LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) Friday afternoon, Governor Pete Ricketts provided an update on steps taken by the State of Nebraska to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt joined the governor to discuss how schools will handle the rest of the semester and Nebraska Cattlemen President Ken Herz addressed what farmers are doing to weather the pandemic.
The governor began the conference by discussing an executive order he signed, authorizing the credentialing of retired or inactive health professionals who wish to serve Nebraskans during the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) emergency. It also defers the requirements for healthcare providers to pay initial licensing fees or to complete continuing education.
Additionally, the Governor is temporarily waiving the restrictions on licensed out-of-state medical professionals working in Nebraska. Furthermore, the executive order temporarily suspends the limitations on the number of physician assistants that a physician may supervise.
This includes waiving fees for licensing, allowing transfer from state-to-state, waiving renewals, waiving test results before practice and waiving some FBI checks.
Ricketts said currently Nebraska has enough health care workers to meet current demand, but he wants to look to the future and prepare in case confirmed cases skyrocket.
Currently, nine people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Nebraska. Ricketts said the state is not tracking how many people have recovered.
Right now, Ricketts said the state has the capacity to do 1,000 COVID-19 tests per day, and the number of tests will continue to increase.
In terms of other equipment, Ricketts said the state is still trying to determine whether or not it has enough supplies to handle the pandemic.
"We're trying to get current inventory of hospital beds, protective equipment, ventilators, but the process is ongoing," Ricketts said.
Five school districts in northeast Nebraska are 3-D printing Personal Protective Equipment for Faith Regional in Norfolk. Ricketts said that is an excellent example of Nebraskans working together to battle the virus.
"This is why we will beat the virus," Ricketts said.
Ricketts said he will still not issue a stay-at-home order because the state has been proactive in its response to COVID-19.
Ricketts was asked about the first COVID-19 death in the state, a 59-year-old man in Omaha. At the time, he didn't know much about the case, but said the state is not immune to the impacts of the coronavirus, and will possibly see more deaths.
"Our efforts are to limit that as much as possible," Ricketts said. "We implemented procedures earlier, which will help us take care of people who get sick."
Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt said he will continue his recommendation that schools continue this school year in alternate learning environments, not in physical school buildings.
Blomstedt said if situations change, schools could open back up only if they are given approval by state and local health officials.
For graduating seniors, Blomstedt said school districts need to focus on making sure students will still graduate on time.
"They've completed 3/4ths of their school year already so we should know how well they're doing," Blomstedt said.
Blomstedt said the state is still working on how to judge performance of kids and is exploring options with assessment vendors to allow student to take assessments.
Most students are almost right back where they left off, thanks to innovation from students and teachers, Blomstedt said. He said he's seen buses taking materials and food to students.
We’re not stopping the year and putting people back a grade, Blomstedt said.
Internet access is a concern around the state. Blomstedt said the state is looking into solutions including cell usage and schools boosting their internet signal.
Some schools are doing printed packets where needed.
This is also a poverty issue, Blomstedt said, and work is being done with providers to help.
Ricketts said the goal is for all students to advance a grade at the end of the year.
In terms of graduation ceremonies, Blomstedt said it will have to be on a case by case basis depending on the timing.
"There is no prohibition to holding it later in the summer if it’s safe," Blomstedt said.
In regards to club sports and school sports, Blomstedt is discouraging people getting together to practice. He said not to use the school, because practice would undermine the whole purpose of closing schools.
In terms of health, Ricketts said the move to tele-medicine has been a positive one for healthcare providers in the state.
Blue Cross Blue Shield said it will reimburse healthcare providers the same for a tele-health visit that they will a regular visit. There will also be no co-pays or cost sharing. BCBS said it will be making payments so doctors can keep their doors open and stay in business.
At the end of the crisis period, BCBS said it doesn't know if it will go back to its old policy. Right now, the policy is in place until at least June 30.
Currently, CFS is still doing visitations, but Ricketts said the state is looking for other ways to do that, whether it be on the telephone or on the internet.
For SNAP benefit recipients, Ricketts said more information will be forthcoming.
In regards to the executive order issued Thursday allowing new childcare operations at churches and homes, Ricketts said that is not trying to bring in competition for current daycare providers, but is an effort to replace capacity that was lost due to 10-person rule.
"This is really temporary, and will only last as long as this lasts," Ricketts said.
It is Ag Week here in Nebraska, and Nebraska Cattlemen spoke about how farmers are weathering the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nebraska Beef will be donating $100,000 to The Food Bank of the Heartland and paying $1,100 checks to all people that work at Nebraska Beef.
Nebraska Cattlemen is encouraging feedlot members to have a plan to protect feedlot workers to keep lots open. For livestock auctions, the organization is asking people to watch online if it all possible, and for those attending, heed the proper guidelines.
Nebraska Cattlemen President Ken Herz said he is also working with federal delegations to resolve market issues.
Ricketts will continue to hold press conferences M-F next week which we will continue to live stream on our website and app.