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Mary Lanning uses remdesivir fo first time, with positive outcome

A patient recently hospitalized at Mary Lanning Healthcare with the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, became the first person with the viral infection to be treated with remdesivir at Mary Lanning — and with a positive outcome.

The 47-year-old patient, who had been critically ill, was discharged from the hospital five days after receiving the drug, Mary Lanning said in a news release Wednesday.

Dr. Scott Gordon, a hospitalist at Mary Lanning, worked with a team including Dr. Abel Luksan, MLH chief medical officer, and Dr. Daniel Brailita, an infectious disease specialist, to care for the patient.

Gordon said the patient was similar to other who have been treated at the hospital for COVID-19, but that this was the first time remdesivir was available for use.

According to Brailita, remdesivir is a broad-spectrum, antiviral drug originally developed for ebola patients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed the drug in May and approved it for emergency use in COVID-19 patients.

After the approval was granted, the federal government took over distribution of the medication, and the state of Nebraska allocated its supply to hospitals around the state based on projected use.

Mary Lanning received its first doses of the drug just as other COVID-19 cases at the hospital were winding down.

When the new patient came into the hospital with critical illness, doctors considered using remdesivir for treatment. Once that course of action was approved, team members including pharmacy employees and nurses worked quickly to set the treatment in motion.

In the end, Mary Lanning said, doctors were pleased with the patient’s quick recovery. The patient’s treatment included not only remdesivir, but also the other measures that had been used with previous COVID-19 patients.

“It was a great outcome compared to what we saw in the ICU before,” Brailita said, referring to the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Mary Lanning is the largest hospital in the South Heartland Health District, where the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 hasn’t been overwhelming to this point. The health district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

According to district health department statistics, a running total of 22 South Heartland residents have spent time in a hospital for treatment of COVID-19 since the infection began being diagnosed in the district in mid-March. The number increased from 20 to 21 on May 29 and then didn’t tick up again until July 17.

Gordon and Brailita said the public needs to understand that Mary Lanning has only a certain number of doses or remdesivir to treat patients at this time, and that not every COVID-19 patient would be able to receive it.

“From a practical standpoint, we need to stress that we have a very limited supply,” Gordon said. “There are very few people who will be good candidates for its usage.”

Gordon said that even though remdesivir isn’t a magic bullet in the fight against COVID-19, it may make a big difference for some individuals struggling with the illness.

“This is just another tool we have in our arsenal for patients,” he said.

Virus can't kill Hastings 'Olympics' spirit

As the Hastings Parks and Recreation Department gears up for its third annual Community Olympics in mid-August, it will be with an emphasis on safety.

“As far as our events go, we’ll probably have to modify some of our stuff as far as keeping people socially distanced; and if there is any hands-on stuff we’re probably going to have participants wear vinyl gloves,” recreation superintendent Ryan Martin said.

He listed the capture the ducks game as a game that requires a lot of tactile interaction where special safety precautions will need to take place.

“There’s going to be a lot of sanitization involved, as well,” he said.

Hastings Community Olympics will be Aug. 14 and Aug. 15. Teams must register by Aug. 5.

Teams can register at the Hastings Parks and Recreation Department located at 2015 W. 3rd St.

The Parks and Rec department is partnering with the Hastings Family YMCA, Pastime Lanes and Hastings Equity Manufacturing for the Hastings Community Olympics.

The event has basically the same lineup of activities as in 2019.

Basketball knock out, pickle ball, glow golf, bowling and quiz bowl will be on Friday. Tank races, sand volleyball, archery, scavenger hunt, capture the ducks and tug-of-war will be Saturday.

The Parks and Rec Department will submit a plan for the Hastings Community Olympics to the South Heartland District Health Department.

“There may be an event or two we may not end up being able to do; we have to submit a proposal to the health department each time we do an event,” Martin said. “We’ll try to come up with some modifications as a committee and figure out how we can do it to keep people safe and determine will the protocols help or not, and if that’s the case, then maybe we won’t do it at all.”

Last year’s Community Olympics saw six teams, which was an increase over the first year’s event with two teams.

Participating in Community Olympics provides a chance to see co-workers in a different setting.

“What’s neat about it is, usually, especially if you have co-workers on your team, kind of like playing softball in the evenings, you might be with your co-workers in a work environment all day long,” Martin said. “Once you’re doing some recreation activities outside of work you actually get to know people in a different way and discover some non-work personalities.”

Community Olympics, like all Parks and Rec events, brings the community together, he said.

“Community Olympics, you meet somebody for the first time and you’re on their team or you’re competing against them and you’ve never met them until this event, which is great with all of our parks and rec events throughout the entire year,” he said.

At least six people are needed for a team and Parks and Rec recommends having at least 10 members.

“If you want to have your overall team participate in every event, you’re going to have to select some team members to do different events at different times,” Martin said.

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Nebraska lawmakers reject push for meatpacking restrictions

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s meatpacking plants won’t have to worry about any new safety restrictions this year, despite outbreaks of the coronavirus among their workers, after a state lawmaker on Wednesday failed to secure enough support for the idea.

Sen. Tony Vargas, of Omaha, fell two votes short of the 30 he needed to introduce a bill in the waning days of the 2020 session. The Legislature’s rules only allow new bills to be introduced during the first 10 days of each session, unless a super-majority of lawmakers agrees to suspend the rule. Wednesday was the 51st day of this year’s 60-day session.

Lawmakers voted 28-10 to allow the new proposal.

Many of Nebraska’s meatpacking plants were forced to temporarily shutter their operations earlier this year after they became among the nation’s biggest coronavirus hot spots. In May, state officials acknowledged that nearly one in six coronavirus cases in Nebraska had been linked to a meatpacking plant.

Conservative lawmakers argued that a new bill wasn’t necessary because Nebraska’s plants have since taken steps to protect their workers, seeking guidance from infectious disease experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center on how to safely operate.

The companies say they have introduced measures such as social-distancing and plastic barriers that separate employees who work close together.

Sen. Steve Erdman, of Bayard, said one company official told him that many infected workers caught the virus outside of work. Some Midwestern politicians have made similar arguments that workers living in crowded homes bear some blame.

Other lawmakers expressed skepticism about the bill, but said it deserves a public hearing given the virus’s impact.

“I’d hate to be the one to keep it from even being considered,” said Sen. Mike Moser, of Columbus.

Sen. Megan Hunt, of Omaha, said after the vote that lawmakers “just spat in the face” of meatpacking workers who are putting their health at risk during the pandemic.

Vargas represents a large number of meatpacking workers in his south Omaha district, and his father died earlier this year after contracting the coronavirus. He acknowledged that his bill faces long odds in Nebraska’s conservative Legislature, but argued that a public hearing would allow workers, advocates and the plants to discuss what’s being done.

“I am pleading with you,” he said in a floor speech to his colleagues. “This will send a very direct message to the state.

Fed sees dim economic outlook as virus squeezes economy

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned Wednesday that the viral epidemic is endangering the modest economic recovery that followed a collapse in hiring and spending this spring. As a result, he said, the Fed plans to keep interest rates pinned near zero well into the future.

That faltering economy, pressured by a resurgence of the virus, has heightened the need for Congress to continue providing significant financial aid, Powell said. Members of the House and Senate are negotiating a new package but are nowhere near agreement. Senate Republicans and the White House are proposing a plan that would provide less help for unemployed Americans than they are now receiving.

Speaking at a virtual news conference after a two-day Fed meeting ended, Powell said the economy had rebounded after nearly all states lifted their broad business shutdown measures in May. But since then, he noted, as new confirmed cases have soared, measures of spending and hiring have slipped or plateaued at low levels.

“Now that the cases have spiked again, the early data ... suggest that there is a slower pace of growth at least for now,” he said. “We don’t know how deep or for how long it will be.”

The economic stumble, amid the worsened viral outbreak, underscores the connection between the virus and the economy’s ability to sustain any recovery, the chairman said. This point was also highlighted in the Fed’s statement, which added a new sentence: “The path of the economy will depend significantly on the course of the virus.”

That observation was an acknowledgement that uncertainty about when the health crisis might be solved has complicated the Fed’s ability to set interest rate policy.

It’s also a point that Powell has made, in one way or another, for months as most states have succeeded only fitfully in controlling the virus and the ability of businesses to stay open. And it suggested that Powell and the Fed envision a prolonged recovery that will depend in large part on how well the U.S. can contain the pandemic.

“A full recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it is safe to re-engage in a broad range of activities,” Powell said.

In the meantime, he said, “We are committed to using our full range of tools to support the economy. We will continue to use these powers until we are confident we are solidly on the road to recovery.”

Yet despite its concerns, the Fed announced no new policies. It said it will also continue to buy billions of dollars in Treasury and mortgage bonds each month, which are intended to inject cash into financial markets and spur borrowing and spending.

William English, a finance professor at Yale School of Management and former top Fed official, said that Powell stressed that he wanted to see more comprehensive data, such as next week’s July jobs report, before taking further steps.

“He acknowledged the softer high frequency data but didn’t put a huge weight on it,” he said. “He took the weight off that by emphasizing the uncertainty.”

Powell also said that Congress had helped spur the modest economic recovery that occurred in May and June, when spending at retail stores and restaurants surged and employers added 7.5 million jobs. Still, that amounted to just one-third of the jobs lost in March and April.

“In a broad sense, it’s been well spent,” Powell said of the $2 trillion package Congress approved in March. That legislation provided $600 in jobless benefits a week and set up a small business lending program.

“It’s kept people in their homes, it’s kept businesses in business.”

Yet “there will be a need for more support from us, and from fiscal policy,” Powell said, referring to Congressional tax and spending powers.

Congress is in the early stages of negotiating an economic relief package that might extend several key support programs, such as the expiring $600-a-week unemployment benefit. That benefit will likely be reduced in any final legislation.

With the two parties far apart, the federal jobless benefit will likely lapse for at least several weeks for about 30 million people who are unemployed. That would likely slow consumer spending and weaken the economy.

Economists say the Fed has time to consider its next policy moves because short- and long-term rates remain historically ultra-low and aren’t restraining economic growth. Home sales have picked up after falling sharply in the spring. The housing rebound has been fueled by the lowest loan rates on record, with the average 30-year mortgage dipping below 3% this month for the first time in 50 years.

Still, with the economy struggling just to grow, small businesses across the country in serious danger and unemployment very high at 11.1%, the pressure is likely to increase on the Fed to take further steps. Few investors expect the Fed to hike interest rates for years to come. After its previous meeting last month, the Fed signaled that it expected to keep its key short-term rate near zero at least through 2022.

The Fed’s overall message that it would keep rates low indefinitely with the economy in a severe downturn was widely expected by investors, and reaction in financial markets was muted. Stocks maintained their gains, and Treasury yields held steady.

Most analysts say they think the Fed’s next move will be to provide more specific guidance about the conditions it would need to see before raising its benchmark short-term interest rate from zero.

Economists call such an approach “forward guidance,” and the Fed used it extensively after the 2008-2009 recession. Some Fed watchers expect no rate increase until 2024 at the earliest given the bleak outlook for the economy and expectations of continued ultra-low inflation. But by providing more certainty for investors about when a rate hike may occur, forward guidance can help keep longer-term rates lower than they might otherwise be.