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451 New COVID-19 Cases, 5 Deaths Reported Friday

Daily Digest

Find the latest headlines from the Iowa Public Radio news team in our Daily Digest.

Friday, July 24

3:24 p.m. - Iowa's public health emergency declaration extended

Gov. Kim Reynolds has extended the state’s public health emergency declaration for another thirty days. It now expires on August 23.

Despite the recent statewide increase in COVID-19 cases, Reynolds did not add any additional provisions. But she did allow several to expire.

Starting Sunday, Iowans will once again be allowed to return cans and bottles to retailers to redeem their deposits.

The declaration will continue to require businesses like restaurants, bars, fitness centers, casinos and spas, to ensure six feet of social distancing between customers. It also encourages vulnerable Iowans to limit activities outside the home.

3:18 p.m. - Iowa educators protest return to in-person learning

Hundreds of Iowa educators circled the state capitol in their cars Friday to protest Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proclamation on returning to in-person learning.

The order requires schools to provide at least half of students’ class time face-to-face when they reopen next month. Some districts had planned on using mostly remote learning to allow physical distancing.

Eighth grade teacher Sean Kolodziej says the proclamation disregards rising numbers of coronavirus infections in places like Des Moines.

Educators in the procession called on Reynolds to reverse her proclamation and allow schools to follow their own plans.

2:41 p.m. - Backlog in COVID-19 case results cleared

State health officials have confirmed that they have cleared a backlog in COVID-19 case results caused by a glitch in its disease surveillance system last weekend.

Officials said Friday the backlog affected a significant number of cases going back to last week. It was caused by a pause in the state’s electronic system that was quickly identified and fixed. State health department spokesperson Amy McCoy said in a statement that the issue was quickly identified and fixed last weekend. She also said that this issue highlights the need for renewed focus on IT infrastructure moving forward.

The disruption did not prevent individuals from getting their COVID-19 test results from their provider.

State officials did not say how many cases were affected.

1:00 p.m. - Bar exams for Iowa law students will be in-person, despite coronavirus concerns

The Iowa Supreme Court has denied requests from law professors and students to make changes to the upcoming bar exam. Next week, more than 170 recent law school graduates are slated to take the exam in-person in a Des Moines hotel, despite concerns about the coronavirus.

The 12 hour bar exam is set to go ahead as scheduled next week, which some lawyers, professors and students say presents a public health risk.

More from Kate Payne.

11:03 a.m. - Seasonal farm workers at risk for COVID-19 due to lack of coordinated federal response
The U.S. relies on more than 2 million seasonal farm workers to cultivate and harvest crops. Workers in central Illinois are now heading out into the fields, amid concerns about COVID-19 outbreaks. Thousands of farm workers have contracted COVID-19 in more than a dozen states. Some say the lack of a coordinated federal response is putting workers at risk.
Read more from Christine Herman with Side Effects Public Media.

10:00 a.m. - 451 new COVID-19 cases, 5 new deaths reported on Friday

These numbers reflect at 24 hour reporting period.

Thursday, July 23

3:31 p.m. - Trump administration's rollback on Clean Car Standards causes concern

Environment and health advocates are criticizing the Trump administration’s rollback of national regulations that aimed to cut pollution from cars and small trucks.

The Trump administration finalized the rollback in March with a new rule. Fuel economy standards would increase by 1.5 percent each year, which is less strict than the Obama-era standards of 5 percent. Maureen McCue with the Iowa chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility called the rollback dangerous, unhealthy and destructive.

McCue made her comments during a Zoom webinar. She and other speakers criticized the timing of the policy - in the midst of the pandemic. McCue said toxic pollutants released into the air will irritate peoples’ lungs and could potentially aggravate the effects of COVID-19.

3:08 p.m. - Change shortage, unintended consequence of the pandemic
Another unintended consequence of the pandemic is a nationwide shortage of coins. Signs are up at many Iowa retail stores asking customers to pay with exact change or use an electronic option.

Iowa Bankers Association CEO John Sorensen says the problem developed over time.

Sorensen says most bank lobbies have re-opened, so they’re encouraging people to cash in those pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.

2:34 p.m. - Virtual classes may be difficult for immigrant families

Iowa schools start up again next month and parents face the question of whether or not to send their kids back.

Many schools in Iowa are offering virtual classes as an option for students, but that isn’t an option for some Hispanic parents. Many are immigrants who are essential workers or cannot take leave from work.

Erika Morales of Des Moines says she is one of the lucky ones. She has two children in high school and can work from home.

Morales says she is fortunate to understand English well enough to help her kids with their transition to a “new lifestyle,” unlike many other Spanish-speaking families who rely only on the translated guidance provided by the Iowa Department of Education. She says she will keep her kids home for the first semester to make space for Hispanic families who have no other choice.

Read more from Kassidy Arena.

2:07 p.m. - Unemployment claims drop last week

Fewer Iowa workers filed claims for unemployment last week. Iowa Workforce Development reports 9,505 people filed for unemployment assistance, including those who work in Iowa but live out-of-state. That’s down from more than 10,000 the week before.

The largest number of claims came from the manufacturing industry.

116,000 Iowans continue to receive unemployment benefits. That’s a drop of 18,000 from the previous week.

11:44 a.m. - Johnson County passes mask mandate

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has passed a resolution mandating residents wear face coverings in public, despite legal advice from the county attorney that the order is unenforceable.

County Attorney Janet Lyness told the supervisors the best approach would be for the board of health to pass an ordinance, which they could then adopt.

Supervisors acknowledged that the state attorney general’s office has said no local governments are authorized to issue such orders.

Still, board members said they wanted to make their intent clear, and hope to work with the board of health to pass an ordinance.

10:00 a.m. - 716 new COVID-19 cases, 7 new deaths reported on Thursday

These numbers reflect at 24 hour reporting period.

Wednesday, July 22

3:16 p.m. - Johnson County poised to approve mask mandate

One day after the mayor of Iowa City issued a local mask mandate, Johnson County supervisors are poised to approve their own.

Discussing the issue at a meeting Wednesday, the board of supervisors was unanimous in supporting a face covering order. That’s despite the county attorney’s opinion that such a mandate may not be enforceable, and could draw lawsuits.

Still, Supervisor Janelle Rettig says the spread of the virus warrants action.

The board is working with the county health department to finalize the language in the hopes of taking up the issue at a formal meeting Thursday.

2:44 p.m. - DHS Medicaid director announces departure

The Department of Human Services announced Medicaid Director, Mike Randol’s departure on Wednesday. It said he will be taking a position in the private sector on August 14. But it did not specify what his new job will be.

Randol joined the state in December 2017. He oversaw the state Medicaid program’s transition to a system with private insurance companies, a controversial change made by former Gov. Terry Branstad in 2015.

Before moving to Iowa, Randol was the director of Kansas’s Medicaid program.

DHS says when Randol leaves, Deputy Medicaid Director Julie Lovelady will lead the department. It will begin recruiting for his replacement immediately.

More from Natalie Krebs.

12:22 p.m. - Casinos go temporarily smoke-free after reopening to the public

The four Native American-owned casinos in Iowa are temporarily smoke-free after reopening to the public.

WinnaVegas Casino Resort in Sloan has had this policy since reopening with restrictions in mid-June. The casino’s marketing director, Michael Michaud, says it will be in place for the foreseeable future.

He says they want to make sure they’re taking care of guests and employees. With masks required, Michaud says staff felt it would be “insufficient” if they still allowed people to smoke. People can still smoke outside of the property.

The American Lung Association, in a statement applauded the four casinos and encouraged them to permanently adopt a smoke-free policy. Michaud says that’s up to the tribe.

10:00 a.m. - 374 new COVID-19 cases, 10 new deaths reported on Wednesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

Tuesday, July 21

10:00 a.m. - 507 new COVID-19 cases, five new deaths reported Tuesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.
8:50 a.m. – Iowa City mayor to issue local mask mandate

Mayor Bruce Teague made the announcement at a meeting Monday night, where elected officials across Johnson County discussed their desire for face covering rules.

While the governor and attorney general have said local mask mandates are not legally enforceable, Teague disagrees, pointing to state law that empowers mayors during emergencies. “I’m going to do an order for masks. Because it is critical that we do what we can to protect our citizens within Iowa City. I would urge any other mayors that are on this call to do the same thing for their city.”

The mayor of Muscatine has issued such an order, but has struggled to get it implemented because of the legal uncertainty.

8:45 a.m. - School districts grapple with governor's limits on remote learning

Some Iowa school districts are scrambling to respond to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ announcement last week that at least half of students’ instructional time on core subjects must be done face to face.

Under the rules, districts can “temporarily move” to large scale online instruction if state public health and education officials ok it. Families will still be able to opt-in to virtual instruction for individual students.

Read more from Kate Payne.

Monday, July 20

4:44 p.m. - Coralville council member announces resignation shortly after making racist comments
After 29 years on the Coralville City Council Tom Gill announced his resignation Monday. His decision comes less than a week after he made statements during a council meeting, calling Black Lives Matter activists “a bunch of criminals."

A fellow council member called the comments racist, and Coralville’s mayor said Gill’s views are not reflective of the city.

In the weeks after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, thousands of protesters have marched across the country, calling for an end to police brutality and racial injustice, including in Iowa.

The resignation comes as Coralville is in the process of what the mayor has called a “comprehensive review of racial inequities” in the community, work that he says the city remains committed to.

4:21 p.m. - Monona County Fair held with pandemic precautions
About half of the county fairs around Iowa have been postponed to next summer because of the coronavirus. Others are still happening, but some have scaled back or canceled their grandstand shows and concerts. One county fair in western Iowa last week blended precautions with fun.

Read more from Katie Peikes

1:30 p.m. - Social security number required for uninsured people to get tested for COVID-19, immigrants concerned

Many Iowa immigrants say they are worried about an Iowa Department of Human Services application for uninsured people to get tested for COVID-19.

The application asks people simple demographic questions but also what their social security number is. And if they don’t have one, why not? The immigrant community fears the information may be shared with other government agencies.

The "rights and responsibilities" attachment in the application includes information about social security requirements. It says “We can give help only to people who give us their social security number or proof of application from the Social Security office, and we will deny assistance to the people for whom you do not give us a social security number. There are some exceptions to this.”

The information given on the application can be checked by other federal and state agencies, but the DHS says the main purpose is to provide uninsured Iowans free COVID-19 testing.

1:27 p.m. - Hospitals in Polk County no longer allowing visitors due to recent COVID-19 spike

Polk County area hospitals say they will no longer allow visitors starting Tuesday due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

Nola Aigner Davis is with the Polk County Health Department. She says the county has seen cases increasing since late June. It’s now averaging between 120 to 130 new cases a day.

Aigner Davis says the county has not seen an increase in COVID-19 related hospitalizations.

Exceptions to the policy will be made for patients who are under 18 or dying as well as those in the ER, having a baby, undergoing surgery or experiencing delirium.

12:47 P.M. - USDA seeks public comment on changes designed to make getting loans easier for rural communities

Four loan guarantee programs reassure banks that they’ll be repaid when towns borrow for infrastructure projects. But they have separate application processes and different requirements.

The proposal would streamline the process and is intended to reduce red-tape, according to a USDA statement. That could entice more banks to participate. Johnathan Hladik of the Center for Rural Affairs says the change might make things easier for towns. Or it might make more money for large banks. He has a recommendation for community leaders considering the loan guarantee programs.

Done right, he says, it could achieve USDA’s stated goal of encouraging private investment in rural communities.

Read more from Amy Mayer.

12:22 p.m. - Tanager Place introduces scholarships for teens who have used their services
For the first time, Tanager Place is awarding college scholarships for teens who have used their services. Tanager is a children's behavioral health care organization in Cedar Rapids that includes treatments for mental disorders.

An endowment was established through an anonymous million dollar donation. The interest this year allowed $24,000 to be awarded to six high school seniors. Okpara Rice is the CEO of Tanager. He says scholarships are another way they can help their clients who often face many challenges.

Rice says they plan to award scholarships once a year but if the endowment grows they'll expand the number of grant opportunities.

10:00 a.m. - 343 new COVID-19 cases, one more death reported

These numbers represent a 24-hour reporting period.

Sunday, July 19

10:00 a.m. - 661 New COVID-19 cases, three more deaths reported

State health officials announced Saturday that a significant number of COVID-19 test results were not reported this weekend due to a backlog in the state health department's electronic reporting system. Officials say they are processing the backlog.

On Saturday, the state logged 287 new cases and three new deaths.

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:00 a.m. - Tell us about your experience
Here at Iowa Public Radio, we serve you. We want to know how you've been holding up this summer as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Iowa.

Ask us your COVID-19 questions, and tell us your stories. We will do our best to use them to guide our reporting.