COVID-19 News Roundup: Washington Co. Announces First Two Cases, Rural Hospitals Prepare

Stock photo: Healthcare workers don personal protective equipment during a training exercise. (Bill Kelly, NET News)
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March 23, 2020 - 5:00pm

Governor Pete Ricketts announced today that Nebraska’s income tax filing deadline will be moved back, and drive-through testing will begin in Lincoln this week.

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Two New Cases in Washington County

Two travel related cases of COVID-19 were announced in Washington County. A man and woman in their sixties have been self-isolating at home since mid-last week.

The Three Rivers Health Department notified close contacts with the individuals, and those contacts will self-quarantine and be monitored for symptoms.

These are the first two cases in Washington County.

Income Tax Deadline Moved to July 15

Governor Pete Ricketts gave a press conference today, and plans to give an update every week day during the COVID-19 pandemic. He announced today that the state income tax deadline will be moved to July 15th. He encouraged Nebraskans to file their taxes by the original deadline if possible.

“If everybody who normally files April 15 were to file July 15, we would see $385 million, our estimate, move from this fiscal year to the next fiscal year which begins July 1,” Ricketts said. “Now we have analyzed this, and we at the State of Nebraska can manage that with our cash flow, we will be able to manage that. But I’m also asking, if you have not been impacted by coronavirus, and you can file by April 15, please do so.”

Ricketts said he plans to pay now and has instructed his cabinet to as well.

The press conference also included an update on how the state will work with employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s head of Human Resources said the state is prioritizing keeping essential services running, the safety of their employees, and income security for employees. They plan to utilize tools like telework, work from home, sick leave, and paid on-call status. The state plans to work with unions, and to address the differing needs of specific agencies.

This week is agriculture week in Nebraska, and the press conference included a representative from an ethanol company that plans to make alcohol and donate it to the state of Nebraska. The Department of Corrections will then make the alcohol into hand sanitizer. Ricketts also noted the Department of Corrections is still hiring.


Rural Hospitals On Financial Brink

As the number of cases of COVID-19 has grown, the disease has moved beyond Lincoln and Omaha and cases are appearing in rural areas.

John Roberts is executive director of the Nebraska Rural Health Association. He said that rural hospitals don’t have much excess capacity, and some don’t have isolation rooms. Patients needing intensive care may need to move to hospitals in larger towns and cities around the state.

Roberts said that not every Nebraska county has its own hospital, and not every hospital is equipped to handle long stays.

“We have 64 what we call “critical access” hospitals in Nebraska. Those are hospitals that have 25 beds or less. They can take care of patients on average 96 hours or less. Some of the current federal legislation and rule making might waive some of those requirements.”

Roberts also noted that many rural hospitals are on the financial brink, and coronavirus could make that worse.

Bryan Health to Begin Drive-Through Testing Tuesday

Bryan Health will start drive-through testing at their LifePoint location in South Lincoln Tuesday. Testing will be provided seven days a week from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.. The center will have capacity for 60 tests per day and tests are available with a doctor’s referral.

Dr. Eric. Moss is president of Bryan’s physician network. He says the location will include other kinds of testing in addition to COVID-19.

“We will be screening for influenza, respiratory testing and COVID-19 testing if warranted,” Moss said. “It is important to note that if a person undergoes respiratory testing, they will be sent home to self-quarantine and someone will call them with the results of the test.”

Bryan’s drive-through testing was announced earlier and was delayed more than a week because of a shortage of testing kits.

Schools Begin E-Learning

Gretna Public Schools started distance learning Monday. Students take a couple of classes a day using Zoom or Google Classroom. Students are able to “raise their hands” via Zoom and ask questions. Teachers will give out homework two times a week, and students will have a week to complete the work.

Rich Beran is superintendent of Gretna Public Schools. He said the online learning allows teachers to save their lessons for students to watch later.

“They’re going to record their lessons so if a student can’t get on live, they can go back and listen to it later,” Beran said. “And then the other thing they’re doing is they’re using zoom to just answer questions, talk back and forth. Zoom has a way for the teacher to mute everybody, so you don’t have 24 people talking all at once.”

Beran said it’s too early to tell how well distance learning is working. Gretna hopes to re-open for in-person learning May 1, but that could change. If the schools cannot reopen, they’ll continue e-learning until the end of the year.

Millard Public schools are starting e-learning Tuesday.

Lincoln City Libraries Move to Pickup Only  

Public libraries in Lincoln and Omaha are closed to the public. However, residents in Lincoln can put holds on books through the Lincoln City Libraries website and then pick up their materials curbside at a library branch.

Pat Leach is Director of the Lincoln City Libraries. She said they’ve seen an uptick in demand. Those with a library card can also access virtual book downloads through the library.

Leach asked for patience as the staff gathers books for patrons and adjusts to the new system.

“It’s a little bit different for us to do business this way,” Leach said.  “So we’re having to adjust our processes and find ways of streamlining them as we do business in an entirely different way.”

The Omaha Public Library is closed and asked patrons not to return books at this time.

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Editor's note: by way of full disclosure, Lincoln City Libraries Director Pat Leach also hosts the program All About Books on NET Radio.



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