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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska will let bars, zoos, movie theaters and swimming pools reopen and allow small concerts and auctions to resume on June 1 in all but four hard-hit counties, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday as the number of coronavirus deaths continued to rise.

Ricketts announced plans to further loosen social-distancing restrictions, saying he's trying to strike a balance between public health and the need to move back toward normal life as people grow restless.

"We're taking this a step at a time," he said at a news conference.

He made the announcement as state officials reported six more coronavirus deaths and 276 new cases in Nebraska as of Wednesday night, bringing the statewide totals to 138 deaths and 11,122 confirmed cases. Nearly 75,900 people have been tested.

The number of new cases has trended downward, however, since the one-day peak of 677 on May 7. Ricketts has said he's using Nebraska's hospital capacity to judge when to ease restrictions, and those numbers have remained fairly stable. Even so, public health officials say people still need to practice social-distancing measures to keep the virus from spreading.

Businesses that do reopen will still face mandatory social distancing restrictions. For instance, the number of patrons allowed in bars will be limited to half of the venue's rated capacity, and groups of customers will have to remain at least six people apart. Patrons won't be allowed to play pool, darts or arcade games or eat at the bar.

Nebraska will also allow gatherings of up to 25 people or 25% of a venue's rated occupancy, whichever is greater, as long as the total crowd doesn't exceed 3,000 people.

The new requirement will replace the state's current 10-person limit and will apply to both indoor and outdoor venues, including stadiums, fairgrounds, meeting halls, zoos, libraries and swimming pools. Individual groups will still be capped at six people and required to stay away from other groups.

Additionally, any event expected to draw more than 500 people will need prior approval from the county's public health director. In Omaha's Douglas County, the threshold is 1,000 people.

Ricketts will also ease rules for sports, allowing baseball, softball and volleyball teams to resume practices on June 1 and play games on June 18. Rodeos can begin on June 1, but contact sports such as football, basketball and wrestling will remain prohibited.

The changes won't apply to Hall, Hamilton, Merrick or Dakota counties, some of the hardest-hit regions in Nebraska. Hall and Dakota counties have seen particularly large spikes driven by local meatpacking plants.

On Thursday, a coalition of Latino Americans called on Ricketts and local meat packers to do more to protect plant workers who now account for a large share of Nebraska's coronavirus restrictions. Activists said conditions at the plants have generally improved, but they're still hearing reports about inconsistent use of protective equipment at some facilities.

"Unfortunately, these efforts may be seen as too little, too late," said Yolanda Nuncio, a former member of the Nebraska state Latino American Commission. "Some of these plants have not lowered production rates, so when workers go on standard breaks, their coworkers must maintain the same rate of production."

Asked about the criticism on Thursday, Ricketts said he has talked by phone with plant workers and union leaders to discuss their concerns. He also has said that local public health officials from the University of Nebraska Medical Center have gone out to plants to help them establish safety procedures to keep the virus from spreading.

For some infected people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness or death. But for most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks.

 

 


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(Full story with audio at bottom of story)

The Hall County Commissioners met Tuesday with questions and concerns and had the ear of State Senators Quick, Freisen and Halloran as they addressed how to protect the county tax payer, who have already suffered enough. 

State Senator Steve Halloran of Hastings says the Grand Island and Hall County area are not immune to this problem and these questions will be asked by every county in the state.
Halloran added that he is in the minority, in the Nebraska legislature but believes we are already behind schedule in opening up the State. 

Chair of the Hall County Commissioners Pam Lancaster says county boards are feeling the effects, and points out that the long term impact when it comes to budget cuts will need to be examined, but said simply there are not many more places to cut.
Nebraska lawmakers will resume their regular session on July 20, four months after they last met to approve emergency coronavirus funding. 

Another question that was addressed at the County Commissioners meeting deals with Hall County as a whole and the increase in frustration that many of the rural communities are facing. Cario, Wood River, Doniphan..all placed under the DHM’s for the Central District Health Department region despite not seeing nearly the amount of cases or deaths that the Grand Island community has seen. It was asked what options do they have? That question was asked at the State Capital during the daily press briefing by Governor Pete Ricketts.

Impacts on the business community are not just being felt at county level but 87 percent of businesses surveyed a month ago from the University of Omaha were reported to have been negatively impacted by Covid 19.
The data was gathered by the University of Omaha April 15 through April 24th.

Whats Next For Hall County

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(Listen to this feature in it's entirty below)

(Grand Island, NE) - Monday morning a flyover..over CHI Health St. Francis in Grand Island to salute those on the front lines in our healthcare system, a healthcare system that with collaboration with other hospitals and an extremely dedicated staff of heroes were not overwhelmed by the coronavirus.

The data coming back from the Central District Health Department in GI is also showing positive signs, signs all pointing to one thing.

We are past the peak of this virus.

But instead of a sigh of relief, it’s more concern, and more questions for local businesses in Grand Island who watch other parts of the state slowly open, while our community sits on the sidelines.

Local business owner Casey Williams is in the tourism industry, a hotel owner with the Travel Lodge here in GI, who has seen bookings and stays simply come to a halt as more and more events preemptively call things off.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has said consistently, that the original goal of the DHM's and social distancing practices were to not overwhelm the healthcare system.

“That’s what we’ve done very successfully, at no point was our health care system in danger of being overwhelmed.”

So mission accomplished? Will we see a relaxation on the directed health mandates and social distancing restrictions?

The Governor has taken a more cautious approach.

The frustration that many Nebraskan’s are feeling isn’t due to the boredom of social distancing, it’s the uncertainty and the lack of a gameplan for the business community to move forward.

A popular hashtag on social media is “win back GI”, it could be argued we never lost it, but while we wait, the question remains...what will we come back to?


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The Nebraska State Fair Board has chosen their next Executive Director.

Bill Ogg, a Wyoming native and manager of the Walla Walla Fair and Frontier Days in Washington was selected as the finalist by the personal committee. 

Ogg said this morning he believes he can help contribute to leading the state fair out of its current financial issues. 

Ogg was a finalist for the position three years ago when the board selected Lori Cox, who mutually agreed to a consultant position with the State Fair back in March. 
Ogg was approved unanimously, subject to contract approval by the State Fair Board.

That said, there are questions on the fair itself, especially after Governor Pete Ricketts commented on the possibility of public gathering in Grand Island being sidelined until August, at the least. A Covid 19 working group has been formed by the State Fair Board as they address the pandemic.

Kathleen Lodl said this morning that the committee doesn’t want to rush to a decision and is balancing the needs for a successful fair, and a safe fair, should the State Fair take place in 2020.

Ogg added these decisions aren’t just weighing heavy on the Nebraska State Fair, but every fair in the country right now.


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Covid-19 Update - City Hall/Grand Island

Notes from Mayor Roger Steele

 

Grand Island is projected to have a 12% decrease in sales tax revenue. That loss will be a loss of $1.5 million dollars to the general governmental fund for the fiscal year ending on September 30th.Overall the city is projecting a 5.6% decrease in all revenues for the general fund which equates to $2.2 million dollars.

 

Food and beverage tax collections were down for the month of April, that’s based on March sales, by 24% ($50,000) as compared to the same month last year. The city expects to have the food and beverage receipts to be significantly reduced for the rest of the fiscal year ending September 30th.

 

With an estimated loss of revenue of $437,000. Keno proceeds for the month of April are down 42%.

 

Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele spoke to Gov. Ricketts last Friday. Ricketts told him that he does not believe GI will be able to have gatherings of people until August, if even then. Referring to crowds where social distancing will not occur.

 

Opening of the water park (Island Oasis) and Lincoln Pool will probably not be happening given the expense and uncertainty of when it will be allowed for people to gather in close proximity.

 

 


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Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele announced today the reopening of Heartland Public Shooting Park following its closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Mayor Steele issued the following statement:
   “I directed the closure of the Heartland Public Shooting Park, Jackrabbit Run Golf Course and other city parks and recreation facilities in order to promote the public health by slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.  Opening any recreational facility is with the expectation that the public will follow health recommendations regarding public distancing, wearing face coverings, and other health related recommendations.  I have ordered the Shooting Park and the Golf Course to operate under rules and procedures designed to promote safe and healthy public use.
   Opening the Shooting Park will create additional financial pressure on the City at a time when we are anticipating significant tax revenue shortfalls.  Because of these anticipated revenue shortfalls, operation of the Shooting Park and other recreation facilities will be closely managed and overseen by my Administration to ensure the parks are run in an efficient and economical manner.
   The primary job of the City is to ensure public health and safety and recreational venues will not be allowed to detract from that priority, especially when we expect less revenue.  I will meet with the Shooting Park employees on a monthly basis to make sure the park is operated in an economical manner.  Simply put, I expect recreational venues to safeguard every penny until we can work our way through the impact of COVID-19.”


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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Pete Ricketts is pushing back against four Nebraska lawmakers who urged him to cancel a $27 million coronavirus testing contract with a group of out-of-state startup companies, calling their criticism “ludicrous” even though the program is off to a slow start hasn’t kept up with demand. Ricketts defended the state’s agreement with Utah-based Nomi Health and its business partners but acknowledged some early problems with the TestNebraska program. The same companies have similar no-bid contracts with Iowa and Utah that have also come under scrutiny as states scramble to offer more tests.

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — State health officials have reported two new deaths from COVID-19 that occurred in the central part of the state. That came as officials in the Omaha area noted the disproportionately high number of cases among minority populations. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported the two deaths Monday _ one in Hall County and the other in neighboring Adams County. The new deaths brought the state’s total since the outbreak began to 100. Meanwhile, the Douglas County Health Department expressed alarm at the number of Latinos, Asians and black residents becoming infected with the virus. Douglas County is nearly 70% white, but health officials say 77% of known COVID-19 cases in the county have occurred among people of color.

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s primary voters mostly steered clear of polling sites Tuesday while shattering the state record for absentee voting with nearly 400,000 mail-in ballots in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Republican President Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic challenger Joe Biden sailed to easy victories in the election, the first in-person primary since a heavily criticized election in Wisconsin five weeks ago in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. So did Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, who faced a GOP primary challenge because of his previous criticism of Trump. Sasse will face Democrat Chris Janicek, the winner of a nine-way primary.

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Grand Island Public Schools - Ward A 
Terry Brown - 1,778 - 39% 
Lindsey Jurgens - 1,215 - 27% 
Randy Stueven - 884 - 19% 
Kelly Markham - 682 - 15% 

Brown & Jurgens advance to the November ballot 

Grand Island City Council - Ward 1 
Michelle Fitzke - 1,187 - 45% 
Jack Sheard - 941 - 35% 
Alan Pickrel - 335 - 13% 
Patrick Birkel - 194 - 7% 

Fitzke & Sheard advance to the November ballot 

Hall County - District Two Commissioner (Republican) 
Karen Bredthauer - 1, 301 - 62% 
Todd Morgan - 797 - 38% 

Bredthauer matches up with Bill Mowinkle (D) in the general election. 
Mowinkle was unopposed in the primary. 

US Senator (Hall County) (Republican) 
Ben Sasse - 5,825 - 72% 
Matt Innis - 2,224 - 27% 

US Senator (Hall County) (Democratic) (Top 2 of 7)
Chris Janicek - 892 - 28%
Angie Philips - 664 - 21%

Congress - District 3 (Hall County) (Republican) 
Adrian Smith - 6,161- 78%
Arron Kowalski - 743 - 9%
Justin Moran - 431 - 5%
William Elfgren - 259 - 3%

Congress - District 3 (Hall County) (Democratic)
Mark Elworth Jr. - 2,892 - 97%
Write-In Totals - 75 - 3%

Complete Results (View/Download)

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Thunder Road
GI Vapors