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NEWS 7.19.22: COVID Climbs in Nebraska, Western Iowa Native Dies in Driver's Education Crash, Drought Continues, and South Dakota Weather Warnings

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COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb in Nebraska, prompting one pandemic expert to say Nebraskans should get booster shots, resume masking and avoid crowds to slow the spread of the virus.

The state reported more than 4,000 new cases last week, up 500 from the week before. That’s according to data from the CDC.

Officials in Lincoln require city employees to once mask up with interacting with others after lifting the mask mandate in February.

An average of 176 people a day were in Nebraska hospitals with COVID as of Friday, up 5%.

However, hospitalizations are still less than a third of levels seen when the omicron variant peaked earlier this year.

Nebraska’s 14% case growth for the week was nearly double the national rate.

Even with fewer test results being publicly reported due to the increased use of at-home tests, the current case counts are higher than at the same time during each of the past two summers.

An eastern Iowa mayor and driver’s education teacher who died in a crash involving a student has ties to western Iowa.

The Iowa State Patrol identified the victim of Monday’s crash as 71-year-old Gregory “Mike” Harter. Harter was a long-time school administrator and mayor of Fairbank in Bremer County. He grew up outside of Pisgah and graduated from West Harrison High School. A 14-year-old driver dropped onto the shoulder near Janesville, overcorrected, crossed the median, and collided with an SUV. Two teens in the driver’s ed car and a woman driving the SUV went to the hospital.

A northwest Iowa man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing a bicyclist in a drunk-driving crash last fall.

Siouxland News CBS 14 Fox 44 reports 28- year-old Seth DeJong pleaded guilty to reckless homicide by vehicle. He must pay $150,000 of restitution to the family of 69-year-old Lorena Moss. DeJong was behind the wheel of a van that hit and killed her near Hull.

A former lottery computer technician convicted in a scheme to rig computers to win jackpots for himself, friends, and family has been paroled after serving more than five years in an Iowa prison. Online prisoner records show 59-year-old Eddie Tipton was released from prison Friday. Tipton pleaded guilty to ongoing criminal conduct in 2017 and was ordered to pay restitution of $2.2 million to Colorado, Wisconsin, Kansas and Oklahoma. He shared some of the restitution obligation with his brother in Texas, who collected some of the winnings and served a 75-day jail sentence. Tipton is suing Iowa, claiming he was placed under duress to plead guilty. He says Iowa officials had no authority to charge him for restitution in other states.

Iowa's unemployment website is running again after a cyberattack shut it down for more than three weeks.

The Iowa Works website handles job searches and work search activities.

It's still unknown who was behind the cyberattack.

The latest Iowa crop and weather report from the USDA suggests drought conditions will expand in northwest Iowa this week.

The search for a new Sioux City Schools superintendent will start in late September.

The Sioux City Journal reports a draft search timeline was presented during last night’s meeting with community input that will continue through January.

Board President Dan Greenwell said the search timeline was created by the Omaha recruiter hired by the district.

Greenwell says the board wants the community involved and wants input in the process.

Surveys will also be used to collect additional information from the community and staff.

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley says he’s not concerned following a new Des Moines Register Iowa Poll that shows the Republican in his closest election since 1980.

He tells Radio Iowa he doesn’t worry much about polls or his opponents because he has to work hard as Iowa’s senator and fight bad policies of the Biden administration.

The Iowa Poll shows Grassley leads Mike Franken, a retired Navy admiral, by 47 to 39-percent.

The poll shows fellow Republican and Governor Kim Reynolds has a 17-point lead over her Democratic opponent, Deidre DeJear.

The latest Iowa crop and weather report from the USDA suggests drought conditions will expand in northwest Iowa this week.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s measurements last Tuesday indicated parts of Plymouth, Cherokee and Woodbury Counties were in extreme drought and much of northwest Iowa was classified as in severe or moderate drought.

The state climatologist tells Radio Iowa while there were heavy rains in northeast Iowa last week, the remainder of the state was drier than normal and the rainfall deficit is approaching an inch in many areas.

The USDA rates 81% of Iowa’s corn crop in good or excellent condition, while just over three-quarters of Iowa soybeans have a condition rating of good or excellent.

The National Weather Service says severe weather so far this year in South Dakota has been an anomaly. The weather service issued 561 severe thunderstorm warnings in the state as of July 5. That’s 131 more than 2007, when the previous record for that timeframe was set. While there does appear to be an increasing trend in the number of severe thunderstorms, the National Weather Service says it’s important to note that the way storms are predicted has become more precise and that the standards have changed over time. State climatologist Laura Edwards says there's no distinct tie between severe weather in South Dakota and climate change.

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway now owns nearly $11 billion worth of Occidental Petroleum stock after buying another 1.9 million shares in the past week. The latest purchases Berkshire reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission Monday give the Omaha, Nebraska-based conglomerate control of 19.4% of the oil producer’s stock. Berkshire is quickly approaching owning more than 20% of Houston-based Occidental’s shares. At that point, Berkshire would be able to start reporting a proportional share of Occidental’s earnings within its own earnings reports, which would give Berkshire a significant boost. Berkshire has bought more than $1.3 billion worth of Occidental shares this month alone, and now holds nearly 181.7 million shares.

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