Ricketts expands request for self-quarantines; reassurances on animal health offered

Gov. Pete Ricketts at his coronavirus news conference Tuesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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March 24, 2020 - 6:25pm

A request for more people to self-quarantine, and reassurances about livestock transmission, were among highlights of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts' news conference on coronavirus Tuesday.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, since mid-February Nebraska officials have requested people self-quarantine for 14 days if they’re returning to the state from Europe, Asia, and areas in the United States where coronavirus has spread extensively. Tuesday, Gov. Pete Ricketts expanded on that request.

“When I say areas we know have coronavirus, I want to specifically talk about New York, San Francisco, Seattle, those types of areas which we're very familiar with, but also places like Denver, Kansas City, (and) Chicago,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts said that applies to people who might have gotten stuck in long lines passing through Chicago’s O’Hare airport. But he also talked about who it does not apply to.

“If you are a commuter, somebody who say commutes back and forth between South Sioux City and Sioux City or Council Bluffs and Omaha, or Cheyenne and Scottsbluff, you do not need to quarantine yourself for 14 days. We're not including commuters in that. Nor are we including transportation workers. If you're a truck driver, and you're crossing state lines as part of your regular job, you do not need to include yourself as part of that,” he said.

The governor also said testing continues to expand in the state. He described how samples from five people are being combined into one to conserve testing materials.

“Instead of taking each one of those test tubes and testing them separately, we'll take five of those test tubes and put it into one, and test that one test. And if that one sample comes back negative, we know all five of those were negative, and so we have just saved four tests.”

“Now if that test comes back positive,

then we will have to go back and retest all five of those again to figure out which one of those was positive,” he added.

Still, he predicted, since only five percent of tests are coming back positive, the combined procedure will save testing materials. And he sought to reassure people about the rising number of cases.

“We’re expanding our testing capacity. What the people of Nebraska should expect is that we’re going to see more people testing positive. That’s nothing to be concerned about. We want to find the people who are testing for coronavirus so we can make sure we have the best data available,” he said.

On taxes, the governor announced Monday the state income tax filing deadline has been pushed back to July 15. Asked Tuesday about local property taxes, due April 1, Ricketts said the state had considered delaying the due date, but concluded it was too close at hand, and would be too disruptive for local governments.

Regarding the primary election, scheduled for May 12, Secretary of State Robert Evnen’s office said Monday there are no plans for delaying it; however Ricketts said Tuesday the state is still considering its options.

 The governor was also asked if Nebraska is thinking about releasing any prisoners early, as some other states have done.

“There's a misperception (that)… there's a lot of non-violent folks in there and a lot of folks are ready for parole. That's just not true. It's simply not true. So no, we are not going to be letting anybody out early. We do have a continuity plan in place for our correction system. And we will implement that as it becomes necessary, but we're not going to be letting a lot of inmates out ahead of their schedule,” he said.

Department of Correctional Services chief of staff Laura Strimple later said the department’s continuity plan addresses staffing, administrative operations and logistical requirements. And she said the agency has plans, including responses to medical issues like COVID-19. That plan includes prevention measures and ensuring supplies are on hand.

Also on hand at the governor’s news conference was state Director of Agriculture Steve Wellman. Wellman emphasized the need for ag producers to take care to protect themselves from the virus. And he offered assurances about the food supply.

“We are not concerned about coronavirus infecting our livestock and creating any issues with our food supply,” Wellman said.

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Gary Anthone, said people have also been concerned about their pets. He said he knows of no cases of pet transmission, but would have to research it further.

Asked about the reported start of the infection in an animal market in Wuhan, China, Anthone pointed to the unsanitary conditions there as a possible culprit.



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