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Council approves plan to start reopening facilities

The city of Hastings is now setting about reopening facilities to the public as safely as possible.

Members of the Hastings City Council voted 8-0 during their regular meeting Monday to approve plans for reopening.

The entire 31-page plan is an attachment in the agenda packet for Monday’s council meeting and available at cityofhastings.org.

Hastings Public Library is targeting a July 6 opening, limiting visitation to 100 people at a time. An adult must accompany a child 13 and younger.

Hastings Museum is moving toward phased reopening, with reduced hours, beginning June 29. Phase 2 will begin July 13.

Phase 1 is for museum members; Phase 2 is for the greater public.

During the initial phases of reopening, only large-format films will be shown in the museum theater and the planetarium won’t be open.

The plan to reopen the museum includes options to have Summer Fun classes at the museum or to not have them there.

Many safety and cleaning procedures also are outlined.

Among other facets of the city’s reopening plan, officials have determined that in Hastings Utilities’ North Denver Station, 1228 N. Denver Ave., the temporary location of the business office in the former board room doesn’t allow sufficient spacing for the practice of social distancing. As a consequence, the North Denver Station will remain closed to the public until the ongoing business office renovation is complete.

Registration for Parks and Recreation activities will be done online. Community Center pickle ball courts are open for use by reservation at the Parks and Rec office.

Phase 3 for relaxed directed health measures in most of Nebraska, including the four-county South Heartland Health District, began Monday.

City Administrator Dave Ptak thanked department heads for their work putting together the plan.

“This was something that was definitely a work in progress,” he said. “Thank goodness we’ve reached Phase 3, as far as the DHMs, which really helps us feel better about opening some of our facilities.”

All the plans were submitted to the South Heartland District Health Department and reviewed by Michele Bever, the department’s executive director.

Bever offered suggestions and approved a revised draft.

“It didn’t change any of the dates; it didn’t change any of the capacities,” Ptak said. “It was more some of the internal workings as far as for social distancing and sanitizing.”

Under Bever’s guidance, the reopening plan doesn’t require the wearing of masks for either patrons or staff.

“We certainly, strongly recommend that if they come into our facilities that they try and social distance as well as wear a mask,” Ptak said.

He said wearing a mask is a suggestion within the Phase 3 directed health measures.

“We would certainly honor that request and hope that our public would because our goal is to not only protect our staff, but also protect the public when they are using our facilities, as well, ” he said.

Councilman Chuck Rosenberg asked about requiring patrons to wear masks at the museum theater, citing the AMC movie theater chain, which is requiring masks be worn.

Rosenberg said the Hastings Community Theatre also is evaluating the possibility of requiring masks to be worn by audience members at performances there.

“Even though you’re spread apart, you’re still in the same room where coughing and sneezing could take place,” he said.

The museum is starting with only large-format films, which are about 45 minutes long. Becky Tideman, museum director of marketing, said there is less exposure then, compared to a feature-length film, which is 90 minutes to two hours long.

Because of exposure concerns, the planetarium won’t be open to the public during Phase 1, and will have limited public availability in Phase 2. It is a smaller space with slower air turnover.

Seating in the museum theater is limited to every other row. Groups are asked to leave three seats at either side.

Tideman said the capacity there is 211.

“We’d like to open with a reduced capacity of no more than 50 people per film,” she said.

Ptak said if masks were required, city facilities would need to have disposable masks on hand to give visitors.

“The thing is, when we require masks not everybody has one,” he said.

He said city staff members have been “adamant” about the wearing of masks themselves.

“I think they’ll probably wear masks irrespective of what the DHMs actually provide,” he said.

In other business Monday, the council:

  • Unanimously approved Ordinance No. 4635 and the amendment to the official zoning district map to rezone Hultine Subdivision, on 12th Street near Adams Central Avenue, from A, Agricultural to R-1A, single-family large lot residential district. Council members also unanimously approved suspending the requirement to vote on an ordinance three times for passage.
  • Unanimously approved the preliminary/final plat for the Hultine Subdivision, on 12th Street near Adams Central Avenue, and a replat of Block 2, Copple 1st Addition into two separate lots.
  • Unanimously approved a $159,389 bid from NAVCO of Houston to purchase a railcar overhead shaker with hoist and control system for the Whelan Energy Center coal dumper building.
  • Unanimously approved awarding a contract for a 2021 cab and chassis with hydraulic telescopic crane to Altec Industries Inc. of St. Joseph, Missouri, for $469,429 excluding sales tax.
  • Unanimously approved Ordinance No. 4634 providing for transfer of land to Hastings Public Schools. The school district has contracted to sell eight acres of property, including a portion of the street right-of-way, which is being transferred to the school by this ordinance, to Consolidated Concrete Co. The property being sold lies immediately to the east of Consolidated Concrete at North Baltimore Avenue. After passage of the ordinance, the running of the remonstrance period, and transfer of the property to the school district, a plat will be offered for approval and then the sale to Consolidated Concrete will be completed.

Unanimously approved a reimbursement resolution to enable recovery through proceeds of issuance of bonds or notes of city funds temporarily advanced for Street Improvement District 2019-3 for Laux Avenue.

Surging US virus cases raise fear that progress is slipping

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Alarming surges in coronavirus cases across the U.S. South and West raised fears Monday that the outbreak is spiraling out of control and that hard-won progress against the scourge is slipping away because of resistance among many Americans to wearing masks and keeping their distance from others.

Confirming predictions that the easing of state lockdowns over the past month and a half would lead to a comeback by the virus, cases surpassed 100,000 in Florida, hospitalizations are rising dramatically in Houston and Georgia, and a startling 1 in 5 of those tested in Arizona are proving to be infected.

Over the weekend, the virus seemed to be everywhere at once: Several campaign staff members who helped set up President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, tested positive, as did 23 Clemson University football players in South Carolina. At least 30 members of the Louisiana State University team were isolated after becoming infected or coming into contact with someone who was. Meatpacking plants were also hit with outbreaks.

“It is snowballing. We will most certainly see more people die as a result of this spike,” said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO and president of Houston Methodist Hospital, noting that the number of COVID-19 hospital admissions has tripled since Memorial Day to more than 1,400 across eight hospital systems in the Houston metropolitan area.

He warned that hospitals could be overwhelmed in three weeks, and he pleaded with people to cover their faces and practice social distancing.

“It is possible to open up at a judicious pace and coexist with the virus, but it requires millions and millions of people to do the right thing,” Boom said.

Texas is among a number of states — including Arizona, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina — whose governors have resisted statewide mask requirements, leaving the matter to local authorities.

The number of new coronavirus cases across the country per day has reached more than 26,000, up from about 21,000 two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Over 120,000 deaths in the U.S. have been blamed on the virus, the highest toll in the world.

In Georgia, the number of people hospitalized because of COVID-19 rose to 1,000, erasing a month’s worth of progress.

Infections are at their highest level since the outbreak began, nearly two months after Georgia began lifting restrictions on businesses. Gov. Brian Kemp has required face coverings by waiters, barbers and others working face-to-face with customers but has largely let businesses decide whether customers must wear masks.

In Orlando, 152 coronavirus cases were linked to one bar near the University of Central Florida campus, said Dr. Raul Pino, a state health officer in the tourism city.

“A lot of transmission happened there,” Pino said. “People are very close. People are not wearing masks. People are drinking, shouting, dancing, sweating, kissing and hugging, all the things that happen in bars. And all those things that happen are not good for COVID-19.”

Although he asked health officials to renew calls for people to wear masks and keep their distance, Gov. Ron DeSantis has not signaled he will retreat from reopening the state after three months of shutdowns that have damaged the economy.

In Louisiana, however, Gov. John Bel Edwards extended restrictions on businesses because of a troubling uptick in cases, following the example set by Utah and Oregon last week. Louisiana has recorded more than 3,000 deaths.

“There are a lot of people out there saying they are done with this virus. Well, the virus isn’t done with us,” Edwards said.

Countries such as Brazil, India and Pakistan are also seeing surging cases.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, said the outbreak is “definitely accelerating” in the U.S. and a number of other countries, dismissing the notion that the record-breaking daily levels of new cases simply reflect more testing. He noted that numerous countries have seen marked increases in hospital admissions and deaths.

“The epidemic is now peaking or moving towards a peak in a number of large countries,” he warned.

In the U.S., Arizona, in particular, is seeing disturbing trends in several benchmarks, including the percentage of tests that prove positive for the virus. Arizona’s is the highest in the nation.

The state’s positive test rate is at a seven-day average of over 20%, well above the national average of 8.4% and the 10% level that public health officials say is a problem. When the positive test rate rises, it means that an outbreak is worsening — not just that more people are getting tested.

At Maryland’s Fort Washington Medical Center on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, workers described a scramble to find new beds, heartbreaking encounters with family members of critically ill patients and frustration with Americans who do not believe the coronavirus threat is real.

“Everybody is out lounging on the beaches. Just thinking that it’s over. And it’s not,” respiratory therapist Kevin Cole said. “It’s far from being over. And unfortunately, it’s those people that will keep this pandemic going.”

Meanwhile, New York City, once the most lethal hot spot in the U.S., lifted more of its restrictions, moving a big step closer to normal. Restaurants can serve diners outdoors, customers can browse through stores and get a haircut, and children can return to playgrounds.

Eve Gonzalez, a 27-year-old food industry worker in New York whose job had not yet resumed, said it is too soon: “I’m dying to go out, but people’s health is more important.”

Worldwide, 9 million people have been confirmed infected by the virus and about 470,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins, though experts say the true numbers are much higher because of limited testing and cases in which patients had no symptoms.

Amid the global surge, the head of WHO warned that world leaders must not politicize the outbreak but unite to fight it.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has faced criticism from President Donald Trump, said during a videoconference for the Dubai-based World Government Summit that it took over three months for the world to see 1 million confirmed infections, but just eight days to see the most recent 1 million cases.

Tedros did not mention Trump by name but warned: “The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself; it’s the lack of global solidarity and global leadership.”

He added, “We cannot defeat this pandemic with a divided world.”

Trump has criticized the WHO over its early response to the outbreak and what he considers its excessive praise of China, where the outbreak began. He has threatened to pull the U.S. out of the agency.

Brazil, with over 50,000 deaths, the second-highest toll in the world, registered a record 54,000 new coronavirus cases in its latest single-day count. And nearly 1 in 3 people tested overall have turned up positive, according to the WHO’s Ryan, who said that the startlingly high number suggests cases are going either unreported or undetected because of a low rate of testing.

Saudi Arabia said this year’s pilgrimage, or hajj, to Islam’s holy sites will not be canceled, but only “very limited numbers” of people will be allowed to take part. The hajj traditionally draws around 2 million Muslims from around the world for five intense days of worship and rituals in Mecca.

India’s health care system has been slammed by the virus, with the caseload in the country of more than 1.3 billion people climbing by nearly 15,000 Monday to over 425,000. The number of deaths climbed past 13,000.

In Pakistan, infections are accelerating and hospitals turning away patients, with new cases up to 6,800 a day. The government has relaxed its coronavirus restrictions, hoping to salvage a near-collapsed economy in the country of 220 million people.

South Heartland positivity rate increases, but remains low

The South Heartland Health District saw an uptick last week in laboratory-confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 as a percentage of the total number of tests performed.

Even so, the percentage remains very low, said Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department.

The “positivity rate” for June 14-20 was 3.3% — up from 0.7% the previous week and around 2% the week before that.

Bever noted that the rate remains in the low single digits, however, after being as high as around 25% in early April.

“I’m not concerned about this small increase, as it can be impacted, in part, by the volume of testing done. Last week there were only 184 total test results reported to us, compared to 546 the week before,” she said.

Five new positive cases were recorded in the four-county health district Saturday through Monday. The new cases include three in Adams County — two children and one woman in her 20s — along with a woman in her 40s and a woman in her 60s in Clay County.

The new cases bring to 318 the total number recorded in the health district since March 18. The running totals by county include 284 in Adams, 27 in Clay, six in Webster and one in Nuckolls.

“We continue to conduct case and contact investigations for individuals who test positive and live in Adams, Clay, Nuckolls or Webster counties,” Bever said. “Through case investigations we know that four of these cases were close contacts of people who tested positive. Cases are isolated and their close contacts are directed to quarantine and self-monitor for symptoms.”

Bever encourages residents to take advantage of another free TestNebraska opportunity in Adams County on June 28 from 8 a.m. to noon on the Adams County Fairgrounds. The schedule of TestNebraska sites is available at testnebraska.com.

To sign up for a free COVID-19 test, register at the website for testnebraska.com.

“We encourage healthcare workers, first responders, anyone who has symptoms consistent with COVID-19, anyone who thinks they were exposed to someone with COVID-19, and anyone with underlying medical conditions to get tested,” Bever said.

Bever noted that 89 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, including the four in the South Heartland health district, entered Phase 3 of the state’s plan for reopening on Monday. Phase 3 includes further relaxation of gathering restrictions.

Neighboring Hall and Hamilton counties, which have been hit harder by the virus than the South Heartland area, entered Phase 2 of reopening on Monday.

“I would like to remind residents that as restrictions on gatherings are loosened in Phase III of reopening, we need to continue to practice social distancing and protect others by wearing masks,” Bever said. “I want to emphasize that taking actions to reduce the spread of this respiratory illness is our new normal. We need to keep the curve flat.”

South Heartland District case counts and trends can be found on SHDHD’s dashboard of local COVID-19 case statistics. This dashboard, along with updates, guidance, news releases and other COVID-19 information and links can be found on the health department’s website: www.southheartlandhealth.org.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services provides daily updates to Nebraska’s coronavirus COVID-19 cases on its Data Dashboard at http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Coronavirus.

As of Monday evening, Nebraska’s statewide running total of positive COVID-19 cases stood at 17,957, with 249 deaths, NDHHS reported.

A total of 366 new positive cases were confirmed across the state from Saturday through Monday.

Forty-five percent of the state’s hospital beds were available as of Monday, along with 48% of the intensive care beds and 80% of the ventilators, the state agency reported.

AP-NORC poll: Politics drive divergent view of US economy

WASHINGTON — Americans’ outlook on the national economy has improved somewhat from its lowest points during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, but a new poll suggests Democrats and Republicans are living in alternate economic realities amid the sharpest recession in the nation’s history.

Eighty-five percent of Democrats call economic conditions “poor,” while 65% of Republicans describe them as “good” in a new survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

This divide reflects the deep polarization ahead of the 2020 presidential election, as well as a series of indicators that point toward a weakened but recovering U.S. economy.

“The economy is in terrible shape and improving rapidly,” said Harvard University professor Jason Furman, formerly the top economist in the Obama White House. “Depending on which of the two halves you’re looking at, you’re going to have a very different interpretation of where we are.”

Americans can see reasons for hope as well as doubt. They face a host of uncertainties about the path of COVID-19, the fate of small businesses with fewer customers and the status of additional government aid.

Overall, 63% of the country says the economy is in poor shape, down somewhat from the 70% who felt that way in May. The change was driven by increasingly optimistic Republicans, only 43% of whom described the economy as good a month ago. Two-thirds of Republicans, but just 29% of Democrats, expect improvement over the next year.

Thelma Ross, 78, of Granby, Missouri, believes the economy will recover if President Donald Trump can defeat Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the former vice president.

“I think it’s going to come back, stronger than ever, if we get the right president in,” Ross said. “President Trump is a businessman.”

Yet she is concerned by the protests after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an African American, and the calls to remove statues that celebrate the Confederacy and Christopher Columbus. Ross views division as harmful for any economic recovery.

Ross said of Trump: “I pray for divine revelation and divine guidance for that man because he needs that right now.”

The survey finds that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely than white Americans to say someone in their household has lost a job or other income. That inequality has added to the broader reckoning with structural racism amid nationwide protests over police brutality following Floyd’s death.

Overall, 66% of Hispanic Americans and 53% of Black Americans say they’ve experienced some form of household income loss, including layoffs, unpaid time off and cuts in hours or pay. Forty-two percent of white Americans say the same. Thirty-four percent of Hispanics, 29% of African Americans and 20% of white Americans said someone in their household has been laid off.

The poll finds signs that some of those layoffs are becoming permanent. Among all those who experienced a layoff in their household, 55% say the job definitely or probably will return — and 8% say it already has. Still, 36% said the job will most likely not come back, which is significantly higher than the 20% who said that in April.

The economy cratered in March and April as people sheltered in place in hopes of stopping the pandemic, and the unemployment rate spiked to at least 14.7%. Responses to government surveys suggested the true jobless rate may have been even higher. But it showed signs of reviving in May. Retail sales surged 17.7%, and 2.5 million jobs were added. The unemployment rate improved to 13.3%, a number that is still the second highest reading in records going back to 1948.

Leah Avery, 54, lost her job driving a school bus in suburban Dallas. She said she checks her email daily to find out how schools will reopen. She applied for unemployment benefits a month ago, but the request has been under review.

“It’s a struggle day by day for us to pay our bills, and I know others are going through the same thing,” she said.

The job loss has only added to her stress. Her aunt died from COVID-19, and she needs to take care of her elderly mother and her husband, who has dialysis appointments three days a week. It’s a full-time job with no pay, she said.

“I just have these moments where it makes me cry,” she said. “You don’t know this day from the next day what is going to happen.”

The nearly $3 trillion in approved federal aid has shielded many people from the pain of the downturn. About two-thirds of Americans still call their personal financial situations good.

A bipartisan group of economists proposed an additional $1 trillion to $2 trillion of aid to sustain any recovery, including targeted funds for state and local governments, subsidized loans for small businesses, more generous unemployment benefits and aid for low-wage workers.

“It should be thought of as an investment in the economy,” said Melissa Kearney, a University of Maryland economics professor who helped lead the effort. The proposals are based on ideas shown to boost growth and provide traction for a recovery that is still in its early and fragile stages.

Broxton Sanders, 20, has been selling mattresses while on break from studies at the University of South Alabama. He’s a rising junior majoring in political science, and he would like to one day oversee a hospital for military veterans. He noticed that mattress sales picked up during Memorial Day weekend, but there are days now with few, if any, shoppers.

“The economy definitely could be better,” Sanders said. “I’ll be honest, I think we’ve seen the worst of it. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t fall off kilter at any second.”


The AP-NORC poll of 1,310 adults was conducted June 11-15 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.



AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/.