USDA touts effective containment at Nebraska meat processing plants; state passport program returning
No processing plants in Nebraska have slowed production during the pandemic, according to a USDA official at Gov. Pete Ricketts' COVID-19 response update on Thursday.
USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach said Thursday that although some plants were affected by absenteeism due to COVID-19, officials have been working hard to slow and contain spread in those facilities.
"We saw a dip in slaughter, which was hard on Nebraska livestock industry," he said. But officials were able to establish protocols — including increased grading and health inspections — at the plants with shields, masking, social distancing, making spread at those facilities "virtually nil."
These plants were also able to help support feeding programs across the U.S., providing more than 1 million pounds of food to food banks in Nebraska alone.
FSA offices were able to continue supporting farmers in spite of office closings, Ibach said. Working virtually, they have been helping to facilitate upcoming CFAP payments.
Labor Commissioner John Albin reported the state was processing 5,794 new unemployment claims this week, down slightly less than 1% from last week.
He said the state is also working through 59,528 continued claims, down slightly from about 60,000 reported the week before.
The state paid out $71,872,214.99 last week, he said.
As most Nebraskans — and particularly those in the Omaha-metro — are aware, the pandemic has taken a devastating toll on state tourism. But the losses extend well beyond canceled events.
In 2018 and 2019, visitor expenditures outperformed the national average, according to John Ricks, executive director of Nebraska tourism.
In March 2020, that revenue fell 59.3%, he said Thursday, noting that $25.4 million of tourism losses incurred across the state were for accommodations alone.
With the relaxing of some health measures, the tourism industry is hoping to begin rebuilding, he said.
"There's a lot of pent up demand," Ricks said. "As we move into summer, people are going to start moving."
But the road to recovery will be gradual, he said, as only a little over a third of the state's communities are comfortable welcoming visitors.
"People will not be traveling as far, which bodes well for Nebraska," he said.
VisitNebraska.com is hoping the
, set to resume June 1, will help the state begin bringing its tourism industry back to life. The program, which was a big success in 2019, will be extended to Oct. 31 this year.
So far this year, Ricks said, the program has had about 20,000
The governor also announced that state has signed on with
to manage the distribution of the state's CARES Act funds.
Ricketts reported that 152,000 people have taken online assessments at TestNebraska.com, and announced new test sites planned in Omaha, Bellevue, and Fremont; in addition to sites in Broken Bow, Burwell, St. Paul, Valentine, O'Neil, Norfolk, Columbus, York, Lincoln, and Chadron and Alliance, Scottsbluff, and Sidney in western Nebraska.
The governor also said CVS is setting up 7 sites in Omaha and Lincoln; those tests can be registered for online at
Also on Thursday, Dr. Gary Anthone, chief medical officer of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, gave an update on COVID-19 case reports at long-term care facilities.
He said 478 residents and 356 staff members had tested positive at 110 facilities across the state. Nebraska DHHS had also validated 87 deaths attributed to COVID-19, he said, while three remain unvalidated.
Ricketts also announced that he will be scaling back his updates on the state's COVID-19 response. Starting on Monday, the governor will have his regularly scheduled news conferences on at 2 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, with Spanish news conferences happening at 3 p.m. Thursdays.