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Covid-19
HPS classes canceled until further notice; HC online only for rest of semester

Hastings Public Schools announced Wednesday that classes will be canceled until further notice, and Hastings College announced it will switch exclusively to online classes through the end of the spring semester.

Both institutions’ decisions are part of an attempt to thwart the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.

HPS Superintendent Jeff Schneider emphasized that the Hastings Public announcement doesn’t necessarily mean classes are canceled through the end of the semester — only that officials cannot say at this time when the schools might be able to reopen.

“HPS will be closed indefinitely, we will continue to monitor the situation and listen to guidance from state and local officials,” Schneider said.

HPS has made arrangements to provide sack lunches and breakfast items for students during the closure, as food insecurity is a major concern for many families in the community.

In addition, HPS teachers will provide educational activities students can work on at home and remain engaged with what they were learning about before classes abruptly halted this week.

HPS plans to provide academic packets that will be available at each school building beginning March 23.

Students at Hastings High will receive their materials electronically but also can pick up hard copies if online access is a problem. School offices will be open for packet pick-up from 10 a..m to 6 p.m. Mondays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

Students and families may stop by their schools during office hours to pick up personal items such as medications, musical instruments, and the contents of their desks or lockers.

“Grab-and-go” sack meals will be served at Hastings High School, Hastings Middle School, Alcott Elementary and Lincoln Elementary from 11 a.m to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday beginning March 19.

These meals will be for anyone age 18 and under. Children and youth don’t need to be HPS students to participate, but must be physically present at the pick-up site to get the meals, HPS said, citing guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Nebraska Department of Education.

The district needed approval of an application to NDE to get the meal program off the ground.

Schneider offered words of encouragement for students, families and the communities in a time of major disruption.

“Be safe and stay positive,” he said. “I am confident our community will work together and get through this unprecedented situation.”

Hastings College will conduct all classes online beginning March 23, when classes were supposed to resume on campus following spring break.

The HC decision was announced by Roger Doerr, chairman of the HC Board of Trustees. The college presidency is vacant at this time following the recent departure of Travis Feezell.

“We understand this decision will be challenging for our campus, but it’s become clear that we, as a community, must do our part to mitigate the spread of the virus and put the health and wellness of people first,” said Doerr, who spent many years as a professor at the college and also served as president of the Hastings College Foundation.

“Students remaining on campus have been asked to head home as soon as possible,” Doerr said in a letter to the HC community. Exceptions may be made for those with extenuating circumstances.

Students already away from campus are asked to stay home.

“The Student Engagement team is working on a plan to allow access to the residence halls and apartments for a safe, managed move-out process,” Doerr said.

Hastings College will make every effort to host commencement, but a decision about that issue remains several weeks in the future.

More information and updates will be available on ourHC, as well as through email. Students and parents with specific questions can contact Campus Connect via text message at 402-205-0611 or by email at campusconnect@hastings.edu.

All Hastings schools and colleges — Hastings Public, Adams Central, Hastings Catholic, Zion Lutheran, Hastings College and Central Community College-Hastings — are closed for in-person classes at this time.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging that no more than 10 people be together at a time in a “social gathering,” for now effectively putting a stop to most traditional American classroom learning.

Central Community College is offering classes online only through this week and will be on spring break the following week. Staff is developing online delivery options for classes that could be available starting March 30.

On Monday, the Rev. Thomas Brouillette, chief administrative officer of Hastings Catholic Schools, announced St. Cecilia and St. Michael’s Elementary Schools would be closed at least through March 27.

Both schools were open for a time on Tuesday so families could pick up learning materials, and so that St. Cecilia students could clean out their school and gym lockers and so band students could pick up their instruments and a music book.

Teachers at both schools will continue to work during the closure, preparing materials for the students and providing feedback on completed work when it is returned.

An assignment portal is available online for students’ and families’ use.

Sandy VanCura, high school principal, notified high school juniors and seniors that prom has been postponed for the time being.


Covid-19
Local restaurants serving community how they can

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has instructed governments nationwide to put measures in place that limit crowd sizes in order to defend against further spreading of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The most recent announcement on Monday recommends limiting social gatherings to 10 people or less.

It’s keeping local restaurants on their toes as many prepare to close their doors to the public but remain open in other capacities.

“It’s evolved a lot. Like, every hour,” said Jamey Hamburger, owner and operator of Odyssey. “I’m ready to send an email to the staff every time we get a piece of new information.”

Already in many big cities, local officials have requested restaurant and bar owners shut out dine-in customers, with options for delivery and takeout still available.

No such restrictions have been announced yet in Hastings, but businesses are preparing for when they are.

“I can see the day where they will require that we will not be open inside for seating,” said Michael Bruns, owner and president of Big Dally’s Deli.

Odyssey, which can seat upwards of 210 people on its busiest nights, is spacing out seating arrangements and limiting dine-in patrons. Hamburger said the restaurant layout helps in the process.

“We’re putting 10 people in the main dining room, and then a few more if we need to in the bar side,” he said. “We’ve removed almost half of the seats anyway. When that number was 50, we were planning on removing half of the chairs. Then it changed to 10 and we’re living that now from the hostess stand.”

Hamburger is preparing for most of his business to be conducted through takeout service, with Sundays now included. The staff also is working on the addition of more family-friendly meal options.

A delivery option began Wednesday within Hastings city limits.

“I know that’s not helpful for everyone that supports our restaurant,” Hamburger said, “but we can’t drive all over the state.”

Big Dally’s Deli is keeping both of its locations open for the time being with its regular hours. Carry-out and curbside pickup are available, too. The location across from Duncan Field at the intersection of Elm Avenue and South Street provides a pick-up window. Patrons still are welcome to eat in at either location, albeit with precautions taken.

“We’ve never had it where we have people about two tables apart,” said Bruns.

If folks want to use the drive through option at the South Street location, Bruns recommends calling ahead due to the complexity of some orders.

Donna Bieck, the founder of Special Scoops Ice Cream Parlor, 237 N. St. Joseph Ave., said her business will attempt to keep things as normal as possible. Her shop’s capacity of just 24 people is small enough that she feels it’s safe to continue operating unless outlawed in the future.

Special Scoops offers pickup and in-town delivery (with a minimum of $10, or $2 delivery charge on orders under $10). But depending on the longevity of the nation’s current state, the latter may become more difficult.

“I see it lasting some after this,” Bieck said. “It’s going to be harder to do once the weather gets picked up because we (can) get real busy inside the store. But I will have the availability for delivery.”

Kitty’s Roadhouse owner Owen Nelson said his business, probably like most, has seen a drop in visitors. It long has offered delivery and takeout but has seen an increase in those services recently.

“It’s picked up quite a bit,” Nelson said.

But, he added, the uptick hasn’t been enough to make ends meet just yet.

“We’ll do our best with what the good Lord gives us,” he said. “We’ll get through it as a community and a country and things will get better.”

There has been an increased emphasis on sanitization for citizens to avoid catching illness. Restaurants are no different with their practices, although they may be underscored more now.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

A new sign on Big Dally’s Deli’s cash register reminds customers to wash their hands.

“Restaurants are some of the safest places,” Hamburger said. “We’re wiping down places all the time anyway.”

Something Odyssey is known for, the restaurant no longer will be delivering diners’ checks in books at the end of their meals. Hamburger cited no further use of soft surfaces.

Bruns said Dally’s is being “extremely careful ... and just making sure our disinfectants are the proper concentrations all day long.”

The battle for business will continue through this fight against the spread of COVID-19. Local outlets are providing the best service they can for the time being.

“We’re just hanging on right now,” Hamburger said. “I hope that in a day or two we have a better understanding of the situation. But that’s just the nature of this kind of crisis.”

Below is a list of other restaurants offering both carryout and delivery services during this time:

Back Alley Bakery

  • Hastings Keno
  • Murphy’s Wagon Wheel
  • Wave Pizza Co.
  • Bullseye (carryout only)
  • Plainsman (carryout only)

Covid-19
First COVID-19 case in South Heartland area confirmed

An Adams County woman in her 40s became the first resident in the South Heartland District Health Department’s four-county service area to test positive for the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, the health department announced Wednesday evening.

The woman, who had traveled to Europe, is self-isolating at home, the health department said in a news release.

The South Heartland health district encompasses Adams, Clay, Webster and Nuckolls counties.

Local health officials now have initiated a “contact investigation” aimed at identifying other individuals who may have been exposed so they can take steps meant to help thwart the spread of the illness.

The health department said close contacts would be notified and asked to place themselves in self-quarantine at home. The health department then will “actively monitor” those individuals’ health.

Active monitoring has been defined as checking in with the individuals twice daily concerning the possible onset of fever or other symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Individuals who feel ill are asked to contact their health care provider prior to visiting their facility and follow the instructions they are given.

According to the health department, people can help protect themselves from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections by:

Avoiding close contact with sick people and staying home if you are sick.

Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash, or cough in your sleeve.

Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

As of Tuesday evening, a total of 27 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Nebraska, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported. A second case was confirmed Wednesday as “community spread” — meaning it cannot be linked back to a traveler either visiting or returning to Nebraska. The Douglas County resident, who is in his 40s, is hospitalized.

SHDHD encourages residents to stay informed by checking SHDHD’s website www.southheartlandhealth.org for local information and updates, as well as links to the state and national websites.

A statewide coronavirus (COVID-19) information line is available to help answer general questions and share the latest information and resources with Nebraskans to help keep them informed. The telephone number is 402-552-6645. Hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days per week.


Covid-19
Mary Lanning officials promote self-quarantine as key strategy in battling COVID-19

With the availability of tests for the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, still limited, self-quarantine is the best course of action available for individuals in the Hastings area who are showing symptoms or have traveled to high-risk areas and don’t want to risk spreading an illness.

That’s the message from Mary Lanning Healthcare, which issued a news release Tuesday urging the public to be open to the idea of self-quarantine as a means of thwarting the spread of the virus.

Eric Barber, Mary Lanning president and CEO, and Dr. Abel Luksan, chief medical officer, said individuals for whom a 14-day self-quarantine is recommended should take it upon themselves to comply.

If an individual’s symptoms are severe enough to require medical attention, that person should call his or her primary care provider first. If the provider decides the patient should be seen, the patient should follow the instructions given over the telephone.

Luksan said patients first will be tested for influenza and other illnesses. If the patient meets screening criteria and the early testing suggests he or she needs it, COVID-19 testing will be done.

Based on the current heavy workload for laboratories across the United States, test results can take time to come back. Furthermore, the tests aren’t being given to everyone at this time.

“Please do not come to the clinics requesting tests,” Barber said. “Tests are available but should be used for patients who are symptomatic and have been screened.”

Mary Lanning wants to assure the community that “we are doing our best to meet the needs of our patients and the community as a whole,” the news release says, citing Barber.

Luksan emphasized the importance of self-quarantine as a key strategy for managing the current situation.

“If symptoms are mild or you have traveled to high-risk areas and don’t yet have symptoms, we are asking people to self-quarantine,” Luksan said. “Let’s look at this like a community service. You are helping the community by staying home for 14 days. At this time, everybody in the United States is also encouraged to practice social distancing until further notice.”

For a list of affected areas, which is changing constantly, visit the websites of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html) or the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx#SectionLink1).