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Sioux City's Food Truck Fridays debuts amid COVID-19

SIOUX CITY -- Nothing can be better than a gooey queso taco that comes with meats, veggies and plenty of melting mozzarella cheese.

Or at least that's the opinion of Gigo Guerrero, who is a longtime fan of the queso taco served out of the Daga's On Wheels food truck.

"I've been coming to Food Truck Fridays from the very beginning," he said, while waiting for his food to be made. "And today seems like a perfect day for a taco break."

Guerrero and his friend, Briza Garcia, were among the people getting some grab-and-go goodies, Friday, for the first Food Truck Friday of the year.

From 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each Friday through Sept. 4, area food trucks will be stationed at Pearl Street Park (the corner of Seventh and Pearl Streets), in order to provide a wide variety of food options. 

However, organizers say concerns over COVID-19 required some changes for both vendors and their customers.

For instance, vendors and customers are required to wear masks and most food trucks have hand sanitizer available for customers. Also, there will be no additional seating or trash bins at the event.

That is to discourage people from sticking around too long, according to organizer Sam Burrish, who helped start the event five years ago. 

"(In past years), people loved Food Truck Fridays for the sense of community and we loved it too," he said. "(But with the present danger of COVID-19), safety is our top priority."

Which is why Food Truck Fridays has adopted a grab-and-go format. Customers can still sample their food truck faves but they must eat it at home or back at their office.

David Schrock, of Dog Eat Dog, said he is OK with the safety precautions.

"This is how make my living," the longtime food truck owner explained. "I have a very good reason to keep my customers as well as my employees healthy."

That was a sentiment echoed by Michelle Packer, who works at a nearby bank.

"I've been a fan of Food Truck Friday and know that the vendors would take cleanliness to heart," she said. "I'm just happy that the event is back and running."

So is Wesley Baker, an 11-year-old South Sioux Cityan who was attending for the first time. 

"My family has been here before," he said. "They like it a lot."

So, what did Wesley order? The Korean Beef Bulgogi Bowl from the Leaf Grill & Wokery, with some blackberry lemonade to wash it down. 

"Sounds good," he said. "Can't wait to taste it."

The same was true for Briza Garcia, who took the advice of her friend Gigo Guererro by ordering the queso taco from Daga's.

"Gigo loves Daga's queso tacos," she said. "I thought why not try one myself."

Iowa increases enforcement as state reports 696 new cases

A day after officials launched an effort to increase enforcement of distancing orders in bars and restaurants, a state agency reported Friday that there had been nearly 700 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the past day.

The Alcoholic Beverages Division, which approves liquor licenses, and the Department of Inspections and Appeals, which issues restaurant permits, announced Thursday a $1,000 fine will be imposed on bars that fail to enforce requirements that people stay 6 feet apart when more than 10 are gathered. Restaurants will get a warning.

Repeat offenses could results in suspensions and revocations of food and alcohol permits and licenses.

The stepped up enforcement comes as the Iowa Department of Public Health reported Friday morning there were 696 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the state total to 44,474. Eleven more people died since Thursday morning for a total of 865 deaths.

The number of hospitalizations, patients on ventilators and those in intensive care units have generally been on the rise this month. The overall state positivity rate — the percentage of those testing getting positive results — was 9.4% on Friday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds acknowledged Thursday that if the state continues to see positivity rates and hospitalizations rise she will “have to step back and take a look at if there are additional mitigation efforts needed to put in place.”

Scott expects approval of $260K plan to equip Sioux City police with body cameras

SIOUX CITY -- After years of delay, the Sioux City Police Department is moving forward with a plan to spend $260,000 to buy cameras that will be worn daily by its officers.

Police Chief Rex Mueller said the City Council will be asked Monday to approve the purchase of 120 body cameras, with the goal of the officers starting to wear the cameras before the end of this year.

"We firmly believe these cameras will be a positive advancement for our department, our officers, and our citizens, and we look forward to deploying them," Mueller said at a news conference Friday.

The cameras, made by GETAC, appear headed for easy council approval.

"I see it as a positive tool...I'd be shocked if it doesn't pass 5-0," Mayor Bob Scott said Friday.

After some time for arrival and then training, the cameras would likely be used by city officers by late 2020, Mueller said.

Body cameras have been a hot topic of discussion in recent years after a number of high-profile incidents across the country in which suspects have  died while in police custody. The death of George Floyd, who was choked to death by a Minneapolis officer, sparked widespread protests across the country by Black Lives Matter and other groups calling for police reform.

Purchasing cameras is voluntary for Iowa law enforcement agencies, but Sioux City has been considering them for several years, vetting different models and taking public input.

Mueller said financing had never fallen into place in previous years, as the council wrestled with funding city initiatives.

During a Jan. 25 budget hearing, Scott expressed frustration that the police department has yet to equip its officers with the cameras. At that time, Mueller told the council, "We do want them. We are absolutely for it."

On Friday, Mueller said the vocal public asking for cameras in recent weeks moved the issue to the forefront. Mueller said the units will digitally capture arrests and other interactions with suspects.

The issue of body cameras, as well as excessive use of force by police officers, was raised by a number of city residents who came to the July 6 council meeting.

At that meeting, resident Gene Boykin called for the cameras, as well as a change in police culture.

"I'm scared. I live in fear right now and I shouldn't," Boykin said.

Another citizen, Jasmine Preston, started a petition that urged the city to adopt the cameras.

A $250,000 request for cameras in the 2025 fiscal year was part of the five-year capital improvements budget that the council reviewed in January. To move on the proposal now, Scott said one way to pay for them would be through fine revenues from the city's automated traffic cameras.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 


At Friday's news conference, Ike Rayford, president of the NAAACP chapter in Sioux City, said the group is glad body cameras appear likely to be added this year.

Rayford said African Americans in the city don’t have a contentious relationship with police, but added it is still good to add the technology.

"We are truly excited to hear the plans," Rayford said.

Mueller said the 120 cameras would be enough for every officer who interacts with the public, plus for resource officers working in local schools.

The chief said officers are very accepting of wearing them.

"These officers know these cameras will provide an unbiased look at what they are doing," Mueller said. "These are great technology, but they are not a magic bullet. They don't see everything the human eye sees."

Mueller noted cameras have been present in SCPD cars since the mid-1990s. The body cams, which will be worn in the chest area, will create additional transparency when officers move outside their cars.

Minnesota company gets most aid in Iowa hog disposal program

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- One influential pork company has received most of the money from an Iowa program designed to support farmers who euthanized their hogs after the coronavirus devastated their industry, newly released data shows.

Christensen Farms, one of the nation's largest family-owned pork producers, has received $1.86 million from the Iowa Disposal Assistance Program, or 72% of the $2.6 million the program has paid to date.

The Sleepy Eye, Minnesota-based company received payments for disposing of 46,599 euthanized hogs, six times as many as the second highest claimant. The 15 other companies and farmers who received payments reported euthanizing about 18,000 hogs combined.

Iowa is the nation’s largest pork-producing state, and Christensen Farms has more than half of its operations in the state, including partnerships with nearly 200 farms.

Coronavirus outbreaks at meatpacking plants resulted in worker absenteeism and temporary closures, dramatically slowing production in April and into May. As a result, some farmers said they had no markets to sell their hogs and no space to keep them. Industry officials say they took steps to find new markets and to slow animals’ growth but euthanized them as a last resort — a practice that can use gunshots, bolt guns, electrocution or heat.

Christensen Farms is the largest shareholder in the Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph, Missouri, and part owner of the Seaboard Triumph Foods plant in Sioux City, Iowa. Between the two plants, at least 611 workers have tested positive for coronavirus and three have died.

With disruptions to the supply chain, "pork producers have been faced with making unfathomable and heartbreaking, yet critically necessary decisions to sacrifice pigs that processing plants were unable to take,” the company said in a statement.

Christensen Farms spokeswoman JoDee Haala said it used a variety of methods approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association to euthanize hogs. She said its preferred methods for disposal have been to render carcasses into fats used in products such as animal feed or using them as compost.

Christensen Farms said it was grateful for the support from the Iowa program “as the sector navigates prolonged and unprecedented uncertainty.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship released the claims data Wednesday in response to an open records request by The Associated Press.

Iowa launched the program in May to reimburse farmers $40 for each euthanized market-ready hog up to 225 pounds (102 kilograms). It is paid for with federal funds provided to the state for coronavirus relief.

Participation has been lower than anticipated, agriculture department spokeswoman Keely Coppess said. It's unclear why some filed claims and others did not, she said. Only a tiny fraction of Iowa’s estimated 6,200 pig farms have sought payments.

Christensen Farms reported euthanizing all 46,599 hogs between May 1 and June 5. It received the maximum allowed claim of 30,000 hogs in the first round of funding and 16,599 in the second.

Demand for the program dropped in the next two rounds of funding, which covered the bulk of June. Producers making claims must provide proof of proper disposal and an affidavit from a veterinarian.

The department expanded eligibility this month to producers who euthanized hens after the price of liquid eggs plummeted as a result of restaurant and school closures. For the first time, this round of funding also will pay $4 per piglet of up to 25 pounds (11 kilograms) euthanized between May 1 and July 20.

The number of hogs euthanized dwarfs the number donated during the first phase of Iowa's highly touted Pass the Pork program.

The state launched the program in April to pay the cost of having pigs processed and packaged for food banks. By early June, 451 pigs had been donated, resulting in 200,000 servings of pork.