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County Auditors Get Extra Time To Process Absentee Ballots Before Election Day

Daily Digest

Friday, September 25

5:08 p.m. - Bar closings for Johnson, Story counties extended until Oct. 4

Gov. Kim Reynolds is extending bar closings in Johnson and Story counties for another week. The order applies to bars, taverns, wineries, breweries and night clubs in the two counties. The measure is intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The two counties are home to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. Restaurants in the two counties can sell alcohol until 10 p.m. The original order went into effect about a month ago. Today’s extension lasts through October 4.

3:38 p.m. - County auditors get extra time to process absentee ballots before Election Day

Iowa’s Legislative Council has unanimously approved a plan to give county auditors more time to process absentee ballots.

Under state law, election officials can start counting mail-in ballots on the day before Election Day.

Due to the coronavirus, auditors are expecting a surge in absentee ballots, and some worry they won’t be able to count them all on Election Night.

But the change approved Friday will let officials start opening the envelopes that contain the ballots the Saturday before Election Day.

In order to be counted, an absentee ballot must get to the auditor’s office by the time polls close on Election Day, or be postmarked by the day before the election and arrive in the auditor’s office by noon on the Monday after the election.

10:00 a.m. - 1,086 new COVID-19 cases, four new deaths reported Friday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:36 a.m. - 2nd Congressional District debate candidates answered questions on coronavirus and healthcare

The candidates at Thursday night’s 2nd Congressional District debate sparred over each other’s records, and fielded questions on healthcare, the coronavirus, and the economy.

Republican state Sen. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and former Democratic state Senator Rita Hart faced off at the Iowa PBS studios. Signature government programs were up for debate, including the fate of the Affordable Care Act, Medicare and social security.

Miller-Meeks and Hart disagreed on raising the minimum wage, but both called for more coronavirus aid, infrastructure investment and a fix for the state’s childcare shortage.

Thursday, September 24

WATCH LIVE: Candidates Rita Hart and Iowa Sen. Marianette Miller-Meeks debate tonight at 7 p.m.

Iowa Press Debates: Second Congressional District

5:16 p.m. - Rising numbers of staff and students in quarantine causes a north-central school district to go online

A north-central Iowa school district will do one week of virtual learning after canceling two days of classes because of a rising number of staff and students in quarantine.

Nearly 150 students and more than 30 staff from the Eagle Grove Community School District are quarantining after being exposed to the coronavirus. That’s 15 percent of students and a third of staff.

Superintendent Jess Toliver says the district knows that not everyone has a solid internet connection, so they will be opening up the gymnasium for kids to utilize the stable internet connection as long as they do not have to quarantine.

They start virtual learning Monday. Toliver says the district still meets the governor’s order to do 50 percent of their classes in person. He says they could request a waiver from the state for two more weeks if they need to.

5:14 p.m. - Iowa Premium Beef fined for COVID-19 records violations

Iowa’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Iowa Premium Beef $957 for violations in their records of COVID-19 infections. This is the first citation of an Iowa meatpacking plant for COVID-19 concerns, but it’s not welcome news for worker advocates. Alejandro Murguia Ortiz is a community organizer with American Friends Service Committee in Iowa. He says OSHA still has a long way to go to protecting workers.

Ortiz says a fine he could probably pay himself is not enough of a punishment for a large company he says has endangered the lives of its employees. He says there has been a pattern during the pandemic that shows meatpacking plants can be major hotspots for the virus and that needs to be acknowledged more clearly.

4:44 p.m. - COVID-19 pandemic greatly reduces licensed childcare centers in Iowa

A new report has found Iowa has lost about half its licensed childcare centers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report by the non-profit Child Care Aware of America found the state’s licensed child care centers dropped from nearly 1,600 in January to just over 800 in July.

Kristina Haynie is with the non-profit. She says some closures may be temporary and that larger centers may be struggling with additional costs associated with new cleaning and child-staff ratio requirements.

The report found in-home providers have fared much better during the pandemic. Their numbers stayed approximately the same from January to July.

3:53 p.m. - Beef and pork production nearly back to pre-pandemic levels

Shoppers looking for their favorite cuts of meat should soon see plenty of it. Beef and pork production are nearly back to pre-pandemic levels after disruptions during the spring when outbreaks of COVID-19 sent workers home and meat plants reduced production.

That left farmers, ranchers and feedlots with animals on site longer than expected, and reduced the supply of fresh beef and pork. Oklahoma State University livestock economist Derrell Peel says very little beef cattle remains backed-up.

Most backlogged pigs have also made it to market. Despite fears that hundreds of thousands of hogs would be euthanized and never reach the food supply, the actual numbers were much lower than most estimates.

11:27 a.m. - Jack Trice Stadium will host fans for game on Oct. 3

Iowa State University will open Jack Trice Stadium to fans for its game on Oct. 3 against Oklahoma. A letter from Athletic Director Jamie Pollard says 15,000 season ticket holders will be admitted, including 1,000 students. Everyone will be assigned seating to enforce social distancing, everyone will have to wear a face covering, and there will be no tailgating.

ISU proposed and then dropped the idea of having 25,000 fans at its home opener a few weeks ago. Pollard says the school decided to allow fans for its game on Oct. 3 because the COVID-19 positivity rates both on campus and in Story County have dropped below 10 percent. They’ve also consulted doctors who’ve advised the NFL and other Big-12 conference schools that have allowed fans into their stadiums this season.

Read Iowa State University's COVID-19 Mitigation Guidelines here.

10:00 a.m. - 1,341 new COVID-19 cases, six new deaths reported Thursday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:41 a.m. - Northwest Iowa school districts stick with in-person learning as coronavirus cases increase

Three northwest Iowa counties have seen sharp upticks in their counties’ coronavirus cases. Lyon, Sioux and Osceola counties have 14-day positivity rates over 20 percent.

Some schools are boosting their social distancing measures so they can keep students in class.

Sibley-Ocheyedan Superintendent James Craig says some of the classrooms have too many students to be able to social distance. The school district is looking to get new social distancing guidelines in place on Monday.

Sibley-Ocheyedan chose to recommend masks instead of requiring them. Craig says wearing a mask would not prevent a student from having to quarantine, so they left this up to a student’s choice.

Wednesday, September 23

4:14 p.m. - The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is experiencing a shortage of beds

Iowa’s largest hospital is struggling to keep up with patients’ needs due to a shortage in beds.

Because of a lack of capacity, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is denying some transfers from other hospitals, though it is accepting all COVID-19 transfers.

CEO Suresh Gunasekaran told the Board of Regents Wednesday that patients are arriving sicker and staying longer than usual, leading to backlogs.

Gunasekaran says the high demand is not solely due to COVID-19 patients, but likely also stems from Iowans with chronic diseases going without care earlier in the pandemic.

12:17 p.m. - Iowa is still in red zone for COVID-19 cases, according to White House Coronavirus Task Force

The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report has found Iowa is still in the red zone when it comes to new COVID-19 cases.

The report was released Sunday. It found last week the state had 173 new cases per 100,000 residents. This makes it seventh in the nation and is nearly double the national average of 86 cases per 100,000 people.

It says 30 percent of those new cases are in Polk, Story and Johnson counties.

The report repeats its previous recommendation of a statewide mask mandate to help prevent transmission. This is something Gov. Kim Reynolds has repeatedly declined to do, calling the move unnecessary.

It also recommends dramatically increasing testing at universities to quickly find and quarantine cases on campuses, as well as ensuring rapid testing for the state’s long term care facilities.

10:00 a.m. - 856 new COVID-19 cases, eight new deaths reported Wednesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

Tuesday, September 22

4:16 p.m. - Man arrested for the murder of Michael Williams

Law enforcement officials have arrested and charged Steven Vogel with the murder of Michael Williams of Grinnell. They have also charged three others with crimes related to attempts to hide his body. The four people arrested are white, and Williams was Black, but law enforcement officials say there’s currently no evidence the crimes were racially motivated.

Williams’ body was found burning in a Jasper County ditch last week. Betty Andrews is president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP. Andrews says she met with law enforcement Monday night and asked a lot of questions about their findings. She says the NAACP sees no indication at this time that Williams was targeted because of his race, but the investigation is ongoing and they’re open to any new information.

3:30 p.m. - Morningside College will move to hybrid model

A Sioux City college is moving to a hybrid model Wednesday as the number of coronavirus cases among students continues to increase.

Morningside College had 46 new coronavirus cases among students as of last week. Nearly 70 students are isolating and close to 150 are quarantining. Morningside’s president said in an email to students that all face-to-face classes will be taught with only half of the seats in a classroom occupied at a time.

Morningside says it will stay in hybrid learning until further notice.

The college has nearly 1,200 undergraduate students. Earlier this month, Morningside started hosting a Test Iowa site.

3:02 p.m. - Iowa consulting firm will create directory of Latino-owned Iowa businesses

There’s no current list of all Latino-owned businesses in Iowa. That’s why an Iowa consulting firm has decided to take it upon themselves to put together a directory. Alexia Sanchez is the executive assistant at Schabel Solutions. She says the list may help businesses diversify their suppliers, but also help lift up businesses hit hard by the pandemic economy.

Sanchez began researching the project in May. She says she will help release the directory in October.

10:00 a.m. - 517 new COVID-19 cases, 19 new deaths reported Tuesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:44 a.m. - Sen. Chuck Grassley changes position on Supreme Court replacement, says Senate should vote before election

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says if a Supreme Court nominee is put forward, the Senate should vote, even though in the past he said a vacancy should not be filled in a presidential election year.

When he was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016, Grassley never held hearings on President Barack Obama’s nominee before the election.

Now, Grassley says, the decision on whether to hold hearings is up to the current committee chair, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Grassley said he’s prepared to vote on a Supreme Court nominee even if it takes place after the November election.

9:32 a.m. - Sioux City Council passed mask recommendation Monday

The Sioux City Council unanimously passed a citywide mask recommendation Monday.

It’s not a mandate. Siouxland District Health Department proposed the resolution. The health director says Woodbury County’s weekly rate of coronavirus cases has been “slowly climbing” since early August.

Councilman Alex Watters says wearing a mask shouldn’t be seen as a political issue.

The council also voted to amend the resolution to strongly encourage businesses to require masks.

The city has been requiring masks in 19 city buildings and on transit since late July.

Monday, September 21

10:46 p.m. - Des Moines School Board sets possible dates for in-person learning

Des Moines Public Schools has set dates to go back to class in-person next month, but the plan depends on meeting target coronavirus levels that have not been decided.

If pandemic conditions are right, preschool classes would be first to go back in-person on October 12. Higher grade levels would follow each week until Des Moines high schools reopen November 10.

Board member Teree Caldwell-Johnson was the one vote against the plan. She wants a faster change because she says the district is adding virtual days it can’t afford to make up.

The updated plan does bring DMPS in compliance with state Return-to-Learn guidelines, but only after students are back in class.

The school board will meet next week to decide what coronavirus metrics to use to determine whether schools actually open on the dates that are set.

5:41 p.m. - Some county boards still trying to fill vacancies

Three months after a new state law was signed in June, some Iowa counties are still trying to fill vacancies on a couple of county boards.

The new law says a person needs to live in the rural unincorporated area of their county to be able to serve on a county’s board of adjustment or zoning commission.

Lucas Beenken with the Iowa State Association of Counties says counties will have a tough time trying to fill these vacancies. These appointed positions are unpaid and their boards need to have a gender balance.

ISAC surveyed counties around Iowa in June to see how many board members they lost. More than 40 responded. Most said they lost one to three members per board.

3:35 p.m. - Groups pressuring U.S. Senators to hold off on confirming a new Supreme Court Justice until after the election

A coalition of liberal political organizations is pledging to pressure U.S. Senators in key states to hold off on replacing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The effort called “RBG Revolution” includes organizers in Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas, among others, and aims to ensure a nominee isn’t confirmed until after inauguration.

Matt Sinovic of Progress Iowa says the effort will include organizing voters and running ads in key areas.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who faces a tough re-election campaign, said earlier this summer the Senate should hold hearings on a Trump nominee, even if he loses in November.

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters in July he would not recommend moving forward with the confirmation process so close to Election Day.

10:31 a.m. - Biden campaign plans on reaching out to Latino voters with the help of local leaders

Latino voters in Iowa could play an important role in this year’s presidential election. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden plans on reaching out to the group in an effort to help him win over the entire state. Illinois Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García has the lead role in reaching out to them. He launched a bilingual phone bank this past weekend.

García initially supported Bernie Sanders. He recognizes Latino voters overwhelmingly supported Sanders in the primaries. García says Biden has adopted some of Sanders’ policies and strategies concerning Latino voters in the state.

10:00 a.m. - 624 new COVID-19 cases, one new death reported Monday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:46 a.m. - Doctors urge importance of flu shots during the coronavirus pandemic

Doctors say controlling the spread of the flu will be even more important during the coronavirus pandemic to keep from overwhelming the health care system.

COVID-19 can show unique symptoms like a lost sense of taste, but other symptoms such as aches, fever and difficulty breathing are the same as the flu.

Dr. Katie Imborek is a family medicine physician with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Imborek says everyone over six months old should get the flu shot. It does not protect against COVID-19, but she says if hospitals are treating fewer cases of the flu, there will be more resources to treat severe cases of the coronavirus.

9:40 a.m. - Dairy producers say better trade deals are necessary for making the industry profitable

U.S. dairy producers say they need better trade deals to return the industry to profitability. Milk and cheese exports are up 10 percent so far this year over last, but dairy farmers say that’s not enough and that they are losing out on opportunities. Jeff Schwager is the CEO of Wisconsin based Sartori Cheese. He says tariffs are making it harder for his company to compete in overseas markets that are critical for growth.

Schwager says he would like to see the next presidential administration focus on bilateral trade deals with countries including Canada that would make US dairy competitive against European Union countries and New Zealand.

Sunday, September 20

10:00 a.m. - 1,782 new COVID-19 cases, 7 more deaths reported this weekend in Iowa

On Saturday, 901 new cases and six new deaths were announced, and on Sunday, 881 new cases and one new death were announced.