New testing program shows lower rates; state initiatives target new parents

Department of Administrative Services Director Jason Jackson (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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May 8, 2020 - 5:38pm

The new TestNebraska program is showing a lower rate of people testing positive for COVID-19 than earlier testing, but Gov. Pete Ricketts says that reflects who’s being tested. And the state is announcing some new initiatives to make it easier for new parents to return to work.


The TestNebraska program started this week, and through Thursday, Gov. Pete Ricketts said, 1,730 people have been tested.

“Nine hundred sixty eight tests have come back. Thirty of those tests have come back positive. For those of you who are following along at home, you probably understand that’s a lower percentage rate than what we test with our highly at-risk groups,” Ricketts said.

In fact, it’s a three percent positive rate, compared to the 18 percent rate among all Nebraskans who have been tested so far. Ricketts said that reflects the fact that the new program is testing different people than have been tested so far.

“For example, with TestNebraska we said we’re going to test first responders, health care workers, food processors, law enforcement, as a priority -- the groups of people keeping us safe -- and then highly symptomatic people, symptomatic people and so forth,” he said.

“In other areas what we’ve done is we’ve gone in places where we know we’ve got spread of the virus and testing high risk groups there that we know we’ve got lots of spread of the virus, versus just having anybody who signed up in the Omaha area to be able to come in and get that test.”

So far, TestNebraska sites have been set up in Omaha, Grand Island and Lincoln. Ricketts said a new site will start testing in Schuyler on Monday. That site will be in the Cargill plant parking lot and will operate from 10 to 6 on Monday and 8 to 6 on Tuesday. People have to complete an online assessment at testnebraska.com and receive an email giving them a time window in order to be tested.

Also Friday, Department of Administrative Services Director Jason Jackson announced several new initiatives aimed at making it easier for parents-to-be and new parents to work for the state. The initiatives were not described as being related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“With these initiatives, what we’re hoping to do is come alongside our parents in state government, and women in particular, through their maternity experience and their childbirth experience and ultimately their return to work experience, so that they can continued their careers in public service with the support of the state as an employer,” Jackson said.

The initiatives include making sure there are rooms for nursing mothers in all state buildings of more than 5,000 square feet and establishing preferred parking spaces for expectant and new mothers.

 Starting Monday, the Department of Administrative Services will launch a pilot program in which new parents can bring their babies to work with them. Jackson said that would not involve setting up daycares, but rather, allowing parents to keep their children with them, and perhaps let their co-workers share in caring for them. Spokesman Eric Maher said about half the department’s employees are currently working from home, with the half still coming in predominantly in the Building Division.  

Also starting July 1 with the new insurance plan year, Jackson said, the state will limit out of pocket costs for delivery and maternity care to $500. He said that will be a 75 percent reduction from the current average out of pocket cost of around $2,000.

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