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696 New COVID-19 Cases, 11 More Deaths Reported Friday

Daily Digest

Friday, July 31

3:59 p.m. - DNR finds bacteria in water, advises Iowans not to swim at eight of the state's beaches

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is advising against swimming at eight of the state’s beaches.

The DNR monitors water near beaches for two types of bacteria, E. coli and cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, toxins. Currently none of the cyanobacteria levels merit state warnings against swimming. But DNR environmental specialist Daniel Kendall says the E. coli levels at eight beaches led to a “swimming not recommended” advisory. He says there’s no guarantee this E. coli being present will make people sick.

Kendall says rain often flushes the pathogens into beaches so it’s also a good idea to wait a few days after rainfall before swimming.

Beaches with DNR “Swimming Not Recommended” Advisories

  • Emerson Bay State Recreation Area
  • McItosh Woods State Park
  • George Wyth Memorial State Park
  • Denison Beach at Black Hawk State Park
  • Backbone State Park
  • Lake Darling State Park
  • Lake Keomah State Park
  • Nine Eagles State Park

Take a look at the DNR's beach monitoring map.

3:56 p.m. - As deadly outbreak continues at Fort Dodge prison, family members say some inmates' releases are delayed

Some family members of people incarcerated at the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility say their loved ones’ release from the prison is being delayed because of the coronavirus outbreak there.

Ann Courtney says her boyfriend was eligible to be released on parole as of July 15. IPR is using her middle names because she fears retaliation from prison staff.

In the two weeks since, Ann Courtney says her boyfriend has been exposed to the virus after a cellmate tested positive.

A Department of Corrections spokesman says inmates are being released, after quarantining and testing negative. As of Thursday, the outbreak at the facility had infected 338 incarcerated individuals and 30 staffers, and killed three people.

Read more from Kate Payne.

3:33 p.m.- Sioux City Police propose spending more than $260,000 on body cameras

The Sioux City City Council on Monday will consider a proposal to purchase 120 body-worn cameras and other related equipment for the city police department.

Proposals for body cameras have come up in multiple city budget sessions in the past. But they haven’t been prioritized until the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police and amid public outcry at a council meeting this past month.

If approved, officers would need to activate their cameras while interacting with the public. But there would be some exceptions, like while talking with a victim of a crime about a sensitive matter.

The cost is nearly $261,000. This covers the body cameras, video storage, training and hardware and software to integrate them into video systems in patrol vehicles. Mueller estimated the cameras would be operational by late fall.

3:00 p.m. - DMPS asks for leniency from Gov. Kim Reynolds' controversial Return-to-Learn plan

Des Moines Public Schools is preparing a revised Return-to-Learn plan that would start the year with all virtual classes. It would also push the first day of school to after Labor Day.

New state guidelines require the coronavirus infection rate to surpass an average of 15 percent over 14 days within the county before schools may consider all-virtual classes.

Superintendent Thomas Ahart says DMPS will ask for leniency based on the district’s size and community spread in Polk County.

Ahart says DMPS cannot provide physical distancing in its high schools and also meet the state’s requirement for at least 50 percent in-person classes. He says if the changes are rejected, the district could issue a legal challenge or bring back all high school students as normal.

Read more from Katarina Sostaric.

10 a.m. - 696 new COVID-19 cases, 11 more deaths reported

These numbers are based on a 24-hour reporting period ending at 10 a.m.

Thursday, July 30

5:06 p.m. - Iowa county public health directors issue letter to governor urging mask mandate

Public health directors from ten Iowa counties have issued a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds urging a statewide mandate for cloth face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The letter cites recent statements made by CDC Director Robert Redfield. He claimed the country could get the pandemic under control in the next four to eight weeks if everyone wore a mask.

Counties involved include Scott and Linn, which have considered issuing mandates. As well as Johnson County, where county supervisors approved one last week. This was despite guidance issued from the governor and state attorney general’s offices that local governments are not authorized to issue mandates.

This letter follows another request for a statewide mandate issued to Gov. Reynolds earlier this week by a coalition of the state’s healthcare organizations representing more than 12,000 healthcare workers.

4:58 p.m. - Social distancing requirements to be enforced in bars and restaurants

Two state agencies will begin enforcing social distancing requirements in Iowa bars and restaurants as the coronavirus continues to spread in the state.

The governor’s public health disaster order says all bars and restaurant patrons must have a seat, and there has to be at least six feet of space between groups that are drinking or dining together.

The state can now issue fines, suspend and even revoke food and alcohol licenses for multiple violations.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has been saying for weeks that bars are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus in Iowa.

A White House coronavirus task force document recently recommended closing bars in about half of Iowa’s counties.

3:40 p.m. - UI's Kirk Ferentz apologizes for racial bias within football program, doesn't commit to coaching changes

The University of Iowa football coach says he’s ultimately responsible for perpetuating a culture that made being on the team a “daily struggle for Black players."

An independent review of the program based on accounts from 111 current and former players and staff was released Thursday. It details an environment where Black players felt they could not be themselves, and faced verbal abuse and disproportionate punishment.

Coach Kirk Ferentz says he and his program are already making needed changes, and that progress will continue.

UI Athletic Director Gary Barta said he’s confident in Ferentz’s commitment to change, and that there are no further personnel changes planned, although internal reviews are ongoing.

2:45 p.m. - New state rules could allow schools to hold all online classes if certain benchmarks are met

New state rules say Iowa school districts can apply to hold classes entirely online for just two weeks if they meet certain virus-related benchmarks.

For a school to get a waiver to hold more than half its classes online, the entire county must test positive for coronavirus at an average rate of 15 percent, and at least 10 percent of students must be absent.

The statewide teacher’s union called that “outlandish” and says they’ll listen to experts who say a much lower positivity rate is needed to safely reopen. According to the Washington Post, the CDC director said counties testing at a rate higher than 5 percent might need to consider distance learning.

When IPR asked Gov. Kim Reynolds why her threshold is 15 percent, she responded “We feel that’s adequate for in school learning. Once we get above that and have over 10 percent absenteeism between the staff and students then we need to take a look at doing something different.”

Even if a school meets these benchmarks, the state could reject its request to move to all online learning.

Read more of this story from Katarina Sostaric.

2:13 p.m. - National Museum of the American Latino proposal passed

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a proposal to establish a National Museum of the American Latino at the Smithsonian Institute. Leo Landis is the Iowa state curator of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and he says this museum would benefit people in Iowa as well. Iowa has a growing Latino population.

Landis says if the national museum comes to fruition, he expects the Smithsonian to borrow some artifacts from the Iowa State Historical Society.

11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds hosts press conference about "return to learn" plans

10:44 a.m. - Iowa counties facing severe drought

More counties in Iowa are now considered to be in a severe drought.

Data released Thursday from the U.S. Drought Monitor has portions of 16 counties in western and west central Iowa in that category, up from 11 last week.

Nearly two thirds of the state is now considered abnormally dry.

10:32 a.m. - We want to hear from you
With new information coming out every day about a novel virus, there is plenty of room for confusion about COVID-19. We want to hear from you as the summer wraps up. Tell us your thoughts about returning to school as cases are on the rise in Iowa and across the country.

10:00 a.m. - 582 new COVID-19 cases, 15 new deaths reported Thursday

These numbers based on a 24-hour reporting period ending each day at 10:00 a.m.

9:53 a.m. - 36,000 sign petition against governor's in-person school requirements

The Iowa State Education Association says 36,000 people have signed their online petition opposing Gov. Kim Reynolds’ requirement that 50 percent of school instruction happen in-person.

Some districts had planned on keeping classes mostly, or completely, virtual to start the year in order to protect teachers and students from the coronavirus.

Davenport adjusted its plan so students are in-person five out of every ten days. But high school language-arts teacher Maggie Rietz says that means students will have to be closer in some buildings.

Reynolds has said she made the order requiring face-to-face classes because isolation could harm students’ academic progress and mental health. It also allows parents to choose an all virtual option.

Wednesday, July 29

4:21 p.m. - ISU project aids Ugandan farmers in providing safe grain to schools

Researchers from Iowa are helping schools in Uganda provide safe meals to children.

Iowa State University’s Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods used to help schools buy corn flour at a local market. Then testing revealed it was contaminated with a harmful toxin. Tom Brumm, an agricultural engineering professor, says that’s when the program bought its own mill.

In addition to sourcing safe grain for the school, Brumm says the project works to ensure area farmers have the tools they needed to dry and store grain properly. That will help prevent the toxin from appearing and also help farmers earn more profit. The Iowa State project in Uganda goes back to 2003.

3:49 P.M. - Budget cuts approved for three Iowa universities

The Iowa Board of Regents has approved about $65 million in budget cuts to the state’s three public universities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa are expecting most of their revenue losses to come from lower enrollment this fall and tuition freezes. State lawmakers also cut $8 million from the regents budget.

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen says she expects to eliminate about 100 faculty positions, plus some student jobs, and undergrad research opportunities.

The board also approved salary cuts for the three university presidents.

3:44 p.m. - Mount Vernon council members grapple with getting more residents to wear masks

City council members in Mount Vernon have been watching other communities issue face covering orders that may not be enforceable.

This city of 4,000 is preparing for a major influx of new residents when Cornell College students return next month.

But council member Debra Herrmann says the state’s approach of “personal responsibility” is undercutting her community’s ability to prepare.

Meanwhile, the Linn County Supervisors are calling on mayors to join them in urging Gov. Kim Reynolds to grant local authority on this issue.

3:30 p.m. - Linn County Board of Supervisors calls on governor to allow mask mandates

The Linn County Board of Supervisors is moving forward with a resolution calling on the governor to allow local mask mandates.

At a meeting Wednesday, supervisors reiterated they don’t want to pass a mandate that’s unenforceable. Instead, they want to pressure Gov. Kim Reynolds to grant local officials that authority.

Board Chair Ben Rogers says he hopes mayors in Linn County will sign on as well.

Linn County supervisors are finalizing the language of the resolution and plan to vote on the measure next Monday.

2:34 p.m. - North Liberty holds meeting for police questions and answers

North Liberty council members are considering ways to combat racial inequality in the city. Quincy Jagnow is a Black teenager in North Liberty. He said during a Zoom meeting designed as a listening session Wednesday that holding question-and-answer sessions with police at the schools is a way to help.

His mother Summer Jagnow says police have a lot to learn from teens as well.

North Liberty council members will hold five more listening sessions, ending on Aug. 9.

10 a.m. - 458 new COVID-19 cases, three new deaths reported

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

Tuesday, July 28

9:59 p.m. Johnson County Board of Health advances mask ordinance, final vote slated for Monday

The Johnson County Board of Health is advancing a plan to pass an ordinance mandating the use of face coverings in the county. After approving the wording of the potential order at a meeting last night, the board is slated to take public comment and vote on the measure next Monday.

Board Chair Peter Wallace says he’s eager to act before thousands of university students return to Iowa City for the start of classes on August 24.

Though the governor has said local mask orders are not legal, the county attorney believes the mandate would be enforceable if also passed by the board of supervisors.

Read more of this story.

11:41 a.m. - House and Senate unveil new coronavirus relief bill

The House and Senate are working to find a compromise coronavirus relief bill now that the senate has unveiled its $1 trillion package. The House passed a $3 trillion bill in May.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says the Senate proposal would about double the support to agriculture from the previous package. The new measure accounts for losses from the processing bottleneck when slaughterhouses closed due to worker infections. Some farmers had expenses related to euthanizing and disposing of animals.

But the Senate bill gives Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue broad authority to decide how the $20 billion designated for farming and food processing is spent.

10:00 a.m. - 253 new COVID-19 cases, 7 more deaths reported

These number reflect a 24-hour reporting period. See more data from across the U.S. here.

Monday, July 27

6:32 p.m. - Sioux City to require masks in city buildings and on city transit starting Wednesday
Sioux City will require visitors and staff to wear masks in city buildings and on transit, starting Wednesday.

Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott says coronavirus cases appear to be spiking across the state, and requiring masks in city buildings like City Hall is one way to help curb that.

During city council Monday, two people asked Sioux City to require masks citywide, as some others have done. Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office have said local governments can’t require masks because it’s not consistent with her statewide public health disaster proclamation.

Read more from Katie Peikes.

4:38 p.m. - Client at Cedar Rapids homeless shelter tests positive for COVID-19

A client at the Willis Dady Homeless Shelter in Cedar Rapids has tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to a staffer, the individual spent the vast majority of their time at the facility, raising concerns that others there may have been exposed.

Shelter Services Director Denine Rushing says the client is recovering alone in an apartment. Others at the shelter are self-isolating in their own rooms or apartments within the facility.

All but essential staff are isolating at home for two weeks to prevent further spread. Clients are monitored for any symptoms and provided with PPE.

4:13 p.m. - Trump campaign and Republican organizations ask judge to dismiss lawsuit over absentee ballot procedures

Iowa Republican lawmakers passed a law in June that orders local election officials to change how they handle absentee ballot requests that arrive with some missing or incorrect information.

A Latino civil rights organization and a Democratic nonprofit recently filed a lawsuit against Iowa’s Secretary of State seeking to block the law from taking effect. They argue it’s unconstitutional and increases the risk of disenfranchising some voters.

The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Iowa and other groups are trying to intervene and are asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. They say the changes to absentee ballot request rules are constitutional and are in line with voter ID laws that held up in court.

A Johnson County District Court judge will decide if the Republican groups can intervene.

Read more of this story from Katarina Sostaric.

3:09 p.m. - Survey says 41 percent of Medicaid providers are dissatisfied with privatized system
The results of a new survey released by the state auditor’s office Monday has found many of the state’s Medicaid providers are dissatisfied with the state’s privatized system.

The survey was sent out to more than 2,500 of the state’s providers eligible for Medicaid services. Just over 800 responded.

41 percent said they were dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied with the privatized system’s impact on their ability to provide services to Medicaid patients. While a quarter of respondents said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied.

State Medicaid Director Mike Randol said in a statement the Department of Human Services values the feedback from providers and will continue to make improvements on the system.

Read more from Natalie Krebs.

10:07 a.m. - Joe Biden speaks at Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame event
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was the keynote speaker for the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame event Sunday. The event was streamed live online and all of the speakers gave pre-recorded speeches. Biden did not bring up his fourth place finish in the Iowa caucuses earlier this year. He focused on what he sees as failed leadership on President Trump’s part amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

More from Clay Masters.

10:00 a.m. - 469 new COVID-19 cases, three new deaths reported Monday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:50 a.m. - Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club distances itself from founder John Muir

The Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club is supporting the national organization in distancing itself from founder John Muir. In recent weeks, Muir’s ties to eugenics and white supremacy have prompted the nation’s oldest environmental organization to call for a reckoning with its founders and past attitudes.

Iowa Chapter director Pam Mackey-Taylor says at this moment in time, many people and groups are reconsidering their actions and language around race.

Across the country the environmental movement is confronting its lack of diversity as some of the few activists and staffers who are not white have quit or called for organizational overhauls.

More from Amy Mayer here.

Sunday, July 26

10:00 a.m. - 389 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths reported

State health officials announced an additional 667 new cases and six new deaths Saturday.

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.