Gov. Ricketts speaks on meat shortage, will not disclose case numbers from processing plants
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts during his daily briefing on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic addressed concerns over stores limiting meat purchases by customers and detailed expanded testing capabilities on Tuesday.
Ricketts said 251 people received tests Monday between two of the TestNebraska sites in Omaha and Grand Island. He said it went smoothly and will continue.
A testing lab has been set up at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Lincoln. Such work is usually the labor of months but CHI Health was able to complete the lab in days, Ricketts said.
The lab is a big step towards Nebraska's goal of 3,000 tests per day.
Derek Vance, president of CHI Health at St. Elizabeth and Nebraska HEART, said they were honored to answer the call from the governor to help construct the laboratory.
"A lot has gone on in our laboratory space. We've been working around the clock to get this laboratory ready," he said. The lab's capacity will be up to 3,000 a day or more if necessary.
As this week is National Nurses Week, Ricketts declared the entire month of May "National Nurses Month" in Nebraska.
"Our nurses have been the front line to keep Nebraskans healthy and safe," he said.
Dr. Kari Wade, president-elect of the Nebraska Nurses Association said nursing has always been a noble profession.
"Never has caring required more courage, selflessness and strength than in the last few months," she said.
Ricketts said Nebraska has received about $2.5 million in federal aid for housing and urban development organizations as part of recovery help from the pandemic.
Ricketts was asked if there is financial help available for those who seek to take the antibody tests, which can cost upwards of $100 each. Ricketts said Nebraska is focusing on the antigen testing to identify who currently has COVID-19.
"We may at the state explore that down the road but right now we're focused on who has the virus not who had it in the past," he said.
Ricketts said the state has spent about $25 million on personal protective equipment since the beginning of the outbreak. He said about $58,000 has been spent on ventilators
In regards to public health departments across the state, some are short-staffed. Ricketts said those districts have been told to hire who they need and will be reimbursed through funds from the CARES Act.
Ricketts added 10 state health teams will be lending help by May 11 in some districts.
Asked why no Nebraska prisons inmates have been tested while five correctional employees have tested positive, Ricketts said there has not been a need to test inmates as none have shown symptoms.
"We have a community standard of health in the state. If an inmate in contact with a correctional (employee) presented symptoms, they would get tested," he added.
With news of Hy-Vee and Costco implementing limitations on how much meat can be purchased at a time in their stores, Ricketts was asked if there was a meat shortage.
He said the meat industry has been tough to socially quarantine both at work and home for employees. Some plants have shut down while others are working on reduced capacity.
"Nobody has come to me saying we should recommend to the stores they should be limiting supplies. That's a decision I believe Hy-Vee and Costco have come to on their own," he said. "I think it has more to do with customer satisfaction."
On unemployment benefits, Ricketts was asked if those receiving benefits and looking for a job will have more time to find employment. He said recipients currently do not have to be searching for a job to remain on unemployment.
On antigen testing, Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for Nebraska answered a question on how accurate the tests are.
He said the tests Nebraska is using rates at 95 percent effective -- if you have the virus and take the test, there is a 95 percent chance for a positive result.
However, as those with COVID-19 progress through the illness, the chance for a positive result declines, Anthone said.
"Most people feel after one or two negative tests, you're probably not carrying the virus anymore," he said.
on hundreds of positive cases across five different meat processing plants in the state. Ricketts was asked if Nebraska would do the same.
"We are not going to do that on a specific company by company basis," he said.
Regarding how many long term care residents have tested positive in Nebraska for COVID-19, Anthone said 248 have across 211 facilities.