NEWS 2.17.21: C-19 Latest, Power Outages Criticized, Legislative Updates, RAGBRAI, and More

Feb 17, 2021

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds
Credit Iowa PBS

The Iowa Department of Health recorded 43 more deaths due to complications of COVID-19, including two more in Woodbury County. The state also added more than 600  new cases. The number of hospitalizations at Sioux City’s two medical facilities has doubled in a day to a dozen patients. However, that number is less than 10% of the record high of 108 set back on December 1st.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has announced the state will not move forward with plans to contract with Microsoft to build a centralized COVID-19 vaccine registration system.

At a press conference today Reynolds said after reviewing options with Microsoft, the state felt building the system would cause too much disruption to current systems in place.

Reynolds said the state is working on strengthening systems like 2-1-1 to benefit Iowans who need vaccine information or are unable to make appointments online.

We know that barriers still remain for Iowans who are currently eligible, and we're actively determining how we can leverage existing partnerships to provide an easier alternative to online scheduling.

Reynolds said those who are struggling to make an appointment online can call their local Area Agency on Aging.

Tomorrow, the Siouxland District Health Department will open more appointments for a vaccination clinic planned for next Wednesday. The number to call starting at 3 p.m. tomorrow is (712) 234-3922.

During her weekly news conference, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds was asked about a comment she made eight-months ago. It was on June 18th, 2021 the governor said Iowa was well on its way to recovering from the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Here’s what she says about the situation today.

Earlier this month, Iowa was near the bottom in the country for vaccination rates. The Governor says the CDC now ranks Iowa 22nd in the nation and suspects Iowa is doing even better than that recent ranking with almost 500,000 vaccinations.

Reynolds says Iowa will get 62,000 more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine next week. That’s up 24%. Also, the White House wants more vaccination clinics on weekends and Governor Reynolds says she fully supports this plan to allow people to get the vaccine during convenient times.

Nebraska expects more than 60,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines to be available in the state this week as officials continue to focus on vaccinating everyone 65 and older across Nebraska. It’s not yet clear how many doses will be allocated this week to a new federal program that is distributing some virus shots through select pharmacies. Last week, that program received 5,700 doses of the vaccines. 

The Iowa Senate has passed a bill that would increase funding for PreK-12 schools next year by 2.4 percent. The measure now goes to Governor Kim Reynolds, who is expected to sign it.

Because of declining enrollment during the pandemic, about 40 percent of school districts would actually see a drop in state support and could collect extra property taxes to make up for it.

Iowa’s Republican-dominated Legislature is advancing a bill that would drastically rewrite state election law in a way that critics say would favor the party. The bill discussed in a Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday would cut the mail and in-person early voting period from 29 to 18 days, after Republicans whittled it down from 40 days just four years ago. It would bar counties from mailing absentee ballot applications to voters, tightly regulate how absentee ballots can be returned and potentially cut many early voting locations. The Iowa State Association of County Auditors is warning the bill would take away local decision-making, threaten severe penalties against election workers who make mistakes and increase staffing needs.

Another round of rolling power outages took place in Nebraska this morning's Arctic air continues to linger over the region and energy demand strains the power grid.  All the major utilities across the state implemented similar planned power outages in places on Monday and Tuesday. Nebraska’s utilities are tied into an organization that balances power demand across parts of 14 states.

Nebraska avoided another round of rolling power outages, though Gov. Pete Ricketts criticized the need for them at all this week, especially because they were partly driven by utility problems elsewhere in the region. Ricketts said Wednesday that this week's rolling blackouts are completely unacceptable. Utility officials have said the region's frigid temperatures created energy demand that strained the power grid. But the situation was exacerbated by power plants in the region's south that were ill equipped to operate in extreme cold and by shortages of natural gas at some power plants.

A proposal from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to ban abortions after testing indicates a fetus may have Down syndrome has received unanimous endorsement from a House committee. The governor’s office cast the bill as a way to protect people with Down syndrome, but also part of a larger effort to eliminate legal abortions altogether. Advocates for abortion rights say the bill is part of a political effort to erode access to “sexual and reproductive health care” for patients who already have limited access to abortions.  Because the bill received unanimous approval in committee, it could breeze through the House without debate.

The head of the Nebraska School Activities Association says he plans to meet with Norfolk public school officials after reports that an Omaha girls basketball team was subjected to racial slurs at a game. Omaha Northwest reported earlier this week that racial slurs were shouted at its girls while they were leaving the floor in Norfolk on Friday. The NSAA executive director Jay Bellar says he will meet with Norfolk officials Thursday. Norfolk Public Schools said in a statement that it does not tolerate racism and apologized for any inappropriate comments or actions. Bellar says Norfolk school officials are currently investigating the situation.

Police have identified a man killed and a suspect who was arrested in a stabbing at a northern Iowa pork processing plant. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said in a news release Wednesday that 50-year-old Wayne Smith, of Fort Dodge, was the man stabbed to death, and 26-year-old Lukouxs Brown, also of Fort Dodge, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the case. Officials say both men were employees at Prestage Foods near Eagle Grove, where the stabbing occurred early Tuesday morning. Authorities say Smith was found dead in a plant locker room. Officials say Smith and Brown knew each other, but did not have details about their relationship.

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — A 56-year-old Minnesota man has pleaded guilty to receiving more than $1.2 million in loans in a fraud scheme involving federal programs offering help for coronavirus-related losses. Donald Franklin Trosin, from Champlin, Minnesota, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Sioux City, Iowa, to major fraud against the U.S. and money laundering conspiracy. Federal prosecutors said Trosin conspired to launder funds from loans he received from banks in northwest Iowa and Minnesota. Trosin admitted he defrauded the banks out of Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans. After receiving the loans, he wired the money to other people in different states.

CARROLL, Iowa (AP) — Fire officials are looking into what caused a fire and explosions at a western Iowa propane and fuel distribution business. Television station WOI reports that several fire departments spent hours putting out a blaze reported shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday at Al's Corner Oil Company in Carroll County. Firefighters at the scene said the fire ignited several propane tanks stored at the business, with one person saying “it sounded like jet engines taking off. The ground was shaking.” No injuries were immediately reported. The company is the home office for 26 convenience stores in west central Iowa and provides farm fuel and propane delivery for commercial and residential customers.

After waiting a year, RAGBRAI will end with riders dipping their tires in the Mississippi River in Clinton. Last year, the "Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa" was cancelled because of the pandemic. This summer's route also includes an overnight stay in DeWitt, a first for the town of 52-hundred.  

RAGBRAI provides an economic boost to cities and towns along the route. Up to 20,000 riders are expected to take part.

On Sunday, July 25th, riders will leave Le Mars. Then they'll pedal to Storm Lake, Fort Dodge, Iowa Falls, Waterloo, Anamosa, DeWitt, and then finally arrive in Clinton on Saturday, July 31st.