NEWS 7.29.21: COVID-19 Deputy Death, Hospitalizations Up, Air Quality Alert, and U.S. Senate Race

Jul 29, 2021

Credit National Weather Service/Sioux Falls

A Siouxland Sheriff’s office is mourning the death of one of its own.

The Burt County Sheriff says Deputy Justin Smith passed away yesterday after a battle with COVID-19.

Deputy Smith has been a member of the Burt County Sheriff's Office and since 2008. He also served as the Police Chief of Decatur, Nebraska. 

The Burt County Board of Supervisors has requested that all flags in the county be lowered to half-staff.

Credit Burt County Sheriff's Office

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb as state health officials reported this week 158 Iowans are being treated for complications of the virus.

Hospitalizations hit a record low of 46 in late June, but they have been increasing for the past month.

A local medical official with UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's in Sioux City says both local medical facilities are treating patients in the single digits. But, the delta variant poses a threat because it’s easier to catch. He stressed the importance of vaccinates to reduce the spread of disease.

Currently, 61 percent of adult Iowans are fully vaccinated. The rate in Woodbury County is 50%.

The sky might look a little hazy due to wildfire smoke moving through the area.

The National Weather Service issued an Air Quality Alert for northwest Iowa.

The wildfires near Lake Winnipeg, Canada drifted southward and will move through Sioux Falls into Siouxland according to the National Weather Service.

Smoke from wildfires near Lake Winnipeg will drift southward and move through Siouxland.

Some of this smoke coming from the north may lead to hazy skies and reduced visibilities into Thursday night.

Those sensitive to smoke or with existing health conditions could experience health effects due to the smoke.

The heat and lack of rain over the last week made Iowa's drought conditions a little worse.

The latest release from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows more than 70% of Iowa is now suffering from some level of drought. That's up a couple of percentages from a week before.

Areas of severe drought, ranging from the northern most Iowa counties down to central Iowa, increased from 26% to 29%.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is barring the state’s Department of Education from applying for federal grants in history or civics over concerns about how certain teachings on systemic racism would be tied to the grants. The U.S. Department of Education this month backed away from proposed grant guidelines that suggested using curricula that teach racism is embedded into the country’s institutions. Even with the guideline changes, South Dakota's Republican governor still wants no part in the grants. She says they advocate for critical race theory. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has said the grants would still allow local decision-making.

An attempt to include gender identity lessons in Nebraska’s public school curriculum was largely scrapped after an uproar from conservatives, including top state officials, who argued that the topics weren’t appropriate for children. The Nebraska Department of Education announced that it had stricken most of the proposed standards in a new draft released Thursday. The move came after state education officials faced intense criticism from many parents, school boards, state lawmakers and Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who held town hall events to blast the proposal. Opponents flooded a meeting of the Nebraska State Board of Education, an elected board that oversees the agency.

Rural Western Iowa physician and Minden City Councilmember Glenn Hurst announced today

he’s running for the U.S. Senate. Hurst is the latest Democrat to jump in the race to challenge longtime Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.

Hurst also chairs the Iowa Democrats’ Rural Caucus. He says his party can still win over rural voters, with pledges to invest in health care access and job opportunities.

“They want to be able to buy groceries in their town. They want to be able to have good, stable jobs and live in safe communities. And we have to give people the opportunity to do that. We have to tell them: we value a rural lifestyle and we’re willing to fight for it.”

Former Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer and former Crawford County Supervisor Dave Muhlbauer [are also running for the Democratic nomination. Grassley has said he’ll announce this fall if he’ll run for an eighth term.