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NEWS 1.5.21

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Siouxland District Health
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Iowa has surpassed 8,000 deaths from COVID-19 as virus infections increased and significantly more children were hospitalized with the virus.

The Iowa Department of Public Health on Wednesday posted more than 19,000 confirmed positive cases in the past week.

Total deaths in Iowa rose to 8,019, including 161 additional deaths that date back as far as the middle of October.

Dr. Dan Diekema, an infectious disease specialist at University of Iowa Health Care, says the omicron variant is now Iowa’s dominant strain, comprising up to 90% of cases.

Siouxland District Health reporting a big jump in COVID-19 cases in Woodbury County. A post on social media says getting the vaccine and early treatment are the best tools to prevent serious illness. There were 544 new cases in a week, an increase of almost 2 ½ times from the week before. The positivity rate increased from just over 8% to 14%. Hospitalizations increased at Sioux City’s two hospitals by almost 30% from 25 to 36 total patients testing positive for the virus. More patients are being treated across the state.

COVID has been linked to 2,507 deaths in South Dakota with nine additional deaths being added on Wednesday.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is extending its mask mandate as virus cases soar across the state, and all returning students and faculty will be required to take a COVID-19 test at the start of the spring semester. Masks will be required indoors throughout the university’s campuses, including at sporting events. UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said the mask mandate is needed because of the spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has more than doubled over the past two weeks from 744.29 new cases per day on Dec. 20 to 1,734.86 new cases per day on Monday.

Nebraska lawmakers have kicked off a new session with contentious abortion and gun-rights measures and an expected focus on how to spend more than $1 billion in pandemic relief aid that has left the state flush with money. The 60-day short session will feature debates over taxes, prison policy, state spending and social issues. Lawmakers introduced 107 bills and two proposed constitutional amendments on their first day, foreshadowing a busy and likely heated session.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says Iowans can expect another round of tax cuts, proposed new laws to incentivize unemployed Iowans to get a job, additional education reform measures including a parental bill of rights and proposals to address a shortage of teachers and child care workers. The Republican governor and legislative leaders spoke Tuesday at an annual pre-session legislative forum conducted by the Iowa Capitol Press Association. Legislative priorities will include individual income tax cuts, proposals to push unemployed Iowans back to work and a parental bill of rights that gives parents information on what is taught in schools and opportunities to review whether books in libraries are age appropriate.

Waterloo Democratic Rep. Ras Smith announced he will suspend his campaign for Iowa governor. Smith, who in June 2021 became the first person to announce his run for governor, on Wednesday cited a “drastic disconnect between the current political system and the people” in explaining his decision to drop his campaign. Smith is serving his third term representing an area of Black Hawk County. He has chaired the Legislative Black Caucus. His decision leaves Deidre DeJear as the highest-profile Democrat remaining in the race. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds hasn’t announced her plans but is expected to seek reelection.

A national Muslim civil rights group is calling for state and federal hate crime investigations into the vandalism of a northeastern Iowa mosque captured on the building's security cameras. The video shows what appears to be a middle-aged woman vandalizing the Al-Noor Islamic Community Center in Waterloo on the evening of Dec. 28. The Courier reports that the woman first used snow to draw crosses — a widely recognized Christian symbol — on the mosque's windows before graduating to scrawling profanities aimed at Islam and Muslims on the mosque's walls using some type of oil-based substance. On Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement calling for local, state and federal authorities to launch their own hate crime investigations into the vandalism.

A 60-year-old ski and sledding attraction in western Iowa has been sold to Pottawattamie County for $3.5 million. The Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil reports that the county's purchase of Mt. Crescent Ski Area, which sits adjacent to Hitchcock Nature Center, was finalized on Dec. 30. The money for the purchase came from a $1.4 million Iowa West Foundation grant and federal pandemic stimulus funds. Former owners Korby and Samantha Fleischer will manage the attraction through the remainder of the current season and have the option to continue managing for at least two years.

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