5.5.20 News: More COVID-19 Deaths, Beef Price Fixing Allegations and Education Aid

May 5, 2020

Two more people in the Sioux City metro area have died from COVID-19 for a total of six people.

One death was reported in Dakota County.  The other in Woodbury County was an elderly woman. 

On Tuesday, Iowa reported the deadliest day since the pandemic started.  Nineteen people have been killed due to complications from the virus.

There were 63 new cases in Woodbury County and 9 in Dakota County. About 100 people are being treated at Sioux City’s two hospitals.

The Sioux City Journal reports four people who died worked in packing plants in the area.

Health officials haven’t released information about the latest death in Dakota County.

The Islamic Center of Siouxland says 56-year old Husain Jair worked at Seaboard Triumph and died on Friday.  He was from the east African nation of Eritrea and was sick for about a week. 

He stayed home for 4-5 days and spent the last 2 days of his life at MercyOne in Sioux City.

Seaboard Triumph put out a news release saying the company was sadden to learn of the death of the employee.  The company is working with the Dakota County Health Department to verify the cause of death and gather specifics of the situation. 

The Iowa Department of Public Health says nearly 1,400 workers at three Tyson Foods pork processing plants in Iowa have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The largest outbreak is the Tyson plant in Perry in central Iowa.  The other plants are located in Waterloo and Columbus Junction.

Meanwhile, local health officials aren’t saying how many people are impacted at packing plants in Sioux City or Dakota City.  Last week, sources told local news organizations almost 700 people tested positive at the Tyson plant in Dakota City.

The facility was expected to reopen today after shutting down for four days for deep cleaning and continued testing for workers.  The company says it will delay the reopening.

They put out a new statement on Tuesday:

The health and safety of our team members is our top priority, and we take this responsibility extremely seriously. We are conducting testing of team members and will not hesitate to idle any plant for additional deep cleaning and sanitization. All team members returning to work at our facilities have been tested and any employee who has tested positive will remain on sick leave until they are released by health officials to return to work. We have implemented enhanced safety protocols to help ensure our efforts meet or exceed local, state and federal guidelines. 

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller joined attorneys general from 10 other states to urge the U.S Department of Justice to pursue a federal investigation into suspected price fixing by meat packers in the cattle industry. 

They are concerned he packers manipulated the market for processed beef.  The four largest meatpacking companies control more than 80% of the beef processing in the country.

The shelf price is exceptionally high, however cattle prices are low and continue to dive.

Nebraska relaxed some of its social-distancing restrictions in the Omaha area and more than half of the state’s counties, but Gov. Pete Ricketts is imploring people who are still living in more heavily regulated areas to stay put. Ricketts is asking residents in hard-hit areas, such as Dakota City and Grand Island, not to venture out of their regions out of concern that they might spread the coronavirus. Unlike many other states, Ricketts has imposed public safety restrictions in Nebraska on a regional basis.

Nebraska opened a new lab to analyze the results of about 3,000 coronavirus tests per day and will launch more testing sites beyond the ones currently operating in Omaha and hard-hit Grand Island. 

A Test Iowa location is open in Sioux City on the campus of Western Iowa Tech Community College. A spokesperson for the national guard says it will be open through next Friday.  An appointment through testiowa.com is needed to take part.

The U.S. Treasury Department has yet to send payments to tribal governments from a coronavirus relief package approved in late March.

The agency says it hasn't determined how to allocate $8 billion in funding that was set aside for tribes.

The Iowa Department of Education will share more than 71 million dollars in federal relief funds with public school districts to offset the cost of switching to distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money can be used to partially pay for online learning technology, training, mental health services and educational support for students with disabilities. Ann Lebo is the director of the Iowa Department of Education.

Schools had to take on a lot of expanded and unexpected roles so this first wave of funds is really to help support that.

Districts have said they’re concerned about the virus cutting into their budgets. They’re spending more money on distance learning while also losing revenue as sales taxes and other local sources of funding decline.

Governor Kim Reynolds says her office is still working through the broader impact of the virus on school funding in the state budget.