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Ricketts encourages Nebraskans to consider masks
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Ricketts encourages Nebraskans to consider masks

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Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday that current modeling suggests Nebraska will not experience its coronavirus peak until the last week of April or perhaps early in May and that he'd "certainly encourage" Nebraskans to consider wearing masks to help slow the spread.

Meanwhile, the state continues to order personal protective equipment, such as gowns and masks, for health care workers, and ventilators that might be needed in hospitals.

Echoing a common problem experienced by other states that are now engaged in a highly competitive marketplace, Ricketts said "we've had frustrations" that included "shipments we thought we had purchased disappeared."

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Many governors have complained that they are being outbid by other states and even by the federal government in their quest for needed medical and protective gear.

Although Nebraska so far has not been as greatly affected by the virus as other states, Ricketts said "we want to err on the side of caution (and) make sure we have the capacity to meet our needs."

It is "premature for us to determine whether we can send supplies to others" as a few states have done, Ricketts said. "We're still trying to acquire more supplies."

Ricketts said the state recently purchased 500,000 gloves and 95,000 hospital masks from Werner Enterprises, using state funds appropriated by the Legislature during its recent emergency three-day session.

Fauci says Ricketts 'doing a very good job' fighting virus

As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nebraska had recorded 478 cases of COVID-19, resulting in 11 deaths. A Hall County woman in her 60s who had been hospitalized marked the hard-hit county's second death, and the Douglas County Health Department on Tuesday reported its fifth coronavirus-related death, a woman in her 90s with underlying health issues.

Hall County reports 69 confirmed cases, compared with 34 in Lancaster County, where five times more people reside.

The concerns in Hall County prompted state and local officials to set up testing for 75 health care workers in Grand Island on Tuesday. More tests are planned Wednesday.

The Grand Island Independent reported that Case New Holland was suspending production out of concern for the safety of the company’s workers.

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In a wide-ranging news briefing, Ricketts turned the spotlight on the need for the public to help provide protection for children by being alert to any evidence of abuse and neglect during this period when they no longer are able to go to school.

"Teachers play an important role in identifying child abuse," he noted.

"All Nebraskans can help in watching over our kids," he said.

Ricketts says shelter-at-home not needed in Nebraska

Stephanie Beasley, director of the state division of children and family services, said any concerns should be conveyed to her office.

Beasley also announced that the state is loosening its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recertification process for now to concentrate on new applications for assistance.

There's been a 35% increase in SNAP applications because of job losses during the current coronavirus pandemic, she said.

Ricketts' biggest worry is not to overwhelm health care system

Ricketts said the state is working to expand testing for the coronavirus beyond the 650 to 700 tests that are conducted daily now.

"Nebraskans have been following the rules regarding social distancing," he said. "But we need to do more; we can do better."

Ricketts has imposed a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people and urged individuals to maintain 6 feet of physical separation. Those restrictions are in effect statewide.  

The governor encouraged Nebraskans to mark this coming Easter Sunday "in your own way" at home.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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