A1 A1
Reynolds: Any Iowan who wants coronavirus test can schedule one

JOHNSTON — As the state’s count of coronavirus deaths reached its highest daily peak yet of 20, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday there is no reason to reconsider her orders allowing more businesses to open.

Testing across the state for the virus has ramped up so much, she said, that now any Iowan who wants to get tested will be able to make an appointment for one.

As Iowa continues Friday to reopen more businesses, workplaces and entertainment venues, “normal will look and feel different,” the governor said Thursday at her daily briefing at the state emergency operations center. “But I believe we’ll all discover that difference can look and feel pretty good.”

As of Thursday morning, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported a daily tally of 20 COVID-19 fatalities — more than any day since the first virus death was reported in late March in the state.

The one-day high and the cumulative death toll of 403 Iowans will not cause the governor to reconsider relaxing restrictions that had curtailed or closed many businesses because she said she has “faith in Iowans and their ability to be personally responsible.”

“Anytime we lose anybody, it’s horrific,” Reynolds said, saying her “phased-in approach” is responsible and safe. She previously relaxed limits on restaurants, malls, stores, hair salons and gyms. Starting Friday, restrictions also are relaxed for movie theaters and museums, and next week they are for bars.

“We will manage this and, hopefully, see those numbers go down,” Reynolds said.

Summer fun options in Okoboji lessened due to coronavirus

Popular restaurants such as The Ritz, Taco House and Tweeter's will seat at only 50 percent of capacity. There will be no free weekend greenspace concerts in June. The classic roller coaster at Arnolds Park Amusement Park will use every other car. 

The daily numbers show the 20 deaths included five in Polk County, three in Black Hawk and two each in Woodbury, Tama and Dubuque counties. Dallas, Linn, Louisa, Muscatine, Pottawattamie and Wapello counties each recorded one death in the period. Later in the day, Pottawattamie reported another death also.

In the period, there were 1,119 people tested — 74 positive and 1,041 negative.

To monitor, manage and contain the coronavirus, Reynolds announced the $26 million Test Iowa Initiative will be open to all Iowans. People who want to be tested for free may go online at testiowa.com to take the assessment and schedule an appointment at one of eight drive-through sites.

“This is especially important as more Iowans are returning to work,” Reynolds said.

She acknowledged complaints from some local officials, including Linn County Public Health, about the timeliness and accuracy of Test Iowa results.

Linn County officials were troubled that a total of only 334 people had been tested over the course of four days at a drive-through site in Cedar Rapids — and that 10 percent of those tests were found inconclusive.

“Our goal is to certainly get lab results to local public health as quickly as possible because we understand that contact tracing and case investigation is just such an important component to be able to contain the virus,” said Public Health Department Deputy Director Sarah Reisetter.

The department reported there were more tests conducted Wednesday — 4,818 — than on any previous day. Of those, just 420, or 8.7 percent, were positive.

Test Iowa has the capacity to provide 200,000 tests, Reynolds said. The department’s daily goal was for Test Iowa to test 5,000 Iowans and the State Hygienic Lab to test 2,000 more.

So far, more than 476,000 Iowans have completed the online assessment. Overall, more than 115,000 Iowans have been tested.

Despite complaints about testing, Reynolds said the data is helping public health officials identify when and where additional testing is needed and where strike teams should be sent.

“As we learn new things and as we modernize the system and as we bring on new capacity, everybody’s learning new things,” Reynolds said. “So if there is an issue there, we’re going to find out about that and we’re going to correct it. We’ve significantly reduced the time that it takes to process the test.”

Next week, Reynolds said she plans to announce more opportunities for Iowans to be tested for the virus.

PHOTOS: The week in coronavirus coverage in Siouxland

Summer fun options in Okoboji lessened due to coronavirus

ARNOLDS PARK, Iowa -- State campgrounds will be open, but social distancing is required among some restrictions, and longtime popular restaurants such as The Ritz, Taco House and Tweeter's will have seating at only 50 percent of capacity.

There will be no free weekend concerts in the popular greenspace area of Preservation Plaza for the month of June.

Even the classic roller coaster at Arnolds Park Amusement Park, when it likely opens one week later than usual, will only have ride enthusiasts seated in every other car.

As the traditional kickoff to the Okoboji area summer season arrives on Memorial Day weekend, concerns over community spread of coronavirus have resulted a much different look at the Iowa Great Lakes region.

PHOTOS: Memorial Day weekend in Okoboji amid COVID-19

West Lake Okoboji City Administator Derrick Miner said he thinks visitors to the lakes area will be cautious for the most part about what they do, but people sure are primed to begin the days of summer fun.

"We've seen quite a lot of people come in for Memorial Day already," Miner said Thursday.

Jesse Brothers Sioux City Journal 

Musical instruments in Harmony Park, shown Thursday at Queens Court shopping center in Arnolds Park, remain covered in the wake of COVID-19-related restrictions. 

Back in March, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued proclamations that closed down certain retail outlets, bars and campgrounds, and limited restaurants to takeout orders only. Those types of facilities comprise a big draw in the Okoboji area from May through Labor Day.

Reynolds on Wednesday said the coronavirus pandemic has stabilized enough in the state for her to allow more elements to reopen, but with public health measures to ensure social distancing and proper hygiene.

Jeff Vierkant is CEO of Historic Arnolds Park Inc., which oversees the operation of high-profile elements along the south edge of West Lake Okoboji, including the amusement park, Queen II excursion boat, greenspace events and Queen's Court grouping of retail businesses.

"People are ready to experience Okoboji again...While the start of our Okoboji season will look a little different, I invite people to come and explore what we have to offer. I have a great deal of faith in Iowans and visitors to the Okoboji area. We will adapt to this," Vierkant said.

He said the amusement park will likely open on May 30 and plans for all rides will be open, although with distancing rules.

Jesse Brothers Sioux City Journal 

Don Harvey, right, Ken Ford, Stephanie Ford, Stacie Harvey, and Jessica Ford, left, relax after lunch at their campsite in Emerson Bay State Recreation Area on West Okoboji Lake, Thursday.

"The health and safety of the park users is our prime concern," Vierkant said.

He said no concerts will be held at Preservation Plaza or the Roof Garden in June, but "all of the July, August and September shows are still a go."

Like elsewhere in Iowa, the bars at Okoboji can first re-open to in-store customers on May 28, due to another statewide Reynolds proclamation. There are lots of popular bars and restaurants along Iowa Highway 71 and near West Lake Okoboji along Broadway Street. That's where the longstanding Yesterdays seafood restaurant is located.

Yesterdays owner Jen Ferrell said she began serving meals on May 7, with every other booth blocked out so people can't eat there. Ferrell said customers are glad to return to dining out.

"Our customers came in and said, "I've been cooking for 55 days and I don't want to cook anymore,'" Ferrell said.

"My customers have been supportive and following the rules, keeping the six feet. That has been lovely to see, that they are conscientious."

She doesn't expect to have substantially fewer customers.

Jesse Brothers Sioux City Journal 

People play on the beach while on vacation near Arnolds Park Amusement Park, Thursday, before Memorial Day weekend in Arnolds Park, Iowa, May 21, 2020.

'I hope we'll be OK. I know every business has a good year and a bad year. I hope this is the bad year and it turns around next year," Ferrell said.

She said the most lamentable loss is no greenspace concerts for a month, which are one block west from Yesterdays.

"It is great to see the foot traffic," Ferrell said. "The greenspace will be an unfortunate closing, because a lot of people who go there frequent the (Broadway Street) strip."

While there have been more than 15,300 confirmed cases of people testing positive for coronavirus and 375 deaths in Iowa, there have been only six positive tests in Dickinson County and no deaths.  Most people who contract COVID-19 will experience only mild illness and some may not need to be tested to confirm they have COVID-19.

There are several church camps along the Okoboji lakes that go back decades in drawing young people. While Lutheran Lakeside Camp on East Lake Okoboji won't hold sessions this summer, the Lakeside Center at Okoboji that serves as a Presbyterian camp will, although the start will be pushed back three weeks.

Jesse Brothers Sioux City Journal 

Many shops remain closed at the Central Emporium, Thursday, before Memorial Day weekend in Arnolds Park, Iowa, May 21, 2020.

Those overnight camps will now begin on July 5, a letter from the Lakeside Center board of directors explained.

"We’re sure that you’re looking forward to summer more eagerly than ever. Take heart knowing that this will end. As Psalm 30 says, 'Though this sorrow may last through the night, God’s joy comes in the morning.' The days are coming when we can get out of the house, see friends face to face, and finally take a break from all of our screens," the summary said.

A lot of state parks at the lakes area get used for camping and beaches.  Those include Gull Point State Park near Wahpeton, and Pikes Point and Elinor Bedell parks near Spirit Lake. Reynolds said restrictions on campgrounds will be eased starting Friday at state parks, so they will be open for all types of campers including RVs, pop-ups and tents.

Park visitors must continue social distancing and avoid gathering in groups larger than 10. In campgrounds, only campers with overnight reservations — not visitors — will be allowed. Within the state parks, lodges, playgrounds and visitor centers stay closed.

One city owned park, Terrace Park, has a popular beach along West Lake Okoboji, Miner said the beach is now open and the bathrooms will open on May 27.

"We have social distancing signs up," Miner said.

PHOTOS: The week in coronavirus coverage in Siouxland

top story
Judge rules Rose Hill house owners must pay city $107,000 in demolition costs

SIOUX CITY -- A judge has ruled that the owners of a historic Rose Hill mansion that was torn down more than four years ago must reimburse the city nearly $107,000 in demolition costs.

District Judge Jeffrey Neary rejected claims that the city obstructed attempts to fix up the 125-year old house at 1529 Grandview Blvd. after it was red-tagged because of rot and other structural deficiencies in August 2013. Neary granted the city summary judgment, ruling that James Gengler and Salvador Carrasco must jointly pay the city $106,959 plus interest.

Carrasco or Gengler may appeal Neary's ruling.

Mayor Bob Scott said the ruling proves the city properly followed its procedures in red-tagging and demolishing the property.

"I think it affirms the city did everything correctly," Scott said.

Gengler lives in Sioux City, but said he may move to a community that's friendlier toward historical preservationists like himself.

"I don't enjoy litigation, and even if I was successful with an appeal it wouldn't change anything. My dream home is gone," Gengler said in a text message.

"It is time for me to stop dwelling on the past and go find a lonely and neglected home with a tall, round turret that contains large, curved panes of thick glass that need sashes built around them," Gengler said, a reference to the former Rose Hill house.

County property records show that Gengler holds the deed to the property, which remains vacant. Gengler said that as of last fall, he had heard that Carrasco was living in Mexico.

The city council granted Gengler, then Carrasco, several extensions to fix the house before the council voted in August 2015 to demolish the property after no suitable buyer who could make the necessary repairs could be found. The city sued the owners in February 2016 to recover the demolition costs as outlined in an agreement Gengler and Carrasco had signed months earlier.

Neary ruled that evidence at an April hearing showed that both Carrasco and Gengler had not fulfilled agreements to fix up the house by any of the deadlines, and neither exercised his right to request a stay of demolition after the council passed the resolution to tear down the house.

Neary noted that after Gengler financed Carrasco's purchase of the property, the city awarded Carrasco additional time to make repairs, but little was done.

Gengler had argued that the city's aggressive actions to remove dilapidated buildings were "fascist" and "oppressive" and targeted him. Neary said city evidence showed Gengler had owned several properties that were red-tagged. Some were demolished, but the red tags were lifted on others after necessary repairs were done.

"The process did not appear to be unique for Gengler," Neary said in his ruling, filed May 14 in Woodbury County District Court. "Similarly, there was no evidence at all that any other owners were handled differently regarding the fate of their red-tagged properties."

PHOTOS: Memorial Day weekend in Okoboji amid COVID-19