CEDAR FALLS – Many performing arts centers in Iowa have been temporarily shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa. Officials at Iowa State University in Ames recently announced it was closing C.Y. Stephens Auditorium indefinitely as it determines the center’s future viability.
Live concerts, Broadway shows and other performances in the Great Hall at the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center are in limbo for the interim. That doesn’t mean the center has been sitting idle or shut its doors.
“Pivot — that’s what we’ve done since COVID-19 hit,” said Steve Carignan, GBPAC executive director and associate dean of outreach and special programs at the University of Northern Iowa. “Most art centers and schools of music threw up their hands, but we realized early on that we needed to pivot to stay engaged with the community. That meant being creative in coming up with ways to connect. We’ve done some stuff we’ve never done before.
“We don’t want people to get used to not having opportunities for live music, live theater and live performances,” he said. The center also is home to the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra and a resource for UNI School of Music students.
Recently, the center launched a “Local Legends” concert series from the Great Hall stage, featuring live-streamed, professionally produced shows by area bands and performers. This summer, the center’s staff collaborated with Cedar Falls Community Main Street, Hearst Center for the Arts and others to present “Movies Under the Moon” series as a drive-in at a campus parking lot.
That proved so popular that GBPAC offered ticketed date-night movies and an outdoor drive-in rock concert. “We bought a portable stage from 1959 — no kidding – and because we have the people to do it, worked on it so now it’s like new. I’m seeing us using that in the future for street and block parties — that could be a blast,” Carignan said.
At 4 p.m. Sept. 26, “Yesterday and Today,” a interactive concert featuring the music of the Beatles, will be the second drive-in concert.
Now with students back on campus, the center has found ways to allow student ensembles and choruses to rehearse together in safe environments while taking COVID-19 risk mitigation steps.
“It’s really cool to see students rehearsing in the Great Hall and lobby. It’s neat to see the spaces being used so effectively. It achieves some level of normalcy for students whose studies require performance, whether it’s an instrument or voice,” Carignan explained.
The center and UNI School of Music have been on the leading edge, he said, in taking appropriate and thoughtful steps to allow students to practice, borrowing from West Point Military Academy’s guidebook for large ensembles. The academy’s approach was developed and tested during the school’s summer band session “to reduce the risk of viral spread while maintaining practical needs of ensemble performance,” according to the guide. That includes providing a large space for rehearsals to allow for maximum air dispersion, expanding distance between musicians and using Plexiglas shielding between players.
At UNI, the Great Hall’s sizeable stage has become the setting for large ensemble rehearsals. In addition to appropriate distancing, players sit inside shields or “boxes” made from plastic vinyl that can easily be sanitized. “String players and percussionists perform masked, and some of the woodwind and brass players have masks with special holes cut in them just big enough for their instrument’s mouthpieces,” Carignan explained.
In pre-COVID days, large ensembles had two rehearsals in the Great Hall in preparation for one or two performances per semester, while wind and orchestra met two to three times weekly in the center’s 300-seat Davis Hall and choral gathered in 125-seat Jebe Hall.
“Now all of their two- to three-per-week rehearsals for each wind/orchestra ensemble are in the Great Hall, and all choral rehearsals are in the McElroy Lobby. The Great Hall also has become the rehearsal space of Jazz Band I, which normally rehearses and performs in Russell Hall,” said Blake Argotsinger, GBPAC marketing manager.
“Jazz Bands II and III have also moved over to the GBPAC and are rehearsing in Davis Hall. We haven’t had any of the jazz ensembles in our building since the Russell renovation was completed in 2008,” Argotsinger pointed out.
The hall is sanitized between ensembles and the air handler unit that scrubs the air is tested frequently for quality assurance.
In addition, the Waterloo Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra will open its season at 7 p.m. Oct. 3 with a live-streamed concert from the Great Hall stage. Movements of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Septet for Winds and Strings, op 20” will be performed in celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday.
“We’ve pivoted pretty hard, and it’s turned out to be a good answer for us. We’ve done some things we always talked about doing but couldn’t find the time. I can see a festival in the future, coming out of the ‘Local Legends’ series, and continuing to build relationships in the community. We’ve found the value in this whole experience,” Carignan added.
WASHINGTON — Openly contradicting the government’s top health experts, President Donald Trump predicted on Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus could be ready as early as next month and in mass distribution soon after, undermining the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and calling him “confused” in projecting a longer time frame.
Trump also disagreed with Dr. Robert Redfield about the effectiveness of protective masks — which the president recommends but almost never wears — and said he’d telephoned Redfield to tell him so.
Earlier in the day, the CDC sent all 50 states a “playbook” for distribution of a vaccine to all Americans free of cost when one is proven safe and effective — which is not yet the case. Redfield told a congressional hearing that health care workers, first responders and others at high risk would get the vaccine first, perhaps in January or even late this year, but it was unlikely to be available more broadly, again assuming approval, before late spring or summer.
Redfield, masked at times in a Senate hearing room, spoke emphatically of the importance of everyone wearing protective masks to stop the pandemic, which has killed almost 200,000 Americans.
“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”
Trump, who has strongly recommended all year that restaurants, stores and cities in general “reopen,” mentioned Tuesday that waiters struggle with their face coverings and do not like them.
CDC sent a planning document on Wednesday to U.S. states, territories and some big cities. Adding to logistical complications, vaccines likely will have to be given in two doses spaced weeks apart and will have to be refrigerated.
Redfield said states are not ready to deal with the demand for such a distribution and some $6 billion in new funding would be needed to get the nation prepared.
Earlier Wednesday, Trump parachuted into the coronavirus aid debate, upbraiding his Republican allies for proposing too small of a relief package and encouraging both parties to go for a bigger one that would include his priority of $1,200 stimulus checks for most Americans.
But his top GOP allies — who worked for weeks with the White House to construct the very aid package Trump criticized — shrugged off the president’s mid-morning tweet.
All the key players in the entrenched impasse over a COVID-19 rescue package instead focused their energies on finger-pointing and gamesmanship, even as political nervousness was on the rise among Democrats frustrated by a stalemate in which their party shares the blame. There remained no sign that talks between the White House and congressional Democrats would restart.
The smaller bill from Senate Republicans that Trump criticized did not include $300 billion for a second round of Trump-endorsed stimulus checks, which the White House said is a top priority.
Meanwhile, a drug company said Wednesday that partial results from a study testing an antibody drug give hints that it may help keep mild to moderately ill COVID-19 patients from needing to be hospitalized. Eli Lilly’s results have not yet been published or reviewed by independent scientists.
The drug missed the study’s main goal of reducing the amount of virus patients had after 11 days, except at the middle of three doses being tested. However, most study participants, even those given a placebo treatment, cleared the virus by then, so that time point now seems too late to judge that potential benefit, the company said.
Other tests suggest the drug was reducing virus sooner, and the results are an encouraging “proof of principle” as this and other studies continue, Lilly said.
The entire vaccine enterprise faces continued public skepticism. Only about half of Americans said they’d get vaccinated in an Associated Press-NORC poll taken in May. Since then, questions have only mounted about whether the government is trying to rush treatments and vaccines to help Trump’s reelection chances.
Redfield said that the “scientific integrity” of his agency’s reports “has not been compromised and it will not be compromised under my watch.” He also rejected questions about whether the CDC’s timeline for states to be ready for a vaccine by Nov. 1 was politically motivated.
“The worst thing that could happen is if we have a vaccine delivered and we’re still not ready to distribute,” Redfield told Senate lawmakers. “There was absolutely no political thinking about it.”
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the committee’s top Democrat, said political interference from HHS had damaged public trust in the government’s health information.
“The Trump administration needs to leave the science to the scientists immediately,” Murray said.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said while campaigning that he trusts what scientists say about a potential vaccine — but not Trump.
Biden has said he would take a vaccine “tomorrow” if it were available but he would want to “see what the scientists said” first.
DES MOINES — With the imminent onset of cold weather and flu season in Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday state officials are in the process of “winterizing” Test Iowa sites.
Currently, Test Iowa “drive-through” sites are available in Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Marshalltown, Storm Lake, Waterloo and West Des Moines.
Also, the governor said, state officials have partnered with health care providers for coronavirus testing clinics in 15 counties: Black Hawk, Carroll, Cass, Crawford, Des Moines, Dickinson, Dubuque, Kossuth, Mitchell, Page, Plymouth, Pottawattamie, Story, Union and Wright.
Another 19 test sites are set up at community colleges, private colleges and state universities.
The 3,000 Test Iowa samples are among the 5,000 processed daily at the State Hygienic Lab.
Michael Pentella, director of the State Hygienic Laboratory, said his facility — at the University of Iowa Research Park in Coralville — is upgrading its equipment to handle 6,000 tests a day by October.
“We’re fast approaching about 500,000 tests combined” in the two labs that have been processing COVID-19 tests and antibody results since March, Pentella said during Reynolds’ news conference.
“This pandemic is unprecedented and very demanding of laboratory resources,” he said. “We’ve been facing many challenges” after moving from a facility mostly testing well water and newborn disease screenings to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The challenges are likely to escalate in the coming months as Iowa combines testing for seasonal influenza and COVID-19 infections, Pentella said.
“We are committed to meeting the needs of the state,” he said. “We’ll do all that we can to perform the testing necessary to control this pandemic and protect the health and lives of Iowans.”
Reynolds said state Department of Transportation and Iowa National Guard officials are working with county emergency managers to identify alternate locations near current Test Iowa sites that can be “winter-proofed” to test a large number of people quickly and effectively, in much the same way the drive-through locations now do.
“We’re looking for sites that will allow us to continue drive-through sites for throughout the winter,” the governor said. “The goal is to have new sites secured in the next few weeks so that we stay ahead of the weather as much as possible.”
Reynolds also put out a plea for health care providers to partner with the state to increase access to testing in rural communities and smaller towns as part of a long-term testing strategy.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health website Wednesday afternoon, nearly 714,000 Iowans had been tested since the outbreak of the coronavirus. Of those tests, 75,260 were positive for the virus, for a positivity rate of 10.7 percent. To date, 1,235 Iowans have died of COVID-19.
As of Wednesday morning, Iowa had 775 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours and one additional death.
DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday the state has streamlined the process for punishing establishments that ignore public safety directives, which allowed her to reopen bars in all but two Iowa counties.
Her administration will take a targeted enforcement approach in dealing with “bad-actor” businesses that violate COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’m trying to thread that needle,” Reynolds said in defending her Aug. 27 decision to temporarily close bars and restrict alcohol sales in six counties where the number of COVID-19 cases had spiked.
“I’m trying to protect the health and safety of Iowans. I’m trying to protect the livelihoods of Iowans,” the governor noted.
She said the closures became necessary because enforcement efforts weren’t working.
On Tuesday, Reynolds issued an order allowing bars in four counties — Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn and Polk — to reopen but keeps bars around the University of Iowa in Iowa City and Iowa State University in Ames closed until at least Sunday.
She also removed restrictions on hours alcohol may be sold in restaurants in those four counties and clarified social distancing requirements that still apply to all bars and restaurants in the state.
Reynolds said she hopes the closures in the six counties got people’s attention regarding the seriousness of the pandemic and the need to follow safety guidelines.
“Now that we’ve seen the trends come down,” she said, “they know that we’re serious about enforcement and following the guidelines of the emergency health declaration.
“We’ll continue to monitor the counties. But in addition to that, we’ve streamlined the enforcement process,” she said.
Due process, she said, had been taking weeks. It will now happen in a week’s time, she said.
“We can go in, we can continue to do education, we can give them a little warning, and if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, then we will take the next step, which is to fine and to shut them down.
“My goal — since we can do that in a more timely manner — we need to punish the bad actors and not the ones that are doing it right,” she added. “I didn’t have the luxury of doing that with the spike in cases that we’ve seen.
“Since then, we’ve refined the process. We believe we can now do that moving forward.”
Reynolds said the enforcement approach is intended to strike a balance between compliance and consequences.
“We’ll work with the businesses so they know what the rules are, they know what the expectations are and then they can make a decision and, if they decide not to be a part of the solution, there are consequences,” the governor said.