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Lincoln's water plant has isolated workers in RVs to ensure water production
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Lincoln's water plant has isolated workers in RVs to ensure water production

Ashland water

Workers at Lincoln's water treatment plant in Ashland are staying in RVs at the site for a week before taking a week off. The isolation effort is intended to keep them healthy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Shifts at Lincoln's water treatment plant in Ashland have remained on the grounds after clocking out, with employees staying in RVs for weeklong, rotating stretches in the first worker isolation measure implemented in the facility's history.

On Friday, Lincoln Transportation and Utilities Director Liz Elliott said the eight workers on each shift spend 24 hours a day at the plant during their week on and then receive a week off.

Workers began staying at the plant April 16 because of the coronavirus pandemic, she said. 

"This entire team of professionals is placing the best interests of Lincoln first and foremost," Elliott said.

Last year they worked around the clock to ensure safe water continued flowing from the wellfields in the Platte River, and Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said she's grateful they've stepped up again in response to another historic event.

"Lincoln Water System crews are again going above and beyond the call of their normal duties to make sure all of us have the water we need to sustain ourselves and our families," Gaylor Baird said.

Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department officials confirmed 44 more cases Friday, bringing the county's total to 281.

Newly confirmed positive cases tripled in Lancaster County this week over the prior week, according to the health department.

Investigations for many of the newly confirmed cases remained pending Friday, but interim Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department Director Pat Lopez said four of the overall cases are associated with the Smithfield Farmland plant in Lincoln, which employs 400 people.

Forty-nine Lancaster County residents who are COVID-19 positive are associated with Smithfield meatpacking plant in Crete, including 45 plant workers, she said.

Testing capacity locally has doubled, and the two testing sites combined to test 190 people on Thursday, the mayor said.

Lancaster County's overall rate of positive tests has increased to 6.9% from 3.2% last week, Lopez said. 

Bob Ravenscroft, vice president of advancement at Bryan Health, said a week ago about 5% of the 2,355 tests they had done had come back positive.

In the 1,280 tests they've done since then, April 24, the percentage of positives has risen to 22%.

On Friday, 49 people known to have COVID-19 were hospitalized, including nine Lancaster County residents, Lopez said. Ten people were on ventilators.

Despite an increase in the number of hospitalizations, Lopez remained confident in the capacity of the local hospitals to care for coronavirus patients.

Ravenscroft said about 75% of the people who have COVID-19 are walking around and don't know they have it.

Ravenscroft said everyone has felt caged in. The weather forecast looks great for the weekend and into next week, on top of upcoming temptations like Cinco de Mayo, graduations and Mother's Day; and the state and the country are beginning to open back up, he said.

"There are going to be parishioners going to churches in Lincoln and across Southeast Nebraska as soon as this weekend. We know people want to get back to work and get back to some form of normalcy," Ravenscroft said.

But he asked people to keep themselves and their families safe.

It's like we're the underdogs in a football game against a "strong, menacing and stealthy" opponent that just scored, and it's nearing halftime, Ravenscroft said.

In other words, he said, regardless of loosening restrictions, people should continue to meticulously wash their hands, cover their faces, avoid large crowds and be cautious of whom they interact with.

"We know we don't know who has this," Ravenscroft said.

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Photos: Lincoln during the pandemic

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson. 

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