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Mask mandate extended as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Lincoln
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With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise and local hospitals near capacity, officials see little choice but to extend Lancaster County's mask mandate.

Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez announced Tuesday that the mandate, which requires masks in most indoor settings, will continue until Dec. 23. It had been scheduled to expire Wednesday.

The mandate, which was reinstated Aug. 26, has now been extended three times.

But Lopez also said that it is the department's intention that this will be the last extension, unless conditions get drastically worse, such as "if our hospitals go into crisis standards of care."

"Our plan is to focus on getting people vaccinated and not doing an extension. But if something happens that changes that, we will certainly make an announcement," she said.

Lancaster County remains the only jurisdiction in Nebraska, and one of few in surrounding states, with a mask mandate in place.

The latest extension comes as the county is experiencing a COVID-19 surge that has case numbers near their highest levels in 10 months.

There were 957 cases reported in Lancaster County last week, a nearly 19% increase from the previous week, and the second-highest weekly total since late January. Over the past month, cases have risen nearly 90%.

The only week in the past 10 months when the county saw higher case totals was the week prior to Labor Day, which saw more than 1,000 cases after K-12 and university students went back to class.

Despite the big jump in cases last week, the county's COVID-19 risk dial remained in the mid-orange range.

Lancaster County is not alone in seeing COVID-19 cases surge. Statewide, there were 6,103 cases for the week that ended Friday, according to case numbers reported on the state COVID-19 dashboard. That was up only slightly compared with the previous week, but it was up 10% from two weeks ago.

The Omaha World-Herald, citing numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported 6,461 cases last week, up from 6,137 the previous week. That's the highest weekly total since January.

Hospitalizations are also reaching levels not seen since January. On Monday, the state reported 513 active COVID-19 hospitalizations, the highest total since Jan. 5. Over the past month, the number of people hospitalized across Nebraska has increased about 43%.

The vast majority of those, 505, are adults, who account for 11% of all the available hospital beds in the state. However, 157 of those patients are in intensive care, and they are occupying 32% of the state's available ICU beds.

The South Heartland District Health Department said in a news release Tuesday that more than half of the patients hospitalized in its four-county district (Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties) are COVID-19 patients.

Lincoln hospitals have not seen a similar recent increase, but coronavirus patient levels have remained high, averaging between 90 and 100 per day since Oct. 20. On Tuesday, there were 100 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, 68 of them Lancaster County residents.

Lopez said local hospitals continue to be extremely full and patients are often forced to wait in the emergency department until beds open up.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said most of the hospitalizations are preventable and they "could and should be declining," if only more people would get vaccinated.

Lancaster County reports 61.5% of its total population fully vaccinated.

About 21% of children ages 5-11 have gotten their first dose, and Lopez said the Health Department will start giving second doses to some of those children after Thanksgiving.

She said the goal is to get as many people vaccinated over the next four weeks as possible. That includes first and second doses for kids and adults and booster shots for anyone over age 18 who is eligible.

The Health Department is now opening all of its clinics to anyone eligible for a booster dose, which is more than 80,000 county residents.

Lopez said getting vaccinated is the one thing people can do to help improve the local situation.

"If we want to move our community forward, we need to get vaccinated," she said.

While officials are seeing more breakthrough cases among people who are vaccinated, very few of those people are getting seriously ill and requiring hospitalization.

Lopez said current data shows about 20 out of every 100,000 unvaccinated people who get COVID-19 wind up in the hospital. The rate among vaccinated patients is 2 per 100,000.

As of Monday, about 75% of the COVID-19 patients at Bryan Health were unvaccinated, but more than 90% of the patients in the ICU and on ventilators had not received the vaccine.

Lancaster County also appears to be doing better than the rest of the state when it comes to deaths from COVID-19. There have been 12 so far this month, which puts the month on track to have a lower number than in either September or October.

Dr. Bob Rauner, president of the Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln and chief medical officer of OneHealth Nebraska, said the county has a much lower death rate than Douglas County and the state as a whole, which he attributed to higher vaccination rates, as well as "officials being able to put in our own public health measures without Gov. (Pete) Ricketts overruling us like he did in Omaha."

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department is able to institute a mask mandate without approval from local elected officials because of a quirk in state law.

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Lincoln man's investing app for teens garners $500,000 investment
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The coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into Luke Moberly's plans, but it also created an opportunity.

The 2020 graduate of Lincoln High School had planned to use a gap year to study Spanish in Uruguay, but those plans fell through because of COVID-19. So he pivoted and focused on another of his loves: computer coding.

"I was working at Chipotle, teaching myself to code on the side," said the 20-year-old who is currently attending Stanford University.

But he wasn't learning enough, and he wanted to "go all in" on learning to build software, so he started searching for coding camps.

Most of them were only being held virtually because of the pandemic, but Moberly found one in London that was offering an in-person option, and he boarded a plane for the UK in October 2020.

He spent a couple of months participating in the Le Wagon Coding boot camp, where he learned about data science and back-end software development.

While he was there, he got an email from his banker about the NMotion Accelerator Studio in Lincoln.

Moberly applied, and was one of only a handful of people chosen out of more than 160 applications.

That program started Dec. 4, two days before the London coding camp ended, so he did his onboarding virtually, flew back to Lincoln on the weekend and started the NMotion program the following Monday.

His first project for the studio was a tech-help service he offered over the holidays last year, doing things such as setting up home theater systems for tech-challenged clients. It was part of an NMotion competition to start a business from scratch and grow it as fast as possible.

He earned $335 as part of a studio challenge, which he donated to charity.

While it was a good exercise, Moberly said there was no "large startup potential" in a tech-help service, so he looked for something else.

He had some other business ideas floating around in his head and decided to focus on one aimed at helping young people become better investors.

Moberly said he'd long been interested in investing but had run into roadblocks trying to open accounts at traditional brokerages. Because of his age, there was tons of paperwork and extra hurdles involved.

He also was intrigued by young investors' interest in cryptocurrencies and so-called "meme stocks" such as Gamestop and AMC.

One of the issues Moberly saw is that young investors did not have the knowledge and education to make good investing choices.

"I saw a lot of young people who didn't know how to invest," he said.

Moberly said his goal was to come up with an easy way for teens to open a brokerage account and make investments, while at the same time providing education and support to help them invest wisely.

The result was Bumper, an app that not only allows kids as young as 13 to invest in stocks, but also provides financial education and limits what investments they can make. You can't use the app to invest in cryptocurrencies, for example, nor does it offer options or margin trading.

The company says on its website that its focus is long-term investing, and it gives parents the power to limit trades and have veto power for minors under the age of 18.

Moberly said the app is "completely focused on high school students." The goal, he said, is to get kids familiar with the app and using it and then hopefully keep their loyalty as they get older and have other investing options.

He started working on the app in January, first doing market research by talking to young people, their parents and startup founders.

Moberly was connected with another local man, Harrison Martindale, a 2019 graduate of Waverly High School who attends the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Initially working only via Zoom, they published a beta website in February, which led hundreds of people to get on a waiting list for the app.

From April through the summer, the Bumper team worked on building the app and finding a broker-dealer partner to actually execute stock trades.

That led to a beta launch of the app in September and a live launch in October.

All that work paid off, as Bumper announced earlier this month that it had secured a $500,000 round of investment led by Invest Nebraska and joined by Nebraska Angels and Wisconsin-based Lancaster Investments.

Ben Williamson, principal and general counsel for Invest Nebraska, said the public-private organization chose to invest in Bumper because it offered "a unique combination of an exceptional founder paired with an audacious goal to solve a problem no one has been able to solve, and doing it in a smart and differentiated way.”

The money will allow Bumper to hire a full-time engineer to add to the team of six that includes Moberly, Martindale, Sourabh Chakraborty and three interns. The company also will spend some of the money on sales and marketing efforts.

The app has already passed 1,000 users, and Moberly said there are plans to add cryptocurrency as an investment option in the next few months, as well as a premium service that would generate revenue.

For now, he plans to stay focused on the investing niche, but he said future plans could include offering other services, such as auto and renter's insurance.

Moberly said he's also had talks with a couple of banks and a couple of credit unions about partnerships that would potentially involve them promoting Bumper to their customers.

Scott Henderson, managing director of NMotion, said one of the reasons Bumper was developed and grew so quickly "comes from a lot of different people and organizations leveraging complementary strengths."

That includes mentors and advisers affiliated with NMotion, but others as well.

For example, Henderson introduced Moberly to Tom Chapman, who has founded a number of startups and now owns his own consulting company in Omaha.

It was Chapman who realized that Martindale and Moberly would be a perfect fit as partners.

"Harrison was in both of my classes at UNO. He was super sharp and was working on a project for one of the classes that was tangential to Luke’s vision for Bumper," Chapman said. "So, I introduced the two and have tried to continue to stay engaged with them as they have grown. They are both super sharp but offer complementary skills and training."

While he's going to school at Stanford, the alma mater of some of the world's most-recognized founders of tech companies, such as Google, Yahoo, eBay and Paypal, and in a location near some of the world's biggest and most well-known venture capital firms, Moberly said he knows Bumper wouldn't be where it is today without the connections, resources and support available in his home state.

"None of this would have been possible without the Nebraska startup community believing in me and investing in me on many different levels,” Moberly said. "I am thankful to NMotion, gener8tor, and all the mentors and investors for taking a chance on me and my team.”

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Fans answer call in man's obituary to place an 'irresponsibly large wager' on NU
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The obituary ran Thursday in the Hastings Tribune.

“The grim reality of the Nebraska Cornhuskers finishing yet another season with a losing record proved to be too much to bear for Milton Andrew Munson, who decided he’d seen enough of this world during the team’s recent bye week,” read the obituary written by his sons. “The Huskers may not have sent him into the afterlife with a victory but at least they didn’t lose. And sometimes that’s the best you can hope for.”

The obituary, which recounted the life of the Nebraska native, Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, pharmacist, husband, father and Husker fan, noted Wednesday’s memorial service and burial in Hastings, then read:

Courtesy photo 

Milton Munson

“In lieu of flowers, please place an irresponsibly large wager on Nebraska beating Iowa.”

The wit and sincerity of the obituary — Munson battled bipolar disorder and addiction — and that call to action caught fire on social media. And there's money coming in on Milt (and his Huskers) this week.

Josh Peterson, co-host of "Unsportsmanlike Conduct," the afternoon sports talk show on Omaha’s KOZN-AM, and Jack Mitchell of KLIN-AM in Lincoln, put together a plan.

“Josh and I sort of hatched this (Monday) afternoon as this little thing,” Mitchell said. “We thought we should just centralize it all and make one large bet on his behalf and remember Milt. I’d throw in some money, Josh would throw some in and we’d maybe come up with a few hundred."

By Wednesday morning, that "few hundred” had grown to more $6,100, thanks to listeners and those who found out about the plan on Twitter.

“I mentioned it (Monday) on the air,” Peterson said. “We talked about it for four or five minutes and said ‘Here’s my Venmo if you want to donate.’ It’s blown up."

Munson’s son, Todd, got in touch with Peterson, endorsed the plan and was on the show Tuesday to talk about his father and what will be done with the money.

Peterson transferred the Venmo funds to a GoFundMe account ( Tuesday afternoon, from which the family will determine what is donated to Big Brothers/Big Sisters — and what goes down on the Huskers, 1½-point underdogs to the Hawkeyes on Friday.

Troy Munson, a neurosurgeon living in Des Moines, Iowa, said the brothers talked an hour or so about what to put in the obituary. Ultimately Todd, a writer who lives in Los Angeles, put it together.

The brothers had a complicated relationship with their father, Todd said, but when they had a conversation, it almost always involved the Huskers.

"During periods where he was able to keep his illness under control, he greatly enjoyed weekend visits with his sons — taking them to their first Husker games, catching trophy-sized bluegill at secret fishing spots, teaching them how to play the ponies at Fonner Park, exploring the Nebraska countryside in search of bars that would allow children, or spending a quiet evening at home discussing the finer points of Dirty Harry films over a Sax’s Pizza," the obituary read.

Milt's love for the Huskers, and gambling, had to be part of his story, Troy Munson said.

Quarterback Adrian Martinez is out for Friday's Nebraska-Iowa game, but Todd Munson wrote on Twitter that the Huskers will be getting some help from other places.

“If the ghost of my old man can’t will the Huskers to victory on Friday, then they truly are a lost cause.”

Memorial services for Munson will be 1 p.m. Wednesday at Livingston Butler Volland Funeral Home in Hastings, with burial at Parkview Cemetery.