University of Nebraska President Ted Carter said Tuesday that the university will be ready to open safely for on-campus classes in five weeks and he is "very bullish" that there will be sports competition this fall.
"We want to see fall sports and we think we can do it safely," Carter said during a news conference with Gov. Pete Ricketts that focused on the state's educational response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although Carter's remarks referred only indirectly to Husker football, he noted that "not every campus president sees it the way we do; (and) we have to have somebody to play."
While Ricketts ceded most of the time at his Capitol news conference to Carter, the governor announced a sharp increase in the COVID-19 testing capacity of Test Nebraska.
Processing of tests at the CHI Health lab in Lincoln is being expanded from 3,600 to 7,000 tests per day, he said.
Ricketts pointed to continued success in fulfilling his goal of "preserving the hospital system," as measured in terms of available beds, intensive care beds and ventilators, along with the state's number of coronavirus cases.
"Everything we have done to slow the spread of the virus has worked," he said.
Asked about the status of his challenge to Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird's order this week requiring the wearing of masks in most public indoor settings in Lincoln, the governor said "we're still reviewing whether the mayor has the legal authority for that."
Ricketts said he will continue to encourage people to wear masks when they go to the store or in other crowded conditions, but will oppose "the heavy hand of government telling us what to do."
Nebraska recorded 343 new cases of COVID-19 — the most in a single day since late May — on Tuesday, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The agency now lists 23,190 confirmed cases and 310 deaths on its online dashboard, along with 17,389 recoveries.
Carter said the university is prepared to safely provide an on-campus education for college students, giving them the valuable experience of learning and growing within the classroom and in association with one another.
"You can't get the same level of education through Zoom" or other online sources, he said.
At stake is "the emotional, social, intellectual and even the moral growth of our young students (at) a key moment in their lives.
"Our hope is to help mature them, show them their path," he said.
"We have a mission to do and we should be doing it in person."
And, he said, "a great majority of the faculty want to be on campus."
However, Carter noted, "this will not be a normal year," and some elements of the educational experience will continue to be remote.
"Nearly 100% of 51,000 students will be taking some portion of their education remotely," he said.
"We will be utilizing masks in the classroom and on the campus," Carter said.
Students will be counseled and encouraged to "take care of yourself," he said. And that means avoiding large gatherings and parties so they can "help protect themselves and protect others."
Greg Adams, executive director of the Nebraska Community College Association, also joined the news briefing and said community colleges are ready to help retrain people to fill high-demand jobs throughout the state with the $16 million allocated to them by the federal coronavirus aid package.
"We will be working with the Department of Labor and the Department of Economic Development to make this happen," he said.
"They know what employers need; we will create the programs (and) cast the net to capture the students."
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