NEWS 4.1.21: COVID-19 Updates, Economic Recovery, Wind Energy Benefit, and More

Apr 1, 2021

Credit Iowa Department of Public Health

The Iowa Department of Public Health showed 14 more deaths in the state due to complications of COVID-19 in the past 24-hours and more than 800 new cases with 30 more in Woodbury County. 

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts will get his first vaccination shot tomorrow at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha. The 56-year-old governor had previously signed up for the vaccine online, and was notified earlier this week that he was eligible for an appointment. He’s scheduled to get the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

On Monday, the state will allow public health districts to vaccinate anyone who is at least 16 years old if they have an adequate supply of doses and appointments.

Ricketts and state health officials are still urging residents to sign up for a shot on the state’s registration website, vaccinate.ne.gov.

A new monthly survey of business leaders suggests that strong economic growth will continue over the next few months in a 9-state area that includes all three Siouxland states. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, who oversees the survey, said businesses in the area have recovered about half of the roughly 120,000 jobs lost last year when states imposed restrictions related to the coronavirus.

Goss said the growth might be even stronger if it weren't for delays in receiving raw materials and supplies.

A federal judge has thrown out a rule allowing pork plants to speed up production lines because the U.S. Department of Agriculture didn’t properly consider the risks to workers before the rule was issued in 2019.

Union officials praised the ruling because they say faster line speeds at pork plants increase the risk of injuries for workers. The lawsuit was filed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union along with local unions in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma and the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. The USDA says the agency is reviewing the ruling, and it remains “deeply committed to worker safety and a safe, reliable food supply.”

Twenty-eight Nebraska lawmakers are objecting to proposed state education standards that include lessons on gender identity and gender stereotypes, with lessons starting as early as the first grade.

The senators sent an open letter to the Nebraska State Board of Education, which is expected to consider the proposal on Friday.

The letter calls the draft standards a backdoor attempt to mandate curriculum that lawmakers have repeatedly rejected. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has raised concerns as well, saying the standards were drafted with the help of political activists. Nebraska Department of Education officials say the proposed standards were created by a team of educators from around the state, with advice from doctors, psychologists and other experts.

Iowa could play an important role in renewable energy if President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan passes. Jim McCalley is a professor in electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State University. He says the plan could make Iowa more valuable by building more transmission to export wind energy. He says some regions of Iowa have “fantastic” wind resources.

“But of course, that means you need to move that energy and so building that transmission is kind of the key to that whole concept.”

McCalley says the transition to using more wind and solar energy would not only be environmentally effective, but also economically effective. 

A Nebraska man has been found guilty of helping kidnap a South Dakota woman who was later killed on the Santee Sioux Indian Reservation in Nebraska. Federal prosecutors said Ramon Simpson, 50, of Norfolk, Nebraska, was convicted Wednesday in the November 2018 kidnapping of Phyllis Hunhoff. Because the kidnapping resulted in Hunhoff’s death, Simpson faces a mandatory life sentence. Prosecutors said Simpson and another man abducted Hunhoff in Utica, South Dakota. After they took the woman to Norfolk, Simpson left before the other man took her to the reservation where she was killed and her body set on fire. The other man was convicted of murder last year.

The parents of a 5-month-old baby who died in July in northwestern Iowa are among three people now charged in the infant's death. The Sioux City Journal reports that 20-year-old Lawrence Ruotolo and 21-year-old Brittanee Baker, both of Sheldon, have been charged with child endangerment causing bodily injury in the July 31 death of their daughter. Authorities say 49-year-old Stacie Hurlburt of Sheldon has been charged with a misdemeanor count of accessory after the fact. O’Brien County prosecutors say in court records that the baby was fatally injured while in Ruotolo's care and that he and the two other women charged made up a story that the child had been injured by a lamp knocked over by cats.