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Evans: These changes won’t improve election security

Iowa’s 2020 election was one for the record books — with 1.7 million people marking ballots. It was an impressive turnout in Iowa — with 76 percent of Iowa’s eligible voters taking part. There were no allegations of election fraud or polling place shenanigans in Iowa. No one suggested people from cemeteries were casting ballots in our state. Randy Evans
STRAY THOUGHTS

Randy Evans is the executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.

Rural areas face challenges in COVID vaccine rollout

Across the Midwest, the rollout of COVID vaccines has been spotty. Lots of people are having a trouble with online signups. And vaccine demand far exceeds supply. That’s made the process challenging, especially in rural areas. For years, the Girls State Training School in central Iowa has sat mostly empty.

Evans: There are more questions than answers in Iowa these days

It may be time for lawmakers to designate an official state punctuation mark, too. 

The question mark seems to be an appropriate choice — especially after the troubling news from our state in the past few weeks, news that has left many Iowans asking “why?”

Some examples: 

Why does it seem as if state health officials do not have a well-planned strategy for vaccinating people in every nook and cranny of our state? And why have people basically been left to fend for themselves by making numerous phone calls trying to find a clinic or a pharmacy or a county health office that has appointments for the shots available? 

Why does it seem as if no one in a position of responsibility has considered until the past week or two how people who do not have computers or internet access, or people who are working during the day, are supposed to make these appointments — especially when vaccination providers in some communities only allow people to sign up online? Why did our governor and our United States senators not use their close relationships with former President Donald Trump to pressure his administrators to ensure that Iowa received a comparable allotment of vaccine doses, based on population, as other states received? 

This is especially vexing because the federal government’s data show Iowa ranked 47th among the 50 states last week, per-capita, in its vaccine supply. Iowa was 46th worst among the states in the proportion of its residents who have been vaccinated so far. That federal data say Iowa has administered 64 percent of its vaccine so far — a percentage that is lower than surrounding states.

16.6 million visit Iowa’s state parks in 2020; Lake Manawa, Gull Point top the list

A record 16.6 million visitors frequented Iowa’s state parks in 2020, according to data from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Iowans turned to the outdoors with indoor activities interrupted or cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Over the last decade, the Iowa DNR saw between 13.7 million and 15.5 million visitors to their state parks yearly. 

The system with 83 parks and forests recorded its 100th anniversary in 2020 just as the coronavirus came to Iowa in March. The Centers for Disease Control has recommended people remain six feet apart and meet outdoors to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, making spacious state parks popular destinations. 

Lake Manawa in Council Bluffs topped the list with an estimated 3.2 million visitors. Next came Gull Point near Milford. Big Creek, Backbone and Walnut Woods rounded out the top five.

Rural schools battled bad internet, low attendance in the pandemic. Will spring semester be better?

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.

Evans: Needless confusion about First Amendment

Forty-five words that were first written with a quill pen 230 years ago form what may be the most consequential sentence in United States history. But that sentence also is one of the most misunderstood – as recent comments from some of our leaders illustrate. The sentence I refer to is the First Amendment. It is the Constitution’s guarantee of fundamental rights of the American people to live their lives without government butting in. For reference, here is what the amendment says in full: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Iowa food pantries weather COVID, face unprecedented storm coming this winter

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.