NEWS 9.15.21: Mask Mandate Decision, COVID Increase, LEC Groundbreaking & More

Sep 15, 2021

Credit Siouxland Public Media/Sheila Brummer

No mask mandate for the Sioux City Community School District after the board did not have a consensus of support to hold a vote. Concerns were raised about disrespect from citizens who attended today's meeting

Credit Sioux City Community Schools

Prior to the meeting, the local teacher’s union president said there wasn’t time to meet with members to issue a stance on masks. Lesa Banks says there are educators on both sides of the debate. The state teachers' union hopes school leaders will focus on science and decide what to do next. 

Other major districts in the state issued a new mask mandate, including Des Moines, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, and Council Bluffs.

A new petition circulating on change.org against the mask mandate gathered around 2,000 signatures in about 20 hours. The person behind the petition addressed the school board.

The latest COVID-19 numbers show an increase of infection for Woodbury County. Siouxland District Health added more than 400 cases, 100 more than last week. The test positivity rate has more than doubled in three weeks for a current level of 14.5%. Vaccinations are up .5% percent. Hospitalizations from week to week for patients battling COVID-19 alone remained steady.

Siouxland Public Media reached out to Sioux City’s major medical facilities to address public concern about space for patients.

A spokesperson for UnityPoint Health-St. Lukes says the hospital is accepting patients.

The president of MercyOne Siouxland issued the following statement:

“A nationwide shortage of staffing is being felt across all industries, including health care. At this time, requests of transfers to MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center are being considered on a case-by-case basis.

We are continuing to provide all levels of care at MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center. In case of an emergency, we urge those in the community to come to our emergency room or call 911. 

MercyOne is committed to the safety of our patients, visitors, colleagues, physicians and communities. We continually work to ensure we can provide the care needed.”

-Beth Hughes, MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center president

The Iowa Department of Public Health reported Wednesday there were 11,588 new positive cases in the past seven days. Another 64 deaths raised the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Iowa to 6,401. Iowa’s seven-day moving average of cases is at 1,487 new cases per day, a level not seen since the middle of last January.

The 14-day rolling total of people in intensive care reached 2,107, the most since last Christmas. About 87% of ICU patients are not fully vaccinated.

The number of new coronavirus cases in Iowa in the past seven days surged 51% compared to the previous week, and new COVID-19 hospital admissions also increased along with the number of patients requiring intensive care.

A groundbreaking for the new Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center took place today at the construction site on 28th Street just off of Highway 75 in Sioux City.   

Voters approved spending more than $50 million for the project. Officials say the cost rose to $65 million. The county board plans to spend $15.6 million in Federal COVID-19 relief money to cover the shortfall. That amount is more than ¾ of the aid Woodbury County is expected to receive. 

Credit Siouxland Public Media/Sheila Brummer

Advocates against using the money for the jail made their viewpoint known before Wednesday’s event, with a peaceful protest.

Credit Siouxland Public Media/Sheila Brummer

They believe the money should be used to help people impacted by the Pandemic instead.

A new watchdog report warns that Nebraska’s prisons face a persistent staffing crisis that has created dangerous conditions, including maximum-security units that are going unstaffed for hours at a time and one incident where a tired employee fell asleep on the job. The Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System warns in its annual report that the long-standing prison workforce shortage has become a “mass exodus” as burned-out employees leave their jobs. The independent watchdog agency was created six years ago and reports problems in the prison system to the Legislature. State officials say the state's low unemployment rate is part of the problem, although some lawmakers see higher pay as a solution.

A judge has sentenced a second inmate to life in prison for the beating deaths of two workers at an Iowa prison during a failed escape attempt in March. Michael Dutcher, 28, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Anamosa State Penitentiary correctional officer Robert McFarland and nurse Lorena Schulte. He also pleaded guilty to kidnapping another prison worker during the failed escape and to attempted murder for the beating of an inmate who tried to stop the attack. Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde sentenced Dutcher to back to back life sentences plus another 50 years behind bars for the crimes. Last month, she sentenced inmate Thomas Woodard to life for his role in the attacks.

The state Department of Revenue says Nebraska government collected more tax revenue than expected last month. The department reports net tax receipts of $547 million in August, which is 9% higher than the certified forecast of $501 million. The number was driven by higher-than-expected collections of individual and corporate income taxes, sales-and-use taxes and miscellaneous taxes. The projections were set by the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board in April, adjusted for new laws passed in this year’s legislative session, and divided into monthly estimates.