LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) Thursday afternoon, Governor Pete Ricketts provided an update on steps taken by the State of Nebraska to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Secretary of State Bob Evnen and Commissioner for Labor John Albin joined Ricketts to provide an update on the Nebraska Primary Election scheduled for May 12 and the record number of unemployment claims filed this week.
Ricketts started the press conference with some good news. The state's first confirmed COVID-19 case, who had an underlying health condition, has been taken off a ventilator and continues to improve.
The May 12 Primary Election will go on as scheduled. Ricketts said there is no reason to move it, and it will not be moved under any circumstances.
"We will continue to support our republic by holding our elections," Ricketts said. "If you look at the last pandemic, we had elections. If previous generations were able to hold elections during all these emergencies and wars, then so can we."
Ricketts encouraged people to request an early voting ballot, but polling places will be open.
"Voters should vote however they feel most comfortable," Ricketts said.
Sec. of State Bob Evnen said he expects to see more mail-in ballots for this election.
Ballots will begin being mailed out by April 6. Nebraska is a "No Excuse" early ballot request state, meaning you do not need a reason to request an early ballot.
So far, Evnen said 55,000 people have requested early ballots. That's more than expected.
Even said it's easy to vote early by mail.
"If you're concerned about polls, it's easy to do that (vote by mail)," Evnen said. "Twenty-five percent of voters typically vote early by mail and we expect that to be more."
Evnen estimates 300,000 early voter ballots will be mailed out. Applications need to be received by May 1.
Friday is the deadline for military and overseas citizens to request their ballots.
Evnen said polling places will take extra precautions to keep voters safe at the polls. New this year, voters will use a black ink pen to mark their ballot, and Evnen said there should be enough money that each voter can have their own pen, so multiple people do not use the same pen.
"One of the ways you can serve your community right now is to be a poll worker," Evnen said.
If interested in serving as a poll worker call your local county election official.
Poll workers have to be trained, but Evnen said that training is available online.
Labor Commissioner John Albin discussed the record numbers of unemployment requests. Nearly 16,000 Nebraskans filed unemployment claims in the week ending March 21, according to non seasonally adjusted figures from the Department of Labor. Ninety-nine percent of those were filed online.
Albin said the waived requirements should make the process faster and the commission is working on fast tracking COVID-19 claims.
Almost 40 percent of claims were from food service workers.
Before this week, the record number of requests in a week was 4,003 claims.
Albin said he expects to see a large number of requests this week as well. By the end of next week, he said he hopes to absorb most claims being filed.
“All is not dark,” Albin said. Before the pandemic, there were 34,000 listing for jobs, and he said at some point, those jobs will come back.
Ricketts said he was not surprised by the number of claims because businesses have been impacted. He encouraged people to keep looking for work, because unemployment benefits do have a time limit.
Albin said claims are being turned around in about a week if it's a clear layoff/unemployment. He also said expect payments "faster than expected" considering the level of claims filed.
On another topic, Ricketts said people still need to plan on paying their property taxes by April 1, and do their federal taxes as soon as possible to help government continue to operate.
The governor shot down rumors that Omaha would go on lockdown for the next ten days.
"That is just not true," Ricketts said. "We are already in the most restrictive state we will be in. We will not do what states like New York will be doing because we are well ahead of where they are in their fight against the virus."
Directive Health Measures are in place for Douglas, Cass, Sarpy Counties until April 30. Directive Health Measures for Washington, Saunders, Dodge, Lancaster Counties will be in place until May 6.
Elective surgeries are banned, dine-in customers are not allowed at bars/restaurants, and if you're sick, Ricketts said the whole family should stay home.
Gov. Ricketts has signed an executive order to allow for temporary daycares in places like churches and hospitals. Ricketts asked those who set up those childcare facilities to prioritize children of health care workers and first responders.
The state is working to expand its testing capacity, with CHI Health saying it will begin testing Friday. Ricketts said he expects the number of confirmed coronavirus cases to increase as testing expands.
Costs for COVID-19 tests should be covered, Ricketts said. There is also talk to cover the flu and respiratory panels.