COVID-19 Roundup: Ricketts Expects More Cases, Drive-Through Testing Begins

March 24, 2020 - 5:30pm

Drive-through COVID-19 testing began today in Lincoln and Omaha’s Mayor is working to stop evictions.

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Ricketts Says to Expect More COVID-19 Cases in Nebraska

Governor Pete Ricketts is now holding a press briefing every weekday to talk about coronavirus. Today he said he expects to see more cases of COVID-19 as labs in Nebraska perform more tests.

“As we do that, we will see more people get tested positive,” Ricketts said. “That’s nothing to be concerned bout. We want to find the people that are testing for coronavirus so we can make sure we have the best data available.”

Rciketts also reminded Nebraskans about recommendations that if a person has travelled to U.S. cities with more cases of COVID-19, you should self-quarantine for 14 days.

Omaha COVID-19 Updates

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert is strongly urging landlords not to evict people for not paying rent, as many people are out of work during the pandemic. Last week the State Supreme Court said they’ve gotten a lot of questions about ending evictions during pandemic, but said they can’t legally make that order.

The Douglas County Health Department clarified their guidance for hair and nail salons. Even with fewer than 10 people, the people in a salon would be fewer than 6 feet apart, so salons should close.

Drive-Through Testing Begins in Lincoln

Drive-through testing began Tuesday at a Bryan Health location in Lincoln. The testing is taking place at the Lifepoint Clinic in south Lincoln. The clinic can test up to 60 people a day, and will be open 7 days a week for four hours in the afternoon. Patients can only be tested with a doctor’s referral.

Testing begins with a flu test. If that test is negative, the patient is then given a respiratory panel test and asked to self-isolate. Depending on the results of the panel test, and on the patient’s condition, a COVID-19 test may be run on the sample that was previously collected.

Nurses in full protective gear are performing the tests in the clinic's parking lot.

Homeless Shelters Struggle with Social Distancing

Homeless shelters house people in close quarters, which makes social distancing difficult. Tom Barber is CEO of the People’s City Mission in Lincoln. He says the Mission has started cleaning shelters three times a day with bleach. People staying in the shelters have their temperatures checked at lunch and dinner. The shelter is also not allowing people from out of state to stay in at the Mission.

Barber says if someone in the shelter were to get sick, it would be difficult for them to self-isolate.

“We’re just kind of hoping that it doesn’t break out here,“ Barber said. “If it does, we’re probably gonna be in big trouble, cause there’s no easy way to manage it. I’ve said before, we’re kind of like a cruise ship, except our passengers mostly don’t have rooms and a third of them have underlying conditions.”

The People’s City Mission has also seen a decrease in volunteers and donations. They’re asking young people with no underlying health issues to volunteer. The Mission also runs a help center to provide people in need with donated food and clothing. Under normal circumstances, those receiving help must make less than 200% of the federal poverty level. That rule has now been waived.

Some Schools Extend Remote Learning Through End of School Year

When school districts started to make changes due to COVID-19, the changes were regarded as temporary. However, some schools are now extending closures through the end of the schools year.

North Platte Public Schools is a district of about 4000 students. North Platte will shift to remote learning next week and are expecting it will last for the rest of the school year. The district would consider bringing students back if something drastically changes between now and May 15.

Tina Smith is communications director for North Platte Public Schools. She said people feel bad for senior students in the district.

“Everybody is just feeling the emotions that our seniors are missing out,” Smith said. “But you know, our students are very resilient, and we believe that they understand what’s going on, and that this is not a punishment from the district, this is a global pandemic. We have very smart and strong-minded students at North Platte Public Schools and we’re very proud of the way they’re reacting.”

North Platte is looking for ways to still have some sort of graduation ceremony.

Elsewhere in the state, schools in Norfolk cancelled in-person classes for the remainder of the school year on Monday.

Banks Adapt to Social Distancing

Some Nebraska banks are moving to drive-through only and appointment only lobby service. They’re also encouraging people to use online banking tools. Every bank’s techniques are different.

Richard Baier is president and CEO of the Nebraska Bankers Association.

“We all have a plan in place to be able to provide frontline services through those digital platforms, but also then find ways to work with our customers on very specific needs,” Baier said. “As you can imagine, right now our banks are taking and having a lot of dialogue with their small business customers and their agricultural customers, finding ways to help them work through their respective situations as well.”

Concerns About COVID-19 and Cattle Auctions Mount

As Americans stocked up for self-isolation, demand for beef shot through the roof nationwide. But as ranchers are wrestling with how to keep business moving without spreading COVID-19 in ranching communities.

Trey Wasserburger held his annual bull sale last week: normally, around 300 buyers visit his ranch in southwest Nebraska. This year, only 60 showed. “It's a different world than it was two weeks ago," he said. "We're just kind of hoping and praying everybody gets through it, and that it's not as bad as they say.”

The beef industry is centered around live sales, and suppliers often cross state lines to attend. But as COVID-19 makes its way across rural Nebraska, Jara Settles of the Livestock Marketing Association says that kind of mingling seems increasingly risky to some.

“It's a delicate balancing act," Settles said. "But I think it’s our moral and ethical obligation to keep agriculture open, to keep people fed. Because a country that can't feed itself can't defend itself."

But Settles said it's important to hold events "the right way" while COVID-19 circulates throughout communities. She's talked with cattle auctions across the state about how to implement social distancing and take business online where possible. Some have cancelled events or held them remotely, while others are trying to implement crowd control.

And depending on how pandemic continues, Settles says the spike in demand may force ranchers to continue working in unfamiliar ways.

Minden, Nebraska, Brings Back Christmas Lights

The news has been pretty dark lately, but one Nebraska town is working to create some good news. Minden, Nebraska, which is located in the south central part of the state, is known as the Christmas City. They hang 10,000 lights over their courthouse dome and along the streets. The lights are usually turned off January 1st.

Matt Cederburg is city administrator for Minden. He said Minden decided it was a good idea to provide a “ray of light” to residents during a tough time.

“We’re tired of the bad news and we want some good news, so couldn’t be happier that this was suggested and it worked out and the lights came on,” Cederburg said.

The lights will be up for at least a couple of more weeks, but will eventually be taken down to prevent heat damage during the summer. The lights were turned back on for the first time Monday night.

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