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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa has rebuilt its stockpile of personal protective equipment after a dire shortage that prompted the state to buy through unusual sources, including $7 million in contracts for gowns and goggles with a business known for making Republican campaign signs.

Iowa’s executive branch signed $45 million worth of emergency purchase orders for isolation gowns, masks, face shields, goggles and other equipment from mid-March through April, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

The deals include 590,000 masks that were purchased directly from China and several with businesses that have never before supplied such materials.

In three contracts worth $7.2 million, the state agreed to purchase 1 million isolation gowns and 100,000 clear plastic goggles through Competitive Edge Inc., a Des Moines business that has never sold either. The company supplies promotional items like T-shirts, and has long been a go-to vendor for Republican campaigns buying yard and barn signs.

Owner David Greenspon, a former Republican appointee on the Iowa Finance Authority board, said state agencies reached out unsolicited asking for help securing supplies from China because he has long imported from there. Now Greenspon said he’s overseeing manufacturing in three Chinese factories and the items will be delivered to Iowa over the next month.

“We were lucky enough to get some business. I am happy about that. I like to be busy,” he said. “It’s been a tough few months but we didn’t close through any of it. Maybe that was fortuitous. When somebody from the state called, we were here.”

Greenspon is charging the state $6.96 per gown and $2.59 for each pair of goggles. He said neither item will be medical grade.

The contracts didn’t have to go through the mandatory open bidding process. Gov. Kim Reynolds suspended those requirements for all goods and services needed to fight the coronavirus in a March 9 emergency proclamation.

The governor said Friday the state has started to receive orders that were placed in March, allowing its inventory to be rebuilt. “Our stockpile is in a good place right now,” Reynolds said.

Executive branch spokeswoman Tami Wiencek said Iowa has ordered 33.6 million items since February and received more than half of them. She said orders for 1 million other items were cancelled after the vendor could not fulfill them on the state’s timeline.

A spreadsheet obtained by the AP shows Iowa’s inventory includes 8.8 million surgical masks, 664,000 face shields, 356,000 respirators, 1.3 million gloves, and 67,000 isolation gowns. But a shortage of goggles still exists.

These figures do not include millions of additional items the Iowa National Guard has delivered to all 99 counties. The situation has improved since the pandemic arrived in Iowa two months ago amid a national shortage of supplies, alarming health care officials.

On March 22, a top Iowa Department of Public Health official emailed University of Iowa experts asking whether used protective equipment could be disinfected by UV light or chemicals and reworn.

Ken Sharp, Iowa’s director of acute disease prevention, emergency response and environmental health, also asked them to brainstorm “what ‘off the wall’ solutions may be viable” if traditional equipment was unavailable.

“I realize these sound like desperate questions, but we are planning in unusual times and need to give consideration to all potential options,” Sharp wrote in the email, obtained by the AP.

On April 10, his department declared a shortage of personal protective equipment and directed health care providers to use face masks for treating multiple patients, use washable gowns and shorten hospital stays to preserve respirators. Supplies that were beyond their expiration dates could also be used.

That order remains in effect. Some health care workers report having trouble finding adequate supplies despite the replenished state stockpile.

It’s unclear whether taxpayers are getting good value for their money. Contracts show the state has paid vastly different prices for similar products.

In March, the state purchased 400, 8 ounce bottles of hand sanitizer from an out-of-state vendor for $4.69 apiece. Then in April, the state signed a contract with an Iowa company to produce hand sanitizer for a fraction of that cost: $10 apiece per 128 ounce bottles.

The state has paid between $4.64 and $19.35 for each isolation gown. Goggles have ranged from $1.12 apiece to $2.85. And disposable face shields have varied from $1.25 apiece to $3.

The state purchased 590,000 face shields directly from a Chinese exporter for $938,000, or $1.59 per shield. That shipment was to be flown from China to an Ankeny food warehouse, a March 27 purchasing order shows.

The state is buying 100,000 disposable face shields for $3 apiece from Honeycorr Acquisition LLC, a Fairfield packing and distribution company that had never made them before. CEO Nate Weaton said the $3 price was fair, saying similar items have been marketed for $5 or $7.

“We wanted a cost-competitive and cost-conscientious product and to make sure we weren’t gouging,” he said. “We think that’s where we ended up.”

DES MOINES, Iowa — With burnouts and engines roaring, downtown Des Moines witnessed a celebration of life on two wheels.

“It’s unbelievable to know so many people we don’t know have supported us in this matter,” said Jami Matice, the widow of Troy Matice.

Organized by Iowa motorcyclists in the 515 Celebration Crew, more than 100 motorcyclists gathered at SW 7th Street and MLK Parkway to honor Troy, who died after a crash at the intersection last Saturday. Des Moines police say an unlicensed 15-year-old driver failed to yield to Troy’s motorcycle.

“My heart is broken and I feel like I’m missing half of myself. He was my best friend,” Jami said. “I want to be an advocate to tell people to slow down and pay attention to the road. Not only motorcycles, but cars.”

Troy and Jami had been married for over 30 years and shared a love for riding motorcycles. Jami said, “I can’t change what happened. I can only move forward and hope that no one else experiences what I experienced. It is gut-wrenching.”

Many of the motorcyclists paying tribute Saturday may not have known Troy or the Matice family, but they didn’t have to. They knew Troy’s spirit.

“It’s respect, love, loyalty. You respect anybody that respects you. You show love and show support. Too many people are dying. I’m glad this actually came together,” said Dale Widman, who organized the group.

Family and friends of Troy say he could often be found eating and playing pool at Kung Fu Tap and Taco, just one mile south of the crash site. It’s also where a cross, similar to one planted at the intersection and bearing his name, will have a home forever.

“My husband would be honored by this. I think he would have been blown away,” said Jami.

While Jami says Troy was a soft-spoken man, those who chose to honor his legacy Saturday made sure their memorial ride was anything but quiet. “Troy believed in right and wrong and doing the right thing and he would want everyone to remember him in that manner,” said Jami.

Troy’s funeral was held on Friday. A GoFundMe donation site has been set up for the Matice family to help with unexpected expenses.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Two more deaths have been reported from COVID-19 and 56 more people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the state, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

There are now 235 positive cases of COVID-19 that have been diagnosed in Iowa. A total of 3,740 negative tests have currently been done by the State Hygienic Lab and other labs. 

According to the IDPH, two Iowans with COVID-19 passed away Thursday night. One elderly adult (81+ years) from Poweshiek County and one older adult (61-80 years) from Allamakee County. Three people, in total, have died from coronavirus in Iowa to date.

According to IDPH, the locations and age ranges of the 56
individuals include:

–Benton County,  1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

–Black Hawk County, 2 middle-age adults (41-60 years)

–Butler County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)

–Cedar County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

–Cerro Gordo County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)

–Clinton County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

–Dallas County,  1 adult (18-40 years), 1 elderly adult (81+)

–Dickinson County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)

–Dubuque County, 2 middle-age adults (41-60 years)

–Hardin County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

–Harrison County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years), 3 older adults (61-80 years)

–Henry County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

–Iowa County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

–Johnson County, 2 adults (18-40 years),  5 middle-age (41-60 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years)

–Linn County, 3 adults (18-40 years), 7 older adults (61-80 years)

–Mahaska County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

–Monona County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

–Marshall County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

–Montgomery County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

–Muscatine County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

–Page County, 1 older (61-80 years)

–Polk County,  1 adult (18-40 years), 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years)

–Tama County, 1 elderly adult (81+)

–Washington County, 1 adult (18-40 years), 2 older adults (61-80 years)

–Webster County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

–Winneshiek County, 1 adult (18-40 years)

–Woodbury County, 1 older adult (61-80 years)

–Wright County, 1 middle-age adult (41-60 years)

The IDPH provides a status report on its monitoring efforts and testing here. A public hotline has been established for questions about COVID-19 in Iowa. It is available 24/7 by calling 2-1-1 or 1-800-244-7431.

A 2:30 p.m. news conference is scheduled with Gov. Kim Reynolds. Channel 13 will take the news conference live on air and stream it on www. WHOtv.com.

ANKENY, Iowa – Classes for the rest of the spring semester
will continue online for students at Des Moines Area Community College.

DMACC announced Friday that it is extending online learning for the rest of the 2020 spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The school will also begin using a temporary pass/fail grading option.

“Our first priority continues to be protecting the health
and safety of our students, faculty and staff members,” said MD Isley, DMACC
Vice President of Academic Affairs. “While we greatly miss seeing everyone on
campus, we believe continuing online instruction for the final weeks of the
spring semester is the right decision.”

The term is still scheduled to end the week of May 4th.

DMACC has not yet determined how it will handle classes for
the summer term, though it says many of those classes are already offered
online. Plans are expected to be announced in April.

Commencement ceremonies for spring 2020 have already been
canceled.

DMACC President Rob Denson said, “We are hoping we can eventually reschedule these events so our students and their families can celebrate this significant accomplishment. We are also exploring options for a virtual or livestreamed graduation address.”

DES MOINES, Iowa — Wet weather is making things interesting for a Des Moines muralist.

Ben Schuh is the man behind the “Greater Des Moines” mural on the corner of 5th Street and Locust Street. The project’s finish date is just over a month away, but all this rain is forcing Schuh to get creative with his timeline.

“Anytime I work on an outdoor project I try to assess the weather,” Schuh said. “This particular project has to be done by June 20th so everything is critical in terms of planning. The initial transfer, that you see behind me, got done [Friday] night because weather did cooperate. [Saturday] we’re not painting because it’s about to start raining, but it’s one of those things. Mother Nature is going to be there and it’s how you approach it, and whether or not it gives you a hurdle is up to you.”

Schuh worked until 1 a.m. Friday night to finish his first sketch on the building’s wall, ensuring the paint would be dried and cured before rain hit the metro once again.

He estimates the mural will take over 130 hours to officially complete. Schuh is also the mastermind behind the Exile Brewery Mural and says this one is five times the size. It’s big reveal on June 20th is a birthday present for the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines.

After months of planning, Schuh released a preview of the mural on Instagram this week.

 

“Every public art project in Des Moines, in my opinion, has the ability to connect people with art that might not otherwise have access to it. For me, the exciting part about this is going to be the proximity to residents. There is a neighborhood building right here next door and I’ve been talking to residents and making it clear that this is their project as well,” Schuh said. “I think the biggest thing is sometimes people might look at something and think ‘well there’s just another piece of artwork,’ but if they look at it and think ‘there’s another piece of artwork for me, I think that’s something that Des Moines does really well.”

Schuh says the Papa John Sculpture Park is one of his biggest inspirations. This mural will be focused on Des Moines and some of the projects that the Community Foundation has impacted.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Heritage Carousel opened for the season in Des Moines’ Union Park.

The Heritage Carousel has been a staple in Union Park for 21 years.

One of the most nostalgic things about the carousel is the price. It is the same now as it was 21 years ago — it only costs 50 cents for a child to ride. Rides are just a dollar for adults.

“It’s a blast. I recognize kids from year to year. There are new kids, kids who have had their birthday party. It’s almost as fun to watch the adults come and ride,” said Jackie Cacciatore, executive director of the Heritage Carousel Foundation.

It also has a new sales counter to better display their goods.

The carousel will be open all summer each day except Monday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Multiple lightning strikes overnight kept firefighters busy.

At 4th Street and Seneca Avenue in Des Moines lightning hit a “no parking” sign Thursday night. It ruptured a natural gas line and ignited a nearby tree.

The gas fed the fire, making it impossible to put out until MidAmerican Energy could shut off the gas line.

Lightning is also blamed for a fire at an apartment building in the Sherman Hill neighborhood.

Firefighters say the strike hit the second floor and started two different apartments on fire.

“It was scary. We didn’t necessarily see flames shooting out of windows but in that second window there you could see that there was a gentleman in the room while the firefighters were in the other room,” neighbor Liz Johnson said. “We didn’t see any flames coming out of the building until we saw firefighters come through the rooms and break open the wall, so it seemed like that was the source of most of the flames.”

It took crews several hours to put the fire out. No one was hurt or permanently displaced.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Friday was a soggy move out day for freshmen students at Drake University.

“We just got soaked while moving everything out. We live on the fourth floor, so we were walking a long time on the cat walk,” student Becca Dwyer said.

It was either move in the rain or wait for it to stop. Those who waited were sent into a mad dash. The rain stopped around 1 p.m. with an official move out deadline at 3:45 p.m.

Some only had a short time to pull off all the work.

“It made it a little interesting. We were getting a late start. Seems like we have a lot more moving out than when we moved in,” parent Amy Halleran said.

DES MOINES, Iowa–  Thursday night there were widespread reports of hail. Some viewers reported seeing roughly dime- shaped hail rain down in parts of the Metro. Des Moines Police are reporting traffic light outages across the area. Water was pooling near Ingersol and MLK Parkway, and police report heavy street flooding along Merle Hay Road. Homeowners are also in the dark, at one point Mid-American Energy reported more that 10,000 outages. That includes at the Kenny Chesney concert at Wells Fargo Arena. The concert was delayed for about a half hour.

 

PLEASANT HILL, Iowa– A Southeast Polk High School substitute teacher is out of a job after attempting to discipline a student.

Whether Lois Johnson will be reinstated is in the hands of the school board.

“She is South East Polk,” parent Kim Turnbaugh said.

Johnson is a longtime educator who kept teaching as substitute after retirement. She was suspended over claims of violating district policy. A group of students say she took a disruptive classmate by the arm to guide him back to his seat.

Many are frustrated by the suspension.

“I want her reinstated she was my teacher and my daughter’s teacher three generations there is no way this can happen,” Turnbaugh said.

Thousands followed Turnbaugh lead and signed a petition to reinstate Johnson. Many of those supporters attended Thursday’s school board meeting to voice concern.

During public comment, the board tried to cut Johnson’s attorney Frank Smith short. Smith says his client didn’t break the rules and the district didn’t follow policy.

According to South East Polk School District, an employee can use minor reasonable physical contact to maintain order and control. And all matters must be addressed to the teacher or employee first.

“She was not given her chance and her due process, and I think that is completely wrong,” Turnbaugh said.

Ultimately, it’s up to the school board to decide whether Johnson will keep her job

Frank Smith says Lois just wants her job back.

The school district wouldn’t comment on Lois’ suspension but did say they are committed to supporting a professional work environment where employees are valued and respected.