McCook Daily Gazette. April 9, 2020

Don’t expect a quick reboot from coronavirus

When things go wrong on your old PC, you can hit the “control-alt-delete” buttons and reboot the machine.

Sure, you will lose whatever you are working on at the time, whether it’s the great American novel or an email to grandma, but at least you’ll get the computer running again, cleared of whatever bug was causing it to not function.

We may not have asked for a great reset, but thanks to the COVID-19 bug, we got one.

Yes, a lot of things were lost in the process. The high school track season for one thing, along with most spring school activities; YMCA soccer, a majority of the performances of SWNCTA’s fabulous “Hunchback of Notre Dame” production.

Family gatherings. Traditional Easter services.

A letter from the Buffalo Commons committee announced that headliners for the storytelling and music festival have been canceled, with hopes of a smaller event featuring local talent.

And on and on. Even those of us who consider ourselves introverts are learning we’re not all that fond of social isolation when it’s enforced to the point it affects our abilities to complete basic tasks like earning a living or shopping for groceries.

Like the familiar logo that appears on our computer screens, the reboot of familiar activities will be a relief when it happens.

But don’t expect activities to spin up very quickly.

With no reported COVID-19 cases in our immediate area, we’re far from experiencing the peak effects of the pandemic, and the return to what passes for “normal” probably will take longer than we expect.

Residents of Wuhan, China, are only now being cautiously allowed to return to normal activities, after 2 1/2-months of quarantine, which pushes our reboot date to mid-summer, provided the virus stays under control in China and elsewhere.

Gov. Pete Ricketts hinted that some restrictions might be eased in May, such as allowing slightly larger gatherings and reopening sit-down restaurants, but he’s right in urging caution to avoid a rebound in coronavirus cases.

And, Ricketts medical adviser Dr. James Lawler says the pandemic won’t truly be overcome until public health officials find a vaccine for the virus.

We’re relatively unaffected in Nebraska because we had more time to react than did the larger states, but “there’s a lot of room for improvement,” including more testing, and things could quickly get worse, said Dr. Lawler, an infectious disease expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Meanwhile, don’t assume we can drop our guard.

Follow 10 steps urged by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services:

-- Stay 6 feet away from others.

-- Stay at home and only grocery shop once per week alone.

-- Wear a cloth face covering in public (grocery stores, pharmacies etc.) when you can’t stay 6 feet away from others.

-- Work from home.

-- Hold conference calls or virtual meetings instead of in person.

-- Stay home if you or someone in your house has a sudden onset of cough or shortness of breath or a fever.

-- Wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

-- Wash hands right before you eat.

-- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.

-- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, especially counters, handles, doorknobs, tabletops, remotes and keyboards.

-- Wear cloth face coverings in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Visit CDC.gov for more information on cloth masks.

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Lincoln Journal Star. April 10, 2020.

Deferring occupation tax is just a small step

In times like these, every little bit helps.

That’s why the proposal to defer occupation tax collections to assist Lincoln’s restaurants and bars makes sense. These businesses – many of which are small and owned by local residents – have been among those hit hardest by coronavirus.

As such, the Journal Star editorial board endorses both the spirit and practical impact of the measure championed by City Councilwoman Tammy Ward.

“It’s uncharted territory,” she said, “but I’m hoping this is one thing we can do for this industry.”

She’s correct on both counts. But the size and scope of the economic damage caused by COVID-19 could far exceed what her plan can accomplish on its own.

One business owner told her that sales had fallen by 90% in light of the directed health measure that required all restaurants and bars in the state to close their dining rooms and instead turn exclusively to drive-thru and take-out orders.

While a penalty-free delay in paying the 2% tax to the city will certainly help this business owner, the expense pales in comparison to other expenses these businesses face. Rent and property taxes are among the largest financial burdens by these entities face.

Yet, barring actions taken by individual landlords, little to no relief is available to businesses hurting through no fault of their own.

The relief act passed last month by Congress opens some doors for assistance to these small business owners and the thousands of Nebraskans whom they employ. But the more avenues available, the better, given the far-reaching disruption from coronavirus.

Whatever additional assistance the city and state can provide this critical industry would help. The occupation tax is a small gesture, but our hope is that it’s just a first step.

The fact that the joint public agency governing Pinnacle Bank Arena, as City Finance Director Brandon Kaufman told the Journal Star, has healthy cash reserves no doubt helps make this deferment possible. Even when the occupation tax payments roll in by June 25, they’ll be significantly smaller than budgeted following three months of lost business.

The economic damage from the coronavirus will far outlive the pandemic itself. Sen. John Stinner, chair of the Nebraska Legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said the state may be grappling with the fallout for three years. For a small business owner, though, the damage could be irreparable.

As evidenced by an unprecedented spike in unemployment applications, it’s clear the recovery from COVID-19’s fiscal fallout will be far-reaching. So, too, must be the help available to this critical industry in Lincoln and elsewhere in Nebraska.

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Omaha World Herald. April 10, 2020

The safe haven law is a good one. Nebraska needs to get the word out

A South Omaha couple were stunned to discover a newborn baby left on their front porch Monday. Authorities have charged the 28-year-old mother with misdemeanor counts of child abuse and abandonment. Her son, referred to as Baby Boy Nicholas, has been placed in foster care pending the outcome of a hearing on Thursday.

All of which shows the appropriateness of Nebraska’s safe haven law — and for greater outreach to help young mothers understand that the safe haven provision provides them an option to see that their child will be cared for.

This young woman clearly had no idea that under Nebraska law, she could have taken her child to a local hospital and lawfully placed him into the state’s care without penalty.

Many Nebraskans will well recall that the state initially ran into big problems in 2008 after the safe haven law went into effect. Because lawmakers had decided to remove an age limit on the definition of the word “child,” people from around the country began bringing troubled youngsters, mainly teens and preteens, and dropped them off in Nebraska. In all, three dozen children were affected. The situation drew national attention.

Then-Gov. Dave Heineman called the Legislature into special session to address the problem: The law was changed to restrict the drop-offs to infants under 30 days old.

Safe haven laws are now common in much of the country. They make much sense as an effort to maximize the chances of positive well-being for infants.

For young children who remain in the state’s care, adoption is a regular occurrence. In Nebraska, more than 500 children are adopted on average each year.

Not every young woman in Nebraska is aware of the safe haven law, of course, as the incident this week shows. Some states, such as Massachusetts, have had success in outreach by using a peer-to-peer approach — young people explaining the law to other young people. This should be an option for Nebraska, too.

Nebraska state government has made several appropriate follow-ups to the initial safe haven law. A Nebraska Family Helpline, at 888-866-8660, guides parents and guardians through services in an effort to keep families from falling through the cracks. The state’s “peer navigator” program helps people work effectively with behavioral health agencies.

In addition, two well-respected Nebraska nonprofits — Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska and Nebraska Children’s Home Society — provide a set of services known as Right Turn, with a variety of supports for Nebraska families who have adopted or entered into a guardianship. Nebraska also has worked to create what’s called a “system of care” among government agencies, nonprofits and medical facilities, to make the delivery of medical help and mental health supports as coordinated and efficient as possible.

Nebraska has many supports for mothers and families in distress. But getting the word out is key.

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