News 12.15.20: Tyson Lawsuit, COVID-19 PSA Campaign, Land Values, Water Quality Concerns and More

Dec 15, 2020

Credit TYSON

The family of a 65-year-old Iowa man  is suing Tyson after he died of COVID-19 while working at the company's pork plant in Storm Lake. Michael Everhard, of Fonda, died June 18, three weeks after he contracted the virus. His family contends in a lawsuit that Tyson didn't implement proper safety precautions to protect Everhard and other employees from the virus. Several Tyson executives at the plant are also named in the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Everhard's three children. A Tyson spokeswoman said the company has implemented several safety measures that meet or exceed federal guidelines designed to slow the spread of the

The Iowa Department of Public Health recorded 67 more deaths due to complications of COVID-19 and more than 1,300 cases in a 24-hour period.


There are almost 800 hospitalized with the virus in the state, including 64 at Sioux City’s two facilities. That’s an increase locally of five from the day before.  The number of people battling COVID-19 only did increase by ten patients.  However, the current rate is much lower than the record high set of 108 set on December 1st.
Siouxland District Health added 41 additional cases in Woodbury County for more than 11,500 and 145 deaths.

The 14-day test positivity rate is down one-percentage point to 16.8%. 

Dakota County reported only seven more cases and 52 deaths.  The test positivity rate has fallen to under six-percent.

Local officials joined forces to release a Public Service Announcement to highlight the importance of wearing masks and other safety measures.

The PSA includes Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott and health leaders from Woodbury and Dakota Counties. 
They encourage everyone to share the  short video on their personal and business social media accounts.
You can see the :30 video on our Siouxland Public Media Facebook page.

After a punishing fall that left hospitals struggling, some Midwestern states are seeing a decline in new coronavirus cases. But the signs of improvement are offset by the infection’s accelerating spread on both coasts. States including Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Nebraska have seen a decrease in the numbers of people testing positive for COVID-19. All, however, are still experiencing an alarming number of deaths and hospitalizations because of the earlier surge of cases.

The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Nebraska has been steadily declining recently, but it remains at a high level that worries health experts. Dr. James Lawler with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security says it’s important for Nebraskans to remain vigilant about maintaining social distancing because the virus trends could turn negative before vaccines become widely available to the general public in the spring. Nebraska says 693 people were hospitalized on Monday. That number has been generally decreasing since the state set a record of 987 on Nov. 20.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration is using $10 million in federal pandemic relief funds to pay the salaries of state police officers, who have largely not been directly involved in Iowa’s virus response. The expense is listed in a state report as going toward “State Government COVID staffing” at the Iowa Department of Public Safety. The report claims the money will support payroll expenses for employees “whose services were diverted to a substantially different use as a result of COVID-19.” Department spokeswoman Debra McClung noted that the spending is allowable under revised Treasury Department guidance that stipulates that payroll expenses for public safety employees are presumed to qualify as pandemic-related. However, she didn't provide examples of how any duties had changed.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says the state is returning $21 million of federal coronavirus aid money it planned to spend on upgrading state information technology systems.

Nebraska state revenue collected more revenue than expected in November and is also above projections for the current fiscal year. The state Department of Revenue says Nebraska received $482 million last month. That’s 21.6% higher than the certified forecast. The original forecast was set in August. The increase was driven largely by higher-than-expected net sale-and-use tax revenue and net individual income tax revenue. Net miscellaneous revenue came in higher than projected for the month as well, while net corporate income tax collections fell below estimates. The department also says the state has collected about $2.4 billion the current fiscal year that began on July 1. That’s 9.6% higher than the original forecast.

Even as a vaccine began trickling out to states this week, Nebraska's prisons continue to struggle with the spread of the coronavirus. The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services says 18 staff members across the state's prison system have tested positive for the virus since the end of last week. On Saturday, the department said 11 staffers had tested positive. Another three infected staffers were announced Sunday, and late Monday, the department said four more staffers had tested positive. The latest release brings the total number of prison employees who have tested positive to 409 since the outbreak began. The department's website says that as of Friday, 786 inmates had tested positive for the virus and six inmates have died.

Land values continue to be strong in Iowa’s farm country, a key component in the positive outlook for agriculture.

Despite a turbulent year, Iowa State University’s annual survey of land values found the average value of farm fields, pasture, timber and other agricultural lands held steady.

ISU economist Wendong Zhang conducted the study and presented the results.

“Average farmland values for Iowa as of Nov. 1, 2020 compared to a year ago, this represents about 1.7 percent growth.”

The lowest quality land saw the greatest increase in value. While prices remain below the 2013 peak, Zhang points out this is the second consecutive year of increases—and the third in the past six years.

Tens of thousands of Iowans are drinking water every year potentially contaminated with unsafe levels of lead.


Michelle Scherer is a University of Iowa professor of civil and environmental engineering. She says 1 in 5 Iowa newborns have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

“There's really no other compelling reason, we need to be able to rationalize why we need to be spending our time as researchers and environmental advocates, as well as spending resources here in Iowa, to look at this.”

Scherer and her team crunched some numbers and found that 65-thousand Iowans are potentially at risk from drinking water with lead above 15 parts per billion. That’s the standard the E-P-A has set where action to be taken to fix the problem.


Researchers say Iowa only requires a water fountain or faucet to be taken out of service if lead reaches 20 parts per billion.