News 4.17.20: Schools Closed, Governor Criticized, Local Numbers, Traffic Trends and Unemployment

Apr 17, 2020

IOWA GOVERNOR KIM REYNOLDS

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds announced all schools will be closed through the end of the academic year.

She says it was a hard decision to make but the state hasn’t hit a peak for COVID-19 yet.

Reynolds also says the illness has claimed the lives of four more people for a total of 64 Iowans. 

There are 191 new cases, including four new cases in Woodbury County.

Out of 27 confirmed cases in Woodbury County, 17 have been the criteria to be released from monitoring and isolation.

The governor does expect to increase testing across the state.  Officials with Siouxland District health says they expect that boost to happen here in Siouxland as early as next week.  However, they don’t have specific details at this time.

The Dakota County Health Department reported a jump of 16 new cases for a total of 25.

They encourage people to stay home and will be notifying those who might have come into close contact with people testing positive.

Meanwhile, there are three new deaths in Nebraska for a total of two dozen.

Confirmed cases in Nebraska topped 1,000.

A worker at Seaboard Triumph Foods in Sioux City has tested positive for COVID-19.

The company says the employee hasn’t been at work since they were tested. 

More than 2,400 people work at the pork plant.

In a statement, the company says it has measures in place to keep a clean and sterile environment, that follow recommendations from the CDC.

Those include taking temperatures of employees before they enter the plant and monitoring people for flu-like symptoms. Employees also wear face coverings while at work.

Tyson Foods has seen a spike in cases in workers at a plant in southeast Iowa and Waterloo.

With the school announcement today, the Sioux City Community School District sent out a message to parents that students can continue to take part in voluntary continuous learning from home through June 2.

Elementary students are receiving learning packets, high school and middle school students will get their lessons online each week.  High schoolers enrolled in college courses must continue to fulfill their course work.

During the closure, all event are canceled or postponed.

By June 1st the Governor will make a decision about summer sports.

Students will not need to make up the days in class for the year.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem says she is anxious to see businesses up and running in South Dakota.

But, it won’t be on President Donald Trump’s timeline.

The Republican governor called guidance from the White House on reopening “helpful,” but said she “will still make decisions that are best for our state.”

Noem projects infections in the state to peak in mid-June.

While she hasn’t ordered businesses to close or issued a sweeping stay-at-home order, she stressed following precautions to curb infections for “several more weeks.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer said she’s disappointed that Gov. Kim Reynolds has not issued a “shelter-in-place” or “stay-at-home” order, despite promising to do so three weeks ago.

The Iowa Department of Public Health divides the state into six regions for the purposes of monitoring COVID-19 cases.

Region 6 includes most of Finkenauer’s 1st Congressional District, including the cities of Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Duqubue.

The governor issued new restrictions on social gatherings there beginning at midnight.

Finkenauer said she was assured that when Region 6 reached a certain threshold, a shelter-in-place order would be issued.

She said she applauds the governor for closing schools and taking other steps, but says refusing to issue a formal order creates more confusion.

Fewer cars have been traveling on state highways, county roads and city streets over the last month.

That’s according to traffic data that the Iowa Department of Transportation has been gathering from sensors in more than 120 locations around Iowa after COVID-19 reached the state.

Traffic on all types of roads saw a 20 percent decrease since the weekend of March 14th, compared to data from the same day last year. The data shows an overall downward trend - especially on the weekends.

Jeff Von Brown is the team leader for Iowa D-O-T’s modeling, forecasting and telemetrics team.

There’s definitely a pattern being seen where on the weekends it’s generally greater decreases as people are staying home, but when the work week comes back around, there’s usually a rebound, but it’s a basic pattern that’s repeating itself.”

And Von Brown says there are pros and cons to having less traffic on the roads. Road construction crews have more flexibility to finish projects. But people are buying less gasoline, which means there will be less funding for road projects in the near future.

Iowa’s unemployment rate climbed to 3.7% in March as the state began to see the impact of an economic downturn.

Iowa Workforce Development reported Friday the jobless rate increased from 2.8% in February.

Despite the jump in the unemployment rate, officials say the March rate only reflects the beginning of the economic slowdown.

A more accurate picture of unemployment is expected next month when April figures are released.

The U.S. unemployment rate for March was 4.4%

Nebraska’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 4.2% from 2.9% in February.

In South Dakota more than 6,000 new claims were filed last week.  That’s 2,00 down from the week before.  The state received a total of 22,000 new claims since the middle of March.

The University of Nebraska has announced that it will begin offering tuition-free attendance to in-state students whose family income is less than $60,000.

NU President Ted Carter announced the new policy today during a NU Board of Regents meeting in Lincoln.

The policy applies to the system's undergraduate programs at its campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney.

Carter says the program takes effect immediately for both new and returning undergraduate students.

He says the $5 million program won’t require any additional funding from the state.

The university system already guarantees tuition-free education for nearly 3,000 students from low-income families.

The expanded program is expected to cover another 1,000 students.