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)  

* Ethel D. (Copeland) Reynolds, 96, of Kansas City, Mo. later date

* Wayne Sharp, 83, of Sparks later date

* Meeting reports located below for:

March 24 Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors special meeting

March 23 Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education special meeting

March 18 Brown County Commissioners

March 12 Ainsworth City Council

March 9 Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education

* 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.

* Priority project designation leads to new ag, industrial tech building at ACS

(Posted 7:45 a.m. March 31)

The following article is the fifth in a series noting the successful completion of the Ainsworth/ Brown County Strategic Plan priority projects leading up to a town hall meeting to identify new initiatives as priority projects.  Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the town hall meeting date will be announced later.

VOCATIONAL AGRICULTURE/INDUSTRIAL TECHNOLOGY CENTER

During a county-wide town hall meeting held in January 2016 to update the Ainsworth/Brown County Strategic Plan, one of the visionary concepts adopted was education.

The replacement of the vocational agriculture building and the relocation of the industrial arts area in the high school building were identified as a priority project. Accordingly, the Ainsworth Board of Education, administration, and staff initiated discussion regarding the improvement project, which was necessitated due to facility issues with the agriculture building and the need for more space for industrial technology. 

In March 2018, the Board of Education hosted a meeting with district patrons, business leaders, parents, and staff to share information regarding the need for the improvement project and solicit ideas and suggestions. Based on the feedback from the meeting, the board solicited proposals and pricing from various companies interested in partnering with Ainsworth Community Schools. Chief Industries was selected as the general contractor for the project. During “school betterment day,” students and staff cleaned out the classroom and shop in the agriculture building in preparation for the building to be demolished and new construction to begin.

Arrangements were made with First National Bank of Omaha’s Capital Markets division for a “lease purchase” arrangement, with the new building financed through the school district’s Special Building Fund, using low interest financing.  The $2.7 million project would be paid off over a seven-year period. Construction began in May of 2018, with the new facility being utilized by students and staff in January of 2019.

In addition to new agriculture and technology classrooms, individual shop areas, and an auto bay, the facility also provided remodeled classrooms and restrooms. A new entryway area was established, which connects the new facility with the existing high school building. 

The board, administration, and staff continue in the effort to make the new facility efficient, effective, and robust with learning opportunities for students. Work continues with representatives of Northeast Community College to create partnership opportunities with the use of the new facility.  Programs such as welding, building construction, and a variety of agriculture and industrial technology courses are part of the plan to encourage the continued growth and use of the new facility to meet the needs of the community and the students in preparation for careers in agriculture and industrial technology. 

 

* Work to begin Monday on Highway 281 north of O'Neill

(Posted 7:15 a.m. March 31)

Weather permitting, work will begin April 6 on Highway 281 approximately 13 miles north of O’Neill, from mileposts 196 to 204, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
Werner Construction Inc., of Hastings has the $3.62 million contract. Work will include bridge deck repair, concrete pavement repair, milling, asphalt paving and seeding.
Single-lane traffic will be maintained with temporary traffic signals at the Eagle Creek bridge, speed limit reduced to 35 mph and a 14-foot width restriction in place for the duration of the project. Traffic will be maintained with flaggers and a pilot vehicle for the milling and asphalt paving operations.
Anticipated completion is fall 2020. Motorists are asked to drive cautiously near construction zones and to expect delays.

* Rock County Public Schools offering free breakfast and lunch to children

(Posted 7 a.m. March 31)

Rock County Public Schools is providing free breakfast and lunch to all students age 1 to 18. Breakfast pickup time is 7 until 8 a.m., and lunch pickup is 11:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. from the multi-purpose room doors.

On days when a warm lunch is not served, participants may pick up both breakfast and lunch in the mornings.

To sign up, call Rock County High School at 402-684-3411. Signup time is 7 until 9 a.m. daily. Patrons are encouraged to sign up for a week or longer to make it easier for the cooks.

All meals are fully reimbursed by the federal government, and there is no charge to receive a meal.

 

* Wildlife Management Areas closed in area due to poor road conditions

 

(Posted 7 a.m. March 31)

 

Roads on several state wildlife management areas have been closed or partially closed because of poor conditions. County roads leading to the areas also may be closed.

The closures are due to 2019 flooding and a continued high water table in some areas. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission continues to work with local authorities to get vehicle access to these areas.

The impacted WMAs include South Pine in Brown County; Twin Lakes in Rock County; Cottonwood/Steverson and Big Alkali in Cherry County; Goose Lake in Holt County; the Parshall Bridge in Boyd County; and the Spencer Dam in Holt County.

* Confirmed Todd County, S.D., COVID-19 case leads to low risk of exposure in Valentine

(Posted 7 a.m. March 31)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of a case of COVID-19 in Todd County, S.D., that led to a low risk of potential exposure in Cherry County.

The Todd County adult and their entire family are now quarantined in their home. The person who tested positive was in Valentine March 20 in both Henderson’s IGA and Ranchland Foods. The person was in both locations for less than 10 minutes, and the risk of exposure is considered low to others in the stores during that time.

NCDHD will provide updates if additional exposure possibilities are identified. Anyone who develops symptoms is urged to self-isolate at home and contact a health care provider by phone.

Anyone concerned they may have been in contact with the Todd County resident March 20 in those two Valentine locations is encouraged to stay home and monitor for symptoms. The 14-day exposure period from this case ends April 3 for those who may have had contact.

The third death related to coronavirus was reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Monday. The person was a Lincoln County resident in his 90s with underlying health conditions.

“Our thoughts are with the family,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS. “We know certain people are at higher risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.”

If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a community, those at higher rise are urged to stay home as much as possible to further reduce the risk of being exposed.

Scotts Bluff County’s first case of COVID-19 was reported Sunday. Further investigation determined that case to be community spread. Community spread is when people have COVID-19 but public health officials are unable to identify how or where they became infected.

A state Directed Health Measure was issued Monday for 12 Panhandle counties: Banner, Box Butte, Cheyenne, Dawes, Deuel, Garden, Grant, Kimball, Morrill, Scotts Bluff, Sheridan, and Sioux counties.

First cases of COVID-19 were reported in York, Kimball and Antelope counties Monday.

The statewide total of confirmed COVID-19 cases is 155 as of Monday night. 

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.

* Ricketts extends social distancing measures through April 30

(Posted 6:30 a.m. March 31)

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Monday the state of Nebraska has extended statewide social distancing restrictions through April 30. Earlier in March, the state of Nebraska issued social distancing restrictions for the entire state.

In addition to social distancing restrictions, 30 counties are currently covered by a Directed Health Measure.

Ricketts detailed new unemployment programs being implemented in Nebraska as a result of federal legislation to aid the pandemic response.  The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on March 27.

The governor said the Nebraska Department of Labor is undertaking software changes and making other preparations to roll out the unemployment programs outlined in the CARES Act. Nebraska Labor Commissioner John Albin is working directly with the U.S. Department of Labor to expedite implementation of the unemployment programs. Albin joined the governor Monday to overview the unemployment programs contained in the CARES Act and to report on the state’s preparations to administer them.

Those programs include:

* Pandemic Unemployment Assistance – Allows unemployment benefits to individuals who have exhausted all other unemployment benefits, and those not eligible for other unemployment benefits, including workers who are self-employed and independent contractors.  The minimum PUA weekly payment will be $174 and top out at $440.

* Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation – The emergency increase in Unemployment Insurance Benefits adds $600 per week in federal benefits to the unemployment benefit amount for COVID-19 unemployment claims, including PUA claims.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – Allows 13 weeks of federally funded benefits to be added to the end of the normal 26 weeks of benefits.

Short Time Compensation Programs – Provides federal funding of Short-Time Compensation, a program that allows businesses to uniformly reduce their teammates’ hours while the workers receive a partial unemployment benefit.

Ricketts also signed a proclamation to designate every Tuesday from March 31 through the end of April as “Takeout Tuesday.”  The purpose of the proclamation is to encourage Nebraskans to support their local dining establishments as restaurants continue to serve customers during the pandemic.

R.J. Vega, with Copal restaurant in Lincoln, thanked the governor for the proclamation. Vega described the challenges restaurants have faced due to the coronavirus public health emergency. Servers, bartenders, and hourly staff have had their lives profoundly impacted. Restaurants have struggled to make payroll and keep the lights on. Vega also spoke of Copal’s innovative work to overcome these challenges by transitioning its business model from dine-in to carry-out and delivery.

Ricketts also reiterated the state’s social distancing measures.

Some Local Health Departments in Lincoln and metro Omaha have issued additional restrictions on social gatherings and/or businesses. The 10-person limitation applies to outdoor gatherings like picnics or outdoor activities like sand volleyball.

Travelers coming back to Nebraska from out of state should self-quarantine for 14 days. This includes snowbirds returning to Nebraska after having spent the winter in places like Arizona, Florida, or Texas.  However, the guidance to self-quarantine does not apply to commuters or workers in the transportation industry.

* Statewide total reaches 120, directed measures in effect for Madison County

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 30)

Madison County reported a new case of COVID-19, which has been identified as community transmitted. It’s a man in his 70s who currently resides at a long-term care facility at Norfolk. He is self-isolating.

A state Directed Health Measure went into effect Sunday for Burt, Cuming, Madison and Stanton Counties.

First cases of COVID-19 were reported in Gosper, Platte and Scotts Bluff counties.

Three Rivers Public Health Department has identified an additional case of COVID-19.  The Washington County resident is a female in her 90s and is self-isolating at home. This case is related to the Carter House outbreak and has been identified through a contact investigation. Carter House is an assisted living facility at Blair. All residents and staff were tested Sunday and results are expected in 48 hours.  This is the ninth case in Washington County. 

As part of the investigation it was found that several health care workers and patients tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility. On Wednesday, a press release from Three Rivers Health Department indicated that the facility was aggressively managing the cases and is working with local and state health officials to ensure the safety and care of all residents.

As part of those efforts, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Three Rivers and Carter House staff determined the best course of action in light of recent developments was to move residents out of the facility temporarily. Residents who have tested positive will be in self-isolation at other healthcare facilities and residents who are considered to have been exposed but remain asymptomatic will also self-quarantine at another healthcare facility. Staff who tested positive for COVID-19 are self-isolating. A number of neighboring health care facilities and hospitals are assisting with the coordinated effort. While the Carter House is empty, a complete deep cleaning to disinfect the facility will occur.

Contact investigations are underway to identify people who came into close contact to help prevent further spread. All identified close contacts will self-quarantine and be actively monitored twice daily by public health officials for fever and respiratory symptoms. The Three Rivers Public Health Department will continue to update its community as new information becomes available. 

The statewide total of confirmed cases as of Sunday night is 120.

* Nebraska experiences first 2 deaths from COVID-19

(Posted 10:15 a.m. March 28)

The first and second deaths related to coronavirus were reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Friday.

The first death was a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions from Douglas County. He had contact with a known COVID-19 case out of state and had been self-isolated since March 11 at home, according to the Douglas County Health Department.

The second death is a Hall County resident in her 60s with underlying health conditions who was recently hospitalized. Because of state statutes, DHHS is not able to release names or other details about the two people.

“We send our condolences to both families,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS. “Unfortunately, from the beginning, we knew there would be deaths from COVID-19 in Nebraska and this underscores the potential seriousness of the disease and the importance of the measures we’re taking as individuals and as a state to help slow the spread of the virus.”

Hall County has reported three cases of COVID-19, which include the resident above. These cases have been identified as community spread. Community spread is when people have COVID-19 but public health officials are unable to identify how or where they became infected.

A state Directed Health Measure has been issued for Hall, Hamilton, Merrick, York, Seward, Butler and Polk counties. York, Seward, Butler and Polk are being included in the DHM because they border counties with community spread.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said, “Susanne and I send our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones today. I encourage all Nebraskans to keep these families and all families impacted by coronavirus in their thoughts and prayers.  This is a reminder for all of us to practice the ten-person rule, exercise good hygiene, and to stay home if you’re displaying flu-like symptoms.”

Certain people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the CDC.

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.

* Licensing eased temporarily to provide more child care options

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

Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an executive order Thursday to expand access to childcare options during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The order is intended to activate nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and schools to help provide the care families need now. It eases the licensing requirements to open and operate a temporary, non-residential child care in an alternative setting. The executive order is effective immediately and will remain in place until 30 days after the state lifts the current COVID-19 state of emergency. 

The governor also announced the May 12 primary election will continue as scheduled in Nebraska. He emphasized fulfilling the state’s duty to carry out elections is vital to the health of the democratic republic.  

Secretary of State Bob Evnen provided information on how the election will take place. Evnen said all Nebraska voters will receive an early voting request form by mail, which can be filled out, signed, and sent in to county election officials by May 1 to receive an early voting ballot. He encouraged Nebraskans to vote early by mail or by delivering their ballot to drop boxes located outside of county courthouses.

Evnen confirmed polling sites will be open for Nebraskans who prefer to vote in-person on Election Day. The state will provide sanitation kits at each location, which contain sanitizers and disinfectant wipes, along with masks and gloves for poll workers. Polling sites will not be limited to 10 persons, though each one will have protocols in place to maintain social distance between voters. Information on voting can be found at the Secretary of State’s website.

Nebraska Department of Labor Commissioner John H. Albin provided an update on Nebraska’s unemployment situation. He said there has been a sharp rise in unemployment claims due to the COVID-19 emergency, and he outlined benefits available to Nebraskans who are out of work or have seen their hours reduced.

Any workers in a non-paid status due to COVID-19 may file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits. Currently, the maximum weekly benefit amount is $440 per week. Unemployment claims in Nebraska are filed online at NEworks.nebraska.gov. From March 22 through May 2, NDOL is waiving the requirement to search for work to be eligible for benefits. Additionally, NDOL is waiving the requirement that applicants serve an unpaid waiting week once their eligibility has been determined.

Albin also highlighted the Short-Term Compensation program. It helps to prevent layoffs by allowing employers to uniformly reduce their affected teammates’ hours by 10 percent to 60 percent. Those employees are then eligible to receive a prorated unemployment benefit based on their reduction in hours. For more information, visit www.dol.nebraska.gov/stc.

Ricketts issued a new executive order allowing restaurants and bars to provide mixed drinks with lids for takeout.

“Our restaurants and bars have been some of the hardest hit businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ricketts said. “I've signed an executive order to help them by allowing takeout for pre-made cocktails and other alcoholic beverages as long as they are sealed with a lid.”

* NCDHD encourages cruise night participants to heed distancing recommendations

(Posted 3:15 p.m. March 26)

The North Central District Health Department has been seeing a lot of buzz around communities hosting cruise nights in the area. NCDHD staff want to make sure the public remains healthy, safe and responsible during these events. The health department encourages participants to: 

Ride and remain in a vehicle with the people you live with

Take advantage of drive-through and curbside pickup options

Remember not to congregate in groups of 10 or more

Practice social distancing 6 to 10 feet from others

Many people will want to enjoy the evening, but if you're sick, stay home

We're in this together for each other so remain socially responsible during this time

Most importantly - #clickitorticket

* December taxable sales strong in Rock, Keya Paha, but lag in Brown County

(Posted 3 p.m. March 26)

Comparison of December 2019 and December 2018 Net Taxable Sales for Nebraska Counties and Selected Cities

County
or City

2019
Net Taxable
Sales

2018
Net Taxable
Sales

Percent
Change

2019
Sales Tax
5.5%

2018
Sales Tax
5.5%

Blaine

60,074

61,438

(2.2)

3,304.09

3,379.13

Boyd

1,199,233

1,110,126

8

65,958.05

61,057.20

Brown

3,347,301

3,441,037

(2.7)

184,101.97

189,257.28

Ainsworth

3,153,453

3,234,491

(2.5)

173,440.27

177,897.19

Cherry

5,963,125

6,321,204

(5.7)

327,972.39

347,666.84

Valentine

5,487,804

5,919,746

(7.3)

301,829.62

325,586.44

Holt

10,532,219

10,630,766

(0.9)

579,272.93

584,693.14

Atkinson

2,181,021

2,265,937

(3.7)

119,956.39

124,626.75

O'Neill

6,750,022

6,641,442

1.6

371,251.62

365,279.78

Keya Paha

343,955

282,815

21.6

18,917.62

15,554.98

Rock

891,671

702,148

27

49,042.01

38,618.25

State Total

$3,908,136,199

$2,945,783,420

32.7

$215,219,880.89

$162,259,479.57

Comparison of December 2019 and December 2018 Motor Vehicle Sales Tax Collections by County

County
or City

2019
Net Taxable
Sales

2018
Net Taxable
Sales

Percent
Change

2019
Sales Tax
5.5%

2018
Sales Tax
5.5%

Blaine

67,608

121,489

(44.4)

3,659.17

6,624.85

Boyd

368,939

450,962

(18.2)

20,305.02

24,793.16

Brown

490,077

485,353

1

27,055.98

26,903.82

Cherry

1,014,981

1,059,223

(4.2)

56,123.07

58,449.27

Holt

3,107,793

2,128,254

46

172,037.14

117,809.52

Keya Paha

159,295

139,875

13.9

8,737.16

7,700.12

Rock

385,695

381,833

1

21,272.81

21,029.03

State Total

$386,617,954

$322,356,796

19.9

$21,438,305.91

$17,865,241.93

* NCDHD releases COVID-19 test results for nine-county area

(Posted 12:30 p.m. March 26)

* State Medical Association asks industry for needed supplies

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 26)

The Nebraska Medical Association’s member physicians are calling on all industries to help fulfill an identified need of medical supplies for local physician clinics and hospitals statewide. The NMA is requesting any business that may have a bulk supply of medical equipment, such as surgical masks, N95 masks, eye protection, medical grade disposable gloves, and scrubs, to donate these much-needed supplies.
Small physician clinics and hospitals are running short on supplies and are requesting assistance during this COVID-19 crisis. Examples of businesses that may have access to such supplies are dental clinics, tattoo parlors, nail salons, manufacturing companies and construction companies. Contact your local physician clinic or hospital to make arrangements to drop off needed supplies if you have them available.

* Additional community-spread cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. March 26)

Two community-transmitted cases of coronavirus were identified Wednesday, one in Lancaster County and one in Saunders County.

Both cases were reported Wednesday. Another community transmitted case was identified Tuesday in Sarpy County. Community transmission is when people have COVID-19 but public health officials are unable to identify how or where they became infected.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a second COVID-19 related state Directed Health Measure that includes Lancaster, Dodge, and Saunders counties, which will be in effect until May 6 unless renewed. Washington County will also now be under a DHM until May 6.

Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department ordered Directed Health Measures to further limit the opportunity for community spread of COVID-19.

Five additional COVID-19 cases were also identified in Nebraska. New cases include:

A woman in her 40s from Dodge County who is self-isolating at home.

A woman in her 60s from Washington County who is self-isolating at home. Contact investigations were completed in both of these cases and those identified as close contacts were notified. All identified close contacts will self-quarantine and be actively monitored twice daily by public health officials for fever and respiratory symptoms.

A woman in her 50s from Saunders County who is self-isolating at home and a close contact investigation is underway.  

Two cases are Douglas County residents. One is a woman in her 30s. The other is a woman in her 40s and a close contact investigation is underway.

The state total as of Wednesday night was 68.

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.

Certain people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the CDC. If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

Recent data shows 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.

DHHS has a statewide coronavirus (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.

* NSAA cancels all activities until May 1

(Posted 12:45 p.m. March 25)

All NSAA activity practices and competitions are suspended through May 1. These suspensions may be extended should the conditions warrant.
Member schools and student-participants are expected to adhere to the NSAA Constitution & Bylaws and activity manuals during this time.
The NSAA encourages all member schools to follow CDC, local, state and federal health department recommendations.
As more information becomes available, official updates will be posted on the NSAA website

* Brown County declares State of Emergency relating to COVID-19 pandemic

(Posted 12:30 p.m. March 25)

Brown County Commissioner Chair Buddy Small declared a State of Emergency for the county effective March 24.
The emergency declaration allows for the expenditure of funding from all available sources, the invoking of mutual aid agreements and applying for Governor’s Emergency Fund assistance from the state of Nebraska.
The emergency states Brown County, its cities, villages, businesses and schools, have suffered damage from the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing measures have caused disruption of services and costs incurred for the prevention and protection of the public’s health and safety.

* DHHS cautions Nebraskans of out-of-state travel

(Posted 12:30 p.m. March 25)

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services continues to identify significant numbers of COVID-19 infections in people who recently traveled to other areas of the U.S. or internationally, with spread to other Nebraskans. Data shows over 80% of confirmed cases in the state are either travel related or close contacts of someone who recently traveled.

“Returning travelers pose a serious risk of accelerating the spread of COVID-19 in our state,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS. “We are asking Nebraskans to limit unnecessary travel and any returning travelers should assume that COVID-19 is present at the locations they have visited and traveled through and follow DHHS travel recommendations.”

Returning international travelers from regions with widespread sustained transmission should self-quarantine for 14 days following return.

Widespread local transmission is occurring in many regions of the U.S., and may be unrecognized and underreported due to limited testing. Returning travelers from regions of the U.S. with widespread transmission should self-quarantine for 14 days following return. Examples of these areas are Santa Clara County, CA; New York City, NY; and Seattle, WA. With continued widespread transmission across the U.S., these areas of widespread transmission may change over time.  

Any returning traveler who develops fever or respiratory illness symptoms, should immediately self-isolate, and report to a healthcare provider if symptoms are severe or medical attention is needed (calling ahead, when possible). If symptoms are mild, follow home care guidance and guidance to discontinue self-isolation.

Every health care worker who returns from out-of-state travel should consult with a trained medical professional at their facility and establish a specific infection control protocol (like, wearing personal protective equipment while at work, self-monitoring, or self-quarantine) that mitigates patient and co-worker exposures. Special consideration should be taken for those working with high-risk patients.

Other out-of-state travelers returning from any other international or domestic locations should limit public interactions, practice strict social distancing, self-monitor for symptoms, and self-quarantine for 14 days if feasible.

Discontinuation from self-quarantine and self-monitoring may cease if after 14 days there has been no development of respiratory illness symptoms, which may include: fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose.

CDC guidance states that an individual can stop self-isolation if it has been at least seven days since symptoms first appeared, no fever has been present for at least 72 hours without fever-reducing medicine, and all other symptoms have improved.

* Strategic plan effort led to establishment of KBR Leadership Academy

(Posted noon March 25)

The following article is the fourth in a series of five news releases noting the successful completion of the Ainsworth/ Brown County Strategic Plan priority projects leading up to a town hall meeting to identify new initiatives as priority projects. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the town hall meeting date will be announced later.

KBR LEADERSHIP ACADEMY

In January 2015, Northeast Community College re-established the position of adult and continuing education coordinator to serve the residents in Brown, Rock, and Keya Paha counties, with the office located in Educational Service Unit 17 in Ainsworth.

Concurrently, Northeast Community College also provided a workforce development training coordinator for the entire college area, whose responsibility included working with businesses in north central Nebraska to determine local needs for employee development and training.

The most common response from the local businesses in the Brown, Rock and Keya Paha counties was the need for “leadership development.”

Instead of each county establishing its own program, representatives from each county met to determine the interest and feasibility of a tri-county program to better serve the area. A representative from the Nebraska County Foundation facilitated the visioning session designed to ascertain the possibility of a establishing a joint Brown, Rock, and Keya Paha County Leadership Development Program.

In January 2016, during a county-wide town hall meeting to update the Ainsworth/Brown County Strategic Plan, one of the visionary concepts adopted was to pursue additional “Multi-County Services” involving Brown, Rock, and Keya Paha counties.

In the spring of 2016, based on the results of the feasibility assessment and the input from the town hall, a planning team consisting of representatives from Keya Paha, Brown, and Rock counties was organized to initiate the formation of a KBR Leadership Academy to start in the fall of 2016.

Arrangements were made with the North Central Development Center for financial accounting of receipts and expenditures and with Northeast Community College for organizational and management assistance.

The plan that was developed consisted of a nine-month program, based on the following themes as related to north central Nebraska: leadership skills and personal development, agriculture, healthcare, governance, education, natural resourses, entrepreneurship and volunteerism.

The program is currently in its fourth year of operation, with an average of 15 students per year, five seats made available to each county.

Plans are currently in place in preparation for next year’s KBR Leadership Academy, which has provided a model for success based on cooperation, collaboration, communication, and a joint willingness to seek solutions to local concerns involving multiple government agencies, organizations, and community volunteers in the Keya Paha, Brown, and Rock County area.

* Sandhills Care Center Board appoints Taylor as interim administrator

(Posted 2 p.m. March 24)

During a special meeting Tuesday, the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors appointed Kent Taylor to serve as the facility’s interim administrator following the announced resignation of current Administrator Stephanie Kinzie.

Kinzie submitted a letter of resignation to the board effective April 10.

Taylor, who previously served as the chairman of the Care Center Board, has also served as the manager of the Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative.

Audience member Rod Worrell asked Taylor if he had any sort of medical background, to which Taylor replied he did not.

“I am just here to help them transition into a new, full-time administrator,” Taylor said.

Taylor said his areas of focus would be providing care to the current residents; making sure normal operations continue; gather information to educate himself on the position; communicate plans moving forward to resident families, employees and the community; and prepare for the transition to a new administrator.

The board then entered into executive session, where it planned to hear questions, comments and concerns from employees.

The next regular meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors is scheduled for April 13.

* Hafer discusses closing school for the semester, having students learn from home

(Posted 1 p.m. March 24)

Ainsworth Community Schools Superintendent Dale Hafer appeared on KBRB's Open Line program Tuesday to discuss the decision made to cancel in-person classes for the rest of the semester and move to an online learning environment.
To hear the complete report, click on the audio links below.

audio clips/Dale Hafer Open Line Seg 1 3-24.mp3

audio clips/Dale Hafer Open Line Seg 2 3-24.mp3

audio clips/Dale Hafer Open Line Seg 3 3-24.mp3

audio clips/Dale Hafer Open Line Seg 4 3-24.mp3

* In-person classes cancelled for remainder of school year for ACS, RCPS and SPS

(Posted 9:15 a.m. March 24)

Ainsworth Community Schools, Rock County Public Schools and Stuart Public School announced Tuesday that in-person classes have been cancelled for the remainder of the school year.

The North Central District Health Department, in conjunction with other health districts and the Nebraska Department of Education, recommended public and parochial schools cancel in-person classes for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year.

The NCDHD’s recommendations include giving school administration discretion as to whether faculty and staff continue to report to work. If staff are allowed in school buildings, strict social distancing should be practiced. Staff members should have a symptom screening prior to entering a school building.

The NCDHD recommends building doors be locked to visitors, and all meetings should take place by way of technology. The health department encouraged schools to promote social distancing among students, including limiting time they spend with people outside their household.

Ainsworth Community Schools Superintendent Dale Hafer said the decision was difficult for the district to make, but the district would adhere to the recommendation from the Nebraska Department of Education and the North Central District Health Department.

“We will continue to provide educational opportunities for all students, and our teaching staff has implemented an ongoing continuity of learning plan as required by the Department of Education,” Hafer said. “What this means is education will continue for students, with teachers and staff supporting that learning at least through the planned school calendar.”

Rock County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Becker said, while there are no confirmed cases in the area, the school district encourages everyone to practice social distancing.

“Keeping interactions to a bare minimum will help in disrupting the exposure period and periods of contagiousness,” Becker said. “Our buildings are closed, but education will still take place for our students.”

Becker said the district will stay in contact with parents on remote learning plans are implemented.

Stuart Superintendent Robert Hanzlik said the school will continue with online instruction until the end of the school year. Hanzlik reported Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company is providing 22 free Wi-Fi hotspots for the next two months for students who do not have home Internet service. Students are encouraged to stay in vehicles near the hotspots to encourage social distancing.

Keya Paha County Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Peters said the district will be closed through April 17. A decision on whether to reopen after that date will be made in the future based on conditions.

Peters said teachers will continue to provide online education to students on the current schedule. Breakfast and lunch will continue to be offered.

* Legislature reconvenes to pass $83.6 million to fight coronavirus

(Posted 7 a.m. March 24)

The Nebraska Legislature reconvened Monday and approved an amendment that would provide emergency funding to combat the novel coronavirus pandemic in Nebraska.

Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk suspended the legislative session March 16 in response to growing public health concerns regarding spread of the virus. He called senators back into session this week for the limited purpose of approving emergency COVID-19 pandemic funding.

Scheer thanked lawmakers for their willingness to put themselves at risk to provide additional resources to the executive branch.

“It is truly a historic time in our country and for us to be here—to be able to do something to help the residents of the state of Nebraska,” Scheer said.

Offered by Gering Sen. John Stinner, the amendment would replace the contents of his LB1198, which senators previously had advanced to the second round of debate. The amendment would appropriate a total of $83.6 million to bolster the state’s response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Funds would be transferred from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund to the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund. Dollars then would be directed to a newly created program to be known as the Governor’s Emergency Program – COVID-19, housed within the state’s Military Department.

Stinner said using the new program as the single funding source for the state’s efforts to combat COVID-19, rather than making separate appropriations to individual agencies, would simplify the process and allow adaptability and flexibility.

Among the funding priorities outlined in Gov. Pete Ricketts’ request to the Legislature were:
• $38.2 million for personal protective gear and other supplies and support for local health departments;
• $13 million to maintain staffing at veterans’ homes and state Department of Health and Human Services care facilities;
• $4 million for additional staffing and overtime costs for the DHHS Division of Public Health;
• $2.5 million to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for lab equipment, software programming and personnel;
• $515,000 to UNMC to facilitate COVID-19 testing; and
• $344,000 to establish a statewide communication system to share information related to response efforts.

Stinner said the amendment also would provide $25 million in unobligated funds. The current situation is fluid, he said, and the additional funds would be held in reserve for unforeseen needs that may arise.

“We’ll get through this,” Stinner said. “But now it’s our turn to lay down our partisan politics and pass this bill for the state to protect the safety and well-being of all Nebraskans.”

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz said she hoped to see the unobligated resources prioritized for vulnerable populations served by nursing facilities and federally qualified health centers.

Following adoption of the amendment on a vote of 44-0, lawmakers advanced LB1198 to final reading by voice vote. Lawmakers are scheduled to consider the bill on final reading Wednesday.

* Ricketts extends deadline to pay income tax to July 15

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 24)

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Monday Nebraskans will have until July 15 to pay state income taxes. For Nebraskans impacted by COVID-19, this change will give them additional flexibility. Nebraskans who are not impacted by the virus should consider filing by the traditional April 15 date.

Jason Jackson, director of the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services, joined the governor to provide an update on the state’s continuity plans.  When possible, the state is allowing teammates greater flexibility to work remotely during the pandemic, while ensuring Nebraskans continue to receive excellent service from all agencies.

Ricketts said, as part of National Agriculture Week, he will highlight steps taken by ag producers and companies in Nebraska to serve the public during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Todd Becker, President & CEO of Green Plains, joined the governor to talk about his company’s work to provide essential supplies to Nebraskans. Green Plains, an ethanol producer, is donating industrial alcohol to the state for conversion into hand sanitizer.  In turn, the state will supply the sanitizer to cities and counties that need it.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and actions taken by national health authorities to limit the spread of the disease, the Internal Revenue Service recently granted federal income tax relief to taxpayers. The IRS has automatically extended the tax filing and payment deadlines for federal income taxes from April 15 to July 15.

The state of Nebraska is providing the same relief to state income taxpayers.  The tax filing deadline will automatically be extended to July 15 for state income tax payments and estimated payments that were originally due on April 15. Nebraskans who are able to pay earlier are encouraged to do so to help the state manage its cash flow.

For Nebraskans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that impair their ability to comply with their state tax obligations for taxes administered by the Nebraska Department of Revenue, the Tax Commissioner may grant penalty or interest relief depending on individual circumstances.

* Statewide coronavirus infections stand at 61

(Posted 6:40 a.m. March 24)

Additional cases of COVID-19 have been identified in several Nebraska counties:

New cases include:

* A man and a woman in their 60s who are Washington County residents. They recently traveled and are self-isolating at home. 

* A woman in her 30s from Madison County who is self-isolating at home.

* Three cases in Sarpy County and one in Cass County.

* Four cases in Douglas County.

Contact investigations are underway to identify people who came into close contact to help prevent further spread continue. All identified close contacts will self-quarantine and be actively monitored twice daily by public health officials for fever and respiratory symptoms.

The state total as of tonight is 61.

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.

Certain people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the CDC.

People in these higher-risk groups should: 

* Stock up on supplies, including extra necessary medications.

* Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.

* When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.

* Avoid crowds as much as possible.

* Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.

* If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

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.

Everyone can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by: 

Avoiding close contact with sick people and stay home if you are sick.

Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

DHHS opened a statewide coronavirus 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.

* Superintendent authorized to respond to changing circumstances

(Posted 4 p.m. March 23)

During a remote special meeting Monday, the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education approved a resolution authorizing the superintendent to work with the board president to make decisions on emergency items that may arise prior to the full board being able to convene.

Superintendent Dale Hafer said he wants the district to be prepared in a worst-case scenario.

“If a staff member were to contract COVID-19 or if three board members can’t participate in a meeting, the resolution allows me to work with the board president to make decisions like assigning staff,” Hafer said. “Our goal is to keep people engaged and keep them working. We want to protect our staff if they get the virus and are not able to work.”

Board President Jim Arens said, with the situation changing day to day, the district is going to be making decisions as issues arise.

Board member Brad Wilkins said being able to use good judgment and being able to respond to a changing situation is what the district is looking for.

Hafer said, in addition to working with Arens, he would keep the board updated with any decisions that are made.

“I just wouldn’t want to get hung up on something because we can’t get together and meet,” Hafer said.

The board then declined to take action on a COVID-19 return to work agreement, believing the previous resolution authorized the superintendent and board president to make any needed decisions as relating to a staff member missing work due to a coronavirus designation.

The board opted to have the district’s negotiations committee work with the Ainsworth Education Association to finalize an addendum to the district’s negotiated agreement with certified staff relating to sick days for any staff member diagnosed with coronavirus.

Hafer said the district worked on the addendum with members of the AEA.

“In the event that the employee, their spouse or their child contracts COVID-19, they will receive paid medical leave until they can reassume their duties,” Hafer said.

Wilkins said he believed the staff member should first use their allotted sick leave time before they receive the additional paid medical leave. He said staff members receive $50 per sick day not utilized when they leave the district, so he believed their sick leave should be used first with the additional paid medical leave as a backstop.

Loreece Thornton said forcing staff members to use all their accumulated sick leave first would not be equitable to those who have been with the district for numerous years. The board agreed to have the negotiations committee work with the AEA to craft the addendum based on only using 2019-20 sick leave prior to the additional paid leave taking effect, not the staff member’s entire allotment of accrued sick leave.

During his report, Hafer commended the work of the principals and staff members for their dedication while the district completely changes the way it tries to educate students due to the school closure. He thanked the community and parents for being supportive of the district as well.

“This may be our method for a while,” Hafer said. “We want to try and establish some continuity to finish the school year.”

Hafer said school districts are receiving some guidance from the governor and the Department of Education commissioner.

“There is likely going to be additional guidance from the health department,” the superintendent said. “ESU 17 is working on a joint statement to announce Tuesday.”

Hafer said the district remains dedicated to learning.

“I think we have a good plan in place,” he said. “We are open to input, and we want this to be successful. It is a changing landscape.”

Arens thanked everyone for their work in adapting to the changing conditions.

“You are doing a fantastic job,” Arens said. “I am proud of everyone. This is not an ideal situation.”

Elementary Principal Curtis Childers updated the board on the plans staff are implementing to teach students remotely.

“At the kindergarten through fourth grade level, it will mainly be a weekly packet approach with Zoom or Google lessons,” Childers said. “Packets are being prepared for one week at a time. Communication between staff and parents is even more important now.”

Childers said the middle school is using Google Classroom, and teachers have been connecting with students.

“Parents helping to instruct students at home will be a significant piece of how we operate,” Childers said.

High School Principal Steve Dike said he is making sure fifth through eighth grade students have access to technology.

“We are making sure the lessons get distributed,” Dike said. “Students will look for two or three lessons per week in each instruction area.”

Dike said teachers would attempt to touch base with students each Friday, and will partner with parents so none of the students are lost down the stretch of the school year.

Brown County Hospital Administrator John Werner asked the School Board to consider day care options in the building should the situation escalate.

“We are bumping into daycare issues at the hospital,” Werner said. “The concern with employees at the hospital is that their daycare may shut down, which would put us down several staff members if they can’t find alternatives.”

Hafer said the topic of schools helping to alleviate daycare concerns have also surfaced in other districts.

“We have staff in the same boat,” Hafer said. “There is going to be a need.”

Additional board meetings will be scheduled as needed. The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is slated for 8 p.m. April 13.

* Beware of scams promising government stimulus payments

(Posted 12:30 p.m. March 23)

The United States Treasury Department could soon start issuing relief checks to American families and businesses. Right now - the proposal includes sending two large checks to many Americans and devoting $300 billion toward helping small businesses avoid mass layoffs.

As the country awaits word on how the proposal will work, the Better Business Bureau has a warning. Scammers are already using the relief money to find new ways to trick people into giving it to them.

Anyone who receives a text, e-mail or even a phone call from someone claiming to be from the government with a check is asked to beware.

People are already reporting instances. The fake messages will claim to be able to deposit $1,000 or more directly into a bank account and will likely ask for banking information. Do not, under any circumstance, give away personal information via text, e-mail, or phone.

“This is all a scam. None of it’s true. What’s going to happen is, as soon as you open that text or email or give them information, you’re in a world of hurt for months and years to come, because it’s a rip-off and a scam," said Jim Hegarty, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Nebraska, South Dakota, The Kansas Plains and Southwest Iowa.

Anyone who encounters this scam is asked to report it to the State Attorney General’s Office and help alert others by using the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker.

* Northeast Community College moves online, campus access limited

(Posted 7:15 a.m. March 23)

Northeast Community College will begin offering all credit classes in an online format and limit access to the general public to all of its campuses on Monday, March 23, as the COVID-19 virus continues to cause health concerns across the world.

From the initial activation of Northeast’s incident command team, the goal has been and continues to be to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus. Leah Barrett, Northeast president, said the college will implement several initiatives that specifically address the safety and health of employees.

“This virus does not impact our buildings or systems, it impacts our people, the most precious asset of Northeast. In order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, all Northeast building doors on all campuses will be locked with a sign posted on them noting the reason,” Barrett said. “The college phone number will be posted for guests to call to connect with an office.”

Going forward, Northeast Community College will reduce the number of employees on its main campus at Norfolk, extended campuses at O’Neill, South Sioux City, and West Point and regional offices at Ainsworth and Hartington. 

Barrett said, “We have several people who will work remotely to reduce the risk to individuals who will continue to be working on campus.”

In addition, Northeast Community College is finalizing its business continuity plan that identifies essential functions from each division in order for the institution to continue to operate during a 30-90-day period if employees are mandated to shelter-in-place in their homes by a federal, state or local authority.

While credit classes are moving to an online format, Northeast Community College has begun taking steps to cancel some non-credit classes through May 13 at all of its campuses. Current non-credit healthcare classes currently in-session will be delivered in online or small group formats. Additional credit and non-credit classes, many that are healthcare-related, are scheduled to continue at the request of area healthcare providers.

The Northeast Adult Education Department continues to work on developing remote learning opportunities. Adult Education students are encouraged to reach out to their instructors or the Adult Education office in Norfolk at (402) 844-7253 or email to adulteducation@northeast.edu for guidance on how to proceed on learning opportunities until face-to-face classes resume. 

In addition, all hobby and recreation classes at all locations are cancelled through mid-May.

Northeast Community College is also providing updated information on the growing COVID-19 virus outbreak at  https://northeast.edu/Coronavirus/.

Barrett is appreciative of all the work and patience of Northeast faculty and staff over the past week since preparations for alternative learning and work methods have been developed.

“I know it is not easy to live with so much unknown. We as a college are in this together,” she said. “I look forward to a more typical day in the life of the college where we can celebrate the work of our most valuable resource.”

* Guidance to assist those filing for unemployment due to coronavirus

(Posted 7 a.m. March 23)

Commissioner of Labor John H. Albin encourages workers and businesses to utilize resources available through the Nebraska Department of Labor as they respond to COVID-19.

“We understand this is a time of uncertainty for all Nebraskans, and we are here to support workers and employers as they navigate this challenging situation,” Albin said.

Any workers in a non-paid status due to COVID-19 may file a claim for unemployment insurance benefits. Unemployment claims in Nebraska are filed online at NEworks.nebraska.gov.  The NEworks mobile app is available to download for free.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that from March 22 through May 2, NDOL would be waiving the requirement to search for work, as well as the requirement to serve an unpaid waiting week once eligibility is determined. Employers whose workers file claims tied to COVID-19 will also not be charged for those benefits. Nebraska’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund will instead be used.

In addition to regular unemployment insurance benefits, employers also have the option of utilizing Short-Time Compensation. The Short-Time Compensation program helps prevent layoffs by allowing employers to uniformly reduce affected employees’ hours by 10 to 60 percent while permitting the employees to receive a prorated unemployment benefit. For more information, see the information on this page: https://dol.nebraska.gov/stc

Due to high call volume, unemployment insurance questions should be emailed to ndol.nichelp@nebraska.gov and should include contact information.  Live chat assistance is available on NEworks.nebraska.gov.

Questions specific to short-time compensation should be sent to NDOL.STCLegal@nebraska.gov

There is no requirement to visit a job center to access these benefit programs. The job centers are adhering to social distancing guidance to protect the health of customers and the NDOL team.

* Ricketts requests more than $58 million to aid coronavirus response

(Posted 7 a.m. March 23)

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced he is requesting $58.6 million of emergency funding from the Nebraska Legislature to support the State’s efforts to combat coronavirus.

Dr. Gary Anthone discussed the state’s procedures to test patients for COVID-19 and to trace contacts of anyone testing positive for the disease.  He also talked about how the state and the medical community are expanding capacity to perform tests.

The governor’s emergency funding request includes appropriations for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Nebraska Medical Center for the initiatives listed below:

DHHS Public Health

Local Response Efforts - $38.2 million

This will provide additional funding for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other supplies to local jurisdictions, and support to local health departments for staffing, PPE, call centers, information technology needs including additional laptops/servers, and other essential expenditures.

DHHS Staffing - $4 million

Due to the size of the response and need to cover response needs, additional staffing expenditures are needed to cover costs for overtime and additional staff.  The areas that need immediate surge and sustained staffing are epidemiology, support services (administrative, communications, and data entry), emergency preparedness, and contracts for staffing in epidemiology and interpreters to meet the increased demands of the Division of Public Health.

Surge Staffing for Veterans Hospitals & DHHS Care Facilities - $13 million

Additional staffing expenditures are needed to cover costs for overtime and additional staff to maintain facility healthcare coverage needs.  The areas that need immediate surge and sustained staffing are veterans homes and DHHS care facilities including nursing, administrative, and other health care professionals.  This was calculated to cover a surge of 50% in additional staffing needs in the event that staff is unable to care for individuals at the facilities due to staff quarantine or isolation requirements.

UNMC

COVID-19 Lab Testing - $515,000

This would augment the cost of the reagents, laboratory personnel, and equipment to conduct COVID-19 lab testing for the state.  This would include funds to purchase a combined sample extraction/detection robot for efficient and accurate serial processing of specimens, reducing staffing needs.  This would be to support increased efficiency and capacity of statewide testing through the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory.

Lab Equipment, Software Programming, and Personnel - $2.5 million

The equipment includes higher throughput automated equipment for microbiology and molecular diagnostics.  The increased testing throughput will be implemented on a fast track within the next 2-4 weeks but would support a prolonged outbreak, which is likely, as well as help prepare for future outbreaks.  All funds would be dedicated to support statewide needs.

UV Light Boxes - $100,000

The UV light boxes would provide tertiary cleaning of N95 respirators for reuse by healthcare workers.

Knowledge Center - $343,900

This system is used by coalitions and all stakeholders across the state to establish an interoperable platform for communication, bed tracking, resource sharing, and an overall interoperable platform.

* Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 provides guidance for coronavirus response now

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 23)

For many Nebraskans, COVID-19 will be like a cold. But for some, it could be very severe, and could result in death. 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.

Even if you are healthy, you can pass COVID-19 on to others who can be severely affected. Help protect those you love by avoiding crowds, distancing yourself from other people and isolating yourself even if you think you just have the “sniffles.” We all have a responsibility to protect our loved ones, and others’ loved ones.

The phrase “flattening the curve” refers to the same potential number of cases appearing over a greater period of time. When a spike in cases occurs, health care resources can be overwhelmed. A flatter curve is slower, allowing people to recover and hospitals can continue to provide care to those who need it. Flattening the curve means everybody does their part to reduce spread for as long as possible.

Influenza struck the United States in spring 1918. By summer it seemed the outbreak was over, but a second wave of cases occurred in September. Two cities’ responses to the return of disease shed light on why efforts to “flatten the curve” are so important.

Philadelphia officials didn’t want to cancel a major, city-wide parade, worried about causing a panic. Eight hundred and eighty-five miles to the west, in St. Louis, Missouri, public officials had already cancelled that city’s parade.

On September 28, about 200,000 Philadelphians in close quarters watched the parade of floats and marching bands. The first flu cases showed up two days later. By the end of the third day, flu patients filled every bed in every hospital in the city, and by the end of the week, 2,600 people had died. Over the next several weeks, more than 12,000 people in Philadelphia died of the flu.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, only about 700 people died of the flu. Keeping people home saved thousands of lives in St. Louis, while people gathering in large numbers cost thousands of lives in Philadelphia.

Social distancing doesn’t prevent all disease but it can prevent a spike in cases so severe that hospitals become overwhelmed.

As Nebraskans, we face our challenges together and we all have a role to play this response.

Practice social distancing, which means put at least 6 feet of space between you and others.

Follow 10-person gathering limit guidance.

Social and public gatherings are limited to 10 people.

Bars and restaurants are limited to 10 people and are strongly encouraged to move to drive thru, take-out, delivery only.

Child care providers should also follow the 10-person guidance with the goal of reducing class sizes and increasing space between children.

Grocery stores will continue operations but should prioritize ordering, pickup, and delivery.

With community transmission of COVID-19 now occurring in the metro area, stricter and enforceable directed health measures are now in place for Cass, Douglas, Sarpy and Washington Counties.

Stay home if you are sick and avoid contact with sick people

Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

* Statewide coronavirus cases now stand at 50

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 23)

Two additional cases of COVID-19 were identified in two Nebraska counties Sunday, bringing the statewide total of confirmed cases to 50.

A woman in her 40s from Dawson County who recently traveled tested positive. She is currently self-isolating at home.

Douglas County also announced an additional travel-related case.

Both local health departments have initiated contact investigations to identify people who came into close contact to help prevent further spread. All identified close contacts will self-quarantine and be actively monitored twice daily by public health officials for fever and respiratory symptoms.

Public health officials say returning travelers should assume that COVID-19 is present at the locations they have visited and traveled through and follow these recommendations:

* All returning travelers from any international or domestic location should limit public interactions, practice strict social distancing, and self-monitor for symptoms.

* Returning travelers from regions with widespread sustained transmission plus U.S. locales such as Seattle, New York City, and Santa Clara County, California should immediately self-quarantine.

* If a returning traveler develops fever or respiratory illness, they need to immediately self-isolate and report to a healthcare provider or local health department.

* Individuals unable to observe the 14-day self-quarantine should consult with their local health department about appropriate actions.

* Every health care worker who returns from travel should consult with a trained medical professional and establish a specific infection control protocol that mitigates patient and co-worker exposures.

Both state and local health departments are testing and publicly reporting their cases.

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.

Certain people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the CDC.

People in these higher-risk groups should:

Stock up on supplies, including extra necessary medications.

Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.

When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.

Avoid crowds as much as possible.

Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.

If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

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.

* Disaster loans now available for small businesses

(Posted 4:30 p.m. March 20)

Gov. Pete Ricketts reported Friday the Small Business Administration has issued a statewide economic injury declaration for Nebraska.  The declaration qualifies small businesses throughout the state to apply for SBA disaster assistance loans.

“As Nebraska steps up its efforts to combat coronavirus, we’ve limited the size of public gatherings and asked people to stay home when possible,” Ricketts said. “These temporary measures are vitally important to public health, but they present challenges for the day-to-day operations of many small businesses. Nebraska is grateful to the SBA and Administrator Carranza for offering much-needed financial assistance to our hard-working store owners and entrepreneurs at this time.”

Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Tony Goins said, “The hard work and creativity of Nebraska’s small business owners enriches our communities and grows our state. SBA loans will give small businesses the needed financial resources to weather the current pandemic and will set them up to thrive throughout the rest of 2020.”

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer low interest rates and long-term repayment options. Specific terms are determined on a case-by-case basis.

Small businesses and private nonprofit organizations of any size can apply for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela.  Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955.

* Campbell provides additional coronavirus information

(Posted 3:30 p.m. March 20)

Dr. Mel Campbell from the Brown County Hospital and Ainsworth Family Clinic provided additional suggestions to the public following another week where the coronavirus landscape changed on a daily basis.
To hear his recommendations, click on the audio links below.

audio clips/Dr Campbell 3-20 Seg 1.mp3

audio clips/Dr Campbell 3-20 Seg 2.mp3

audio clips/Dr Campbell 3-20 Seg 3.mp3

* Ainsworth Food Pantry available to assist those impacted by coronavirus protocols

(Posted noon March 20)

The Ainsworth Ministerial Association reminds those in the area the Ainsworth Food Pantry is available to assist people who have been impacted by coronavirus protocols. If there are cars at the Zion Lutheran Church, knock on the glass doors and wait in the entryway until someone answers. If there are no cars, call 402-760-2067 and a time will be arranged.

* Area officials meet to coordinate response to coronavirus

(Posted 10 a.m. March 20)

A group of community health care leaders as well as representatives from Ainsworth Community Schools, the city of Ainsworth, Brown County Sheriff’s Department and the Ainsworth Ministerial Association met Wednesday to discuss the concerns people in the community have regarding COVID-19 and the impact it may have on the community.

Each entity continues working closely with the North Central District Health Department and the Department of Health and Human Services and monitoring closely CDC recommendations regarding the virus.

The situation has changed dramatically in the last week. Community members are now being asked to practice social distancing, which includes meetings of no larger than 10 people and maintaining a distance of 6 feet rom others when possible. Everyone is also being asked to limit any unnecessary travel. It is important the community continues to self-monitor any symptoms. Symptoms of COVID-19 are a fever of 100.4 degrees and above, cough and shortness of breath.

Be proactive:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick

Take everyday preventive actions

Clean your hands often

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place.

If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, etc. these are the easiest ways to transmit a virus

Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones)

Practice social distancing including meetings of 10 or less and 6 feet apart.

Refrain from unnecessary travel

Health care leaders will provide updates to the public if conditions and recommendations change.

Anyone experiencing symptoms is asked to call the Brown County Hospital for direction on how to proceed.

* Assessor's office available by email to assist with personal property returns

(Posted 7 a.m. March 20)

The Brown County Assessor’s office reminds residents that personal property schedules are due by May 1.  With the courthouse closed, the assessor’s office can receive the schedules by mail at 148 W. 4th St., Suite #6, by fax at 402-387-1621 or by e-mail at assessor@browncountyne.org.
The assessor’s office will process the schedules and mail them back for a signature.
Homestead exemptions are not due until June 30. The assessor’s office can assist with those applications, but is asking people to follow the social distancing procedures.
As another option, accountants are able to fill out the income portions, as they have all the required data. Once completed, the forms may be mailed, faxed or emailed to the assessor’s office.

* Ricketts issues order easing requirements for drivers

(Posted 6:50 a.m. March 20)

Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an executive order Thursday to increase flexibility in requirements for Nebraska residents relating to driver licensing and vehicle registration requirements.  Acknowledging the restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Governor is extending driver licenses and vehicle registrations expiring on or after March 1st.  The extension will remain in effect until 30 days after the order is lifted.

Driver Licenses or State IDs – The extension will apply to all driver licenses, state identification cards, permits, or other credential issued by the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles.  Customers will still be able to renew credentials online; however, the aim is to reduce the number of individuals requiring in-person assistance.  This step will assist with social distancing and reduce the need for people to travel to driver licensing offices.

Vehicle Titling & Registrations Any vehicle title requirements, registrations, in-transit tags, or motor carrier temporary documents due to expire on or after March 1 will be extended until 30 days after this executive order is lifted.

IFTA requirements – Any Nebraska penalties or interest associated with late filing of quarterly returns for members of the International Fuel Tax Agreement  will be waived.

Ignition Interlock Providers Monthly inspection and reporting requirements under the ignition interlock program will be provided a two-week extension period for all existing interlock customers.  Additional extensions may be available, as determined on a case-by-case basis.

The Department of Motor Vehicles will continue to look at ways to assist customers impacted by the restrictions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

All Nebraska residents are encouraged to take advantage of the dozens of online services available at dmv.nebraska.gov.

* Nebraska coronavirus confirmed total stands at 32

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 20)
 

Four additional cases of coronavirus were identified in three Nebraska counties.
Two cases are Lincoln County residents. One is a female in her 40s who recently traveled to Colorado and the other is a male in his 20s who was in close contact with a person who previously tested positive for COVID-19. Both new cases are self-isolating at home -
One case is a man in his 60s from Nemaha County who also recently traveled to Colorado. He is isolating at home.
One case is a man in his 40s from Sarpy County with underlying health issues. He is currently hospitalized.
All local health departments involved have initiated close contact investigations to identify people who came into close contact to help prevent further spread. All identified close contacts will self-quarantine and be actively monitored twice daily by public health officials for fever and respiratory symptoms.
As of Thursday night, the state case total is 32. Both state and local health departments are testing and publicly reporting their cases.
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. The provider can evaluate and determine if testing is necessary.
Certain people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the CDC.

People in these higher-risk groups should: 

  • Stock up on supplies, including extra necessary medications.

  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.

  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.

  • Avoid crowds as much as possible.

  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.

  • If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

 

Everyone can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by: 

  • Avoiding close contact with sick people and stay home if you are sick.

  • Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.

  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

* Brown County Courthouse now closed until further notice

(Posted 3 p.m. March 19)

The Brown County Courthouse will be closed to the public until further notice. Courthouse staff will report during normal hours, and courts will remain in session on scheduled days. Residents may contact the respective offices by phone, email or mail.
The driver’s license examiner will not be available on Fridays in the courthouse until further notice.

* Lions Club discusses potential of All-Sports Tailgate Party being postponed

(Posted 1:15 p.m. March 19)

During its recent meeting, David Spann told the Ainsworth Lions Club Board plans are up in the air for the All-Sports Tailgate Party the club hosts for Ainsworth High School athletes and coaches.

Spann said school officials do not know how long current policies prohibiting school events and activities will be in effect due to the concerns of the current coronavirus situation. The open-to-the-public program, held to recognize students, coaches and sponsors, is scheduled for April 28.  Plans for the event and meal will continue pending more information.

Lions Club President Vergil Heyer received an International President’s Certificate of Appreciation award that reads: “In recognition of Distinguished Achievements in Fulfilling the Mission of Lions Clubs International to Affirm the Appreciation and Gratitude of the Association.”

Following discussion on possible change from the current policy of alternating noon/evening monthly meetings to all noon or all evening, the club decided to continue alternating the meeting time for another year.   

Members discussed continuing the Ainsworth School Fourth Grade Foresters Tree Planting Project. This has been sponsored by the Ainsworth Lions for the past several years and was led by former Lions Club member and Elementary Principal Sarah Williams. Vance Heyer volunteered to contact the current elementary principal and fourth grade teachers to determine their interest in continuing the program and report back to the club. The program allows trees to be given to all fourth-grade students to take home and plant.

Lions Club Alumni Banquet Chairman Roland Paddock reported he will be in contact with Ainsworth High School 25-year class representative for the banquet regarding a proposal to provide the dinner for this year’s event. The club will submit an offer to prepare and serve the dinner. It was discussed that this event, much like the All Sports Tailgate Party, may or may not be held.

The members reviewed the current list of those serving as officers and directors and positions that need to have nominations for these positions for 2020-2021.  

The club voted to join the Ainsworth Chamber of Commerce with dues of $100.  In other business, Heyer and members discussed possible financial assistance to programs at the school and/or senior center for those needing help during this difficult time for food and meals.

Contacts will be made to follow up and report back to the club on how the club may be able to help.

* Measures enforced for Douglas County after second community transmission

(Posted 1 p.m. March 19)

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced the state’s first Directed Health Measure for the coronavirus outbreak. The Directed Health Measure imposes an enforceable limit on public gatherings. The measure comes after the Douglas County Public Health Department confirmed its second case of community transmission of COVID-19.

The measure applies to all communities in Educational Service Units 3 and 19, which includes Douglas, Sarpy, Cass and Washington counties. It will be in effect until April 30.

Among other steps, the measure requires restaurants and bars in these areas to close their dining areas immediately and move to takeout service, delivery, and/or curbside service only until further notice. Additionally, schools in these areas are directed to operate without students in their buildings. This restriction does not apply to school staff working in school buildings.

Regions of Nebraska outside of ESUs 3 and 19 remain under the guidance issued on Monday by the Governor’s Office. If a community transmission case of COVID-19 occurs in other regions of the state, the governor will announce measures covering the additional regions.

In addition to the measures issued by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Douglas County Public Health Director Dr. Adi M. Pour has also issued an order covering Douglas County from March 18 through April 30. 

The 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.

Restaurants and bars are encouraged to ask their patrons if they can prepare their order for takeout upon arrival. Restaurants will play a key part in feeding people throughout the pandemic.

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 measures do 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.

* Rock County Courthouse closes to the public

(Posted 12:30 p.m. March 19)

Effective immediately, the Rock County Courthouse will be closed to the public. Offices can be reached by phone or e-mail. In-person contacts will have to be made by appointment.
The courthouse encourages residents to use online resources & mail. The May 12 Primary Election is approaching, and Clerk Daunitta Buoy encourages residents to apply for early ballots, which will be mailed beginning April 6.

* Northeast Community College moving to online classes Monday

(Posted 12:15 p.m. March 19)

Northeast Community College is moving all credit classes to an online format as the institution deals with the impact the COVID-19 virus continues to have on society. Online classes begin on Monday, March 23. On-campus housing in Norfolk will be impacted as well.

Leah Barrett, president, said in order to mitigate the spread of the virus, it is imperative to change the operation of the college for the foreseeable future.

By using protocols established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommendations by the Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department, Northeast Community College will move all credit classes to an online format beginning Monday, March 23, and continue in this format through the end of the spring 2020 term,” Barrett said. “We will continue to work with students and families, but the general public is discouraged from visiting our campuses.”

College housing and food service will be closed to all students on the Norfolk campus except those who are unable to return to a permanent residence during the remainder of the spring term. Students will have until March 27 to move out of their rooms. To follow social distancing recommendations, students must make an appointment with Residence Life staff to check out. Housing and meal plan refunds will be calculated based on the closing date of March 20.

“In addition,” Barrett said, “all activities and events that were scheduled at any Northeast location have been cancelled through the end of the semester, however, no decision has been made at this time on the May 16 commencement ceremony.”

Barrett credits College employees for working diligently over the past week to move a plan of action forward to ensure that students will still receive their educational training this spring.

“The Northeast faculty and staff have risen to the occasion! The spirit of teamwork has been incredible as we work to move academic content online, while ensuring the safety of our college community members,” she said. “Our staff and faculty have been creative, thoughtful and determined to meet our mission and become a stronger college community.”

Barrett said the ever-evolving situation surrounding the Coronavirus has created much uncertainty. She understands how unsettling it is.

“Our hope is that through the work of our dedicated faculty and staff, the pursuit of our students’ academic goals will continue. I want to reassure them that we are here for them and will work them. We ask that everyone practices kindness, thoughtfulness and understanding as we work through this situation as a community. Brighter days are ahead - we will persevere!”

* Total of 27 coronavirus cases reported statewide, no deaths

(Posted 7:30 a.m. March 19)

The second community spread case of coronavirus was identified in Douglas County Wednesday - a man in his 40s who is currently hospitalized. The Douglas County Health Department determined he did not become infected while traveling or through contact with a person with COVID-19. He has no travel history, few close contacts and no public exposure. There is one household member who is self-quarantined.

“We do expect additional community transmission of COVID-19 in Nebraska,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. “We will continue aggressive efforts to slow the spread of disease in Nebraska so that our hospitals and clinics won’t be overwhelmed and can continue to provide care for those who may need it. Protect those you love and your friends and neighbors by staying home if you’re sick, avoiding crowds and distancing yourself from others.”

As already seen in some areas, Nebraskans should expect additional closures and cancellations in their communities as the state works to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Douglas County Health Department also reported three additional travel-related cases of COVID-19. They are a woman in her 60s, a man in his 60s, and a man in his 40s.

Another case is a woman in her 40s from Adams County who recently traveled to Europe. She is currently self-isolating at home.

As of Wednesday night, the state case total is 27. Both state and local health departments are testing and publicly reporting their cases. In the event of a discrepancy between DHHS cases and cases reported by local public health officials, data reported by the local health department should be considered the most up to date.

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. The provider can evaluate and determine if testing is necessary. Flu activity is also still high in Nebraska. Flu tests should be considered as a first test option before considering a COVID-19 test.

Public health officials, health care providers, and laboratories are working daily to increase Nebraska’s capacity to test more people for COVID-19.

Currently, testing supplies are limited. Local, state, and federal partners are working to expand testing supplies and the ability to test people experiencing symptoms as quickly as possible.

Health care providers and local health departments are screening people to prioritize testing for those who have the highest likelihood of being exposed.

Public health partners across the state continue to take action to protect the health of Nebraskans.

Certain people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the CDC.

DHHS opened a statewide coronavirus 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 assures public of state food supply reliability

(Posted 7:30 a.m. March 19)

Gov. Pete Ricketts assured Nebraskans Wednesday of the reliability and accessibility of the state’s food supply. 

“As our state goes through this unprecedented public health challenge, I want Nebraskans to know that we will have plenty of food available,” Ricketts said. “The U.S. has the most efficient supply chain of food in the world, and it’s operating effectively.  Grocery stores are open, and restaurants will continue to serve Nebraskans throughout the pandemic with takeout and drive-thru options.”

In keeping with federal guidelines, the state of Nebraska has issued guidance limiting public gatherings to 10 people or less. This social distancing measure is part of a nationwide effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Cities and counties may issue more restrictive local guidelines in the interest of public health.

* Commissioners hear update on Sand Draw box culvert project

(Posted 10:45 a.m. March 18)

The contracted engineer and a representative from the Nebraska Department of Transportation provided the Brown County Commissioners Tuesday with an update on the Sand Draw Creek box culvert replacement project on Meadville Avenue.

Engineer Gary Steele with Miller and Associates said the original plan at the site was to replace the damaged box culvert and build a structure to handle the water that drops substantially in elevation at the site.

“Then, the storms in September happened, and it has changed the entire scope of the project,” Steele said. “The storm took out the box culvert and lowered the stream level about 20 feet.”

Steele said having the stream level change made all the preliminary work the engineering firm had performed null and void.

“We received permission from the NDOT to proceed with a resurvey of the site,” Steele said. “That work was completed two weeks ago. We are creating a plan to move forward, and hope to have that done in the next week.”

Audience member Rod Palmer questioned the continued delays on the replacement as Meadville Avenue continues to be detoured.

“It seems to me like there has been time to do all these studies already, and they aren’t done,” Palmer said.

NDOT representative Paul Kieper said, when the box culvert was completely washed away in September, the hydrology at the site changed.

“The water level is different from what was studied,” Kieper said. “We had to have two supplemental agreements with the engineer after the box culvert blew out.”

Steele said another hydrology and hydraulic study will be completed in April to determine the type of structure that will be needed to handle anticipated flows and future 25-year flooding events.

“We will work with the NDOT to determine the proper structure to design,” Steele said. “The most streamlined approach would be a box culvert, but that doesn’t make sense if it is going to wash out again. It will impact the schedule further if we end up going with a bridge instead of a box culvert.”

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said 25-year floods seem to be happening every two years, and he questioned building a structure only designed to withstand a 25-year flood.

Kieper said most projects are designed now based off 100-year flood projections instead of 25-year events.

Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District Director Mike Murphy questioned why the county was not considering a more substantial project, such as constructing a dam, at the site. He asked why the Army Corps of Engineers has not been consulted about the possibility of a dam, as a box culvert or bridge won’t solve the major watershed issues and the head cutting that will continue west on the Sand Draw Creek now that the original box culvert is gone.

Commissioner Buddy Small said the public wants Meadville Avenue reopened to travel. He said he had maybe two people talk to him about a possible dam.

Commissioner Denny Bauer said it would be another six or seven years before a dam project would even start.

“Our priority is to get the road fixed,” Bauer said. “Someone else will have to work on a dam.”

Kieper said the Department of Transportation was not interested in working on a dam project at the site.

“The NDOT’s scope is to get the road open expeditiously through a box culvert or bridge,” Kieper said. “We are coming up with estimates of around $1.3 million for a new box culvert and drop structure.”

He said $1.6 million was the maximum the Federal Highway Administration would approve for cost-share, so any project that exceeds that total would fall squarely on the county’s shoulders.

Murphy said he believed the commissioners needed to meet with the public and stakeholders in the area to discuss a dam project for the watershed and determine what is actually in the long-term best interests of Brown County.

Audience members asked about the timeline for actually getting the work completed and Meadville Avenue reopened.

Kieper said, realistically, the design portion of the project could be completed by this fall. That would allow the NDOT to go out for bids, with the goal of construction beginning in the spring of 2021.

Steele said he would keep the commissioners updated as the preliminary work progressed.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners agreed to pay up to $7,000 in diesel fuel to have Doug O’Hare continue to pump water from the ditch near his property on Moon Lake Avenue.

O’Hare said, without pumping the water at the site, it will go over the top of Moon Lake Avenue. He said he has been pumping the water, and asked if the county would help pay for fuel to continue to do so.

Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin said there are already spots at the site where water is at the edge of the roadway.

“If it isn’t pumped, it won’t be passable,” Turpin said. “It is cheaper to pump the water than it would be to build up the road.”

Wiebelhaus said O’Hare was doing the county a service by pumping the water, and the board agreed to assist in the cost of the fuel to continue the effort.

In other roads items, Turpin said the department has installed several culverts that have helped to alleviate water issues, and have more culverts that need to be installed or replaced.

He discussed problems with erosion on newly repaired sections of the Elsmere Road. Turpin said high winds create waves that are eroding the stretches where the road was elevated to make it passable.

The board encouraged Turpin to try and install snow fence at the site to cut down on the movement of the water near the road.

The board approved advertising for bids to replace a 1979 John Deere scraper that Turpin said is leaking transmission oil and engine oil and is inoperable. He said it would cost between $7,000 and $30,000 to fix a machine that is completely worn out.

He said a used scraper would likely cost between $70,000 and $200,000. The board approved advertising for bids for the machine and to also get bids to potentially lease a scraper.

Brown County Agricultural Society representatives Kenny Eggers and Dave Sherman asked the board for permission to go out for bids on replacing the restrooms on the west side of the fairgrounds.

Sherman said the Ag Society has raised about $40,000 toward the project, but was denied a grant from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

He said the North Central Development Center received a $20,000 donation to put toward the project, and the Brown County Foundation awarded the Ag Society $5,000 per year over the next three years.

While the group has been working on a grant application through the USDA, the added requirements of the grant would drive the project cost up substantially to the point where, even if a grant was awarded, it would likely only cover the added cost of complying with the grant requirements.

The board approved allowing the Agricultural Society to advertise for bids for the restroom replacement.

The commissioners provided raises to several employees, including raising Turpin’s pay to $29 per hour. The zoning administrator will now receive $18 per hour, and the weed control superintendent will earn $22 per hour. The veterans services officer, whose wages are split between Brown, Rock and Keya Paha counties, will earn $28 per hour.

Veterans Services Officer Judy Walters asked the commissioners to approve an ongoing veterans memorial committee to handle maintenance and upkeep for the Veterans Memorial. The committee would be responsible for replacing worn flags and updating the memorial with new names. The board agreed to draft a resolution to approve during its next meeting, scheduled for April 7.

* All area driver's license driving tests postponed until further notice

(Posted 9:30 a.m. March 18)

Brown County Treasurer Deb Vonheeder encourages all residents to mail in their vehicle renewals and real estate tax payments. While the treasurer’s office will remain open, those items can be completed by mail.
While the driver’s license examiner will continue to operate on regular hours in the area, no driving tests will be conducted until further notice. Online services are available through the state of Nebraska for driver’s license renewals and vehicle registration renewals.
Vonheeder said the goal of the treasurer’s office is to continue to provide services to county residents, but the office is also trying to do its part to keep everyone safe and encourage social distancing.

* Keya Paha County closes courthouse, Brown County asks people to use mail and phone

(Posted 7 a.m. March 18)

Brown County

The Brown County Commissioners and Clerk Travee Hobbs are asking the public to limit visits to the Brown County Courthouse.

While the courthouse will remain open, officials ask those who can conduct their business by mail or by phone to do so for the foreseeable future.

Hobbs said there may be some things people have to do in person. In those cases, people are asked to call the office they need to visit and schedule an appointment to encourage social distancing.

Hobbs said people may also request absentee ballots now to keep them from having to attend a polling location May 12 for the Primary Election. Absentee ballots may be requested from the clerk’s office, and will be mailed out April 6. They must be returned by the close of polls May 12.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said the county would try to list times on future commissioner agendas for each item, and asks people interested in attending to limit their attendance to only the items directly concerning them.

That call came after more than 20 people attended Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners. The commissioners also discussed the potential to set up a line so people could call in to listen to upcoming commissioner meetings.

 

Keya Paha County

In an attempt to combat the spread of the coronavirus and cooperate with the government and health department requirements, the Keya Paha County Commissioners have decided to close the Keya Paha County Courthouse to the public beginning Wednesday and continuing through March 31.

The time frame for the closure will be monitored and may be extended. This decision was made to protect the officials, staff and public from the spreading of coronavirus. The clerk and the treasurer’s office will continue their day to day operations and can be contacted through their regular phone number and email addresses. In addition, there will be a depository located in the south entry of the courthouse for materials that must be physically filed. All other doors will remain locked. Residents may contact the courthouse for urgent matters that will be handled individually and by appointment only.

The county road crews will continue to work from home locations on an as-needed basis. The county road shop will be closed to the public.

The commissioners thank residents for their cooperation and apologize for any inconvenience.

* Ainsworth Community Schools offering meal pick-up service

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

Ainsworth Community Schools will begin providing breakfast and lunch meals Wednesday, March 18, to any children in the community ages 1-18. To encourage social distancing, the school will run pickup locations at the Big A west of the high school, as well as the east and west elementary school entrances with three time slots that are alphabetical by last name.

Check the school’s website and Facebook page for meal pick-up times or call the office. Meals will be provided on Mondays and Wednesdays. Multiple meals will be provided during each pick-up time to correspond with the week.

The schedule for picking up meals on Mondays and Wednesdays by last name:

11:15 to 11:30 a.m.: A - C (Big A Doors) D - F (West Elem Doors) G - I (East Elem Doors)

11:30 to 11:45 a.m.: J - K (Big A Doors) L - N (West Elem Doors) O - Q (East Elem Doors)

11:45 a.m. to Noon: R - T (Big A Doors) U - Z (West Elem Doors)

* Unemployment filing restrictions loosened for those impacted by guidelines

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

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Tuesday issued an executive order to permit the loosening of eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance benefits.  In line with federal guidance, Ricketts is allowing the Nebraska Department of Labor to waive several requirements for claims filed between March 22 and May 2. This timeframe will be evaluated as the situation with COVID-19 progresses.

Work Search - This change applies to all workers filing for unemployment. While many job search efforts are conducted online, waiving the requirement to search for work is in line with the social distancing practices that are needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 and potential exposure to the disease.  The change will also accommodate those workers who are temporarily impacted by COVID-19, including those who are in an unpaid status due to a shutdown, quarantine, or because they are caring for a family member due to illness or a facility closure. 

Unpaid Waiting Week - This change will make the first week of eligibility payable rather than an unpaid waiting week and will help all unemployment recipients get their payments sooner.

Employer charging - Unemployment benefits are typically paid with contributions from employers. NDOL will temporarily waive charges incurred by employers whose team members are filing claims related to COVID-19.  Nebraska has a healthy Trust Fund that will be utilized to pay for unemployment benefits tied to COVID-19.

The Department of Labor will continue to look at ways to streamline the process of filing for and receiving unemployment insurance benefits as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve.

Workers needing to file for unemployment benefits should do so online at NEworks.nebraska.gov.  The NEworks mobile app is available to download free for those who don’t have computer access.  For technical assistance, access the NEworks live chat feature, email ndol.nichelp@nebraska.gov, or call 402-458-2500.

* More coronavirus cases confirmed Tuesday, statewide total to 24

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

A doctor who worked at Bellevue Medical Center over the weekend has received an initial positive test for COVID-19. It is believed this case is related to a recent visit to Florida. All patients and staff members who came in contact with this person have been contacted and advised on proper precautions they should take in light of the presumptive positive test. After a thorough investigation, nine patients who had contact with this doctor have been notified. The test result must be verified by the CDC in order to be considered official. However, we are taking precautions as if that were already the case.

The doctor developed symptoms after working at the hospital this weekend and was immediately tested. The doctor is now at home in isolation, experiencing mild symptoms at this time.

Additional cases of coronavirus have been reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

One case is man in his 30s from Knox County. He recently traveled to another state where there is community transmission of COVID-19. He is self-isolating at home

One case is a man in his 50s from Lincoln County who recently was on a cruise and traveled to California. He is also self-isolating at home.

Three are Douglas County residents.

All local health departments involved have initiated close contact investigations to identify people who came into close contact to help prevent further spread. All identified close contacts will self-quarantine and be actively monitored twice daily by public health officials for fever and respiratory symptoms.

The statewide case total is 24.

Public health partners across the state continue to take action to protect the health of Nebraskans.

Certain people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the CDC.

People in these higher-risk groups should: 

Stock up on supplies, including extra necessary medications.

Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.

When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.

Avoid crowds as much as possible.

Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.

If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.

 

Everyone can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by: 

Avoiding close contact with sick people and stay home if you are sick.

Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.

Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

* Department of Education provides guidance on alternative education

(Posted 7:15 a.m. March 17)

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state rises, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) is sharing additional guidance on alternate learning environments, nutrition, and assessment. In all recommendations, the priority remains the safety and well-being of all students, educators, staff, and community members.

Alternate Learning Environments

By Monday, March 23, the NDE recommends that all schools across the state move to an alternate learning structure with students no longer reporting to a traditional school setting, until further notice. School districts should work regionally by educational service unit to develop an orderly plan to transition to an alternate learning environment by Friday, March 20, unless told to close sooner. Schools should be prepared to operate in the alternate learning environment for six-eight weeks, with a review of operations every two weeks, including plans for re-opening.

Assessment and Accountability

The NDE is aware of concerns regarding the state’s assessment and accountability systems and the impact of COVID-19 and related closures on these policies. The NDE is suspending summative statewide assessment (NSCAS) for the 2019-2020 school year. This includes NSCAS – General, Alternate, and ACT.  The NDE intends to pursue federal waivers for testing, accountability, and reporting requirements. The NDE is working with ACT to determine if all public high school juniors who would normally take the ACT as part of the statewide assessment may have the opportunity to take the ACT free-of-charge at a later date.

* NCDHD recommends 2-week school recess due to coronavirus

(Posted 7 a.m. March 17)

In light of the expanding coronavirus pandemic, and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the North Central District Health Department on Monday is advising public and parochial schools in its nine-county area to begin a two-week recess beginning Tuesday.

Classes would tentatively be scheduled to resume March 31. With the incubation period of coronavirus between two and 14 days, the two week recess is necessary to disrupt the incubation and shedding cycle of the virus.

The NCDHD warned schools to be prepared for a possible extension of the adjournment should circumstances warrant.

In addition, the health department recommends:

* Faculty and staff may continue to report to work at the discretion of school administrators, however, measures must be put in place to eliminate mingling and blending of staff members. That includes limited access to staff lounges, and strategies for disinfecting common areas such as restrooms, offices and meeting rooms.

* Any staff or faculty member reporting to work should have a symptom screen prior to being admitted to the building. That includes a temperature reading and assessment of cough and/or shortness of breath. With any respiratory virus, shedding can occur prior to a person becoming symptomatic or realizing he or she is sick. Social distancing of faculty members is recommended. Doors should be locked to visitors.

* All staff reporting to work during the recess should wash their hands upon arrival and before leaving.

* Strict social distancing is encouraged during the recess. That includes encouraging students to stay home, and limit time with people from outside their household. Keeping interactions to a bare minimum will help disrupt the exposure period.

* Ricketts comments on CDC recommendations for public gatherings

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 17)

Monday afternoon, Gov. Pete Ricketts reminded Nebraskans of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention limiting gatherings to 10 people or less.
“I want to remind everyone that the 10-person limit is guidance from the CDC,” Ricketts said. “It is not a law enforcement action. It's going to take individual action from all of us to make this work. Please use common sense in applying it. There will be great sacrifice for all of us in this. Together, we can combat COVID-19 and keep Nebraskans healthy.”

* Senior centers to close amid coronavirus concerns

(Posted 2:30 p.m. March 16)

Ainsworth Senior Center Manager Sherry Goochey announced the Ainsworth Senior Center will be closed until further notice after senior centers were advised by the Northeast Area Agency on Aging to close their doors until coronavirus concerns ease.
Goochey said the senior center will offer home meal service during the noon hour. For those who want meals delivered, contact the senior center at 402-387-0777.
The Rock County Senior Center will also be closed until further notice. Like Ainsworth, the Rock County Senior Center will provide home delivery for noon meals. Contact the Senior Center at 402-684-2295 to have meals delivered.

* Re-establishment of Northeast adult education classes a goal of strategic plan

(Posted 1:45 p.m. March 16)

The following article is the third in a series of five news releases noting the successful completion of the Ainsworth/ Brown County Strategic Plan priority projects leading up to a town hall meeting on April 15 to identify new initiatives as priority projects.

ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION

The initial adult and continuing education program was established in 1972 with a partnership involving Northeast Community College, Keya Paha High School, Rock County High School and Ainsworth Community Schools.
Initially, the three counties in north central Nebraska maintained the third largest participation in adult and continuing education classes through the 1990s, being outnumbered only by South Sioux City and West Point. Northeast Community College provided a local coordinator to manage the KBR program, with the assistance of a representative from the college.

In 1998, a Northeast Community College Extended Campus was established at O’Neill, with a full-time “regional” coordinator employed, with the extended responsibility to provide for adult and continuing education in the KBR area.

 However, due to distance from the regional center in O’Neill and the lack of a local area coordinator, the once proud and energetic KBR Adult and Continuing Education Program in a few years was reduced to a few classes being offered, with very little participation. In 2013, an Adult Education Advisory Committee was re-established, consisting of representatives from each KBR county, to work with NECC representatives from O’Neill and Norfolk for the purpose of re-establishing a productive adult and continuing education program in north central Nebraska.

Without the availability of a local coordinator to manage the program, the renewed effort had difficulty in reaching expectations. 

In 2015, Northeast Community College re-established a part-time adult and continuing education coordinator position designed to provide programs and services to residents in the tri-county area.  During the town hall meeting sponsored by the Brown County Community Foundation Fund held in January 2016, one of the themes for the updating of the Ainsworth/Brown County Strategic Plan was the need to establish “multi-county” initiatives.

Two of the priority projects identified were the development of a KBR Adult and Continuing Education Program and the creation of a KBR Leadership Academy. The key to success of these two ventures has been the availability of a local program coordinator provided by Northeast Community College. In partnership with the Ainsworth Community Schools, Rock County Schools, Keya Paha County Schools, and Educational Service Unit 17, Northeast Community College has been able to provide access to college credit classes, special interest classes, and dual credit classes for high school students.   Currently, a Certified Nurses Aid (CNA) dual-credit class is being offered at Rock County High School, with students from all three highs schools participating. Plans are being developed for additional dual-credit vocational classes to be offered to high school students from the tri-county area.

* Nebraska Legislature suspends session for this week

(Posted 1 p.m. March 16)

By Camryn Preston
Nebraska News Service

After much speculation regarding the future of the Nebraska Legislature, Speaker Jim Scheer announced in a statement Monday morning that the current session will not reconvene Tuesday and is postponed until further notice.

The announcement came after legislative officials hinted last week that senators may not reconvene for the 41st day of the session due to concerns over the coronavirus. 

Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended organized events with 50 or more people be postponed or canceled for the next eight weeks.

“We have made this decision primarily for the health and safety of the state and to protect the health of the members in the body,” Scheer said in the statement. “We have concluded that suspending the session is in the best interest of the state.”

In an effort to help out with fighting the coronavirus, Scheer said in the statement that the session could reconvene as early as Monday, March 23, for the limited purpose of passing emergency appropriation. Senators and legislative staff would be notified promptly if the session were to reconvene. 

Per the request from a number of members, Scheer also said in the statement that he and other officials are trying to figure out how to best sanitize the Legislative Chamber. 

“This is a fluid situation and one that changes daily,” he said. “We appreciate your understanding and flexibility.” 

* Hafer, Arens and Campbell provide update on school closure

(Posted 12:45 p.m. March 16)

Ainsworth Community Schools Superintendent Dale Hafer, Board President Jim Arens, and Dr. Mel Campbell appeared on KBRB's Open Line program Monday to provide information on the decision to cancel classes at Ainsworth Community Schools for the week.
Future decisions will be made based upon conditions and recommendations from state and federal officials.
To hear the report, click on the audio links below.

audio clips/Open Line - School and Dr Campbell 3-16-20 Seg 1.mp3

audio clips/Open Line - School and Dr Campbell 3-16-20 Seg 2.mp3

audio clips/Open Line - School and Dr Campbell 3-16-20 Seg 3.mp3

audio clips/Open Line - School and Dr Campbell 3-16-20 Seg 4.mp3

* NSAA announces suspension of activities and practices

(Posted 12:45 p.m. March 16)

Effective today, all NSAA activity practices are suspended until Monday, March 30, and all NSAA activity competitions are suspended until Thursday, April 2.

These suspensions may be extended should the conditions warrant.

Member schools and student-participants are expected to adhere to the NSAA Constitution & Bylaws and activity manuals during this time.

As more information becomes available, official updates will be posted on the NSAA website and the NSAA social media platforms.

* City of Ainsworth closing community center and library

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

In an attempt to reduce potential public exposure to the coronavirus and in conjunction with Ainsworth Community Schools halting classes, the city of Ainsworth is closing the Community Center, the Ainsworth Public Library and other public facilities until further notice.

The city is prioritizing protecting public health and safety through a community-wide effort. Closing the public facilities will support social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to minimize the spread of the virus.

The city of Ainsworth office will remain open. Garbage service will continue to run, however, the garbage truck will not pick up any un-bagged trash to limit exposure to city personnel.

The Ainsworth Public Library will be closed from March 17-23. A librarian will be on duty, and anyone who wants to check out a book may do so by calling 387-2032 or emailing aplibrary@threeriver.net All library materials currently checked out will automatically be extended to a due date of April 1.

The city will continue to provide updates regarding services and potential closures on the city’s web site at www.cityofainsworth.com

* Ainsworth cancels classes for the week, all practices and events cancelled

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 16)

In an attempt to minimize exposure to coronavirus and out of an abundance of caution, Ainsworth Community Schools is suspending all scheduled assemblies, events, and programs.
The suspension will be reevaluated over the coming weeks or as circumstances warrant. All practices and gatherings that involve students will not be allowed. This includes middle school and high school track practice, boys golf, speech, pom and cheer tryouts as well as any other group or organization that is scheduled or is planning to meet.
Anyone with questions may contact Ainsworth Community Schools Activities Directors Jared Hansmeyer and Scott Steinhauser.
Classes at Ainsworth Community Schools have been cancelled for the week due to coronavirus concerns.
Superintendent Dale Hafer said, “After thoughtful consideration, it has been decided we will close school for an extended spring break for the following week, March 16-20. We met as a team of administration, staff, board representatives, and health professionals to arrive at this important decision. Our intent is to have the health and safety of our community at the forefront of all decisions related to the Coronavirus situation.
"Our No. 1 goal is to protect those in our community who are most vulnerable and encourage proper social distancing and isolation to accomplish that goal. By extending spring break, it will allow time for us to assess this very fluid situation, plan appropriately, and do the right thing in protecting our community. Please stay tuned for updates as we will update you on a frequent basis. School teachers and staff, please check your email for further information and directions related to the upcoming week. Thank you and please let us know if you have questions.”

* Ricketts declares State of Emergency

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 16)

As Nebraska continues to take proactive steps to address COVID-19, Gov. Pete Ricketts has signed an emergency declaration, so regulatory provisions of state law can be suspended to aid the state’s response.  This has also allowed him to issue an Executive Order waiving certain hauling requirements for truckers delivering food and supplies, such as food products to grocery stores.

“I am declaring a State of Emergency in Nebraska as we continue to work to be the best prepared state in the nation for COVID-19,” Ricketts said.  “All across the state, individuals, businesses, employers, and churches are stepping up to make plans to mitigate the impact of the virus.  There is a role for each one of us in this as we work together to keep people healthy.”

The State of Emergency will help the State bring together the resources it needs to combat COVID-19.  It does not mean the state is closing schools or banning mass public gatherings at this time.

Additionally, Ricketts signed an Executive Order waiving certain hauling requirements. 

Ricketts also issued guidance for school closures and provided an update on the state’s preparations for COVID-19 along with education and business leaders.

“I am issuing guidance today to help schools and families understand when state-directed closures will occur,” Ricketts said.  “Until the thresholds in the guidance are met, school districts will continue to manage their operations based on the best information they have.  We continue to ask everyone – individuals, families, employers, schools, and churches – to prepare for closures in their community as social distancing widens.”

“The Nebraska Department of Education is committed to assisting schools and communities during the ongoing public health emergency,” said NDE Commissioner Matt Blomstedt.  “We support districts in their decisions to keep student and staff safety their top priority.  We encourage schools to work with local health departments.  We also want schools to continue to serve the community however they can and to provide some sense of normalcy for students.”

 * DHHS sets up help line for those with coronavirus questions

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 16)

As Nebraska continues to adjust to a new normal as a result of the impacts of COVID-19 on the state, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has set up a coronavirus information line that will allow residents to get answers to general questions and receive information on resources available. That number is (402) 552-6645; hours of operation are 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., seven days a week.

”DHHS is working hand in hand with local health departments and the federal government to ensure that we stop the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Director of Public Health and Chief Medical Officer for DHHS. “Keeping Nebraskans safe and illness-free is our top priority. Our info line will be a crucial part of that effort by allowing us to swiftly answer questions about how the state is responding to the needs of its residents and share the latest information and resources to help keep Nebraskans informed.”

If you are concerned that you may have COVID-19, it’s important to remember to call ahead to your healthcare provider to be screened over the phone. The provider can evaluate and determine if testing is necessary. Flu activity is also still high in Nebraska. Flu tests should be considered as a first test option before considering a COVID-19 test.

The pepartment urges you to self-monitor and contact your health care provider (via phone or email) first to discuss if your symptoms are significant enough to warrant a trip to the medical office. Following this guidance will allow those with the imminent need to get treatment, reduce your potential exposure and minimize the load on health care providers.

* Health care leaders provide guidance for coronavirus concerns

(Posted 12:30 p.m. March 13)

There have been concerns regarding COVID-19 reaching north central Nebraska. Community health care leaders and representatives from Ainsworth Community Schools, the city of Ainsworth, the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, the Brown County Ambulance Association and the Ainsworth Ministerial Association met Wednesday in the Brown County Hospital to discuss the concerns people in the community have regarding COVID-19 and the impact the virus may eventually have on the community.

Each entity has been working closely with the North Central District Health Department and monitoring Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations regarding the virus.

At this time, community members are encouraged to self-monitor their symptoms. Symptoms of COVID-19 are a fever of 100.4 degrees and above, cough and shortness of breath. Take preventative action and precautions during the uncertain future of this virus. Be proactive:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick

Take everyday preventive actions

Clean your hands often

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been 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, eyes, etc. these are the easiest ways to transmit a virus

Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones)

Covering coughs and sneezes

Anyone experiencing any or all of the symptoms is asked to call the Brown County Hospital at 402-387-2800, where directions will be given on how to proceed.

* Dr. Campbell provides local information regarding coronavirus procedures

(Posted 10:45 a.m. March 13)

Dr. Mel Campbell from the Brown County Hospital and Ainsworth Family Clinic provided information Friday regarding ongoing coronavirus concerns.
Campbell encouraged those who may experience mild flu or cold systems to first contact the clinic by phone. Several steps must be taken before a person would be tested for coronavirus, and the process could take several days.
The Brown County Hospital has been allotted just 10 coronavirus test kits, so patients will first be tested for influenza and respiratory viruses prior to a test being conducted for coronavirus. To reduce the potential contamination of the clinic and the hospital emergency room, and the potential that providers treating a patient may potentially have to self-quarantine following contact with a patient, Campbell urged people experiencing any kind of cold or flu symptoms to simply stay home unless the symptoms are severe. Those more prone to have complications from the coronavirus, such as those over the age of 60 or those with underlying health issues, are urged to limit their contact with the public.
To hear the full report with Dr. Campbell, click on the audio links below.

audio clips/Dr Mel Campbell Coronavirus Report 3-13-20 segment 1 .mp3

audio clips/Dr Mel Campbell Coronavirus report 3-13-20 segment 2.mp3

* Boys state basketball games can be streamed Thursday and Friday

(Posted 7 a.m. March 11)

Based on the recommendations made by the Mayor’s Office of the City of Lincoln, Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, and the Nebraska Department of Education, the 2020 NSAA Boys State Basketball Championships will proceed as scheduled, but fan attendance will be limited. The tournament venues and game times remain the same.

Attendance will be limited to the varsity players, coaches, team support personnel (athletic trainers and student managers), and school administrators of the qualifying schools and their immediate families. Immediate family includes parents, step-parents, guardians, siblings, other members living in the athlete’s household, and grandparents. School administrators will be required to provide a list of those persons meeting the qualifications for entry. School administrators will be at the entrance of each venue to identify and grant entry to those persons on the list. Those entering the venue will be required to purchase a ticket or may use previously purchased tickets or passes. Pre-purchased online tickets will not be honored.

All games on Thursday and Friday of the NSAA Boys Basketball Championships will be available, free of charge, on the NFHS Network.  You can access and view all games by clicking the link:

NFHS Network – https://www.nfhsnetwork.com/associations/nsaa

* City Council approves contract to construct solar power array

(Poster 6:45 a.m. March 11)

Ainsworth will join a growing list of Nebraska communities going green, as the City Council Wednesday awarded a contract to GRNE Solar of Lincoln to construct a solar power array on the southeast side of the city.

Pat Hanrahan with the Nebraska Public Power District told the council five bids were received for the 500 kilowatt solar array. The cost of the power generated ranged from $50.80 per megawatt to $87 per megawatt. There are no up-front costs for the city or for NPPD customers in Ainsworth who choose to obtain shares of the solar power generated.

He said NPPD’s base power rate is $58 per megawatt hour, so the GRNE Solar bid was extremely competitive.

“I am comfortable with their experience,” Hanrahan told the council. “We checked references on their other projects.”

The solar array would be constructed south of East City Park and east of the Brown County Hospital just north of the Cowboy Trail. The array will sit on 3.62 acres, and the company procured to construct the array will be responsible for all construction and maintenance costs, and will build a fence surrounding the array.

The city and NPPD will enter into a 20-year power purchase agreement with the company. Hanrahan said the 500 kilowatts of power the array will generate represents about 10 percent of Ainsworth’s peak power usage.

After awarding the project to a developer, Hanrahan said the next steps will be initiating required system studies, signing a power purchase agreement and then marketing the shares of the power.

Commercial and residential NPPD customers in Ainsworth will have the opportunity to sign up for shares of the solar power generated. About 500 shares will be available on a first come, first served basis.

Discussion turned to whether to construct a fixed array or a tracking array that follows the sun. Hanrahan said the fixed array was the least expensive option at a power purchase rate of $50.80 per megawatt. However, the tracking system array bid of $52.80 per megawatt from GRNE Solar was still well below NPPD’s base rate.

Several audience members advocated for the tracking system, with audience member Todd Flynn citing a study that indicated a tracking system was 15 percent to 30 percent more efficient than a fixed array.

Councilman Tonny Beck, who was appointed to the council Wednesday after being recommended by Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan and approved by the council, said most solar panels for wells were now being constructed using fixed systems instead of the tracking systems because the panels themselves had become much more effective at generating power.

Hanharan said a majority of the arrays currently under construction used a tracking system. He said there were four solar arrays currently in service across the state. The arrays ranged from generating 125 kilowatts of power to more than 5 megawatts. He said smaller to medium-sized arrays many times used fixed systems because the price was more attractive.

Two more arrays are currently under construction, including a more than 4 megawatt array at Scottsbluff, and Norfolk, Chadron, Ogallala and York just started the process of constructing solar arrays.

After discussion, the council awarded the contract to construct the solar array to GRNE Solar of Lincoln, and opted to have the company use a single axis tracker system.

In other business Wednesday, the council approved amending the city’s nuisance code to simplify part of the abatement process for the sheriff, who serves as the city’s nuisance abatement officer.

City Attorney Rod Palmer said the amendment will speed up the process for the nuisance abatement penal procedure, which is one of the three avenues that can be utilized for nuisance abatement along with administrative and civil procedures.

With the amendment, the city’s nuisance officer would not have to come before the council for approval prior to issuing a notice to a resident to abate a nuisance. If the nuisance is not cleared in 15 days or if the resident does not appeal the officer’s decision to the council, the sheriff would then issue a citation.

By a 3-1 vote with Councilman Schyler Schenk against, the council approved the amendment to the ordinance and waived the three separate readings.

Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan also conducted the second reading of a city ordinance relating to vacant buildings that was approved on first reading during February’s council meeting. The council will read the ordinance a third and final time before it is enacted.

By a 3-1 vote with Beck against, the council approved a change order to the waste water improvement project that was awarded during the council’s February meeting. Engineer Jess Hurlbert with Olsson Associates said an error was made on the city’s bid specifications regarding which portions of the project needed to have sales tax included in the bid. Of the three portions of the project, one portion needed sales tax added to the bid and two portions needed sales tax removed. The net difference in the project was an additional $1,246.

“This just amends the unit prices to reflect the tax,” Hurlbert said.

In voting against the change order, Beck said, in his business, he would have been responsible for the bid error and would have had to absorb that additional cost.

In another wastewater project agenda item, the council tabled an ordinance that allowed for the issuance of sewer utility bond notes.

Scott Keene with Piper Sandler and Company was on hand to discuss the ordinance and provide the council with the paperwork needed to issue the bonds for the sewer improvement project. The bonds would not exceed $2.1 million, the total cost of the project, and would be redeemed after the project is completed and the city receives a long-term loan from the USDA.

Councilman Greg Soles questioned  whether the ordinance presented would allow the city to issue the bonds in increments instead of all at once.

Keene said it would take an amended agreement for the city to be able to take multiple installments instead of a lump sum.

The council tabled action on the bond agreement until it could be amended to allow the city to issue the bonds when needed instead of in one lump sum.

Keene said it would not take long to amend the documents, and the city should still have plenty of time to approve the amended agreement and have the bond authority in place before the funds were needed.

Lucinda Noronha and Karen O’Hare with the Ainsworth Area Chamber of Commerce asked the council for permission to hold a family fun day at East City Park from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Aug. 29.

Noronha said the chamber was looking to host an event geared toward families that would be held in place of the country music festival. She said the chamber still had some money remaining in its country music festival fund, and wanted to gear an event toward families that would include kids activities, food and music.

The council approved allowing the chamber to hold the event as long as insurance was provided that named the city as an additional insured party.

During her report, City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said she attended a meeting Wednesday with the state and other public safety officials regarding the coronavirus. She said the meeting was geared toward promoting public safety and taking the initiative to have a streamlined response if the coronavirus is found in the community.

She said many of the things she had been working on were continuations from the previous month. She said she received one proposal for street improvement work to repair streets damaged during the 2019 flooding. She said she hoped to get a second bid for comparison purposes, but most of the contractors were busy.

The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for April 8.

* First coronavirus case in health district found in Knox County student Tuesday

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 11)

On Tuesday evening, the North Central District Health Department was notified of the first presumptive positive coronavirus case in the nine-county district. The person who contracted the virus is a student in Knox County. The person started experiencing symptoms Thursday.
NCDHD has initiated contact investigations and has been assessing potential exposures to determine next steps. All identified close contacts will stay home in a self-quarantine and be actively monitored twice daily by public health officials for fever and respiratory symptoms.
The person who has contracted the virus will be placed in the University of Nebraska Medical Center biocontainment unit.
The case in Knox County is the fifth confirmed in Nebraska. The fourth confirmed case was also reported Tuesday in a woman in her 40s from Douglas County who recently traveled to California and Nevada.
At this time, NCDHD encourages the community to self-monitor any symptoms. Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Anyone who experiences these symptoms is asked to contact a medical provider by phone and follow the provider’s guidance for next steps.

* One area business fails Nebraska State Patrol compliance check Friday

(Posted 4 p.m. March 10)

Friday afternoon and evening, investigators with the Nebraska State Patrol conducted alcohol inspections in Brown, Rock and Keya Paha counties.

In total, 10 businesses were inspected. One of those businesses sold alcohol to a minor. All 10 businesses checked the minor’s identification.

The business that failed the inspection was the Cattlemen’s Lounge in Springview, which checked the minor’s identification but then sold alcohol to the minor.

The businesses checked included liquor stores, convenience stores, restaurants and bars. Businesses that sell alcohol to a minor are referred to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, while the clerks who sell the alcohol to the minor are cited on a charge of procuring alcohol to a minor.

The inspections in Brown, Rock and Keya Paha counties were funded by the Area Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition under a grant.

* Theater reopening another successful project from Foundation's strategic plan

(Posted 3:45 p.m. March 10)

The following article is the second in a series noting the successful completion of the Ainsworth/Brown County Strategic Plan priority projects leading up to a town hall meeting on April 15 to identify new initiatives as priority projects.

GRAND THEATER

In November 2010, the Royal Theater, which had been closed for a few months, was purchased by the Sandhills Area Entertainment Corporation, a non-profit organization formed to re-establish the operation of a theater in the community.

The organization consisted of community residents, parents, and students willing to volunteer their time and energy to re-open the Royal Theater, which then continued in operation until a fire rendered the building unusable in October 2014.

It took nearly two years before arrangements were made with the North Central Development Center, along with a re-organized Theater Committee, to assume the responsibility to secure another location for a theater.

In January 2016, the Brown County Community Foundation Fund conducted a town-hall meeting to update the Ainsworth/Brown County Strategic Plan. Nine visionary concepts to improve the community were identified. The top priority within the Recreational area was the re-establishment of the theater. This provided additional community support for the project. 

After considering various alternatives, a historical building, formerly the Rusty Petal on Main Street, was secured in May 2016, and renovations commenced. 

In addition to the insurance funds from the fire, a fund-raising campaign was initiated to secure the financial resources necessary to complete the renovation. The sound system and digital projector were purchased in October 2016. Architectural issues, storm damage to the building roof, and scheduling of various contractors needed to be addressed to complete the renovation, with the concession area finalized in July 2019. 

The Theater Committee established the Ainsworth Grand Theater, an IRS 5013 Corporation as a charitable organization, with the Ainsworth Grand Theater Board of Directors, whose membership continues to consist of volunteers dedicated to the operation of a theater as a non-profit entity, assuming operational management of the theater.

Upon the completion of the renovation and the installation of the necessary equipment, the newly formed Grand Theater opened Aug. 5, 2019, with the showing of “The Lion King.” Movies are currently being shown on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each week.

* School Board approves contracts with 4 teachers for 2020-21 school year

(Posted 9:15 p.m. March 9)

The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education on Monday awarded contracts to four teachers for the 2020-21 year to fill openings in the district.

The board approved a contract for Katelyn McClure to teach high school English and language arts after longtime English teacher Mary Rau announced her retirement. Superintendent Dale Hafer said McClure, who is from the Aurora area, also has an ELL endorsement and would be teaching English language learners during a portion of her workdays.

The board filled a second high school opening by awarding a contract to Jennifer Hitchcock. She replaces longtime science teacher Gerry Carr, who also announced her retirement at the end of this school year.

Hafer said Hitchcock has been serving as a paraprofessional in the school district, and is completing her teaching endorsement.

The board approved contracts for two elementary teachers Monday, awarding one to Samantha Sedlacek to teach second grade. Hafer said Sedlacek, who is originally from South Dakota, is engaged to an area resident. In addition to an elementary education endorsement, Sedlacek also has a special education endorsement.

Alyssa Brennfoerder was awarded a contract for an open fourth-grade position. Brennfoerder, who hails from the Fairfield area, also has a special education endorsement in addition to an endorsement in elementary education.

“Getting teachers with those dual endorsements is nice,” Hafer said.

He said the district has had a good hiring season so far, and is bringing in some excellent teachers. He said someone accepted a position as a preschool teacher at Little Paws, but then declined the job two days later.

“We are back to looking for that position again,” he said of the preschool teaching position the district partners with Central Nebraska Community Action Partnership to hire.

In another personnel matter, the board approved the resignation of high school social studies teacher Sam Aldridge, who Hafer said had accepted a position at Norfolk High School and would be moving closer to his home area after teaching at Ainsworth Community Schools for the past two years.

High School Principal Steve Dike said the district has already received 12 applications for that position, and has five interviews scheduled with candidates.

Board member Scott Erthum thanked the superintendent and administrators for their proactive work in filling vacancies.

“I think you have done a great job getting ahead of the curve on these hirings,” Erthum said.

In other action items Monday, the board approved an ESCO Resolution and letter of intent to work with Trane to develop a scope of work for building improvement projects.

Hafer said the next step as the board has been working on its facilities plan is to approve the resolution with Trane and enter into an energy savings contract.

“With this resolution, we work with Trane to pick what we want to do for projects and how much we are willing to spend,” the superintendent said. “This would address the building envelope, including windows, the roof and other ways moisture is penetrating our buildings.”

Hafer said the resolution does not commit the district to anything.

“This lets Trane get some information together to get some numbers to the board to go with the projects we identify,” Hafer said. “Nothing happens until you have the numbers in front of you.”

Board member Mark Johnson said the board can always say “no” if it doesn’t like the quotes the company provides on any given project.

The board will continue to work with Trane to identify priority projects for the building, and will continue to move forward in the process during its April meeting.

With Frank Beel absent Monday, the board approved the 2020-21 school calendar as presented. Hafer said the calendar is fairly similar to previous years, with the exception of finding full in-service days for professional development instead of using early dismissals.

“We had discussions on the effectiveness of having early dismissals for in-services,” the superintendent said. “We tried to find more full days for professional development instead of trying to get things done in just two hours.”

Dike said the district would also move from two semester test days to three at the end of each semester, with the idea being that students who are behind in a class can come in at 8 a.m. on those days and get assignments turned in.

“The kids who have done the work won’t have to come in until 10 a.m. on those days to take finals,” Dike said.

The calendar shows a start date for students of Aug. 12, with school ending on May 20, 2021. Classes dismiss for the first semester Dec. 18, with the second semester beginning Jan. 4, 2021.

In a final action item, the board approved an option enrollment request to allow Stryker Stanley to continue to attend Rock County Public Schools. Hafer said Stanley currently attends Rock County, but the family is moving in to the Ainsworth district and wants to allow him to continue to attend Rock County.

During his report, Dike presented the board with the district’s current graduation requirements, laying out the details on the classes students must take to graduate. Of a possible 320 hours, the district requires 240, including 40 credits in English; 30 credits each in social studies, math and science; 10 credits in physical education and 100 elective credits.

Dike discussed the possibility of adding more dual-credit classes through Northeast Community College, and asked the board if it wanted to consider adjusting graduation requirements to add financial literacy and oral communications classes as required coursework. He said those types of classes would give students foundational knowledge in skills that will help them throughout their lives.

He said there were also no current requirements for vocational classes or fine arts, only electives.

Hafer said the goal was to expose the board to additional possibilities for courses to offer.

“We are working hard to coordinate with Northeast Community College,” Hafer said. “If we ask you to change our graduation requirements, we may bring recommendations to you in April.”

Any changes to graduation requirements would exclude students currently in high school, and would only apply to incoming freshmen and future classes.

During his report, Hafer said the recent lunch administrators had with parents who home-school their students was positive. He said 10 parents attended who choose to teach their students at home instead of sending them to Ainsworth Community Schools.

“There were various reasons why they decided to home-school,” Hafer said. “It was a productive meeting and will provide good information for our overall strategic plan. We found out we were maybe missing the boat both ways with some miscommunication.”

Hafer reported Dan Morrell with Conditioned Air Mechanical is making preparations to install the new chiller. The chiller will be delivered in April, with installation scheduled for the first part of May.

The superintendent said the community engagement night was rescheduled due to Ainsworth competing in a boys basketball district final, and would now be held at 6:30 p.m. March 24 in the school cafeteria. The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. April 13.

* Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative members to vote on merger with CVA

(Posted 11:15 a.m. March 6, updated 7 a.m. March 9)

The Board of Directors for both Central Valley Ag and the Farmers Ranchers Cooperative have unanimously approved the next step in a merger of the two cooperatives.
The merger proposal will now be presented to Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative members for a vote with results being counted at a special meeting April 1 in Ainsworth.
Initial merger discussions between the cooperatives began in January, with the respective boards individually approving the merger in February after a successful merger study was reviewed.
For the merger to be finalized, Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative members must approve by a simple majority. Voting by cooperative members will take place by mail-in ballot, and all cooperative voting members are encouraged to vote. If approved, the two cooperatives plan to unite June 1.
The Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative will hold its annual meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, in the Johnstown Community Hall.
Informational meetings on the merger are scheduled for noon Thursday in the Springview Activity Center and 6 p.m. Thursday in the Pepper Mill at Valentine.
Meetings will also be held at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. March 24 in the Ainsworth Zion Lutheran Church fellowship hall.
A special stock holder meeting will be held at 2 p.m. April 1 in the Ainsworth Community Center.

* Commissioners approve bid from Topkote for armor coating work on asphalt roads

(Posted 2 p.m. March 5)

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Brown County Commissioners, the board approved the low bid from Topkote of Yankton, S.D., to perform armor coating work on the county’s asphalt roads.

Topkote submitted a bid of $12,402 per mile, with the county also responsible for supplying the gravel needed.

Figgins Construction of Red Cloud submitted a bid of $15,875 per mile.

After advertising, the board Tuesday opened bids for a bridge the commissioners voted to abandon in northeastern Brown County. Leon Bracker submitted a $1 bid for the bridge, which was the lone bid submitted. Bracker’s property is located near the vacated bridge. The commissioners, with Denny Bauer absent Tuesday, accepted Bracker’s bid.

The commissioners approved a resolution entering into an agreement with Caleb Johnson of Ogallala to provide the county with budget preparation assistance for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Following a public hearing, the commissioners voted to recommend the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission approve an off-sale liquor license application for the Ainsworth Municipal Golf Course.

Steve and Sheri Gann, who manage the golf course clubhouse, were on hand to answer questions regarding the application for the expanded license.

In a final action item Tuesday, the commissioners voted to purchase a snow blower attachment from Plains Equipment for the recently purchased John Deere lawn tractor. The snow blower attachment from Plains Equipment cost $3,000.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. March 17.

* Ricketts discusses coronavirus preparations, legislative bills Wednesday

(Posted 12:45 p.m. March 4)

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts visited with KBRB's Graig Kinzie Wednesday, providing an update on preparations the state is making related to coronavirus concerns and the work of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Ricketts also talked about additional financial support for rural school districts and the property tax relief bill working its way through the Legislature.
To hear the conversation, click on the audio links below.

audio clips/Gov Pete Ricketts coronavirus update 3-4.mp3

audio clips/Gov Pete Ricketts legislative update 3-4.mp3

* Voters will have choices to make during May 12 Primary Election

(Posted 9:30 a.m. March 4)

The filing deadline for candidates seeking election to public office has passed, and the area will see several competitive races. However, not all the competitive races will appear on the May 12 Primary Election ballot.

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, indicating she was moving from the community. The mayor will recommend and the council will approve an appointment to fill the remainder of Hurless’s term, but that term expires this year.

Brett Duester, Vance Heyer, Shawn Fernau, John Mead and Anissa Julius have filed 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.

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.

The Presidential race will also appear on the May 12 Primary Election ballot, with President Donald Trump facing a challenge from fellow Republican Bill Weld. Democrat voters will select from Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer. Only Biden, Sanders and Warren remain in the race, but the Nebraska ballot was finalized prior to the other five candidates dropping out of the race.

* Game and Parks Commission to stock trout in Keller Park ponds in April

(Posted 7 a.m. March 4)

Catchable-size rainbow trout are being stocked in city ponds and lakes across the state by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
The stockings will enhance fishing opportunities this spring. Trout fishing also is a great way to introduce children to fishing because simple and inexpensive equipment may be used.
Keller Park northeast of Ainsworth will have a total of 650 trout stocked in ponds 4 and 5 in April.

* February warmer and drier than average

(Posted 2:15 p.m. March 3)

Ainsworth Weather Observer Gerry Osborn reported February finished warmer and drier than average, with moisture through the first two months only registering 0.83 of an inch.
To hear the full report, click on the audio link below.

audio clips/Gerry Osborn February Weather Summary.mp3

* UNMC releases 4 from quarantine who were monitored for coronavirus

(Posted 1 p.m. March 2)

Four people being monitored in the National Quarantine Unit on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus have left quarantine after exceeding the qualifications to be eligible for release. Two of these individuals previously tested positive for COVID-19, while two others have tested negative throughout the quarantine process. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts greeted two of the people as they left quarantine unit Monday morning.

These four Americans met all UNMC/Nebraska Medicine qualifications for release, which exceeded CDC qualifications. Two people who previously tested positive for the disease were released from quarantine on Sunday afternoon, having tested negative for the virus in three separate tests, 24 hours apart. While March 2 has been previously stated as the release date for those who have continued to test negative for the disease, the two released Sunday met guidelines to leave quarantine a day before those who have tested negative throughout because:

* The date of their first test in Japan

* Symptoms which have been absent which allows testing to start

* Three negative tests 24 hours apart

The two people who have tested negative throughout the process left the National Quarantine Unit Monday.

“It’s gratifying to be able to play such a crucial role at such an important time as this disease continues to spread across our nation,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold, chancellor of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and University of Nebraska at Omaha. “Providing care and monitoring for these Americans in the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit and National Quarantine Unit is not only integral to the safety of our country, but also incredibly important as we study more about this disease and the best approaches for diagnosis and treatment across our nation and beyond. Nebraskans should be proud we have the best people, the best technology and best facilities here to be able to tackle this mission head-on.”

Thus far, monitoring in the National Quarantine Unit up to this point has been uneventful. The majority of the people being monitored have either had minor or no symptoms from the coronavirus. One person met clinical requirements to be enrolled in the first clinical trial in the country to test the effectiveness of a drug to fight the disease.

Dr. Andre Kalil, a UNMC/Nebraska Medicine professor and infectious diseases specialist is leading that trial.

“The comments we’ve received from those we’re monitoring have been overwhelmingly positive,” said Dr. James Linder, CEO of Nebraska Medicine. “The ordeal these folks have faced and continue to face has been lengthy and strenuous to say the least. To be able to give them a strong dose of “Nebraska Nice” combined with ‘Serious Medicine and Extraordinary Care’ hopefully allows them to seamlessly return to their daily lives. We have learned a great deal and are actively sharing that experience with our partners to strengthen training of health care professionals.”

Eleven people are still being monitored inside the 20-bed National Quarantine Unit, the only federally funded quarantine unit in the country. Three of these individuals had previously been receiving care in the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit, but their conditions improved to the point where that care was no longer needed. Release dates for those still in quarantine will likely occur in a staggered fashion, as each person meets requirements for testing, and subsequently receiving, the required test results.

* Speech team finishes ninth in Holdrege Invitational Saturday

(Posted 10:30 a.m. March 2)

Voice of the Plains Speech Invitational at Holdrege

Ainsworth Results

Varsity

4th:  Alyssa Erthum—Poetry

5th:  Libby Wilkins—Extemporaneous Speaking

6th:  Brandt Murphy & Alyssa Erthum—Duet Acting

8th: Josie Ganser, Logan Hafer, and Ellie Welke – Oral Interpretation of Drama

Superiors:  Alyssa Erthum—Persuasive Speaking

                        Logan Hafer—Persuasive Speaking

                        Josie Ganser—Entertainment Speaking

                        Maren Arens—Entertainment Speaking

                        Ben Flynn—Informative Speaking

                        Brandt Murphy—Serious Prose

                        Libby Wilkins—Humorous Prose

                        Coy Carson—Humorous Prose

 

Novice

4th:  Dakota Stutzman—Serious Prose

            Eden Raymond & Dakota Stutzman—Duet Acting

 

Team:  9th of 22

 

“This was the first time we have been to Holdrege, and the competition was outstanding,” Ainsworth coach Mary Rau said. “We were able to see teams in both our conference and district, so it was a good way to end our regular season. Now we have to cut down to two entries in each event for Southwest Conference and District C1-6 competition.  The team is continuing to work hard to perfect those presentations because both conference and district will be tough.”

The speech team will hold its annual presentation night at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Learning Center.  The conference and district team will perform the speeches that will compete in the conference and district events.

* Foundation begins to highlight successes from 2016 strategic planning session

(Posted 8:45 a.m. March 2)

The following article is the first in a series of five news releases noting the successful completion of the Ainsworth/ Brown County Strategic Plan priority projects leading up to a town hall meeting on April 15 to identify new initiatives as priority projects.

SANDHILLS CARE CENTER

In January, 2015, the North Central Development Center received information that the current owner/operator of the Ainsworth Care Center was in the process of declaring bankruptcy.  A meeting was scheduled, which included city and county government officials, community business leaders, health care personnel, and strategic planning representatives, for the purpose of forming a Task Force to investigate alternatives for the continuation of a skilled nursing home in the community, should the current Ainsworth Care Center be closed.  The following four options were researched:  recruit a new for-profit corporation; form a local not-for-profit corporation; establish a city-owned/operated care center; establish a county-owned/operated care center.  A consultant with experience in the management of care centers was contacted to assist with the assessment of the feasibility of the various options.   

In February, 2015, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services placed the Ainsworth Care Center into a “receivership” for the administration and operation of the care center. The Task Force conducted a town hall meeting to explain the various options, reporting that the feasibility of having a for-profit or not-for-profit corporation to take over ownership/management of the care center was not likely. However, it was the strong consensus of those attending the town hall meeting that it was vitally important to maintain a skilled nursing home in the community and that it should be either owned/operated by the city or the county. If the current facility couldn’t be purchased from the current owner, then building a new facility should be considered. 

With the input from the community, city and county officials agreed to form an “inter-local government agreement” to jointly assume ownership/operation of the care center under the new name of the Sandhills Care Center, if ownership of the current facility could be secured, with an option to consider the building of a new facility. Due to the bankruptcy situation, the current owner was unwilling to sell the facility. However, negotiations continued with the possibility of the owner willing to accept “tax credits” in lieu of cash by donating the facility to NCDC, a 501c3 organization, which, in turn, would transfer ownership to the new Sandhills Care Center to be operated by the city and the county. Unfortunately, the ongoing negotiation with the current owner did not prevent the Ainsworth Care Center from closing on May 31, 2015, requiring residents to be relocated to other care centers in Nebraska and elsewhere.

City and county officials continued to finalize the agreement to own/operate the Sandhills Care Center, forming the Sandhills Care Center Inter-local Board of Directors, consisting of appointed residents to represent the city and the county. The Board of Directors formed three committees for renovation of the current care center facility, the feasibility of building a new care center facility, and capital campaign fund raising.

In January of 2016, the Brown County Community Foundation Fund sponsored a town hall meeting to update the Ainsworth/Brown County Strategic Plan originally drafted in 2007. The participants at the town hall meeting identified nine community improvement themes, one of which was health care. The re-establishment of a skilled nursing care center in the community was identified as the priority project within the health care theme. Later in the spring, NCDC was able to secure ownership of the current facility and would be able to transfer the ownership to the Sandhills Care Center. Based on that information, the Care Center Board of Directors decided to accept ownership and to prepare the facility for the operation of the Sandhills Care Center, with the option to build a new facility to be addressed through long-range planning. Therefore, improvements to the current facility would continue to ensure proper services to the residents.  After the completion of various improvements to the facility, the Sandhills Care Center opened in the fall of 2016, and work continues toward maintaining an average of about 25 residents, which is projected to financially maintain cash flow as a successful community improvement venture in addressing the continuance of health care services in the community and the county.

* Recent cases from Brown County Court

(Posted 2:45 p.m. Feb. 27)

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

Dianna R. Porter, age 23, of Long Pine, charged with speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, fined $75.

Cordell L. Jeffcoat, 25, of Wood Lake, no valid registration, $25; also charged with speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Dillon R. Bacon, 19, of Ainsworth, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25; driving under suspension, $100.

Jennah M. McKenzie, 24, of North Platte, possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Timothy G. Smith, 36, of Broomfield, Colo., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Jesse J. Mertins, 41, of Geneseo, N.D., no valid registration, $25; improper or defective light, $25.

Walker Lamont, 47, of Sioux Falls, S.D., improper or defective light, $25; no proof of insurance, $100.

Marc Arellano, 34, of Ainsworth, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Jonah W. Waiflein, 22, of Aberdeen, S.D., violating a stop or yield sign, $75; no operator’s license, $75.

Buddy H. Tarrell, 39, of Long Pine, no red light on the rear of a vehicle, $25; no operator’s license, $75.

Loren J. Sherman, 38, of Ainsworth, third offense driving under the influence, fined $1,000, also sentenced to 30 days in jail with credit for two days served, 18 months of probation, driver’s license revoked for two years, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.

James D. Osborn, 48, of Ainsworth, dumping human waste, $100.

Paul I. Embick, 47, of Long Pine, third degree assault, sentenced to six months of probation; disturbing the peace, sentenced to 30 days in jail with credit for two days served.

Ali M. Ibrahim, 19, of Grand Forks, N.D., speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.

Joshua Martinez, 36, of Pawnee City, driving under suspension, driver’s license revoked for one year; possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

* City Council receives bids for wastewater improvement project

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

The Ainsworth City Council voted to approve all four items on their agenda during a special meeting Wednesday.
Jess Hurlbert of Olsson Associates told the council five bids were submitted for the wastewater facility improvements. One was submitted by City Plumbing, Inc. of Kearney, in the contract amount of $548,999.  Another was submitted by SAK Construction, LLC of O’Fallon, Mo., in the contract amount of $628,265.  The third was from Midlands Contracting, Inc. of Kearney in the contract amount of $415,715.  Each had submitted the apparent low bids for the three sections of the project. Hurlbert said further discussion will be required to rectify project total and tax adjustments, to be handled via change order during the council’s March meeting.
The council also approved the only bid received from DBK Farms in the amount of $2,040 per year to lease city-owned property east of Ainsworth near the KBR Solid Waste site.  The farm land lease is for a term of three years.  The property includes a total of 68 acres. The lease holder uses 34 acres with the city using the other 34 acres to apply liquid from their solid waste plant. In other action, the council approved a resolution for a legal service agreement with Sikyta Law Office and approved a permit application for a residential home water well located outside the city limits but within the one mile jurisdiction of the city.
The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for March 11.

* Standoff ends with officer-involved shooting incident near Arnold

(Posted 8:30 a.m. Feb. 26)

Troopers with the Nebraska State Patrol were called to assist the Custer County Sheriff's Office with a standoff situation at 6:16 a.m. Monday, February 24 at a residence in northeast Custer County on Dunning Road, north of Arnold. The situation had begun with a report of a suicidal party. NSP negotiators reported to the scene and began communicating with the subject, identified as Print Zutavern, 28. Earlier in the day, Zutavern threatened his father with a firearm, shot and killed multiple animals, and threatened law enforcement officers.
Throughout the day, communications continued and additional NSP resources responded. A warrant was issued for Zutavern's arrest on charges of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, use of a weapon to commit a felony, two counts of terroristic threats, and two counts of intentional cruelty to an animal.
At approximately 6:11 p.m., Zutavern attempted to leave the property driving a UTV, but was blocked by multiple troopers who gave loud commands for Zutavern to put his hands up. Zutavern then exited his UTV, ignored repeated commands, and moved aggressively toward a trooper. As Zutavern approached the trooper, he refused to remove his hand from his pocket. The trooper then discharged his duty weapon, striking Zutavern. Troopers and emergency medical technicians began life-saving efforts immediately. Zutavern was transported to Great Plains Hospital in North Platte where he was pronounced dead.
A shotgun was recovered from the UTV Zutavern had been driving. No law enforcement personnel were injured during the incident.
In accordance with Nebraska State Patrol policy, the trooper has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal review. The Custer County Attorney has directed an investigation, which is ongoing. Nebraska law requires a grand jury to convene for any in-custody death.

* Bussinger Wins Nebraska Model Bridge Contest

(Posted 9 a.m. Feb. 24)

The Distance Learning Physics Class, with students from Ainsworth and Rock County high schools, attended the 41st annual Nebraska Model Bridge Contest on Saturday, February 22, 2020 at the Edgerton Explorit Center in Aurora, Nebraska.  Bridges were judged for best construction and most unique design prior to being tested to determine their efficiency.  Efficiency is determined by dividing the weight the bridge held by the actual weight of the bridge.  Sloan Raymond’s bridge held 45.8 pounds for an efficiency of 915, placing eleventh.  Victor Carranza’s bridge held 60.5 pounds for an efficiency of 1120, placing eighth.  Brendan Bussinger’s bridge held 92.7 pounds for an efficiency of 1812, placing first to win the state contest.  He received a trophy, cash prize and an engineering scholarship to UNL.  He is eligible to rebuild his bridge to enter it in the International Contest on Saturday, May 9 in Chicago.  Team scores were also kept for each participating school.  Ainsworth placed fourth and Rock County placed seventh.

* Ainsworth Invitational

(Posted 9 a.m. Feb. 24)

Varsity
1st:  Alyssa Erthum—Persuasive Speaking
2nd:  Alyssa Erthum—Poetry
         Logan Hafer—Persuasive Speaking
         Libby Wilkins—Extemporaneous Speaking
         Libby Wilkins—Humorous Prose
3rd:  Maren Arens—Entertainment Speaking
5th:  Coy Carson—Humorous Prose
6th:  Brandt Murphy—Serious Prose
        Brandt Murphy & Alyssa Erthum—Duet Acting
        Josie Ganser/Logan Hafer/Ellie Welke--OID
Superiors:  Cody Kronhofman—Poetry
                  Josie Ganser—Entertainment Speaking
                  Ben Flynn—Informative Speaking
                  Adriana Hood—Informative Speakin
                  Maren Arens & Ben Flynn—Duet Acting
Team:  4th of 10
It was good to see success at our home tournament.  We had a nice crowd in attendance, and that sometimes brings out the best in our performances.  Team scoring was very close; Ewing took home 1st with 45 points, West Holt was runner-up with 42 points, followed by Valentine with 41 and Ainsworth with 36.  As always, the speech invitational would not be possible without the many community members and speech team alumni who take a day to judge great presentations given by our area competitors. The team is almost at the end of the regular season with only one invitational left in Holdrege next Saturday, February 29, and then conference, district, and state in March.

* Ainsworth man arrested after allegedly firing at occupied vehicle Sunday

(Posted 12:30 p.m. Feb. 20)

A 35-year-old Ainsworth man was arrested Sunday on three charges after allegedly firing shots at an occupied vehicle.

According to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, at 4:45 p.m. Sunday the department received a report of a man firing at an occupied vehicle. Deputy Zach Welch said the vehicle that was fired upon had two occupants, including a juvenile. The vehicle was struck by two .40 caliber rounds at the corner of South and Ulrich streets. Welch said neither of the two vehicle occupants was injured.

The sheriff’s department and Nebraska State Patrol investigated the alleged shooting, interviewing several witnesses and collecting evidence at the scene. Following the site investigation, the sheriff’s department served a search warrant at the suspect’s residence. While serving the warrant, the sheriff’s department decommissioned a homemade “pop bomb” that was located on the premises.

The 35-year-old Ainsworth man was arrested on charges of using a firearm to commit a felony, unlawfully discharging a firearm, and making terroristic threats.

Additional charges are pending as the investigation is ongoing.

The suspect was taken to the Brown County Jail, with bond set at $10,000 cash.

* Incumbent filing deadline passes with several area elected seats open

(Posted 7 a.m. Feb. 20)

The filing deadline for incumbent candidates seeking re-election to public office passed Tuesday, and the area saw a mix of candidates re-filing and those who chose not to seek another term.

In Brown County, Republican Buddy Small is running for re-election to the Brown County Board of Commissioners. He does not yet face a challenge, but the deadline for non-incumbents to file for office is the close of business March 2.

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 do not yet 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, indicating she was moving from the community. The mayor will recommend and the council will approve an appointment to fill the remainder of Hurless’s term, but that term expires this year.

Thus far, Brett Duester is the only candidate who has filed for an Ainsworth City Council seat for 2020.

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. No one has yet filed for the two Long Pine council seats.

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.

Dustin Craven did not file to retain his seat as a Rock County Commissioner. No candidates have thrown their hats in the ring to replace him.

Neither Reno Gordon nor Michael Turpin filed to keep their seats on the Bassett City Council. As of yet, there is no one running to replace them. Mayor Gary Williams also did not file for another term.

In Keya Paha County, Republican Mike Tuerk filed for re-election to the Board of Commissioners. Tuerk already faces a challenge from three newcomers during the May 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 later.

Any non-incumbent candidates wanting to file for office may do so in their county clerk’s office.

KBRB will provide another report of candidates for area seats as well as state and federal seats following the March 2 deadline for non-incumbents.

* O'Neill Airport receives $300,000 for taxiway construction

(Posted 9 a.m. Feb. 19)

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao announced the U.S. Department of Transportation will award $10.7 million in airport safety and infrastructure grants to 18 airports in Nebraska. The investment in Nebraska’s airports is part of a $520.5 million national investment in America’s airports.
The O’Neill Municipal Airport, John Baker Field, received $300,000 to fund construction of a taxiway. 
“This $520.5 million in federal support to airports across the country will help to keep our nation’s airports in good shape and make air travel a better experience for passengers,” Chao said.

* Highway 183 work near Ansley begins Monday

(Posted 7:30 a.m. Feb. 19)

Weather permitting, work will begin Monday on Highway 183 near Ansley, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.
Constructors Inc. of Lincoln has the $7.5 million contract. Phase I of the project includes removing a bridge over Comer Canyon and replacing it with box culverts. Traffic during Phase I will be maintained with one lane and temporary traffic signals.
Phase II work will begin in early April and includes bridge work on the Ansley viaduct and pavement replacement. Phase II will require highway traffic to be detoured through Ansley. The completion date for the project is anticipated in late fall.
Motorists are reminded to drive cautiously in and near construction zones, expect delays and always buckle up.

* MNNRD, NCDHD receive grants from Department of Environment and Energy

(Posted 7 a.m. Feb. 19)

Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy Director Jim Macy announced the awarding of $6 million in grants to support 161 projects across the state. The grants will help fund litter and waste reduction projects, recycling programs, and pay costs for scrap tire cleanups, and collections for household hazardous waste, electronic waste, and pharmaceuticals.
“There were many outstanding applications submitted to NDEE this year,” Macy said. “These grants will assist many important local efforts to promote litter and waste reduction, and help handle the costs of proper disposal of many materials, such as household hazardous waste and scrap tires.”

The Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District received a $41,300 grant to continue composting efforts for woody biomass and livestock manure. The NRD also received $1,500 for an educational display board, brochures and supplies to promote and educate the public about a woody biomass boiler system.

The North Central District Health Department was granted $27,759 for a 200-ton scrap tire cleanup for Holt County residents.
Waste Reduction and Recycling Incentive funds are generated by a fee on solid waste disposed of in landfills, an annual retail business sales fee, and a fee assessed on the sale of new tires. Grants are provided to local integrated waste management projects, and can include recycling systems, household hazardous waste collections, and composting. For 2020, 33 projects totaling $2.4 million were funded under the Business Fee, Disposal Fee, and Deconstruction of Abandoned Buildings categories.
Also included in the Waste Reduction and Recycling Incentive program are the Scrap Tire funds, which are generated from a $1 fee on new tires purchased in Nebraska. In 2020, 77 grants totaling $1.85 million were awarded. The grants will fund 33 scrap tire cleanup events across Nebraska. Enough funding was awarded to clean up 5,171 tons of scrap tires. Funds will also be used to partially reimburse the cost of equipment to process scrap tires and help fund many products made from recycled scrap tires, such as artificial turf football and soccer fields, athletic running tracks, and playground surfacing.
Litter Reduction and Recycling funds are generated from a fee charged to certain manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of products that commonly contribute to litter. The program has provided grants annually since 1979. In 2020, 51 litter grants totaling $1.74 million were awarded in the public education, cleanup, and recycling categories. Public education programs educate citizens on litter reduction and recycling through a variety of school and community activities. Priority is given to programs that promote markets for recycled materials or purchasing products made from recycled materials. Cleanup grants provide funding for Nebraska residents of all ages who pick up litter and debris along Nebraska’s highways, waterways, recreation lands, urban areas, and other public use areas within the state. Not only are the public areas improved through the removal of litter, but also much of the materials collected is recycled. Recycling programs provide an alternative to the disposal of solid waste in Nebraska’s landfills.

* Nilson, Johnson recognized as firefighter, ambulance association members of the year

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Feb. 17)

During Saturday’s awards banquet, BJ Nilson was named the Firefighter of the Year by the Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department.
KBR Rural Public Power received the Business of the Year Award from the fire department. Firefighters received service awards for their years with the department. Randy Johnson received a 40-year service award. Brad Fiala and Brad Waits were recognized for 35 years with the department. Scott Goodloe received a 15-year service award, and Trent Kinney was recognized for five years with the department.
The Brown County Ambulance Association also presented its annual awards, naming Randy Johnson the Ambulance Association Member of the Year. Drake Fiala received the Rookie of the Year Award from the Brown County Ambulance Association.

* Council approves first reading of vacant building ordinance

(Posted 7 a.m. Feb. 13)

The Ainsworth City Council on Wednesday approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow the city to exercise authority over vacant residential and commercial properties.

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said Ordinance 1542 gives the city authority over property owners who let their buildings sit vacant.

“We have been working through the nuisance ordinance to clean them up,” Schroedl said. “Sometimes we are successful, sometimes not. This gives us the authority to work with the owners on these properties to either fix them to rent or sell, or demolish them.”

City Attorney Rod Palmer said the ordinance places an emphasis on a building inspector, which the city currently does not employ.

“A building inspector will have to take the lead on this,” Palmer said. “There are exceptions to the ordinance, and property owners receive due process.”

Councilman Brad Fiala said the city would definitely need someone who knows what they are doing when inspecting a property.

“Are there requirements for someone to be an inspector?” Fiala asked.

Palmer said he was not aware of any official certification that was required for someone to be hired as a building inspector.

Audience member Sonny Corkle said there was a Bassett resident who served as a building inspector during home sales who might be interested in the position.

Schroedl said all the other communities in the area were in the same boat as Ainsworth. None have an official building inspector. She said she would make contact to see if that individual was interested in serving as the city’s inspector.

The council approved the first reading of the ordinance. It will be read at two more council meetings before being adopted.

In a related item, the council declared five properties in the city as nuisances after receiving recommendations from the Board of Health. Those properties are located at Osborne’s Lot 14 Block 9, Osborne’s Block 22 Lots 7 and 8, Osborne’s Block 22 Lot 6, Hall’s Second Block 10 Lot 8, and Woodward’s Block 5 Lots 13, 14 and 15.

Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan said the sheriff’s department would deliver the nuisance abatement letters to the property owners along with a deadline to abate the nuisance violations.

Councilman Greg Soles, who serves on the Board of Health, said those five properties need the most attention from among the 26 the Board of Health has on its list.

Schroedl said the sheriff’s department would inspect the properties again after the deadline to determine if the violations had been abated.

In other business Wednesday, the council approved the One and Six Year Streets Improvement Plan as submitted by Streets Superintendent Lloyd Smith. Smith said most communities he works with spent 2019 fighting water issues instead of completing projects in their streets plans.

The one-year plan includes concrete paving on Seventh Avenue, Third Street between Maple and Oak streets, and on Harrington Street between First and Fourth streets. The one-year plan also includes armor coating work on Woodward Street between First and Third streets.

The six-year streets plan includes concrete paving on Maple Street between First and Fourth streets, and armor coating work on portions of Woodward Street, Second Street, Third Street, Fifth Street, Sixth Street and Oak Street.

Smith told the council the FEMA money the city is receiving can only be used to return the streets to their previous condition. Those funds cannot be used, for instance, to upgrade an asphalt street to concrete.

“We need to get things back and repaired to the way they were, then work on an LMI survey for a potential paving project,” Smith said.

The city currently does not qualify for Community Development Block Grant Funds due to its number of low to moderate income level of resident population not meeting the CDBG threshold. Smith said the city can conduct an LMI survey to see if the city can qualify.

In a related item, the council approved a year-end resolution to certify Smith as the city’s streets superintendent. The certification allows the city to receive an incentive payment from the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

The council approved a recommendation from the Ainsworth Betterment Committee to award $2,950 in ABC funds to the Ainsworth Women’s Club for Christmas decoration repairs.

Women’s Club member Sonny Corkle said the group has spent more than $4,000 of its own funds to maintain the Christmas displays.

“This is a labor of love for our organization,” Corkle said. “There are some crucial repairs that need to be made, but we weren’t able to hold our tour of tables fund-raiser the past two years because of the weather.”

Schroedl reported the Brown County Commissioners withdrew their previous request to have the city pay for half the cost of fertilizing the Courthouse Park. Fiala said he still wanted to see a water meter installed at the Brown County Courthouse at no cost to the county. Fiala said the city would then know how much water is being used by the courthouse.

Soles said installing a meter would help the city know if there was a leak or if the city was losing water somewhere in its system.

Schroedl said the only other locations that did not have a meter installed were city buildings. Soles said he would like to see meters installed there as well to give the city a better idea of the efficiency of the city’s water system and how much water was being pumped compared to how much was being utilized.

The council approved recommendations from the mayor for appointments to several city boards and committees. Those appointments include:

* Dustin Barthel to the LB 840 Loan Committee

* Josie Ganser to the Ainsworth Betterment Committee

* Marvin Ohlrich and Jim Hoch to the Cemetery Board

* Lucinda Noronha to the Planning Commission

* Bill Lentz to the Sellors-Barton Cabin Advisory Board

* Dale Hafer to the Community Redevelopment Authority

* Brett Duester and Robbie France to the Park Board

* Jake Graff to the Housing Committee

* Josh Titus to the Board of Adjustment

During her report, Schroedl said the streets shop addition has been completed. She reported the USDA did allow the city to go out for bids on the sewer improvement project. With the estimate for the amount of cure-in-place pipe falling 2,800 feet short of what was actually needed, the USDA and council will discuss adjustments to the scope of the project after the bids are received. She will schedule a special meeting for noon Feb. 26 to review the bids with engineering firm Olsson Associates.

She reported NPPD has received bids for the community solar project, and those bids will be discussed during the council’s March meeting.

Prior to adjourning Wednesday, Councilwoman Deb Hurless announced her resignation from the City Council. She said she and her husband were moving to Oakland to be closer to their family.

“It has been an honor to serve the people of Ainsworth,” Hurless said.

The council thanked Hurless for serving on the council, and accepted her resignation. Sullivan will make a recommendation for the council’s approval or denial to appoint someone to Hurless’s council seat. Hurless’s term expires in 2020, so her council seat will appear on the 2020 ballot. The appointee approved by the council will serve in the position until the council’s December meeting, when the new council members elected in November are seated.

The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. March 11.

* Care Center pursuing grants for generator replacement, heating and air upgrades

(Posted 1 p.m. Feb. 11)

The Sandhills Care Center Board will pursue potential grant opportunities from several sources in an effort to improve the facility’s heating and air conditioning and replace an aging generator.

Maintenance director Matt Moody told the board he is still working with contractors to complete quotes for the generator, and he presented the board with options with replacing the current generator with a model of similar size, or upgrading to a generator that will operate the entire facility. The larger generator would also require substantial wiring work in the building.

Moody also recommended the facility use air handling units for future heating and air instead of replacing the boiler.

“If we replace the boiler, we are afraid the new one would knock everything loose and it would be a domino effect,” Moody said.

Board Chairman Phil Fuchs said each room already has a window heating and air unit, so if the board replaced the heating and air for the dining room, the kitchen, the dietary office, the administration office and the nursing station, the boiler could likely be abandoned.

Moody recommended the facility replace the heating and air units for the kitchen and dining areas first while continuing to operate the boiler, then proceed with replacing the other areas as funds became available.

Board member Chuck Osborn agreed that is the route he would prefer to pursue.

Moody estimated the cost for new heating and air units for the kitchen and dining room would be about $75,000, and the cost to replace the current generator with a similar model would run between $13,000 and $20,000. The cost to upgrade the generator to the size that would run the entire facility would be closer to $50,000.

Administrator Stephanie Kinzie said she was working with the North Central Development Center on potential grants through both the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

She said the USDA grant would potentially cover $50,000 toward one of the projects. The board approved completing a pre-application for the Community Facilities Grant through the USDA for a new generator for the facility.

Kinzie said the grant application will be written next week.

The care center will also pursue potential grant funding through the Brown County Foundation and KBR Rural Public Power to potentially go toward replacing the heating and air systems.

Kinzie reported she has received numerous compliments after the new window coverings were installed in the facility.

“Everyone loves them,” she said.

Kinzie also provided the board with an update of the activities undertaken by the Nebraska Health Care Board. Kinzie is a state board member, and said the biggest issues the board is working to address are the shortage of CNAs, and health insurance coverage for nursing home employees.

She said the state board plans to offer a CNA course online, with the class members then performing the skills test portion of the class in a facility willing to host that portion of the training.

“We will sign up and see if we can get CNAs that way,” Kinzie said.

She reported many nursing home facilities are not currently able to offer health insurance to employees, so the state board is working with Blue Cross Blue Shield to group all the facilities unable to offer insurance together into one pool, and then offer a group plan through Blue Cross.

Fuchs said that would be a huge positive for facilities like the Sandhills Care Center that have not been able to offer a group plan to employees.

Kinzie said the state board is also working with the Nebraska Legislature to try and increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate nursing homes receive.

“We are trying to find a happy medium,” the administrator said. “LB 1053 would increase Medicaid reimbursement for nursing homes and help keep the doors open after several closed again in 2019.”

The Sandhills Care Center generated $151,782 in revenue during January, with expenses of $126,297 for a net profit for the month of $25,484.

Kinzie reported the care center currently has 20 residents after two residents were admitted in January, three residents passed away, and one resident was discharged.

She said the care center should be completely finished with using agency nursing staff within the next few weeks, as the only agency staff being utilized now was a CNA, and with the resident population falling to 20 the facility would not need to extend that position.

“If we were to add five more residents, then we would have to keep that agency CNA on staff,” Kinzie said.

The next meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board is scheduled for 4 p.m. March 9.

* Ainsworth Community Schools asks public for help choosing new slogan

(Posted 10:45 a.m. Feb. 11)

Ainsworth Community Schools is asking for the public’s input to select a new slogan for the school. The slogan will be incorporated into future banners, T-shirts and other school promotional items.

Patrons may go online to the Ainsworth Community Schools web site at www.ainsworthschools.org or find the school’s Facebook page to cast a vote for the new slogan. There are five options to choose from. The slogan with the highest vote total will be used by the school going forward.

For more information, contact Amanda Ganser or Curtis Childers at Ainsworth Community Schools.

* NCDHD provides data from health needs assessment

(Posted 9:15 a.m. Feb. 11)

The North Central District Health Department invites the public to visit their website at www.ncdhd.ne.gov to provide their input on the Draft 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment data findings.
The following are a few of the findings in a preliminary community health assessment in collaboration with Antelope Memorial Hospital, Avera Creighton Hospital, Avera Saint Anthony’s Hospital, Osmond General Hospital, Plainview Community Hospital, Niobrara Valley Hospital, West Holt Memorial Hospital, Brown County Hospital, Cherry County Hospital and Rock County Hospital:

         In 2017, about 1 in 6 NCDHD adults (10.8%) reported having ever been told by a doctor, nurse, or other health professional that they have a depressive disorder, including depression, major depression, or minor depression (i.e., diagnosed depression).

         NCDHD region experienced a mortality rate decline of over 25% between 2001-2005 and 2013-2017 combined years in the following causes: stroke, lung cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer. However, in the same time periods, NCDHD region experienced a mortality rate increase of over 25% in the following causes: essential hypertension, drug misuse, suicide, Alzheimer’s, chronic lung disease, pneumonia, and COPD.

         In the NCDHD area, the proportion of adults reporting they have been told they have high blood pressure increased from 33.8% in 2011 to 37.8% in 2017.

* Carr announces retirement after 44 years with Ainsworth Community Schools

(Posted 7:15 p.m. Feb. 11)

The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education Monday accepted the resignation of a second longtime high school teacher, who announced her retirement upon the completion of the 2019-20 school year.

Middle and high school science teacher Gerry Carr, who has taught in Ainsworth Community Schools for 44 years, announced this would be her final school year with the district, joining longtime high school English teacher Mary Rau, who announced her retirement in January.

Superintendent Dale Hafer said the district just began advertising for the science opening. He said interviews have been scheduled for the high school language arts opening, and the district should have the open elementary teaching position filled soon.

In other business Monday, the board approved the negotiated agreement with the Ainsworth Education Association for the 2020-21 school year. The base salary for 2020-21 is $36,350. Health insurance premiums increased by 6.71 percent, and the overall package paid to staff members increased by a total of 3 percent.

The board approved an addition to the boiler project as recommended by Conditioned Air Mechanical. After inspecting the district’s boiler, the company indicated the district needed to replace one of the boiler’s doors that had warped as well as the boiler’s expansion tank. The cost, minus labor, to replace both is $5,295.

Hafer presented the board with the proposed school calendar for the 2020-21 year, which included 185 contract days for teachers and 176 days for students. Hafer said the calendar is not yet finalized, and would be submitted for board approval during the March meeting.

Following an executive session Monday, the board approved contracts for the 2020-21 school year for both Elementary Principal Curtis Childers and Secondary Principal Steve Dike.

In a final action item, the board, after holding a work session with representatives from Trane on a long-term facility improvement plan, approved seeking a qualified ESCO provider.

Hafer said to move forward and consider the facility improvement plan, there were guidelines the board needed to follow, including approving the resolution.

Hafer said the resolution does not commit the board to anything, but is required to continue moving forward.

During his report, Hafer said he worked to update an existing agreement with Ainsworth Motors and First Class Auto to provide the district with a vehicle on alternating years. The district pays for the vehicle initially, then can turn it back to the dealer after a year and recoup the purchase price minus a documentation fee and a charge per mile driven. The cost per mile would increase from 15 cents per mile to 20 cents per mile, which Hafer said was not unreasonable since the agreement had not changed in 20 years.

Board member Brad Wilkins asked how many miles the district typically put on the vehicle each year before it was traded back. Hafer said the vehicles typically had between 10,000 and 12,000 miles on them when they were traded back.

Hafer reported the district is in the final stretch of creating a strategic plan through assistance from the Nebraska Association of School Boards. The final step is a public engagement session, which is scheduled from 6:30 until 8 p.m. March 2 in the school cafeteria. All are invited to provide input on the things the district should prioritize in its strategic plan.

Childers reported parent-teacher conferences have been completed, and the elementary recently held its first parent-teacher organization meeting. He said the goal of forming a parent-teacher organization was to get more parents into the school building and establish a positive relationship between parents and the school system.

Dike reported the Bulldog Battles, featuring monthly competitions between the classes of students, have been a success as the district works to improve its climate and culture. Competitions have included Name That Tune, Alaskan Baseball, a water balloon slingshot contest, and a Quiz Bowl competition. He said the sophomore class won the first semester competition and earned a pizza party and roller-skating trip to Stuart.

He said a survey showed 86 percent of students found the Bulldog Battles a fun way to support classmates.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education will begin with a work session at 5 p.m. followed by the regular meeting March 9.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Feb. 11)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a two-vehicle accident that occurred Thursday, Feb. 6, in Ainsworth.
According to the sheriff’s department report, at 12:14 p.m. at the intersection of Highway 20 and Oak Street, a collision occurred between a 2008 Pontiac G6, driven by Jennifer Bryant, 17, of Johnstown that was turning west onto Highway 20 from Oak Street, and a 1997 Chevy pickup, driven west on Highway 20 by Eugene Day, 81, of Ainsworth.
No injuries were reported. Damage to the Pontiac was estimated at more than $1,000. The Chevy sustained approximately $100 damage.

* Ainsworth speech team competes at Stuart Invitational

(Posted 11:45 a.m. Feb. 10)

Stuart Speech Invitational

Ainsworth results

Varsity

2nd:  Logan Hafer—Persuasive Speaking

4th:  Maren Arens & Ben Flynn—Duet Acting

6th:  Coy Carson—Humorous Prose

Alyssa Erthum—Poetry

Josie Ganser, Logan Hafer, & Ellie Welke--OID

Superiors:  Josie Ganser—Entertainment Speaking

Maren Arens—Entertainment Speaking

Ben Flynn—Informative Speaking

Cody Kronhofman—Poetry

Alyssa Erthum—Persuasive Speaking

Brandt Murphy & Alyssa Erthum—Duet Acting

Novice

1st:  Eden Raymond & Dakota Stutzman—Duet Acting

3rd:  Dakota Stutzman—Serious Prose

 

Team:  8th of 15

 

“We were able to break finals with several events, and those medals came at a perfect time,” Ainsworth coach Mary Rau said. “The team needed a little boost.  We’re still making big changes to many of the speeches, and success shows us that we’re moving in the right direction.”

The next competition will take the speech team to North Platte Saturday, Feb. 15.

* North Central RC&D facilitates paper shredding

(Posted 8:45 a.m. Feb. 10)

Springview, Naper, Butte, Spencer and Lynch community members have extra storage after Friday’s paper shredding event.

The North Central RC&D partnered with village leaders in those communities to organize a northern route for paper shredding.

Lathan Asbra of Security Shredding brought the shredding right to the locations for those with documents like old tax returns, medical information and employee records.

The RC&D held its first shredding collection in December of 2018. Friday was the third shredding event in the RC&D’s coverage area.

A total of 10.5 bins were collected in Springview, 3.5 in Naper, and 5.5 bins in Butte. Spencer had 6.5 bins and the route closed up in Lynch, collecting 3 bins. The total for the day was 29 bins of paper shredded.

The RC&D offers a variety of recycling collections throughout Holt, Brown, Keya Paha, Rock, Boyd and Cherry counties offering services local recycling centers aren’t able to provide.

After discussion with Security Shredding owner, Lathan Asbra, it was confirmed this run will now be an annual event.

* Area students named to UN-L Deans' List for fall semester

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

More than 5,700 University of Nebraska–Lincoln students have been named to the Deans' List for the fall semester of the 2019-20 academic year.

Qualification for the Deans' List varies among the eight undergraduate colleges and the Explore Center. All qualifying grade-point averages are based on a four-point scale and a minimum of 12 graded semester hours. Students can be on the Deans' List for more than one college.

Area students named to the fall semester Deans’ List at UN-L include:

 

Ainsworth

Megan Jo Appelt, freshman, College of Education and Human Sciences, nutrition and health sciences.

Jack Ritter Arens, junior, College of Engineering, computer engineering.

Colin Lloyd Dike, senior, College of Education and Human Sciences, special education (7-12) and speech (7-12).

Austin Jon Harthoorn, senior, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, agricultural economics.

Rebecca Anne Taylor, freshman, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, environmental restoration science.

Samuel Duane Wilkins, freshman, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, agricultural economics; College of Engineering, agricultural engineering.

Long Pine:

Jacy Elizabeth Hafer, freshman, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, agricultural education.

 

Wood Lake

Mariah Del Hogenson, senior, College of Education and Human Sciences, elementary education.

 

Newport

Katherine Elizabeth Osbon, junior, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, hospitality, restaurant and tourism management.

 

Stuart

Peyton Di-Ann Alder, sophomore, College of Arts and Sciences, biological sciences and psychology.

Alison Paige Stracke, junior, College of Arts and Sciences, biochemistry.

 

Atkinson

Alex Jerome Fritz, senior, College of Engineering, electrical engineering.

Jake Tanner Judge, junior, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, mechanized systems management.

Kyle Matthew Linders, senior, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, plant biology.

 

Butte

Kelsey Lynne Sextro, senior, College of Education and Human Sciences, textiles, merchandising and fashion design (textile and apparel design) and textiles, merchandising and fashion design (merchandising).

 

Valentine

Alvin Nathaniel Miller, freshman, College of Arts and Sciences, psychology.

Reaghan Adriann Shelbourn, freshman, College of Arts and Sciences, English.

Chance Loil Tankersley, sophomore, College of Business, marketing.

* NCDHD monitoring coronavirus outbreak, risk to Nebraskans remains low

(Posted 10 p.m. Feb. 7)

The North Central District Health Department and its partners continue to monitor the unfolding outbreak of respiratory illness caused by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.  The virus originated in China and has spread. It now includes 12 cases in the United States. So far, there have been no cases identified in Nebraska.  The risk to Nebraskans is currently very low.

The health department is asking those living in Antelope, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Holt, Keya Paha, Knox, Pierce, and Rock counties in Nebraska with travel to China within the last two weeks to contact them.

You may also contact the health department if you believe you have been around someone who recently traveled from China. The health department will assess your risk and provide guidance.

Contacting the health department is the best way to ensure referral to timely medical care (if it would be necessary) and minimize the potential risk to others. Information shared with NCDHD will be kept confidential. The North Central District Health Department can be reached at 402-336-2406.

* Highway 20 in Nebraska to be named Medal of Honor Highway

(Posted 7:30 a.m. Feb. 6)

Gov. Pete Ricketts signed paperwork Friday to formally name Nebraska’s section of Highway 20 as the “Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway.”

The signing took place on Veterans Legislative Day, an annual event at the State Capitol for veterans and veteran service organizations to learn about veteran- and military-related legislation.

“Naming Highway 20 as the ‘Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway’ pays homage to our nation’s most heroic soldiers,” Ricketts said. “It’s a fitting way for Nebraska to show respect and appreciation to our veterans for their sacrifices to keep us safe.”

The Nebraska Medal of Honor Foundation applied for the naming of Highway 20, which the Nebraska Highway Commission then recommended in December.

Nebraska Department of Transportation Director Kyle Schneweis signed the recommendation before submitting the name change to the governor for approval.

By designating Highway 20 as the Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway, Nebraska joins a national effort to name Highway 20, which runse 3,365 miles from Boston, Mass., to Newport, Ore.  Nebraska is home to 432 miles of Highway 20 and is the fifth state to formally adopt the Medal of Honor name. Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have already named their sections, and efforts are underway in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts to name their portions as well.

“I’m proud of Nebraska for taking this step to link arms with our neighbors and fellow Americans and be part of a national tribute to our heroes,” said Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director John Hilgert. “This highway runs from coast to coast, crossing widely different terrains and connecting very different people, yet we remain united in our desire to pay tribute to our heroes.  That is a powerful message.”

Since the Medal of Honor was first presented during the Civil War, 3,508 awards have been issued with every state represented.  As of December 21, 2019, there were only 71 Medal of Honor recipients living in the United States of America.  To earn the Medal of Honor, a member of the U.S. Armed Forces must act with “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty during combat at the risk of one’s life against an enemy of the United States.”

Nebraska Medal of Honor Foundation President Daryl Harrison said, “This is a means of paying tribute to all Nebraska Medal of Honor recipients and is a gift to them and treasure to Nebraska by all Nebraska veterans and patriots. Now the Nebraska Medal of Honor Foundation has the work before it to ensure signage along the Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway properly pays tribute to Nebraska’s greatest warriors.”

The Highway 20 segment running from Fort Robinson State Park to Hay Springs will retain its name as Crazy Horse Memorial Highway.

* Highway superintendent urges motorists to be wary of potential culvert damage

(Posted 2:30 p.m. Feb. 5)

During Tuesday’s meeting, Brown County Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin discussed with the Board of Commissioners the possibility of culverts being compromised due to erosion from swiftly moving water.

Turpin said the piping effect can erode the sides and bottom of culverts and can create a dangerous situation for drivers. Motorists are urged to use caution, and if they come across a culvert where erosion is visible or if it appears the road is settling near a culvert, contact the Brown County Roads Department.

Turpin also requested permission to replace two roads department pickups, and the commissioners directed him to obtain bids.

In another roads item, the commissioners voted Tuesday to declare a bridge structure that was recently abandoned as surplus property. The bridge will be advertised for sale.

Chris Raymond from Plains Equipment discussed a change to a lawn tractor the company bid that the county accepted during a meeting in August.

Raymond said the model quoted changed from a 2019 John Deere to a 2020 John Deere model X730. Raymond said the attachments the county agreed to purchase for the tractor would not fit the 2019 model. He said Plains Equipment would provide a credit of half of the price difference between the 2019 John Deere originally quoted and the 2020 X730 model.

After discussion, the board opted to purchase the 2020 X730 model, but without quoted attachments, at a cost of $8,650. The price quoted with attachments was $12,600.

Representatives from the Brown County Agricultural Society provided the commissioners with an update on the bathroom replacement project on the west side of the Brown County Fairgrounds.

The commissioners approved a 2.5 percent cost of living wage increase for roads department employees, the custodian, the weed superintendent, zoning administrator and veterans services officer. The wage increase is effective as of Jan. 31.

The board approved the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association’s 2020-21 underwriting questionnaire, and reviewed the BKR Extension office’s annual report.

Clerk Travee Hobbs discussed updating the computers in the clerk’s office, as well as a shortage of space for county records. The cost to update the computers will be taken from the county’s miscellaneous general fund.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Feb. 18.

* Perfect prediction lands Lund KBRB Big Game certificate haul

(Posted 1:15 p.m. Feb. 3)

Loren Lund of Bassett hit the score of Sunday’s NFL Championship between Kansas City and San Francisco right on the number, correctly predicting a 31-20 Chiefs victory over the 49ers. The Chiefs outscored San Francisco 21-0 in the fourth quarter to win their first championship in 50 years.

The contestants were so dialed in this year, to finish in the top 10 of the Big Game Contest took being within five points of the actual score.

Gabe Allen of Ainsworth and Bryan Sisson tied for second, both missing the final score by a single point by picking the Chiefs 31-21.

Fourth went to Deb Weiss of Ainsworth, who missed the final by two with a guess of 30-21. Jan Foster of Bassett was fifth with a pick of 30-22, missing by just three.

Missing the total by four to tie for sixth were Steve Naprstak of Johnstown, Chelsey Peterson, and Jade Johnson.

Tying for ninth and missing the final by five points were Mary Smith, Ashley Titus, Rick Mayfield, John Clark, Keith Ammon, Delores Colburn and Cody Smith. They snagged the final winning spots in this year's Big Game Contest.

KBRB thanks all those who called in a score and all of the great Big Game Contest sponsors.

Winners can pick up their certificates in the KBRB studios.

 

KBRB Big Game Contest

Kansas City 31, San Francisco 20

First – Loren Lund of Bassett, picked the score exactly right 31-20

Second – Tie between Gabe Allen of Ainsworth and Bryan Sisson, both had it 31-21 to miss the total by just one point.

Fourth – Deb Weiss of Ainsworth, 30-21, missing by two points

Fifth – Jan Foster of Bassett, 30-22, missing by three points

Sixth – Tie missing the total by four between Steve Naprstak of Johnstown, 28-21, Chelsey Peterson, 31-24, and Jade Johnson, 28-21.

Ninth – Tie missing the total by five between Mary Smith, 27-21, Ashley Titus, 27-21, Rick Mayfield, 29-23, John Clark, 32-24, Keith Ammon, 35-21, Delores Colburn, 28-22, and Cody Smith, 26-20.

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