NEWS 9.22.21: IA C19 Surge, Bus Masks, Political Poll, Redistricting, West Nile, and More

Sep 22, 2021

Credit pxhere.com

State health officials are reporting more than 12 thousand new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the past week as the spread of the virus remains high across Iowa.

More than a quarter of the new cases are reported to be in children 17 and under.

And 81 additional Iowans have been confirmed to have died from COVID-19 in the past week. This brings the total death count to 6,482.

The state is reporting 638 Iowans are currently hospitalized with the virus. That’s the high number of hospitalizations reported so far this year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 63 percent of Iowans 12 and older are fully vaccinated. And all 99 of Iowa’s counties have high or substantial levels of community spread.

Siouxland District Health issued a weekly report today for Woodbury County that showed 44.5% are 

Credit Siouxland District Health

vaccinated. An increase of .6% in one week. There were 527 new cases this week and a positivity rate of 15.8%.  Local officials say while cases continue to climb, serious cases are fairly low. There are 28 people with the coronavirus being treated at Sioux City’s two medical facilities, with half battling COVID alone.

The Sioux City Community School District will require masks on school buses starting tomorrow.

A letter to parents says the Iowa Department of Education reiterated their position that federal guidance by the CCD supported by the Iowa Department of Public Health requires masks to be worn on public transportation, including school buses.

All students and drivers will be expected to wear masks even though there is no mandate for buildings or events.

During a special board meeting a week ago, directors did not have enough consensus to even take the issue to a vote.

The email went on to say the district will continue to adjust protocols as guidance from local, state, and federal agencies evolve.

Mercy Iowa City announced today it is requiring all employees, contractors, students, and volunteers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 20th.

The requirement applies to both the hospital and its clinics. A vaccine mandate announced earlier this year had applied to other hospitals in the Mercy network, including Sioux City, but not the Iowa City location

In a statement, the hospital’s president says requiring the shots will protect not only the workforce but patients as well. Individuals can apply for a medical or religious exemption.

The Iowa Department of Public Health medical director and state epidemiologist is leaving the job next month. The agency announced today Dr. Caitlin Pedati, a pediatrician, will “pursue new opportunities." Pedati has been in the position since 2018 and was a visible adviser to Gov. Kim Reynolds in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic last year, appearing in numerous news conferences.

Pedati has not been a visible presence recently as the state has experienced a surge in cases involving the delta variant. The agency says it plans to quickly fill the position.

Reynolds thanked Pedati for her “outstanding service.” Pedati received a significant pay boost last year for an annual salary of $265,000.

More than 18 months after Iowa’s first coronavirus case, the state finds itself in a protracted argument over the value of wearing masks, especially in schools. Even as the COVID-19 death toll in Iowa tops 6,400 people, discussions have shifted away from vaccination efforts and more toward masks following a federal judge’s ruling temporarily blocking a state law banning mask mandates in schools. In the courts, the state has been seeking to have the mask mandate ban restored. In school districts, officials have been holding often-heated meetings about whether to require masks. Efforts to question the value of masks in Iowa and elsewhere have left some health officials frustrated.

President Joe Biden's approval rating among Iowans has dropped by double digits since June.

new poll from the Des Moines Register and Mediacom shows only 31% of Iowans approve of the job he's doing, while 62% disapprove.

When compared to June, his approval ratings have dropped 12%.

The president hasn't had more Iowans approving than not since March. For context, President Trump's lowest approval rating in Iowa was 35%, according to the same poll.

The poll also shows a deep partisan divide over the president.

However, it shows U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley with a big lead. He expects to announce by November 1st if he plans to run for an 8th term. The poll showed Grassley with an almost 20 point lead over Democrat and former U.S. Representative Abby Finkenauer.

Nebraska lawmakers are still at a stalemate over how to draw new congressional and legislative maps despite a looming deadline that could force them to postpone the decision until next year and delay the May primary election. Lawmakers have until Saturday to advance both measures, or else Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers has promised to end their special session, forcing them to resume the debate during their next regular session in January. Delaying the new maps until next year would force state officials to reschedule the primary. At issue with the maps are accusations that Republicans and Democrats are trying to draw political boundaries in ways that benefit their party.

The League of Women Voters of Iowa is putting support behind the first maps issued for redistricting.

During a hearing yesterday, the president of the organization said the plan does an incredible job of reflecting population shifts during the past decade.

Another virtual hearing will take place tonight. Check out the Iowa Legislature’s website for more information.

Iowa Workforce Development hosted a round table at Western Iowa Tech Community College. It’s part of a statewide effort to help employers.

Those who attended say they are struggling to find employees and to keep them on the job.

The next event in Sioux City takes place on November 9th at Iowa Workforce Development’s local location IowaWorks.  

The nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization projects more children will go hungry in South Dakota this year and won’t know where their next meal is coming from. Feeding America says the child food in security rate for 2021 in South Dakota will be 16.3%, up from 15.3% in 2019. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as reduced food intake, disruptive eating and decreased quality and variety in diets. The Argus Leader reports the USDA recently reported a national trend of increasing food insecurity, which rose to 14.8% in 2020. Before the coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity was at its lowest rate since USDA started tracking it in the late 90s. 

The head of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is asking a federal agency overseeing the environmental review of the Dakota Access oil pipeline to cut ties with a contractor conducting the analysis, citing a conflict of interest. Chairman Mike Faith and other tribal leaders sent a letter Wednesday to a top U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official, taking issue with the Environmental Resources Management, a London-based company that’s doing the review, and its ties to the oil industry. Among their concerns is that the company is a member of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group that lobbies for the oil industry and has submitted court briefs supporting Dakota Access.

Authorities say two victims who died recently in a highway crash in southeastern South Dakota were from Nebraska. The state Department of Public Safety says 75-year-old Albert Wingate and 74-year-old Marilyn Wingate, of Norfolk, died a week or more following the Sept. 11 crash in Hutchinson County. Safety officials say the driver of a pickup truck pulling an empty horse trailer tried to pass a semi on Highway 81 near Freeman, but collided head-on with the Wingates’ Chevy Corvette. The couple was airlifted to a Sioux Falls hospital. Marilyn Wingate died Monday. Albert Wingate died Sept. 18. The 28-year-old pickup driver was taken to a Freeman hospital for treatment of his injuries. 

A man sentenced to death for the killing and dismemberment of a Lincoln woman he met on the dating app Tinder is seeking to fire his team of attorneys and represent himself in his appeal. The Omaha World-Herald reports that 55-year-old Aubrey Trail filed the request last week with the Nebraska Supreme Court. In the filing, Trail said his court-appointed attorneys have refused to support his request to sell some $25,000 in antiques and rare coins and give the money to a memorial fund set up for his victim, 24-year-old Sydney Loofe. Trail was convicted in 2019 of first-degree murder and criminal conspiracy to commit murder in the 2017 murder of Loofe, whose body was cut into 14 pieces and dumped in ditches along Nebraska country roads.

A third person in eastern Nebraska has died from the West Nile virus this year. The Douglas County Health Department said a man in his 80s who was hospitalized after developing symptoms of the West Nile virus in August has died. The man had several other health conditions, but officials didn’t provide details of them. Last week, the state Department of Health and Human Services said two people in Dodge, Saunders or Washington counties had died after contracting the West Nile virus. The virus, which is transmitted by mosquito bites after a mosquito fed on an infected bird, has been found in the state every year since 2002.