IOWA CITY, Iowa — The deadly rise in COVID-19 cases across the U.S. is forcing state and local officials to adjust their blueprints for fighting the virus, with Republican governors adopting mask mandates — skeptically, in at least one case — and schools scrapping plans to reopen classrooms.
The steps face blowback from those who question the science behind mask wearing and social distancing and fear the new restrictions will kill off more jobs and trample on their civil liberties.
In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds had pushed back against a mask mandate for months but imposed a limited one Tuesday, becoming the latest GOP holdout to change course on face coverings. At the same time, she claimed “there’s science on both sides” about whether masks reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
With Thanksgiving coming up next week, public health officials are bracing for a holiday-fueled surge. Doctors are urging families to stick to small gatherings.
Governors in Ohio, Maryland and Illinois imposed restrictions on business hours and crowd sizes Tuesday, and their counterparts in Wisconsin and Colorado proposed economic relief packages. Los Angeles County, with a population of 10 million, ordered similar business restrictions.
A Deadly surge
The key measures of the country’s effectiveness in managing the pandemic are all heading in the wrong direction. Hospitalizations, deaths and cases are all skyrocketing in the U.S.
In its weekly internal report, the White House coronavirus task force warned of an “aggressive, unrelenting” spread of the coronavirus across the country “without evidence of improvement but rather, further deterioration,” a senior administration official said Tuesday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said the task force concluded that existing efforts to slow the spread “are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve” and that Thanksgiving travel and gatherings could “amplify transmission considerably.”
More than 73,000 people — an all-time high — were hospitalized with the virus in the U.S. as of Monday, an increase of over 3,000 from just a day earlier, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Hospitals are running out of space, and nurses and doctors in Kansas are converting waiting areas to patient rooms and spending upwards of eight hours on the phone trying to secure beds at other hospitals.
More than 166,000 newly confirmed infections were reported on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The average number of new cases per day has more than doubled over the past few weeks.
The virus is blamed for more than 1.3 million deaths worldwide, including over 247,000 in the U.S. Deaths per day in the U.S. have climbed to an average of 1,145, up from 828 two weeks ago.
The national death toll is on pace to keep climbing in the coming days as states set new records. Wisconsin reported 92 new deaths Tuesday, shattering its daily record of 66 set last week.
MORE MASK MANDATES
Since the election, Republican governors in hard-hit Iowa, North Dakota and Utah have reversed course and put in place requirements on masks, and others have extended or expanded earlier orders.
Plenty of other elected officials and residents are balking at such requirements despite the surge. And some local law enforcement authorities have refused to enforce mask requirements.
In Utah, dozens of people opposed to a statewide mask mandate protested outside the home of Gov. Gary Herbert. In South Dakota, the state with the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths per capita in November, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has no plans to issue mask requirements.
Doctors serving Idaho and eastern Oregon spent hours Tuesday trying to sway health districts, city leaders and the public to do more to stop the spread of coronavirus, warning that rationed care is looming in Idaho’s future. But in Idaho, they were met with skepticism, as some residents in attendance either denied the existence of the virus or disputed its severity. Idaho is experiencing a severe and unchecked community spread of COVID-19 in much of the state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says masks can help protect you and those around you.
A more stringent mask mandate took effect on Tuesday in California, where Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said residents will be required to cover up outdoors, with limited exceptions.
And in New Orleans, officials took the drastic step of canceling the beloved, but traditionally packed Mardi Gras and Carnival parades that draw visitors from around the world. The city has a 250-person cap on outdoor crowds to limit the virus’s spread.
“You can’t have traditional parades with that small a group,” city spokesman Beau Tidwell said Tuesday. The next Mardi Gras is Feb. 16; the parades usually run for about two weeks.
The rising infection rates are prompting some school districts to revert to remote learning or postpone a return to classroom instruction.
In South Dakota, the Rapid City-area school system plans to close all schools and move to virtual instruction on Wednesday. The district’s latest data showed 94 students and 47 staff with an active case of COVID-19, while 105 staff and 676 students were in quarantine following exposure.
In metro Las Vegas, the Clark County school district postponed plans to resume partial in-class instruction and will continue with remote learning through at least the end of the calendar year.
West Virginia’s largest teachers organization urged Republican Gov. Jim Justice to make public schools online-only. The state recorded more than 4,400 cases during the week ending Sunday, a 63% increase from the previous week. The governor already has barred in-person instruction from Thanksgiving through Dec. 3 to avoid outbreaks from holiday travel.
The world received welcome news in the past week with positive preliminary results on two COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, but scientists are worried that volunteers will stop coming forward take part in studies of other vaccines under development. Thousands are still needed.
Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland. Associated Press writers across the country contributed to this report.
OMAHA — The number of coronavirus cases in Nebraska topped 100,000 as the state reported a record 3,440 cases Monday.
Nebraska has had 101,601 cases of the virus since the pandemic began. There were also eighteen new deaths reported Monday to give the state 797 deaths.
The number of people hospitalized with the virus in the state set a new record at 938. Gov. Pete Ricketts has said if that number continues to rise and approaches 1,200 — when 25% of the hospitalized patients in the state have coronavirus — he will impose additional restrictions to limit the spread of the virus.
The number of people hospitalized with the virus has more than quadrupled since the start of October when 227 people were being treated for COVID-19, and hospitals are struggling to keep up with the caseload.
On Monday, Ricketts repeated his plea for residents to voluntarily avoid crowds and wear masks when around other people to stop the spread of the virus. But he once again said he won’t impose a statewide mask mandate, even as a number of large and mid-sized cities have enacted their own. The city of Beatrice is moving forward with a new mandate, joining Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island and Kearney.
“I don’t think mask mandates are appropriate,” Ricketts said in response to a question at a news conference. “I think they breed resistance.”
He added that other states, such as Wisconsin, have enacted statewide mask mandates but have still seen a surge in cases. Many local public health officials have called for a mandate, saying it would have helped slow the increase in new cases and hospitalizations in Nebraska.
Nebraska has the sixth-highest rate of new virus cases in the nation. And over the past week, one out of every 120 people in the state was diagnosed with COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has nearly doubled over the past two weeks from 1,124.14 new cases per day on Nov. 2 to 2,027.43 new cases per day on Nov. 16.
Members of the Hastings Planning Commission and city development services department expressed enthusiasm for the proposed Theatre District development in taking action to allow tax increment financing for the project.
Commissioners voted 6-0 at their regular meeting Tuesday to recommend approval of a plan modification for the project.
Commissioners Gavin Raitt, Mac Rundle, Michelle Lewis and Rakesh Srivastava were absent. Alternate Willis Hunt was present.
Up to 150 apartment units, commercial and professional space, restaurants, a small grocery store and a potential indoor sports facility all are part of the developers’ vision for what the former Imperial Mall property could come to hold over a period of several years.
“Exciting, actually; very exciting,” Development Services Director Lisa Parnell-Rowe said in introducing the item.
The 80,000-square-foot former K-Mart is planned to be remodeled into a community recreational facility. The rest of the primary mall structure will be demolished.
Two multi-family structures, geared toward people 55 years old and older, will be constructed.
The theater would be remodeled.
Outlying lots on the east side of the property, near Marian Road, could be used for retail or grocery businesses.
“All of this would not be possible without TIF financing,” Parnell-Rowe said. “That’s a key component to this. We are in support of this, full of support. It would be nice to see a reuse of this area.”
Perry Reid Properties-Management LLC and Cheema Investments LLC, a Scottsbluff-based group that purchased the property nearly a year ago, announced on Oct. 30 they have teamed to form Theatre District LLC, the entity that will tackle redevelopment of the currently derelict and almost entirely idle property at 12th Street and Marian Road.
The area was declared blighted in 2009.
Perry Reid recently completed a new 84-unit apartment project, Pioneer Trail Lofts, at 424 E. 31st St. in the North Park Commons development.
Representing Perry Reid, Tom Huston of Lincoln said the plan modification is the first in a multi-step process.
The Theatre District will be a mixed-use, multi-phase development. Because it is a multi-phase development it can occur over a number of years.
The first phase is in excess of $16 million.
It will include the demolition of the existing mall, which is about 300,000 square feet.
The first phase also will include construction of a public street, running diagonally across the property.
A 75-unit multi-family structure targeted for those 55 and older would be built at a cost of around $10 million.
The former Sun-Mart building would be used as a multi-tenant office building.
After a renovation, the theater will either be repurposed or continue to be used as a theater.
The Comprehensive Plan for the city of Hastings envisioned this area as a mixed-use community.
“We think it can be characterized as a place for people to live, work and play in one location,” Huston said.
Huston said asbestos must be removed from the mall before it is razed. It also could serve as a firefighting training site.
He said the property currently has a tax valuation of about $340,000, generating about $7,500 in tax revenue each year.
“The investment will be in excess of $16 million,” he said. “That obviously will increase that tax valuation.”
The hope is to start demolition Dec. 7.
The developers plan to come back to the planning commission for the planned development amendment and subdivision in March 2021. They hope to break ground on the first multi-family building by spring 2021.
Commission Chairman Marshall Gaines said his personal social media accounts were abuzz after the initial Oct. 30 announcement.
“If the Perry Reid company has its name on it you can rest assured it is going to happen,” he said.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners unanimously recommended approval for an amendment to the Mary Lanning Healthcare campus master development plan, and recommended approval of a zoning change from multiple-family residential to campus institutional district for the changes.
The amendment includes four additional uses not previously proposed: ambulance storage, central boiler plant, medical office building and parking lots.
The ambulance storage building is to house three ambulances used by Mary Lanning. These vehicles have currently either been parking on the two vacant lots north, or in the driveway at 744 N. Hastings Ave.
The building at 744 N. Hastings Ave. also is the headquarters for ambulance staff.
Mary Lanning owns these lots and has just completed an administrative plat to replat the three lots together in order to build the structure next to the primary residential structure used as headquarters.
A central boiler plant that provides essential utilities such as emergency power, medical gases, heating and air conditioning, will be built next to the existing chiller plant located at 723 N. Denver Ave.
The new boiler plant will replace Mary Lanning’s aging plant, currently located inside the main hospital.
With the medical office building, a new 65,000-square-foot medical office building to be used as a specialty health center to house outpatient services will be built on the parking lot south of the existing medical services building and east of the main hospital.
That project is anticipated to start in early 2021.
To accommodate Mary Lanning’s recent and planned growth, new parking lots will be built between Denver and Hastings avenues, north of Seventh Street, and between Denver and Kansas avenues to compensate for the loss of existing parking with the medical office building.
Additional parking will be added between Kansas and Colorado avenues, south of Ninth Street.
The additional parking will bring the total number of Mary Lanning parking spots to 1,318. Parnell-Rowe said that number is large enough it triggers the requirement for added landscaping open space within the parking areas.
The parking lots also must include a drainage plan.
As Adams County prepares for the planned $37 million justice center approved by voters during the general election, one local judge shared concerns about whether new courtrooms will meet state standards.
Saying he represented all Adams County and district court judges, District Court Judge Stephen Illingworth spoke Tuesday — during the first Adams County Board of Supervisors meeting since the Nov. 3 general election — about the Nebraska Supreme Court facility planning guidelines and standards. He gave each county board member a copy of courtroom facility planning guidelines and standards and provided an overview of the thick document.
The county needs to obtain approval from the Nebraska Supreme Court upon completion of the plans before construction can begin on the new justice center.
The guidelines state the planning committee for the project should include representatives from the county board, judges, members of court staff such as court reporters and bailiffs, members of the bar association and local law enforcement representatives.
Three stages must be approved: when the facility analysis is complete, when a schematic design is developed and after final designs are converted to construction drawings, and before final designs go to bid.
Illingworth said there was concern among judges whether the courtroom structure proposed for the justice center would meet all of the necessary guidelines and still stay under $38 million, which is the maximum amount Adams County can bond for the project.
“It will slow your process considerably,” he said.
While the judges were unanimous that a new jail is needed, they were united in the sentiment that courtrooms aren’t needed on site at the jail.
Illingworth said it was the recommendation from local judges that Adams County build a jail that is state of the art and big — “so you have a lot of space for future expansion” — and to leave the courtrooms in the courthouse.
There would need to be video conferencing available between the jail and the courthouse.
Supervisor Scott Thomsen, who oversaw much of the justice center planning, said he talked to all the local judges in working on the justice center plans and hadn’t received this feedback before.
Illingworth said Thomsen talked to judges about general plans for the justice center, but didn’t include them from the beginning of the planning process.
Supervisor Dale Curtis tried to assure Illingworth about the experience of Omaha architecture firm Prochaska and Associates, with which the county has been working on the justice center.
“Prochaska has built justice centers before. I hope they realize a lot of what is in here and a lot of it’s included in their design,” Curtis said, holding his copy of the guidelines.
Thomsen said the planning process will be inclusive.
“I talked to (County Clerk Magistrate) Tom Hawes, and I told him everybody’s going to be involved in this,” he said. “Nobody’s going to be left out of this thing.”
Curtis said planning for the justice center was meant to address court system needs.
“I respect you,” he said. “I respect your authority. I respect your knowledge, but work with me.”
“I’ll absolutely work with you,” Illingworth responded.
“Because our intentions are honorable,” Curtis added.
Thomsen also expressed respect for Illingworth.
“We always had a good working relationship,” he said. “Let’s continue it and let’s see what we can do.”
Also during the meeting, the supervisors voted 6-1 to approve an addendum to the agreement with Prochaska and Associates for continued services relating to the justice center.
The addendum outlines Prochaska’s architect fees of $2.045 million, which are included within the total project cost.
Thomsen said that amount was negotiated down from more than $2.3 million.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” he said
Supervisor Chuck Neumann was the dissenter. He wanted to see a second bid.
Curtis said 7% is a standard architect fee.
“We can move on with approving it because you’re not going to get any better price,” he said.
“If somebody’s going to start all over it’s going to cost more,” Thomsen said.
The supervisors also unanimously approved authorizing the issuance, sale and delivery of general obligation bonds in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed $38 million for the justice center.
In other business, the supervisors: