of Health reports eight additional coronavirus deaths, with another 779 people testing positive for COVID-19. The deaths bring the state’s total fatalities to 2,494. Since the start of the pandemic, about one in every five residents of South Dakota have tested positive for COVID-19.

The final 2021 report on a monthly survey of business leaders in nine Midwest and Plains states, including all three Siouxland states, shows the region's economy continues to improve going into the new year, with confidence in the economy over the next six months soaring. The overall index for December of the Creighton University Mid-America Business Conditions released Monday grew to 64.6 from November's 60.2. Any score above 50 on the survey’s indexes suggests growth. The survey’s business confidence index, which looks ahead six months, rocketed from a weak 46.2 in November to 64.0 in December.

With the new year, new mask policies are being put in place in some Iowa schools, and several districts are dropping their mask mandates as of today.

The CDC says all 99 Iowa counties are seeing high transmission of COVID-19,

In many cases, school boards decided to make masks optional because COVID-19 vaccines are available for school-aged children. However, there are low vaccination rates for children under 18.

Masks are no longer required in several Iowa school districts, including Decorah, Linn-Mar, and Southeast Polk. Masks will become optional for West Des Moines students later in the month. Some school districts may require masks if there is a spike in coronavirus infections.

In Mount Vernon and College Community schools, a mask mandate will be reinstated if the COVID-19 positivity rate is higher than 2% in a school and the absence rate is over 8%.

Schools in Davenport surprised parents Monday with an announcement that classes for the day had been cancelled because there weren't enough drivers to run school bus routes. The Davenport Community School District informed parents early Monday that classes were cancelled because of a school bus driver shortage. All Saints Catholic School and Trinity Lutheran School also announced closures Monday because of the shortage. Edward Flavin, a spokesman for Durham School Services that provides school bus service to the districts, did not immediately answer questions Monday about what had caused the shortage. Students had been slated to return to school Monday following a two-week holiday break.

Gov. Pete Ricketts kicked off the new year on with a walk around the Nebraska Capitol to promote the benefits of exercise.

Ricketts and others used the event to encourage Nebraska residents to enroll in the WellPower Movement, a free program organized by the nonprofit Nebraska Sports Council. The program offers an activity tracker, group challenges and other features to help people exercise.

Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, says roughly one-third of Nebraska’s adult population is considered overweight, a 7% increase over the past seven years. He says only 15 other states have higher obesity rates, and obesity is a risk factor for experiencing more severe coronavirus symptoms and ending up hospitalized.

“The newest thing is obesity and COVID; obesity increases your risk of getting severe illness from COVID. It triples a person’s risk of being hospitalized due to being COVID positive.”

Dr. Anthone emphasized that getting vaccinated is still the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Anthone said adults should get at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise, like walking, each week.

The number of people killed in crashes along Nebraska roads declined last year. The Omaha World-Herald reports that 220 people had died in crashes on the state’s roads in 2021 as of Friday morning. The Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office said that number is 5% lower than the 232 deaths reported in 2020. The head of that office, Bill Kovarik, said he hopes to continue reducing the number of traffic deaths by encouraging seat belt use and discouraging distracted driving. Omaha Police Lt. John Wells said he hopes state lawmakers will make distracted driving a primary offense this year so officers can pull people over if they see them looking down at their phones.

News story from January 2, 2022:

A federal appeals court has ruled that Tyson Foods can’t claim it was operating under the direction of the federal government when it tried to keep its processing plants open as the coronavirus spread rapidly within them during the early days of the pandemic. So a lawsuit filed by several families of four workers who died after contracting COVID-19 while working at Tyson’s pork processing plant in Waterloo will be heard in state court. The families allege that Tyson’s actions contributed to the deaths. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company is disappointed in the court ruling, but he defended the steps Tyson took to keep workers safe during the pandemic.

Sioux City’s newest city council member is officially on the job. Matthew O’Kane who won election in November was sworn into office Monday at city hall. Also winning reelection to his third term, Mayor Pro Tempore Dan Moore and Alex Watters started his second term in office.

A federal judge has rejected U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s attempts to dismiss charges accusing the Nebraska Republican of making false statements to FBI agents who were investigating an illegal foreign donation to his campaign. U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. on Monday denied Fortenberry’s motions to get the case tossed, increasing the odds that he will have to stand trial in a Los Angeles federal court. Fortenberry is accused of lying to the FBI and concealing information from agents who were looking into a $30,000 donation his campaign received from Gilbert Chagoury, a Nigerian billionaire of Lebanese descent. Chagoury made the donation through a middleman at a 2016 fundraiser in Los Angeles. A Fortenberry spokesman says the case is flawed.

When outgoing Iowa Cubs chairman and owner Michael Gartner gathered the team's 23 full-time employees last week in Principal Park's Betfred Sports Lounge, he told them he was handing out new business cards. What he handed out instead were bonus checks to the tune of $600,000. The Des Moines Register reports the money came from profits from the recent sale of the team, and Gartner and his four associates wanted to share those profits with staff members. Everyone, including the club’s custodian, got a check — $2,000 for every year they had been employed, even as interns. The longest tenured employee received a check for $70,000.

Sheila Brummer returns to her radio roots as a Reporter/Special Projects Producer for Siouxland Public Media KWIT-KOJI.
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