NEWS 12.8.20: New C-19 Death Reporting in IA, Vilsack and the USDA and Help for Suicidal Farmers

Dec 8, 2020

Credit coronavirus.iowa.gov

Iowa started tracking the COVID-19 deaths of people who were diagnosed with the virus but not tested, a change that could add hundreds more deaths to the state's count.

Iowa now accepts clinical diagnoses from doctors and not just positive virus tests when attributing a death to coronavirus.

The change removed 433 deaths from the system but added 610, providing an initial net gain of 177 deaths and raising the state's toll to more than 2,900. Some of the removed cases could be added back in.

Department of Public Health Interim Director Kelly Garcia says the change will more accurately reflect the state’s death count.

“This information will be helpful for national comparisons. And I believe it will also be helpful when we compare causes of death over the course of the entire 2020 calendar year.”

Under the state’s previous methodology, deaths were only reported if they were matched with a positive PCR test in the state’s system. It did not include deaths matched with positive antigen tests or cases that were clinically diagnosed.

Garcia says the new system will be applied retroactively to all deaths reported since March.

Siouxland District Health recorded an additional death today in Woodbury County, for 142 in all. However, the new reporting system shows 126. However, that number could change.  There were 55 additional cases for 11,069 in all.

The number of COVID-19 related deaths in South Dakota is 1,111 after the addition of one more death in the past day due to the disease. The number of people hospitalized in South Dakota fell to the lowest level since November 5th.

The latest virus numbers in Nebraska show some improvement but health officials say virus cases still remain high and it’s not yet clear how Thanksgiving gatherings and travel will affect the numbers.

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack could return to his old job in Washington.

Politico reports that Biden is leaning toward asking Vilsack to lead the USDA.

Vilsack served under President Obama for eight years as the Secretary of Agriculture.

An effort to prevent farmer suicides is likely to reach a vote on the senate floor this week. Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says it would bring training and other resources to Farm Service Agency workers in county offices. He says they would learn to recognize signs that someone might need help—but they would *not* become health advisors.

“But the idea is to get people to family members or to ministers of a faith or doctors or mental health people to help intervene to save people’s lives.”

During the farm crisis of the 1980s, the devastation from losing farms and being overcome by debt led to some farmers taking their own lives. In more recent years, an uptick in rural suicides that coincided with lower crop prices brought renewed attention to the issue.

A group in Nebraska that tried unsuccessfully to place a medical marijuana proposal on the November ballot will launch a new 2022 campaign to legalize the drug for recreational use. Organizers with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana says they're planning a new, broader petition drive. The group collected more than enough signatures to qualify the medical marijuana measure for the ballot this year, but the Nebraska Supreme Court ordered it removed after a group with ties to Republican activists challenged it in court. Despite opposition from prominent conservatives, including Gov. Pete Ricketts, the measure would have had a good chance of passing in Nebraska.