NEWS 3.15.21: UK Variant in Siouxland, C19 Case Increase, Unemployment, Grassley Poll, and More

Mar 15, 2021

The image depicts the coronavirus binding to a human cell. The variant identified in the United Kingdom has a mutation known to increase how tightly the virus binds to human cells.
Credit NPR/Getty Images

The Nebraska Department of Health reports the COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom has been found in Siouxland somewhere in the counties covered by the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department. This includes the counties of Cedar, Dixon, Thurston, and Wayne. The variant is more infectious and could cause more severe illness.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reports eight more Iowans have died of complications of COVID-19, with almost 200 additional test results with 16 new cases today in Woodbury County. There have been 216 deaths in Woodbury County, with one more reported on Saturday.

Credit Siouxland District Health

Officials from Siouxland District Health say the number of cases has been increasing and everyone needs to do their part: mask up, keep your distance, wash your hands, stay home when sick, and avoid nonessential gatherings.

Meanwhile, the number of hospitalizations increased by 20% since Friday with 20 patients at Sioux City’s two medical facilities.

Dakota County health officials say  when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine there are openings available for residents of Dakota County who are 65 years and older.

On Monday, 45 new positive test were recorded in Dakota County with 67 deaths.

Credit Dakota County Health

Iowa’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% in January as more residents joined the workforce. The state’s Workforce Development department reported Monday the rate was down from a revised 3.7% rate for December and compared to a 2.8% rate a year ago, before the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a severe economic slowdown. Workforce Development says the state added 8,200 workers in January. There were 57,400 unemployed residents. Iowa was tied with Kansas for the nation’s sixth-lowest unemployment rate. South Dakota and Utah had the lowest rate, at 3.1%. The national unemployment rate for January was 6.3%.

News release from Iowa Workforce Development:

DES MOINES - Iowa’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 3.5 percent from the revised December rate of 3.7 percent. The state’s jobless rate was 2.8 percent one year ago. The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 6.3 percent in January.

“Since last April, 2020, Iowa has grown its workforce by 45,400. In January, Iowa added 8,200 workers, which is a positive sign as we look to get more Iowans back into the workforce,” said Director Beth Townsend, Iowa Workforce Development. “As the weather continues to improve and our seasonal layoffs come to an end, we are hopeful our unemployment rate will continue to decline and our labor participation rate will improve.”

The number of unemployed Iowans decreased to 57,400 in January from 59,900 in December. The current estimate is 132,800 lower than the COVID-19 revised peak in April of 190,200 and 8,100 higher than the year ago level of 49,300. The total number of working Iowans increased to 1,567,800 in January. This figure was 8,200 higher than December’s number of 1,559,600 and 45,400 higher than April 2020.

Monthly labor force data have been revised for 1976-2020 as required by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Benchmarking is the process of re-estimating statistics as more complete data becomes available.  Prior year’s estimates for the Current Employment Statistics (CES) and Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) programs are benchmarked annually.  In March, the revised data is incorporated with the January employment statistics.

Seasonally Adjusted Nonfarm Employment

Iowa establishments gained 3,000 jobs in January, leaving total nonfarm employment at 1,516,400 jobs. Private industries advanced slightly (+800). Much of the hiring was within goods-producing industries which gained 1,700 jobs since December. Government added 2,200 jobs due to a strong showing at the local level (+1,200).

Construction added the most jobs in January (+1,000). This is the second-consecutive monthly increase for the sector and the third in the last four months. This sector showed little growth last year; however, this industry showed signs of expansion in the fourth quarter. Manufacturing gained 700 jobs in January with much of the hiring being within nondurable goods factories. Manufacturing has trended up since May, adding 7,000 total jobs during that span. The majority of these gains have been in nondurable goods shops. Hiring in private education led to a gain of 700 jobs in education and health services. Smaller increases this month included leisure and hospitality (+400) and financial activities (+300). On the other hand, losses were greatest in the retail trade (-1,300). This sector showed an unusually large gain last month to accommodate the holiday shopping season. Information shed 500 jobs with losses in two of the last three months. Both other services and professional and business services shed 300 jobs since December.

Compared to April, Iowa establishments have now added back 103,900 jobs. Leisure and hospitality has added the most jobs (+39,800), although bulk hiring may not occur until the spring and summer months and after social-distancing measures have ended. Retail has added back 22,600 jobs with hiring being strongest in general merchandise and food and beverage stores. Health care and social assistance is up 9,700 jobs despite a small drop in January.

Unemployment Insurance Claims

The total number of initial claims decreased in January 2021 by 13,825 (35.5 percent) from December 2020 and have fallen 132,231 (-84.1 percent) versus the peak of 157,324 in April 2020. For continued claims, most statistics have been reduced to approximately 75 percent of the April 2020 levels. The number of claimants increased by 4.8 percent from last month and are down 136,539 over the prior nine months. The weeks paid increased to 156,961 in January, less than 25 percent of the 652,623 paid in April 2020, while the total amount paid to claimants increased to $61.7 million, less than 30 percent of the $213.5 million paid nine months ago.

MEDIA ALERT:  Local data for January 2021 is available on the IWD website.  Statewide data for February 2021 will be released on Friday, March 26, 2021.

Heavy snow has blanketed much of northern Iowa, snarling traffic and closing schools and services, as a late winter storm moves through the region. Online reports issued by the Iowa Department of Transportation show snow and ice covering roads in north-central Iowa and partially covering roads for much of the rest of the northern half of the state. The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for three dozen counties in Iowa's northern half and a winter weather advisory for several more counties in the region. The weather service expects some areas to see up to 8 inches of snow by Monday afternoon.

The National Weather service says some parts of South Dakota received up to a couple of foot of new snowfall. Vermillion saw about 2 1/3 inches and Yankton 2 inches.

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator says he’s still making up his mind whether to run for re-election, following the release of a poll showing a majority of Iowans want him to retire.

The latest Des Moines Register / Mediacom Iowa Poll shows that just 28 percent of Iowans hope Chuck Grassley will run for his eighth term in the Senate.

During a meeting with immigration activists today Grassley pushed back against criticism that he’s held the job for too long.

“I can only tell you that I love my work very much and…I don’t think that I have any problems doing my work. And I want everybody to know…that I put in all the time it takes to do the job.”

Grassley has said he’ll make his decision sometime between September and November. The 87 year old lawmaker has been in public office since 1959.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is railing against a proclamation by the governor of Colorado that encourages people to avoid meat for one day a week, calling it a “direct attack on our way of life” and signing a pro-meat declaration of his own. Ricketts surrounded himself with top officials from Nebraska’s meat, agricultural and restaurant industries on Monday as he declared Saturday “Meat on the Menu Day” in Nebraska. The day was chosen to coincide with Colorado’s “MeatOut Day,” a nonbinding proclamation signed by Gov. Jared Polis late last month and backed by an animal rights group. “MeatOut Day” was started in 1985 by the Farm Animal Rights Movement and seeks to encourage non-vegetarians to consider a plant-based diet.

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott is donating $15 million to a Nebraska community college. The Sioux City Journal on Sunday reported Scott's gift to Northeast Community College. The newspaper reports the donation is the largest ever in the Norfolk-based school's history. One official at the college initially thought an email about the donation was spam because gifts that large to the Nebraska school are so rare. Scott donated $5.7 billion in 2020 by asking community leaders to help identify 512 organizations for seven- and eight-figure gifts, including food banks, human-service organizations, and racial-justice charities.

The Orange City Tulip Festival will take place this May. That’s according to a post on social media. Last year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. This year’s event scheduled for May 13th though the 15th will include safety guidelines and sanitary protocols.

From the Orange City Tulip Festival Facebook Page:

The Tulip Festival Executive Steering Committee is excited to announce that the 80th Tulip Festival will take place in Orange City, Iowa, May 13, 14 and 15, 2021.

The announcement follows the 2020 cancellation of the festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our many Tulip Festival volunteers have focused their energy on safely holding the 2021 Tulip Festival, and extra consideration for sanitary protocols is being taken throughout the planning process.

Please note, any specific guidelines and procedures will be communicated as the festival approaches and may be event, specific. We encourage everyone to follow @octulipfestival on social media for the most up-to-date festival information.

Tulip Festival news, event information, volunteer opportunities and more can be found on the festival’s website at octulipfestival.com.

News release from Western Iowa Tech Community College:

For Immediate Release

Western Iowa Tech Community College Holding In-Person Graduation

March 15, 2021

Western Iowa Tech Community College is excited to announce that their Spring 2021 graduation ceremony will be held live, and in-person on May 13, 2021 at the Tyson Events Center. Graduation will consist of three smaller ceremonies: Health Sciences programs at 2:00 p.m.; Career and Technical programs at 4:00 p.m. and Arts and Sciences, HSED, and Gateway to College programs at 6:00 p.m.

“We are very excited to be able to celebrate the accomplishments of our students together with our college community,” says Terry Murrell, President of Western Iowa Tech Community College. “Our students have worked incredibly hard and maintained their commitment to their education during the health pandemic. We are looking forward to giving them the traditional ceremony they deserve.”

WITCC has put several safety precautions in place to maintain the health and safety of the graduates and their families. In addition to controlling the crowd size with three smaller ceremonies, masks will be required at the event, families are encouraged to sit together and distance themselves from other groups, and ample time has been allotted between ceremonies to avoid large crowds. For more information go to witcc.edu/graduation.