Gov. Ricketts requests emergency funds; DHHS discusses testing

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -- Gov. Pete Ricketts and other Nebraska officials gave an update Friday on the state's efforts to combat coronavirus spread and keeping our utilities online and safe.

On Friday, Ricketts announced the Small Business Administration has issued a statewide economic injury declaration for Nebraska. It qualifies small businesses in the state to apply for SBA disaster assistance loans. The loans offer low-interest rates and long-term payment options determined on a case-by-case basis.

Gov. Ricketts said that he hopes to get Nebraska senators to pass an emergency appropriation to help fight the spread of the virus in the state. Through this appropriation, about $58 million would be transferred from the State Cash Reserve Fund to the Governor's Emergency Fund. This includes:

  • $38.1 million for local response efforts
  • $4 million for DHHS staffing
  • $13 million for surge staffing at Veterans Hospitals and DHHS care facilities
  • $515,000 for UNMC COVID-19 lab testing
  • $2.5 million for UNMC lab equipment, software program, and personnel
  • $100,000 for UV Light boxes at UNMC
  • $343,900 for a knowledge center

Testing in Nebraska

According to Dr. Gary Anthone, Director of Public Health for DHHS, Nebraska health facilities are currently working to speed up testing for COVID-19. Currently, the Nebraska Public Health Lab is set up to do around 100 tests per day, UNL facilities are set up to test around 100 tests per day, and commercial labs are set up for similar testings.

Dr. Anthone said that of the 800 tests performed in Nebraska, only 33 individuals have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Most testing has only been done on high risks individuals, such as those who have been diagnosed with severe symptoms, such as those diagnosed with pneumonia, individuals in close contact with infected individuals or those with travel-related illnesses.

Dr. Anthone said that the lack of testing comes down to two major issues, a limited supply of testing kits and the amount of time it takes to do a test.

Utilities update

Tim Burke, CEO of Omaha Public Power District, noted that OPPD has been in talks with both local and national public power companies to compare notes and current practices being done during the outbreak. OPPD noted that non-critical employees have been working at home and the public offices have been closed.

In the case of a worsening emergency, there are plans to shelter critical employees at the OPPD location so that they could eat, sleep and continue their critical work at the company.

According to Jim Macy, Director of Nebraska Environment and Energy, Nebraska's drinking water is safe, and should remain safe. There has been no indication that COVID-19 can or has been transported by water.