McCook Gazette. October 20, 2020

Public support key to success of new directed measures

Officials hoped lifting most virus restrictions last month wouldn’t allow the number of new COVID-19 cases to increase the way they have, but it turns out that was wishful thinking.

Like fashion fads and other trends, the coronavirus took its time to arrive in the heartland, but arrive it has.

Nebraska has the dubious honor of ranking No. 5 in the rate of new cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks, 531.86, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

The state said a record 343 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 after it reported 734 new cases of the virus Sunday to give Nebraska 58,068 cases since the pandemic began. There have also been 548 deaths linked to the virus.

Stopping short of imposing a statewide mask mandate,

According to restrictions announced by Ricketts, hospitals will have to reserve 10% of their intensive care beds for COVID-19 patients if they want to continue offering elective surgeries, and they can’t transfer patients to other hospitals to achieve that level.

Ricketts, who had received some criticism for failure to speak out sooner, said official response has been effective, but called for more buy-in from private citizens.

He’s correct in making that plea; we’ve heard of instances where schools in other parts of the state have canceled official dances, but parents have hosted unofficial gatherings that turned into super-spreader events, penalizing even responsible students who didn’t attend the gatherings.

Reluctantly, despite social distancing plans in place, the Gazette has decided to cancel our Halloween Parade because of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

That decision was influenced in part by the number of COVID-19 cases and quarantines in the local schools.

As a reminder, changes to the state’s DHMs effective Wednesday include:

• Elective Procedures/Surgeries

• In order to continue elective procedures, hospitals must maintain at least 10% of their staffed general and ICU beds as reserve capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.

• Hospitals must continue to accept and treat COVID-19 patients and must not transfer COVID-19 patients to create capacity for elective procedures.

• Bars & Restaurants

• Patrons will be required to be seated while on premise unless they are placing an order, using the restroom, or playing games.

• 100% of rated occupancy continues.

• Maximum of eight (8) individuals in a party (groups larger than eight (8) will need to split into multiple tables).

• Gatherings

• INDOOR Gatherings will be limited to 50% of rated occupancy (not to exceed 10,000).

• OUTDOOR Gatherings will remain at 100% of rated occupancy (not to exceed 10,000).

• Gatherings include but are not limited to Indoor or Outdoor Arenas, Indoor or Outdoor Auctions, Stadiums, Tracks, Fairgrounds, Festivals, Zoos, Auditoriums, Large Event Conference Rooms, Meeting Halls, Indoor Theaters, Libraries, Swimming Pools, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.

• Groups shall be no larger than eight (8) individuals.

• Plans for reopening or expanding to new capacity limits must be submitted to the local health departments and approved for all indoor and outdoor locations/venues that hold 500 or more individuals (1,000 or more in counties over 500,000 population) before reopening is permitted. The reopening plan must contain planned number of guests, how the location will meet social distancing guidelines, and sanitation guidelines.

• Wedding & Funeral Reception Venues

• Maximum of eight (8) individuals in a party (groups larger than eight (8) will need to split into multiple tables).

• 100% of rated occupancy continues.

• Limited dances or other social events requiring guests to gather outside of their respective tables in guidance.

The DHM changes listed above are scheduled to remain in effect through Nov. 30, 2020.


Lincoln Journal Star. October 20, 2020

Whether it’s in person of through the mail, make sure you vote

Vote. We’ve heard the hyperbolic conjecture, urging you to do so in the coming weeks as if your life depended on it.

There’s a pretty good chance your life doesn’t literally hang in the balance of the Nov. 3 election, but voting is your civic right -- and your responsibility.

So make sure you do it -- however you do it.

To help give voters as much information as possible in the leadup to the general election, the Journal Star has published a voters’ guide that is available online. In addition, a sample ballot is included (by state law) in today’s edition (pages B2-B4).

With local, state and national issues that touch our lives perhaps more directly that a presidential battle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, this election is expected to attract a high number of ballots.

Already, more than 200,000 mail-in and absentee ballots -- about one-quarter of the total ballots tabulated in 2016 -- have been received in Nebraska. Lancaster County told the Journal Star on Tuesday it had already received more the 50,000 mail-in ballots.

With the election coming in the midst of a global pandemic, mail-in voting figures to be used more this year nationwide to protect at-risk Americans. Fortunately, Nebraska has a mail-in system with a proven history of success.

So while President Trump has cast doubt on America’s ability to pull off mail-in voting without the threat of voter fraud, Nebraska has shown it can conduct mail-in voting safely and without risk to election integrity.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said last month he shares some of the concerns expressed by the president about the validity of some of the mail votes cast in other states -- but not in Nebraska.

Here, voters are required to apply for a mail-in ballot, as opposed to other states where ballots have been mailed to all registered voters.

Clearly, the system in place in Nebraska works. However, Secretary of State Bob Evnen has urged voters casting ballots by mail to do so before Oct. 27, to alleviate the added stress on U.S. Postal Service workers.

Some 350,000 Nebraska voters have already requested early ballots. Request for mail-in ballots in Lancaster County must be postmarked by 6 p.m. Friday.

Ballots can also be dropped off at any of the Lancaster County Election Office, 601 N. 46th St., or at any official county ballot boxes, located inside the eight public libraries in Lincoln.

Again, it doesn’t matter how you choose to cast your ballot -- only that you do it.


Omaha World-Herald. October 21, 2020

These poachers deserve the heavy punishment they received

Federal court in Nebraska has delivered a well-deserved blow for justice by imposing heavy penalties on poachers who grossly abused state and federal hunting laws.

These “hunters” displayed their contempt for responsible practices in reprehensible ways. A joint investigation by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uncovered a wide range of illegal practices:

» Setting out bait, at at least 68 sites, to illegally lure game animals — more than 115,000 pounds of deer bait was used over a four-year period.

» Using a spotlight as part of the “hunt.”

» Muffling their shots with suppressors to avoid being detected for illegal activity.

» Using rifles during bow season.

» Shooting animals from a roadway.

These blatant practices went on for years, involved poachers from at least 21 states and resulted in the illegal killing of at least 97 game animals: 30 white-tailed deer, 34 mule deer, six pronghorn antelope and 27 turkeys. In addition, poachers illegally killed migratory nongame birds such as hawks and falcons, often as the creatures were sitting on fence posts or power lines.

U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon sentenced Jacob Hueftle, co-owner and chief operator of the offending outfitting operation, to 30 months in federal prison and ordered him to pay $214,375 in restitution, jointly with his company, to Game and Parks.

In all, 30 people have pleaded guilty so far, with $570,453 in fines and restitution assessed and 53 years’ worth of hunting and fishing permits forfeited.

A Wisconsin man was among the most blatant offenders, and his fitting punishment included return of 13 wildlife trophy mounts; $95,000 in restitution and fines; and forfeiture of four scoped rifles, three suppressors, a compound bow and a crossbow.

Hueftle’s outfitting operation had access to about 200,000 acres in at least eight counties in western Nebraska.

Authorities must look to see if state and federal statutes need to be tightened, given that Hueftle had been convicted in 2012 of violating federal hunting law and sentenced to probation for five years.

Hunting is a long-standing part of Nebraska culture, and hunters have traditionally been among the state’s strongest advocates of habitat conservation. It’s good to see state and federal authorities crack down on poachers who so willfully abused the privilege of hunting in Nebraska. Such enforcement sends a needed message. It offers encouragement to responsible hunters and provides a needed warning to anyone seeking to cut corners when it comes to Nebraska law.