We haven’t seen this in over a century and we are taking steps to protect the most vulnerable. We will work together and collaborate and get through this together.”
Those were the words of Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts during a press conference at the State Capital on Monday afternoon. The conference also included remarks by Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt and Nebraska Department of Labor Commissioner John Albin.
Governor Ricketts started out by updating Nebraska’s guidance for closures and event sizes to align with new guidance issued by the CDC. He said changes are coming on a daily basis.
The new CDC recommendations are to limit events to ten people or less. That pertains to restaurants, taverns, churches, day care centers or even weddings and funerals.
He said that does not include grocery stores. “The state is taking steps that we have a strong supply chain, grocery stores stay open.” He said grocery store shoppers are generally shopping in different aisles and keep a distance from each other. He also said restaurants should stay open to offer takeout and delivery meals so they can have a revenue stream. He wants regular business to stay open as well with arrangements that there are no more then 10-people in the same room or area.
Nebraska Education Commissioner Blomstedt said that all schools in the state should be ready to have students out of the buildings by the end of the day Friday.
They refrained from saying schools were closing as they are working with districts to provided at home education during the time they are not in school buildings. “We don’t want children in the buildings, but we want to keep the operations going,” he said.
By Monday, March 23, the Nebraska Department of Education recommends that all schools across the state move to an alternate learning structure with students no longer reporting to a traditional school setting, until further notice. School districts should work regionally by educational service unit to develop an orderly plan to transition to an alternate learning environment by Friday, March 20, unless told to close sooner. Schools should be prepared to operate in the alternate learning environment for six-eight weeks, with a review of operations every two weeks, including plans for re-opening.
In addition many schools, including the Dundy County Stratton School District, are going to offer lunch. The DCS school system continues to work out the details of the lunch program as meals will likely be made available for pick up off campus.
The NDE knows food insecurity for students who rely on school meals is a major concern when extended school closures become necessary. The NDE was granted approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for alternate meal service flexibility in the case of extended closures. This allows schools to serve students meals through USDA-approved meal service options, at approved sites within the community.
The NDE is aware of concerns regarding the state’s assessment and accountability systems and the impact of COVID-19 and related closures on these policies. The NDE is suspending summative statewide assessment (NSCAS) for the 2019-2020 school year. This includes NSCAS – General, Alternate, and ACT. The NDE intends to pursue federal waivers for testing, accountability, and reporting requirements. The NDE is working with ACT to determine if all public high school juniors who would normally take the ACT as part of the statewide assessment may have the opportunity to take the ACT free-of-charge at a later date.
During the press conference, Governor Rickets also announced emergency steps made to help people who are laid off or have to stay home to protect their own health, care for children, of family members because of the virus.
Department of Labor Commissioner John Albin said they are waiving some requirements for people to obtain unemployment benefits. Those include waiving a one-week wait time to stat collecting benefits, waiving the requirements that people need to be looking for work and willing to take a new job, and waving charges to employers for providing benefits to their former employees. Albin said the changes are in effect form March 22 through May 2 in hops that the crisis will be passed y then.
Governor Ricketts said five percent of the people who get the virus will need to be hospitalized for care and one to two percents of those it will be very serious. The most vulnerable people are those with underlying health conditions and are older. They are trying to “flatten out” the infection curve so it doesn’t overwhelm the health care system. “These are steps to protect to the most vulnerable people in our society.”