493 New COVID-19 Cases, 7 More Deaths Reported Friday

Follow the latest Iowa news in our Daily Digest, a liveblog where you can catch up on the headlines and find more reporting from our news team from around Iowa. 

COVID-19 Information:

Friday, June 26

4:34 p.m. – A Woodbury County health official “disappointed” with COVID-19 guidelines set by Iowa Department of Education

A Woodbury County health official said he’s “disappointed” with guidelines the Iowa Department of Education has laid out for when students and staff return to schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The guidelines issued Thursday told schools that face coverings should be allowed, though not required for students and staff.  Kevin Grieme of Siouxland District Health Department said he’s disappointed with that, especially since the CDC still recommends wearing face coverings in public. 

Grieme praised the Sioux City Community School District’s “Return to Learn” plan. The district expects all students and staff to wear masks in the fall. It also expects parents to take their children’s temperatures daily before they leave for school.  

3:35 p.m. – Sudden surge in Quad Cities COVID-19 cases due to rapid increase in cases among teenagers and young adults

A sudden surge in coronavirus cases in the Quad Cities is scaring local health authorities. And they said most of the rapid increase in cases is occurring among teenagers and young adults.

Doctor Louis Katz, Medical Director for the Scott County Health Department, said too many people are ignoring the advice they've heard so many times already - wear a mask, wash your hands, keep social distancing, and stay home.

Katz said in April and May the average age of infected people in the Quad Cities was 59, but during the last week it's dropped to 29. And if people continue to ignore the simple health recommendations, schools and colleges may not be able to re-open in the fall. 

11:10 a.m. – Drive-thru naturalization ceremony hosted in Des Moines

The rain in Des Moines allowed just enough of a break for 100 people to become U. S. citizens Friday in a drive through naturalization ceremony. Due to social distancing guidelines and the risk of COVID-19, the new citizens called out their reply to the oath from their cars.

New U.S. citizens shouted out “I will” after listening to the oath. Then they got in their cars and drove off to make room for the next round of cars to park in front of the judge.

Penny Luthens, the case manager for the Des Moines Federal Court, hosted about ten shifts of ceremonies.

Read more of this story from IPR’s Kassidy Arena.

 10:00 a.m. - 493 new COVID-19 cases, 7 more deaths reported

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period. 

Thursday, June 25

5:51 p.m. – Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Dickinson County reopens Friday 

Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Dickinson County is reopening Friday. It closed for nearly two weeks as local COVID-19 cases started to spike.

Marketing Director Paul Plumb said staff felt comfortable reopening the park as new daily cases have come down a bit. And recoveries have been increasing. Plumb said the biggest new change is visitors will be required to wear masks. “Otherwise we’re still pushing social distancing, asking people to wash their hands regularly and stay that six feet apart.”

Before the park temporarily closed June 13, all staff were wearing masks, while visitors were only recommended to wear them. Dickinson County has more than 230 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday. More than 90 are considered recovered.  

3:30 p.m. – Gov. Kim Reynolds defends law that gives nursing homes protection from COVID-19-related lawsuits

Gov. Reynolds said a bill she signed into law that gives nursing homes protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits strikes the right balance. 

That’s after state inspectors cited a nursing home in Dubuque for letting staff stay at work when they had COVID-19 symptoms, and 11 residents died. The Dubuque Telegraph Herald was first to report the citation. 

The AARP has criticized the law, saying it strips away protections for Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens. They’re also calling on the state to have stricter rules for coronavirus testing in care facilities.   

3:00 p.m. – Iowa Department of Education says students and staff will not be required to wear masks when they return to school

The Iowa Department of Education said students and staff should be allowed to wear masks when they return to school, but they should not be required to do so.

A set of guidelines shared Thursday tells schools that anyone who may be sick with COVID-19 should stay home. But the agency recommended against screening people when they enter the building since the virus can spread without symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control includes a daily health check as part of its school readiness plan.

In a statement, the Iowa State Education Association said it is disappointed with the guidelines and calls on schools to put in place their own requirements for health screenings and face coverings.  

2:54 p.m. – Iowa Cubs suspend operations and cancel two high school baseball games

The Iowa Cubs have suspended operations and canceled two high school baseball games scheduled for Thursday after a team employee tested positive for COVID-19.

ICUBS Assistant General manager Randy Wehhofer said everything will remained closed until all staff members can be tested. 

Four teams, Pella Christian, Ames, Grinnell, and Knoxville all played at the park Wednesday night. The teams were notified of the positive test right after the I-CUBS learned about it Thursday morning.

Read more of this story from IPR's Pat Blank. 

1:38 p.m. – Greenfield criticizes Ernst for voting to confirm EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler

The Democrat challenging Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst is running radio ads criticizing her for confirming EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. Real estate executive Theresa Greenfield says Wheeler has undermined federal support for ethanol producers. Ernst, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, says right now Wheeler is toeing the line.  

“He is following the letter of the law, but he’s really walking a tightrope with the spirit of the law,” Ernst said on a conference call with Iowa reporters Thursday.

Ernst said late last year she would call for President Trump to replace Wheeler if he failed to deliver on promised levels of federally mandated ethanol blending. In an online video earlier this week, Ernst challenged Greenfield to six televised debates. Greenfield says her campaign is working with Iowa media outlets to schedule debates but wouldn’t put a number on how many she’d be a part of.

12:44 p.m. – Gov. Reynolds gives the okay for fall team sports to resume

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds says all team sports can resume with safety guidelines from the state department of education. Iowa was first to restart high school athletics during the coronavirus pandemic. Baseball and softball teams were allowed to resume practice June 1. Several players tested positive, and teams have suspended their seasons and gone into two-week quarantines. Reynolds says she still thinks it’s appropriate to allow more sports to resume. 

“What we can do is try to manage and mitigate, practice social distancing, good hygiene, make sure we’re sanitizing the equipment. And help these kids get back to some kind of normal activity. They also need that,” she said.

Reynolds also noted there’s been a significant increase in positive tests for Iowans ages 18 to 40. She says everyone should do their part to prevent spreading the virus because it’s still in Iowa.

11:48 a.m. –  A Central Iowa interfaith group helps DREAMers reapply for DACA

A Central Iowa interfaith group is trying to help DREAMers reapply for deferred action for childhood arrival, or DACA. The Ames Sanctuary Interfaith Partnership, ASIP, is raising funds through a social media campaign to cover those fees.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is not allowing any new applications as of now, but the application to renew costs $495. That can be a substantial amount during a time of unemployment increases and COVID-19 risks.

ASIP wants to surpass its goal of $5000.

Read more of this story from IPR's Kassidy Arena. 

10:00 a.m. - 461 new COVID-19 cases, four more deaths reported 

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period. 

9:52 a.m. – Just over 8,500 workers filed for unemployment in Iowa last week

Iowa Workforce Development reports just over 8,500 workers filed new unemployment claims last week, including people who work in Iowa but live out-of-state. That’s a slight decrease from the week before.

Most claims continue to come from the manufacturing industry and self-employed workers.

Nearly 154,000 Iowans continue to receive unemployment benefits.

Wednesday, June 24

5:16 p.m. – ACLU of Iowa’s legal director says there are credible accounts from Monday night of police violating protesters’ free speech rights in Des Moines

Black Lives Matter activists said Des Moines police boxed them in at a protest Monday night, prevented them from leaving and then arrested more than a dozen activists for not dispersing. 

Matthew Bruce, a lead Black Lives Matter organizer in Des Moines, said police hit protesters with shields and pepper sprayed them. He said protesters didn’t do anything wrong. 

The ACLU of Iowa’s legal director says there are credible accounts from Monday night of police violating protesters’ free speech rights, including “kettling,” the police tactic Bruce described. 

A Des Moines Police spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon. 

Read more from IPR's Katarina Sostaric. 

4:42 p.m. – Black Lives Matter organizer Matthew Bruce turns himself in after being accused of vandalizing a police car

Black Lives Matter organizer Matthew Bruce has been charged with felony criminal mischief after Des Moines police accused him of vandalizing a police car. Photos from the Des Moines Register show protesters spray painting a police car at a protest Saturday. 

Bruce has led numerous nonviolent protests for racial justice in recent weeks and met with the governor to demand that she restore felon voting rights. He turned himself in this Wednesday and got out on bail.

Bruce said Des Moines police should be investigating two men who drove their pickup trucks at him and other protesters Saturday. Police said they didn’t receive formal complaints about those incidents, but they were there at the time.

Read more of this story. 

4:10 p.m. – The pandemic has “trashed” the financial status of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic crisis has “trashed” the financial status of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the school’s president said Wednesday. According to an estimate from earlier this month, UI Health Care has lost more than a $100 million since March.

Speaking at a forum hosted by the Corridor Business Journal, President Bruce Harreld said halting elective surgeries was a major blow. 

While the hospital has resumed elective surgeries, Harreld said operations are still not back up to full capacity. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are increasing in Johnson County, with local officials doubling down on public health warnings and cancelling some events.

3:50 p.m. – Iowa Police Chiefs Association and Iowa-Nebraska NAACP team up to improve relationships between police and community 

The Iowa Police Chiefs Association and Iowa-Nebraska NAACP have teamed up to form a task force to improve relationships between police and the community. The new Law Enforcement Vision for Equality Task Force plans to create a common ground that helps seek change. They want to open up more communication that improves relationships between law enforcement and all community members. 

During a news conference, Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller said his department has been driven by a mission to form relationships with the community for decades. He said that continues to evolve.

The task force is looking to hold its first meeting in July. 

1:04 p.m. – Sioux Rapids Police Chief Tim Porter apologies for comment made on Facebook

A northwest Iowa police chief has apologized for a comment he made on Facebook that was posted under a video of a Black Lives Matter protest in Des Moines.

In a video posted to Facebook Sunday by Des Moines TV station KCCI, a man drove a pickup truck through a crowd of protesters outside of a Hy-Vee. Sioux Rapids Police Chief Tim Porter commented on the post in all caps “hit the gas and hang on over the road bumps.”

Porter apologized in a statement to KCCI. He called the comment a horrible mistake and said it was a total accident. Porter said he was working on another post and the comment was accidentally posted to the wrong one. He said he supports peaceful protest. 

10:00 a.m. - 258 new COVID-19 cases, 2 more deaths reported Wednesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period. 

Tuesday, June 23

4:44 p.m. – Eastern Iowa river communities brace for flooding this week

Eastern Iowa river communities are bracing for flooding this week, with water levels rising and more rain possible in the coming days.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service forecast major flooding in Cedar Rapids and near DeWitt later this week. 

Hudson is experiencing moderate flooding, with more expected in Marengo, Cedar Bluff, and near Conesville. 

Local officials in HudsonCedar Rapids and Cedar Falls have closed roads in some low-lying areas and are urging residents to be mindful of the rising waters.  

3:37 p.m. – Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa to block bill requiring 24-hour abortion waiting period 

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU of Iowa are suing to block a 24-hour abortion waiting period from taking effect.

In the final hours of the legislative session, Republican lawmakers passed a bill requiring Iowans seeking an abortion to attend an extra appointment at least a day before the procedure. 

The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a similar law in 2018 and ruled abortion rights have very strong constitutional protections. Some Republicans hope this new legal battle will change that. 

Opponents of the bill say it’ll put up barriers to abortion access and won’t change people’s minds about getting an abortion. 

Read more about this story from IPR's Katarina Sostaric.

3:29 p.m. – Iowa’s number of medical marijuana patients is expected to increase


Now that Gov. Reynolds has eased more restrictions concerning COVID-19, Iowa’s number of medical marijuana patients is expected to increase.

Owen Parker oversees Iowa's Office of Medical Cannabidiol. He said some of those who are enrolled in the program had difficulty maneuvering the guidelines. Parker said many DOT driver’s license stations, where participants get their ID cards, were also closed. He said the DOT accommodated by mailing the cards when they could.  

Iowa averaged 360 medical marijuana patients a month prior to the pandemic. The numbers were around 244 per month in April, May and June. 

11:47 a.m. – Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, hopes to pass bill ensuring fair access for independent cattle ranchers

The U.S. Senate agriculture committee gavels in this week for the first time since the pandemic disruption. Iowa’s senior senator is hoping it will take up a bill he introduced to ensure independent cattle ranchers have fair access to the market.

Grassley said the current situation has packing plants buying as little as 20 percent of the cattle they need from independent producers. The bill calls for packers to buy at least 50 percent of their cattle on the open market. Grassley says that should reduce meat companies’ influence on prices, which is significant when the packers tap their own cattle herds instead of buying from farmers.

Grassley said he expects a majority of the committee to support the bill, though Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas is not in favor.

10:00 a.m. - 295 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths reported Tuesday

These numbers reflect a 24-hour reporting period. 

7:00 a.m. - Des Moines City Council passes ordinance that bans racial profiling

The Des Moines City Council has passed an anti-racial profiling ordinance nearly two years after the first version of the proposal was introduced.

The ordinance prohibits racial bias in traffic stops and other police actions, bans pretextual stops based on race and requires training on implicit bias and de-escalation techniques. The council approved the measure unanimously on its second and final readings Monday.

Read more from Grant Gerlock.

6:57 a.m. - Des Moines Water Works names new CEO

The board overseeing the state’s largest water utility has named a new CEO and general manager. Des Moines Water Works announced Monday that Ted Corrigan will assume the role. Corrigan has been with the utility since 1990 and served as interim CEO and general manager following the death of its former CEO and General Manager Bill Stowe in April of last year. In a press release, Corrigan says he looks forward to focusing on utility priorities including water quality solutions, regional cooperation and governance and quality customer service. The search firm for the job received 122 applications and forwarded the board eight candidates.

Monday, June 22

3:46 p.m. – Coalition of refugee advocacy groups and community organizers serve tens of thousands during pandemic

A coalition of refugee advocacy groups and community organizations has served tens of thousands of Iowans during the coronavirus pandemic. Together, the groups staff a multilingual telephone hotline and post videos of news updates in 10 different languages. 

According to EMBARC, the hotline has helped 8,000 people while the videos have reached 26,000. Without more support from state and local agencies, translating up-to-date information on the virus has largely fallen to non-profits and refugee community members.

2:10 p.m. – Coronavirus Plagues Refugees From Myanmar Who Say Meatpacking Jobs Are Their ‘Only Option’

Meatpacking plants continue to be a driving factor in coronavirus outbreaks across rural America. In Iowa, refugees from Myanmar are among the hardest-hit, as nearly the entire community works in the plants. Many feel they don’t have options, other than to work in facilities where social distancing is often impossible.

Read more from Kate Payne.

10:03 a.m. - 183 new COVID-19 csaes, 1 new death reported Monday

9:18 a.m. – Without state funding, regions worry about the children’s mental health system

A year ago, the Iowa legislature created a children’s mental health system, and many were concerned because that system came without state funding attached. This year the legislature experienced an unusual session broken up by the COVID-19 pandemic, and proposed funding didn’t pass.

This has left some regions concerned about where that leaves the system now.

Read more from Natalie Krebs.

8:41 a.m. – Midwesterner is the incoming vice chair for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Committee

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler has appointed 33 new members to the Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Committee. Of the new members, roughly ten are from the Midwest and represent many types of agriculture.

Members come from all over the country, including Puerto Rico, with the goal of providing policy advice to Wheeler regarding environmental issues in the ag sector.

Lauren Lurkins is the Environmental Policy Director at the Illinois Farm Bureau, and the committee’s incoming vice chair.

The committee will meet about twice a year beginning later this summer.

8:30 a.m. – COVID-19 impacts Iowa high school baseball and softball teams

Iowa high school baseball and softball teams were allowed to start their summer seasons earlier this month, but the pandemic is already affecting the sport. 

A baseball team in Woodbine can start playing again Monday after it quarantined for two weeks when a player tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, the Iowa Falls and Alden school districts recently canceled games for 14 days for their varsity baseball teams after a player tested positive. Additionally, softball players from two other teams are quarantining after they came into contact with someone who had COVID-19.

Iowa is the first state in the  country to resume high school sports in the pandemic.

Read more from Katie Peikes. 

Sunday, June 21

10:04 a.m. - 441 new COVID-19 csaes, 4 new deaths reported Sunday