Iowa towns that are thriving, bucking trend of rural decline

A handful of small Iowa towns with 5,000 or fewer people and not part of a larger metro area bucked the trend in the 2020 census and grew their populations. These towns grew populations at a time when the 2020 census showed Iowa’s urban population growing to 64% of the state’s 3.16 million people. The share of urban dwellers in Iowa was near 61% in both 2010 and 2000, 58% in 1990, and 57% in 1980. With support from the Solutions Journalism Network

A four-month IowaWatch investigation that included visits to 58 towns of 5,000 or fewer people turned up examples of growing rural communities. One of those growing in population isn’t even incorporated, but counted, none the less, by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Iowa schools shore up mental health services, thanks to $30M in CARES Act funds

Principal Chris Myers sought to make mental health counseling available to students in the rural district of Graettinger-Terril for nearly four years. But each time he thought he might be close, money, or lack thereof, got in the way. Myers’ luck changed in July 2020, when Iowa received $50 million in federal funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, aka the CARES Act. The act passed in March 2020 as a $2.2 trillion relief package to respond to the economic fallout from COVID-19. Of that $50 million in CARES Act money, $30 million was allocated per capita, at $9.50 per Iowan.

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.

Latino students pursue dreams, adapt to survive college life

Editor’s note: Omar Guadalupe Alcorta is a 2021 graduate from Buena Vista University, where he double majored in Spanish and digital media. While in school, Alcorta served as station manager at KBVU, the university’s radio station, and worked part-time as a producer for Iowa Public Radio and Storm Lake Radio. This story is a script of a podcast he reported and produced. IowaWatch and BVU are longtime partners. KBVU 97.5 The Edge · Same Dream Different Shoes Final

ALCORTA: If a chameleon could talk, and you could ask it, “What color are you?” how would it respond? Would it even have an answer? Or if it did, would its answer be, “It depends.”

Omar Guadalupe Alcorta is a Buena Vista University graduate.

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.