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Education
Mediacom, Waterloo Schools help more than 350 families gain internet access

WATERLOO — With the help of Mediacom Communications, more than 350 families in Waterloo Community Schools have gained access to high-speed internet for their children’s educational needs since April 7.

Last week, broadband installation was completed for the final set of families, five weeks after district leaders put in motion a plan to ensure that its students would have the technology to access online learning following the state-mandated closure of schools in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

District officials distributed school Chromebooks to students in second through fifth grades. Waterloo Schools’ technology team developed a plan to work with local broadband providers to fill gaps for students without internet access at home. Secondary students already had school-issued Chromebook computers through an existing technology initiative.

Mediacom adapted its Connect2Compete program, a low-cost internet service for students who are eligible for free or reduced-priced school meals, to assist the district. Internet service was installed in the homes of more than 175 families through the program.

In addition, the company activated internet service for another 172 families who chose individual subscriptions using the program, paying a flat-rate monthly fee of $9.95 with no contract or deposit. In response to COVID-19, new families eligible for the program can get 60 days of complimentary internet service.

“Education equity is a top priority for Waterloo Schools, and in 2020, an internet connection and computer are essential components in the equity equation,” Matt O’Brien, Waterloo Schools’ executive director for technology, said in a news release. “Mediacom’s broadband network is widely available throughout our community, and we were pleased with the company’s willingness to step forward to be part of the solution and investment we needed.”

The school district is responsible for monthly internet service offered at the same discounted rate of $9.95 for each household within in a bulk service agreement. Mediacom donated 100% of the costs for installation labor and materials, including a no-cost lease for the wifi-equipped modems activated in each home.

“We previously made a commitment to invest company resources in a meaningful way that helps low-income families gain the connectivity they need to support their children’s education,” Corey Bowman, Mediacom’s area operations director, said in the news release. He noted that “in a COVID-19 world, a connection to Mediacom’s fiber-based network is more essential than ever.”



Gallery: Coronavirus impacts meat industry throughout Midwest

Gallery: Coronavirus impacts meat industry throughout Midwest

Govt-and-politics
WATCH NOW: Iowa reaches 400 deaths; Reynolds opens up Test Iowa sites to 'anyone'

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Thursday that testing at the state’s eight Test Iowa sites, including Waterloo, would now be open to “anyone who thinks they should be tested,” once they complete a TestIowa.com assessment.

Reynolds’ announcement comes after criticism that not many were able to get tested through Test Iowa sites despite the $26 million program’s ability to test 3,000 Iowans per day.

“In three short weeks, we have significantly ramped up testing,” Reynolds said.

The governor noted that the state had tested 4,636 people statewide on Wednesday, “an all-time high,” she said, and said more than 3,000 Iowans had been tested through Test Iowa sites each day since Monday.

“Later today, we’re opening criteria so that anyone who thinks they should be tested can be,” Reynolds said, noting the change would be effective late Thursday or “maybe until tomorrow.”

“So if you’re interested in being tested, please go to Test Iowa and take the assessment,” she said.

More than 475,000 Iowans have completed a Test Iowa assessment, but only a fraction have been approved for testing so far. In Black Hawk County, that number was just 5%.

Reynolds said, with the expanded criteria, those who have taken the assessment will now be able to schedule their own testing appointments.

“We get so hung up on testing, too,” Reynolds said, noting other metrics were available to Iowans to monitor the virus, like coronavirus.iowa.gov and the 211 hotline. “All of that is really good news for our ability to manage the virus.”

Iowa remained 14th in the nation among all 50 states and the District of Columbia for cases per capita. It remained 23rd in deaths per capita.

Adding Black Hawk County’s totals to the state’s, 16,159 people in 98 of Iowa’s 99 counties have tested positive for coronavirus, or 0.5% of the state’s population. Only Decatur County along the Missouri border has no positive cases recorded.

As of 10 a.m. Thursday, the state had 400 deaths in 33 counties, and around 2.5% of Iowans who have tested positive for coronavirus have died, with 88% of those over the age of 61.

The state remained at 37 long-term care facility outbreaks in 16 counties, adding 38 cases and eight deaths among residents and staff for a total of 1,529 cases and 218 deaths.

Five Iowa counties have had 2% or more of their population test positive: Crawford, Louisa, Marshall, Tama and Woodbury counties. Another three are over 1%: Black Hawk, Muscatine and Wapello counties.

Nine counties have had 10 or more COVID-19 deaths: Black Hawk, Dallas, Dubuque, Jasper, Linn, Muscatine, Polk, Tama and Woodbury counties.

The state has a 13.9% positive test rate, lower than Wednesday’s 14.1%. The World Health Organization recommends a positive test rate of 10% or less as an adequate testing rate.

The Black Hawk County Health Department reported seven more cases and three more deaths for a total of 1,869 cases and 37 deaths Wednesday.

The county has four long-term care facility outbreaks: Harmony House remained at 89 cases among residents and staff, Friendship Village added one case for 47 cases, Pillar of the Cedar Valley remained at 20 cases, and NewAldaya Lifescapes added four cases for a total of 17 cases.

Buchanan County added two cases for a total of 30 cases. Grundy County added two cases for a total of 19 cases.

Hardin County added one case for a total of 13 cases.

Tama County added nine cases for a total of 376 cases and 21 deaths. The county has two long-term care outbreaks: Pinnacle Estates of Toledo remained at 52 cases, and Westbrook Acres added one case for a total of 35 cases.

Winneshiek County dropped one case for a total of 20 cases. The state adjust numbers downward when a case is mistakenly assigned, officials have said.


Local
Iowa sees fewest initial jobless claims since March

DES MOINES — Iowa Workforce Development received 13,040 new unemployment claims and handled another 187,375 continuing unemployment claims last week, the department announced Thursday.

It is the lowest number of initial claims filed since March 14.

The state paid almost $51 million in unemployment benefits from May 10 to May 16, and the federal government paid another $106.8 million in jobless benefits.

The federal government has paid $651.3 million in unemployment benefits to Iowans since April 4.

Workers in the manufacturing industry had the most new unemployment claims last week, at 4,679, followed by self-employed workers or independent contractors, at 1,251, and workers in health care or social assistance, at 1,216.

Initial claims have decreased steadily in May after peaking in April at 64,194 claims.

The numbers reflect only people who are actively looking for work and does not necessarily paint a full picture of how many people are out of work.