Sen. Steve Halloran

Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings speaks on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature.

Hastings Tribune

State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings is encouraging Gov. Pete Ricketts to make a policy change regarding management of positive COVID-19 residents in long-term care facilities and nursing homes.

Halloran, who represents Legislative District 33, wrote a letter dated June 1 and was joined by 24 members of the Legislature — 22 who co-signed the letter and two who asked to have their names added after the letter was sent, he said in a news release Friday.

The letter urges the governor to require that positive cases in long-term care facilities and nursing homes be relocated, quarantined and cared for in facilities separate from the nursing home and long-term care facilities. The letter states that the goal should be to keep positive COVID-19 cases away from the vulnerable community so they don’t put the other residents at risk of contracting the virus.

According to Halloran, current policy requires that positive cases remain in these facilities.

“Long-term care facilities are managing to cope under the current circumstances, but they are not designed to handle a pandemic of a contagious virus,” he wrote.

He wrote about half of the state’s deaths from COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease, have involved care facilities.

“Hospitals are not ‘overwhelmed’ with COVID-19, but nursing homes and long-term care facilities are being overwhelmed,” Halloran wrote. “Nebraska’s elderly are not expendable!”

During Ricketts’ news conference on Thursday afternoon, Dr. Gary Anthone, chief medical officer and director of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health, said 98 deaths out of the first 195 related to COVID-19 in the state had been residents of long-term care facilities.

As of Friday evening, NDHHS was reporting 216 deaths related to the disease now have occurred statewide.

Anthone said 126 facilities in the state, about 25% of the total, have had either staff or residents test positive for the coronavirus. Five hundred thirty-three residents of such facilities and 440 staff members had tested positive.

During the last two weeks, he said, the number seemed to be slowing down with only 16 facilities reporting positive tests for residents or staff. Forty-three residents of long-term care facilities and 54 staff members tested positive in the last two weeks.

Given the decline, Anthone said, officials are preparing for the next step.

“We are working on a plan to start reopening phase for long-term care facilities,” he said.

Halloran wrote that he has additional concerns if the governor is considering removing current restrictions in place in long-term care facilities because it would put the vulnerable population in more potential danger of contracting the coronavirus.

Halloran wrote that his letter to the governor was hand-delivered on June 1, but he hasn’t yet received any correspondence from the governor, his staff or potentially affected state agencies.

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