The Iowa Department of Public Health on Monday awarded an emergency contract to Microsoft to develop and deploy an online registration system to schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments. Meanwhile, IDPH said it would announce today which contractor had been selected to operate a vaccine call center.

An optimist might say, “Better late than never.”

An Iowan might say, “Why weren’t we planning for this?”

Nearly two months after the first vaccine doses began arriving in Iowa, the state is just now putting structure into place to facilitate scheduling distribution.

While Iowans have been lamenting the meager share of vaccine the state has received, the state has been ill-equipped to manage the distribution of the doses it does have. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data this week has shown Iowa at the bottom of the list in its ability to distribute vaccine.

Last week, IDPH put out an emergency request for proposals, giving potential vendors just one day to respond with a plan for distribution.

A one-day notice calling for RFPs? Awarding “an emergency” contract? Did the fact that we needed to facilitate vaccinating millions of people come as a surprise to Iowa officials?

Here’s hoping Microsoft can do what the state has not been able to manage and quickly facilitate getting the precious vaccine into the arms of Iowans.

No doubt there will be some trepidation as students and teachers head back to school full time on Monday, Feb. 15. But take heart, the science over the last several months shows schools are safer than most people would have suspected.

A recent article published in the journal of the American Medical Association by key scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at schools that had held in-person instruction throughout the fall. The research showed no evidence of significant COVID-19 spread in schools.

“The type of rapid spread that was frequently observed in congregate living facilities or high-density worksites has not been reported in education settings in schools,” the report noted.

While that won’t allay all fears, it should bring some comfort. This is scientific evidence, after all, not just speculation.

The decision of whether to return to full-time, in-person learning is a weighty one, with ballast on both sides.

While families worry about the possibility of virus transmission, we also have learned more about the emotional and academic impact remote learning has had on students, particularly those who were already at risk. That scenario will take a toll as well and might affect student trajectory for years to come.

Godspeed to all teachers and students back to school full time next week. Here’s hoping for a safe and engaged learning environment.

Soil health might seem like a topic only farmers and gardeners would care about. But new efforts to make improvements in this area could lead to creating healthier watersheds, improving water quality, flood resiliency and mitigating climate impacts.

Dubuque County has embarked on a set of programs that seek to engage farmers in the conservation program.

By benchmarking and tracking stewardship on a field-by-field basis, scientists can glean key information for farmers and conservationists alike. Better still, the program financially compensates farmers for their participation based on stewardship improvement over time. Meanwhile, farmers will learn more about the kinds of practices that can help improve soil health — and their bottom line.

This is just one piece of the county’s efforts, but a big one. The county is now earnestly searching for farmers interested in participating. Interested participants can contact County Watershed Program Director Eric Schmechel at eric.schmechel@dubuquecounty.us or call 920-327-0908.

Editorials reflect the consensus of the Telegraph Herald Editorial Board.

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