Pedati talks COVID vaccine, demands of public health, Test Iowa closings and more

Iowa’s state epidemiologist thinks Iowa is not at a turning point with the delta virus, so far. In an interview with IowaWatch July 16, Dr. Caitlin Pedati also called for Iowans to continue to get vaccinated, use social distancing, masks and other safety measures related to the coronavirus that officially arrived in Iowa in March 2020. She discussed the difficulties of public health and stressed the perseverance of health care workers. 

“If I could leave you with anything it would be there really are some wonderful people in public health who never stopped working and are not going to stop even when it’s hard and even when it’s not perfect, because we believe that it’s important work. And we so appreciate the chance to get, you know, good messages out there,” Pedati said. 

The number of Iowans getting COVID-19 vaccinations has dropped considerably since June and new cases are rising quickly. New cases and hospitalizations have trended up with daily positives doubling over the last two weeks from an average of 76 cases to 199 per day.

As Iowa opens up, COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to slow

It’s a hot evening at the Broadway Neighborhood Center in Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. Student volunteers have set up a mobile COVID vaccination clinic among the apartment complexes that house many immigrant and refugee families. 

But the clinic struggles to attract residents. In recent weeks, demand for the COVID-19 vaccine in Iowa has declined sharply, even though less than 70 percent of Iowans have had at least one dose. 

Andrew Coghill-Behrends, the center’s site director, hits the streets. His goal is to get at least 20 people in for the shot. “It’s really about talking to people and seeing if you can find them where they’re at, and encourage them to come over, said Coghill-Behrends.

Woodbury County counting on $15M in COVID relief funds for new $65M jail

Woodbury County plans to rely on $15.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief to build a $65 million jail complex near Sioux City. 

The project has been in the works since 2016, and county voters passed a $50 million dollar bond referendum last year to cover the costs of the new complex. But then the price tag shot up – a result of pandemic-related inflation on building materials. 

The supervisors voted unanimously on June 8, 2021, to use federal pandemic relief money on the higher-priced project. “If that wasn’t coming, I don’t know what we would be doing,” said Woodbury County Supervisor Matthew Ung at a June 1, 2021 meeting.  

The American Rescue Plan Act is a $1.9 trillion federal aid package passed in March to provide direct relief to Americans affected by the pandemic and to bolster the U.S. economy. Could a county use grants through that plan to build an 110,000-square-foot regional jail project? 

The answer, so far, is maybe, according to state leaders and a national expert IowaWatch interviewed for this story. If the answer is no, taxpayers could be on the hook for the $15.6 million. 

Dennis Butler, Woodbury County’s finance director, said he was working with Governor Kim Reynolds’ policy advisor, Joel Anderson, to use the funding.

State parks ‘couldn’t function without volunteers’

Barbara Lee of Council Bluffs took her daughter to Lake Manawa State Park’s playground in the early 1990s. Now she’s able to watch her granddaughter play in an updated version in Dreamland Park. The 18,000-square-foot playground, which opened in 2018, cost $1.3 million to produce. More than 1,200 volunteers from ages 3 to 88 took part in making the project possible; it replaced a wooden playground from 1992. A team of civic leaders drove the million-dollar mission, obtaining several $100,000 grants and assisting in construction.

Campground reservations ‘a shot in the dark’

Iowa’s state park campgrounds reservations are largely filled up on weekends in June and July, just as the unofficial kickoff to summer and camping season hits Monday, Memorial Day. This is the situation at most of the 72 campgrounds listed on the Department of Natural Resources website, according to an IowaWatch review Wednesday of each location. DNR counts more than 4,500 campsites. In 2020, Iowans flocked to state parks when many sought the outdoors for COVID-19-safe activities. In fact, 2020 set a record for park visitors with 16.6 million, according to the DNR.

As demand for COVID-19 vaccinations drops, one Iowa community nears herd immunity

Genesis Ramirez grips a digital timer, her legs swinging in a chair in the waiting room of the Meskwaki Tribal Health Center in Tama County, Iowa. The 17-year-old just got her second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. But she didn’t do it just to keep herself safe. “My family is very high risk, and I don’t want to bring anything back to them where I can’t help them,” Ramirez said. Ramirez isn’t a member of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi, also known as the Meskwaki Nation.