NEWS 9.23.21: Advocates Push for Mask Mandate, Afghan Refugees, Women Wrestling, and More

Sep 23, 2021

Credit Siouxland Public Media/Mary Hartnett

COVID-19 safety in schools was the focus of a news conference that took place this afternoon in front of the Sioux City Public Museum. The event was organized by several local advocacy groups, including the Siouxland COVID Safety Alliance.

Speakers included a doctor with the Siouxland Community Health Center, concerned teachers, citizens, and the Vice President of the Sioux City Community School Board Monique Scarlett.

“Mask all to save all. Mask up to stand up.”

Scarlette has been a supporter of masks throughout the Pandemic. She brought forth a motion during a special board meeting surrounding a mask mandate. No other board member seconded her motion.

A number of large school districts across the state of Iowa re-instated a mask mandate, due to an increase in cases and the Delta variant.

Listen for continuing with SPM News Director Mary Hartnett who covered today’s gathering.

Starting today, masks were required for drivers and passengers on buses in the Sioux City Community School District.

Iowa’s public schools are in the spotlight due to ongoing decisions about mask mandates, but there are fears the animosity over masks could cause lingering effects for teachers.

The Iowa State Education Association, which represents Iowa’s teachers, worries the situation compounded with the ongoing stress of the pandemic may lead to burnout among educators. Statistics showed only a small decrease in teachers from before the Pandemic to the past school year.

Sanford Health, based in Sioux Falls says fully vaccinated people make up a minority of COVID-19 hospitalizations and an even lower number of needing intensive care and ventilators.

Sanford Health reported 159 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized this week at its facilities in the Dakotas and Minnesota, and that 10% are fully vaccinated.

The hospital is among the first in the nation to report its COVID-19 hospitalizations by severity and vaccination status. 

Numbers released by Siouxland District Health show 28 hospitalizations between MercyOne and UnityPoint-Health St. Luke’s on Wednesday. That was a decrease of 20% in one week. Half of the patients are battling COVID-19 only. Cases in Woodbury County did increase by 13%, in one week. Local health officials say many of the cases do not involve serious illness. The seven-day positivity rate is 16%, indicating high community spread.

An ethics watchdog group is calling for an investigation into Iowa Democratic Congresswoman Cindy Axne’s failure to report dozens of financial transactions.

The Campaign Legal Center says Axne’s undisclosed transactions could be worth more than 600,000 dollars. A spokesperson for the 3rd District representative says any errors were unintentional.

Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann agrees it’s worth investigating, especially since Axne sits on the House Financial Services Committee.

Kaufmann says if the alleged ethics violations are true, the penalty should be more than a “slap on the wrist.” Axne is one of four Democrats and three Republican representatives named in the report.

The Iowa Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission was scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss a report it must provide to the Iowa Legislature on redrawing political boundaries. The commission held three public hearings this week and will summarize in its report the public input on the first proposed map drawn by a nonpartisan state agency. Lawmakers are scheduled to meet Oct. 5 to consider the maps.

A public watchdog of Nebraska’s child welfare services is recommending that state officials end their practice of having a private contractor manage cases in the Omaha area. The Office of Inspector General of Nebraska Child Welfare made the suggestion in a special report focused on St. Francis Ministries, a provider that has faced major financial problems after winning a state contract in 2019. Nebraska officials negotiated a new contract with St. Francis in January to prevent the provider from running out of money. The inspector general’s report says Nebraska should terminate its contract with St. Francis, arguing that the provider hasn’t met several of its contractual obligations over the last two years.

Iowa expects to resettle refugees from Afghanistan, but there are still a number of unknowns about the specifics. As it currently stands, Iowa will see most of them arriving next week and into early October.

A majority of those Afghan arrivals will be humanitarian parolees. That means they have temporary approval to be in the U-S due to an emergency in their country of origin.

Iowa is adding women’s wrestling. It is the Power Five conference to add the sport. Athletic director Gary Barta says adding a women’s program had been discussed for several years. The program will begin competition in the 2023-24 season. A search for a head coach will begin this fall.