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Report: 1 in 6 Nebraska businesses fear closing for good

OMAHA — The coronavirus has hurt a vast majority of Nebraska’s businesses and about one in six of them are worried that it will force them to close their doors permanently, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report from the Nebraska Business Development Center at the University of Nebraska Omaha highlights the sweeping damage caused by the virus and the steps taken to keep it from spreading, including business closures and social-distancing measures.

The report said 87% of Nebraska businesses have been hurt by the pandemic. The hardest-hit industries have been the arts, entertainment and recreation; health care and social assistance; educational services; and food services.

The results came from the first of two planned surveys that state officials will use to help them decide what they can do to help companies recover. The initial survey of nearly 8,000 Nebraska businesses was conducted from April 15-24, and the second is scheduled for June.

“This has a huge impact on Nebraska businesses, and what this survey kind of does is quantify what we qualitatively already know,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said Tuesday.

Ricketts said businesses were generally most concerned about accessing cash to stay afloat, the duration of the pandemic, and the drop in consumer confidence and spending.

Cathy Lang, the center’s director and a former Nebraska economic development administrator, said the the impact on local companies has been “vast, touching every part of Nebraska and every industry in Nebraska.”

Lang said most businesses reported losing revenue but were still trying to maintain their workforce, even though unemployment claims have recently surged to record highs. About two-thirds of the businesses surveyed said they had either applied for federal coronavirus assistance or were considering it.

Ricketts also announced that he won’t be renewing an executive order to prevent landlords from evicting tenants. The order is expected to expire at the end of the month. Ricketts said he’s not renewing it because most residents have now received federal coronavirus assistance and should have money to pay before they fall further behind.

He also said he will extend an executive order allowing local governments to meet using video-conferencing services until the end of June, but will not renew the order after that deadline.

Meanwhile, public health officials reported two more coronavirus deaths and 277 new confirmed cases in Nebraska as of Monday.

The newest numbers brought the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 125 and the total number of positive cases to 10,625, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. More than 70,100 people in Nebraska have been tested for the disease.

The number of new patients has been trending downward since a peak of 677 new cases on May 7, but public health officials say it’s important to continue taking precautions such as social distancing.

Nebraska’s hospital capacity for treating patients with the virus is fairly stable. The state’s hospitals report that 46% of their beds, 40% of their intensive care unit beds and 77% of their ventilators are available for use if needed.

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


New YMCA membership director hopes to make an impact

Rich Williams has finally felt his life start to take shape over the last few years.

He earned his bachelor’s degree, he and his girlfriend welcomed their first child, and he was hired recently to a job he sees himself in for years to come.

Williams, who some might recognize from his basketball-playing days at Hastings College, now has hope and his life has structure — two things he didn’t quite understand as a kid who, along with his mother, bounced around homes in poverty-stricken north Omaha.

In a way, his life has come full circle.

As that kid in Omaha, Williams was influenced by the “wrong people.” His mom didn’t have the money for him to participate in youth programs or organized sports. He didn’t have a father figure for much of his youth, either.

“The only organized sport I had was going to the parks with the older dudes and kind of watching some of those games,” Williams said.

But a move out west with his father during his high school years proved beneficial in getting his life on track.

Williams found basketball, which helped him achieve college graduation — something he described as farfetched; and he found the YMCA, where he attended camps before volunteering and discovering a passion for helping people.

Earlier this month, Williams was hired by the Hastings Family YMCA as its membership director. It’s a position he’s proud to hold because of its potential to aid in making an impact.

“The YMCA means a lot to me just because growing up in Scottsbluff I was a big part of the things they did,” he said.

That’s why when a friend informed him of the open position, Williams jumped at the opportunity. He’s been a member of the Hastings YMCA since he transferred to Hastings College in 2015. And by playing “noon ball” and lifting weights there, he became a familiar face and found a certain ease.

“I’d crossed paths with Troy (Stickels) and Mandi (Smith) and Ty (LeBar) because I, like, lived and died at the Y,” Williams said with a laugh. “That’s my free time, my alone time, my time to meditate. I was always there, and just seeing those faces, being super friendly and welcoming, that’s what really drew me to want to work for this organization.”

His new job will focus on attracting new members and growing the YMCA. But more than that, it will be about positively affecting lives.

“Before I applied for this job, I thought it was just getting people to sign up,” Williams said. “I was looking at it from a retail perspective where you’re required to hit numbers. And that’s not here. You are required to hit numbers, but they want you to be a good person overall to everybody that comes in here and leave a sort of impact on them. Whether that be mind, body, spirit, you want to leave a lasting impression on the people that come in here.”

With a background in retail, Williams can sell. Couple that with his athletic history and upbringing, and he knows what it takes to work hard and overcome challenges.

“I like to challenge myself with every aspect (of life) and I think being part of a nonprofit in a community-driven organization, I’m going to run into a bunch of challenges every day I step foot in this building. That’s something I thrive for, is to accomplish challenges,” Williams said.

One of Williams’ first — and toughest — challenges in life was creating a better life for himself, which inspired his mother to go back to school and become a dental hygienist.

Williams did that through basketball, earning a scholarship first to Western Nebraska Community College, then to Eastern Wyoming CC before landing at HC.

“Basketball molded me in a lot of aspects — leadership, holding myself accountable, crazy work ethic,” he said.

Although a poor experience with one coach early on in college deadened his love for the game, Williams eventually was seen for who he believes he is — “a loving, caring, motivated person” — by another coach. And, finally, Bill Gavers.

“I owe a lot to Coach Gavers,” Williams said of the HC men’s basketball coach, with whom he still communicates regularly. “A lot of people don’t realize Coach Gavers had a huge impact on me from my junior year to where I am now. He has played a huge hand in everything that has happened.

“He wasn’t just trying to be a good coach and make you a better player, he was trying to make you a better man — which I think was his first priority when he met me because I was a junior college kid (and) cocky. He instilled a real work ethic in me and I can’t thank him enough for that.”

Now, with the personal growth he’s experienced and knowledge he has gained since moving to Hastings five years ago, Williams hopes it culminates in his new role.

“I want the YMCA to feel like it’s a sanctuary,” he said. “I want to impact lives in a better way. I think me working here is a great start to that.”


Self storage on East South Street gets ok from planning commission

A conditional use permit application to place self-storage units at 1211 and 1215 E. South St. meets all the necessary impact criteria.

That is what Development Services Director Lisa Parnell-Rowe told members of the Hastings Planning Commission before they voted 8-0 during their regular meeting Tuesday to recommend approval of the conditional use permit application. Commissioner Gavin Raitt was absent.

The property is north and east of Anytime Fitness.

Trent Schelkopf with Quality Builders LLC of Sutton is the applicant, representing property owner Dan Marshall of Harvard.

The project meets pedestrian and vehicular traffic circulation and safety requirements.

The project will have two ingress and egress points and 30-foot-wide access between each storage unit building.

She said it also meets criteria for reasonable and economic extension of public utilities.

“There won’t be any need to extend utilities to this,” Parnell-Rowe said.

Representatives from the city’s utility and engineering departments previously reviewed the application.

“They’ve also said this will be acceptable,” Parnell-Rowe said.

She said the applicant agreed to a requirement to post signs on storage units, informing renters that flammable items are prohibited.

There are already other self-storage units in the area.

“As far as mixing with current land use and patterns, we do feel, developmental-wise, this would fit,” Parnell-Rowe said.

Adjacent property notice letters were sent out to all residential properties within 300 feet of this location, and the city received just one inquiry. Parnell-Rowe said it was nothing of a negative nature.

More than 100 feet separate these residents, and a fence and trees separate the nearby mobile home community from the commercial businesses to the south.

Commission Chairman Marshall Gaines asked how the project would be affected by the major renovation project planned for that portion of U.S. Highway 6.

Parnell-Rowe said the city street and engineering personnel didn’t have reservations about the project, including how it might be affected by the Highway 6 renovation.

“I know that’s at the forefront of anything that’s going in there,” she said.

In other business, the commission:

  • Unanimously recommended approval of Ordinance No. 4632 and the amendment to the Official Zoning District Map to rezone Hastings Rural Fire Subdivision from R-1, Urban Single Family Residential and A, Agricultural to R-1S, Single Family Suburban Acreage Residential District.

Unanimously recommended approval of

  • Ordinance No. 4633, the proposed city code text change and ordinance that would allow properties zoned A, Agriculture and R-1A, Single Family Large Lot Residential, recourse for requesting additional other hoofed animals based on the size of their lot and review of such matter on a case-by-case basis through Conditional Use Permit process.
  • Unanimously recommended approval of Ordinance No. 4627, a zoning text amendment to the city code, authorizing preliminary and final plats to be processed in combination and to amend the city code section regarding pre-authorized work before final plat approval.
  • Unanimously approved the preliminary/final plat for Warrings Second Subdivision on Lochland Drive West.
  • Unanimously approved the final plat for the Hastings Rural Fire Subdivision.

Covid-19
Adams County sees 11th death among COVID-19 patients

An 11th Adams County resident has died in connection with the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic, the South Heartland District Health Department announced on Tuesday night.

“Sadly, we are reporting another coronavirus (COVID-19) related death in Adams County,” said Michele Bever, South Heartland executive director, in a news release Tuesday night. “This was a man in his 60s who was hospitalized with underlying health conditions. We extend our sincere condolences to his family.”

All 11 COVID-19 patients who have died in the South Heartland Health District have been Adams County residents.

The district also includes Clay, Webster and Nuckolls counties.

In addition to the death, South Heartland on Tuesday announced four new laboratory-confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in the health district.

Three of the new patients live in Adams County. They include a woman in her 40s, a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 60s.

The fourth new patient is a child who lives in Clay County.

Since South Heartland’s first positive case of COVID-19 was announced on March 18, a running total of 282 cases have been confirmed in the four-county district. That tally includes 253 cases in Adams County, 23 cases in Clay County, five cases in Webster County and one case in Nuckolls County.

South Heartland continues to conduct contact investigations for individuals who test positive and live in Adams, Clay, Nuckolls or Webster counties.

According to Bever, the weekly percentage of COVID-19 positive tests in the district as compared to total tests administered has continued to decrease for the South Heartland district.

“The percent positive tests for the week of May 10-16 was 6%, down from 9% the previous week,” she said. “The percent positive tests is one measure that we review to determine spread of the virus in our district.However, less restrictive testing can also impact this value.”

The percentage has been declining week after week since mid-April.

Bever said anyone with any symptoms consistent with coronavirus disease should stay home from work and isolate at home to avoid spreading the illness. COVID-19 symptoms may include a cough, fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing, runny nose, diarrhea, headache, sore throat, nausea/vomiting, body aches, and new loss of taste and smell.

In many cases, a person will have more than one of these symptoms. In other cases, an infected person will have no symptoms at all.

According to Bever, the health department will continue to emphasize social distancing and prevention, especially for the rest of May, now that directed health measures have been relaxed somewhat to allow certain types of business activity to resume with safety precautions.

“We previously reported community spread of COVID-19 in Adams and Clay counties,” she said. “We are not yet out of danger for increased spread of the virus, so we encourage consumers to be smart by frequenting those retail stores, restaurants and personal service businesses that have good safety measures in place to protect their employees and their patrons from exposure to COVID-19.”

As of Tuesday evening, Nebraska’s statewide total of confirmed positive COVID-19 tests to date is 10,846. The statewide death toll stands at 132.


County approves Rural Road Improvement District for asphalt work

Members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors took action Tuesday to determine a funding method to pay for repairs to Bladen Avenue as well as other sections of rural road.

The supervisors voted 7-0 during their regular meeting to approve a resolution creating a Rural Road Improvement District.

The district includes eight miles on Bladen Avenue, from Nebraska Highway 74 down to the Webster County line; Holstein Avenue four miles from U.S. Highway 6/34 south to Assumption Road; and Adams Central Avenue from 12th Street south to the existing roundabout.

“This is setting up a rural road district in the rural area,” Highway Superintendent Dawn Miller said. “There will be no assessments to the adjoining properties as stated before.”

One requirement of the Rural Road Improvement District is the appointment of at least three people to serve on an advisory board, one from each roadway segment included in the project. Miller has perspective advisory board members in mind, but wanted to bring those names to the Road and Bridge Committee first, before taking them to the entire board.

The supervisors approved at their April 7 meeting 2020 asphalt contracts with Werner Construction for $2.8 million for 14 miles of asphalt overlay as well as a $377,876 Werner bid for seven miles of asphalt removal. Among those 14 miles of overlay, eight miles would be on Bladen Avenue, four miles would be on Holstein Avenue, and 1.75 miles would be on Adams Central Avenue.

The county had discussed putting the Adams County Office Building parking lot paving project into this bond, as well.

“We cannot do that because it’s in a municipal area and this is a rural road improvement district,” Miller said. “Those will be addressed in a separate funding process.”

Bids will be opened for the parking lot project on May 28.

The resolution authorizing the Rural Road Improvement District states the cost of the improvements isn’t to exceed $4.2 million. That amount was established at a time when the county thought the ACOB parking lot project could be included in the Rural Road Improvement District.

Miller stated in an email response to a question that the county doesn’t plan to expense more than $3.7 million, which would include the 14 miles of new asphalt and the county’s share of the work on Adams Central Avenue at the U.S. Highway 6/34 roundabout project at the agreed amount of $780,000.

Also during the meeting, Supervisor Scott Thomsen, who chairs the county’s buildings, grounds and equipment committee, discussed the safest way to reopen the Adams County Treasurer’s Office inside the courthouse.

Adams County temporarily suspended public access to the Treasurer’s Office starting March 27.

The county obtained five noncontact infrared thermometers, which were distributed to different county buildings.

“In discussing this with Melanie (Curry, Adams County Treasurer), one of the ways she can feel safe for her employees down there, and I agree with her 100%, is that we need to be able to scan and take the temperature of anybody coming in (to the courthouse),” Thomsen said.

He said security personnel are familiarizing themselves with the thermometers.

The Treasurer’s Office looks to reopen first by appointment. A date for reopening hasn’t been established yet.

“I would like to see the public, if they want to come into the courthouse, they would need to wear a mask,” said Thomsen, who was among the majority of supervisors wearing a mask during Tuesday’s meeting in the courthouse. “I think that’s becoming commonplace, pretty much, in Hastings.”

He said it would send a good message if employees wear masks when working with public, too.

“Otherwise the public is naturally going to complain, ‘Why aren’t you wearing a mask if we have to?’ ” he said.

In other business, the supervisors:

  • Unanimously approved a release of securities.
  • Unanimously approved pledging new securities.
  • Unanimously approved participating in the 2020-21 HIDTA Grant for law enforcement aid.
  • Unanimously approved the renewal of county employee vision insurance with National Insurance.
  • Unanimously approved allowing Deputy County Attorney Dave Bergin to correct a typographical error in a quit claim deed for land sold by the county.