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Associated Press

Lincoln Public Schools has announced it will pay $80,000 to provide Wi-Fi hotspots for students without internet access at home who are now having to learn remotely as schools have closed to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Lincoln Journal Star says the district is paying AT&T Mobility Holdings for the two months of data through 1,000 phones provided by the company at no cost. LPS chief technology officer Kirk Langer says the phones will provide up to 100 gigabytes of data a month to allow students to access Google Classroom through their school-provided laptops.

Nebraska farmers are debating a gut-wrenching decision to euthanize livestock as more meat processing plants shut down amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A past president of the National Pork Board says the situation for hog farmers is dire both economically and emotionally. One Hartington farmer says he's already made his decision and began euthanizing between five and six-hundred heads of pig per week because of the closure at Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls.

Omaha World Herald

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is promising to boost his coronavirus outreach efforts to the town of Crete, the state’s newest coronavirus hot spot where cases have surged and local meatpacking workers staged a brief, impromptu walkout out of fear for their own safety. About 50 workers at the Smithfield Foods pork plant walked off the job after company officials announced that the facility would remain open, just hours after they had said it would close to contain an outbreak.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is defended his decision to ease social-distancing restrictions in some parts of Nebraska even though the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has surged in the last few days. Ricketts announced Friday that he was relaxing rules for businesses such as restaurants, salons and tattoo parlors in certain regions of Nebraska and allowing all churches to resume in-person services as long as they follow new safety rules. During his weekday news conference on Monday, Ricketts used a highway speed-limit analogy to describe his thinking.

Business owners in Nebraska are starting to plan their comeback, now that the governor has unveiled his plan to ease coronavirus restrictions. Gov. Pete Ricketts said Friday that he will relax restrictions in 59 counties, including those in the Omaha area. The new orders, effective until May 31, allow restaurants to reopen their dining rooms but require them to keep crowds at or below half of their rated occupancy. Dining parties are limited to six people, buffets are still closed, and bars must keep their dining areas closed.

Gov. Pete Ricketts says he doesn’t plan to close any of Nebraska’s meatpacking plants despite a surge in coronavirus cases in their surrounding communities that have turned them into the state’s biggest hot spots. Ricketts says he was concerned that shuttering the plants could hurt the state’s food supply and lead to “civil unrest” if residents suddenly lose access to meat. His comments came as Dakota County, home to a Tyson plant, reported 133 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing its total to 246.

Police say someone threw a rock through a window of the downtown Lincoln headquarters of the Nebraska Republican Party _ the fourth act of vandalism at the office in two years. The state party’s executive director, Ryan Hamilton, said three people were inside Wednesday when the brick went through a window in his office. Hamilton was not in the office. Lincoln police spokeswoman Officer Erin Spilker said evidence did not indicate the vandalism was related to a political statement.

A new Nebraska website designed to ramp up testing for the coronavirus logged about 20,000 new registrations on its first day, and the data residents submit could help determine which parts of the state get tested first. Gov. Pete Ricketts says the $27 million program, similar to ones in use in Iowa and Utah, will help state officials decide where to first use the 540,000 new tests that were included in the deal.

A doctor at the Nebraska Medicine Biocontainment Unit says the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is on its way. Medical Director Dr. Angela Hewlett says when it comes to the numbers Nebraska looks good compared to other states, but a county comparison tells a different story. Dr. Hewlett says 600 of Nebraska's nearly 19-hundred cases come from a large meat processing plant in a single county. Dr. Hewlett also said though the state is mostly rural, Nebraskans should be prepared for hotspots to surface in the coming days and weeks around the United States.

A Nebraska outlet mall that announced plans to reopen this week amid the coronavirus pandemic appears to have backed away from those plans with an online post that says the opening is primarily for employees to get their stores ready for business. Officials with Nebraska Crossing, an upscale outlet mall near Omaha, say the only venue that would be open for in-person customers was a medical uniform store. The rest of the outlet will remain closed to the public.

Nebraska will dramatically increase the number of people tested for the coronavirus over the next few weeks using a program that was recently launched in Utah and Iowa. Gov. Pete Ricketts is urging residents to visit testnebraska.com, a website that will allow them to get a free, voluntary health assessment. People who have symptoms, have been exposed to the coronavirus or have traveled to hot spots will be eligible for free drive-thru tests.

Elective surgeries in Nebraska will resume next month.  Governor Pete Ricketts announced yesterday that beginning May 4th, hospitals will be allowed to perform elective surgeries under certain conditions.  The conditions include requiring hospitals to have at least 30 percent of their total beds open, 30 percent of their ICU beds open and 30 percent of ventilators available to use. Hospitals will also be required to maintain two weeks worth of personal protective equipment.

Gov. Pete Ricketts says he may take a regional approach to lifting social distancing restrictions in Nebraska, similar to the way he tightened the rules to fight the coronavirus. Ricketts says he’ll follow a phased-in, “one step at a time” approach to avoid another flare-up of the virus. Nebraska’s statewide social distancing mandates are in place until at least April 30. His comments came after a meeting Thursday between U.S. governors and the White House, and the Trump administration’s rollout of recommendations to reopen the country.

The University of Nebraska has announced that it will begin offering tuition-free attendance to in-state students whose family income is less than $60,000. NU President Ted Carter announced the new policy Friday during an NU Board of Regents meeting in Lincoln. The policy applies to the system's undergraduate programs at its campuses in Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney. Carter says the program takes effect immediately for both new and returning undergraduate students. He says the $5 million program won’t require any additional funding from the state.

State officials say a record number of people are requesting a mail-in ballot for the upcoming primary election. Nebraska Secretary of State Robert Evnen says his office has received 271-thousand requests for mail in ballots, with another 40-to-50-thousand yet to be processed. Secretary Evnen says if everyone who requested a ballot votes, it would break the record for a Nebraska primary set in 2016. He says the state is also taking steps to protect poll workers and voters who decide to cast their ballot in person.

A central Nebraska county with many nursing homes and factories, including a major meatpacking plant, now has more coronavirus cases than any other county in the state. Hall County says it has 278 residents with COVID-19, surpassing the 263 known cases in Douglas County, which includes Omaha and has a population nearly nine times the size. There has been a spike in cases at the JBS USA meatpacking plant, the McCain Foods frozen appetizer factory, nursing homes and a health clinic in Hall County.

Nebraskans who order takeout during the coronavirus pandemic may soon be able to get a side of bread, milk and toilet paper from their local restaurant. Gov. Pete Ricketts says he is relaxing state rules that govern what local eateries can sell to give them more flexibility as they struggle with sharp declines in business. The move would allow restaurants to sell food and other goods not labeled for retail sale, including eggs, butter, cereal, produce and disinfectants.

A New York-based software company is suing the Nebraska Department of Education for $15 million in federal court. The Lincoln Journal Star reports that the lawsuit accuses the department of using elements of the company’s copyrighted software in designing its own web-based program for sharing student and staff data. The state’s education department contracted with eScholar, a company based in White Plains, New York, for student data collection software from 2004 until November 2019. The department paid $84,000 to eScholar with its last renewal, which ended Oct. 31.

An upscale outlet mall near Omaha plans to reopen later this month even as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths continues to grow in the state. The owner of the Nebraska Crossing Outlets says their experience will be a case study of best practices for other malls. Retail analyst Jon Reily said he doesn’t think the mall will be successful with its reopening plans because consumers will likely be reluctant to shop there.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is rejecting a call from two state lawmakers to resume normal school and business activities in Nebraska right away. He says doing so could lead to a surge in new cases that might overwhelm the state’s hospitals. Ricketts says he will stick with the state’s current plan, which includes statewide school closures and restrictions on businesses and social gatherings until at least April 30. His remarks at his daily coronavirus press briefing came in response to a question about a newspaper column by state Sens. Steve Halloran and Steve Erdman.

Ten workers at a central Nebraska beef processing plant have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus. The South Heartland District Health Department reported the cases at Western Reserve Beef in Hastings. The department says it's working closely with Western Reserve management to complete the contact investigations, provide recommendations for employee safety, and provide additional testing for their workforce. Hastings is just south of Grand Island, a coronavirus hot spot in Nebraska. On Monday, Lincoln Premium Poultry announced its first COVID-19 case at its Fremont chicken plant.

The Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced progress in repairing a levee system of the Platte River in eastern Nebraska damaged last year during devastating spring floods. The Corps says it has awarded a $1.68 million construction contract to KEU Inc. of Vancouver, Washington, to repair a levee system between Valley and Fremont. The Corps estimated that there are more than 1,300 structures and property worth $1 billion behind the system. The Corps did not give an estimated completion date for the repairs.

Nebraska has seen almost 800 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The state health department on Sunday reported 790 cases on Sunday. That's up 90 from the number reported Saturday. Seventeen people have died from the illness. The uptick came as some churchgoers attended drive-in Easter services from their cars to ensure social distancing. The Lincoln Journal Star reports one church held services at a fairground, where attendees listened from their car radios.

Nebraska officials are growing concerned that the closure of schools, widespread job losses and social isolation could be driving an uptick in child abuse cases. Stephanie Beasley, the director of Nebraska’s Child and Family Services Division, says the new coronavirus pandemic is putting a major strain on the families her agency serves. Beasley says the pandemic is making it more difficult for children to get social services and for parents to get substance abuse treatment and counseling.

Nebraska State Patrol troopers have ramped up their efforts to ensure that residents are following the state’s new social distancing rules to fight the coronavirus but haven’t yet issued any citations. A Nebraska State Patrol spokesman says the agency hasn’t ticketed anyone as of Monday afternoon, although troopers are able to do so under new restrictions that were expanded statewide on Friday. Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas says a trooper kept watch over a recent “cruise night” in Crete, but didn’t see any violations.

A group of doctors has urged Gov. Pete Ricketts to impose stricter measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, just as the state reported 40 new cases of the coronavirus. Ricketts has imposed restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather in one place and has closed bars and restaurants. But the Republican has resisted following the course of leaders in most other U.S. states by imposing a stay-at-home order. Forty-five doctors from Grand Island on Saturday published an open letter warning "the incidence is going to increase dramatically ...

Gov. Pete Ricketts is defending his refusal to issue a stay-at-home order for residents, arguing that it isn’t necessary for Nebraska even though 40 other governors have done so to try to keep the new coronavirus from spreading. Ricketts says he doesn’t plan to deviate from his current approach, which includes a statewide, non-enforceable recommendation that residents avoid gatherings with more than 10 people.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced cancellation of May graduation ceremonies at the state's four University of Nebraska system campuses. Officials say the Lincoln campus intends to hold an online event, and the May graduates have been invited to attend August, December, May 2021 ceremonies or other future commencement. University of Nebraska at Omaha graduates will be recognized through an online streaming commencement on May 8. The Kearney campus plans to combine commencements for spring and summer graduates on July 31.

Omaha World Herald

An Omaha drive-thru clinic that had been sidelined is now ready to test people for the new coronavirus. The Omaha World-Herald reports that the city of Omaha’s planning department on Friday issued a new permit to allow the clinic through April 3. The clinic was initially postponed when the city revoked its first temporary use permit, citing public safety concerns. Mayor Jean Stothert had said at the time that the clinic would overburden Omaha police who would have to provide traffic control.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is urging Nebraska residents to quarantine themselves for at least two weeks if they've recently traveled anyplace that has seen a big outbreak of the new coronavirus, including major U.S. cities. Ricketts is issuing the new precaution as state officials try to keep the virus from spreading, but he says he won't order any tougher restrictions than those already in place. He says residents should quarantine themselves for 14 days after returning home from a hard-hit foreign country or cities such as Denver and Kansas City, which have issued stay-at-home orders.

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