Vaccinated, but Really Not Ready to Leave the Pandemic Cocoon

Steve Petrow writing in The Washington Post:

I know I can only keep my vaccine status quiet so long — without appearing to be anti-vaccine. (Clearly, I’ve blown my cover with this essay.) To help me, I’ve found myself thinking about the yoga retreats I’ve attended. Toward the end of these retreats, the teacher will usually ask, “How do you take what you learned on the mat off of the mat?” The answer: intention and discipline.

The stress I currently feel with regards to the pandemic is more about the growing pressure to re-emerge into public. At the end of 2019, I had the goal to slow down and say no to more. For folks like me (which I suppose might mean an undiagnosed social phobia of some sort), the pandemic was freeing.

University of Iowa Gives Athletics $50 million ‘Loan’

Vanessa Miller for The Gazette:

Given tens of millions in losses the University of Iowa Department of Athletics is absorbing from COVID-19’s devastating impact, outgoing UI President Bruce Harreld has agreed to permanently end an earlier deal requiring athletics to contribute $2 million a year in direct support to the main campus.

Additionally, the UI main campus — facing budget cuts and tens of millions in pandemic-propelled losses of its own — is nonetheless shipping $50 million to the typically self-sustaining athletics department this budget year.

The University of Iowa’s self-sustaining athletics department has an endowed head football coach who has long been the highest paid public employee in the state.

Our Great Reopening is Stressful AF for Some of  Us

Matt Richtel reporting for The New York Times:

When the pandemic narrowed the world, Jonathan Hirshon stopped traveling, eating out, going to cocktail parties and commuting to the office.

What a relief.

Unlike Hirshon, I’m not diagnosed with anxiety, let alone severe social anxiety, but, despite the stress of the pandemic, I’ve found comfort in my introversion and staying home.

My ideal pre-pandemic weekend was, well, staying home. I hope very much to hold on to that as much as I can, and get anxious AF when I think about what returning to the wider world.

A Reporter Arrested while Covering a Protest Faces Trial Monday. Here’s Why You Should Care.

Nicole Carroll, editor-in-chief of USA Today:

Over the summer, six USA Today Network journalists were taken into police custody while doing their jobs, reporting from various racial justice protests. Three were jailed. They yelled, “I’m press, I’m press,” as they were tackled. Forced to the ground. Pepper sprayed. Handcuffed.

One of them, Andrea Sahouri, is going to trial Monday. The Des Moines Register reporter, eyes still burning from pepper spray, spoke about her arrest on video as she sat in the back of the police van last May. […]

“It’s clearly sending a signal, whether it’s intentional or not, to other reporters,” Ardia said. “Don’t cover protests in Des Moines.”

Iowa Told Counties 8 Minutes Before Expanding Vaccine Access by 1 Million People

Ethan Stein reporting for KCRG:

An email KCRG-TV9′s i9 Investigative Unit received shows the Iowa Department of Public Health only alerted county health departments it was expanding eligibility criteria for COVID-19 vaccinations 8-minutes before the announcement was made.

Iowa’s response has been, um, chaotic. Much of the work has fallen to underfunded, “exhausted” county public health departments to deal with shifting requirements, mandates and policies.

An Oral History of the Indoor Rainforest Iowa Almost Built

Peter Rugg writing for Inverse:

Picture this:

A glass dome a sixth of a mile long and 20 stories tall buffers a lush canopy against the windswept winters. Beneath it free-roaming bonobos, toucans, sloths, and piranha, shanghaied from the jungles of Central and South America, form a free-wheeling menagerie among ferns and vines and hundred-foot-tall-trees reaching towards the expansive sky.

That is what Townsend wanted, what some big thinkers back east wanted, and what the U.S. Senate thought might be crazy enough to work.

I think about this oral history of the Iowa Child Project’s proposed rainforest in Coralville, Iowa, which was a thing while I was finishing high school and into my college years and was planned for what is now Xtreme Arena and the Iowa River Landing, surprisingly often.

A Cynical Change in Accounting

Last week, on a Friday of course, Iowa changed the way it counts COVID-19 cases, suddenly adding 27,398 confirmed positives. It was a significant jump, representing more than 7 percent of total positives in the state.

And while it looked really bad — leading to games of one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the rest of the web — this wasn’t another case of poor pandemic management, at least directly, even though it felt like it fit that narrative. (I shared, and then deleted, social media posts of my own.)

Cynically, it was a shrewd move.

To be sure, the change was completely defensible: an overdue adjustment bringing Iowa into line with the the CDC’s method of calculating positivity rate. Who could argue with that?

But it was set against the backdrop of Gov. Kim Reynold’s equally sudden decision to drop almost all required mitigation two weeks prior, and a new mandate that schools open to face-to-face learning five days a week that had just started earlier that week.

These changes, which seem to have been made without even bothering to pretend to check in with the state’s public health experts, were widely criticized on, again, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and the rest of the web.

But this new accounting change was a perfect cover to the policy changes. How can you critique the immediate, sudden rise in case counts when its obviously and admittedly not representative of reality?

But what’s the point of all this “data and metrics” if they don’t actually reflect reality? If they don’t allow you to assess the impact of your policies? (Look, we know the answer and it’s not reassuring.)

This change in accounting, dressed up as the one thing Iowa is doing aligned with the CDC, offers an easy way to dismiss and discredit any complaints that Iowa will just add to its pile of 5,400 dead.

Gov. Reynolds Regrets Shutting Down Schools

KWWL anchor Ron Steele:

When asked if there was something she wished she hadn’t done during the pandemic, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds replied, “I would not have shut schools down. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have done that.” Governor Reynolds made the comments Friday in her office, as part of an interview

It’s hard to look back nearly a year and remember how little we knew about the pandemic, how it worked and who it would impact. Leaders wishing they’d made different choices is understandable.

It’s valid to regret the decision to close schools, realizing the impact to had on families and students, thinking about the vital role they play in our communities and in our social support system.

We could have — and should have — prioritized schools. No one opposes safely opening schools.

But you only get one top priority. And this governor’s pandemic response has failed to ask for scarifies — besides illness and death — for her priorities.

Destroying the Economic Engine to Own the Libs

Iowa loves the Hawkeyes. Their games are played across the state on TV and radio for tailgates, at small-town bars and restaurants and in the cabs of combines.

The trouble is much of our state seems to hate the University of Iowa.1

The University of Iowa, along side its sibling institutions in Ames and Cedar Falls, is a huge economic engine for the state. Each year, these public schools are and being responsible for billions — $11.8 billion in the most recent study — plus employment for 1 in 14 Iowans. In the midst of a pandemic the University of Iowa’s healthcare system has been a backstop for the state.

It’s easy to cheer Luka Garza’s dominance, or aw-shucks another football loss to Northwestern, but that it’s-great-to-be-a-Hawkeye energy doesn’t prevent the plenty of animosity towards the parent institution.

I guess it’s hard to root for a university epidemiologist critical of the state’s COVID response. Or a tenured performance artist who dresses up as a robot to hassle elected officials. Or a law professor who’s so pissed about Republican extremism she gets elected to the state legislature.2

And so, year after year, politicians gather in Des Moines to pass laws, or at least to file messaging bills, just out of spite towards Iowa City and Johnson County, the liberal bastion that benefits the most directly from the institution. Banning a ban on housing discrimination. Forcing a lower minimum wage. Even banning bans on goddamn plastic bags

But direct assaults on the University of Iowa have been mostly limited to big GOP donors having install university presidents in questionable proceedings.

Until this year.

Now the Republican-led legislature advanced a slew of bills meant simply to punish the University of Iowa and its sibling institutions.

That this is all nose-despite-your-face bad policy is obvious — not a single lobbyist has registered in support and plenty have registered opposed. But good policy isn’t the point. The point, in a state that was once so proud of its commitment to public education, is simple: to hollow out the University of Iowa and own the Iowa City libs. 

It’s great to be a Hawkeye. It just sucks to be the University of Iowa. 

1 | John Deeth often writes about the local issue of “Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students,” which I think is a different, though perhaps related, issue than what I’m writing about here.

2 | The closest the actual Hawkeyes seem to have come is kneeling during the national anthem, which was enough for the Trump-loving, long-time equipment hauler to, um, suddenly part ways with the team.

State Agency Seeks to Block State Auditor from Auditing $1.2 Billion Deal

William Morris reporting for the Des Moines Register:

At issue is a deal announced in December 2019 awarding two French companies a 50-year contract to operate the University of Iowa’s utility system. University of Iowa Energy Collaborative Holdings LLC, a joint venture of global energy company ENGIE and asset manager Meridiam, paid the school $1.165 billion up front, the majority of which the school is investing in an endowment. In return, the university will pay the companies a yearly fee starting at $35 million that after five years will increase by 1.5% annually.

While this story calls this — the so-called P3 — a deal to operate the University of Iowa’s utilities, it’s much closer to a equity loan: the university gets a chunk of cash up front and pays back an escalating set amount each year; though university utilities employees are now employed by University of Iowa Energy Collaborative Holdings LLC, a joint venture of global energy company ENGIE and asset manager Meridiam, the university is still also on the hook for many of the costs associated with running the plant.

Anyway, after some sleepy years under Mary Mosiman, the Iowa State Auditor’s office is doing good work under Rob Sand (the best thing folks could say for Mosiman was she was a CPA unlike Sand, who, um…has his own watchdog credentials).

Can you imagine working for a state agency and believing you had the right to secret meetings and records? Oh, I guess that’s a thing now.