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Axios Des Moines

It's Wednesday, already?

  • Another day in the 70s, but a cool down is coming, friends.

🎃 Question: What's your Halloween like in 2021? Has normalcy returned to your hauntings or are you taking precautions this year?

Today's Smart Brevity count is 839 words, a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Helping refugees get vaccinated

EMBARC holds a clinic with Vineyard Church in Des Moines in May 2021. Photo courtesy of EMBARC

Vaccine hesitancy is holding back our state's ability to reach a meaningful immunization level, but one way Polk County is making headway is through outreach with immigrant and refugee populations.

Why it matters: As of 2018, at least 9% of Polk County's population of nearly 500,000 people are immigrants or refugees.

  • They're a big part of our community, but they face unique obstacles to getting vaccinated, such as misinformation and language barriers.

What's happening: The Polk County Health Department is giving grants and training to local organizations and leaders to encourage them to educate their communities about COVID-19 vaccines, said Nola Aigner-Davis, who's leading the initiative.

  • The department is also paying individuals $20 an hour for vaccine advocacy work. Some are making YouTube videos or holding one-on-one WhatsApp conversations.
  • Church leaders are also becoming important liaisons, since many groups rely on them for their social network.

Zoom in: EMBARC, an Iowa nonprofit that typically works with Burmese refugees, is holding clinics for diverse groups across Des Moines, thanks to grant funding from PCHD and other sponsors.

  • Since January, they've helped vaccinate 600 people through clinics, 18 of which were specifically for the Burmese community. They offered rides and translations.

What they're saying: Mu Paw of EMBARC said one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is false information from social media posts.

  • For example, some people in the Karen community believed they didn't need to get the vaccine if they previously had COVID, Paw said. Others were nervous to get it, especially when it first came out.
  • Talking with them and showing them people they know get vaccinated helped alleviate fears.

At this point, what's working is educational outreach through trusted people, Aigner-Davis said.

  • Tangible rewards, such as free Iowa State Fair tickets, have also proven successful incentives. Lotteries are nice — but many families want something they're assured, like a Visa gift card for groceries, Aigner-Davis said.
  • Employers, like Tyson Foods, that have mandated their workers get vaccinated is another method that appears to be making headway.

And for our new refugees: They're offered COVID-19 vaccinations once they arrive in the U.S.

  • Iowa is expecting 1,800-2,000 new refugees between now and next October, Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa reports.
​​2. Our best public high schools
Expand chart
Data: U.S. News; Table: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

West Des Moines' Valley High School was recently ranked as the top public high school in the metro, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Why it matters: The rankings assess how schools are doing, and they can help direct resources for improvement.

  • 🏆 It also gives you kick-ass bragging rights. (FYI: Linh is a Valley grad.)

Context: The scores are largely based on college readiness, as well as math and reading proficiency and performance.

  • Graduation rates, underserved student performance and AP and IB exams also play a role.

The big picture: Iowa's overall education score (#18) is middle-of-the-road, compared to our No. 5 standing just three years ago.

  • Back in 2018, Gov. Kim Reynolds appeared on "CBS This Morning" to tout the state's achievements.

Yes, but: Iowa's still got one of the top graduation rates in the nation.

Read more: See how the rest of our metro high schools compare.

👂 Shout-out: Is your school better than its ranking?

  • Hit reply and tell us why.
3. 👻 The Ear: Car rides to Mali-boo

Straw-boo-ry ice cream, one spoon for two. Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🚨 Court Avenue stakeholders want to bring back the fenced entertainment zone, claiming crime has increased since it went away. (WHO-13)

🚜 John Deere workers on strike are grappling with the financial pains of being on the picket line, as they earn only $275 a week. (WQAD)

🤝 Iowa National Guard members are helping resettle Afghan refugees here in the U.S. (AP)

💉 Everyone's getting vaccinated: Roughly 20 animals at the Blank Park Zoo got their first COVID-19 vaccine shot last week. (Des Moines Register)

4. See your words on the big screen
The Iowa DOT shares messages like this on highways across the state. Image courtesy of Iowa DOT

The Iowa Department of Transportation's highway message boards are some of our most visible screens in the metro — and your words could soon be up there.

After nearly eight years of no repeated messages, the DOT said it's running out of ideas for its boards that encourage safe driving.

  • Who could forget zingers like "Get your head out of your apps"?

How you can help: If you're a bit punny, submit your suggestions here.

5. Enough is enough

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn. Photo courtesy of IDP

"My hope is that my coming forward and making this report will get others to step forward and say, 'You know, this is unacceptable.'"
— Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn during a press conference yesterday about racist threats made against him following his recent op-ed criticizing former President Donald Trump.

Go deeper: Iowa Democratic Party chair reports racist threats after Trump op-ed

6. 🏀 Stats to go: ISU and UI women's ranking
Chart: Axios visuals; Data: AP

The Hawkeyes and Cyclones women's basketball teams are forces to reckon with this upcoming season, according to AP's preseason poll.

  • Iowa is ranked #9 — its highest preseason ranking in 25 years. They'll play Truman State Nov. 4.
  • The Cyclones are ranked at #12. They'll open against Omaha on Nov. 9.

What to watch: We'll be cheering on all these talented players, and especially Hawkeye Caitlin Clark, who was named on The Athletic's pre-season All-American team.

A DSM City Council forum with at-large candidates incumbent Connie Boesen and challenger Justin Lewis is tonight.

  • 6:30 pm. Capitol Hill Christian Church 3322 E 25th St.