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Students and teachers hard at work amidst the pandemic

01/24: School cancellations, bill introductions and influenza

by Hanna Christensen, Ramey Vachal and Lauren Penington

Nebraska senators introduce four bills to to help recruit and retain nurses

Omaha Sens. Mike McDonnell and Robert Hilkemann and Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks and Adams Sen. Myron Dorn are asking for a combined $62 million in American Rescue Plan money to help recruit and retain nurses. McDonnell (LB1055) proposes a $50 million grant to be distributed among Nebraska hospitals to front-line nurses in the form of cash bonuses. If distributed evenly, the grant would amount to a $2,000 bonus per nurse. Hilkemann’s bill (LB1044) would provide hospitals with grants totaling $2 million for innovative patient care. Pansing Brooks introduced a bill (LB1085) that would add new positions with the Nebraska Department of Education to oversee and create programs that engage high school students in career and technical paths. Dorn introduced a bill (LB1091) that would create $5 million into scholarships for nursing students.

Nebraska schools canceling classes in midst of illnesses and staffing shortages

Lincoln Public Schools announced Jan. 14 that it is canceling classes for the next three Fridays due to ongoing staffing shortages and a substantial number of student absences. Wahoo Elementary sent an email to families on Jan.18 notifying them that school will be closed for the rest of the week, citing “an inability to sufficiently staff the building for the safety and education of students.” Beatrice Public schools broke the news that classes are canceled Jan. 20 and 21, although teachers will still report. The school said that every position within the school is having staffing issues. Hastings Public Schools canceled classes for Jan. 24 to give teachers time to catch up on planning time that they have missed due to having to cover classes for teachers who were absent. On Jan. 17, Grand Island Public schools announced that it will be moving to a four-day school week for the next five weeks, canceling Friday classes starting Jan. 21. Teachers will still report for planning time. After the five weeks, the school will reevaluate.

Ricketts endorses Jim Pillen for governor 

Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Kay Orr endorsed NU Regent Jim Pillen for governor during Pillen’s campaign launch on Jan. 18. “I believe in Jim,” Ricketts said. He also said he plans to contribute to his campaign.

Lancaster County COVID risk dial remains in red for third consecutive week

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department announced Jan. 19 that the COVID-19 Risk Dial will be in the red, indicating severe risk of spread, this week. LLCHD Health Director Pat Lopez said the number of COVID cases increased by 350% from Dec. 25 to Jan. 15, going from 982 to 4,456. Twenty local residents have died from coronavirus this month.

Nebraska has its first flu death of the season

Nebraska has had four influenza-associated deaths this season, according to a Jan. 19 report from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. All of the deaths were individuals over 50 years old. One had influenza B and three had influenza A. One of the individuals with influenza A also had a co-infection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Bill introduction continues within the legislature

In the last week of bill introductions, lawmakers added more than 250 new proposals for consideration, including many that involved ideas for using federal relief funds. Lawmakers also offered various proposals that would provide incentives for teachers, health care providers, child care workers and law enforcement and corrections officers. Other proposals were added that relate to property taxes and school funding, medical marijuana and school safety. Several bills relate to national hot-button issues including voting and abortion.