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NEWS 8.10.22: COVID-19 Increase in Iowa, Future of Wind Turbines Up in the Air in Woodbury County, Teacher Concerns and More

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Federal health officials are reporting Iowa’s COVID hospitalizations continue to increase.

As of today, 323 Iowans hospitalized have tested positive for the virus. That’s up from 309 last week.

State health officials are reporting more than 7,100 reported positive tests in the past seven days, a slight drop from last week’s number.

Mike Brownlee is the chief pharmacy officer at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

He says illness from the omicron BA-5 subvariant has been milder as compared to other COVID variants. But he says Iowans - particularly those at high risk for getting seriously ill - should still take some precautions and get vaccinated.

Talking to your provider, using all the precautions that you can, being aware of your surroundings and settings, if you have symptoms, get tested.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control. 62.7% of all Iowans are fully vaccinated against the virus.

The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors voted last night to move forward with an ordinance that would severely limit where wind farms can be constructed within the county.

The proposed amendment would require wind turbines to be built at least 2,500 feet from county residents.

Last year, the board voted to have a setback distance of 1,250 feet. But, a MidAmerican Energy plan to build upwards of 90 wind turbines has spurred debate about whether that’s far enough.

Resident Daniel Hair says wind farms would be disruptive. More than 700 residents signed his petition to increase the setback distance.

“I'm a fifth-generation farmer, and my young son at home, who's five, is going to be the sixth, and I'm asking you guys don't destroy this county for my lifetime and his. Money is not everything.”

MidAmerican estimates paying $150 million in county taxes. The board will hold two more public hearings before the amendment can be approved. If that happens, the company says that would effectively eliminate wind energy from Woodbury County.

Brenda Holtz was one of few landowners who spoke in opposition to the ordinance change. She says the amendment would take away a landowner’s individual choice.

“If a person works, they own their farm. they have worked hard for it. It should be their decision on what they think is right for them and right for their farm.”

The company claims 60 landowners have already signed on for its Siouxland Wind Farm and that it has invested 1.4 million dollars in the project. The board will take a final vote after two more public hearings.

Deidre DeJear, the Democratic candidate for governor, says it’s time for damage control to address the shortage of teachers, bus drivers and other staff in some Iowa schools.

DeJear said her opponent, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, chose to focus this year on state funding to send 10,000 students to private schools.

DeJear suggests things like retention bonuses could help some schools keep veteran teachers in the classroom.

Governor Reynolds used federal pandemic funds to provide one-time bonuses of $1000 to teachers, and this spring, she approved a 2.5% increase in per pupil funding for public schools.

Reynolds and the Republican-led legislature also started a teacher apprenticeship program, but the state scholarships for private school students Reynolds proposed didn’t have enough support in the Iowa House.

Reynolds has pledged to continue to press for the plan. Reynolds said last month that when it comes to education, “one size really doesn’t fit all,” and some parents may want their children in a private school “that conforms to their faith and moral convictions.”

DeJear said says Reynolds has yet to agree to debates. A spokesman for the governor’s campaign said Reynolds is happy to debate, and details will be ironed out as fall approaches.

DeJear says voters deserve to see a debate between her and Reynolds.

“When we think about the elections process, that we do not just adhere to tradition, but we realize the importance of that tradition, for two opponents to stand on a stage and talk about the vision that they see for the state and what they’re committed to doing for the people which they seek to serve.”

DeJear said Reynolds didn’t respond to invitations from some organizations that invited them to debates.

Reynolds has significantly lowered her public profile since the Iowa Legislature ended its session in May, holding fewer news conferences as she campaigns around the state. Reynolds has a huge fundraising advantage, and a recent Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows her with a 17-point lead over DeJear.

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