A1 A1
top story
Council rules pool to remain closed for 2020 season

MUSCATINE — After weeks of discussion and speculation, the Muscatine City Council made it official when they reached the consensus not to open the Muscatine Aquatic Center for the 2020 season.

During its regular meeting Thursday evening, parks and recreation director Rich Klimes recommended the center remain closed, citing the threat the COVID-19 outbreak could pose to workers at the center. Klimes said maintaining six feet of distance both in and out of the water during regular operations would be almost impossible. He also said workers, including lifeguards, would have to wear masks and the city would have to be able to sanitize the pool area.

“My concern is for the staff who would be working at the center, especially the lifeguards who are typically within the age of 15 to 17 years old,” he said. “They won’t have a choice if there is a lifesaving situation but to break that social barrier and to put themselves in harm’s way with that virus.”

Recently Gov. Kim Reynolds opened pools for lap swimming and for swimming lessons.

Klimes said chlorine may or may not provide a safe barrier from the virus, depending, he said, on who is reporting it. He also said with American Red Cross recommendations, the pool can’t even get its staff trained, including practicing a live save, while maintaining social distancing. He commented the city could open the aquatic center for lap swims and lessons, but he did not know if the cost to benefit value was there. He cited several other communities that won’t be opening their pools this year, including Davenport, Clinton, Cedar Rapids and several in Des Moines.

Council member John Jindrich said as a proponent of opening the state and getting things back to normal, he was opposed to keeping the pool closed. He said that more children under 15 had died from the flu than from COVID-19. He also said chlorine protects people from the virus. He also asked about the number of rescues that needed to be done yearly. Klimes said yearly saves average between 40 and 60. Usually none require lifesaving CPR.

Council member Kelcey Bracket asked Jindrich to cite sources for the information he was giving, saying, “We are talking about putting the lives of young people in danger.” Jindrich said the information was from the Centers for Disease Control.

“With the percentage of rescue attempts, what is the likelihood of a rescue attempt actually being attempted on someone who has COVID-19 and since the water is chlorinated, what is the percentage that the rescuer is going to be contaminated?” Jindrich asked. “Furthermore, what is the likelihood that a 15- or 16-year-old being severely infected or hurt?”

Klimes stressed chlorine is not an Environmental Protection Agency approved sanitizer.

As the council was asked to give consensus, Jindrich was the only member who believed the pool should be opened in 2020. Most simply said “close it.”

Local cemetery makes its annual Memorial Day service a drive-in service

DRURY TOWNSHIP, Ill. — Just about five miles outside of Muscatine in the Drury Township of Rock Island County, one local cemetery has decided to make a few small changes in order to keep a tradition that’s more than 100 years old going.

In remembrance of veterans both local and national, the Drury-Reynolds Cemetery is holding its 119th Annual Memorial Day service on Sunday, May 24, at 1:30 p.m., making it a drive-in style service due to COVID-19 concerns. The service itself will happen rain or shine, and all are welcome.

“It’s been very important to me to put on this service and to keep it going for my kids and the kids in the community,” said Julie Wagner, emphasizing that she didn’t want the younger generation to take for granted the freedoms that they have or to forget the people who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. “This service is for the adults to remember, but it’s also for the kids to learn so that they don’t ever forget also.”

Wagner and her team at the cemetery had begun planning the annual service in January, and while the planning process had been going smoothly, March brought a state-wide lockdown in Illinois along with concerns on whether or not the event would happen.

“We didn’t know what was going to come of it, so we’ve been just sort of biding our time and waiting to see what the governor’s orders were going to be.” After a bit of time and being inspired by how some of the local schools were going to change their graduation ceremonies to comply with social distancing guidelines, it was then decided last month that the service would be a drive-in.

“We thought that it would be perfect,” Wagner said, “because everyone’s able to stay a safe distance away from each other, and we can still have the service and do the traditions that are important to the community.” With the help of the church’s sextant, J.J. Koehler, guests will be able to hear the service broadcasted through the radios in their cars.

Wagner, who has helped put on this event for about 10 years but has been attending it since she was a little girl, said that making it a drive-in service was both easy and difficult. “Not difficult in terms of putting it together, but hard as in terms of ‘hard to let go of things’,” she said, “We definitely wanted to keep it in a way that we could keep the tradition and still have people want to come and to feel safe.”

For this year’s service, guest speaker and Mercer County Junior High American history teacher Jeremy Finch will be giving a presentation on the history of the end of World War II, coinciding with its 75th anniversary. “He’s done two previous presentations for us and everybody just loves him, and he’s very excited to come back again,” Wagner said. “Honestly, I’ve never met someone who loves history as much as he does, so he makes it exciting for everyone else, too.”

In addition, there will be a roll call of deceased veterans, the placing of the veterans’ wreath, and a prayer for the nation. “Taps” will be performed by Ethan Price, with vocalist Stef Carey and drum players Aubrey Frieden and Caleb Wagner. Guests will also be permitted to visit graves after the service. However, in addition to there being fewer presenters to assure that there’s no more than 10 people near the podium, as per guidelines, children will not be asked to put poppies on the graves this year.

“That’s always a really nice tradition, but we would’ve had a lot of people running around, and that would break a lot of the guidelines.” Still, even with these changes, Wagner believes that the program will still be similar enough to previous years.

As for how this transition from a sit-down ceremony to a drive-in one will affect the turnout, she isn’t sure. “It makes it easier for the older people to come and feel safe, but are people ready to come out in large numbers yet? It’s hard to tell, and I’m kind of anxious to see how it turns out.”

Still, with the cemetery assuring that the service will still happen rain or shine and no matter how big or small the audience is, Wagner hasn’t lost her excitement for the event. “I remember the services very vividly, and a large number of my ancestors are buried in that cemetery,” she said, “I also love being a part of this and part of a community that puts so much importance on remembering the sacrifices people have made for us. It’s an honor to do this, and I look forward to it every year.”

Trump: Reopen churches

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday labeled churches and other houses of worship as "essential" and called on governors nationwide to let them reopen this weekend even though some areas remain under coronavirus lockdown.

The president threatened to "override" governors who defy him, but it was unclear what authority he has to do so.

"Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now — for this weekend," Trump said at a hastily arranged press conference at the White House. Asked what authority Trump might have to supersede governors, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she wouldn't answer a theoretical question.

Trump has been pushing for the country to reopen as he tries to reverse an economic free fall playing out months before he faces reelection. White evangelical Christians have been among the president's most loyal supporters, and the White House has been careful to attend to their concerns throughout the crisis.

Meanwhile, the United States says it wants the World Health Organization to start work “now” on a planned independent review of its coordinated international response to the COVID-19 outbreak, at a time the Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the agency and is threatening to cut off U.S. funding for it.

Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to the U.N. health agency’s executive board meeting on Friday saying the United States believes the WHO can “immediately initiate" preparations such as bringing together independent health experts and setting up guidelines for the review.

“This review will ensure we have a complete and transparent understanding of the source, timeline of events, and decision-making process for the WHO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Giroir, who is one of the board’s 34 international members. Giroir did not deliver that statement in person, but did briefly participate in the board’s first-ever “virtual” meeting.

Giroir alluded to a resolution passed Tuesday by the WHO’s assembly calling on Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to launch a “comprehensive evaluation” of the WHO-coordinated international response to the outbreak “at the earliest appropriate moment.”

Tedros, for his part, spoke to the board and pointed proudly to a long list of actions taken by WHO to respond to the outbreak — without directly alluding to the Trump administration pressure that was highlighted by Giroir.

Following Trump's calls for reopening houses of worship, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for communities of faith on how to safely reopen, including recommendations to limit the size of gatherings and consider holding services outdoors or in large, well-ventilated areas.

Public health agencies have generally advised people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and encouraged Americans to remain 6 feet away from others when possible. Some parts of the country remain under some version of remain-at-home orders.

In-person religious services have been vectors for transmission of the virus. A person who attended a Mother's Day service at a church in Northern California that defied the governor's closure orders later tested positive, exposing more than 180 churchgoers. And a choir practice at a church in Washington state was labeled by the CDC as an early "superspreading" event.

But Trump on Friday stressed the importance of churches in many communities and said he was "identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services."

"Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential" but not churches, he said. "It's not right. So I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential."

"These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united," he added.

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said faith leaders should be in touch with local health departments and can take steps to mitigate risks, including making sure those who are at high risk of severe complications remain protected.

"There's a way for us to work together to have social distancing and safety for people so we decrease the amount of exposure that anyone would have to an asymptomatic," she said.

A person familiar with the White House's thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations said Trump had called the news conference, which had not been on his public schedule, because he wanted to be the face of church reopenings, knowing how well it would play with his political base.

Churches around the country have filed legal challenges opposing virus closures. In Minnesota, after Democratic Gov. Tim Walz this week declined to lift restrictions on churches, Roman Catholic and some Lutheran leaders said they would defy his ban and resume worship services. They called the restrictions unconstitutional and unfair since restaurants, malls and bars were allowed limited reopening.

UIHC: Keep washing hands, social distancing, because it has worked

JOHNSTON — University of Iowa health care officials want Iowans to keep on social distancing, washing their hands and wearing masks to help control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do have one final ask for everyone,” Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said during Gov. Kim Reynolds’ daily news briefing Friday. “The improving circumstances in our state are because Iowans are doing their part practicing good safety habits such as maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, hand sanitizing. (We) encourage each and every one of you to keep that up as we continue well into our recovery.”

Early on, Reynolds said, Iowa saw models projecting “staggering numbers of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths across our state that would threaten to cripple our health care system.”

Reynolds said the state’s health care systems have not been overwhelmed, thanks to Iowans taking personal responsibility and the efforts of health care personnel, such as those at UIHC, who described efforts there to test more than 10,000 Iowans and serve patients with coronavirus-related symptoms.

As Iowa continues to open businesses, entertainment venues and school-sponsored summer activities, maintaining good social practices will remain vital.

Sixteen more deaths were reported Friday, including the first COVID-19 death in Cerro Gordo County. That brings the state’s total to 64 this week and 419 overall, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Three deaths were recorded in Dubuque County and two each in Polk and Marshall counties.

A Test Iowa site will open in Marshall County, along with sites in Sioux Center and Burlington, Reynolds announced.

A Test Iowa site in Sioux City that opened May 4 closed on Friday. Reynolds said one in 11 Woodbury County residents have been tested, with a majority of the tests being done by Sioux City-area health care providers, who will continue to provide testing.

“Iowans are doing a great job. Continue to do what you’re doing and we’re going to continue to see the positive outcome,” Reynolds said.

Key to that positive outcome, Reynolds said, will be an increase in the availability of testing.

As of this week, testing criteria now allows any Iowan to be tested, regardless of symptoms or potential exposure to the virus. First, they must complete an assessment — at testiowa.com — and schedule an appointment at a test site.

The expanded testing was announced Thursday and by Friday morning, 1,700 appointments had been scheduled.

As Iowans return to work in retail, food services and health care, first responders and law enforcement are at higher risk of exposure at work. The Test Iowa sites — including one at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids — are “a resource that you can use at any time to ensure your health and well-being,” the governor said.

Reynolds also reported that after 10 days of testing, she is no longer in “modified quarantine” after her meeting with Vice President Mike Pence, who was exposed to a staff member who tested positive for COVID-19.

The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths are among older Iowans or those with underlying health issues. More than 50 percent of the deaths were residents of long-term care facilities, Reynolds said. Public health data shows there are 32 outbreaks and 219 deaths in long-term care facilities.

Of the 119,469 Iowans tested for COVID-19, 16,415 or 13.7 percent were positive.

Polk County has recorded 3,493 positive cases followed by Woodbury with 2,462, Black Hawk, 1,661, and Linn, 915. Polk also has had the most deaths, 92. Linn has had 74, Black Hawk, 37, Muscatine, 35, and Tama and Woodbury, 23 each.

Over the weekend, the state will be conducting planned system maintenance so some agency websites, including coronavirus.iowa.gov, may be down or not updating, Reynolds said. The websites will not reflect current information, which will be released via news releases.