Governor Pete Ricketts is asking lawmakers for $58.6 million in emergency state funding to help pay for medical and cleaning supplies, tests, employee overtime and other expenses needed to respond to the new coronavirus pandemic as the number of Nebraska cases rises.
Ricketts was expected to present the new budget request to legislators Friday afternoon. Lawmakers are tentatively planning to return to the Capitol on Monday to consider the package. Ricketts says the money would come from the state’s emergency fund, which is designed for budget crunches and one-time expenses. His announcement comes as eight more cases of COVID-19 were identified in Nebraska, including the first in Lincoln. The new total in Nebraska on Friday was 37.
During a public briefing Friday afternoon, Ricketts called upon other local and state officials for additional information.
Dr. Gary Anthone, General Surgeon at CHI Health Immanuel and Nebraska Methodist Hospital said less than 5% of the cases tested in the state have been confirmed positive. He said people that are being tested are patients at very high risk for testing positive due to the limited number of tests that can be performed in the state. Those considered at high risk include people hospitalized for pneumonia or that have traveled to areas that have a high population of confirmed cases and have shown symptoms.
“We at our public health lab have the capability of doing approximately 100 tests per day now with the materials we have,” said Dr. Anthone. “The University of Nebraska Medical Center has their own lab test that they can also do about 100 tests per day.” He said he hopes to expand testing from 100 to 400 or 500 per day very soon. “We want to make sure that the people that are critical to get tested will get tested,” which he said includes health care workers, first responders and long term care and nursing care facility patients, among others.
When thinking about utility organizations such as electricity, Tim Burke, President and CEO of Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) said they can also be recognized as first responders in the idea of keeping essential services active during this time of isolation. He said there are members of Nebraska utilities actively engaged with members of the US Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security on a daily basis to evaluate current conditions as well as long term possibilities across the electric grid of the US.
“Across the state of Nebraska, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with about 5 or 6 CEOs and general managers, and we’re all looking at how we can implement our pandemic or crisis planning,” said Burke. “We’re continuing to do our work in Omaha. Line technicians are doing construction out in the open environments and practicing social distancing within our facilities. We are prepping for a potential sheltering in place where employees will live, sleep, and eat for a period of time to make sure we can maintain a strong and operational system.”
Jim Macy, Director of Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy (DEE) also assured Nebraskans that the supply of drinking water remains safe to use, and there is no indication that COVID-19 can be transmitted through the water system.
“Drinking water from the tap is safe for public consumption,” said Macy. “Often times though, it’s easier and more convenient to have some bottled water around. We support that idea. It’s easier than sanitizing glasses after using those, but we want to assure you that your drinking water supply is safe, we have an abundant supply, and we encourage Nebraskans to use their tap water.”
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