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588 New COVID-19 Cases, Six More Deaths Reported Friday

Daily Digest

Friday, August 7

4:02 p.m. - Jerry Burns sentenced to life in prison

Jerry Burns has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the 1979 murder of Cedar Rapids high schooler Michelle Martinko.

The killing of the 18-year-old in the parking lot of the Westdale Mall went unsolved for decades, until emerging DNA technology and genealogy sleuths led investigators to Burns.

In a video message played for the court Friday, Martinko’s brother-in-law John Stonebraker, said the family has made peace with that fact that under state law, Burns cannot be put to death.

Burns made a brief statement at the sentencing hearing maintaining his own innocence. He has 30 days to file an appeal.

3:43 p.m. - Joe Biden releases agenda for Latino community

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has released his agenda for the Latino community. According to some Iowa Latino leaders, this is an important step to achieve higher voter turnout in the upcoming election.

Rob Barron, founder of the Latino Political Network of Iowa, moderated a roundtable discussion about Biden’s agenda. He says Latinos could play an important role in the November election.

The Latino population is the fastest growing demographic in the United States and the largest minority community in Iowa.

Read more from Kassidy Arena.

1:12 p.m. - People with past felony convictions call executive order restoring voting rights a "big victory"

Until this week, Iowa was the only state that still permanently barred all people with felony convictions from voting unless they appealed directly to the governor.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Wednesday restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of Iowans with felony convictions.

Eric Harris of Coralville has two felony convictions and says the restoration of voting rights is a big victory.

Harris says now the state needs to educate Iowans with felony convictions about their restored voting rights and how to register to vote. Harris made these comments Friday on IPR's River to River.

1:09 p.m. - University of Iowa student governments do not support in-person learning due to coronavirus concerns

The University of Iowa undergraduate and graduate student governments say they cannot support in-person learning and the reopening of residence halls under the current coronavirus conditions.

A joint letter addressed to university administrators went out in a mass email to students Friday morning, according to the message, which was shared with IPR.

They point to a persistent increase in coronavirus cases in Iowa and a survey showing three out of four UI students are concerned about getting the virus on campus this fall.

Under current plans, students will not have to be tested before they return to campus later this month.

Students may find themselves in in-person classes with as many as 50 other people, with larger classes moved online.

Read more from Kate Payne.

10:00 a.m. - 588 new COVID-19 cases, six new deaths reported Friday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:57 a.m. - Dubuque issues mask mandate

The City of Dubuque has joined the growing list of local governments to issue a face covering mandate, defying the governor’s opinion that the local orders are unenforceable.

Earlier this week, the Dubuque chamber of commerce called for local control on this issue.

That’s after the White House Coronavirus Task Force labeled Dubuque County a COVID-19 red zone.

Police Chief Mark Dalsing says regardless of officers’ personal views, they will enforce the measure, with a focus on education.

City councilmembers say they’re very worried about a resurgence as schools reopen, and are deeply troubled by the county’s death toll of 31 people.

The mandate will go into effect Saturday, and the city intends to start enforcing it on Monday.

Thursday, August 6

4:52 p.m. - As pressure to to mandate masks persists, Gov. Kim Reynolds says a mandate is "not the right direction."

After another local government decided to require masks in public, Gov. Kim Reynolds says she still believes that’s not allowed under her emergency proclamation, but she hasn’t taken action against local governments that have done it anyway.

Johnson County approved a mask ordinance Thursday. Linn County is formally urging Reynolds to allow local governments to enforce mask orders.

Reynolds says she’s encouraging Iowans to wear masks when they can’t social distance.

Iowa is one of two states with no statewide or local mask requirements, according to ABC News.

3:53 p.m. - Gov. Kim Reynolds says Webster County schools should have in-person classes, despite having the highest coronavirus test positivity in the state

Gov. Kim Reynolds says schools in Webster County should make every effort to return to school in-person. The average coronavirus test positivity rate there is the highest in the state and exceeds the level she set for schools to consider mostly virtual learning.

Reynolds mentioned that a large portion of Webster County’s coronavirus cases are from a prison outbreak, but prisons aren’t isolated from the community as staff come and go each day.

Seven counties have a test positivity rate of 15 percent or higher, but it’s not clear if the state will allow any schools in those counties to move to majority virtual learning if they request it.

3:10 p.m. - U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst voices support of executive order restoring voting rights, despite that it may cost her votes

U.S Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, voiced her support of the executive order signed Wednesday by Gov. Kim Reynolds that restores voting rights for Iowa felons after they complete their sentences, even if it might cost her votes in her bid for re-election.

Outgoing Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King tweeted in opposition to the executive order hours after Gov. Reynolds signed it. Included in the tweet, King said it will cost Ernst 15,000 votes in her re-election bid this November.

When asked on a call with reporters, Ernst said it was not about political calculus.

It’s also been announced Ernst will debate her Democratic opponent Theresa Greenfield on October 15 ahead of a presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden.

3:05 p.m. - Department of Education denies Iowa City Community School District's online school request

The state Department of Education has denied the Iowa City Community School District’s request to start the fall semester completely online.

The district had already approved its remote learning plan when Gov. Reynolds announced that at least half of students’ instructional time must be in-person, unless the state grants a temporary waiver.

Two other districts announced earlier this week that they intend to defy Reynolds’ policy and stick with their teaching plans.

An update posted to the Iowa City district website Thursday says staff will discuss next steps with board members at a meeting scheduled for next Tuesday.

2:59 p.m. - U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst says President Trump should not give RNC acceptance speech at White House due to coronavirus concerns

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, says President Donald Trump shouldn’t give his Republican National Convention acceptance speech at the White House. Sen. Ernst made the comments on a call with Iowa reporters Thursday.

Both the Republican and Democratic convention festivities were canceled amidst concerns about drawing large crowds during a pandemic. Trump’s suggestion to give the speech at the White House has raised legal and ethical questions about holding campaign events on federal government grounds. Ernst faces Democrat Theresa Greenfield in November. A first debate between the two was announced Thursday. It will be held on October 15.

1:18 p.m. - University of Iowa Health Care in search of people to test possible COVID-19 vaccine

University of Iowa Health Care is looking for 250 people to test a possible COVID-19 vaccine, particularly Black, Hispanic and Native American participants.

The principal investigator in the trial, Patricia Winokur, says it may be harder to find participants from minority communities because of a lack of trust.

Winokur says the highest priority of the trial is to ensure all participants’ safety.

Read more of this story from Kassidy Arena.

1:17 p.m. - Johnson County Board of Supervisors approves mask mandate

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has approved a face covering mandate that the county attorney believes is enforceable.

The board had previously passed a resolution that legal staff had deemed unenforceable.

Under the order approved Thursday, residents and visitors could face fines if they don’t wear face coverings in public settings.

The face covering mandate will go into effect once it’s published in the local newspaper, which is expected to happen Monday.

11:00 a.m. - Watch Gov. Kim Reynolds Thursday press conference

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Press Conference | Thursday, August 6

10:00 a.m. - 649 new COVID-19 cases, 13 new deaths reported Thursday

These numbers are based on a 24-hour reporting period.

Wednesday, August 5

4:49 p.m. - Woodbury County's Board of Health interested in countywide mask recommendation

Woodbury County’s board of health wants to approve a countywide face mask recommendation, but they stopped short of a mandate.

The recommendation strongly encourages people to wear masks in public and businesses to encourage masks. During its monthly meeting Wednesday, board members asked for additional clarification on what “public” includes.

Siouxland District Board of Health member Adam Lloyd says he’d like to keep the recommendation broad.

The Board of Health will hold a special meeting to give final approval once the recommendation is clarified.

3:32 p.m. - Superintendents ask Iowa Department of Education to honor local decisions regarding virtual classes

Some school superintendents are asking the Iowa Department of Education to honor local decisions about when to hold classes in-person or virtually during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dubuque superintendent Stan Rheingans told the state Board of Education that his district’s plan meets state guidelines, but he says state permission should not be necessary to make changes.

A proclamation from Gov. Kim Reynolds requires schools to have permission from the state before holding more than half of their classes remotely. Reynolds says that’s based on a law passed late in the legislative session, which she says preempts local control.

3:31 p.m. - Linn County asks Gov. Reynolds for permission to issue local mask mandate

A coalition of the Linn County Supervisors and mayors across the county is urging Gov. Kim Reynolds to let them issue local mask mandates.

The proclamation approved Wednesday comes as communities grapple with Reynolds’ mandate that K-12 students return to the classroom this fall, with no statewide requirements that they wear face coverings while doing so.

As Iowans continue to contract the coronavirus, Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers says he hopes Reynolds will authorize local officials to take action.

According to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday, 73 percent of Iowa voters believe towns and cities should be allowed to set their own face covering rules.

3:15 p.m. - Iowa State Board of Education to revisit proposal limiting use of restraint in schools

The Iowa State Board of Education will revisit a proposal that limits the use of seclusion and restraint in schools. The changes would allow teachers to use force only when students threaten to cause bodily injury or serious property damage.

ACLU of Iowa spokesperson Veronica Fowler told the board that the techniques have been used at higher rates against black students, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities.

Another version of the proposal expired earlier this year because the coronavirus pandemic prevented a final vote. A remote public hearing will be held on September 15 to take comments on the changes.

11:17 a.m. - LULAC wants to ensure all Latino Iowans are properly represented in the 2020 census count

Chapters of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) now feel the pressure of ensuring the Latino community is properly represented in the census after the timeline for door-to-door surveyors was cut one month short.

Himar Hernandez is the founder of LULAC Ottumwa. He’s worried about relying on online responses, he says, because of a lack of technological literacy.

Hernandez says LULAC Ottumwa has been working hard to make sure people respond to the census, but it’ll be harder with less time.

11:00 a.m. - Gov. Reynolds signs executive order restoring voting rights to Iowans with past felony convictions

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Wednesday restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of Iowans with past felony convictions ahead of the November election.

Iowa was the only state that still permanently disenfranchised all ex-felons unless they appealed directly to the governor.

Des Moines Black Lives Matter activists have been pressuring Reynolds to restore felon voting rights since early June, protesting at the capitol, outside her house, and meeting with her twice to discuss the issue.

Reynolds, a Republican, confirmed in mid-June she would sign an executive order restoring felon voting rights before the November election.

Read more from Katarina Sostaric.

10:00 a.m. - 510 new COVID-19 cases, eight new deaths reported

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

Tuesday, August 4

6:07 p.m. - Black Hawk County to hire contact tracers

One Iowa county plans to reclaim responsibility for local contact tracing because its public health department has taken issue with the state’s efforts to track the coronavirus.

Black Hawk County experienced one of the nation’s largest coronavirus clusters in April, due to an outbreak at a Tyson plant.

The state public health department has been in charge of their contact tracing since then. But county public health director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye says the state isn’t adequately following patients through their quarantine and recovery.

Black Hawk County plans to hire another epidemiologist and 20 part time contact tracers to track the virus locally.

Read more from Kate Payne.

6:05 p.m. - Johnson County Board of Health mandates masks, county attorney says mandate will be enforceable

The Johnson County Board of Health has approved an ordinance mandating the use of face coverings in public, which the county attorney has advised will be enforceable.

Public health experts broadly agree that the use of masks is one of the few tools available to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 157 thousand Americans.

Kim Bergen-Jackson is the administrator at the Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City and spoke in support of the order at the virtual board of health meeting. She says it will help save the lives of her residents.

The ordinance now goes to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors for final approval. State officials have said local governments do not have the authority to issue such mandates.

Read more from Kate Payne.

4:01 p.m. - University of Iowa faculty sign petition calling university to prioritize online classes

Nearly 300 University of Iowa faculty members and graduate teaching assistants have signed a petition calling for the university to prioritize online classes this fall.

The University of Iowa says it will prioritize in-person instruction for classes with fewer than 50 people. That’s as long as social distancing requirements are met in the classroom, and no students or instructors have health concerns.

Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter says she’s concerned because the university says it will not require students to be tested for COVID-19 before returning this fall.

Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa will also offer some in person classes this fall.

2:07 p.m. - Gov. Kim Reynolds says schools that conduct all-virtual classes without state approval will have to make up time at the end of the year

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds says if schools ignore her order to provide at least 50 percent in-person learning, they’ll have to make up the time at the end of the year.

Districts including Des Moines and Iowa City are considering an all-virtual start to the school year to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

Reynolds says individual families can choose virtual learning, but it’s not allowed district-wide without permission from the Iowa Department of Education.

A law passed late in the legislative session states that schools cannot primarily use virtual learning unless the governor allows it by proclamation.

Reynolds says school administrators who defy state guidance could face discipline on their professional licenses.

1:12 p.m. - Senator Chuck Grassley questions President Trump's authority to issue executive orders for pandemic relief

Top Congressional negotiators continue to work out steep differences between the additional coronavirus relief money the House and Senate have proposed. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has said he will use executive orders to put money into people's pockets. Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley says it’s not clear whether the president has the legal authority to do that.

Grassley says another concern he has is that Democrats may be holding up the process for political reasons because they think it could help them in the November elections.

1:06 p.m. - Lawmakers ask for a second opinion after Tyson processing plant passes safety inspection

State lawmakers in Waterloo are asking federal regulators for a second opinion on workplace safety at the local Tyson hog processing plant that had a massive coronavirus outbreak.

After more than a thousand workers there got the virus and some died, Iowa’s workplace safety investigators found no violations. A spokesperson for Tyson says they have not removed work station dividers and continue to provide face masks for workers.

Representative Timi Brown-Powers is a Democrat from Waterloo. She says it’s hard to believe that, and she’s heard from workers that virus prevention measures might be slipping. That’s why she sent a complaint to federal regulators.

Brown-Powers says she’s encouraged by Tyson’s new plan for regular testing and expanding health care staff, but she’s waiting for a response from the regional occupational safety and health director based in Kansas City.

11:00 a.m. - Emotional exchange highlights tension between Governor and news media reporting on the pandemic

In an emotional exchange during Tuesday’s press conference, Gov. Kim Reynolds accused news media of using “scare tactics” in reporting on the coronavirus pandemic in Iowa. AP reporter David Pitt asked Reynolds whether she felt it was worth reopening schools if a student or teacher becomes sick with COVID-19, or dies from the illness. Pitt said the question was based on comments from recent school board meetings.

“This is part of the problem, the scare tactics that’s being laid out by the media,” Reynolds replied over Pitt’s objections.

Reynolds said “it would be naïve” to think infections will not occur at schools but she believes news coverage should focus more on the challenges caused by remote learning.

Cue the video to 35:50 to watch the full exchange.

10:13 a.m. - Year-round elementary school in Urbandale will continue virtual learning without state permission

Urbandale Community Schools will continue virtual learning at a year-round elementary, even after the state told the district it must follow the governor’s Return-to-Learn order.

The Iowa Department of Education told the school to provide at least half of its instruction in-person starting Friday. But the Urbandale Board of Directors voted on Monday night to continue all virtual classes for another two weeks, without state permission.

Board member Sara Schmitz says bringing students back is important to address hunger and abuse, but the coronavirus is an even greater risk.

Next week the Urbandale board will decide whether to start the entire district with virtual learning or move to a hybrid plan that includes in-person classes.

10:05 a.m. - Sioux City council approves $261,000 plan to buy body cameras for police department

The Sioux City council unanimously approved a plan to buy 120 body cameras for the city police department on Monday. The cameras, video storage and needed hardware and software will cost close to $261,000.

Police Chief Rex Mueller is aiming for the cameras to be operational by late fall. He says his department already has written a policy for using them.

Officers will be able to turn off their camera in cases like talking with a victim about a sensitive matter, but they’d have to document why they turned it off. Mueller estimates it will take six to eight weeks for the equipment to be delivered. Then the department will be trained, and the body cameras will be integrated into their software.

The city heard a couple of public comments in support. But one person expressed concerns that body cameras that police turn on and off themselves leave room for error.

Read more from Katie Peikes.

10:00 a.m. - 181 new COVID-19 cases, seven new deaths reported Tuesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

Monday, August 3

5:12 p.m. - Income for farmers could stay low into 2021 due to COVID-19 meatpacking plant closures

After COVID-19 closed meatpacking plants and slashed ethanol demand, agriculture markets plummeted. While prices have improved, Nathan Kaufman at the Kansas City Federal Reserve thinks farm incomes could stay low into 2021.

Congress will float many farms this year with billions in aid but Kaufman says payments have their limits. Farm income has been falling for years due to low prices. He says some markets, like beef, could see another drop in demand as grocery store prices continue rising.

As the economy continues struggling Kaufman says budget conscious shoppers could turn away from beef. The USDA predicts the retail cost of beef will rise eight percent in 2020. Ranchers are enjoying higher cattle prices while they can.

3:48 p.m. - Iowans sign petition for compassionate release of incarcerated people amid COVID-19 concerns

More than 200 people have signed a petition urging state leaders to release incarcerated people who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

It’s part of an effort by advocates and family members of inmates calling for the use of compassionate release in Iowa.

Savannah Moore’s boyfriend is incarcerated at the prison in Fort Dodge, which has a large coronavirus outbreak. She says he’s scared for those who are elderly or have underlying conditions.

According to the state, all three of the inmates who have so far died of COVID-19 suffered from pre-existing conditions. According to a 2018 analysis, Iowa is the only state to not have policies granting compassionate release.

Read more of this story from IPR's Kate Payne.

3:00 p.m. - State denies year-round Urbandale elementary school's request for all virtual classes

Urbandale school leaders say state education officials have denied their request to continue all virtual classes at a year-round elementary.

The Iowa Department of Education had granted a temporary waiver allowing Rolling Green Elementary to hold remote classes. Now the department says starting Friday the school must follow Gov. Kim Reynolds order for at least 50 percent in-person learning. The Urbandale school board will discuss what to do next at a meeting Monday.

State guidelines announced last week allow districts to consider all virtual learning only when the positivity rate for the coronavirus passes 15 percent in the county. The 14-day average in Polk County is about eight percent.

10:00 a.m. - 320 new COVID-19 cases, four new deaths reported

These numbers are based on a 24-hour reporting period.

9:52 a.m. - Ankeny Community Schools to require masks, despite Iowa Department of Education's hesitancy to mandate them

Ankeny Community Schools is one of a handful of districts across the state that will require face coverings as a precaution against COVID-19. Students and staff will have to put on masks when they’re indoors and are not at least six feet apart.

The Iowa Department of Education recommended allowing but not requiring face coverings, in part because of potential legal and disciplinary problems.

Ankeny Chief Operations Officer Darin Haack says the district will take time early in the year to teach students about wearing a mask safely to try to prevent problems enforcing the rule.

Haack says students will be given breaks from wearing a mask through the day and the district will allow medical exceptions to the rule. He says families can also choose an all-virtual learning option.

Sunday, August 2

10 a.m. - 1,007 new COVID-19 cases, nine more deaths reported over the weekend in Iowa

On Saturday, the state reported 463 new cases in addition to seven more deaths. These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period ending each day at 10 a.m.