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Bars In Johnson, Story Counties To Stay Closed Through Sept. 27

Daily Digest

Friday, September 18

4:44 p.m. - Polk County judge says ruling on pre-filled absentee ballot case will be issued soon

A Polk County judge says he’ll issue a ruling as soon as possible on whether the secretary of state’s emergency election directive should continue to be enforced.

Democratic Party groups want the court to strike down the Republican Secretary of State’s directive that says county auditors can only send blank absentee ballot request forms to voters. They claim it’s an unconstitutional overreach.

A lawyer for the state says the directive was legal, and that a ruling in the Democrats’ favor could also take down the provision that authorized the state to send ballot request forms statewide.

This comes after other courts in the state have sided with Republican groups on this issue and invalidated tens of thousands of pre-filled ballot requests in Linn, Johnson and Woodbury counties. It’s not clear how the Polk County judge’s ruling would ultimately affect those cases.

4:12 p.m. - Bars in Johnson, Story counties to stay closed through Sept. 27

Gov. Kim Reynolds is requiring bars to stay closed in Johnson and Story counties through next Sunday, Sept. 27 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Johnson and Story counties are home to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. Restaurants in those two counties must also stop selling alcohol after 10 p.m.

Reynolds’ latest emergency proclamation also requires bars, restaurants, gyms, and other businesses across the state to continue social distancing and public health measures for at least another month.

2:10 p.m. - Many businesses have had their doors closed for six months this week

This week marks six months since many city halls, businesses and restaurants closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. The dining room of Trumpet Blossom Café in Iowa City hasn’t reopened since.

In that time, Governor Kim Reynolds has lifted most restrictions on gatherings and refused to implement a state-wide mask mandate.

The top infectious disease physician at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics says it’s still unsafe to open bars and indoor restaurants in areas with high levels of community transmission.

1:00 p.m. - New study connects psychological abuse with the most long-term negative outcomes

A new study led by a University of Iowa researcher has found psychological child abuse is associated with the most long-term negative outcomes compared to other forms of abuse.

Researchers analyzed psychological, physical and sexual abuse using a data set collected on more than 5,000 Australian children over the first two decades of their lives.

Lane Strathearn is a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of Iowa. He says psychological abuse is much less likely to be reported to authorities because it’s often not as obvious as other types of abuse.

Strathearn says more programs to support families and young children can help spot and prevent this abuse.

10:00 a.m. - 1,259 new COVID-19 cases, 10 new deaths reported Friday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

Thursday, September 17

5:44 p.m. - Higher risk of heart inflammation from COVID-19 is a concern for University of Iowa athletes

Evidence is building that suggests those with mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 may suffer heart inflammation. Competitive athletes may be at a higher risk for the condition, a concern as the University of Iowa football team resumes its fall season.

Myocarditis, or heart inflammation, often resolves itself. But it can also lead to heart failure and sudden death. It’s long been a concern for athletes, but some research suggests COVID-19 may increase the prevalence of the condition.

Big Ten conference players who get the virus will get cardiac health screenings and be monitored by a cardiologist.

UI Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said a “very small number” of players have expressed concerns, but haven’t decided whether to sit out the season.

4:04 p.m. - Iowa Department of Public Health will not help nursing homes meet federal COVID-19 testing requirement

The Iowa Department of Public Health has notified nursing homes that it won’t help them comply with new federal requirements for frequently testing staff for coronavirus.

The federal government has started sending rapid testing equipment to long term care facilities, but is only providing enough supplies to last a short period of time. As nursing homes try to obtain more test materials, the state hygienic lab informed them it doesn’t have the capacity to help.

The state lab will continue to test symptomatic and exposed residents and staff.

According to the governor’s office, the state hasn’t been conducting routine surveillance testing of long-term care facility staff. Iowa doesn’t have requirements for how often testing must occur in nursing homes.

More than half of the state’s reported COVID-19 deaths have been among residents of long-term care facilities and outbreaks keep happening.

3:29 p.m. - Football revenue will not reverse budget cuts at University of Iowa

Increased revenue from resuming the fall football season at the University of Iowa will not reverse budget cuts within the athletic department, an administrator said Thursday.

The school had already announced it was permanently ending four sports programs and cutting 40 department positions.

Athletic Director Gary Barta says the department still faces a deficit in the tens of millions of dollars due to the coronavirus pandemic, even with football coming back.

Barta said it’s not clear how much revenue could be recouped this season. As of now, there will be no public ticket sales for the games, and TV broadcasting contracts are being retooled.

2:56 p.m. - Buena Vista County looking for bilingual poll workers

One county in Iowa has to jump an extra hurdle when it comes to hiring poll workers for the November election.

This is the first presidential election in which Buena Vista County needs to have a certain number of bilingual election officials at the polls. The U.S. Department of Justice mandates at least five of the precincts in the county need officials who speak Spanish.

Sue Lloyd is the Buena Vista County Auditor. She says the county is still actively looking for people to fill this role and encourages those able, to reach out.

Buena Vista is the only county in the state that needs to fulfill this requirement.

1:13 p.m. - Obesity rate in Iowa is increasing, according to report

A new report has found Iowa’s obesity rate is increasing.

According to the report from the non-profit Trust For America’s Health, 34 percent of Iowans were obese in 2019, a rate that has significantly increased in the past five years. The report ranks Iowa twenty-first in the nation.

John Auerbach is the president of Trust For America’s Health. He says it will take a multi-sector approach to address the growing issue.

The report projects Iowa’s obesity rate will increase due more Iowans experiencing food insecurity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This leads to the purchase of more inexpensive, higher calorie foods.

11:49 a.m. - Iowa no longer in extreme drought after rainstorms

Nearly a full week of rain last week has substantially improved the state’s drought conditions.

As of Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows no Iowa counties in the extreme drought category. Last week there were 18 in the west central part of the state.

The monitor lists a little more than 47 percent of the state in moderate drought. That number last week was 72 percent.

More than three quarters of Iowa is still abnormally dry.

LISTEN: How the standoff between Gov. Kim Reynolds and Des Moines Public Schools is playing out

Bars In Johnson, Story Counties To Stay Closed Through Sept. 27
IPR Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talked with IPR reporter Grant Gerlock about how the standoff between Gov. Reynolds and the state’s largest school district over in-person instruction is playing out.

Des Moines Public Schools will start making plans to bring some students back to school in-person, but not quickly enough for Gov. Kim Reynolds. It could still be weeks or months before the district transitions to hybrid learning. In a press conference Wednesday Reynolds said the school board should act more quickly.

Gov. Reynolds also said the district’s metrics do not match the state’s metrics and are designed to ensure students stay in virtual learning. The superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, Thomas Ahart, recommends the district stay virtual until Polk County reaches a coronavirus positivity rate of five percent, which is in line with the World Health Organization and what CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield has recommended.

10:00 a.m. - 918 new COVID-19 cases, 14 new deaths reported Thursday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

Wednesday, September 16

3:54 p.m. -Biden campaign calls Trump decision 'too little, too late'

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign is attacking President Donald Trump’s record on ethanol. This week, the president announced his administration has denied dozens of waivers that exempt oil refiners from blending the corn-based biofuel into their gasoline.

The waivers would’ve allowed oil refiners to not have to follow the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS.) Biofuel and agriculture groups, along with Republican leaders in the state, applaud the move. Meanwhile, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, who served as agriculture secretary during the Obama years, says the president is trying to make up for not delivering on promises of better trade deals and rural infrastructure.

Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, national ethanol production has recovered significantly since the initial drop from the pandemic. It’s now down about 10 percent from this time last year, after dropping about 50 percent in the spring.

Iowa is the leading ethanol producer in the country. Polls have shown a close race in Iowa between Trump and Biden.

3:53 p.m. - Iowa Democratic lawmakers question the appropriacy of Gov. Kim Reynolds' usage of relief money

Iowa Democratic lawmakers are calling for investigations to determine if Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ use of federal coronavirus relief money was appropriate.

This comes after Bleeding Heartland reported Reynolds used about $450,000 from the CARES Act to help pay 21 of her existing staff members. Federal guidance says CARES act money is for expenses directly related to COVID-19 and that weren’t budgeted for prior to the pandemic.

Reynolds says she believes it’s allowed because her staff was working almost exclusively on the state’s response to the pandemic in the spring, but only a handful of the staff members who received this funding were paid through salary sharing agreements with other state agencies.

2:59 p.m. - The White House Coronavirus task force strongly recommends statewide mask mandate

The White House Coronavirus task force is again recommending Iowa establish a statewide mask mandate as Iowa remains third in the nation for new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

The White House task force says Iowa should establish a statewide mask mandate, and notes that COVID-19 is being brought into nursing homes through community transmission. It cites Arkansas as a “great example in the Heartland where statewide transmission has decreased through mask usage.”

Last week’s White House report said masks should be required in Iowa metro areas and places where schools have coronavirus cases.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has repeatedly dismissed calls for a statewide mask mandate. She hasn’t allowed local governments to enforce their own, though some have issued mask requirements.

Iowa is still in the “red zone” for new cases but has dropped to the “yellow zone” for its positivity rate.

2:55 p.m. - Gov. Kim Reynolds says state will more strictly enforce social distancing requirements for bars as she allows them to open up Wednesday night

Gov. Kim Reynolds says the state will be more strictly enforcing social distancing requirements for bars.

Bars in Polk, Dallas, Black Hawk and Linn counties are permitted to reopen as of Wednesday evening. Restaurants are also allowed to serve alcohol past 10 p.m.

Reynolds says her most recent public health proclamation clarifies social distancing requirements for bars. The state’s Alcoholic Beverages Division will be able to more swiftly punish bars that do not follow requirements.

Reynolds shut down bars in six counties three weeks ago amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, mostly among young adults.

Under the new proclamation bars in Story and Johnson counties will remain closed.

2:48 p.m. - Gov. Kim Reynolds disappointed in Des Moines Public Schools' non-compliance with state's learning requirements

Gov. Kim Reynolds is disappointed in the Des Moines Public School Board’s decision to move to a hybrid learning plan once COVID-19 cases have declined in Polk County.

The school board voted Tuesday to move the district to a plan that more closely complies with the state’s requirement that 50 percent of instruction be in person, but said it will do so when its metrics, not the state’s, show it’s safe.

At a press conference Wednesday, Reynolds said Des Moines Public Schools, the state’s largest district, is the only district that has not figured out a way to adapt to the state’s requirements safely and responsibility.

Des Moines Public Schools started the school year virtually after it was denied a waiver from the state to do so. The district has a pending lawsuit against the state over its Return-To-Learn requirements.

Bars In Johnson, Story Counties To Stay Closed Through Sept. 27
IPR Morning Edition Host Clay Masters talked with IPR reporter Grant Gerlock about how this standoff between Reynolds and the state’s largest school district is playing out.

2:17 p.m. - University of Iowa, Big 10 players will be tested under a COVID-19 protocol not yet implemented for health care workers

The University of Iowa and the rest of the Big Ten Conference will resume its college football season next month on Oct. 24, despite coronavirus risks to players and fans.

Commissioners say there will be no public ticket sales.

Still, the games are likely to attract scores of tailgaters and encourage home watch parties, just as public health experts are warning of another surge of cases this fall.

Under the reopening plan, Big Ten players, coaches and trainers will receive daily antigen testing for the virus. That’s protocol that has not been implemented for the state’s health care providers, nursing home residents or first responders.

10:00 a.m. - 775 new COVID-19 cases, one new death reported Wednesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:56 a.m. - Belmond-Klemme Community School District prioritizes free lunch for all students

School meals contribute significantly to alleviating childhood hunger. Normally, a family has to apply for their children to get a free or reduced-price meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture relaxed rules in March, including making meals free for all children.

It recently announced those pandemic provisions will stay in place. Kim Belstene is the food service director for the Belmond-Klemme Community School District in north Iowa. She says on a call with others about the extension, one caveat loomed large: the money could run out before the planned Dec. 31 end of the extension.

Districts, and families, could be caught with a debt they weren’t expecting to owe. Belmond-Klemme is in a county where recently more than 50 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price meals. Belstene says the district is committed to feeding every child, regardless of ability to pay. Not all districts can afford that.

In June, Illinois served almost 11 million meals, more than seven times the 2019 figure. Iowa served more than four times as many meals. Lunchtime Solutions is a private food service company that contracts with schools in several Midwest states. Even as they provided meals during the summer, Heather Wahl says the company prepared a base menu for fall with extreme flexibility.

Tuesday, September 15

10:48 p.m. – Des Moines Public Schools will switch to hybrid learning if transmission rates for COVID-19 in Polk County continue to fall

Des Moines Public Schools will begin taking steps to bring students back in-person to meet state guidelines. But the district will only transition to hybrid learning when Polk County reaches a much lower level of coronavirus transmission than the state requires.

Board member Rob Barron says the plan is an attempt to protect teachers while providing more support for students and their families.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has said districts in virtual learning without state approval will have to make up the days. Some Des Moines board members said the district should work faster to comply with the state to avoid a future budget crisis.

As long as Des Moines schools are in virtual learning without state approval the days don’t count toward the academic calendar. Making them up could cost $1.5 million per day. School board member Teree Caldwell-Johnson said the district can’t afford it and should move more quickly to come to terms with the Iowa Department of Education.

The school board will meet again next week to hear plans to bring some students back even before a switch to hybrid learning, including those struggling the most with online classes.

5:23 p.m. - Nearly 900 students in Sioux City school district opt for in-person instruction after trying virtual classes

The Sioux City Community School District is planning to shift around some staff because nearly 900 students have moved back to in-person instruction after trying to learn online.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Associate Superintendent Kim Buryanek said many families have realized virtual learning was a lot more difficult than they expected. She says virtual and on-site class sizes have been fluctuating because of this. The district is adjusting staffing so the student to teacher ratio is not too large.

One parent reported that her son’s online classroom has been overcrowded and he’s received less than an hour a day of direct instruction from his teacher.

4:28 p.m. - Bars in four counties allowed to reopen Wednesday

Gov. Kim Reynolds is allowing bars and night clubs to reopen Wednesday in four of the six counties where they’ve been closed because of high coronavirus rates.

Bars in Polk, Linn, Black Hawk and Dallas counties can reopen at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Bars in Story and Johnson counties, the homes of Iowa State University and the University of Iowa, must remain closed for now.

For the past several weeks, the White House Coronavirus Task Force has recommended that Iowa close bars in the majority of Iowa’s 99 counties. Officials in Iowa and across the country have said there’s evidence that the virus is spreading in crowded bars.

A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Health says the state hasn’t received a White House task force report for this week.

3:28 p.m. - $3.7 million federal grant going to expand mental health services in Iowa

Iowa has won a $3.7 million federal grant to expand mental health services in the wake of the derecho. The funds will extend an effort already in place to help Iowans cope with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The program COVID Recovery Iowa offers crisis counseling over the phone or online, as well as virtual support groups.

To access mental health services, Iowans can go to covidrecoveryiowa.org or call 844-775-9276.

1:17 p.m. - Marshalltown mayor issues proclamation for Hispanic Heritage Month

For the first time, the mayor of Marshalltown has issued a proclamation for the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. Latinos comprise nearly 30 percent of the city’s population. Mayor Joel Greer says the proclamation should have happened last year. As part of increasing support for the Latino population in the city, Greer says he plans on hosting frequent Latino roundtable discussions to promote diversity.

Greer says he hopes this proclamation, along with the meetings, will help support the growing Latino community in the city and make sure they are heard in local government.

10:00 a.m. - 508 new COVID-19 cases, twelve new deaths reported Tuesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:48 a.m. - Marshalltown residents can apply for FEMA assistance

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) opened a disaster recovery center Tuesday in Marshalltown. Residents can apply for disaster assistance to recover from damages caused by the derecho. The center is organized as a drive-through, and people applying for assistance must stay in their cars to minimize risk of possibly spreading COVID-19.

Marshalltown residents may also apply for FEMA assistance online, by phone or mail. There will be FEMA employees at the center who can answer any questions about the program.

Monday, September 14

8:53 p.m. - Some Des Moines Public Schools parents worry students' needs are not being met by all-virtual classes

Des Moines Public Schools started classes online last week. Some parents say their children need to go back in-person, so they can get support that they can’t get from home.

Nina Richtman says her two sons in middle school have special needs that are not being met under the virtual plan.

Richtman is part of a group of parents and students calling on the Des Moines school board to move toward a hybrid plan with a virtual option.

Over the weekend, the district surveyed parents on what they would choose. The results could tell whether there’s enough space to start in-person classes.

3:35 p.m. - All three of Iowa's public universities cancel spring break

Three of Iowa’s Regents universities announced Monday that they are cancelling spring break over COVID-19 concerns.

The University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa say they are shifting their spring semester calendars to start later than originally planned. This is so the schools can offer longer winter terms while maintaining the same number of instruction days for the spring term.

All three universities say they are planning to hold a mix of virtual and in-person classes in the spring.

1:04 p.m. - 16,000 pre-filled absentee ballot request forms invalidated in Johnson County

An Iowa judge has ordered Johnson County to invalidate about 16,000 absentee ballot request forms that the county auditor pre-filled with voters’ personal information and ID number.

President Trump’s campaign along with several Republican groups argued Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert violated the secretary of state’s directive to only send blank ballot request forms.

Judge Ian Thornhill agreed. He previously invalidated about 50,000 ballot requests in a similar case in Linn County. Republican groups sued in three counties: Johnson, Linn and Woodbury. The court rulings invalidating ballot requests only affect some voters in those three counties.

Weipert says he’ll start sending new absentee ballot request forms to affected voters in Johnson County soon. Voters can also use ballot request forms from other sources if they wish to vote by mail. Absentee ballots start getting sent to Iowa voters on October 5.

12:42 p.m. - Marshalltown derecho recovery could take years

Marshalltown was among the hardest-hit communities by last month’s derecho. The city is still cleaning up debris. It only adds to the city’s recovery plan from the 2018 tornado.

Director of Public Works and City Engineer Justin Nickel says even though the city is still cleaning up fallen trees and other damage, it shouldn’t hit the economy too hard with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Nickel says the city is beyond where they could have hoped to be in recovery, but there is still a lot of work to do.

10:00 a.m. - 406 new COVID-19 cases, three new deaths reported Monday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period.

9:38 a.m. - Traffic through Des Moines International Airport is down 50 percent

Passenger traffic at the Des Moines International Airport so far this year is down more than 50 percent compared to last year. Still, Executive Director Kevin Foley says things have improved since the near closure in April. Federal CARES Act money has kept the airport fully-functional.

Other airports are facing steeper challenges. American Airlines wants to stop flights to Sioux City, though United may fill that void. American also plans to stop flying to Dubuque for October, and it’s not clear whether those flights will resume.

9:31 a.m. - Economists predict five percent drop for soybean crop

After weeks of bad weather across the Midwest, the USDA predicts U.S. soybean production will fall by more than 100 million bushels this year.

Economist Chad Hart at Iowa State University says it would be about a five percent drop overall.

Farmers are still taking stock of damages from drought and the August derecho in Iowa and Illinois. The USDA says it will re-run surveys in several impacted areas. Hart says the numbers could drop again as farmers begin moving toward harvest.

6:09 a.m. - Branstad steps down as U.S. Ambassador to China

Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is stepping down as U.S. Ambassador to China. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement overnight.

The former Republican governor was named ambassador to China soon after Donald Trump was elected in 2016. The reasons for Branstad’s departure less than two months before the presidential election are not immediately clear.

Branstad’s son, Eric Branstad, is a senior advisor for the president’s re-election campaign in Iowa.

Sunday, September 13

10:00 a.m. - 1,607 new COVID-19 cases, 10 new deaths announced this weekend

On Saturday, the state announced 793 new cases and eight new deaths, and on Sunday, 814 new cases and two more deaths were logged according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

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

Saturday, September 12

5:00 p.m. - During pandemic, Polk County Democrats' annual steak fry becomes a drive-in

More than 900 people attended a drive-in version of an annual Democratic fundraiser in Des Moines over the weekend. Instead of applauding, attendees of the Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry honked their horns.

Volunteers delivered meals to the vehicles parked at Des Moines Water Works Park on Saturday as they listened to the ceremony on their radios. Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris was the keynote speaker who addressed the crowd in video.

Polls have shown the race between Joe Biden and President Trump close in Iowa but both candidates have been spending more time in other toss-up states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.