Visitors to the KBRB Web site may listen to live programming, with news broadcasts
from 5:55 until 11 a.m., and from noon to 1 p.m., plus all of our local sports broadcasts.

E-mail us at kbrb@sscg.net

* Funeral Service notes: (see more on the obituaries page)

* Nettie M. (Radden) Ross, 103, of Springview 10 a.m. May 30

* Meeting reports located below for:

May 20 Brown County Commissioners

May 14 Ainsworth City Council

May 12 Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors

May 12 Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education

* Olson provides update on COVID-19 assistance programs

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 22)

North Central Development Center Kristin Olson provided KBRB with an update on the programs available to assist businesses, unemployed individuals, and agricultural producers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To hear the report, click on the audio link below.

audio clips/NCDC May 22 Update.mp3

* DHHS Dashboard error showed Keya Paha County with positive COVID-19 cases

(Posted 9:45 a.m. May 21)

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 Dashboard erroneously reported three positive cases in Keya Paha County Wednesday.

The North Central District Health Department confirmed there have been no positive cases of COVID-19 in Keya Paha County, and a data entry error led to the positive cases being reported on the DHHS Dashboard.

The North Central District Health Department has been in contact with the Department of Health and Human Service and is working to correct the error to the Dashboard site.
Moving forward, NCDHD will provide weekday posting updates of case information in the nine-county district. The update will be posted regardless of confirmed cases announced that day or not. The posting will include the total number of cases for the district, confirmed cases per county, recovered cases, and deaths.

There have been 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the NCDHD coverage area, with 17 of those 20 cases coming from Knox and Antelope counties. There has been one confirmed case in Pierce, Holt and Cherry counties.

Brown, Rock, Keya Paha and Boyd counties have not had any confirmed COVID-19 cases to date.

NCDHD is following current Directed Health Measure guidance through May 31. NCDHD has not received further guidance following the updated DHM set to be effective June 1. Information will be shared with the district communities as it is obtained.

* Commissioners erroneously state nature of hog confinement application

(Posted 7 a.m. May 21)

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Brown County Commissioners, the board provided information regarding an application that had been filed with the Department of Environmental Quality for the potential development of a hog confinement facility in western Brown County.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said during the meeting the project was a joint venture between property owner John Gross and Greg Wilke, who owns and operates GJW and Sandhills Elite Genetics in Brown County.

Gross on Wednesday said there was no agreement in place with anyone for a facility, and disputed the information provided by the commissioners.

Board Chairman Buddy Small on Wednesday said he was contacted by Zoning Administrator Tom Jones, who said the information provided by the board during Tuesday’s meeting was incorrect.

* Detour remains in place on Sparks River Road

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 21)

A detour change will begin Friday on the Sparks River Road south of Sparks according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
Construction work continues at the junction of Highway 12 and the Sparks River Road and proceeds approximately 3.3 miles south. Work includes grading and asphalt paving of the Sparks River Road. The detour will close the north two miles of Sparks River Road to thru traffic and allow thru traffic on the south 1.3 miles. Detours will be posted for Niobrara River access. Anticipated completion of the project is mid‑summer.
Motorists are asked to drive cautiously in and near construction zones, to expect delays and buckle up.

* Commissioners discuss initial application for hog facility in western Brown County

(Posted 7 a.m. May 20)

The Brown County Commissioners Tuesday discussed the initial application submitted for the construction of a livestock confinement facility in western Brown County.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said the county received a notice of application for a hog production facility that is proposed for western Brown County on property owned by John Gross. Wiebelhaus said the project was a joint venture between Gross and Greg Wilke.

“Last time, there were a lot of people saying they didn’t know about the project until the very end,” Wiebelhaus said. “This is early in the process. I just don’t want anyone to think we are hiding something from the public.”

Commissioner Denny Bauer said the Department of Environmental Quality will weigh in, then the Brown County Planning Commission will have a hearing and make a recommendation on the project to the commissioners.

Commissioner Buddy Small said the Planning Commission hearing will be on hold until it is determined that it is safe to have a number of people gathered.

In other business Tuesday, Small provided the board with an update on the Sand Draw Creek box culvert replacement project on Meadville Avenue.

Small said he spoke with Gary Steele of Miller and Associates, the engineering firm on the project. Steele indicated the paperwork has now all been filed for the Nebraska Department of Transportation to review.

“He expects a response from NDOT sometime in June,” Small said.

Small said the Nebraska Department of Transportation will recommend whether the project should be a bridge or a box culvert.

Small also reported FEMA has a deadline of Sept. 20 for counties to complete repair projects from the March 2019 flooding.

“Because of the thousands of dollars involved from FEMA, Kenny (Turpin) wants to get those projects done first,” Small said.

Small said the county could file an extension with FEMA if all the projects are not completed by Sept. 20.

In action items Tuesday, the commissioners approved renewing the county’s health insurance with Blue Cross/Blue Shield for 2020-21. Clerk Travee Hobbs reported there was no rate increase for the upcoming year, and the board opted to approve the plan and make no changes from the prior year relating to cash in lieu of insurance, employee contributions and employee deductibles.

The board opted to keep the Brown County Courthouse closed to the public for at least the next two weeks. Small said the county department heads collectively encouraged the board to be patient and wait until there is more direction from the state prior to opening.

Bauer said the board should consider buying safety equipment for courthouse employees prior to opening the courthouse to the public.

The commissioners approved declaring a 1998 Chevy 1500 pickup and a 2000 John Deere lawn tractor as surplus items to be sold. The board recently approved pickup and lawn tractor purchases to replace the two vehicles.

Small said Region 4 Behavioral Health had the opportunity to receive an $800,000 grant as part of the federal COVID-19 stimulus program. He said the grant required a match from the counties in the region, and Brown County’s share of the required match is $900. The board approved transferring $900 from the miscellaneous general fund to the institution budget to cover the county’s match.

The board also approved a budgeted transfer of $300,000 from the miscellaneous general fund to the county highway fund.

Bauer said he would like to try and hold the 2020-21 budget with little or no increase due to the county economy, and he asked the board to support a letter he planned to write to other taxing entities in the county urging them to be mindful of the local economy when preparing the next year’s budget.

Bauer will draft a letter to present to the other commissioners for their approval prior to sending.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. June 2.

* Area students named to UNK Spring Dean's List

(Posted 1:45 p.m. May 19)

The University of Nebraska at Kearney announced students who earned a place on the Dean’s List for the spring semester.

Students who are on the Dean’s List must have completed 12 credit hours or more of classes with a 3.5 grade point average or better on a 4.0 scale.

Area students named to the Dean’s List include:

 

Ainsworth

Ben Arens, Miranda Raymond, Sara Salzman, Seth Taylor, Ashley Titus and Andrea Werner.

 

Bassett

Bailey DeVall, Aubrey Kroll, Josie Kuchera and Jentrie Maurer

 

Newport

Braydon Caldwell


Wood Lake

Britley Schlueter

 

Stuart

Hailey Paxton, Christopher Schaaf and Monique Schafer

 

Atkinson

Christopher Hasskarl

 

Butte

Sydney Atkinson

 

Valentine

Hannah Higgins

* BCF matches statewide grant, allocates funds to Ainsworth Community Schools

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 19)

The Brown County Community Foundation Fund is working to narrow the homework gap at Ainsworth Community Schools in the face of COVID-19.

The Brown County Community Foundation Fund has been awarded $5,000 by an anonymous donor and the Alice DeVoe Donor-Advised Fund, an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation. The money is intended to help narrow the growing homework gap as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding opportunity was offered exclusively to Nebraska Community Foundation affiliated funds across the state and required a 1:1 local funding match. The Brown County Community Foundation Fund seized the opportunity to provide the $5,000 match. The $10,000 will assist Ainsworth Community Schools in financing a summer program to help students with unfinished learning.

In total, $263,000 were granted to Nebraska Community Foundation affiliated funds across the state. The money will benefit 31 schools statewide.

* Ainsworth Community Schools continuing free meal service

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 19)

Ainsworth Community Schools will continue to serve meals to children ages 1-18 on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:15 a.m. to noon at the main west "Big A" entrance. 
The week of Memorial Day, meals will be served on Tuesday and Thursday. The school plans to continue serving meals to be picked up on Mondays and Wednesdays for the month of June and will communicate in advance should that plan change or be extended. Contact the district office with any questions.

* Agenda for Tuesday's meeting of the Brown County Commissioners

(Posted 6:30 a.m. May 19)

Brown County Commissioners
Meeting 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, May 19
Brown County Courthouse
Agenda
 

Due to the current Covid 19 pandemic, the Brown County Commissioners’ meeting will take precautionary measures to comply with Social Distancing and recommendations that limit groups and gatherings. Pursuant to Governor Ricketts’ Executive Order 20-03 pertaining to public meetings of Governmental bodies, the Brown County Commissioners’ meeting on May 19 will be held via Webex Audio conferencing.  Physical attendance will be limited to the Board of Commissioners, Board Secretary, County Attorney and one representative from local media outlets. Media representatives may attend the meeting by telephone if preferred.

The public is invited to participate in the May 19 meeting by calling:

 

 1-415-655-0003

 Access code 928 055 543#

and use # for ID. 

 

If you would like to join the meeting via webex from your smartphone or computer please contact the Brown County Clerk’s office at 402-387-2705 or email travis.hobbs@nebraska.gov with an email address to send the meeting invite to.

 

05:15 - 05:20             Roll Call;

 

                                    Kenneth Turpin – Road Department Issues

                                   

                                    Update on Sand Draw Culvert/Bridge – Small

 

                                    Necessity to complete FEMA funded projects by September 20, 2020 - Small

 

                                    Declare 1998 Chevrolet 1500 Pickup s/n1GCEK14W9WZ1G276 & 2000 John Deere 425 SN 70001 lawn tractor with mower deck & snow blade surplus property to be sold - Turpin

 

                                    Proposed hog facility in Brown County – Wiebelhaus

 

                                    BCBS 2020-2021 Subgroup Insurance Application renewal & rates; set Employee contributions & Cash in Lieu for 2020-2021 Plan year,

                                    Cafeteria Plan Ending 2021-Key Employee Questionnaire,

                                    Cafeteria Plan Ending 2021 – Highly Compensated Employees,

                                    FSA Annual limit increase to $2,750.00 – Hardy

 

                                    Discussion of Courthouse Closure status – County Officials/Department Heads

 

                                    Transfer of $900.00 from Miscellaneous General in General Fund to Institution Budget in General Fund – Hardy

                                   

                                    Transfer of $300,000.00 from Miscellaneous General in General Fund to County Highway Fund – Hardy

 

                                    Discussion – update on 2020-2021 Brown County Budget - Bauer

 

                                    Change of meeting dates/times for the BOE meeting

 

                                    Public Comment

                                                           

                                    Approve Claims

 

* Two community-spread COVID-19 cases confirmed in Knox County

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 18)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of a positive COVID-19 case in Antelope County Friday. The case was due to direct contact with another positive COVID-19 case. All close contacts have been identified and are being asked to quarantine.

NCDHD reported additional information on the two positive COVID-19 cases in Knox County Thursday. Through case investigations it has been determined that the cases are due to community spread. This means that the source of the person’s exposure could not be identified through the case investigation process.

The NCDHD, in coordination with the Nebraska National Guard, hosted testing events at Neligh and Valentine. A total of 144 residents were tested in Neligh, and 87 residents were tested in Valentine. NCDHD has begun receiving lab results from the events and is contacting residents with their results and next steps, if needed. 

NCDHD provided an update on the case counts for the district:

Antelope: 8

Boyd: 0

Brown: 0

Cherry: 1

Holt: 1

Keya Paha: 0

Knox: 9

Pierce: 1

Rock: 0

Total for the district: 20

* E&L officially cancels youth baseball and softball seasons due to COVID-19

(Posted 3 p.m. May 15)

After discussing and considering the factors related to COVID 19, the Ainsworth Elks and Legion have decided to cancel the 2020 season for t-ball, machine pitch, T-shirt and little league baseball, and softball.
The guidelines would put the majority of liability responsibility on the volunteer coaches. The E&L also discussed the liability to the city and the E&L program in the event someone would come in contact with the virus.
At this time, the E&L program felt cancelling the season was the right decision for the community. The group looks forward to next season. Anyone with questions may contact Brandon Evans or Heath Rudnick.

* Area students named to NCTA Honor Roll

(Posted 7 a.m. May 15)

Thirteen students at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture at Curtis had perfect 4.0 grade point averages for the spring semester.
An additional 52 Aggie students were named to the NCTA Honor Roll with a GPA of 3.5-3.99.
Area students named to the NCTA Honor Roll include Ashley Connell of Newport and Trisha Fox of Stuart.

* Two additional COVID-19 cases reported in Knox County

(Posted 6:30 a.m. May 15)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of two positive COVID-19 cases in Knox County Thursday. Case investigations are being completed and all close contacts will be notified and asked to self-quarantine.
NCDHD urges residents not to become complacent as Directed Health Measures are loosened. People should continue to remain cautious, be aware of their surroundings, and practice social distancing as there are positive COVID-19 cases in adjoining counties and outbreaks in neighboring districts.

* Sullivan resigns as mayor due to health concerns, Soles sworn in Wednesday

(Posted 7 a.m. May 14)

Leading off Wednesday’s meeting of the Ainsworth City Council, Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan announced his resignation effective immediately.

Sullivan said it had been his honor and privilege to serve as the city’s mayor, and he thanked the city’s employees and the council for their work to make Ainsworth a better place. He cited recent health concerns as his reason for stepping away from the position.

City Attorney Rod Palmer said city code calls for the council president to move into the role of mayor should the mayor’s position come open mid-term. Council President Greg Soles was then administered the oath of office as mayor.

With Soles moving to fill the mayor position, a vacancy on the council was created. Palmer said the council must provide public notice of the vacancy and can either fill the vacancy by appointment or hold a special election.

With Soles’ term scheduled to expire in December and a slate of candidates already filing to fill the seat in December, the council opted to vote on a recommendation from the mayor to appoint someone to the council to fill the final few months of the vacant council term.

Asked if Soles would serve as mayor through the completion of Sullivan’s term, which expires in December 2022, or if there would be a special election in November for mayor, Palmer said the city’s codes were not as clear on the mayoral position.

He said the code does reference that the council president would serve as mayor until the end of the term, but said the city should consult the Nebraska Secretary of State for guidance.

Soles said it was his intention to serve as mayor only through December, the end of what would have been his term on the council. Palmer said, if that is the case, whoever the council president is at that time would again be moved into the mayor position for the completion of the term.

The council will publish notice of the vacancy and appoint a new member during its June meeting.

In other business Wednesday, following a public hearing, the council voted to close its Community Development Block Grant revolving loan fund and transfer the remaining money into its CDBG housing rehabilitation fund.

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said most of the money in the revolving loan fund was awarded to Lyons HR as part of the city’s contribution to the Sandhills Care Center. Lyons HR serves as the care center’s payroll service, and the majority of the CDBG funds were presented as a forgivable loan to the company to cover the care center’s payroll as part of the city’s initial contribution to reestablish the facility.

Schroedl said there was a balance of $27,691 in the fund, and the Department of Economic Development would require the city to return those funds if they were not allocated to another project.

The council approved rolling those remaining funds into the city’s other Community Development Block Grant program, which provides low-interest loans to income-qualified homeowners to make renovations.

The council approved one such loan application Wednesday, a $20,000 forgivable loan for housing rehabilitation. Schroedl said, of the 15 other housing loans the city has made, only one other loan qualified to be forgiven. The other loans charge low interest to homeowners to make renovations.

Schroedl said this applicant qualified to have the loan forgiven after a 10-year period because the applicant was income qualified and over the age of 65. Should the applicant stay in the home for the next 10 years, the loan would be forgiven. If the applicant moves or the home is sold during that time, the loan must be repaid.

Schroedl reported there was $102,050 in the fund, with the approval to move the revolving loan fund money into the account bringing the total to $129,741. That was prior to the council approving the $20,000 forgivable loan to Wednesday’s applicant.

She said a third-party company prioritizes the renovations on an application and works with the contractor on the renovation list until the funds awarded are spent.

In an item tabled from April, the council approved amendments to the city’s economic development program policy and procedure manual, application documents and loan and grant checklists.

Schroedl said new LB 840 attorney Heather Sikyta had reviewed the proposed amendments and had made a couple additions. The council approved the amended documents as presented.

The council approved interim financing for the upcoming street repair project with West Plains Bank. Soles said he approached Doug Weiss at West Plains Bank about interim financing for the project, as the city will have to pay the contractor for the repairs and then request reimbursement from FEMA for the $2.1 million awarded to the city for street damage from the 2019 flooding.

The interim financing can be used as needed as a line of credit for up to $2.1 million, with the city charged 2.15 percent interest. The principal and interest will be due Dec. 15. If FEMA has not yet reimbursed the city by that time, the line of credit can be converted into a single note for a two-year period and paid when FEMA funding is received.

Schroedl said the line of credit would essentially serve as a construction loan for the street repairs. She reported Tri State would begin work on the streets at the end of May.

The council approved an agreement with Brown County giving the city the right of first refusal to potentially purchase property east of the Brown County Hospital should the county ever decide to sell the property.

The ground is located adjacent to the site of the new solar array project. Should the county ever sell the ground west of the array site, the city would have the first chance to make the purchase.

Palmer said the agreement is good for 10 years and would automatically renew for another 10 years unless it is revoked by either of the two parties.

Schroedl said the Brown County Commissioners approved the agreement during its most recent meeting.

Schroedl reported the city would have to work through a recently discovered issue with the solar array site with the commissioners. She said, when the county initially sold the ground to the city where the solar array is planned, there was a requirement that the ground could only be used for the construction of a ball field.

“So, we will have to go back to the county and see if they will approve the solar array as an acceptable use of that property,” Schroedl said. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”

Schroedl reported the swimming pool would not be open to the public this summer, but the city did plan to fill the pool and potentially hold scheduled swimming lessons so it could control the number of people allowed in and maintain social distancing.

“The governor has not made a forced closure on pools,” Schroedl said. “The decision is being left up to the governing body, but we have to maintain social distancing and the 10-person limit.”

She said, by scheduling swimming lessons, the city could control the numbers allowed in at a given time and leave pool staff time for any required cleaning in between sessions.

Prior to entering into executive session to discuss the contract on the recently completed addition to the streets shop on First Street, the council approved special designated liquor license requests for the Ainsworth Elks Lodge to serve alcohol during events June 26 and July 18.

The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 8.

* Brewer sets tone for November with 61 percent of 43rd District vote Tuesday

(Posted 7 a.m. May 13)

Tanya Storer will have a large hill to climb between now and November, as 43rd District State Sen. Tom Brewer had a strong showing during Tuesday’s Primary Election.

In his bid for reelection to the Nebraska Legislature, Brewer garnered more than 61 percent of the vote in the 43rd District. Brewer picked up 8,027 votes to 5,093 for Storer, the Cherry County Commissioner challenging Brewer for the seat on the Legislature.

Brewer won every county in the 43rd District, including a two to one advantage in Cherry County. Both candidates advance to the November General Election, as the Primary Election only winnowed legislative races down to the top two candidates. Brewer and Storer were the only two candidates in the 43rd District race.

It was a big day for all the incumbents running for reelection to the Legislature. All advanced to the General Election, and only one, Andrew LaGrone in District 49, was not the leading vote-earner. Jen Day picked up 53 percent of the vote in District 49 compared to 47 percent for LaGrone.

There were no surprises on the federal ticket among Republicans. President Donald Trump carried 91.5 percent of the Republican vote Tuesday, with challenger Bill Weld receiving 8.5 percent.

On the Democratic ticket, Joe Biden picked up 77.5 percent of the vote for President, with Bernie Sanders receiving 14 percent, Elizabeth Warren 6 percent and Tulsi Gabbard just shy of 3 percent.

Ben Sasse, the state’s junior Republican U.S. Senator, beat back a Primary Election challenge from Matt Innis. Sasse captured 75 percent of the Republican vote Tuesday, though Innis did win eight counties, including several in the north central part of the state. Innis won Keya Paha, Cherry, Holt, Blaine, Boyd, Grant, Wheeler and Cheyenne counties.

In a U.S. Senate field that featured seven candidates, Chris Janicek emerged from the field by grabbing 30.6 percent of the Democratic Party votes. Janicek’s closed competitors were Angie Phillips and Alisha Shelton, who finished with 23 percent and 22 percent of the Democratic vote respectively.

Janicek and Sasse will square off in November for a six-year senate seat.

Incumbent 3rd District Rep. Adrian Smith brushed back four Republican challengers Tuesday, taking almost 83 percent of the vote. None of his challengers earned more than 5.5 percent.

Smith will face Democrat Mark Elworth Jr. in the General Election for the U.S. House of Representatives seat, as Elworth ran unopposed.

Incumbent Republicans Jeff Fortenberry and Don Bacon won the Primary handily Tuesday. Fortenberry will be challenged by State Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln in the General Election, as Bolz won the Democratic Party nomination with 78 percent of the vote against Babs Ramsey.

Bacon will see a rematch against Democrat Kara Eastman after Bacon edged Eastman for the District 2 House seat in 2018. Eastman earned 62 percent of the Democratic Party vote Tuesday, with Ann Ashford picking up 31.5 percent and Gladys Harrison 6.5 percent.

Voter turnout in Nebraska for the Primary Election was 38.7 percent, with 471,434 voters casting ballots among the 1.21 million registered voters in the state. Mail-in and early voting turnout set a record for the state.

* Small wins Republican race Tuesday for Brown County Commissioner

(Posted 9:45 p.m. May 12)

During Tuesday’s Primary Election, Republican Buddy Small held off three challengers in his bid for another term on the Board of Commissioners.

Small received 507 votes, representing 48.5 percent of the total votes cast. His closest challenger was Tim Iverson, who picked up 236 votes. Cherie Priest finished with 192 votes, and Dewey Jefferis garnered 111 votes from Brown County Republicans. There were no Democrats running for commissioner, so Small will earn another term on the board.

In the other local race of note, four of the five candidates vying for two seats on the Ainsworth City Council advanced to the General Election, where two will earn council seats.

Vance Heyer led the vote Tuesday with 402. He was followed by 194 votes for Shawn Fernau, 184 for Brett Duester and 133 for Anissa Julius. Those four advanced to the General Election. John Mead received 95 votes for council and does not advance.

A total of 1,218 votes were cast in Brown County among the 2,084 registered voters for a turnout of 58.5 percent.

Wade Hollenbeck won the race for Rock County Commissioner Tuesday on the Republican ticket. Hollenbeck received 421 votes, compared to 91 for Todd Stahl. No one from the Democratic Party ran for the seat. Hollenbeck will replace Dustin Craven on the Board of Commissioners after Craven did not seek re-election.

Rock County voters shot down a 2-cent levy for a new swimming pool, and Bassett city voters also declined to support a bond for a new pool.

There were 477 votes cast against the 2-cent countywide levy, with 182 voters in favor. The city bond issue for the pool failed with 143 against and 91 in favor.

Voter turnout in Rock County was 65 percent.

In Keya Paha County, Republican Mike Tuerk won a four-way race in his re-election bid to the Board of Commissioners. Tuerk received 72 votes, compared to 29 for challenger Randy Painter, 24 for Mike Vigoren and 21 for Anthony Tiefenthaler. There were no Democratic Party candidates for the West District Commissioner seat, so Tuerk will earn another four-year term.

Turnout in Keya Paha County was 64 percent.

While both candidates advance to the General Election, incumbent 43rd District State Sen. Tom Brewer had a strong showing in Brown County Tuesday. Brewer earned more than 60 percent of the votes cast with 707. Challenger Tanya Storer received 464 votes in Brown County. Brewer also had a strong showing in Keya Paha County, earning 293 votes compared to 98 for Storer. Those two will square off again in November.

In the 3rd District Congressional race, Brown County Republicans cast 862 votes for incumbent Adrian Smith. Mark Elworth scored 70 votes from Brown County Democrats. Rock County Republican voters also overwhelmingly favored Smith. Smith earned 501 votes in Rock County, compared to just 20, 19, nine and seven for his four challengers. Democrats cast 24 votes for Elworth. In Keya Paha County, Smith received 285 votes compared to 24 for Justin Moran of Atkinson, his nearest challenger. Elworth picked up 24 votes on the Democratic side.

Republican U.S. Senator Ben Sasse showed strong in Brown County Tuesday, with 682 ballots cast for his reelection compared to 367 for challenger Matt Innis. Chris Janicek edged Angie Phillips, 22 votes to 16, among Brown County Democrats. Republicans in Rock County also chose Sasse for reelection to the U.S. Senate in the Primary, though Innis had a strong showing. Sasse garnered 368 Rock County votes, compared to 205 for Innis. Janicek led the seven Democrats in the Senate field with nine votes. Alisha Shelton picked up seven. Innis was the choice for Keya Paha County Republicans in a competitive race. Innis won the county with 190 votes. Sasse received 169 votes. Janicek and Phillips led Keya Paha County Democrats with eight votes each.

Donald Trump was the choice for President in Brown County among Republicans, with 981 votes compared to 59 for challenger Bill Weld. Democrat Joe Biden picked up 57 votes in Brown County compared to 14 Bernie Sanders. Rock County Republicans favored the reelection of President Trump, casting 538 votes his way. Weld picked up 25 votes. On the Democratic side, Biden received 30 votes from Rock County Democrats, with Sanders and Elizabeth Warren each picking up five. Keya Paha County voters gave 342 votes to Trump, compared to just seven for Weld. Biden received 28 votes in Keya Paha County, with Tulsi Gabbard the next closest with three.

* Brown sentenced to 4 to 8 years in prison following pair of felony convictions

(Posted 8:45 p.m. May 12)

During Brown County District Court proceedings Tuesday, Kraig Brown, age 33, of O’Neill, formerly of Ainsworth, appeared for sentencing after being convicted of two felony charges.
Brown was sentenced to two to three years in the Department of Corrections following his conviction on a charge of abuse of a vulnerable adult, a Class IIIA felony. Brown was also sentenced to between two and five years in the Department of Corrections on a Class II felony conviction of distributing a controlled substance.
The two sentences will be served consecutively, meaning Brown will serve between four and eight years in prison.

* New heating and air units installed at Sandhills Care Center

(Posted 4 p.m. May 12)

The Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors Monday learned the new heating and air-conditioning units have been installed, and the board approved a $60,000 claim from Greg’s Heating and Air of Bassett for the work.

Prior to paying the claim for the project, the board approved a $60,000 loan from First National Bank, which will be repaid over a five-year period. The care center received a grant of $10,000 annually for five years from the Brown County Foundation to assist with the cost of the project.

The loan will be repaid with the funds from the foundation, and the care center will have to raise funding for the remaining $10,000.

Interim Administrator Kent Taylor told the board the care center received federal funding through the CARES Act in the form of a one-time $33,898 grant. Taylor said the grant was based off the facility’s Medicare and Medicaid revenue from 2019.

Board Chairman Phil Fuchs said the facility did not qualify for the Payroll Protection Program through the CARES Act because it is government entity. The care center is jointly owned by the city of Ainsworth and Brown County. While rural county-owned hospitals were allowed to apply for PPP in the second round of stimulus funding, government owned nursing homes were not included.

“There may be another chance in future bills for us to apply for PPP,” Fuchs said. “At 19 to 20 residents, we will probably run about $25,000 short each month.”

The grant funding helped drive April revenue to $160,445, with expenses for the month of $121,959 for a net operating profit during April of $38,485.

Taylor reported there are currently 19 residents in the Sandhills Care Center, with six paying privately, 11 receiving Medicaid assistance and one receiving assistance from Medicare. One resident is in the process of transitioning from private pay to Medicaid.

“COVID restrictions are still in place,” Taylor said. “It has been really tough, especially on Mother’s Day, for residents not to be able to see their families in person.”

Taylor said family members and community members have been great about sending cards and flowers, and the residents appreciate it.

New Administrator Stephanie Clifton was in attendance Monday, and Taylor had social services director Tina Rehkopf and MDS director Barb Beck explain their roles in the nursing home to the board members.

Prior to entering into executive session, the board awarded a $350 scholarship to Keya Paha County High School senior Miah Wiebelhaus.

The next meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors is scheduled for 4 p.m. June 8.

* Primary Election Day 2020, with polls open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday

(Posted 7 a.m. May 12)

Today is Primary Election Day in Nebraska. Polls are open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Brown County voters will cast ballots in the Ainsworth Conference Center. Rock County voters will cast ballots in the Rock County High School multipurpose room at Bassett, and Keya Paha County voters cast ballots in the Internal Design building at Springview.

KBRB will air results from Brown, Rock and Keya Paha counties following the tabulation of vote totals after polls close.

In Brown County, Republican Buddy Small is running for re-election to the Board of Commissioners. Dewey Jefferis, Tim Iverson and Cherie Priest filed to challenge Small in the Republican Primary. There were no Democrats who filed for the seat, so the winner of the Republican Primary will win the board seat barring a write-in candidacy.

All three incumbents on the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education whose terms expire in 2020 are seeking re-election. Scott Erthum, Mark Johnson and Brad Wilkins will not face any competition for the three open seats.

Neither Greg Soles nor Deb Hurless filed for re-election to the Ainsworth City Council. Hurless resigned from her council seat in February and was replaced by Tonny Beck. Beck did not seek a full term on the council.

Brett Duester, Vance Heyer, Shawn Fernau, John Mead and Anissa Julius are running for the two council seats. Four of the five candidates will advance from the Primary to the General Election.

Incumbent Bill Lentz filed for another term on the Ainsworth Airport Authority.

The two incumbents on the Long Pine City Council whose terms are expiring, Aaron Miller and Teresa Lemunyan, did not file for re-election. Andrea Collatos was the only Long Pine resident to file for a council seat, so there will be only one candidate running for two open seats and the council will have to appoint a fourth member following the November General Election unless someone files as a write-in candidate.

In Rock County, incumbents Leah Hagan and Tim Shaw re-filed for additional terms on the Rock County Public Schools Board of Education. Incumbent Teresa Weiist did not re-file. Erin Moravec, Krystal Kaup and Mark Klemesrud filed for the school board. All five will advance to the General Election.

Dustin Craven did not file to retain his seat as a Rock County Commissioner. Wade Hollenbeck and Todd Stahl filed for the Board of Commissioners. Both are Republicans, so they will appear on the Republican Primary ballot.

Neither Reno Gordon nor Michael Turpin filed to keep their seats on the Bassett City Council. Andrew Hollenbeck filed for a council seat, and was the only Bassett resident to do so. The council will appoint a fourth member barring a write-in candidacy.

In Keya Paha County, Republican Mike Tuerk filed for re-election to the Board of Commissioners from the West District. Tuerk faces a challenge from three newcomers during the May Republican primary. Running against Tuerk are Randy Painter, Anthony Tiefenthaler and Mike Vigoren.

The deadlines for the Springview Village Board and Keya Paha County Public Schools Board of Education are July 15 for incumbents and Aug. 3 for non-incumbents.

In state and federal races, 43rd District State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon has filed for a second, four-year term in the Nebraska Legislature. Brewer faces a challenge from Cherry County Commissioner Tanya Storer. Both candidates will advance to the November General Election, but will appear on the Primary ballot.

Nebraska 3rd District Rep. Adrian Smith will face challengers in the Republican Primary, as Larry Bolinger of Alliance, William Elfgren of Overton, Justin Moran of Atkinson and Arron Kowalski of Grand Island have all filed to challenge Smith in the Primary.

Mark Elworth of Omaha has filed from the Democratic Party for Smith’s 3rd District seat.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse faces a challenge from Matt Innis of Crete in the Republican Primary in his bid for another six-year term. Seven Democrats have filed for Sasse’s U.S. Senate seat as well. Dennis Macek of Lincoln, Chris Janicek of Omaha, Larry Marvin of Fremont, Angie Philips of Omaha, Alisha Shelton of Omaha, Daniel Wik of Norfolk and Andy Stock of Lincoln will battle in the Democratic Party Primary for the right to advance to the November General Election.

* School Board approves 2 teacher contracts, accepts resignation

(Posted 7 a.m. May 12)

The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education Monday approved contracts for two teachers and accepted the resignation of physical education teacher, boys basketball and boys golf coach Sean Sterkel.

In his resignation letter, Sterkel told the board he had accepted a teaching and coaching position at his alma mater, Bridgeport High School.

Superintendent Dale Hafer said six candidates were interviewed for the physical education position. Hafer said Stephen Crile, who had been teaching in the special education department, will move over to physical education and will still assist with the special education program if needed.

The board approved a contract with Teresa Halley for the special education position Crile is vacating. Hafer said Halley is the wife of new Valentine School Superintendent Mike Halley and will bring a wealth of experience to the position.

The board also approved a contract for Emily Lauck to teach preschool students at Little Paws Preschool. Hafer said Lauck has nine years of experience running Little Bees Daycare at Bloomfield.

In other business Monday, the board approved a contract with Educational Service Unit 17 for special education and nursing services. Hafer said the contract with ESU 17 was increasing 4 percent from the previous year. The school will pay ESU 17 $692,203 for special education services and $29,997 for school nursing services.

The board also approved having Hafer sign a contract with Trane to make repairs during the summer to the building’s windows, EIFS panels and weather stripping. The contract with Trane will not exceed $70,000, and also includes scheduled inspections of the building’s roof and plumbing system.

The board voted to increase school breakfast and lunch prices by 10 cents for the 2020-21 school year.

Hafer said the district has to make the adjustments to its meal prices to continue to receive federal reimbursement.

“We try to go with small increases so we don’t have to have a year where we have to jump up by 20 or 25 cents to keep our federal reimbursement,” the superintendent said.

The board approved declaring a 1994 Ford Econoline van as surplus equipment and will advertise the vehicle for sale.

In a final action item, the board approved a resolution recognizing the efforts of teachers and staff for the work they have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board member Brad Wilkins said teachers probably felt like they were building an airplane while they were flying as they had to quickly roll out remote learning.

Board President Jim Arens said there has been a tremendous effort by everyone involved. Teacher Recognition Week was celebrated last week.

During his report, Hafer said the district received a $5,000 grant from the Nebraska Community Foundation which was matched with $5,000 from the Brown County Foundation to assist with summer learning by bringing in college students or paying a teacher to help students who may have a learning gap. The grant could also be used for the purchase of software to assist with remote learning should it stretch into the summer.

Hafer reported the district’s overall expenses were down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district is also going to receive federal funding from the CARES Act, though the actual amount is not yet known.

Secondary Principal Steve Dike reported graduation for the Class of 2020 has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. July 18. Dike said a letter was sent to parents of seniors after the date was finalized.

“We will try to have as traditional of a graduation ceremony as we can,” Dike said.

Dike and Elementary Principal Curtis Childers discussed preliminary plans for summer school. Both said the district should know more soon, as guidance from the Nebraska Department of Education is expected May 15.

Dike said the district planned to run summer school in a manner as close to previous years as possible. Summer school gives students a chance to retrieve credits for classes they may have failed. He said summer school would run for five weeks, starting either June 1 or June 8 depending on whether students will be allowed in the building.

Childers reported kindergarten roundup has been postponed until either late July or early August. Childers said it tentatively looks like there will be 29 to 32 students in the 2020-21 kindergarten class.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 8 p.m. June 8.

* Connell graduates from NCTA

(Posted 2:15 p.m. May 11)

Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture students received their degrees Thursday during a virtual commencement ceremony.
Among the students who received degrees from NCTA at Curtis was Ashley Connell of Springview, who earned an Associate’s degree in veterinary technology systems and a certificate in animal care.

* Area students graduate Saturday from University of Nebraska-Lincoln

(Posted 7:15 a.m. May 11)

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln conferred nearly 3,500 degrees during a virtual graduation celebration Saturday. The 3,417graduates are from 54 countries, 45 states and Puerto Rico, and 250 Nebraska communities.

A Husker Graduation Celebration featured a “Dream Big” address from John Cook, head coach of Nebraska volleyball, and appearances by special guests. At the end of the event, Chancellor Ronnie Green officially conferred degrees to students.

Area UN-L graduates include:

 

Ainsworth

Lydia Allen, a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Arts and Sciences.

Austin Harthoorn, a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural economics with high distinction.

 

Butte

Kelsey Sextro, a Bachelor of Science degree in education and human sciences.

 

Valentine

Ryan Butler, a Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Arts and Sciences.

* Area students receive degrees from Wayne State College

(Posted 7 a.m. May 11)

More than 550 Wayne State College graduates earned degrees following the spring semester, including from this area:

 

Ainsworth

Lauren Allen, with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology.

 

Long Pine

Kayla Miller, with a Master of Science degree in elementary education curriculum and instructional leadership

 

Stuart

Jennifer Alder, with a Master of Science degree in school counseling

Paulette Fahrenholz, with a Master of Science degree in education curriculum and instructional leadership

Courtni Kunz, with a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education

Travis Ludwig, with a Master of Science degree in school administration

Conner Paxton, with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology

Jaden Schafer, with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and health sciences

 

Atkinson

Sierra Hansen, with a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education

Megan Poessnecker, a Master of Science degree in school counseling

* Additional COVID-19 cases found in Knox, Antelope counties

(Posted 6:30 a.m. May 11)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of positive COVID-19 cases in Knox County and Antelope County.

The Knox County resident contracted the illness through direct contact with a positive case. The case is in quarantine. All close contacts have been identified and are in quarantine. Through investigation, it has been determined there is low risk to the communities in Knox County from this case.

The risk to Antelope County residents from that positive case is unknown at this time, as contact tracing is still underway.

The following NCDHD case counts per county for the NCDHD District are:

Antelope: 6

Boyd: 0

Brown: 0

Cherry: 1

Holt: 1

Keya Paha: 0

Knox: 7

Pierce: 1

Rock: 0

Case total for NCDHD District: 16

NCDHD reminds residents to be cautious, be aware of your surroundings, and practice social distancing as there are positive COVID-19 cases in adjoining counties and outbreaks in neighboring districts.

* Area students scheduled to graduate from Northeast Community College

(Posted 4:15 p.m. May 8)

The 47th Commencement of Northeast Community College will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 16. Due to the ongoing Directed Health Measures that are in effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event will be a virtual ceremony.

Some 891 students, including those earning more than one degree, and 220 who completed their studies this past summer and fall, are listed in the commencement program. Area students scheduled to graduate are:

 

Ainsworth

Whittney Killion, an Associate of Science degree

Miriam Werner, an Associate of Science degree

Wyatt Martinson, an Associate of Applied Science degree in diversified agriculture

Jacce Beck, an Associate of Applied Science degree in electrical construction and control

Caeleb Irwin, an Associate of Applied Science degree in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning

Joshua Pacha, an Associate of Applied Science degree in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning

 

Long Pine

Ned Pozehl, an Associate of Applied Science degree in utility line

Jamie Biltoft, a certificate in food service and dietary management

 

Bassett

Alicia DeBolt, an Associate of Applied Science degree in horticulture and golf course management

Jared Shaw, a diploma in welding

 

Newport

Whitten Giles, an Associate of Applied Science degree in automotive technology

 

Mills

Caitlin Orton, an Associate of Arts degree and a diploma in business.

 

Stuart

Kennison Kunz, an Associate of Arts degree

Taylor Kubik, an Associate of Applied Science degree in early childhood education

Franklin Fessler, an Associate of Applied Science degree in graphic design

Chance Engel, a diploma in welding

Wyatt Paxton, a diploma in welding

 

Atkinson

Jennifer Fischer, an Associate of Arts degree

Lindsay Welsh, an Associate degree in nursing

Jeffrey Mathis, an Associate of Applied Science degree in paramedic

Miranda Bendig, a diploma in practical nursing

 

Naper

Jesse Cline, an Associate of Arts degree

Blake Ahlers, an Associate of Applied Science degree in electrical construction and control

 

Butte

Jerica Hilkemann, an Associate of Arts degree

 

Valentine

Cheyanne Osnes, an Associate of Arts degree

Payge Poulsen, an Associate of Arts degree

Bryan Sliger, an Associate of Arts degree

Alexander Lurz, a diploma in welding

* COVID-19 testing scheduled for Neligh Tuesday, Valentine Wednesday

(Posted 12:15 p.m. May 8)

The North Central District Health Department will host two additional mass testing events in partnership with the Nebraska National Guard.

testing events will take place from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Tuesday in Neligh at the Antelope County Fairgrounds and from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in Valentine at the Valentine Elementary School parking lot.

These events are an effort by NCDHD to offer greater testing capacity to the communities in the nine counties covered by the department.

Testing priorities will be given to anyone who falls in these categories:

Having symptoms of COVID-19: fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or trouble breathing, sore throat, runny nose, loss of taste or of smell, diarrhea, fatigue, congestion, or other symptoms

Healthcare Worker

Public Safety/First Responder (EMS, Law Enforcement, Firefighter)

Resident at a group home (nursing home, homeless shelter, daycare)

Had direct or close contact to a patient with COVID 19 in the last 14 days

Traveled outside of Nebraska in the last 14 days

Traveled around inside Nebraska to places with outbreaks such as: Lexington, Grand Island, Norfolk, Omaha, Lincoln or Dakota County.

65 years or older or have serious underlying conditions

Work in retail, hospitality, or food service such as: grocery store, convenience store, restaurant, hotel, etc.

Work in other high-risk exposure settings: meat processing plant, large manufacturer, over the road trucking, etc.

Testing opportunity will be open to the public to sign up with 150 tests scheduled to be collected at the event in Neligh, and 125 tests in Valentine. Walk-ups to the testing sites will not be accepted.  If anyone in the district is interested in participating in either of the events, district residents are asked to sign up using the following links specific to the event they will be able to attend: 

 

Neligh Sign up: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BDRTLW8 

When: 5/12/2020 10 AM – 1 PM

Where: Antelope County Fairgrounds 709 E HWY 275, Neligh, NE

Use the fairgrounds entrance

 

Valentine Sign up: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PMBG2FW  

When: 5/13/2020 10 AM – 12:30 PM

Where: Valentine Elementary School parking lot 615 E 5th Street, Valentine, NE

 Enter on the North side

 

Time slots for testing are in 30 min increments, persons being tested are expected to arrive at the beginning of the half hour time slot that they signed up for and wait for their turn.  This is not an appointment. It is first come, first serve for the appointed half hour. Anticipate some wait time.

Remain in your vehicle. There is no cost for the test. You will not be required to self-quarantine or isolate until results come in unless you have symptoms.

If you are unsure that you will be able to make the appointed time, do not sign up.  If you sign up, it is expected you will arrive to get tested.

If for some reason, you are not able to make it at your assigned time, please call 402-336-2406.

* Mail-in vote total for Primary Election already surpasses total votes from 2016

(Posted 7 a.m. May 8)

A record number of Nebraska voters have opted to vote early in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Counties are continuing to receive a record number of early ballots, adding daily to the count of votes cast in Nebraska’s primary election.

Nebraska has approximately 1.2 million registered voters. 

“This year, early ballot returns alone have now exceeded total statewide votes cast in the 2016 Presidential primary,” Secretary of State Bob Evnen said. “Voter participation in early balloting has reached unprecedented levels.”

For this primary, 441,466 voters requested early ballots. That number does not include the 52,132 ballots mailed to voters in Nebraska’s 11 mail-in-only counties.  To date 296,968 ballots from early voters and 24,560 ballots from all-mail-in counties have been returned, for a total of 321,528 ballots already cast in the 2020 Primary Election. This surpasses 313,000 total statewide votes cast in the 2016 Primary Election.

As of Thursday, 67% percent of early ballots have been returned, and 47% percent of ballots from mail-in-only counties have been returned.

“Nebraskans have taken the opportunity to vote by mail in record numbers, all in compliance with Nebraska’s existing elections laws,” Evnen said. “Voters are choosing for themselves whether to vote early by mail or cast their vote at the polls.”

Early voters who have not yet returned their ballots should keep in mind that it may take several days for a ballot to arrive through the mail.

“At this point, I encourage early voters who haven’t returned their ballots to consider dropping off their ballots at the secure voter drop boxes located at their county offices,” the secretary of state said.

To be counted, early ballots must be received by the county election official no later than 8 p.m. May 12. Early ballots may not be turned in at polling sites.

Polls Tuesday will be open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

* Two additional COVID-19 cases reported by NCDHD

(Posted 6:40 a.m. May 8)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of two additional positive COVID-19 cases Thursday. One positive case is a resident in Knox County and is in the hospital in isolation. All direct exposures are being contacted and asked to quarantine. NCDHD is currently conducting an investigation to determine the risk to the general public from this case.
The second case is a resident of Antelope County. The person contracted the illness due to a direct exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 case and is currently hospitalized in isolation. Case investigation determined that the risk to the Antelope County communities from this case is low.

* Recent cases from Brown County Court

(Posted 1:30 p.m. May 7)

In addition to fines, each case carries $50 in court costs

Rafael S. Mejia, age 23, of Memphis, Tenn., charged with no operator’s license, fined $75; also charged with speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Yadav Bhetuwal, 24, of St. Cloud, Minn., no operator’s license, $75; speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Wilbert G. Hoffman, 69, of Long Pine, two counts of being overweight on an axle or group of axles, fined $75 for each count.

Michelle L. Murtha, 26, of Fort Collins, Colo., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Alicia D. Ekross, 40, of Paxton, no valid registration, $25.

Teresa L. Mueller, 46, of Springview, improper or defective vehicle light, $25.

Clinton P. Irvin, 62, of Flower Mound, Texas, speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, $200.

Kevin D. Real, 26, of Papillion, speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.

Dominick R. DeIeso, 21, of St. Cloud, Minn., possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300; no operator’s license, $50.

Cody Patterson, 27, of Dunning, first offense driving under the influence, $500, also sentenced to 30 days in jail, driver’s license revoked for six months, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.

Shauna L. Ruhland, 47, of Sioux City, Iowa, speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Jenifer L. Welsh, 54, of Atkinson, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Raul J. Gutierrez, 25, of Greeley, Colo., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

* Commissioners approve purchase of state surplus pickup

(Posted 12:30 p.m. May 7)

The Brown County Commissioners Tuesday approved the purchase of a 2012 Chevy pickup from state surplus for use by the Roads Department.

Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin provided the board with a state quote of $22,900 for the pickup, which has 34,219 miles.

In another roads department item, the commissioners approved making repairs to the engine of the newly purchased 1998 Caterpillar scraper. The board also approved a resolution to sell the county’s 1979 John Deere scraper as surplus equipment.

The board approved a contract between the county and the city of Ainsworth, providing the city the right of first refusal should the county ever decide to sell property located east of the Brown County Hospital and south of East City Park.

County Attorney Andy Taylor and City Attorney Rod Palmer created the contract, and the board approved it as presented.

After discussion with Treasurer Deb Vonheeder and Brown County Agricultural Society Board member Dave Sherman, the commissioners approved repaying the inheritance tax fund on an annual basis from funds allocated to the Agricultural Society.

The board previously approved the Agricultural Society’s request to construct a $100,000 restroom facility on the west side of the fairgrounds, with more than half the money being taken from the inheritance tax fund.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said the inheritance tax fund could be repaid over time by the Agricultural Society using the same protocol as a previous Agricultural Society project to replace the chutes at the fairgrounds.

In a final action item Tuesday, the commissioners approved renewing its long-term disability insurance policy with Madison National Life Insurance.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. May 19.

* Work begins Friday on Highway 20 in O'Neill

(Posted 7 a.m. May 7)

Weather permitting, work will begin May 8 on Highway 20 in O’Neill, from Third Street to the railroad tracks at the east edge of O’Neill, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
Scodeller Construction of Wixom, Mich., has the $536,000 contract. Work includes concrete pavement repair. Single lane traffic will be maintained with flaggers and a pilot vehicle. Anticipated completion of the project is two weeks. Motorists are asked to drive cautiously near construction zones, to expect delays and buckle up.

* Stewart named Fine Arts Student of the Year at Ainsworth High School

(Posted 1:15 p.m. May 6)

Ainsworth High School held its annual Fine Arts Awards Night via an online event Tuesday, and Raven Stewart was named the 2019-20 Brown County Arts Council Outstanding Fine Arts Student of the Year.
Coy Carson received both the Patrick Gilmore Award and the John Phillip Sousa Award in band and was named the choir student of the year. Carson also received the Senior Oratory Award in speech.
Alyssa Erthum was named the Outstanding Speaker of the Year in speech, and the Jess Duden Memorial Award went to speech team member Josie Ganser.
Stewart received the David Streich Memorial Award in Mock Trial. Brandt Murphy was named the National Honor Thespian.

* Third Knox County COVID-19 case reported in past two days

 

(Posted 1:15 p.m. May 6)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of an additional positive COVID-19 case in Knox County on Wednesday. The resident was exposed outside of the district and is at home.
Contact investigations were initiated, and all direct contacts have been contacted and are in quarantine. Case investigation determined that risk to Knox County residents from this case is low.
This is the third positive COVID-19 case among Knox County residents in the past two days, though none of the three contracted the virus while in Knox County.

* Ainsworth Alumni Association cancels 2020 banquet and parade activities

(Posted 1 p.m. May 6)

The Ainsworth Alumni Association has cancelled this year’s alumni banquet and parade scheduled for June 26-28.
The board cancelled the banquet and parade due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic. Individual honor classes can make decisions on whether to gather as a class at some point during 2020.
The Ainsworth Alumni Association is still accepting donations for the next alumni gathering at PO Box 144, Ainsworth, NE 69210.

* Clifton hired as Sandhills Care Center administrator

(Posted 12:45 p.m. May 6)

The Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors announced the hiring of Stephanie Clifton as the new administrator of the Sandhills Care Center. 

Care Center Board Chairman Phil Fuchs said, “We look forward to her enthusiasm and wide variety of experiences she brings to lead the care center team forward.”  

Clifton said she was excited to join the Sandhills Care Center.

“The aspect of serving in a small community is right up my alley as I am a small town girl who grew up and graduated from Orchard Public Schools.”

Clifton began her healthcare career as a certified nursing assistant, before obtaining a degree in practical nursing. She obtained an assisted living administrator license, then received a nursing home administrator license in 2015. She is also certified as a dementia care practitioner.

“I may be familiar to some of you, as I worked for AseraCare Hospice as their sales and marketing provider in the Ainsworth community,” Clifton said.

Clifton was selected from a pool of 13 applicants. She plans to be in the facility beginning in the middle of May.

* Area students receive degrees from UNMC

(Posted 12:30 p.m. May 6)

The University of Nebraska Medical Center will conduct virtual commencement ceremonies this week for 1,013 graduates.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each UNMC college will host a virtual commencement and/or hooding ceremonies that will include videotaped elements of an address from UNMC Chancellor Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold. Each ceremony will conclude with the conferral of degrees.

Graduates’ names will be read while a slide of their name, degree and photo will be shown on screen. Graduates are invited to participate in any future commencement ceremony in person.

Area graduates include:

 

UNMC COLLEGE OF DENTISTRY (Lincoln)

Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene

Ainsworth -- Maikayla Weiss

 

UNMC COLLEGE OF NURSING OMAHA DIVISION

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Springview -- Sophia Sawle (With Academic Excellence)

 

UNMC COLLEGE OF NURSING NORTHERN DIVISION (NORFOLK)

Master of Science in Nursing

Butte -- Karissa Reiser

 

UNMC COLLEGE OF ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONS

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Valentine -- Jordan Bussinger

* Sandhills Ranch Expo cancelled due to continued COVID-19 concerns

(Posted 8:45 a.m. May 6)

The Sandhills Ranch Expo Board made the decision to cancel the 2020 Expo due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Expo Board member Keith Cosgrove said cancelling the Expo was not a decision the board took lightly, but the potential negative consequences of holding the annual event outweighed the benefits for the board.
To hear the conversation regarding decision to cancel, click on the audio link below.

audio clips/Ranch Expo Cancellation.mp3

* Rock County Commissioners opt to keep courthouse closed

(Posted 6:30 a.m. May 6)

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Rock County Commissioners opted to keep the courthouse doors closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board met with the county treasurer, assessor and clerk to discuss the issue, with the consensus being to keep the courthouse closed. The public is encouraged to continue correspondence online, by mail, by using the drop box outside the courthouse, or scheduling an appointment if necessary.

In other business Tuesday, the board approved a resolution to establish a lease-purchase agreement with the Nebraska Association of County Officials Leasing Corporation to acquire a motor grader for the Rock County Roads Department.

The board also approved the purchase of a pickup outfitted with a sprayer for the weed department.

The next meeting of the Rock County Commissioners is scheduled for 9 a.m. May 19.

* Additional COVID-19 case identified in Antelope County

(Posted 6:30 a.m. May 5)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of a positive COVID-19 case in Antelope County Monday. The resident contracted the illness outside of the district in an area with an ongoing outbreak.
After conducting contact investigations, it has been determined there is no risk to the communities of Antelope County from this case. The case is in quarantine at home. NCDHD urges those in the district to be cautious and practice social distancing as there are positive COVID-19 cases in adjoining counties and outbreaks in neighboring districts.  
NCDHD reminds district communities new Directed Health Measures from the office of Gov. Pete Ricketts are now in effect. New guidance is available on the Department of Health and Human Services website as well as the NCDHD Facebook page.

* First Holt County resident tests positive for COVID-19

(Posted 6:30 a.m. May 4)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of the first positive COVID-19 case in Holt County.
The person who tested positive resides in Holt County but is currently in quarantine outside of the district. The case was exposed in a county outside of the NCDHD district and has not been in the district for one and a half weeks prior to symptoms. All close contacts have been identified and contacted. There is no risk to the communities of Holt County from this positive case.
NCDHD reiterates to communities that though this case is outside of the county, district residents should still be cautious and practice social distancing as there are positive COVID-19 cases in adjoining counties and outbreaks in neighboring districts.
The health department reminds district communities Gov. Pete Ricketts announced new Directed Health Measures for the North Central District Health Department take effect today, May 4. New guidance is available on the DHHS website as well as the NCDHD Facebook page.

* Positive COVID-19 case in Todd County leads to risk of exposure in Cherry County

(Posted 1 p.m. May 1)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of a positive COVID-19 case in Todd County, S.D. The case is currently housed in isolation.
After continued communication with the South Dakota Department of Health and local law enforcement, the North Central District Health Department is waring residents of Cherry County that, due to the activity of the confirmed case, exposure risk to the general public in Valentine is anticipated.
Due to noncompliance of the case, the NCDHD does not anticipate receiving exact exposure locations in Cherry County at this time.
NCDHD encourages community members to continue to practice social distancing, limit unnecessary travel, practice good hand hygiene, and self-monitor for symptoms.  NCDHD will update communities in the district as additional information is acquired. 

* Werner discusses hospital operations Friday

(Posted 12:15 p.m. May 1)

Brown County Hospital CEO John Werner appeared on KBRB Friday to discuss the hospital's preparations for the COVID-19 pandemic, and the facility's strategy on reopening for routine procedures and specialty clinic offerings.
To hear the conversation, click on the audio link below.

audio clips/BCH Spotlight-John Werner 5-1-2020.mp3

* Ricketts issues executive order to help speed payment of unemployment claims

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 1)

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Thursday he has issued a new executive order pertaining to unemployment benefits. Among other things, the order retroactively extends eligibility for pandemic-related unemployment benefits to include the week of March 15-21.

Nebraska Commissioner of Labor John Albin joined the Governor to discuss the new executive order. He also supplied an update on the Nebraska Department of Labor’s efforts to process unemployment claims.

Albin said the Nebraska Department of Labor has taken in the equivalent of three years’ worth of claims in two months. NDOL has paid out two years’ worth of claims in that time.

“We’re continuously looking for ways to speed up the processing of claims,” Albin said. “Forty percent of our claimants have multiple employers in their base period (the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the claim is filed). We’re required by statute to reach out to each of these employers to collect their information and to adjudicate any contradictory information regarding the separation of an employer and worker.”

Albin said the governor’s new executive order enables the Department of Labor to limit contacts to a claimant’s most recent employer. 

“This will expedite our process tremendously,” Albin said. “We now have the software infrastructure in place to process Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims. We’ve already made payment to 11,000 claimants. There are about 5,500 additional claimants whom we expect to be eligible. Our team will be working this weekend to get more information from these individuals in order to process their claims.”

This week, NDOL paid out $7 million in PUA benefits, $11.6 million in regular state unemployment, and over $45 million in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.

“We saw a 33% decrease in claims last week,” Albin said. “It was the lowest number of claims we’ve received in the past six weeks. However, last week’s total is still almost double the amount of claims we received in any week in NDOL’s history prior to the current pandemic. We’re launching a project to better identify the older claims in our system so that we can prioritize processing them.”

Additionally, Ricketts issued guidance for faith communities as they resume worship services. As of May 4, places of worship statewide will no longer be subject to the 10-person social gathering limitation for their main services. However, they will be required to operate with physical distancing measures in place to protect the health of worshipers.

Ricketts said the state continues to provide alternative housing for residents who have been exposed to COVID-19 and cannot safely quarantine or isolate themselves from household members with high-risk medical conditions.

Two locations are up and running: The University of Nebraska Omaha and the University of Nebraska Kearney.

“Our Six Rules to Keep Nebraska Healthy will remain in place statewide through at least the end of May,” Ricketts said. “We need every Nebraskan to go to TestNebraska.com right now to fill out a quick health assessment. The assessments help us make the best decisions about where to set up test sites around the state.”

* NCDC available to assist businesses and employees with COVID pandemic

(Posted 3:45 p.m. April 30)

North Central Development Center Executive Director Kristin Olson provided an update Thursday on the additional money provided by the federal government for the CARES Act. She also discussed assistance available for employees who either lost jobs or had their hours reduced.
To hear the complete report, click on the audio link below.

audio clips/NCDC - April 30 Update.mp3

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 2:45 p.m. April 30)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a vehicle-deer accident that occurred Tuesday, April 28, just west of Ainsworth.
According to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, at 9 p.m. Tuesday on Highway 20 just west of Ainsworth, a 2015 Ford Edge, driven by Haley Miller, 24, of Stuart, was traveling east when the vehicle struck a deer in the roadway.
No persons were injured during the accident. The Ford was considered a total loss.

ATHLETE OF THE YEAR - Rylee Rice (right) was named the KBRB Athlete of the Year
 by a vote of the Ainsworth head coaches and faculty members. Rice is presented the plaque
 by KBRB's Graig Kinzie along with a $500 scholarship.

* Rice named KBRB Athlete of the Year

(Posted 2:15 p.m. April 29)

Rylee Rice was named the KBRB Athlete of the Year following a vote of the Ainsworth Community Schools’ coaches, faculty and A Club.

Rice finished her Ainsworth career as one of the most decorated athletes in school history. She earned three individual cross country state titles and led the Bulldogs to three consecutive Class D team titles. She won the State Cross Country All-Class Gold as a sophomore, and is one of only 11 girls in state history to win three state titles. Rice was the first Class D girls runner to win the All-Class Gold.

She currently holds the course record at every site she ran a cross country race, and never lost a race until the state championships her senior year, where she finished as the runner up. She also holds the Class D State Meet Record, eclipsing the previous Class D record by more than 45 seconds.

She was a four-time Southwest Conference and District champion.

In basketball, Rice set the single season school record for steals with 103. She also holds the school record for career steals with 361, finished second in school history in career assists with 160, and third in school history in career rebounds with 521.

Rice was named to the Southwest Conference First Team in 2019-20, and to the SWC Second Team following both her sophomore and junior seasons.

She finished honorable mention All-State three times and was named Academic All-State twice.

Though losing her senior track and field season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rice won five gold medals at the Nebraska State Track and Field Championships, including four during her freshman year. She holds Class C state meet records in both the 800 meters and 1,600 meters.

In all, she won nine state track and field medals, and scored 79 points at the state meet in three years, including 40 her freshman year to give the Bulldogs a Class C runner-up finish as a team.

She finished her career as an 11-time district champion and holds school records in the 100-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles, 800 meters, 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters.

For being named the KBRB Athlete of the Year, Rice receives a $500 scholarship and has her name placed on a plaque displayed in Ainsworth Community Schools.
Rice plans to attend Doane University, where she will compete athletically in track and field.

* Ainsworth moves All-Sports Tailgate Party online to recognize athletes

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 29)

Ainsworth Community Schools Tuesday hosted an online awards presentation to recognize high school athletes, since the annual All-Sports Tailgate Party will not be held.

Coaches announced the top athletes in their respective sports, with the event streamed online and via a school-access cable channel.

Awards presented Tuesday include:

 

Cross Country

Most Valuable Girls Runner- Rylee Rice

Most Valuable Boys Runner- Ty Schlueter

 

Girls Golf

MVP- Jayden Keezer

 

Football

Offensive MVP- Caleb Allen

Defensive MVP- Wrett Killion

Bryan Moody Teammate of the Year- Colt Temple

 

Volleyball

MVP- Summer Richardson

Hustle Award- Brieann Schipporeit

Heart Award- Elizabeth Wilkins

Most Improved- Kaitlynn Inbody

 

Wrestling

MVP- Oren Pozehl

 

Girls Basketball

MVP- Rylee Rice

Offensive MVP- Kaitlyn Nelson

Defensive MVP- Rylee Rice

Most Improved- Summer Richardson

 

Boys Basketball

MVP- Grant Stec

Defensive MVP- Wrett Killion

Bryent Wilkins Memorial Award- Grant Stec

 

Boys Golf

2019 MVP - Samuel Wilkins

 

Track and Field

2019 Girls Most Outstanding Performer- Rylee Rice

2019 Boys Most Outstanding Performer- Ben Arens

 

Lifter of the Year

Girl- Bria Delimont

Boy- Sloan Raymond

 

12 Sport Athletes

Ty Conroy

Erin Painter

Rylee Rice

 

John Nelson Sportsmanship

Girls- Rylee Rice

Boys- Sloan Raymond

 

KBRB Athlete of the Year

Rylee Rice

* Teammates chapter meets 2021 goal, still seeking new mentors

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 28)

The Ainsworth Chapter of TeamMates Mentoring Program announced it met and exceeded its 2021 match goal.
In 2019, the Teammates Board of Directors set a three-year goal of 34 quality matches by 2021. As of March 1, the local chapter has ​35 ​mentee/mentor matches.
TeamMates is a school-based mentoring program that focuses on building relationships and identifying strengths in students. Currently, Teammates supports student mentees and adult mentors in over 160 communities across Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Wyoming. The Mission of TeamMates is “to impact the world by inspiring youth to reach their full potential through mentoring”.
Since mentee/mentor meetings take place on school grounds, the current pandemic guidelines and school building closures have made it harder to interact with our student mentees in person. At this time, mentors and mentees are able to communicate through email are transmitted through TeamMates offices in Omaha or the Chapter Program Coordinator, and then passed along.
While the group met its 2021 goal early, there is still work to do. At this time, there are three local students who are still waiting to be matched, and there will be new mentee applicants next school year. The local chapter needs mentors. Go to TeamMates.org to find more information about the TeamMates Mentoring Program that was founded by Coach Tom Osborn and his wife Nancy in 1991.
It is easy to apply to become a mentor. Go to TeamMates.org and click on the “Become a Mentor” button. Anyone with questions about the TeamMates Mentoring Program may contact Chapter Program Coordinator Lisa Schlueter at the school by calling 402-387-2082 or email at lschlueter@ainsworthschools.org​, or call any board member. Board members are Wade Alberts, Scott Steinhauser, Connie Lentz, Kathy Klammer and Lisa Chohon.

* Campbell cautions against easing COVID-19 preventive measures too soon

(Posted 9:45 a.m. April 27)

Dr. Mel Campbell appeared on KBRB's Open Line program Monday and cautioned against a rush to ease coronavirus preventive measures.
Campbell urged residents to continue to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible.
To hear the full report, click on the audio link below.

audio clips/Open Line - Dr Campbell 4-27-20.mp3

* Local group emphasizes continued importance of following COVID-19 guidelines

(Posted 7 a.m. April 27)

In an effort to keep the community informed on the Covid-19 situation, a community group has been meeting on a bi-weekly basis to discuss updates regarding Covid-19 and the impact it may have on the community.

The group has been working with the North Central District Health Department and monitoring CDC recommendations regarding the virus.

Because the community has been so diligent in practicing the recommendations set forth by the CDC and the local health department, Covid-19 cases have not been reported in the area. It is imperative are communities continue to follow the established guidelines and not become lax in efforts to keep the virus from impacting the area.

The local group emphasizes the importance of self-monitoring for the most common symptoms associated with Covid-19. The warning signs include fever of 100.4 and above, cough and shortness of breath or any other flu-like symptoms. Anyone who experiences any or all of these symptoms listed is asked to call their physician.

If the time comes when there is a positive test in the Brown County area, the North Central District Health Department will advise the community of the results.

Practice social distancing by staying 6 feet away from those not in your quarantine circle. The CDC recommends everyone wear cloth face coverings in all public places. Any type of mouth and nose covering could help minimize exposure. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Take everyday preventive actions.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or after being in a public place. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places ~~ door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something. Wash your hands after touching surfaces in public places. Avoid touching your face, nose and eyes, as these are the easiest ways to transmit a virus.

Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs. Practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces.

* Some Directed Health Measures will be eased beginning May 4

(Posted 7 a.m. April 27)

Governor Pete Ricketts announced upcoming changes that ease some restrictions on social gatherings and business operations in Nebraska as of May 4.  

Ricketts said maintaining the integrity of Nebraska’s health care system has been the state’s top consideration when making decisions about public health measures. Nebraska continues to have ample capacity to care for the state’s residents. As of April 24, 48% of hospital beds, 42% of ICU beds, and 74% of ventilators were available for use statewide.

Ricketts said the current Directed Health Measures for Douglas County will be extended through May 3.  The local DHMs from the Sarpy/Cass Health Department and the Douglas County Health Department will also be extended through May 3.

The statewide closure until April 30 of all beauty/nail salons, barber shops, massage therapy services, gentleman’s clubs, bottle clubs, indoor movie theatres, indoor theatres, and tattoo parlors/studios is extended to May 3.

That date will be extended further for some areas.

As of May 4, the state will have 19 separate Directed Health Measures, one for each local health department.  They will be effective through May 31.

Places of worship will have relaxed DHM requirements statewide beginning May 4.

Churches will need to ensure 6 feet of separation between different household units. It will not be permissible to pass items among worshippers. A guidance document will be provided with the new DHMs to give instructions to faith communities on how to comply with the updated health measures.

As of May 4, beauty/nail salons, barber shops, massage therapy services, and tattoo parlors/studios in several health districts, including the North Central District Health Department, will be permitted to open. These establishments will be added to the list of gatherings subject to the 10-person rule.

The new DHM requires both workers and patrons of these establishments to wear masks.

As of May 4, restaurants will be allowed to serve dine-in customers if all of the following conditions are met: the restaurant limits seating to 50% of the rated occupancy maximum at all times; the restaurant seats parties at least 6 feet apart; all dining parties are restricted to no more than six persons (groups larger than six will need to sit at separate tables); self-serve buffets and salad bars are prohibited; restaurant staff must serve food directly to customers or implement buffet orders from the customer table; no customer self-service will be allowed; bar seating is not permitted; patrons may only consume alcohol on the premises if also consuming a meal; and bars that do not serve food will remain limited to carry-out sales and delivery only.

As of May 4, childcare facilities will be permitted to have up to 15 kids per room/space.

All other state provisions, statutes, and regulations (including child-to-staff ratios) still apply.

Bars, gentlemen’s clubs, bottle clubs, indoor movie theaters, indoor theaters/playhouses will remain closed statewide until May 31, though the state may revise that Directed Health Measure prior to that date.

“Leading up to these changes, I want to emphasize how important it is to continue following our six rules during the rest of the “21 Days to Stay Home and Stay Healthy” campaign,” Ricketts said. “I also want to remind people, regardless of these changes, we will still be doing some level of social distancing until we have a vaccine. Just because we are able to relax some measures, does not mean life returns to normal. We will continue to protect our healthcare system so that Nebraskans can receive the treatment they need if they become infected with coronavirus.”

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services CEO Dannette R. Smith provided an update on the state’s efforts to expand contact tracing to better track the spread of the virus. 

“Our Test Nebraska plan has three steps: assess, test, and track,” Smith said. "Today, I want to talk about the final step. Contact tracing makes sure we’re being proactive in monitoring and supporting individuals with potential infection from COVID-19. We want to immediately assess those individuals and track their contacts so we can quarantine those persons at high risk of exposure. Gov. Ricketts challenged our department to mobilize 1,000 people to help with contact tracing. Over the next 30 to 60 days, we will deploy 325 teammates from DHHS to assist with contact tracing.”

Smith said employees will gather real-time data to guide the state’s public health strategies.

“Our teammates will track demographics, on-site symptoms, and close contacts of those who are ill,” she said. “Our teams will work in the days and evenings to reach all Nebraskans, particularly those still working. In our conversations, we’re going to be particularly sensitive to cultural differences and linguistic needs.”

* Area students awarded Pheasants Forever scholarships

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 27)

Sydney Linse, Erin Painter, Kiley Hallock, Alexis Rutar, Michaela Franklin, KayLynn Miller, Clay Billings, Jon Keller and Jon Ortner were awarded 2020 Sandhills Chapter Pheasants Forever Scholarships.

This marks the 13th year the Sandhills Chapter Pheasants Forever has awarded scholarships to area students.

With this year’s winners, the local chapter has awarded a total of 55 scholarships. The support of the youth program during its annual banquet and throughout the year by the public is greatly appreciated. Other youth programs the chapter holds includes the annual Youth Mentor Hunt, helping with Hunter Education, helping the Youth Trapshooting Club and co-sponsoring The School of Fish.

* Ainsworth students win state level National History Day contest

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 27)

After winning at the district contest in March, six Ainsworth Middle School students participated at the state level of the National History Day contest this past week.
This year, the students submitted their projects online rather than competing in person. Taylor Allen, Katherine Kerrigan, Brianna Starkey and Emma Kennedy qualified for the national contest by earning the top spot for their junior group performance titled “The Night Witches: Breaking Barriers for Women During World War II.”
Sixth-grade student Adysson Sears took third place for her junior individual exhibit titled “Kathrine Switzer: Breaking Barriers in Women’s Distance Running.” She is an alternate for the national contest. Also competing at the state level was seventh-grader Mason Painter with his junior individual documentary titled “The Tuskegee Airmen: Breaking Barriers in the U.S. Military.”
Sponsor Nichole Flynn said, “I’m so proud of these students for putting in the extra time and effort that it takes to compete in National History Day. Of course, we are disappointed the national qualifiers will not be able to attend a live competition this year, but they will still represent Nebraska as all projects will be submitted and judged online.”

* COVID-19 case reported in Antelope County

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 27)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of a positive COVID-19 case in Antelope County.
The health department initiated a contact investigation and quickly determined the case was not due to community spread, but occurred after close contact with an individual who has tested positive with COVID-19 and does not live in the NCDHD district.
The person has been in self-isolation at home since the onset of symptoms and continues to remain at home in self-isolation. At this time, the risk to the public remains low due to the diligence and self-awareness of symptoms and prompt action of the person to self-isolate.

* Brown County Foundation town hall meeting will be rescheduled

(Posted 3:15 p.m. April 24)

Since the postponement of the Brown County Foundation town hall meeting that had been slated for April 15, the Ainsworth/Brown County Strategic Planning Team has been addressing the issues of “where do we go from here” and “how do we plan to get there”  in identifying new priority projects for community improvement and economic development. 

During discussions, alternative methods of soliciting public input, such as surveys taken electronically, telephonically, or by written forms, were reviewed.  However, it was decided that the best process to receive public input was to use a format that would allow for community participation and discussion.

Therefore, based on the success of the last town hall meeting in 2016, plans are being made to re-schedule the town hall meeting to a date later in the summer or fall, based on the status of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Representatives of the Nebraska Community Foundation and the Nebraska Public Power District will continue to assist with the preparation for the town hall meeting and to facilitate the process of soliciting ideas and suggestions during the meeting.

In the interim, the Brown County Community Foundation Fund’s Youth Committee will conduct a youth survey developed by the Nebraska Community Foundation. Results will be shared during the town hall meeting.

* Ainsworth sets graduation date of July 18 for Class of 2020

(Posted 3 p.m. April 24)

Due to the current parameters set forth by the North Central District Health Department and the Nebraska Department of Education, along with a majority of the survey responses, Ainsworth Community Schools has tentatively planned graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020 for 5 p.m. July 18 in McAndrew Gymnasium.
The district’s intention is to
host an event that aligns with a traditional ceremony. Depending on the guidelines set forth at that time, a ceremony at the football field would be an outdoor option. If the ceremony needs to be held outdoors, and July 18 is inclement, the weather date
would 2 p.m. July 19.
The school will send another letter detailing practice, cap and gown pickup, dress code, information about flowers and pictures as the date nears.

* Commissioners approve $100,000 bid for fairgrounds restroom replacement project

(Posted 1:30 p.m. April 23)

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Brown County Commissioners approved a bid of $100,000 to construct a new bathroom facility on the west side of the fairgrounds.

Brown County Agricultural Society representatives Dave Sherman and Ken Eggers reported they could get only one contractor to bid the project. Brahmer Contracting submitted an initial bid of $105,800 for the project. After discussing the project further, Brahmer Contracting agreed to reduce its bid to $100,000, which the commissioners approved.

The Agricultural Society has $32,800 to put toward the project, with the commissioners agreeing to provide $67,200 from the county’s inheritance tax fund to be repaid over a five-year period.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners discussed a contract between the county and the city of Ainsworth to provide the city the right of first refusal on a parcel of ground east of the Brown County Hospital should the county ever decide to sell.

County Attorney Andy Taylor discussed the contract, and the commissioners opted to table action until the next board meeting.

Taylor also discussed either adding a window to the existing door to the county attorney’s office or replacing the door, with the board suggesting Taylor add a window to the existing door.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. May 5.

 

During its meeting Tuesday, the Rock County Commissioners approved moving forward with the Short Pine Bridge replacement project.

The commissioners voted to hire Adam Turpin and Jeff Reynolds as temporary employees for the Rock County Roads Department.

The board also discussed the new drop box that has been placed outside the courthouse with the building closed to the public. The commissioners agreed to bolt the new drop box to the concrete.

The next meeting of the Rock County Commissioners is scheduled for 9 a.m. May 5.

* Bid letting delayed for Highway 281 renovation project in O'Neill

(Posted 7 a.m. April 23)

The Nebraska Department of Transportation announced the letting date for the Highway 281 reconstruction project in O’Neill has been changed from Aug. 20 to Nov. 19. The project will reconstruct Highway 281 from Douglas Street south through O’Neill.
The change was necessary to allow NDOT staff more time to acquire the necessary right-of-way and implement an agreement with the railroad. The change is not due to the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and will not affect the tentative starting date of the project, which is planned for the spring of 2021.

* Bid letting pushed back for Valentine Main Street project

(Posted 7 a.m. April 23)

The Nebraska Department of Transportation announced the letting date for the Valentine Main Street renovation project, has been changed from Aug. 20 to Oct. 29. The change was necessary to allow NDOT staff more time to complete environmental documents and acquire the necessary right-of-way. The change is not due to the recent outbreak of the COVID-19 virus and will not affect the tentative starting date of the project, which is planned for the spring of 2021.

* Ricketts announces expansion of COVID-19 testing and tracking

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 22)

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a new plan Tuesday to scale up Nebraska’s capability to test for COVID-19. The state is launching a public-private partnership to significantly expand testing in Nebraska over the next several weeks.  The program will enlist Nebraskans to take an assessment, get tested, and track their health.

“I’m excited to roll out our Test Nebraska initiative to accelerate our ability to defeat the virus and get Nebraskans back to work,” Ricketts said. “This broad-scale testing program will give us a clearer view of the health of our state.  Having good data will give us the confidence we need to move forward. To accomplish testing on a large scale, we’ve partnered with an organization that has done similar work in Utah and is launching a program in Iowa today as well. To help us prepare for this expanded testing, we are asking all Nebraskans to participate in the #TestNebraskaChallenge. Please go to TestNebraska.com and sign up today.  Then go on social media and challenge five friends to do the same.”

Gov. Ricketts introduced four members of the team partnering with the state to expand testing:

Dave Elkington, Founder & Chairman of Xant; Mark Newman, Founder & CEO of Nomi Health; Ryan Smith, CEO & Co-Founder of Qualtrics; and Josh James, Founder & CEO of Domo

Elkington said the initiative started in Utah.

“As residents, we decided that we couldn’t expect our government to take care of everything on its own,” he said. “We started a public-private partnership where a number of companies came together to leverage their technologies and relationships to solve this testing capacity problem. We’ve only been running our program in Utah for two-and-a-half to three weeks.  Yesterday, we did nearly 3,000 tests there in one day.”

He said the goal is not merely to determine whether people are infected. 

“We want to restore confidence so that people can get back to work, spend time with family and friends, and resume their usual day-to-day activities,” Elkington said. “In the short-term, we’ll test all caregivers, first responders, and those with severe symptoms. In the middle-term, we’ll test anyone who is symptomatic. Over the long-term, we’ll begin population sampling—testing even those people who have not shown any symptoms.”

Newman said the program works in three parts: assessing, testing, and tracking.

Nebraskans can go to TestNebraska.com to take an initial assessment. This helps state epidemiologists to gauge the general health of various communities and to decide where to set up testing sites.

Second, testing locations will be set up in different locations across the state in the next two to five weeks.  Testing sites will have multiple kits and multiple test options.

Third, everyone who has been assessed will be asked follow-up questions to track their well-being.

James said the testing is free, as the state and federal government have figured out how to cover the fees for tests.

“In order to get back to work and reopen society, we need better data,” James said. “We are helping to collect this information. We are also providing a crisis command center to give the state real-time information about what is taking place here in Nebraska. Additionally, we’re working with the governor on a campaign to encourage Nebraskans to take the assessment.”

Nebraskans can go online to TestNebraska.com to take the initial assessment.

* January taxable sales decline in Ainsworth, Brown County

(Posted 3 p.m. April 21)

Comparison of January 2020 and January 2019 Net

Taxable Sales for Nebraska Counties and Selected Cities

County
or City

2020
Net Taxable
Sales

2019
Net Taxable
Sales

Percent
Change

2020
Sales Tax
5.5%

2019
Sales Tax
5.5%

Boyd

1,056,367

837,833

26.1

58,100.31

46,080.97

Brown

2,307,523

2,449,614

(5.8)

126,913.93

134,728.94

Ainsworth

2,233,975

2,393,072

(6.6)

122,868.77

131,619.13

Cherry

5,001,864

5,073,813

(1.4)

275,102.78

279,060.03

Valentine

4,776,212

4,815,335

(0.8)

262,691.89

264,843.69

Holt

7,883,275

8,201,030

(3.9)

433,580.66

451,057.17

Atkinson

1,181,133

1,204,018

(1.9)

64,962.45

66,221.09

O'Neill

5,768,790

6,117,224

(5.7)

317,283.72

336,447.58

Keya Paha

136,875

122,834

11.4

7,528.15

6,755.89

Rock

504,834

524,367

(3.7)

27,765.95

28,840.24

State Total

$2,508,552,503

$2,398,788,105

4.6

$137,969,406.29

$131,975,166.59


Comparison of January 2020 and January 2019
Motor Vehicle Sales Tax Collections by County

County
or City

2020
Net Taxable
Sales

2019
Net Taxable
Sales

Percent
Change

2020
Sales Tax
5.5%

2019
Sales Tax
5.5%

Blaine

185,425

95,550

94.1

10,121.93

5,200.96

Boyd

420,344

453,527

(7.3)

23,094.55

24,966.89

Brown

819,635

929,891

(11.9)

45,024.18

51,388.76

Cherry

1,507,686

989,967

52.3

82,947.58

54,806.54

Holt

2,415,836

2,676,937

(9.8)

133,004.83

148,086.25

Keya Paha

315,000

334,719

(5.9)

17,304.44

18,392.01

Rock

363,007

498,510

(27.2)

19,895.61

27,446.78

State Total

$403,152,027

$365,130,303

10.4

$22,230,556.55

$20,239,061.54

* Elective surgeries may resume May 4, additional testing available

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 21)

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday announced the state’s first step to relax the health measures implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19. Starting May 4, elective surgeries may resume as long as hospitals and healthcare facilities meet requirements for available bed capacity and have adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.

Hospitals can resume elective surgeries if they maintain 30% general bed availability, 30% ICU bed availability, 30% ventilator availability, and have a two-week supply of necessary personal protective equipment in their specific facility. 

Procedural guidelines for resuming elective procedures will be at the discretion of the hospital or health clinic. The state has been procuring PPE to deliver resources to hospitals across the state through local public health districts. The state has a procurement team and a distribution team tracking requests and delivering items daily.

Additionally, the governor announced the state is giving greater authority to healthcare providers to conduct tests for COVID-19.  As the state expands capacity to perform tests, healthcare providers can now choose to test a broader range of patients.

The Department of Health and Human Services is issuing a new Health Action Network alert to healthcare providers across the state. The alert will expand the grounds for testing and give healthcare providers greater discretion to decide when a test should be performed.

“I want to thank everyone in the Public Health Lab and at all of our testing facilities who has helped to make this happen,” Rickett said. “We continue to push to expand testing even further.”

The State’s Public Health Director, Dr. Gary Anthone, discussed the elevated risk that COVID-19 poses to smokers. He urged Nebraskans to quit smoking in order to lower the likelihood of medical complications due to COVID-19.

“We all know how serious COVID-19 can be,” Anthone said. “It’s an even more serious threat for those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape. When people inhale combustible products with chemicals, it causes inflammation in the lung airway passages and can lead to severe injury. When you add that effect to a viral load in the lungs, it can be devastating.”

Among people with COVID-19, a recent study shows those who smoke are 2-1/2 times more likely to get severe symptoms than those who do not smoke.  This holds true for cigarette and marijuana smoking, as well as vaping.

Smokers are already at higher risk of lung disease and have decreased lung capacity.  For these reasons, smokers who get COVID-19 are more likely to need to go on a ventilator and to stay on one.

“In my forty years as a surgeon, we always counseled patients to discontinue smoking prior to an elective surgery to decrease the risk of pulmonary complications,” Anthone said. “Studies show that stopping smoking for even two weeks can make a difference in your body’s ability to recover from surgery or fight an illness. As we go through the pandemic, it’s important for Nebraskans to be aware of the enhanced risks for those who smoke.”

For Nebraskans who are ready to stop smoking or vaping, the Nebraska Quitline can provide help and support at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

* Death toll rises to 33 in state with five dying from COVID-19 Monday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 21)

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday five additional Nebraskans succumbed to COVID-19 and one new county has experienced its first case.

The Central District Health Department reported three deaths: one on April 17 of a Hamilton County woman in her 60s, and two on April 19, a Hall County woman in her 80s and a Hall County man in his 60s.

Douglas County reported two deaths: those of a man in his 40s and a man in his 70s.

The total number of COVID-19 related deaths in the state to date is 33, according to DHHS.

Dixon County had its first resident test positive for COVID-19 Monday.

The state case total as of Monday evening was 1,648.

* Friday testing at O'Neill and Bloomfield finds zero COVID-19 cases

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 21)

The North Central District Health Department, with assistance from the Nebraska National Guard, conducted COVID-19 sample testing at O’Neill and Bloomfield Friday.

NCDHD reported zero confirmed COVID-19 results from the testing event, and thanked those in the district for doing their part to comply with social distancing guidelines and limiting travel. Thus far, cases have been sparse in the north central district, however, there have been an uptick in positive cases in neighboring district communities in areas such as Norfolk, Dakota City, and Grand Island. Thus, NCDHD is encouraging district community members to continue to practice social distancing, follow the directed health measures, shop local, wear face coverings in public, and remain with your nuclear family to continue to help flatten the curve.

The testing that was completed during Friday was to gauge the presence of COVID-19 in the district and was not the result of any specific contact.

NCDHD reminds district residents Nebraska is in day 12 of 21 for the 6 Rules to Follow to Keep Nebraska Healthy issued by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Every day community members follow these guides helps flatten the curve.

Stay home. No non-essential errands and no social gatherings. Respect the ten-person limit.

Socially distance your work. Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace.

Shop alone and only shop once a week. Do not take family with you.

Help kids follow social distancing. Play at home. No group sports. And no playgrounds.

Help seniors stay at home by shopping for them. Do not visit long-term care facilities.

Exercise daily at home or with an appropriately socially distanced activity.

* Area students receive scholarships from UN-L

(Posted 7:15 a.m. April 20)

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has offered more than 5,500 university-wide scholarships to the 2020 graduating class from Nebraska high schools. The total potential value of the scholarships is nearly $56 million.

“We believe in the power of each student, which is why we want to make attending Nebraska a reality for as many students as possible,” said Justin Chase Brown, director of scholarships and financial aid. “This year, many of our incoming students have experienced heartbreaking school disruptions and event cancellations due to COVID-19. While the pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of daily life, we want to show our students we’re proud of what they’ve accomplished, and most importantly, support them in planning for the future.”

The awards offered include more than 3,200 Husker scholarships. In 2017, Nebraska Athletics began contributing $5 million annually in scholarship funds for Nebraska residents who do not participate in intercollegiate athletics.

“With one of the most affordable tuitions in the Big Ten, we’re proud to continue to be able to make attending the University of Nebraska–Lincoln accessible for students through our partnership with Nebraska Athletics,” Brown said.

To further serve students, Nebraska has extended its scholarship deadline for most merit-based scholarships to June 1.

“We expect to make additional scholarship offers throughout the next month,” Brown said. “We’re also still online, connecting with students through virtual events and appointments. We want to develop meaningful one-on-one relationships with students and families, and we invite them to collaborate with us as they plan their path to Nebraska.”

Area students awarded scholarships to UN-L include:

Ainsworth

  • Tory Cole, Regents.

  • Noah Kappelmann, Husker Power.

  • Natalie Saner, Husker Power.

  • Raven Stewart, Regents.

Keya Paha County

  • Sydney Linse, Husker Power.

  • Alexis Rutar, Chancellor's Leadership, David, Husker Living and Learning, Nebraska Achievement and University Honors.

Rock County

  • Brandie Messersmith, Husker Traditions and University Honors.

Stuart

  • Reaghan Engel, David, and Husker Living and Learning.

  • Alex Jarecke, Husker Power and Nebraska Achievement.

  • Colton Kaup, Regents.

  • Madison Stracke, Husker Traditions and Nebraska Achievement.

  • Morgan Wallinger, Husker Traditions and Nebraska Achievement.

West Holt

  • Lindsey Jelinek, Husker Power.

Sandhills

  • Dylan Lister, Husker Power.

  • Bryan Zutavern, Husker Traditions.

Valentine

  • Rhea Benson, Husker Power.

  • Logan Cate, Husker Power.

  • Michaela Cornelius, Husker Power.

  • Faith Cox, Husker Traditions.

  • Jenna Cox, Husker Power.

  • Allison Hitchcock, Husker Power, Native American Heritage and Nebraska Achievement.

  • Aleah Jacobs, Husker Power.

  • Jon Keller, David, and Husker Living and Learning.

  • Dillion Muirhead, Husker Power and Nebraska Achievement.

  • Skyler Reagle, Nebraska Achievement.

  • Torrie Tinant, Husker Power.

  • Kaylee Vavra, Husker Power.

Boyd County

  • Heather Atkinson, Husker Power.

  • Joseph Hiatt, Husker Power.

  • Nathan Holland Kaczor, Husker Power.

* Cruise night raises needed supplies for area food pantries

(Posted 7 a.m. April 20)

Both Ainsworth and Bassett cruisers came through Saturday during the second KBRB Coronavirus Cruise Night, donating generously to local food pantries.
The Ainsworth Elks Lodge hosted a collection for the Ainsworth Food Pantry, and reported more than 200 items and more than $150 in cash was collected for the food pantry.
The Whistle Stop held a collection for Bassett cruisers, and also collected more than 200 items for the Rock County Food Pantry and close to $150 in cash.
KBRB thanks everyone who again participated in the cruise night and called in song requests. With nicer weather, Main Street was backed up several blocks at times with cruisers waiting to make the loop at Cottonwood Villa.
Thanks as well to area fire departments for participating by bringing their equipment out to cruise.

* Olson provides update on unemployment, business support programs

(Posted 10:30 a.m. April 17)

North Central Development Center Executive Director Kristin Olson provided an update on the programs available for businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and employees who have had their work interrupted by the Directed Health Measures imposed by the state.
She highlights parts of the state and federal programs that are working well, and areas where there have been issues.
To hear the report, click on the audio link below.

audio clips/NCDC Report 4-16.mp3

* NCDHD to hold testing events at O'Neill and Bloomfield for pre-selected residents

(Posted 7 a.m. April 17)

The Nebraska National Guard will assist the North Central District Health Department today (Friday) with one-time COVID-19 testing events at O’Neill and Bloomfield.

The NCDHD stressed the presence of the Nebraska National Guard and the testing events is not due to a large number of cases in the district. The Nebraska National Guard has been in contact with health departments across the state to set up testing events to gain a clearer picture of the presence of COVID-19 in Nebraska.

The testing events are not a voluntary testing opportunity for the general public. NCDHD has been in contact with community partners throughout the district and persons in continued public exposure settings have been asked to participate in the testing and will be contacted for scheduling.

The participants in the testing have not been limited to having to reside in the counties where the testing events are taking place. Testing samples will be obtained from residents across the district. The Nebraska National Guard is prepared to test 100 total people. NCDHD will follow-up with individuals who participated in the testing and address any potential positive results on next steps.

NCDHD reminds district residents the state is in day 7 of 21 for the 6 Rules to Follow to Keep Nebraska Healthy issued by Gov. Ricketts. Every day community members follow these guides helps flatten the curve.

Stay home. No non-essential errands and no social gatherings. Respect the ten-person limit.

Socially distance your work. Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace.

Shop alone and only shop once a week. Do not take family with you.

Help kids follow social distancing. Play at home. No group sports. And no playgrounds.

Help seniors stay at home by shopping for them. Do not visit long-term care facilities.

Exercise daily at home or with an appropriately socially-distanced activity.

* Ainsworth and Atkinson receive grants from DED

(Posted 12:30 p.m. April 16)

The Nebraska Department of Economic Development has selected the latest round of grantees under Nebraska’s Civic and Community Center Financing Fund grant program.

The city of Ainsworth received a $3,000 grant to conduct a swimming pool and park feasibility study. The city of Atkinson received $58,866 in grant funding to make renovations to the Atkinson Community Center.

Administered by DED on behalf of the State of Nebraska, and eligible to municipalities, the CCCFF program is designed to support communities as they plan and execute projects — from new city parks and aquatic centers, to restored or repurposed historic auditoriums and everything in-between — that preserve, develop or improve local amenities and create a higher quality of life.

“We have some of the best communities anywhere in the world right here in Nebraska,” said DED Director Anthony L. Goins. “Part of that is because we continue to invest in the places where we live. We also have leaders who truly care about what it’s like to raise a family in their town. Programs like CCCFF are invaluable because they enable us to devote resources that help our communities achieve their goals.”

The 22 selected projects represent the CCCFF program’s 2020 application cycle and were submitted to DED for consideration earlier this year.

Nebraska municipalities requested over $8.7 million in state aid to support their projects. More than $5.3 million was up for award. Awards were available under the categories of Planning and Construction. A total of $5.39 will ultimately be distributed.

* Area student-athletes named Academic All-State by NSAA

(Posted 7:15 a.m. April 16)

The Nebraska School Activities Association announced the student recipients of the Winter 2019-20 Nebraska Chiropractic Physicians Association Academic All-State Awards.

Each year the NSAA recognizes students during fall, winter and spring seasons who are nominated by their schools for their individual academic excellence, leadership and significant contributions in their NSAA activity.

Area student-athletes named Academic All-State are:

 

Ainsworth

Boys Basketball - Caleb Allen and Ty Schlueter

Girls Basketball - Maia Flynn and Rylee Rice

Speech - Alyssa Erthum and Benjamin Flynn

 

Keya Paha County

Girls Basketball - Sydney Linse and Miah Wiebelhaus

 

Rock County

Boys Basketball - Brendan Bussinger and Gunnar Bussinger

Speech - Hannah Keller and Suzi Smiley

Wrestling - Mylan Andrews

 

Stuart

Boys Basketball - Wade Paxton and Cameron Sattler

Girls Basketball - Reaghan Engel and Madison Stracke

Speech - Alyssa King and Lainey Paxton

 

West Holt

Boys Basketball - Garrison Hansen and Aaron Kraus

Girls Basketball - Landyn Mlady and Maci Nemetz

Speech - Jocelyn Hamilton and Haley Peek

 

Boyd County

Boys Basketball - Joseph Hiatt

Girls Basketball - Heather Atkinson and Kalli Kayl

 

Sandhills

Boys Basketball - Matthew Dailey and Brett Downing

Girls Basketball - Madison Marten

Speech - Emily Martindale and Bryan Zutavern

Wrestling - Reed McFadden and Bryan Zutavern

 

Valentine

Boys Basketball - Logan Cate and Jon Keller

Girls Basketball - Allison Hitchcock and Skyler Reagle

Speech - Kaylee Vavra and Grace Woodraska

Wrestling - Morgan McGinley and Christopher Williams

* Ricketts issues childcare order, encourages businesses to respond to survey

(Posted 7 a.m. April 16)

Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an executive order Wednesday to expand childcare options for working Nebraska families and to provide relief for childcare centers participating in the state’s Child Care Subsidy Program.

The order suspends two regulations governing the state’s Child Care Subsidy Program.  First, the governor’s order allows licensed childcare providers within the program to bill the state for days when a child is absent from care. Second, the order enables families participating in the subsidy program to obtain in-home childcare when other options are unavailable.  

Rickett said childcare is a critical need for working Nebraskans during this pandemic.

Childcare facilities have been limited to 10 kids per room.

“We are taking additional steps today to make sure folks have the ability to access the childcare they need,” the governor said. “Licensed child care providers can now bill DHHS for days when the child is absent from care because the child’s parent or legal caretaker chooses to keep the child home, or is unable to utilize care, due to the COVID-19 emergency. Additionally, families participating in the child care subsidy program may obtain in-home child care when other child care options are unavailable.”

Additionally, the governor announced the launch of a business response survey to gauge how Nebraska businesses are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey has been developed by the state’s Department of Economic Development in partnership with the University of Nebraska System; the Lincoln, Greater Omaha, and Nebraska chambers of commerce; the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska Omaha; and the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Ricketts said the Nebraska Business Response Survey will capture the voice of Nebraska business owners and leaders as they navigate through the impacts of COVID-19.

“The results from this statewide survey will help the state and business support services better assist Nebraska businesses during this challenging time,” Ricketts said. “We are asking all business owners, along with non-profit leaders, to complete this survey as soon as possible. We need your help for a couple of reasons: The voice of Nebraska businesses needs to be heard as we work to restore growth, and your response will help other businesses in Nebraska as we plan for the future."

The survey may be completed at cpar.unomaha.edu/nebusinessresponse.

Ted Carter, President of the University of Nebraska System, said the university wants to understand the challenges Nebraska businesses are facing in these difficult times.  

“We want to develop the right support strategies for businesses as we look to get our economy back on track in the long term,” Carter said. "We’re eager to monitor the results because they will inform the activities of a number of university entities that are well positioned to serve Nebraska businesses.”

Carter said Nebraska Business Development Center consultants will work directly with business owners to evaluate best practices for growth as the state’s economy is re-opened. Nebraska Extension specialists will work on the ground in communities across the state to rebuild businesses for the future.

“Our early childhood experts will provide expertise and support to Nebraska childcare providers,” Carter said. “Our Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership will offer training to increase the productivity of small- to medium-sized manufacturers. These are just a few of our many activities to support businesses in the state. Our online platform—SourceLink—connects Nebraskans with University services that support entrepreneurship, business, and economic development.”

* ATV ignites small grass fire Wednesday north of Long Pine

(Posted 3:30 p.m. April 15)

An all-terrain vehicle ignited a small grass fire Wednesday north of Long Pine that prompted the response of two area fire departments.
According to Long Pine Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Dan Dailey, a fire was reported at noon Wednesday approximately 3 miles north of Long Pine on property owned by the Bar 25 Ranch.
Dailey said an ATV started a grass fire that burned between 2 and 3 acres. Dailey said no structures were damaged. The Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department assisted the Long Pine firefighters at the scene.
Dailey said firefighters remained at the site for approximately two hours.

* Watch out for scams as stimulus payments are issued

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 15)

With nearly 16 million people losing their jobs as a result of the coronavirus crisis, the stimulus checks for individuals that are a part of the government’s $2.2 trillion stimulus package can’t come soon enough.  

For many Americans, those checks should start arriving this week.

“We realize that folks are hurting and we certainly don’t want to rain on any parades, but the Better Business Bureau is already receiving reports that government imposters are calling and texting people with instructions to fill out personal information in order to receive their stimulus checks. The scammers are asking for Social Security numbers and bank account information,” Jim Hegarty, president and CEO of the Regional BBB, said. “The fact that people are being contacted at all is the tip-off to the rip-off. The IRS will not reach out to you to for this kind of information, they already have it. BBB is cautioning people not to respond to these fake communications, as these checks are being sent out automatically. Any correspondence that may come from the IRS will be by U.S. mail.”

The majority of Americans are not going to have to do anything at all to receive their stimulus money. Anyone who filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 and included direct deposit information, no further action is needed. This includes seniors and retirees.

Those who did not file taxes in recent years, or didn’t sign up for direct deposit on recent tax returns can go to www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments for more information.

Other scam reports to BBB involving stimulus check payments include text messages saying that your stimulus is pending your acceptance - but you must confirm by a specific date, and text messages stating that if you confirm your bank account information (by submitting it through a “phishing” link) and pay $50, you can get your stimulus check immediately.

Also reported is a Facebook message from a “friend” that asks you to call a specified number and give your Social Security number so you can find out when you’ll get your government relief check. The woman who reported this scam said several of her church members had told her about it thinking it was real.

Scams to watch out for in the coming days and weeks:

Fake checks started as soon as the stimulus was announced. Watch out for checks written in odd amounts, including cents, or any check that requires you to verify receipt online or by calling a number.

Social media, phone or text messages that claim to be from the IRS or the Treasury Department or any government agency, trying to get in touch with you regarding your stimulus check. The US Government does not call, use social media or texting to contact you.

Government verification of your personal information by sending you a link or a website to click on, is a fraud. The government already has your information (such as Social Security number) and does not do this. It’s a fake.

Processing fees to speed up your check are fake. You cannot get your money quicker by answering these sorts of requests even though they claim to be from the IRS or another government agency. There is no way to “speed up” your payment by paying a “processing fee.”

Never forget these tips:

The government will never ask you to pay anything upfront in order to receive money. To get your stimulus check you will not have to pay any fee whatsoever.

You don’t have to provide any personal information to the government in order to receive payment. They will use your tax return information for a direct deposit. They will not ask for your Social Security number, bank account number or credit card number.

* Ricketts and NDA issue order allowing restaurants to sell packaged foods

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 15)

Governor Pete Ricketts Tuesday announced regulatory changes to give restaurants the flexibility to sell packaged foods to customers. Under normal circumstances, restaurants cannot sell packaged foods—like loaves of bread or cartons of eggs—that do not have nutrition labels.  The governor said the intent of the change is to give Nebraskans greater access to food, while also helping restaurants add another revenue stream during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has hit restaurants incredibly hard,” Ricketts said. “That’s why we’ve been cutting red tape for them, such as allowing takeout of beer, wine, and mixed drinks. Today, we are taking new steps to allow restaurants to provide additional products to consumers during the pandemic.”

The United States Food and Drug Administration issued a temporary policy allowing restaurants to sell food without a Nutrition Facts label. As a result, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture will allow food establishments to sell food without nutrition labeling. This will give Nebraska consumers additional access to in-demand food and supplies.

Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Steve Wellman said packaged food is bulk food that restaurants usually buy from manufacturers, distributors, or local farmers.

The Nutrition Facts label that consumers normally see on retail sale packages may not be on these products.

During the pandemic, NDA will not object to the sale of packaged foods that lack a nutrition fact label, provided the food does not have any nutritional claims and contains the following required information on a label: statement of identity; ingredient statement; name and place of business of the food manufacturer, packer, or distributor; net quantity of contents; and allergen information required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act.

The action will allow for the sale of readily available provisions in restaurants to give consumers greater accessibility to food and supplies.

NDA will also allow food establishments to sell food and other related items that do not meet all of the requirements of the Weights and Measures Act so long as the food and items are not being sold in a deceptive or misleading manner. 

Zoe Olson, Executive Director of the Nebraska Restaurant Association said the changes will benefit restaurants and the communities they serve.

“During this crisis, our restauranteurs have changed their mode of operations on short notice several times,” Olson said. “These establishments are struggling to survive as small businesses, and they are our family, friends, and neighbors. As a way for our restaurant community to continue to nourish our communities and neighborhoods, we are offering temporary retail service within our restaurants. Over the coming days, we will have items you can purchase along with your take-out or delivery order. These are items that may be limited in normal retail locations, such as meat, eggs, milk, toilet paper, paper towels, or disinfectant.”

Olson said the changes will help distributors Sysco, Cash-Wa, and US Foods move products. The distributors carry high-quality items, but they are not labeled for retail sale.

Olson said the measures would help provide some relief to grocery stores and their staff who have been working non-stop to provide product for consumers. The order will also allow small communities that may have a bar or restaurant, but no grocery store, to provide local access to food and supplies.

* Custer County man succumbs to COVID-19, state death toll stands at 20

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 15)

Two additional COVID-19 related deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the state’s death toll to 20, according to the Nebraska Department of Human Services.

The statewide case total was 901 as of Tuesday evening. More than 26,000 people have died in the U.S., with more than 600,000 Americans testing positive for COVID-19.

The Douglas County Public Health Department reported its seventh death, that of a man in his 60s with underlying health conditions.

The Loup Basin Public Health Department announced its second death, that of a Custer County man in his 80s with underlying health conditions.

Saline County also reported its first case Tuesday.

All 93 Nebraska counties are now covered by state Directed Health Measures.

* County orders drop box with courthouse closed to public

(Posted 2 p.m. April 14)

Brown County Clerk Travee Hobbs reported, with the courthouse closed, the county has ordered a drop box to install outside the building for those who need to return any correspondence.
Hobbs said the county hopes to have the drop box installed soon. In the meantime, residents are asked to conduct county business by mail or wait and use the drop box when it arrives. Courthouse staff continue to work and are available by phone.

* Care Center Board approves $60,000 bid for heating and air upgrade

(Posted 2 p.m. April 14)

The Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors Monday approved a bid of $60,000 from Greg’s Heating and Air of Bassett to install units to heat and cool the facility’s kitchen, dining room, nurse’s station and offices.

The second bid for the project was $68,000 from Jerry’s Sheet Metal, Heating and Cooling of Grand Island.

Board member Leanne Maxwell reported the care center received a $50,000 grant from the Brown County Foundation for the project. The foundation will award the care center $10,000 annually for each of the next five years.

Board member Phil Fuchs said the care center could obtain a loan locally for the full amount with the commitment from the foundation, and would work to raise the remaining $10,000 for the project.

Audience member Graig Kinzie said the annual Radio Takeover Day, which was postponed due to coronavirus restrictions, would be a good way to try and raise the remaining funding for the heating and air project. He said he would work with Administrator Kent Taylor on setting a date for the takeover day when restrictions are eased. Proceeds from this year’s on-air auction will benefit the care center.

Matt Moody, who handles maintenance for the care center, said he was not sure when Greg’s Heating and Air would be able to install the new units. He said Ainsworth Electric Motor may handle the installation if that company has time.

In other business Monday, the board received two quotes to replace the facility’s aging generator. Fuchs said the care center was working with the North Central Development Center on a potential $50,000 grant application for the generator replacement, and was waiting to hear from the USDA on whether the facility would be eligible to apply.

Taylor reported there were currently 19 residents in the Sandhills Care Center. He said three residents who previously paid privately for care were transitioning to Medicaid, so there was a lag time in payment until Medicaid approved those applications. He said Medicaid reimbursement to the facility is lower than the revenue generated by residents who pay privately. Medicaid pays approximately $86 per day, while the cost is closer to $200 per day for those who pay privately.

Business Manager Drew Klatt said the facility should receive $38,000 from Medicaid if the three residents are approved.

“Medicaid will pay retroactively,” Klatt said.

He said another resident was waiting on the sale of real estate to pay a $15,000 bill to the care center not covered by Medicaid.

Klatt reported the care center generated $134,494 in revenue during March with expenses of $137,591 for a net loss of $3,097 for the month.

With some collectible income lagging, the board approved a transfer of $95,137 from its interlocal account to the operations account to cover expenses.

Taylor provided the board with an update on the COVID-19 measures the facility has undertaken in an effort to keep residents safe and to keep the virus out of the building.

“We are following best practices, and watching four to six webinars a week,” Taylor said. “We have a weekly call with our association, the governor and the chief medical officer. We started wearing masks in the facility last week. Everyone has their temperature taken before they are allowed to enter the building.”

Taylor said he has instructed staff not to leave the three-county area.

“I am humbled to work with a great staff,” Taylor said. “My hat is off to them. COVID-19 has turned things upside down.”

He said the staff was working to keep residents’ spirits up since no visitors are currently allowed.

Prior to entering into executive session to discuss personnel, the board approved applying for a credit card for the facility, and approved changing signature cards at the local banks.

The next meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board is scheduled for 4 p.m. May 11.

* School Board authorizes administration to make decision on graduation ceremony

(Posted 7 a.m. April 14)

The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education Monday authorized school administrators to work with senior class students and their parents to determine a plan for the school’s graduation ceremony.

Secondary Principal Steve Dike told the board 21 seniors had already replied to an initial survey sent by the school, providing their thoughts on graduation. He said several parents had also responded.

“The suggestions were spread across the board,” Dike said. “It is my sincere hope we can find a sweet spot where we can keep everyone safe and healthy while providing a meaningful celebration to end the careers for this special group of students.”

Superintendent Dale Hafer said he was sensitive that this is a stressful time for seniors and their parents.

“What we are up against is doing something early with a drive-up ceremony, or wait and have a more formal ceremony,” Hafer said. “We don’t have much confidence at this point that summer will be much different. There is a real gray area, and that makes it difficult to make decisions.”

Board member Jessica Pozehl, who has a student scheduled to graduate, said she goes back and forth by the day on the best way to hold graduation.

“I agree we should authorize the administrators to work with seniors and their parents to make a decision,” Pozehl said.

Board member Brad Wilkins said Lincoln Public Schools scheduled their graduations for July 26, while Omaha Public Schools were holding graduations during the first week of August.

Board member Jim Arens said the administrators could work with seniors and their parents and try to reach a consensus in the next few weeks on an alternative plan for graduation. He said, if the board waits too long to make a decision, it will start losing students to work, the military or college commitments.

In other business Monday, the board approved a contract for Brandy Held to teach high school social studies during the 2020-21 school year. Hafer said Held currently teaches at Leigh Public Schools and has four years of experience.

The district received 13 applicants for the position, and interviewed five candidates.

Hafer reported Brad Johnson resigned from his position as technology coordinator for the school district. Hafer said the district would expand its partnership with Educational Service Unit 17 while it determined the best options for filling the technology coordinator position.

The board approved a resolution to temporarily suspend grading policies and graduation requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hafer said the suspension gives administration flexibility as it makes decisions necessary to advance students to the next grade level and graduate its seniors while not going against district policy.

“This is a common resolution other districts are passing,” Hafer said. “We are all trying to work together to get things done in this current situation.”

The resolution becomes null and void after the current 2019-20 school year.

The board also approved a resolution declaring an emergency for the district. Hafer said the resolution is similar to one passed by Brown County for COVID-19.

During their reports, both Dike and Elementary Principal Curtis Childers updated the board on the progress of remote learning for each group of students.

Dike said administrators are receiving feedback from parents on how the program is working.

“I can’t say enough about the way teachers, students, parents and the community have jumped into this,” Dike said.

He said most students have adapted and adjusted to the changes and are doing well, while a few have hit some speed bumps and are persevering. He said the skills they are learning to adapt to a new environment would also serve them well in the future.

Childers said kindergarten through fourth-grade students receive learning packets every two weeks, while fifth- through eighth-grade students are mainly using Google Classroom online to receive lessons.

Childers said teachers are refining their approach to best meet the needs of all students. He said teachers are working countless hours to modify the things they normally do in order to best serve the students.

Hafer said 80 percent to 90 percent of the things the district is doing with remote learning are working well.

“There are a few things we continue to work on,” the superintendent said. “There are a lot of people behind the scenes who are helping to make things work.”

Hafer reported Conditioned Air Mechanical planned to start installing the facility’s new chiller equipment next week.

The board discussed whether to move forward with a final proposal from Trane that would update the school buildings by replacing windows and creating a roof maintenance plan.

Hafer said there is currently a lot of pressure on the local economy, so the updates to the facilities might not happen as soon as the board was planning.

“We are all a little hesitant,” Hafer said. “These updates would likely add 1-1/2 to 2 cents of levy to the building fund to pay this off over seven years. We aren’t the only district being hesitant about moving forward with projects in this climate.”

Arens said he was reluctant to move forward with a large project, though the prices and the interest rates likely wouldn’t get any better than they are right now. He asked the board if it wanted to have a work session with Trane or put the project on hold for now.

Wilkins said it was likely now a long shot for the district to get any foundation aid from the Nebraska Legislature this session.

“If we go forward, we will be carrying the water ourselves,” Wilkins said. “I am a little hesitant to get on the hook for that. I think we should wait a year.”

Board members Frank Beel and Scott Erthum agreed the district should hold off for now. Pozehl said she didn’t think it would cost the district too much more to wait a year.

Prior to Monday’s regular meeting, the board’s Americanism committee convened to review the district’s required Americanism curriculum as required by state statute.

Childers and Dike both reviewed the district’s required curriculum, and Hafer said the committee would meet again prior to the board’s May meeting as required to make sure the district remained in compliance.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for May 11.

* Nebraska records 18th COVID-19 death, Ricketts urges donations to food banks

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 14)

Three Rivers Public Health Department reported the first COVID-19 related death in Washington County Monday, a man in his 90s with underlying health conditions.

That brings the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 18 and the total confirmed cases in Nebraska to 871 as of Monday evening, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

All 93 Nebraska counties are now covered by state Directed Health Measures. It's critical Nebraskans follow the enforceable state Directed Health Measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

Nebraskans are urged to follow the Six Rules to Keep Nebraska Healthy. 

Stay home.  No non-essential errands and no social gatherings.  Respect the ten-person limits.

Socially distance your work.  Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace. 

Shop alone.  Do this only once a week and do not take your family with you.

Help kids social distance. Play at home, no group sports and no playgrounds.

Help seniors stay at home.  This can be done by shopping for them.  Do not visit long-term facilities. 

Exercise daily.  Do your best to stay as healthy and safe as you can.  

Recent studies show a significant portion of people with COVID-19 lack symptoms and those who eventually develop symptoms can pass the virus to others before showing symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Gov. Pete Ricketts urged Nebraskans Monday to “Stay Home and Stay Healthy” during his daily briefing on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

He also reviewed the state’s revisions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which have made it easier for Nebraskans in need to access food.   

Regarding food security, Ricketts said, during this time, the state is taking steps to make sure families have continued access to food.

Last week, the state announced changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Among other things, it extends recertification periods by six months during the months of April and May, and provides emergency allotments to SNAP recipients, up to the amount of maximum allotment per household, in April and May.

Ricketts said food banks also play an important role in serving vulnerable communities. 

At this time, food banks need the generosity and support of Nebraskans more than ever.

“Let’s make sure our families can continue to access the food they need during this pandemic,” Ricketts said. “I urge Nebraskans to step up and help their local food bank.”

* Saturday fire contained to grass Saturday near southwestern Brown County cabin

(Posted 2 p.m. April 13)

The Raven and Calamus Volunteer Fire departments responded to a call of a fire near a cabin in southwestern Brown County Saturday.
According to Tony Ruhter of the Raven Fire Department, at approximately 4:50 p.m. Saturday, April 11, a fire was reported near the Elsmere Road south of Clear Lake and east of Willow Lake on property owned by Brett and Caren Fernau.
Ruhter said a fire from the night before reignited and burned approximately one-half of an acre. Ruhter said the fire burned on three sides of the Fernau metal cabin, but the structure itself was not damaged and the fire was contained to grass. No damage was reported.
Ruhter said the fire departments were on scene until approximately 6 p.m.

* City not able to clean park equipment on continual basis

(Posted noon April 13)

The city of Ainsworth strongly encourages parents to use caution at city parks as city staff are not able to lock down the play structures and other open spaces.
City staff also are not able to completely disinfect open equipment on a continual basis during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city encourages residents to continue to practice social distancing to curb the spread of the virus.
If a child happens to use the playground equipment, follow the CDC recommendations of proper hand washing and hygiene.

* NCDHD conducts contact investigations in Atkinson following blood drive

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 13)

A worker at a recent Red Cross blood drive April 1 at Atkinson tested positive for coronavirus.

The worker is not a resident of the North Central District Health Department service area.

Upon notification, the Department of Health and Human Services’ epidemiology team, the Central District Health Department, and NCDHD worked with the Red Cross and the worker to assess the risk of donors and volunteers who attended the blood drive.

NCDHD began receiving contact investigation information on Thursday. NCDHD immediately initiated contact with these attendees to notify them of potential exposure and next steps. On Friday, 14 potential close contacts were identified and immediately contacted by the Red Cross. All of the individuals are asymptomatic, quarantining, and self-monitoring for symptom development. They have been instructed to self-isolate should symptoms develop. On Saturday, NCDHD also contacted these potential close contacts to assist with any questions or concerns.

Targeted contact tracing is the best public health course of action at this point. With the cooperation of organizers of the blood drive, the health department was able to establish the population at risk and make recommendations for quarantine and self-monitoring as appropriate. Widespread testing is not warranted at this time because most donors and volunteers had very limited, if any, exposure. A single test of an asymptomatic person after a possible exposure in the time period up to 14 days later does not establish if the person was exposed or not. For those donors or volunteers who had no or limited exposure, the probability of a test being positive at this time would be no higher than any other member of the general population.

Those who were identified to be at higher risk are already in self-quarantine and thus are not a risk for further transmission to the community. Testing is only necessary for this group if they become symptomatic. Given the public health response actions, any additional risk for COVID-19 to the greater community as a result of this event is limited.

Red Cross workers were provided face masks to wear voluntarily at the blood drive. The worker who later tested positive wore a face mask during interaction with donors.  As the window for exposure ends April 15, additional risk for COVID-19 to the greater community as a result of this event remains extremely low. 

The public health community in Nebraska takes any potential exposure to COVID-19 extremely seriously and continues to take make decisions with respect to reducing the spread of coronavirus in all Nebraska communities.

Following the issuance of new CDC guidance last week, all Red Cross workers will wear face masks at future events. Nebraskans have helped in the COVID-19 response by giving enough blood to meet current blood needs, practicing social distancing and following other recommendations that continue to help flatten the curve in the state. Residents interested in donating blood should contact the Red Cross to schedule an appointment to ensure a stable supply throughout this pandemic.

 

* Dakota County reports first cases of COVID-19

 

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 13)

 

The Dakota County Health Department reported its first and second cases of coronavirus to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on Sunday.

The first case is a woman in her 30s; the second case is a woman in her 40s. Investigations are underway in both cases.

The COVID-19 case total as of Sunday evening was 814 in Nebraska with 17 deaths. Nationally, there are more than 500,000 cases and more than 20,000 deaths.

On Saturday, the Loup Basin Public Health Department confirmed nine additional cases at a long-term care facility in Custer County. The cases are all related.

The Panhandle Public Health District reported Box Butte County’s first case of COVID-19 Saturday, which was deemed to be travel related. Wayne County also reported its first case Saturday.

All 93 Nebraska counties are now covered by state Directed Health Measures until May 11. It's critical Nebraskans follow the enforceable state Directed Health Measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. These measures help protect those who are more vulnerable to severe illness and death, and help hospitals and clinics from being overwhelmed so they can continue to provide care to families, friends and neighbors who need it.

DHHS supports Governor Ricketts in urging Nebraskans to follow the Six Rules to Keep Nebraska Healthy. 

Stay home.  No non-essential errands and no social gatherings.  Respect the ten-person limits.

Socially distance your work.  Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace. 

Shop alone.  Do this only once a week and do not take your family with you.

Help kids social distance. Play at home, no group sports and no playgrounds.

Help seniors stay at home.  This can be done by shopping for them.  Do not visit long-term facilities. 

Exercise daily.  Do your best to stay as healthy and safe as you can.  

Recent studies show a significant portion of people with COVID-19 lack symptoms and those who eventually develop symptoms can pass the virus to others before showing symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing. Public health officials continue to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing is crucial to slowing the spread of the virus.

* SNAP recipients will see additional allotment for March and April

(Posted 10:30 a.m. April 11)

In response to Congress passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services filed a request with the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutritional Service to provide emergency allotment funds for Nebraska households who are receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

The emergency allotments will be used to increase the amount of funds SNAP recipients receive for the months of March and April.

No action is needed from SNAP recipients to receive the supplemental support. SNAP recipients will be issued increased benefits on their current EBT cards. Supplemental benefits for March will be issued April 11 and supplemental benefits for April will be issued May 7.

Many Nebraska households rely on SNAP benefits to help purchase groceries. DHHS estimates the emergency allotment from the USDA will be $8.6 million per month. SNAP is 100% federally funded.

Households receiving SNAP benefits will see supplements to their benefits based on a maximum allotment scale. If there are four individuals in a household and that household is currently receiving $500 in benefits, the supplement will raise their benefits to the maximum allowed for households of four, which is $646 per month – or an increase of $146. Total benefits will be different based on each household’s regular monthly allotments for the months of March and April.

Nebraska Children and Family Services director Stephanie Beasley believes the emergency allotment is critical to the health of Nebraska’s most vulnerable.

“Right now, there is a growing sense of uncertainty in the economy and many people are being laid off or are have a family member who was laid off,” Beasley said.  “It is important to make sure Nebraska’s most vulnerable are being well taken care of. Congress is giving us an opportunity to provide even more resources to SNAP recipients and we have a responsibility do everything in our power to secure those benefits.”

* Ricketts, Frakes detail corrections system's COVID-19 response

(Posted 10:30 a.m. April 11)

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday reminded Nebraskans to follow the Keep Nebraska Healthy” 21-day campaign.  He commended Nebraskans for complying with social distancing directives.  The governor also shared social mobility data from Google that confirms Nebraskans have decreased their visits to places like stores, restaurants, and workplaces in the past weeks.

Ricketts said the state has spent a total of $1.26 million on 1.9 million gloves, 297,840 N95 masks, 240,000 surgical masks, 1,120 thermometers, 50, 600 shoe covers, and 1,896 cases or dispensers of disinfectant wipes.

Ricketts said he has no plans to prematurely release inmates from state prisons during the pandemic. 

He said Nebraska already has a lower rate of incarceration than any surrounding state.

“Early release of inmates would not only be a public safety risk, but it would also compound the challenges communities are already facing in fighting the pandemic,” Ricketts said. “Many inmates will receive far better healthcare in prison than they would get if suddenly returned to the community.”

Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes overviewed his agency’s efforts to protect the health of state teammates, inmates, and the public during the pandemic.

Frakes said the day-to-day work of the corrections system can’t stop during the pandemic.

“We’re releasing individuals into society at a challenging time for them to find work,” Frakes said. “More than ever, we have to do all we can to equip them with the tools to be successful upon reentry. We’re following CDC guidelines to ensure the health of everyone in the corrections system.”

Frakes said the corrections system implemented visitor and staff screening early on.

“Within a few days, we halted visitation in the interest of public health,” he said. “We now have digital temperature reading equipment. We’ll use it to take the temperatures of all staff members, contractors, and others who enter our facilities and office buildings.  We’ve put together a quarantine approach for those entering our system.  We perform medical screening for all new arrivals, and we conduct health checks twice daily for 14 days prior to integrating newcomers into the general population. We’ve separated vulnerable populations, including the geriatric population at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.  We’ve also separated the mothers, children, and pregnant inmates housed at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women.

* Bassett closes all city parks

(Posted 12:15 p.m. April 10)

The city of Bassett has closed all city parks until further notice due to coronavirus concerns. All city parks and playgrounds are closed to the public, including the park near the swimming pool, the west city park and Memory Lane Park.

* Potential COVID-19 exposure reported during blood drive at Atkinson

(Posted 8:30 a.m. April 10)

The North Central District Health Department has been made aware of a potential COVID-19 exposure incident in Atkinson.
According to the NCDHD, the potential exposure involved a Red Cross worker who helped conduct a blood drive at Atkinson April 1. The woman who tested positive does not live in the district, but did assist with the blood drive. The health department believes the risk of exposure is low, as the worker did wear a mask during the entirety of the blood drive.
The NCDHD has initiated contact investigations. Those who have been identified as potentially being exposed are being contacted and asked to practice strict social distancing.
Anyone who attended the Red Cross blood drive at Atkinson is asked to practice strict social distancing, even if they are not contacted by the North Central District Health Department.

* Ricketts orders all barber shops and salons to close

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 10)

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Thursday proclaimed April 10-30 as “21 Days to Stay Home and Stay Healthy in Nebraska.” Infectious disease experts project the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak will be at or near its peak in Nebraska by the end of April. For the next three weeks, the governor is urging Nebraskans to avoid non-essential errands and to limit social gatherings in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

The governor also announced a new statewide Directed Health Measure to guard against the spread of COVID-19. It orders certain businesses where 6 feet of social distance cannot be maintained to close through April 30.  The DHM also prohibits organized group sports through May 31. The new DHM closes salons, barber shops and tattoo parlors statewide. 

Ricketts said, “We are entering a new phase in our fight against the virus. Based on the modeling we’ve seen, it is likely that Nebraska hits our peak with the virus in the next few weeks.

Today, I am designating the next three weeks as “21 Days to Stay Home and Stay Healthy.”

During this time, it is the civic duty of each and every Nebraskan to help slow the spread of the virus. For the next three weeks, we are asking all Nebraskans to redouble their efforts to practice good hygiene and social distancing.”

Ricketts urged Nebraskans to stay home. No non-essential errands and no social gatherings.  Respect the ten-person limit. Socially distance your work.  Work from home or use the 6-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace. Shop alone and only shop once a week.  Do not take family with you. Help kids follow social distancing.  Play at home.  No group sports.  And no playgrounds. Help seniors stay at home by shopping for them.  Do not visit long-term care facilities. Exercise daily at home or with an appropriately socially-distanced activity.

Nebraskans have been doing a great job of complying with our social distancing directives.

Ricketts said the six rules will unite Nebraskans in the shared goal of slowing the spread of the virus as the state enters its peak period.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird joined Ricketts to reinforce the importance of staying home over the next few weeks. 

“I want to emphasize the governor’s message to stay home so that we can stifle the spread of the virus,” Gaylor Baird said. “The actions we take over the next 21 days will be critical to our success as a city and as a state. By calling on Nebraskans to stay home, we’re following the best guidance of public health officials and medical experts in Nebraska.”

She said first responders and health care workers show their heroism by reporting to work each day. 

“As Nebraskans, the rest of us can display heroism by staying home for the next 21 days,” the Lincoln mayor said.

Jason Jackson, Chief Human Resources Officer for the state of Nebraska, reviewed the steps taken by the state to protect the health of its employees and the public, while also ensuring the continuity of essential services to Nebraskans.

“We directed all of our agencies to consider work-from-home options starting in the first week of March,” Jackson said. “At that time, the governor also directed all of our agencies to apply their continuity plans. These plans have been in development since the beginning of Gov. Ricketts’ administration. During the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for the state to provide essential services to Nebraskans.”

Jackson said the state is committed to provide these essential services, while also taking precautions to protect our teammates and the public. Where possible, the state is allowing employees to telework, work from home, and engage in other distributed work arrangements.

Roughly 30% of state employees have adopted alternative work styles.

* Now 577 COVID-19 cases reported in Nebraska

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 10)

One new death related to coronavirus was reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Thursday, bringing the state’s total death toll to 15.

Douglas County announced its sixth death, a woman in her 60s with underlying health conditions.

Burt County reported its first COVID-19 case, a woman in her 70s with travel history.

Polk County also reported its first COVID-19 case, a woman in her 40s who is self-isolating at home. Her case is under investigation.

The North Central District Health Department reported the first case of COVID-19 in Pierce County. The NCDHD reported it believes that case is contained, but is assessing potential exposures.

The case total as of Thursday evening is 577 in Nebraska.

All 93 Nebraska counties are now covered by state Directed Health Measures (DHMs) until May 11.

DHHS supports Gov. Pete Ricketts in urging Nebraskans to follow the Six Rules to Keep Nebraska Healthy. 

Stay home.  No non-essential errands and no social gatherings.  Respect the 10-person limits.

Socially distance your work. Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace.

Shop alone. Do this only once a week and do not take your family with you.

Help kids social distance. Play at home, no group sports and no playgrounds.

Help seniors stay at home.  This can be done by shopping for them.  Do not visit long-term facilities. 

Exercise daily.  Do your best to stay as healthy and safe as you can. 

Recent studies show that a significant portion of people with COVID-19 lack symptoms and those that eventually develop symptoms can pass the virus to others before showing symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing. Public health officials continue to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing is crucial to slowing the spread of the virus.

* AVFD rolls out Happy Birthday Singing Grams for April and May

(Posted 11 a.m. April 9)

With social distancing in effect, a child’s birthday may be hard to celebrate. The Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department is introducing Happy Birthday Singing Grams. If you have a child with a birthday in April or May, the Ainsworth Fire Department will do their best to come visit your house to wish your child a Happy Birthday.
Of course, they can’t allow rides or leave the rigs to come inside but they can have the lights and sirens blaring upon their arrival and they’ll stand next to the truck and sing happy birthday. If you want a Birthday Singing Gram from the Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department for your child’s birthday, text Brandon Evans at 402-760-3985 or Heath Rudnick at 402-760-0793, or send a Facebook message.

* City Council approves quote for street repairs

(Posted 7 a.m. April 9)

The Ainsworth City Council took the first step Wednesday toward repairing city streets damaged during 2019 flooding.

The council approved the lone quote provided, from Tri State Paving of Wood River, to replace damaged streets with new asphalt. Tri State Paving submitted a quote of $7.66 per square foot. City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said Tri State Paving has a project already scheduled in the Springview area, and is willing to work on the city’s streets this year.

“After weeks of trying, we only got one company to come in and give us an estimate,” Schroedl said.

The city has a list of areas damaged during March 2019 flooding that will be repaired, with FEMA supplying the city $2.2 million for repair work. She said that work has to be completed by September or the city would have to request an extension from FEMA.

Third Street between Oak and Maple streets, Herrington Street between First and Second streets, and Seventh Avenue were three large stretches the company would replace.

The council discussed potentially having Tri State Paving replace the asphalt on additional streets not included in the flood damage assessment. Those street repairs would not be covered by FEMA. The council discussed replacing the asphalt on Herrington Street from Zero to Fourth streets, as well as portions of First Street.

Audience member Graig Kinzie suggested the council consider creating asphalt paving districts if it planned to tackle larger street projects. He said, without creating a paving district and assessing property owners for a portion of the cost to replace the streets, the city would likely face legal action from property owners who were assessed for a previous concrete paving district.

He said the city could use the FEMA funds for the portion of the streets damaged during the flooding, and that would help reduce the overall cost of replacing the entire street. It would also provide incentive to property owners to have their street replaced at a reduced assessment.

Schroedl said she would visit with City Streets Superintendent Lloyd Smith about the potential creation of paving districts.

In other business Wednesday, the council approved a new LB 840 fašade application and requirements, and tabled action on revisions to the LB 840 policy and procedure manual and LB 840 loan and grant applications.

Schroedl said the city and NCDC were moving in the right direction, with the new applications being more efficient for the applicant, the city and the NCDC. She said she and NCDC Executive Director Kristin Olson met with newly appointed LB 840 city attorney Heather Sikyta of Ord to go through the city’s documents.

“A lot of the changes we are proposing will make it easier for the applicant and give the loan committee and the council more flexibility,” Schroedl said.

She said there would now be just one checklist for the applicant to complete.

Councilman Greg Soles thanked Schroedl and Olson for the work they are doing to get the program working. He requested tabling action on the policy and procedure manual and the LB 840 loan and grant application to have more time to review it, and to allow Sikyta to review the changes.

Schroedl said there are two applications pending for fašade improvements, and the council, by a 3-1 vote with Councilman Schyler Schenk against, approved that application and checklist.

The council on Wednesday approved having Miller and Associates conduct a low-to-moderate income survey in the city to potentially unlock future Community Development Block Grant dollars for the city.

Schroedl said, for the city to qualify for CDBG funding, at least 50 percent of residents must be classified as low to moderate income. The city received a CDBG grant of more than $300,000 for the sewer improvement project, as the city had an LMI rate of 54 percent.

However, the new LMI rate the city received was 48 percent, which disqualifies it from CDBG funding for the next two years. Schroedl said the city can conduct its own survey and have those results used.

Miller and Associates quoted the city an hourly rate, with the total cost not to exceed $700 to prepare and mail the survey. The Central Nebraska Economic Development District quoted $5,000 to prepare and mail the survey. In both cases, the city was responsible for collecting and processing the survey results.

The council approved the $700 quote from Miller and Associates.

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the community, the council approved waiving late fees on utility payments for April and May. Schroedl said $693 in late fees were assessed to utility customers in February. The late fee is 10 percent of the total utility bill, and is assessed if utilities are not paid by the 10th of the month.

Schroedl said the city office doors will be locked beginning Thursday. City staff will still report to work and be available by phone and email, but walk-in traffic will not be allowed. Residents can still utilize the drop box just east of the city offices to make payments and drop off any correspondence.

After its dental insurance plan was terminated by All-State, the council approved a quote for a new plan from United Health Care through Peterson Financial Services. Schroedl said the new plan was comparable to the previous plan, and would actually save the city about $65 per month.

“We had been paying a $399 monthly premium for the previous plan,” Schroedl said. “We can get a dental plan as a rider to our health insurance plan, and will save the city a fair amount.”

The council approved a request for an administrative subdivision on property on the west side of the city owned by Brett and Caren Fernau. Schroedl said the subdivision simply moves a residential lot line 55 feet to the north, and makes an adjacent commercial lot smaller. The Fernaus currently own both lots, and the current lot line runs through the middle of a house.

The council also approved requests by the Ainsworth Area Chamber of Commerce to close streets for the Middle of Nowhere Days carnival June 11 through June 15, and for the Ainsworth Alumni Parade June 27. The council modified and approved the chamber’s request to close Third Street between Main and Walnut streets June 27, and instead granted the chamber permission to close Third Street from Main Street east to the alley after Councilman Brad Fiala said the fire department and ambulance association needed to be able to get out of the fire hall if there was a call during that time.

The council approved the final reading of a vacant building ordinance. Schroedl said the city’s Board of Health would now meet to apply the new ordinance, and would try and find a building inspector to create a vacant building registry.

Soles said he definitely wanted to have the Board of Health meet and move forward prior to the council’s next meeting.

The council also approved an ordinance to issue bonds for the sewer improvement project not to exceed $2.1 million. The city can issue bonds in $5,000 increments as needed at an interest rate of 2.05 percent.

Prior to the claims being approved Wednesday, Councilman Tonny Beck encouraged the council to think about a different funding source for the Sandhills Care Center. With the city in the fourth of a five-year commitment to provide $80,000 annually to support the care center, Beck said the city needed to have a plan after the five-year commitment ends without having to use general funds.

“Paying $80,000 a year from the general fund is a lot for the city,” Beck said.

He also questioned paying Brown County $20,000 per month for law enforcement services.

“I think we could staff our own department and still pocket a good amount,” Beck said. “When I was last on the council, law enforcement cost us half that amount.”

Soles said the city would incur additional costs for dispatching and jail, not just the cost of law enforcement. He agreed the cost was high, but the county was supposed to add an additional deputy to help handle code enforcement in the city. Soles said, to his knowledge, the sheriff’s department had not added anyone.

Beck said, if the city is paying that kind of money, it should get what it was promised or should get the difference back.

In a final action item, the council approved moving the start time of the June, July and August council meetings from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. as Beck said it would be difficult for him to make a 5 p.m. meeting during those three months.

The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. May 13.

* Ricketts declares Day of Prayer, discusses work done by banks

(Posted 6:15 a.m. April 9)

Governor Pete Ricketts Wednesday issued Passover and Easter proclamations and designated Sunday, April 12, as a statewide day of prayer for those affected by coronavirus.  The governor also thanked community banks in Nebraska for connecting businesses to much-needed financial resources that are available as part of the federal economic stimulus package (the CARES Act).

Ricketts said it will be an unusual time observing these holy days this week. He urged Nebraskans to limit Easter and Passover celebrations to family in your household only.

“We would all like to celebrate with extended family and friends, but it’s important to avoid social gatherings at this time,” Ricketts said. “As Nebraskans celebrate, I invite everyone to pray and reflect on the blessings we have been given.  I also encourage Nebraskans to pray for those affected by the pandemic.”

Ricketts also encouraged any employer who has experienced substantial financial impact from the pandemic to reach out to their community banker right now.

Nebraska’s 160 banks are helping keep the state working during an incredibly difficult time.

“Nebraska banks are working tirelessly to support the credit needs of their small business clients across the state, despite a fast rollout for the Paycheck Protection Program,” the governor said. “Banks are working extra-long days focused on accessing the SBA portal and inputting loan applications for their small business customers. Community bankers are working into the night and starting their days early in the morning.”

As of the close of business Tuesday, banks in the state had already submitted over 7,800 applications for federal review, totaling in excess of $1.47 billion.

Jeff Kanger, Executive Vice President at First State Bank Nebraska, outlined his bank’s efforts to provide low-interest, potentially forgivable loans to small businesses as part of the Paycheck Protection Program.

“Just as a football game has four quarters, there are four quarters of the Payroll Protection Program: Processing the loan application and securing funds, distributing the funds to small businesses so that they can meet payroll and continue operations, documenting the use of funds by collecting receipts, and submitting receipts so that the loan can be forgiven,” Kanger said. “We’re committed to partnering with businesses through all four quarters of the process.

Our teammates have literally been working through the night to get loan applications finalized.

Community banks across Nebraska are making preparations to become part of the Paycheck Protection Program.”

* Two COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday, bringing state total to 14

(Posted 6:15 a.m. April 9)

Two deaths related to coronavirus were reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Wednesday, bringing the state’s total death toll to 14.

Lancaster County announced its first COVID-19 related death, that of a male in his 50s who was hospitalized.

Madison County announced a second death in a positive case previously reported. The man, in his 70s, had multiple underlying health conditions.

The statewide COVID-19 case total as of Wednesday night was 523.

All 93 Nebraska counties are now covered by state Directed Health Measures (DHMs) until May 11. It's critical that Nebraskans follow the enforceable state Directed Health Measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The measures help Nebraskans protect each other, and especially those who are more vulnerable to severe illness and death. The measures also help hospitals and clinics from being overwhelmed so they can continue to provide care to families, friends and neighbors who need it. 

Recent studies show that a significant portion of people with COVID-19 lack symptoms and those who eventually develop symptoms can pass the virus to others before showing symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing. Public health officials continue to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet of social distance is crucial to slowing the spread of the virus. According to the CDC, the use of simple cloth face coverings can help people who may have the virus, but not know it, from spreading it to others.

* Rock County Sheriff investigating stolen ATV

(Posted 1 p.m. April 8)

The Rock County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the theft of an all-terrain vehicle stolen Tuesday night.

According to Rock County Sheriff Jim Anderson, sometime Tuesday night, a yellow Can-Am 650 ATV was stolen from northwestern Rock County approximately 2-1/2 miles north of the Highway 20 and Pine View intersection.

Anderson said the ATV was driven from the scene, and tracks were followed for several miles. Anyone who saw someone driving a yellow ATV Tuesday night is asked to contact the Rock County Sheriff’s Department at 402-684-3811.

Anderson reminds ATV and UTV owners to remove keys from all vehicles when not in operation.

* Turpin presents annual highway improvement plan Tuesday

(Posted 7:30 a.m. April 8)

Brown County Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin presented the Board of Commissioners Tuesday with the county’s annual one- and six-year highway improvement plan.

Turpin said the roads department spent most of 2019 repairing damage to roads from flooding, so only four projects on the previous one-year plan were completed, with two others being partially finished.

One of the projects completed in 2019 was the replacement of a bridge on North Wilson Street with culverts. The roads department also replaced a wooden bridge deck with concrete slabs on 423rd Avenue, and completed armor coating on a portion of Meadville Avenue and 433rd Avenue.

“We still have years’ worth of repair work to do, so we will get to as many of these projects as we can,” Turpin said.

The one-year plan includes several smaller gravel resurfacing projects and culvert work. The main project Turpin included in the one-year plan was the replacement of the box culvert on Meadville Avenue at Sand Draw Creek, though he said it may be 2021 before that project is undertaken. It carries an estimated price tag of $1 million, with federal and state resources paying for 90 percent of the project.

Another larger project on the one-year plan is more than $120,000 in armor coating work on 10 miles of the Elsmere Road. The roads department also plans to replace a bridge with culverts on 430th Avenue.

Turpin told the commissioners the roads department has been hauling sand on South Pine Avenue, Raven Road and Moon Lake Avenue to try and keep those roads above water.

“We put up snow fence on the Elsmere Road, but it was not successful in stopping the wave erosion,” Turpin said. “We cleaned out a ditch and hauled that material in there to help, and we seeded it with rye to try and get something to grow.”

Turpin said the McCullough Bridge approach was beginning to wash out, but the department has been working to haul material in there.

He asked the commissioners to consider buying a pump and pipe to pump water away from the Elsmere Road and into the Calamus River. The board told Turpin to bring quotes for purchasing a pump to the next meeting.

Following the public hearing Tuesday, the commissioners approved the one- and six-year plan as submitted.

In other business, the commissioners approved the purchase of a 1998 Caterpillar scraper from Nebraska Machinery of Norfolk at a cost of $134,500. The bid from Nebraska Machinery was the only one the county received.

Turpin said he went and inspected the scraper, and it is a good machine. It has approximately 7,000 hours of use.

“We might be able to find a better deal if we traveled all over the country, but that is probably not wise to do right now,” the highway superintendent said. “We really need one.”

Turpin said new scrapers can run as high as $1 million.

The board approved a resolution placing members on the Brown County Veterans Memorial Committee. Pam Carroll, Brent Johnson, Mike Rudnick, Audrey Wilson and Charles Percival were appointed to the committee, which will oversee maintenance and the addition of names to the Veterans Memorial.

Justin Nickless asked the commissioners if they had any recommendations for changes to the North Central Community Wildfire Protection Plan, as the plan was being updated after being implemented in 2014.

“Not much is changing,” Nickless said. “It was created as a fuels reduction plan, and unlocks some federal dollars.”

The board did not propose any changes to the plan.

Ainsworth City Administrator Lisa Schroedl asked the commissioners to consider supplying the city with the right of first refusal for a parcel of ground east of the Brown County Hospital.

Schroedl said the city was moving forward with a solar array, and would like to have the option to purchase the ground west of the site owned by the county should the county ever decide to sell the property.

The commissioners indicated they did not have an issue providing the right of first refusal, and asked Schroedl to have the city attorney and county attorney draw up an agreement.

The board viewed the annual delinquent property tax sale report. People purchased the delinquent taxes on 55 parcels, generating the county $60,956. People who purchase the delinquent taxes either receive 14 percent interest when the property tax is paid, or can file a lien on the property.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. April 21.

* Four COVID-19 deaths reported Tuesday, statewide total now 12

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 8)

Four deaths related to the coronavirus were reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday, bringing the state total to 12.
Two were Douglas County residents. One woman in her 70s and another woman in her 90s. Both had underlying health conditions.
The third was a woman in her 60s from Hall County. The fourth was a man in his 80s from Custer County.
The statewide case total of COVID-19 was 478 as of Tuesday night.
All 93 Nebraska counties are now covered by state Directed Health Measures until May 11. It’s critical that Nebraskans follow the enforceable state Directed Health Measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The measures help protect those who are more vulnerable to severe illness and death, and help hospitals and clinics from being overwhelmed so they can continue to provide care to families, friends and neighbors who need it. 

* Several roads are closed in Cherry County

(Posted 1:15 p.m. April 7)

Cherry County Highway Superintendent Lloyd Smith said most gravel roads in the county are fragile at this time due to wet conditions.
Portions of five roads remain closed, including North Ashby Road from Alkali Lake north 5 miles, Canvasback Road, Sasse Road, Carver Road, and Minor Hull Road.
Motorists are urged to use caution on all roads in Cherry County at this time.

* Portion of River Road in Keya Paha County closed

(Posted noon April 7)

Keya Paha County Commissioner Mike Tuerk reported Tuesday a portion of the River Road in southern Keya Paha County has been closed due to impassable conditions.
The county has closed the River Road from Rock Barn west to Mule Shoe Road due to flooding and washout conditions. The road is impassable, and motorists are urged to heed the closure and not attempt to drive past barricades.

* First coronavirus cases reported in Cheyenne and Stanton counties

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 7)

First cases of coronavirus were reported in Cheyenne and Stanton counties.

Logan County was included Monday, but that was in error and there are no confirmed cases in that county, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

All 93 Nebraska counties are covered by state Directed Health Measures until May 11. DHHS reported it is critical Nebraskans follow the enforceable state Directed Health Measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The measures help protect community spread and those who are more vulnerable to severe illness and death, and help hospitals and clinics from being overwhelmed so they can continue to provide care to families, friends and neighbors who need it.

As of Monday night, there were 412 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nebraska, with nine deaths.

DHHS opened a statewide COVID-19 information line to help answer general questions and share the latest information and resources with Nebraskans to help keep them informed. The number is (402) 552-6645; hours of operation are 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily.

* Ricketts declares Public Health Week in Nebraska

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 7)

Gov. Pete Ricketts declared April 6-12 as Public Health Week in Nebraska during his daily press briefing Monday on the state’s response to coronavirus. He thanked public health leaders for working overtime to keep Nebraskans healthy, informed about good hygiene, and up-to-date on the virus.

The governor said the next month will be a decisive stage of the war against the coronavirus.  He urged Nebraskans to “stay home, stay healthy, and stay connected” over the coming weeks. Everyone should work, go home, and shop once a week.

Additionally, the governor discussed the risk of domestic abuse at a time when Nebraskans are more socially isolated than usual.  Lynne Lange, executive director of the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, joined the governor to highlight resources available to abuse survivors, along with the steps Nebraska shelters have taken to better serve survivors during the pandemic.

Ricketts said social isolation gives abusive partners increased access to victims, and some victims may be forced to isolate or quarantine in settings that are not safe.

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to impact the incidence of domestic violence in much the same way as natural disasters. People face new stressors during a disaster, such as job loss or reduced income, and community resources are simultaneously strained.

Calls for help during an immediate crisis vary, but requests for shelter and assistance usually surge after people can safely leave their homes.

Nebraskans who need help can call any of the following hotlines:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1-866-331-9474

If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, and anxiety—or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else— call one of these numbers:

911

Nebraska Family Helpline (888) 866-8660

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Disaster Distress Helpline (800) 985-5990

Lange said, while the pandemic doesn’t cause violence, it creates conditions where abuse is more likely. The primary tactic violent abusers use is to isolate their victims. This isolation is exacerbated right now at a time when many people are in quarantine. Shelters are stepping up their work to disinfect rooms and materials. Shelters are also taking social distancing precautions to house survivors in separate bedrooms with their own bathrooms.

Also Monday, Ricketts and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke directly with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. The governors reviewed the social distancing rules they have put in place. Ricketts said Dr. Fauci expressed his appreciation for both states’ efforts, and he sent a message to Nebraskans that he’s “on the same page” with the governor.

Retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart are limiting the number of customers who can be in a store at once to encourage social distancing.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska is waiving member cost-sharing for in-network testing and treatment administered at a doctor’s office, urgent care facility, emergency room, or during an in-patient hospital stay.

As Nebraskans stay home, they are encouraged to fill out their Census questionnaire.  For details on how to respond, visit 2020census.gov.

* Schmaderer discusses steps for businesses wanting to apply to SBA for funds

(Posted 2 p.m. April 6)

Jon Schmaderer with the Tri County Bank appeared on KBRB's Open Line program Monday to provide information for businesses interested in signing up for the several federal coronavirus disaster programs available through the Small Business Administration.
To hear the conversation, click on the audio link below.

audio clips/Open Line - TCB Jon Schmaderer 4-6 .mp3

* Area students receive Engler scholarships from UN-L

(Posted 1:15 p.m. April 6)

The Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has announced the recipients of scholarships for the 2020-21 academic year. The awards include renewable and one-time scholarships to 72 students totaling $202,000 for the ensuing academic year.
Among the students receiving scholarships are Maria Harthoorn and Sam Wilkins of Ainsworth, Jacy Hafer of Long Pine and Rachel Stewart of Newport. Wilkins and Hafer are sophomores at UN-L, Harthoorn is a junior, and Stewart will enter her senior year.
The Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program was established in 2010 by a gift from the Paul and Virginia Engler Foundation. The mission of the program is to embolden people on the courageous pursuit of their purpose through the art and practice of entrepreneurship. The program offers an academic minor while serving as an intersection in which students from a diverse array of majors and business interests can come together in pursuit of the American Dream. 

* Ainsworth man injured in accident Saturday on Highway 20

(Posted 10:15 a.m. April 6)

An Ainsworth man was injured Saturday in a one-vehicle rollover accident on Highway 20.
According to Brown County Sheriff Bruce Papstein, at 2:50 p.m. Saturday, April 4, on Highway 20 approximately 4 miles east of Ainsworth, a 2000 Dodge Durango, driven by Christopher Dunn, 28, of Ainsworth, was traveling east when the vehicle entered the shoulder, over-corrected, crossed the center line and rolled twice in the north ditch.
Dunn was transported by the Brown County Ambulance Association to the Brown County Hospital for treatment of injuries suffered during the accident.
The Dodge was considered a total loss.

* Asphalt paving work begins April 13 on Sparks River Road

(Posted 9:15 a.m. April 6)

Weather permitting, work will begin April 13 on the Sparks River Road south of Sparks, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
Paulsen Inc. of Cozad has the $2.82 million contract. The work begins at the junction of Highway 12 and the Sparks River Road and proceeds approximately 3.3 miles south. Work includes grading and asphalt paving of the Sparks River Road. Portions of the Sparks River Road will be closed to through traffic during construction.
Detours will be posted for Niobrara River access. Anticipated completion is mid-summer.
Motorists are asked to drive cautiously near construction zones and to expect delays.

* Government entities to limit attendance, provide remote access to meetings

(Posted 7:15 a.m. April 6)

The Brown County Commissioners will comply with social distancing by limiting the number of people allowed to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Physical attendance will be limited to the board members, the clerk, the county attorney and one representative from each of the two local media outlets.

People may listen to and participate in the meeting by calling 415-655-0003 and using the access code 923-768-346.

People may also join the meeting via webex by contacting the clerk’s office at 402-387-2705 for details.

The Ainsworth City Council will also limit attendance during its meeting Wednesday. People who want to listen to or participate in the council meeting may call 253-215-8782 and enter the code 849-595-3593.

* Ricketts touts social distancing; officials provide info on SBA programs for business

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 6)

Gov. Pete Ricketts reinforced the importance of social distancing and highlighted federal programs available to Nebraska businesses as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).  

With Passover and Easter approaching, Ricketts also shared guidance for faith-based communities as they practice social distancing and support public health efforts.

Ricketts said Nebraskans need to further limit social interactions.  They should work, go home, and shop once a week.

People should not only follow the 10-person rule, but also minimize any other social interactions.

Google has released data on social mobility in Nebraska. There has been a 34% decline in visits to retailers and restaurants, an 18% decline in visits to transit stations, and a 24% decrease in hours spent in the workplace. Meanwhile, there has been an 8% increase in hours spent in residential areas.  This indicates that people are spending more time at home. There has been a 109% increase in visits to parks.

Walking outside is safe, but people must be socially distanced. People can walk their animal or get fresh air as long as they maintain social distancing. People should not play on playgrounds or participate in group sports at a park. 

Dr. James Lawler, infectious diseases expert and director of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, joined the governor to discuss Nebraska’s social distancing strategy.

Lawler said the nation is still very early in this unprecedented event. If the pandemic were a baseball game, he said the country would only be in the second inning.

“We’re going to see more COVID-19 cases, and, unfortunately, more fatalities in the weeks ahead,” Lawler said. “While we’re increasing our testing capacity, we need more information to understand how well our interventions have been working. The goal is to preserve the state’s health system so that Nebraskans can get care—whether for COVID-19 or other medical needs.

The private sector, academic community, and government have shown inspiring partnership in their work together to counteract the virus.”

Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Tony Goins provided additional details on federal resources available to businesses. 

At the state and federal level, leaders are working hard to provide relief to businesses—whether big, small, or self-employed.

Payroll taxes for employers may be deferred between now and Jan. 1, 2021.

An employee retention credit is available to employers fully or partially shut down by government order due to the pandemic.

It’s also available to businesses that have seen a 50% drop, year-over-year, in quarterly gross receipts. It is a refundable tax credit of 50% of the qualifying wages—including health plan expenses—paid by the employer up to $10,000 per teammate.

Paycheck protection loans can be taken out in the amount equivalent to two months of a business’ average payroll. The loan may be fully forgiven (converted into a grant) if it’s used to pay for payroll costs, rent or mortgage interest, utilities. Loan payments will be deferred six months. The loan has a fixed rate of 1 percent, and a term of two years.

There’s no requirement to look for credit elsewhere before applying for Paycheck Protection Program loans. There’s also no need to put up collateral or make personal guarantees for the loans. Businesses are encouraged to contact their current bank as the first step to apply.

Small businesses and sole proprietors can begin applying now. Independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply beginning on April 10.

Economic Injury Disaster Loans are available to small businesses and non-profits (including faith-based) with fewer than 500 employees. EIDL provides up to $2 million in a working capital loan. It has long-term repayment of up to 30 years, offers a low interest rate of 3.75% and defers payments up to one year.

As a result of the CARES Act, businesses can request an emergency grant of $10,000 when applying for the loan. This grant may be available even if the loan application is declined. The SBA is working to provide the grant within 3 days of receiving applications. The grant can be used to meet payroll, pay for sick leave, pay rent, and more. The emergency grant does not need to be repaid.

Businesses can apply through www.sba.gov.

Leon Milobar, District Director for the Nebraska District Office of the U. S. Small Business Administration, also spoke about SBA loans available to businesses affected by the pandemic.

Milobar said Nebraska has 46,000 small businesses; 36,000 of these have between one and 20 workers. Community lenders are helping to spread the word about SBA loan programs to these businesses.

Ag producers are eligible to participate in SBA’s loan programs. If a business has taken out a disaster loan associated with a previous incident (like the floods of 2019), it is still eligible to apply for a loan for this disaster.

Businesses cannot take out both an Economic Injury Disaster Loan and a Paycheck Protection Program Loan. While small businesses are typically defined as those with less than 500 teammates; restaurants and hotel franchises may be eligible for SBA loans.

Businesses should visit www.sba.gov for info on SBA loans.

The state released new guidance allowing churches to host drive-in services.

Nothing should be handed out to car passengers—or transferred between vehicles—before, during, or after the service.

For example, do not circulate an offering plate or the Eucharist or communion.

Email out programs, bulletins, and song lyrics to participants ahead of time.

The Surgeon General reminds everyone to take care of their mental health during the pandemic.

If you need help, reach out to family and friends. If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 911, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or the Nebraska Family Helpline at (800) 866-8660.

* First COVID-19 case reported in Custer and several other counties

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 6)

First cases of coronavirus were reported Sunday in Custer, Johnson, Phelps and Seward counties.
All 93 Nebraska counties are now covered by state Directed Health Measures until May 11. The Department of Health and Human Services reports it is critical Nebraskans follow the enforceable state Directed Health Measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state. These measures help protect those who are more vulnerable to severe illness and death, and help hospitals and clinics from being overwhelmed so they can continue to provide care to families, friends and neighbors who need it.
In addition to the state-issued Directed Health Measures, some Local Health Departments have issued additional restrictions.
The state case total is 367 as of Sunday night. Eight people have died in Nebraska from the virus.
DHHS opened a statewide COVID-19 information line to help answer general questions and share the latest information and resources with Nebraskans to help keep them informed. The number is (402) 552-6645; hours of operation are 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily.

* First Cherry County resident tests positive for COVID-19

(Posted 2 p.m. April 3)

The North Central District Health Department received confirmation Friday that a Cherry County resident tested positive for COVID-19.
NCDHD staff initiated a contact investigation and determined the positive case was not community spread. The person who tested positive had been in close contact to someone outside the health district who tested positive.
The person who tested positive is in self-isolation at home.
Continue to practice social distancing to help limit the spread of coronavirus and practice good hygiene.

* Thursday accident on Highway 7 injures Ainsworth man

(Posted 11 a.m. April 3)

A Thursday morning accident on Highway 7 injured an Ainsworth man.
According to Brown County Sheriff Bruce Papstein, at 4:30 a.m. Thursday, April 2, on Highway 7 approximately 1 mile south of Ainsworth, a 1993 Chevy pickup, driven by Gerhard Gous, 34, of Ainsworth, was traveling south when the vehicle slid due to icy conditions and rolled in the east ditch.
Gous was transported by the Brown County Ambulance Association to the Brown County Hospital for treatment of injuries suffered during the accident.
The Chevy was considered a total loss.

* State enters agreement with University of Nebraska for quarantine housing

(Posted 7 a.m. April 3)

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Thursday the state has entered into an agreement with the University of Nebraska to provide quarantine housing.  He also gave an update on coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) testing in Nebraska and reviewed the State’s social distancing strategy to combat COVID-19. 

The State of Nebraska has signed contracts with the University of Nebraska to create bed space for three purposes:

Quarantining individuals who need monitoring.

People in isolation while waiting for testing results.

Discharging patients who are convalescing.

The contracts will provide about 2,100 beds with food and janitorial services.

The state and the federal government will cover the costs of these beds.

State employees are working to pull together the staffing for these facilities if they’re needed.

Wednesday, the state issued a new Directed Health Measure covering 15 new counties in north and central Nebraska.

New counties include Antelope, Arthur, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Holt, Hooker, Keya Paha, Knox, Lincoln, Logan, McPherson, Pierce, Rock, and Thomas.

Overall, 56 counties are now covered by the State’s DHM. For these counties, the DHM...

Imposes an enforceable 10-person limit on social gatherings.

Requires restaurants and bars to close their dining areas and move to takeout, delivery, and/or curbside service only. 

Prohibits medical and dental elective surgeries and procedures.

Cancels veterinary procedures. Veterinarians are urged to donate unused Personal Protective Equipment to local health departments and hospitals.

Labor Commissioner John Albin overviewed the state’s work to process unemployment claims during the pandemic.

Nebraskans should not walk away from their jobs in the hopes of collecting unemployment benefits. If you quit your job, you will be ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The federal CARES Act created a temporary program that offers benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits including the self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers, and others.

Self-employed Nebraskans who have been affected by the pandemic should go ahead and file for unemployment. The Department of Labor will automatically review every claim that comes in for eligibility.

By applying this week, Nebraskans will be eligible to receive benefits for this week.

The CARES Act also increases the amount an individual will receive by $600 for every week an individual is unemployed.

Once NDOL receives guidance from the federal government, all individuals who qualify will receive $600 in additional benefits for each eligible week of unemployment, including prior weeks.

Regular unemployment claims are being processed. The Department of Labor will pay at the current rate and then make up additional payments once the federal government issues guidance related to the CARES Act.

The volume of unemployment claims in the past three weeks in Nebraska has been roughly equal to the total volume for 2019.

NDOL has doubled the number of teammates processing claims in order to expedite payments.

The department’s goal is to make 80% of initial payments within 3-4 weeks of a new claim being filed.

Nationally, the number of unemployment claims doubled last week (an increase of 100%).  In Nebraska, they only increased 56%, which is a sign of the state’s economic strength.

The state has taken action to provide unemployment relief.

Making the first week of eligibility payable rather than an unpaid waiting week.

Waiving the requirement to look for work.

Waiving benefit charges incurred by employers.

Also, declining an employer’s request to come back to work will also be treated as a “quit,” making a person ineligible for benefits.

First Lady Susanne Shore joined the governor to share information about Nebraska Impact’s COVID-19 relief fund. 

Nebraska Impact is a nonprofit whose mission is to connect Nebraskans with one another, bridge communities, and enhance state pride by initiating statewide programming that encourages volunteerism and economic development.

During this unprecedented time, Nebraska Impact is leveraging its statewide connections to assist Nebraskans in need.

The Nebraska Impact COVID-19 Relief Fund will be directed through statewide Community Collaboratives that are part of Bring Up Nebraska, a program administered by the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.

Funds will help individual communities meet their local needs, which may include financial assistance for rent, mortgage, and utilities payments; provisions for food pantries; or supplies for students from low-income families now studying from home. 

Tapping into Bring Up Nebraska’s Community Collaboratives assures that funds are used in a targeted, strategic way to meet specific needs.

The collaborations bring together critical community players, including civic leaders, service providers, educators, health care professionals, law enforcement, and local businesses.

With the assistance and support of NCFF and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, each Community Collaborative has an intimate understanding of its community's needs, challenges, and strengths.  Collaborations are also situated on the frontlines where they can readily solve the problems of area residents. 

Nebraska Impact and NCFF are also working with the Nebraska Department of Education and the Nebraska’s ESUs to identify technology needs for students from low-income families who are now studying from home.

To learn more about the relief fund, visit www.neimpact.org.  You can donate online, via mail, or over the phone.

The state developed its social distancing plan in consultation with world-renowned experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and our public health agencies.

Since the virus will spread to different places at different times, and with varying rate, Nebraska has adopted a regional approach to social distancing.

The key to slowing the virus is to limit large social gatherings, which Nebraska has done.

Social distancing can take place without having to close down businesses.

A shelter-at-home order is not part of the state’s plan.

Nebraskans are encouraged to heed federal guidance to remain home.  Most people in Nebraska are already doing so in compliance with the state’s limitations on social gatherings.  

The number of daily test results jumped over 50% day-over-day between March 31 and April 1.

A total of 696 results were tested April 1, an improvement from 404 on March 31.

DHHS is prioritizing the following persons for COVID-19 testing:

Hospitalized patients with a clinical presentation consistent with COVID-19.

Outpatients who are in high-risk or vulnerable populations.

Residents and staff at 24-hour facilities.

Health care workers.

Public safety workers and first responders.

Individuals older than 65 years old.

Anyone with underlying conditions where a COVID-19 infection could result in severe illness or death.

The state is continuing to work every day to expand testing capacity and materials.

* Sixth death in Nebraska recorded from COVID-19

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 3)

The sixth death related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Thursday. The person was a Gage County resident in her 90s with underlying health conditions. She was also the county’s first case.

“Every loss is sobering for all of us,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS. “COVID-19 is going to get worse before it gets better and we must remain vigilant in our efforts to fight this virus.”

Colfax, Hamilton, Merrick and Otoe Counties also recently reported first cases of COVID-19.

The statewide case total as of Thursday night was 255.

* NCDC Director provides guidance to employees, businesses affected by pandemic

(Posted 4:15 p.m. April 2)

North Central Development Center Executive Director Kristin Olson discussed programs available for businesses and employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. She highlighted changes to the state and federal unemployment programs, as well as new programs for businesses through the $2 trillion federal CARES Act that was passed last week and signed into law.
To hear the information, click on the audio links below.

audio clips/NCDC - Unemployment Assistance.mp3

audio clips/NCDC - Business Loan Assistance.mp3

* Bankers Association still unpacking SBA federal loan programs

(Posted 4:15 p.m. April 2)

As the state continues to face the impacts of the novel coronavirus, Nebraska banks are keeping the health and well-being of their employees, customers and the communities they serve at the forefront.
Banks are implementing different measures to best assist each customer based on their particular situation. With the enactment of the CARES Act, including the essential Paycheck Protection Program, the United States Congress provided much needed stimulus funding to benefit small businesses in urgent need for help as a consequence of the pandemic.
Similar to any past crisis, there appears to be far more questions than there are answers available about the expectations of the federal government in fulfilling the steps necessary to begin distributing funds. Limited guidance has been provided by the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Treasury; therefore, banks continue to await final instruction from Washington, D.C. on the procedures.
Nebraska Bankers Association President and CEO Richard Baier said, "Banks across the nation are awaiting further instruction from the government on how to best move forward. While we greatly appreciate the proactive federal legislation, we understand the frustration that those needing help the most are facing while the rules are being written. Nebraska banks uphold a strong reputation of being there for individuals and small businesses during good times, as well as the difficult times. Until the rules are finalized, we are simply in a waiting game along with those we serve, that is out of our control."

* Recent cases from Brown County Court

(Posted 12:45 p.m. April 2)

In addition to fines, each case carries $50 in court costs

Mary A. Allen, age 65, of Beemer, charged with speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, fined $125.

Carol A. Caudill, 66, of Ainsworth, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Benjamin J. Powell, 34, of Boulder, Colo., speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.

Michael D. Bernas, 26, of Winner, S.D., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Justin M. Wilberger, 31, of Elkhorn, speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Michell K. Sease, 37, of Ainsworth, no valid registration, $25.

Ashley M. Johnson, 28, of Long Pine, no proof of insurance, $100; also charged with having an improper or defective vehicle light, $25.

Karsyn L. Irwin, 21, of Ainsworth, possession of an open alcohol container in a vehicle, $50.

Casey J. Duden, 34, of Ainsworth, first offense reckless driving, $500.

Robert D. Hunt, 67, of Ainsworth, violation of a stop or yield sign, $50.

Brandie R. Messersmith, 17, of Rose, driving left of center, $25.

Gerhard F. Gous, 34, of Ainsworth, speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Charissa D. Eick, 40, of Ainsworth, no valid registration, $50.

Blaine A. Brandon, 16, of Ainsworth, speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.

Jesse A. Marshall, 24, of Ainsworth, no proof of insurance, $100.

Christopher T. House, 36, of Monument, Colo., violation of a stop or yield sign, $75.

George H. McKelvey, 53, of Bridgewater, S.D., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Olivia J. Wood, 27, of Pueblo, Colo., driving left of center, $25.

Kraig W. Freeman, 30, of Ainsworth, first offense reckless driving, $500, also sentenced to six months of probation, driver’s license revoked for six months and ordered to install an ignition interlock device; driving on the shoulder, $25.

Gayle L. Buoy, 58, of Long Pine, obstructing a peace office, sentenced to 30 days in jail with credit for two days served.

Aiden J. Swindler, 58, of Mitchell, S.D., possession of an open alcohol container in a vehicle, $50; speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Christopher M. Dunn, 27, of Ainsworth, no park entry permit, $25.

Jade J. Fitzpatrick, 19, of Mitchell, S.D., possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300.

* NSAA officially cancels all spring activities

(Posted 12:30 p.m. April 2)

All remaining NSAA activity practices and competitions, including district and state competitions, have been cancelled for this school year. These cancellations are part of a new Directed Health Measure issued by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The NSAA continues to encourage all member schools to follow CDC, local, state and federal health department recommendations.

* Directed Health Measures initiated for all counties in the NCDHD coverage area

(Posted 7 a.m. April 2)

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced the state’s eighth COVID-19 related Directed Health Measure Wednesday. The new measure includes Antelope, Arthur, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Holt, Hooker, Keya Paha, Knox, Lincoln, Logan, McPherson, Pierce, Rock, and Thomas counties.  It will last until May 11 unless renewed.

All gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited by law. Liquor, wine and beer sales are restricted to carry-out and delivery only. No on-site consumption is permitted. Food and beverage sales at restaurants are now limited to carry-out, drive-through or delivery only. No dining is allowed on premises.

Elective medical and dental surgeries and procedures are prohibited. Surgeries that must be performed to preserve a patient’s life or physical health, are allowed on a case by case basis as determined by the medical provider.

The Directed Health Measure applies to places such as theaters, churches, houses of worship, gyms, social clubs, salons, and social gatherings, including weddings, funerals, concerts, and athletic events.  This is not an exhaustive list, but illustrates the types of locations the DHM applies to.

The quarantine measures are for individuals who are COVID-19 positive or develop fever, sudden onset of a dry cough, or sudden onset of shortness of breath without provocation. The measures excludes those with seasonal allergies, COPD, or other diagnoses that may produce respiratory symptoms. Additionally, the directive doesn’t apply to patients who have an alternative non-COVID-19 diagnosis from a healthcare provider. These patients should follow the treatment and guidance provided by their healthcare provider for such conditions.

The Directed Health Measure does not apply to places such as office buildings, grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities, court houses, court rooms, banks, car dealerships, auto repair shops, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, small shops, golf courses, big box stores, gas stations, convenience stores, shopping malls, manufacturing facilities, packing facilities, construction jobs, and other traditional office settings.  This is not an exhaustive list, but illustrates the types of locations the DHM does not apply to.

Weddings and funerals are also subject to the 10-person limit.  Event planners and facilities are encouraged to be flexible with people who are rearranging their plans.

Under this new Directed Health Measure, schools statewide are directed to operate without students in their buildings through May 31, 2020.  Extracurricular activities are also cancelled statewide.  This restriction does not apply to school staff working in school buildings.

The state-issued DHM now applies to 56 counties in Nebraska.

The first DHM, issued March 18, applies to Cass, Douglas, and Sarpy counties and is in effect until at least April 30.

The second DHM, issued on March 25, applies to Dodge, Lancaster, Saunders, and Washington counties and is in effect until at least May 6.

The third DHM, issued on March 28, applies to Butler, Hall, Hamilton, Merrick, Polk, Seward, and York counties and is in effect until May 6 unless renewed.

The fourth DHM, issued on March 29, applies to Burt, Cuming, Madison, and Stanton counties and is in effect until May 6 unless renewed.

The fifth DHM, issued on March 30, applies to Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Grant, Kimball, Morrill, Scotts Bluff, Sheridan, and Sioux counties and is in effect until May 11 unless renewed.

The sixth DHM, issued on March 31, applies to Adams, Clay, Nuckolls, and Webster counties and is in effect until May 11 unless renewed.

The seventh DHM, also issued on March 31, applies to Buffalo, Dawson, Franklin, Gosper, Harlan, Kearney, and Phelps counties and is in effect until May 11 unless renewed.

The eighth DHM, issued on April 1, applies to Antelope, Arthur, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Holt, Hooker, Keya Paha, Knox, Lincoln, Logan, McPherson, Pierce, Rock, and Thomas counties and is in effect until May 11 unless renewed.

 

* State survey finds zero deficiencies at Ainsworth Family Clinic

 

(Posted 7 a.m. April 2)

On March 4, surveyors from the state of Nebraska arrived to conduct a two-day, unannounced survey of Ainsworth Family Clinic.
The scope of review ensures the clinic is compliant with Medicare/Medicaid, State Licensure and Rural Health Clinic regulations, and occurs approximately once every four to six years.  The surveyor focused on a broad range of regulatory requirements, including but not limited to, quality, safety, patient rights, HIPAA and staff competencies.
Upon the exit interview, Ainsworth Family Clinic representatives were informed that no deficiencies were discovered during the survey.

* Fifth COVID-19 death reported in Nebraska; more than 200,000 cases nationally

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 2)

The fifth death related to coronavirus disease was reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Wednesday. The person was a Madison County resident in her 70s with underlying health conditions.

There have now been 214 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nebraska. Nationwide, cases have skyrocketed to 216,722, with 5,137 deaths. Both numbers are climbing constantly. There are 84,046 cases in New York, with 2,220 deaths in that state.

“We extend our sympathy to the family,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS. “As we see COVID-19 cases increase in Nebraska, we will see more severe illness and sadly, more deaths.”

Community transmission was identified in Antelope and Lincoln counties. Community transmission is when people have COVID-19 but public health officials are unable to identify how or where they became infected.

State Directed Health Measures were issued Wednesday for 15 additional counties: Antelope, Arthur, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Holt, Hooker, Keya Paha, Knox, Lincoln, Logan, McPherson, Pierce, Rock, and Thomas counties.

The quarantine measures included in the State DHMs are for individuals who are COVID-19 positive or develop fever, sudden onset of a dry cough, or sudden onset of shortness of breath without provocation. This excludes those with seasonal allergies, COPD, or other diagnoses that may produce respiratory symptoms. Additionally, the directive doesn’t apply to patients who have an alternative non-COVID-19 diagnosis from a healthcare provider. These patients should follow the treatment and guidance provided by their healthcare provider for such conditions.

Cuming County’s first case of COVID-19 was also reported.

Recent data shows that the virus is also affecting younger people. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said 20% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S. were 20-44 years old.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. People who are concerned they may have COVID-19 should self-isolate and call ahead to their primary care provider to be screened over the phone.

* Ricketts' order allows more flexibility for health care

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 1)

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Tuesday announced a new executive order to give healthcare facilities greater flexibility to respond to coronavirus.

The purpose of the order is to enable healthcare facilities to expand capacity as the need arises.  Among other changes, the governor’s order accomplishes the following:

* Waives time limits for how long Critical Access Hospitals and Ambulatory Surgical Centers may keep patients.

* Waives the time limit on complex nursing interventions in assisted living facilities.

* Modifies the training and testing requirements for nurse aides, medication aides, and dining assistants to allow individuals with sufficient training and appropriate supervision to serve temporarily in these capacities.

* Defers requirements for the renewal and implementation dates of facility licenses and extends the licenses so that they do not need to be renewed during this emergency.

* Waives the Certificate of Need Act to allow hospitals to add or convert any beds into long-term care beds or rehabilitation beds in appropriate locations to care for COVID-19 patients who no longer require acute care support. 

* Waives the licensed bed limit if additional unlicensed beds are available or could be added for use in treating COVID-19 cases or to meet the needs of non-COVID-19 patients.

* Directs the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to establish guidance for payment of Medicaid services via telehealth.

Additionally, the governor said the federal government has waived both the 96-hour length-of-stay limit and the 25-bed limit for Critical Access Hospitals.

Ricketts also announced new safety guidelines for nursing homes.  They include:

* Directing sick teammates to stay home.

* Instructing facilities to plan for when influenza or COVID-19 may hit their facility.

* Urging facilities to develop a contingency plan in the event that staff have to stay home.

* Recommending that healthcare providers and residents wear masks when together in the same room.

Heath Boddy, President & CEO of the Nebraska Health Care Association, said the governor’s executive order is extremely helpful for care facilities as they seek to maintain adequate staffing levels during the public health emergency. In addition, he talked about the heroic efforts of healthcare workers on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

Todd Stubbendieck, Nebraska State Director for AARP, reminded snowbirds to self-quarantine for 14 days, and to monitor their health upon return to Nebraska.  He also called on Nebraskans to lend a helping hand to the state’s senior citizens by checking on their well-being and offering to run errands for them. 

Ricketts also announced an executive order that directs the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to suspend the issuance of non-resident turkey hunting licenses through May 31.  The intent of the order is to reduce out-of-state travel to Nebraska during the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor also talked about his experience giving blood Tuesday to the American Red Cross.  He urged Nebraskans to step up and donate in order to meet the urgent need for blood during the pandemic.

* Fourth COVID-19 death in Nebraska reported Tuesday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. April 1)

The fourth death related to coronavirus was reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday. The person was a Buffalo County resident in his 90s.

“We are saddened by the death of another fellow Nebraskan,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS. “Staying home if you’re sick and distancing yourself from others are actions we must continue to take to help protect those around us who may be more vulnerable to severe illness or death.”

A total of 177 Nebraskans have tested positive for COVID-19.

Community transmission was identified in Adams and Buffalo Counties. Community transmission is when people have COVID-19 but public health officials are unable to identify how or where they became infected.

State Directed Health Measures were issued Tuesday for an additional 11 counties: Adams, Clay, Nuckolls, Webster, Buffalo, Dawson, Franklin, Gosper, Harlan, Kearney, and Phelps counties.

The quarantine measures included in the State DHMs are for individuals who are COVID-19 positive or develop fever, sudden onset of a dry cough, or sudden onset of shortness of breath without provocation. This excludes those with seasonal allergies, COPD, or other diagnoses that may produce respiratory symptoms.  Additionally, the directive doesn’t apply to patients who have an alternative non-COVID-19 diagnosis from a healthcare provider. These patients should follow the treatment and guidance provided by their healthcare provider for such conditions.

Recent data shows that the virus is also affecting younger people. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said 20% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S. were 20-44 years old.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. People who are concerned they may have COVID-19 should self-isolate and call ahead to their primary care provider to be screened over the phone.

DHHS opened a statewide COVID-19 information line to help answer general questions and share the latest information and resources with Nebraskans to help keep them informed. The number is (402) 552-6645; hours of operation are 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily.

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