Andy and Amy Jo Hellenbrand live on a little farm in south-central Wisconsin where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat, heifers, chickens, goats, bunnies, and their four children, ages 5 to 12. For the entire fall semester, the quartet of grade school students learned virtually from home, as their district elected to keep school buildings closed. That has put a strain on the family, as well as the childrens’ grades and grammar. “I definitely feel like they’re falling behind,” said Amy Jo Hellenbrand. “You just notice certain things as far as their language and how they talk.
In March, Kelli Greenland faced a devil of a choice – should she accept a retail job as an essential worker, or should she remain home to keep her medically fragile son safe from exposure to the novel coronavirus? The West Des Moines mother of two decided to stay home initially. Greenland relied heavily on food pantries to feed her family, which includes son Ethan, 7, who has asthma, and daughter Skylynn, 4, who is lactose intolerant. The family had used food pantries previously, but “not like we’ve had to this year,” Greenland, 30, said. “Definitely, 2020 has been a ride, from not being able to get food in-stock in the beginning in the grocery stores to not being able to go to the stores because my son has severe asthma, and the possibility of exposing him,” Greenland said.
Gusty winds blew corn husks through the school’s parking lot on November 16 at South Hamilton Schools. This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project. The collaboration was made possible by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. It was another day of the staff trying to keep up with the daily reports of sickened students and faculty, making sure kids pumped hand sanitizer and wore face masks nearly all the time, properly social distanced during band practice and lunch periods, and pivoted from teaching in-person and virtual learners while taking extra time to help those struggling.
Even the lunchroom is different this year. Cafeteria tables limit seating.
Despite all of the reporting, public announcements and warnings from health care professionals, community leaders and elected officials, health care workers IowaWatch spoke with as 2020 drew to a close said many people still don’t understand the severity of suffering that the people hit hardest with COVID-19 have to endure. Unless, that it, they have seen it up close, themselves, with someone they know.
Iowa hospitals lost an estimated $433 million in March through October because of COVID-19, the Iowa Hospital Association said in a report released Wednesday, Dec. 16. The association reported that the state’s hospitals have spent $1.25 billion to equip hospitals for and to care for people with the highly contagious coronavirus that has killed 3,354 Iowans and 307,076 Americans. Provider relief funds from federal government stimulus programs offset much of those costs and were included in the calculations that resulted in the loss estimate, the association reported. The projection did not include money from some federal programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or state funding, the association reported.
Iowa’s state park rangers — certified peace officers who safeguard the state’s premier outdoor recreational areas — are having to confront an increasingly endangered species: themselves. Budget cuts have severely thinned the ranks of state park rangers over years — to 35 this year from between 45 and 55 in the late 1990s, State Parks Bureau data show. As a result, far fewer park rangers are now serving far more visitors to state parks. An IowaWatch review of state historical data shows that the ratio of park rangers to annual park visits has gone from one ranger per 217,700 visits in 1995 to one ranger per 422,269 visits in 2019. The shortage has gotten more severe this year — the 100th anniversary of Iowa’s state park system — as thousands more visitors flocked to state parks to relieve their COVID-19 isolation.
The state’s hospital and nursing leaders in Iowa pleaded Tuesday with Iowans to take safety steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 as the glut of cases continued to tax their ability to help people with the virus. “We have folks new in health care and those who have been around for decades who are astounded by the amount of death and serious morbidity they are dealing with on a daily basis,” Dr. Tammy Chance, medical director of quality initiatives at Boone County Hospital, said.
Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday she has approved sending $25 million in CARES money the state received to Iowa hospitals for COVID-19 relief, based on average hospital censuses in September and October. Report includes an IowaWatch podcast on hospital capacity and financing.
Vicki and Matt Bruening live on a Floyd County acreage with six children ranging from a sophomore in high school to a fourth-grader. Like others in Iowa, the family makes a living in agribusiness: both Bruenings operate an agricultural repair business in New Hampton, and Matt farms with his uncle on family land nearby.
At home, the family raises goats and chickens, with the help of their kids. When COVID-19 shut down Iowa schools over the spring break season in March, farm life gave the Bruenings the benefit of staying busy — but as time progressed, the family was still concerned whether school doors would open in the fall.
“We were most worried about if they wouldn’t be able to go back at all,” Vicki Bruening said. “It’s been a different kind of school year so far, but it’s also been good to get them back in the classroom, back with their friends.”
Bruening drives her kids to school in the morning as a way to provide more time to get ready. In the afternoon while she’s at work, the family relies on school transportation from Charles City’s joint high school and middle school campus, and one of the district’s two elementary schools.
This piece is part of a collaborative reporting project that includes the Institute for Nonprofit News, Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, IowaWatch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project.
One by one, COVID-19 outbreaks popped up in April and May at meatpacking plants across the country, fanning fears that the infectious coronavirus could spread rapidly into rural states. Plants closed temporarily in small metro areas like Waterloo, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but also smaller Iowa towns like Tama, Columbus Junction and Perry.
Leaders at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake, a northwest Iowa town of 10,500 with a Tyson Foods packing plant, knew their time would come. “We just didn’t know to what degree,” Rob Colerick, the hospital CEO and administrator, said. “I mean, you saw it in Columbus Junction. You saw it in Waterloo.