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* Olson discusses requirements to receive PPP second round

(Posted 7 a.m. Jan. 21)

North Central Development Center Executive Director Kristin Olson on Wednesday provided information on the requirements that must be met for businesses and agricultural producers to qualify for the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program, passed as part of the recent federal stimulus package.
To hear the report, click on the audio link below.

* COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations trending down in Nebraska

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 21)

The latest statewide total of COVID-19 cases is 183,318 as of Tuesday. There have been 59 COVID-19-related deaths in Nebraska reported in the past seven days, for a total of 1,850. To date, a total of 127,221 Nebraskans testing positive for COVID-19 have recovered.

The daily average of new positive cases in the past week was 781, compared to 948 daily cases last week, and 1,036 and 780 cases a day in recent weeks.

While still elevated, COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to come down, with Nebraska hospitals caring for an average of 444 COVID-19 patients a day over the last seven days. Averages in prior weeks were 481, 522, and 528 COVID-19 patients. 

Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS, said, “We’re still in the early days of the vaccination effort and so it’s critical we continue to limit virus spread. Wearing a mask, washing hands, and staying home when you’re sick are the best tools to fight against COVID-19.”

Anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine and get tested.

For most areas of Nebraska, Phase 1B vaccination is either underway or will begin next week.

DHHS announced last week that Phase 1B priority groups will expand to match federal recommendations to include those 65 and older and those at high-risk for severe COVID-19, as well as workers in critical industries who are unable to work remotely.

Next week, DHHS will launch a website to help Nebraskans register to be notified when COVID-19 vaccination begins in their area. Those interested in registering will need to provide name, date of birth, an email address and phone number, occupation, and answer health questions used to determine priority group eligibility.

Family members and caregivers are encouraged to assist others with vaccine sign-up if needed. Any information entered is strictly confidential and will be used solely to determine phase eligibility in administering the vaccine.

In the interim, many local health departments are offering electronic signup on their websites, and the DHHS COVID-19 information line is available for those with vaccine-related questions at (833) 998-2275. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.  

The Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine 94% effective in phase three clinical trials. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. Neither vaccine contains a live virus and cannot give individuals COVID-19. Two vaccine doses are needed to reach full effectiveness against COVID-19, and the same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses. 

Nebraska is currently allocated about 23,000 first doses a week and 11,000 second doses. The COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available to the public and it’s expected to be late spring before sufficient supplies are available to begin mass vaccination.

As of Tuesday, more than 109,500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given to Phase 1 priority groups, including health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff.

More than 75% of the state’s 90,000 Nebraska hospital, health care and emergency medical services workers have received their first vaccine dose, with more than 15,000 receiving a second dose.

Residents and staff of 428 Nebraska long-term care facilities have received their first vaccine dose, with second dose clinics now underway.

Testing continues to be crucial to limiting COVID-19. Anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19, who is experiencing any symptoms, and those planning to travel or returning from travel are encouraged to schedule a COVID-19 test. Free testing is available at one of the more than 60 Test Nebraska sites across the state.

Those planning international travel are advised that beginning next week, travelers returning to the U.S. will be required to provide proof of a COVID-19 test taken no more than 3 days before their return flight. Returning travelers will need to present either a negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to their airline before boarding.

The order takes effect Tuesday, Jan. 26 and will apply to all passengers two years and older traveling to the U.S., including citizens and permanent residents.

For those traveling within the U.S., the CDC advises getting a COVID-19 test 1 to 3 days prior to travel, and 3 to 5 days after returning home.
A five-phase series of Directed Health Measures remain in effect for the entire state. DHM restrictions are aimed at preserving hospital capacity for urgent medical care as COVID-19 hospitalizations remain elevated.

Less than 15% of hospital beds are needed for COVID-19 patients, and the state is in the blue threshold, which is the fourth of the five series of directives. Through Jan. 31, indoor gatherings are restricted to 75% of capacity.

* NCDHD moves to Phase 1B for COVID-19 vaccinations

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 19)

The North Central District Health Department has now transitioned into Phase1B to provide COVID-19 vaccine to individuals who are 75 years and older. Those 75 years of age and older are asked to visit the NCDHD website to sign up for vaccination, as are businesses included in Phase 1B.

There is also a survey available for individuals in the general public who can receive a vaccine at a moment’s notice. For assistance completing the online survey, people may call the Ainsworth Public Library, Ainsworth Senior Center, Rock County Public Library, Rock County Senior Center, Boyd County Senior Center, Valentine Public Library, Valentine Senior Center, Stuart Township Library, Atkinson Public Library and the Atkinson Senior Center.

NCDHD recognizes federal partners added the 65 years and older and those with underlying health conditions categories into Phase 1B. NCDHD requests those eligible populations wait until February to sign up on the statewide registry.

The health department will notify the public as it transitions to each phase. The speed of transition depends heavily on vaccine availability.

Mid-January to Mid-April: Phase 1B- Vaccine will be allocated to those 75 years and older, 65 years and older, those with pre-existing conditions, first responders, those in the education sector, and those working with critical infrastructure.

Mid-April to May: Phase 1C- Vaccines will be allocated to vulnerable populations (disabled, homeless, etc.) and those in congregate settings (colleges/universities, etc.).

May to October: Phase 2 – Vaccine will be made available to the public.

NCDHD was made aware of 17 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases were five in Holt County, two in Boyd County, and one new case was reported in both Rock County and Cherry County.

There have been 4,020 total cases in the nine-county district since the virus first appeared, and there have been 221 confirmed cases in the past two weeks. A total of 2,121 people in the district have been deemed to have recovered from the virus, and 64 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19.

COVID-19 testing is available from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday at the O’Neill Armory, from 1 until 3 p.m. Tuesdays at the Rock County Fairgrounds, and on Tuesdays in the Valentine United Methodist Church.

Pre-registration for testing at www.testnebraska.com is highly encouraged, but not required. 

More than 29,500 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in the last seven days in Nebraska. As of Sunday, 106,203 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given to those in Phase 1 priority groups, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Phase 1A includes frontline health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. First doses have been given to more than 75 percent of Nebraska’s 90,000 health care workers so far, with more than 15,000 receiving a second dose.

Vaccination continues for residents and staff of Nebraska’s long-term care facilities. Residents and staff at more than 428 facilities have received their first vaccine dose. Second dose clinics are beginning this week.

Nebraska is scheduled to receive 11,700 Pfizer and 11,800 Moderna first doses this week, and 11,200 Moderna second doses.

Local health departments are coordinating vaccination for priority groups. Health departments are progressing at different speeds for vaccination.

Phase 1B now includes those 65 and older, those who are at high-risk for severe COVID-19, as well as workers in critical industries who are unable to work remotely. The high-risk group will include those with medical conditions identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as increasing the risk for severe COVID-19.

Other populations included in Phase 1B are those working in critical industries unable to work remotely, including: first responders, educators, those in the utilities and transportation sectors, and food processing workers.  

The DHHS COVID-19 hotline can also help navigate the sign-up process in each health district, and is available at (833) 998-2275. The hotline is staffed daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call volumes may be high and patience is appreciated.

In the coming weeks, DHHS will launch a website to help Nebraskans register for COVID-19 vaccination and receive updates, scheduling information and follow-up reminders. Those interested in registering will need to provide basic information to determine eligibility and will be notified when clinics begin in their area.

Community clinics with scheduled appointments will be the primary way vaccine doses are given while the vaccine supply remains limited to help ensure all doses can be used in the required timeframe. Community clinics will stagger appointments in order to observe social distancing and provide space for monitoring after vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available to the public and it’s expected to be late spring before mass vaccination begins. Nebraskans are reminded that while vaccine supply is limited, basic precautions are the best defense against COVID-19. Wearing a mask, watching your distance, washing hands often, staying home when you’re sick are still critical to limiting infection.

The Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine 94% effective in phase three clinical trials. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. Neither vaccine contains a live virus and cannot give individuals COVID-19. Two vaccine doses are needed to reach full effectiveness against COVID-19, and the same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses.

The state is following the recommendations of CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Priority groups and timing projections remain tentative and will be adjusted as federal recommendations are issued and as vaccine shipments are scheduled.

A link to the COVID-19 Vaccination dashboard can be found at the top of the DHHS COVID-19 Cases dashboard.

* Ainsworth speech team opens season at Valentine

(Posted 4:45 p.m. Jan. 18)

The Ainsworth speech team kicked off its season Saturday during the Valentine Icebreaker Tournament.

Varsity

Extemp: Libby Wilkins- 4th

Poetry: Alyssa Erthum – 1st, Cody Kronhofman – 4th

OID: Cody Kronhofman, Maren Arens, Eden Raymond, and Dakota Stutzman – 1st,
Josie Ganser, Logan Hafer, Brandt Murphy, Cody Scott, and Ellie Welke – 2nd

Duet: Ben Flynn and Libby Wilkins –  3rd

Entertainment: Maren Arens – 1st

Informative: Ben Flynn – 2nd

Persuasive: Alyssa Erthum – 3rd

Novice

Entertainment: Cole Bodeman – 2nd

Informative: Makenna Pierce – 3rd

Persuasive: Sophie Wilson – 2nd, Cole Bodeman – 3rd

Serious: Taylor Allen – 2nd

Team – Third of seven

Next Saturday, the team will compete in the Broken Bow Invitational, which will be conducted virtually.

* Jacobs hired as Sandhills Care Center administrator

(Posted 8:30 a.m. Jan. 18)

The Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors has announced the hiring of Penny Jacobs to serve as the administrator of the facility.

The Care Center Board chose Jacobs from among a pool of six applicants. Jacobs was the previous administrator of the Ainsworth Care Center in 2013-14.

Jacobs has a Bachelor of Arts degree in accounting from the University of Northern Iowa and a Master of Business Administration degree with an emphasis in health care management from the University of Phoenix.

Jacobs said she looks forward to returning to Ainsworth and re-establishing friendships, and is excited to lead the team at the Sandhills Care Center.

* Agenda for Brown County Commissioners meeting Tuesday

(Posted 7:45 a.m. Jan. 18)

Brown County Commissioners
Meeting 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19
Brown County Courthouse

05:15             Roll Call

Kenneth Turpin – Road Department Issues

View & Sign Environmental Services Supplemental Agreement between Brown County and Felsburg Holt & Ullevig & Approve and sign Resolution – Turpin

Resolution RE: USDA Grant Application for Sandhills Care Center – Small

5:25   Brown County Weed Superintendent -Submit annual report for approval/signature – Erthum

5:30 – Public Hearing on Abandoning roads located in Hidden Paradise located in the SW ¼ SW ¼ of Section 31, T30N, R20W, Brown County, Ne – Turpin

Austin Beard, discussing days to be in Rock County for Veterans – Beard

Open Reorganization meeting: D/A Reorganization meeting – Official Banks, Radio, Newspaper, Website; Set 2021 Holiday dates, BOE and Commissioner meeting dates, appoint Commissioner Chairman & Vice Chairman, appoint county surveyor, appoint County Highway Superintendent and committee representatives – Hobbs

Acknowledge 2021 Mileage rate of 56 cents – Hobbs

Cost of Living increase for, courthouse custodian, county weed superintendent, county zoning administrator, veterans service officer & county road employees – Hardy

Repair of Brown County Sheriff Office 2013 Ford pickup VIN:1FTFWIEF9DKF86882 and Transfer of Title to City of Ainsworth – Taylor

Review & Approve (NIRMA) NE Intergovernmental Risk Management Association 2021-2022 Underwriting Questionnaire – Hardy

 Membership Region 24 Emergency Management Agency – Small

* NCDHD reported 84 COVID-19 cases, 242 recoveries

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 15)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 84 new COVID-19 cases in the district since the last reporting on Monday. Among the new cases were nine in Holt County, four in Rock County, and one new case was reported in Brown County, Keya Paha County and Boyd County.

The NCDHD was notified of three additional COVID-19 deaths in the nine-county district: a Holt County man in his 80s, and women in their 80s from Antelope and Pierce counties. 

NCDHD announced 224 people recovered from the virus in the past week. Among the recoveries were 20 in Brown County, 19 in Cherry County, nine in Holt County and six people recovered from the virus in Boyd County.

There have been 242 COVID-19 cases reported in the past two weeks, and the district surpassed 4,000 total cases at 4,003. Of those, 2,121 people have recovered from the virus and 64 died due to virus complications.

The NCDHD has received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and is wrapping up vaccinations for Phase 1A partners. On the NCDHD web site, sign-up is available for individuals 75 and older, businesses in Phases 1B, and a survey for individuals in the general public who can attend a clinic at a moment’s notice in the event extra vaccine is available.

For assistance filling out a survey, contact the Ainsworth Public Library, Ainsworth Senior Center, Rock County Public Library, Rock County Senior Center, Stuart Township Library, Atkinson Public Library, Atkinson Senior Center, Boyd County Senior Center, Valentine Public Library or the Valentine Senior Center.

* Ricketts prioritizes property tax relief, prison construction

(Posted 3 p.m. Jan. 14)

Proposals for reducing property taxes, limiting local government spending growth and expanding state prisons highlighted Gov. Pete Ricketts’ State of the State address Thursday.

Ricketts praised health care professionals for treating Nebraskans throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Everyone that needed an ICU bed or a ventilator has been able to access one, he said.

The governor said his administration has looked for ways to expand Nebraska’s economy despite tough times.

“From giving licensed professionals more flexibility, to allowing restaurants to offer carryout alcohol, we looked for ways to grow our health care workforce and help small businesses survive,” Ricketts said.

This enabled Nebraska to have the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.1 percent — a number virtually unchanged from a year ago, he said.

A refundable property tax program, passed by the Legislature last year, will provide $596 million in property tax relief, but there is more work to be done, Ricketts said. He is proposing limiting the growth of local government property taxes to 3 percent.

“New local spending constraints are critical to ensuring the relief we provide goes into people’s pockets and to maintain local control in future years,” he said.

Ricketts said the state spending growth rate would be held to 1.5 percent in his proposed two-year budget. The budget would continue to support public schools, he said, with an additional $42.7 million for K-12 education over the next two years.

Saying that the current Nebraska State Penitentiary is “decaying,” Ricketts advocated for a new prison. Construction of the proposed facility would cost $230 million, he said, and is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

The governor also wants to make Nebraska the “best state in the nation” for military members and veterans. He said he would work with senators on legislation that would:
• invest $50 million toward an effort to locate Space Command at Offutt Air Force Base;
• exempt 100 percent of military retirement income from state income tax; and
• ease licensure requirements for military spouses.

Ricketts also said that 80,000 Nebraska households lack high-speed broadband internet service. He urged senators to support $20 million dollars to expand broadband access.

“The pandemic has revealed how impossible work from home or remote education can be for those on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Ricketts said.

* More than $2 million wastewater project completed in city

(Posted 7 a.m. Jan. 14)

The major wastewater improvement project that has been underway in the city of Ainsworth for much of the past year has been completed, and the Ainsworth City Council on Wednesday approved some final pay applications on the project while tabling a few items to determine if there will be any unspent grant dollars remaining.

Jess Hurlbert with Olsson Associates, the city’s engineering firm overseeing the water meter installation and cure-in-place sewer pipe upgrades in the city, said the completion of the water meter installation portion finalizes the project.

The council approved a change order for the water meter installation portion of the project, increasing the cost by $4,971 to a total of $426,545. Hurlbert said the change order took into account the final quantities of meters and parts actually used. He said the contractor did a good job with the estimate, as the final quantities on the water meters were close to what was estimated.

The council approved the change order and the final payment of $426,545 for that portion of the project.

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl asked the council to consider tabling the substantial completion certificate for the water meter installation.

“We will have enough funding to pay for the completed project,” Schroedl said. “If we end up with funds left over, there may be some additional small items we could add. I recommend we table this until we pinpoint the final numbers.”

If there are funds remaining from the more than $2 million project, including grant funds from the USDA and Community Development Block Grant program, the city could potentially purchase of few meters to have in stock if any of the new meters fail.

The council agreed to table the substantial completion certificate from Olsson Associates for the water meter portion of the project.

The council then also opted to table the final completion letter from Olsson Associates for both bid section A and bid section C of the wastewater improvement project.

The council did approve a correction to the final pay application for section B of the project, which was simply an error in the way the payments made by the city were tabulated.

The tabled items will likely be finalized during the council’s February meeting.

Schroedl said the city ended up borrowing $1.27 million to complete the project, and will repay that money through bond payments. The city received more than $800,000 in grant funding from both the USDA and the Community Development Block Grant program to assist with the project.

In other business Wednesday, new councilman Vance Heyer took the oath of office and was seated as the fourth council member.

Following a public hearing, the council approved a resolution agreeing to have Brown County serve as the lead entity in applying for a USDA Rural Development grant for the Sandhills Care Center to replace a more than 50-year-old generator.

The city and county jointly own and operate the Sandhills Care Center. Only one of the two entities can apply for the grant funding, which would cover 75 percent of the cost to replace the generator.

Sandhills Care Center Board Chairman Phil Fuchs told the council the care center could not apply for the grant itself, as the owner of the generator has to apply.

“We are asking the city to approve a resolution allowing Brown County to take the lead on the application,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs told the council the facility cannot legally operate without a backup power generator. He said, in addition to being old, the current generator is small and only provides power to a few areas in the building if the power goes out. He said the new generator would provide power to the entire facility.

The grant, if awarded, would cover $48,300 of the estimated $64,500 cost to replace the facility’s generator. The council approved the resolution allowing the county to be the applicant for the grant funding.

The council Wednesday approved a recommendation from the LB 840 Loan Committee to award a $3,981 façade grant to a business improving its frontage. Schroedl said a portion of the project had already been completed, and part of the work was new work. The façade program provides businesses with up to $10,000 in grant funding for 50 percent of the cost of improvements to their frontage.

The council discussed updates recommended by the LB 840 Citizens Advisory Review Committee regarding the confidentiality of applicants to the program.

CARC member Chris Raymond said the issue was discussed during the council’s December meeting, and the CARC met at length to discuss confidentiality issues with Schroedl, NCDC Director Kristin Olson and LB 840 Attorney Heather Sikyta.

Schroedl said the Department of Economic Development allows the city to pass ordinances declaring how much information from an applicant will remain confidential.

“We just wanted to make clear what would and would not be confidential with each application,” Schroedl said. “Heather advised us the business name, the dollar amount and whether the application was a grant or a loan should be a matter of public record.”

Schroedl said the city will be transparent with applicants on how much information will be made public.

Audience member Graig Kinzie asked why the type of project would no longer be made public, such as whether the applicant is submitting for the façade program, for professional recruitment, for a business loan or other qualifying activities.

Raymond said the LB 840 attorney recommended the public information include the business name, the dollar amount and whether it was a grant or a loan.

Kinzie said he believed it was more important for the public to know what type of project was being assisted by the funding. He said the city currently makes public the type of project being assisted but does not include the name of the applicant.

“To me, it is more important for the public to know what type of project is being assisted,” Kinzie said.

CARC member John Halbersleben said the committee simply made a recommendation, and the council had the ultimate decision on what to make a matter of public record.

Councilman Brad Fiala said he agreed that the type of project should also be included as part of the information made available to the public.

The council approved a resolution to make the business name, the dollar amount, whether the application was for a loan or a grant, and the type of qualifying project that was being applied for, as matters of public record.

During her report Wednesday, Schroedl said the city purchased a 2009 Ford F-150 from Ainsworth Motors for the parks department, and also had the opportunity to purchase a 2013 Ford F-150 from the sheriff’s department as part of its law enforcement interlocal agreement with the county. She said that vehicle was being phased out by the sheriff’s department and the city had the option to obtain the vehicle for the streets department.

She also reported she had been working to develop ordinances for the city relating to franchise agreements and right-of-way agreements. Schroedl said the city currently has franchise agreements in place with NPPD and Black Hills Energy. While a franchise agreement had lapsed with Three River for cable service, Schroedl said the company had continued to honor the agreement and provide the city with an annual franchise payment.

The council had previously discussed and pulled from the claims a $17,185 invoice from Universal Broadband Consultants for legal services related to the work on developing franchise agreement documents.

Mayor Joel Klammer said the law firm had agreed to reduce its initial bill to the city, but the city then had the firm perform additional work which made the claim the council agreed to pay Wednesday the same cost as the initial billing in November.

In a final item, the council approved the mayor’s recommended appointment of Bruce Papstein as the city’s representative to the KBR Solid Waste Committee, with Council President Brad Fiala serving as the alternate.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 10.

* Number of COVID-19 hospitalizations continues to decline

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Jan. 14)

The latest statewide total of COVID-19 cases is 177,670 as of Tuesday. There have been 99 COVID-19-related deaths in Nebraska reported in the past seven days, for a total of 1,791. To date, a total of 120,700 Nebraskans testing positive for COVID-19 have recovered.

While still elevated, COVID-19 hospitalizations have continued to come down, with Nebraska hospitals caring for an average of 481 COVID-19 patients a day over the last seven days. Averages in prior weeks were 522, 528, and 598 COVID-19 patients.

The daily average of new positive cases in the last week was 948, compared to 1,036 daily cases last week, 780 and 1,066 cases a day in recent weeks. 

Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS, said, “We’re still in the early days of this vaccination effort and so it’s critical we continue to limit virus spread. Wearing a mask, washing hands, and staying home when you’re sick are the best tools to fight against COVID-19.”

Anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine and get tested. Nebraskans are reminded to wear a mask, maintain social distance, wash hands often, and avoid crowded places, close contact with others, and confined spaces when away from home.

Nebraska will adjust the state’s current COVID-19 vaccination plan to expand Phase 1B priority groups in accordance with federal recommendations.

Phase 1B will now include those 65 and older, those who are at high-risk for severe COVID-19, as well as workers in critical industries who are unable to work remotely. The high-risk group will include those with medical conditions identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as increasing the risk for severe COVID-19.

For most areas, Phase 1B is projected to begin at the start of February.

Those newly eligible for Phase 1B should visit their local health department website to see if electronic signup is available to be notified when vaccination begins in their area.  

In the coming weeks, DHHS will launch a website to help Nebraskans register for COVID-19 vaccination and receive updates, scheduling information and follow-up reminders. Those interested in registering will be asked to provide basic information to help determine eligibility, according to priority groups and phases outlined in Nebraska’s vaccination plan, and be notified when clinics begin in their area.

The DHHS COVID-19 hotline is available for those with vaccine-related questions at (833) 998-2275. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.  

Nebraska currently receives about 23,000 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine weekly, in addition to shipments of second doses.  The COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available to the public and it’s expected to be spring before sufficient supplies are available to begin mass vaccination.  

As of Tuesday, more than 71,000 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been given to Nebraska hospital, health care and emergency medical services workers, and those who will be vaccinating priority groups in the months to come.

More than 40% of the state’s 90,000 health care workers have received their first dose, with more than 12,000 receiving second doses as of Tuesday.

Vaccination continues for residents and staff of Nebraska’s long-term care facilities. By the end of this week, residents and staff at more than 300 facilities will have received their first vaccine dose. Second dose clinics will begin next week.

The DHHS COVID-19 Vaccination dashboard provides a daily update on Nebraska’s vaccination effort, and includes a daily total of doses given, as well as the total number of first and second doses, and a breakdown of first and second doses given by age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

* NCDHD moving to Phase 1B, will vaccinate those 75 and older

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 13)

By the end of the week, the North Central District Health Department will move to Phase 1B of its COVID-19 Vaccination Plan in Antelope, Brown, Boyd, Cherry, Holt, Keya Paha, Knox, Pierce, and Rock counties.

As Phase 1A partners wrap up vaccinations this week, NCDHD will commence vaccinating those 75 years and older on Thursday. Individuals 75 years or older who reside in the district may register for a COVID-19 vaccine at www.ncdhd.ne.gov. Once registered, individuals will be called to schedule an appointment at the next available COVID-19 vaccine clinic. If assistance in needed to register, do not call NCDHD. Enlist the aid of a friend or family member, call the local library or call the nearest senior center for help getting signed up for vaccination.

NCDHD partnered with several libraries and senior centers in the district to guide the 75 and older population through the registration process. Registration is required, walk-ins will be turned away. NCDHD recognizes federal partners added the 65 years and older and those with underlying health conditions categories into Phase 1B. NCDHD requests people 65 and older and those with underlying health conditions wait until February to sign up on the statewide registry when it becomes available.

* Sandhills Care Center staff vaccinations slated for Tuesday

(Posted 1 p.m. Jan. 12)

Chief Operating Officer Kent Taylor told the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors Monday staff and residents were scheduled to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

Taylor said the vaccine would be administered for staff members willing to be vaccinated. Though the care center can suggest and recommend staff members be vaccinated, he said the facility cannot mandate that staff be vaccinated against the virus.

“The feds have not mandated that staff can be required to take the vaccine,” Taylor said. “We can only strongly encourage them.”

The Sandhills Care Center residents are currently restricted to their rooms, however, interim Administrator Tina Rehkopf said, if staff members tested negative Tuesday, residents can go back to communal dining and activities. She said three residents remain in isolation after either testing positive for the virus or being exposed to someone who tested positive.

Even after vaccinations are administered, Taylor said visitation will still be prohibited until the county’s positivity rate drops below a required threshold. Taylor said the positivity rate in the county has been dropping, but still has to drop more before the care center can consider allowing family members to visit the facility.

Business manager Sarah Schipporeit told the board the temperatures were forecast to be warm on Wednesday, so the care center staff planned to take the residents outside so they could visit with their family members.

Board Chairman Phil Fuchs reported Brown County will be the applicant on the USDA grant application for a new generator. He said he plans to meet with the Ainsworth City Council Wednesday, and the item is on the Jan. 19 agenda for the commissioners to consider.

“Most everything else is ready,” Fuchs said. “We hope to be able to know if we received the grant and go out for bids for the new generator by this summer if we do.”

Taylor reported there are currently 19 residents in the Sandhills Care Center. He reported the new MDS coordinator started with the facility in January. He said the facility received several applications for the activities director position. Taylor said the facility is still advertising for a director of nursing, and current staff members are splitting up the DON responsibilities for the time being.

During December, the Sandhills Care Center generated $158,960 in revenue with expenses of $154,128 for an operating margin for the month of $4,832. The facility spent $10,951 in December with three nursing agencies to cover shifts the facility could not staff with its employees.

Prior to adjourning, the board entered into executive session to discuss personnel matters and any applicants for the administrator position.

School receives bids for major renovation projects

(Posted 7 a.m. Jan. 12)

Ainsworth Community Schools Superintendent Dale Hafer told the Board of Education Monday the bids for the replacement of the windows in the school building and the replacement of the McAndrew Gymnasium floor both came in below the maximum price quoted by Trane.

Hafer said Facility Advocates of Omaha submitted the low bid of $523,590 to replace the windows in the original middle and high school building. Trane had provided the district with a maximum price quote of $558,000 for that portion of the project.

The superintendent said Great Plains Flooring of Elkhorn submitted the low bid of $124,820 to replace the gym floor. Trane quoted a maximum price of $135,000 for that portion of the project. Hafer said the district could save $7,400 on the quoted price if it decided staff could handle tearing out the current gym floor.

“We would have to move all the bleachers out ourselves, so we will see what that entails before we decide,” Hafer said.

Hafer said the work would commence this summer.

Hafer also told the board Monday the district received $26,733 in Governor’s Emergency Educational Relief funds as part of the CARES Act that were used to purchase 67 iPads with Apple Care for kindergarten through fourth-grade students. He said the district received $399 per iPad in funding assistance, and will be responsible for just $5,400 to upgrade the technology available for elementary students.

Hafer said the district also received $67,000 in direct CARES Act dollars it plans to use to upgrade the district’s reading curriculum. The district is in the process of selecting a curriculum and will be reimbursed for $67,000 through the Nebraska Department of Education.

“We are also working on our application to FEMA to receive assistance for COVID-19 specific expenses,” Hafer said.

The superintendent said the district has incurred roughly $32,000 in expenses directly related to COVID-19, such as purchasing masks, cleaning products, electrostatic sprayers, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. If approved, Hafer said the district would be reimbursed for 75 percent of those costs through FEMA.

Hafer said the Nebraska Education Commissioner notified districts there will likely be four times the funding coming to school districts from the recently passed COVID-19 relief package than the districts received from the CARES Act. Hafer said the district would be in line for approximately $260,000 in additional funding if that is the case, which he said could be used to allow the district to upgrade its 1 to 1 laptop computers for students, which would save the district from having to budget for that expense from its general fund.

In other business Monday, the board approved the 2021-22 negotiated contract agreement with the district’s certified staff. Hafer said the overall compensation package for staff would increase by 2.71 percent for the 2021-22 year, adding $650 to the district’s base salary for educators bringing it to $37,000. He said most districts are seeing increases from 2.5 percent to 3.2 percent.

Following an executive session, the board also approved contracts for Elementary Principal Curtis Childers and Secondary Principal Steven Dike for the 2021-22 school year.

In other action items, the board approved paying $18,003 to Conditioned Air Mechanical for the replacement of a pump and valves in the boiler room that recently failed. The district will pay for those repairs from its depreciation fund.

The board also approved a payment of $5,249 from its depreciation fund to replace the water fountains in the building with water bottle filling stations. He said the district used its lunch fund to pay for the filling station next to the cafeteria.

The board approved two option enrollment requests Monday, allowing two students to opt in to Ainsworth Community Schools. Fourth-grade student Dawson Downing will opt in to the district from the Rock County school district, and eighth-grade student Emma McMurtrey will opt in to the district from the Valentine school district.

During his report, Activities Director Jared Hansmeyer said the school can now allow up to 505 people in to McAndrew Gymnasium to watch sporting events as the NSAA is now allowing 50 percent of a building’s occupancy to attend. Hansmeyer said 230 attended the basketball games with Minden Friday, but he anticipated larger crowds for the upcoming games with O’Neill and North Central.

“We are hoping we won’t have to turn anyone away,” Hansmeyer said.

At the outset of Monday’s meeting, the board adjourned the 2020 Board of Education and seated the 2021 board. Scott Erthum, Brad Wilkins and Mark Johnson took the oath of office after being elected in November to additional four-year board terms.

The board opted to keep its officers the same as in 2020, with Jim Arens elected board president, Johnson the vice president and Erthum the secretary-treasurer.

All committee assignments will remain the same as the 2020 year, with the exception of Wilkins replacing Jessica Pozehl as the board’s representative on the North Central Development Center Board of Directors. Pozehl said her work schedule made it difficult for her to attend those board meetings. Johnson will serve as the alternate to Wilkins on the NCDC Board.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education was moved from its normal second Monday in February due to a conflict with staff, and will be scheduled for a date and time when board members and staff are available.

* Another 38,000 Nebraskans vaccinated against COVID-19

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Jan. 12)

More than 38,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered last week in Nebraska. As of Sunday, 76,882 doses of vaccine have been given to those in Phase 1A priority group, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Phase 1A includes frontline health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. In accordance with federal guidelines, Nebraska launched its Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program in December.

The federal pharmacy program for four weeks received 100% of the incoming Pfizer allocation to support efforts in Nebraska’s long-term care facilities. This week is the last week that the full Pfizer allocation will be 100% reserved for the Federal Pharmacy Program.

As well, first doses have been given to more than 40 percent of Nebraska’s 90,000 health care workers so far, with nearly 10,000 receiving a second dose.

Nebraska’s COVID-19 Vaccination dashboard is available and provides a picture of how Nebraska’s vaccination effort is progressing over time. The dashboard provides a daily total vaccinations given, as well as breakdown of first and second doses given by age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

It also reports the percent of the population aged 16 and older completing COVID-19 vaccination. Thus far, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for those aged 16 years and older, and the Moderna vaccine has been approved for those aged 18 years and older. 

Nebraska currently receives about 23,000 first doses a week, in addition to shipments of second doses.

Community clinics with scheduled appointments will be the primary way vaccine doses are given while the vaccine supply remain limited to help ensure all doses can be used in the required timeframe. Community clinics will stagger appointments in order to observe social distancing and provide space for monitoring after vaccination.

Vaccinations for those 75 and older are the top priority in Phase 1B, and will widely begin in the second half of January, or as vaccination for Phase 1A groups conclude and doses are available.

Local health departments are coordinating vaccination for priority groups. Many are still working through Phase 1A groups, but are taking the names of those in Phase 1B who are interested in being vaccinated.

To find out if your local health department is taking names, visit their website or call their office. Family members and caregivers of those aged 75 or older are encouraged to assist with vaccine sign-up if needed.

The DHHS COVID-19 hotline can also help navigate the sign-up process in your area, and is available at (833) 998-2275.

Health departments are progressing at different speeds for vaccination.

Other populations included in Phase 1B are those working in critical industries unable to work remotely, including: first responders, educators, those in the utilities and transportation sectors, and food processing and agricultural workers. Vaccination for these groups will follow doses given to those 75 and older.

In the coming weeks DHHS will launch a website to help Nebraskans register for COVID-19 vaccination and receive updates, scheduling information and follow-up reminders. Those interested in registering will be asked to provide basic information to help determine eligibility, according to priority groups and phases outlined in Nebraska’s vaccination plan, and be notified when clinics begin in each area.

* NCDHD reports 45 COVID-19 cases since Thursday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Jan. 12)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 45 new COVID-19 cases in the district since the last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases were nine in Holt County, two in Cherry County and one in Rock County. There were no new cases reported in Brown, Keya Paha or Boyd counties since Thursday.

There have been 235 cases confirmed in the past 14 days, and 3,919 cases overall in the nine-county district. Of those, 1,897 people have recovered and there have been 61 deaths in the district attributed to the virus.

NCDHD has received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and is wrapping up vaccinations for Phase 1A partners. If you believe you qualify for Phase 1A but were not vaccinated, visit the NCDHD webpage and sign up on the designated survey. On the NCDHD Website there are sign-ups for individuals 75+, businesses in Phases 1B, and a survey for individuals in the general public who can attend a clinic at a moment’s notice in the event extra vaccine is available. For assistance filling out with survey, most area libraries and senior centers are able to assist.

Thus far, 1,208 north central Nebraska residents received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. NCDHD will notify the public as the district transitions to each phase. The speed of transition depends heavily on vaccine availability.

Late December to Mid-January: Phase 1A Healthcare personnel providing direct patient care and/or are exposed to infectious materials and long-term care facility staff and residents.

Mid-January to Mid-March: Phase 1B- Vaccine will be allocated to those 75 years and older, first responders, those in the education sector, and those working with critical infrastructure.

March-April: Phase 1C- Vaccines will be allocated to those 65 years of age and over, vulnerable populations and those in congregate settings such as colleges/universities.

May – October: Phase 2 – Vaccine will be made available to the public.

COVID-19 testing is available free of charge from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday at the O’Neill Armory parking lot, and from 1 until 3 p.m. Tuesdays at the Rock County Fairgrounds. Testing is also available from 1:30 until 3:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the Valentine United Methodist Church.

* Campbell discusses vaccine distribution, effectiveness

(Posted 3 p.m. Jan. 8)

Dr. Mel Campbell from the Brown County Hospital on Friday discussed the roll-out of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and talked about the effectiveness of all the COVID-19 vaccines that have been produced and approved.

To hear the conversation, click on the audio link below.

* Brewer previews 2021 Unicameral session

(Posted 3 p.m. Jan. 8)

Nebraska 43rd District State Sen. Tom Brewer visited with KBRB’s Graig Kinzie prior to the opening session of the 2021 Nebraska Legislature.
To hear the report, click on the audio links below.

* Area students named to UNK fall dean’s list

(Posted 2:30 p.m. Jan. 8)

The University of Nebraska at Kearney announced students who earned a place on the Dean’s List for the fall 2020 semester.

Students who are on the dean’s list must have completed 12 credit hours or more of classes with a 3.5 grade point average or better on a 4.0 scale.

Area students named to the UNK Dean’s List are:

Ainsworth
Benjamin Arens, Tory Cole, Tate Fernau, Jonathan Ortner, Miranda Raymond, Elizabeth Salzman, Raven Stewart, Ashley Titus and Andrea Werner

Wood Lake
Lauren Ferguson and Britley Schlueter

Bassett
Aubrey Kroll and Josie Kuchera

Newport
Braydon Caldwell

Atkinson
Chase Harrison, Heather Murphy and Benjamin Slaymaker

Stuart
Christopher Schaaf and Monique Schafer

Valentine
Jackson Barton, Hannah Higgins and Anna Perrett

Butte
Heather Atkinson and Sydney Atkinson

* NCDHD reported 75 COVID-19 cases since Monday

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 8)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 75 new COVID-19 cases in the district since Monday. Among those were 18 new cases in Holt County, seven in Cherry County, four in Boyd County, two in Brown County and two new cases were reported in Rock County.

The NCDHD received word that four people died from the virus this week in the nine-county district. A Rock County man in his 90s, a Cherry County man in his 50s, a Knox County man in his 90s and an Antelope County man in his 80s died due to complications from the virus.

The health department also reported 126 people recovered from the virus in the past week, including 37 recoveries in Holt County, 24 in Cherry County, five in Rock County, and one person recovered from the virus in both Brown County and Boyd County.

There have been 241 cases reported in the district in the past two weeks, with 3,874 total cases in the district. Of those, 1,897 people have recovered and 61 people in the district have died.

NCDHD has received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and is wrapping up vaccinations for Phase 1A partners. If you believe you qualify for Phase 1A but have not been vaccinated, call the NCDHD office. Thus far, 1,168 north central Nebraska residents received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

NCDHD will notify the public as the district transitions to each phase. The speed of transition depends heavily on vaccine availability.

Late December to Mid-January: Phase 1A Healthcare personnel providing direct patient care and/or are exposed to infectious materials and long-term care facility staff and residents.

Mid-January to Mid-March: Phase 1B- Vaccine will be allocated to those 75 years and older, first responders, those in the education sector, and those working with critical infrastructure.

March-April: Phase 1C- Vaccines will be allocated to those 65 years of age and over, vulnerable populations and those in congregate settings such as colleges and universities.

May – October: Phase 2 – Vaccine will be made available to the public.

COVID-19 testing is offered Monday through Thursday morning in O’Neill, and from 1 until 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoons at the Rock County Fairgrounds.

* Recent cases from Brown County Court

(Posted 2:45 p.m. Jan. 7)

In addition to fines, each case carries $50 in court costs

Darrell W. McCormick, age 27, of Bellevue, charged with speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, fined $200.

Malique F. Delburne, 23, of Moorhead, Minn., attempting a Class 4 felony, $1,000; also charged with possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Alex J. Adair, 29, of Indianapolis, Ind., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

David A. Addo, 29, of Fargo, N.D., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Tina N. Pardick, 36, of Groton, N.D., attempting a Class 4 felony, $1,000; possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce but less than 1 pound, $500; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Don M. Schwandt, 58, of Colorado Springs, Colo., speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.

Lloyd H. Marc, 45, of Inwood, Iowa, no operator’s license, $75.

Steven J. Beals, 25, of Milner, N.D., possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Brandon E. Rose, 39, of Atwater, Minn., speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, $200.

Joshua T. Cribbs, 33, of White, S.D., speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.

* Commissioners decline signing agreement with NPPD

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 7)

The Brown County Commissioners Tuesday opted not to sign an agreement as presented from the Nebraska Public Power District related to the use of a county roadway by the public utility.

After discussing the agreement several times of the past few months, the board on Tuesday learned NPPD would not agree to change the agreement and remove wording that would have the county hold NPPD harmless for any litigation.

Brown County Attorney Andy Taylor said, with the agreement, the county would be reimbursed for any repairs needed to roads caused by equipment used by NPPD.

“If we don’t sign the agreement, they will come in anyway, use the roads and the county won’t receive a payment,” the county attorney said. “NPPD will not assume any liability for damage to roads that then cause an accident.”

Taylor said NPPD would be responsible for notifying the county if they damage a county road.

“The issue would be if an accident happened between the time they notify us and the time we can get a crew out to repair the damage,” Taylor said.

Commissioner Denny Bauer said, by signing the agreement, NPPD would pay the county if the roads department has to run a maintainer over the roads used or has to haul rock to repair damage from heavy equipment using the road.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said he would not agree to sign the document if the paragraph remained in the agreement about the county indemnifying NPPD if there was a claim.

Taylor said there is a small chance something would happen, but if it did, it could be extremely expensive to the county.

“I don’t know if the county will get paid for anything if we don’t sign it,” Taylor said. “If we indemnify them, it is harder to collect from them if they are negligent, but it is easier to be paid for any damage they do. If we don’t sign it, the county will have to pay for any damage done to the roads.”

The board agreed not to sign the agreement without NPPD agreeing to remove the paragraph about the county indemnifying the utility from any claims.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners reappointed Jim Carley and appointed Mark Miles and Brad Wilkins to three-year terms on the Brown County Planning Commission. Miles and Wilkins replace Wilber Saner and Roby Woods, whose terms are expiring.

The commissioners discussed updates to the county’s zoning regulations, and indicated the Planning Commission is getting closer to finishing the proposed changes to the county’s regulations.

Commissioner Buddy Small said, when the proposed changes are complete, the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing and then make a recommendation to the commissioners. Then, the commissioners will hold a public hearing and decide if it wants to accept the changes as recommended or make adjustments.

Bauer said he had an issue with the proposed setbacks on livestock facilities the Planning Commission was considering.

“I am not sure the Planning Commission agrees with those yet either,” Bauer said. “There will be no future development north of Highway 20 with those setbacks. If the setbacks are too restrictive, you will kill all agricultural development. Counties with those restrictive setbacks struggle to survive.”

Wiebelhaus said the setbacks would be a no-win situation for the commissioners.

“Some will think they will be too far, others not far enough,” Wiebelhaus said.

Small said the Planning Commission needed to have the recommended changes complete and hold its public hearing by the first part of March before planting season gets underway.

Brown County Assessor Terri Van Houten told the commissioners there have been bat droppings found in her office, and there are holes in the outside of the courthouse building that are allowing bats to get into the building above the ceiling tiles and along the windows.

Bauer said he would bring material to the courthouse and try to seal the holes allowing the bats to get in to the courthouse.

Taylor reported the county received a bill in the amount of $2,150 from the Department of Health and Human Services to pay for cremation expenses of a woman who died in a Holt County nursing home.

Taylor said, in researching the claim, he found the woman had only lived in Brown County for four months prior to moving into the Holt County nursing home. He said state law requires a person to reside in a county for six months before permanent residency can be established. The woman had previously been a permanent resident of Rock County, so Taylor said he directed DHHS to address Rock County regarding the claim as she had not lived in Brown County long enough to become a permanent resident before moving to Holt County.

In a final action item, the commissioners approved signing an interlocal agreement with Region IV Behavioral Health.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Jan. 19.

* Almost 39,000 vaccine doses administered in Nebraska

(Posted 6:15 a.m. Jan. 7)

As of Tuesday, nearly 39,000 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been given to Nebraska hospital, health care and emergency medical services workers and those who will be vaccinating priority groups in the months to come. First doses have been given to roughly a third of the state’s health care population. In addition, second doses began to be administered this week with nearly 850 doses given as of Tuesday.

Vaccinations for residents and staff of long-term care facilities began last week, with more than 100 on-site clinics held and additional outreach done by local health departments and community centers.

The Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine 94% effective in phase three clinical trials. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. Neither vaccine contains a live virus and cannot give individuals COVID-19. Two vaccine doses are needed to reach full effectiveness against COVID-19, and the same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses.

Gov. Pete Ricketts Wednesday discussed a new strain of coronavirus recently discovered in the United Kingdom. 

“In recent weeks, you’ve probably been reading and hearing about a new strain of COVID-19 that was found in the UK and a handful of U.S. states,” Ricketts said. “To date, we have not identified it in Nebraska, but it is likely to surface at some point given our proximity to Colorado – one of the states where it has been identified.

“While we believe that this strain could be more easily transmitted, it is not something that we expect will change the tools we use to respond to the pandemic. This is still very new, and we’re learning more about it as time goes on.”

The latest statewide total of COVID-19 cases is 171,033 as of Tuesday. There have been 89 COVID-19-related deaths in Nebraska reported in the last seven days, for a total of 1,692. To date, a total of 114,249 Nebraskans testing positive for COVID-19 have recovered.

While still elevated, COVID-19 hospitalizations have stabilized with Nebraska hospitals caring for an average of 522 people a day over the last seven days. Averages in prior weeks were 528, 598 and 727 COVID-19 hospitalized patients.

The daily average of new positive cases in the last week was 1,036, compared to 780 daily cases last week, 1,066 and 1,180 cases a day in recent weeks. 

Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS, said, “Vaccines are very effective in protecting against transmission of COVID-19. They are vital to turning the tide in this pandemic, but we still have a ways to go. Basic precautions remain our best protection until we can begin mass vaccination.

”Now and in the coming months, it’s critical that we do our best to limit opportunities for the virus to spread. Being consistent about prevention helps ensure our health care system remains available for everyone who needs it. The basic precautions of a wearing a mask, hand washing and staying home when you’re sick are still our best defense against infection.”

Anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine and get tested. Nebraskans are reminded to wear a mask, watch your distance, wash hands often, and avoid the 3Cs – crowded places, close contact with others, and confined spaces.

DHHS immunization leaders will hold a Facebook Live session tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 7 at 1 p.m. to take questions on the vaccination effort. For those unable to join, the discussion will be archived and available on the video tab of the DHHS Facebook page.

More details on vaccine distribution for Phase 1B groups will be available soon. Phase 1B is projected to begin later this month as doses are made available. Phase 1B will begin with those aged 75 and older, followed by workers in critical industries who are unable to work remotely. Vaccinations for those 75 and older will be led by local health departments. Visit your local health department’s website to see if they have an electronic signup or additional information.

The DHHS COVID-19 hotline is available for those with vaccine-related questions. Available by calling (833) 998-2275, the hotline is staffed each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The state is following the recommendations of CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Priority groups and timing projections remain tentative and will be adjusted as federal recommendations are issued and as vaccine shipments are scheduled.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available to the public and it’s expected to be spring before sufficient supplies are available to begin mass vaccination.

DHHS has launched a COVID-19 Vaccination dashboard to share how Nebraska’s vaccination effort is progressing over time.

The dashboard provides a daily total of doses given, as well as a breakdown of first and second doses given by age, gender, race, and ethnicity. The dashboard also reports the percent of the population aged 16 and older completing COVID-19 vaccination. Thus far, COVID-19 vaccines have only been approved for use in those age 16 and older.  

The vaccination dashboard is updated with data from the prior day. Updates are posted each evening around 7 p.m.
A five-phase series of Directed Health Measures (DHMs) remain in effect for the entire state. DHM restrictions are aimed at preserving hospital capacity for urgent medical care as COVID-19 hospitalizations remain elevated.

Less than 15% of hospital beds are needed for COVID-19 patients, and the state is in the blue threshold, which is the fourth of the five series of directives. Through Jan. 31, indoor gatherings are restricted to 75% of capacity.

* Atkinson man dies in accident Monday near Grand Island

(Posted 7 a.m. Jan. 6)

A multi-vehicle accident Monday south of Grand Island claimed the life of a 75-year-old Atkinson man.

According to the Grand Island Police Department, at 11:15 a.m. Monday at the intersection of Highway 281 and Highway 34, a collision occurred between a southbound 2020 Ford F-150, driven by Nicholas Monderfini, 24, of Grand Island, and a northbound Freightliner semi, driven by Merle Liewer, 75, of Atkinson. The department’s report indicated the Ford was attempting to turn east when the collision occurred with the semi.

The investigation showed it appeared Liewer tried to take evasive action before the collision with the pickup, which resulted in the semi, which was pulling tandem liquid fertilizer tanks, to roll in the east ditch.

Debris from the collision was then struck by two additional vehicles, causing damage.

Liewer was pronounced dead at the scene. Monderfini was transported to CHI Health St. Francis Hospital for treatment of injuries suffered during the accident. The investigation into the accident is ongoing.

* ACS provides updated activity guidelines

(Posted 9:45 a.m. Jan. 5)

AINSWORTH COMMUNITY SCHOOOLS
WINTER ACTIVITY SPECTATOR GUIDELINES

Attendance:  

  • Facilities are limited to 50% capacity (per NSAA regulation)
  • Members outside of the household will be allowed to attend. 
  • Six feet of separation between groups is recommended.
  • Spectators MAY now stay for all games.  
  • We will no longer be requiring a pass list.  We will allow the facility to fill to 50% of capacity.  This will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Once we reach 505 people attendance will be shut off.  Please plan on arriving early.  
  • If we are nearing capacity, ACS may limit admission to parents of participants.  
  • Tickets may be used for games in which we feel capacity might exceed the current capacity standard as recommended by the NSAA .

Face Coverings:

  • Face Coverings are required of all spectators.
  • Face coverings must cover both the mouth and the nose.
  • NSAA rules state that face coverings must be worn during the entire time in the building.  Social distancing does NOT allow spectators to drop his/her mask.

Self-Checks:

  • Symptom check done before arriving.  Do not come if experiencing any symptoms.
  • Temperature checks done upon entering.

Seating:

  • High School Gym
    • Home Spectators- West side of the bleachers
    • Visitor Spectators- East side of the bleachers
  • Community Center
    • Home Spectators- North half of bottom bleachers + west and north half of walking track.
    • Visitor Spectators- South half of bottom bleachers + east and south half of walking track.

Concession Stand:

  • A limited concession stand will be available.  
  • Food and drink will be allowed in the gym.  Masks must return over the face as soon as possible.

Restrooms:

  • High School Gym
    • Home Spectators- Restrooms located adjacent to the cafeteria.
    • Visitor Spectators- Restrooms located in the elementary hallway. 
  • Community Center
    • Both home and away spectators will use the main restrooms. 

* COVID-19 cases lower Monday than previous periods

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 5)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 38 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases were six in Holt County and one in Cherry County. There were no additional confirmed cases of the virus since Thursday in Brown, Rock, Keya Paha and Boyd counties.

There have been 225 COVID-19 cases confirmed in the nine-county district in the past 14 days, and 3,799 cases overall. Of those, 1,771 people have recovered and 57 have died.

The NCDHD has received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and is proceeding to disperse vaccine to Phase 1A partners, as outlined in the Nebraska COVID-19 Vaccination Plan. As of December 31, 784 north central Nebraska residents received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. NCDHD will notify the public as the district transitions to each phase. The speed of transition depends heavily on vaccine availability. Vaccination phases include:

Late December to Mid-January: Phase 1A Healthcare personnel providing direct patient care and/or exposed to infectious materials, and long-term care facility staff and residents.

Mid-January to Mid-March: Phase 1B- Vaccine will be allocated to those 75 years and older, first responders, those in the education sector, and those working with critical infrastructure.

March-April: Phase 1C- Vaccines will be allocated to those 65 years of age and over, vulnerable populations, and those in congregate settings such as colleges and universities.

May – October: Phase 2 – Vaccine will be made available to the public.

The North Central District Health Department is following the Nebraska COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.

NCDHD offers COVID 19 testing from 8:30-10:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday at the north parking lot of the O’Neill Armory, located at the corner of Fourth Street and Hynes Avenue, and from 1 until 3 p.m. Tuesdays at the Rock County Fairgrounds.

Pre-registration for testing at www.testnebraska.com is highly encouraged, but not required.

As of Monday, 36,253 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to those in the Phase 1A priority group, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Phase 1A includes frontline health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. First doses have been given to roughly a third of the state’s health care population thus far, and continue to be targeted for hospital staff and health care workers providing direct patient care, as well as paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and those who will be vaccinating priority groups in the coming months.

Vaccinations for residents and staff of long-term care facilities began last week, with more than 100 on-site clinics held and additional outreach done by local health departments and community centers.

After shipping delays last week due to winter weather, more than 86,000 vaccine doses were received in Nebraska in the month of December. Of this supply, 63,000 doses are targeted for health care workers and 23,000 for residents and staff of long-term care facilities. In addition, the first shipment of second doses were received.

Additional vaccine shipments are scheduled to arrive this week, including 11,200 Moderna doses targeted for health care workers and 11,700 Pfizer doses designated for the federal pharmacy program to continue vaccination for residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Planning is ongoing for future phases of the vaccination effort. Phase 1B is projected to begin later this month as supplies are made available. Phase 1B will begin with doses for those aged 75 and older, and be followed by workers in critical industries who are unable to work remotely. Vaccinations for the 75 and older population will be given via clinics led by local health departments, health care providers and pharmacies. DHHS will announce additional details in the weeks to come.  

DHHS has launched a COVID-19 Vaccination dashboard to share how Nebraska’s vaccination effort is progressing over time.

It provides a daily total of first and second dose vaccinations given, as well as breakdown of doses given by age, gender, race, and ethnicity. The dashboard also reports the percent of the population aged 16 and older completing COVID-19 vaccination. Thus far, COVID-19 vaccines have only been approved for use in those age 16 and older.

The dashboard also includes a timeline for COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Nebraska, displaying the phases and priority groups as reflected in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. Priority groups and timing projections remain tentative and will be adjusted as new federal recommendations are issued and as vaccine shipments are scheduled.

* NCDHD confirms 77 new cases, 784 receive vaccine

(Posted 5:45 a.m. Jan. 2)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 77 new COVID-19 cases in the district since the last reporting on Monday. Among the new cases were 30 in Holt County, seven in Brown County, four in Cherry County, one in Rock County and one new case was confirmed in Keya Paha County.

NCDHD reported two additional COVID-19 deaths in the nine-county district – a Cherry County man in his 70s and a Knox County man in his 80s.

NCDHD also confirmed 138 people recovered from the virus since the last reporting on Dec. 24. Those recovering included 25 people in Holt County, 15 in Cherry County, six in Brown County, four in Boyd County, three in Rock County and one person recovered from the virus in Keya Paha County.

There have been 267 COVID-19 cases reported in the past 14 days in the district and 3,761 cases overall. Of those, 1,771 people have recovered and 57 have died.

Brown County has had 266 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 99 recoveries and four deaths. Rock County has had 138 confirmed cases, with 82 people recovering and one death. Keya Paha has 41 confirmed cases with eight recoveries and no deaths attributed to the virus.

Cherry County has 380 confirmed cases, with 175 recoveries and six deaths. Holt County has now had 731 confirmed cases, with 392 recoveries and 13 deaths. There have been 170 confirmed cases in Boyd County, with 77 people recovering and three deaths.

 NCDHD asks people to remember the 3 C’s to reduce the spread of COVID-19: avoiding close contacts, confined spaces, and crowded places. 

Over Christmas week, NCDHD received its first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. As of Thursday, 784 north central Nebraska residents received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. NCDHD is following the state vaccination plan and allocating vaccines in phases. The first vaccines were allocated to Phase 1A individuals providing direct patient care and to those who are exposed to infectious materials. Phase 1A includes healthcare personnel in hospitals, home health care, pharmacies, EMS, outpatient, public health, long-term care facility residents and staff. NCDHD will continue working with Phase 1A partners until all qualifying individuals receive their vaccinations. When NCDHD transitions to other phases, the public will be made aware.

Phase 1B- Vaccine will be allocated to those in the education sector, food/agricultural, utilities, transportation, and first responders.

Phase 1C- Vaccines will be allocated to those 65 years of age and over, vulnerable populations and those in congregate settings (colleges/universities).

Phase 2 – Vaccine will be made available to the public.

NCDHD is following the Nebraska COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.

NCDHD COVID-19 testing sites offer a 15-minute rapid test and/or the standard PCR test. The rapid test is only offered to individuals who are currently exhibiting symptoms associated with COVID.

All testing is offered free of charge at the below locations:

O’Neill: Monday- Thursday from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m. in the north parking lot of the O’Neill Armory which is located at the corner of Fourth Street and Hynes Ave.

Bassett: Normally on Tuesdays from 1 until 3 p.m. at the Rock County Fairgrounds.

Pre-registration for testing at www.testnebraska.com is highly encouraged, but not required.

The last patient will be scheduled 15 minutes before the scheduled end of the clinic. 

* NSAA releases new guidance for winter activity attendance

(Posted 11 a.m. Dec. 31)

The Nebraska School Activities Association has released updated guidelines to schools for winter activity attendance.

Attendance will be restricted to 50 percent of a facility’s occupancy, which is an increase from the 25 percent occupancy in December.

The NSAA, beginning Jan. 4, has several requirements schools, officials and spectators during the winter season. Those requirements include:

Active participants are permitted, but not required, to wear face coverings during competitions.

Coaches and non-active participants are required to wear face coverings.

Spectators are required to wear face coverings at all times while attending indoor events.

Facial coverings must cover both the nose and mouth.

The NSAA also has several recommendations for schools hosting winter contests. Those recommendations include maintaining 6 feet of distance between household groups, creating separate points of entry and seating for home and visitor spectators, providing no concessions or separating concessions for home and visiting spectators, providing separate restrooms for home and visiting spectators, using signage and floor markings to ensure physical distancing, communicating the availability of locker room space for visiting teams and officials to maintain physical distancing, and implementing diligent and effective cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces.

* NCDHD reports 51 new COVID-19 cases in the district

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 29)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 51 new COVID-19 cases in the district since the last reporting on Wednesday. Among the new cases were six in Holt County, four in Brown County, two in Cherry County, one in Boyd County and one new case in Rock County.

The NCDHD received word that five Pierce County residents died due to the virus. All five, three women and two men, were in their 80s.

There have been 391 COVID-19 cases reported in the nine-county district in the past 14 days, with a total of 3,684 cases reported. Of those, 1,633 people have recovered and 55 have died.

 NCDHD urges Nebraskans to remember the 3 C’s to reduce the spread of COVID-19: avoiding close contacts, confined spaces, and crowded places.  NCDHD’s physical office will be closed January 1. NCDHD will not host testing clinics on today due to weather concerns and sites will also be closed Thursday and Friday.

As of Monday morning, 21,419 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Nebraska, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. So far, 49,390 vaccine doses have arrived and been distributed to health care facilities in the state.

Vaccine doses continue to be targeted for those hospital staff and health care workers providing direct patient care, as well as paramedics, emergency medical technicians and those who will be vaccinating priority groups in the months to come.

On-site vaccinations for residents and staff of long-term care facilities are expected to begin this week. Facilities have scheduled more than 130 clinics for the coming weeks.

Additional vaccine shipments are expected, but will be delayed due to weather moving through the region. Shipments planned for early in the week are expected to arrive by the end of the week.

DHHS plans to launch a new dashboard this week to help track COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the state. The dashboard will provide a daily total of first and second dose vaccinations given, as well as breakdown of doses given by age, gender, race, and ethnicity.

It will also include a general timeline for COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Nebraska, displaying the phases and priority groups as reflected in the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. Priority groups and timing projections remain tentative and will be updated as federal recommendations are issued and vaccine shipments are scheduled.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 24)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a one-vehicle accident that occurred Wednesday, Dec. 23.

According to the sheriff’s department report, at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, a 1995 GMC Sonoma, driven by Joann Johnson-Parker, 68, of Johnstown, was traveling west on Highway 20 approximately 1 mile west of Johnstown when the vehicle slid off the roadway due to icy conditions and rolled in the north ditch, striking a fence.

No injuries were reported. The GMC was considered a total loss. Damage to the fence, owned by Tom Theis of Johnstown, was estimated at $50.

* NCDHD reports 59 new COVID-19 cases since Monday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Dec. 24)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 59 new COVID-19 cases in the district since Monday. Among the confirmed cases were 16 in Holt County and two in Brown County. 

NCDHD received word that three additional COVID-19 deaths occurred in the district. The deaths included a Brown County woman in her 50s, a Boyd County woman in her 90s and a Holt County man in his 60s.

NCDHD reported 188 people in the nine-county district have recovered from the virus since last week. Recoveries include 47 people in Holt County, 33 in Cherry County, seven recoveries in Brown County and four in Boyd County.

There have been 391 COVID-19 cases reported in the past 14 days in the district, and 3,633 overall. Of those 1,633 have recovered and 50 people in the district have died as a result of the virus.

* State’s Directed Health Measures easing again Thursday

(Posted 2:45 p.m. Dec. 23)

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Wednesday the state is moving from the “yellow” to “blue” phase of its coronavirus pandemic response plan.

As a result, the state of Nebraska is issuing new Directed Health Measures effective Thursday. The new DHMs change some of the restrictions put in place to help manage the coronavirus pandemic.

Nebraska’s pandemic response plan links DHM restrictions to the percentage of staffed hospital beds in Nebraska filled by coronavirus patients.  The percentage is below 15% on a seven-day average, which is the threshold for the state moving to the “blue” phase of its pandemic plan.

Moving from the “yellow” to “blue” phase involves the following DHM changes:

Seating persons in groups of 8 or less returns to guidance for restaurants, bars, wedding/funeral receptions, and other venues. 

The requirement for individuals at bars and restaurants to be seated unless ordering food, using the restroom, or playing games returns to guidance.

The maximum capacity for indoor gatherings goes from 50% to 75%.

Only certain venues where people convene are considered “gatherings” under the state’s DHMs.

Elective surgeries can resume without restriction.

New DHMs will be posted on the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website in the coming days.

Executive Order 20-36 remains in effect that gives public bodies the option to meet virtually by videoconference or teleconference through January 31.

* Nearly 9,000 Nebraskans receive COVID-19 vaccine

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 22)

As of Monday morning, 8,985 Nebraskans have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine since the first shipments began arriving in the state a week ago, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The first round of vaccines were targeted to hospital and health care workers providing direct patient care, as well as emergency medical technicians, paramedics and those who will be vaccinating priority groups in the months to come.

The vaccine distributed by Pfizer was the first to receive U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval and be delivered in Nebraska. The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses spaced about three weeks apart to be effective. The same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses.

Each vial of Pfizer vaccine provides at least five doses, with some hospitals reported getting an extra dose from a number of vials. FDA advised it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable, which allows for higher than expected vaccination counts in this first round.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was granted Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA over the weekend and the state expects to receive 32,400 doses which will be shipped to 112 sites across Nebraska in the coming week.

An additional shipment of 11,700 doses from Pfizer is expected within the week. Over the next four weeks, 100% of the coming Pfizer allocation will be reserved and used to support efforts in long-term care facilities as Nebraska will launch its Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program December 28.

Vaccine distribution will follow the recommendations of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the federal entity determining priority groups for the U.S. ACIP’s latest recommendations target vaccine doses to frontline health care workers, those in long-term care facilities and have added those age 75 or older in priority group 1B.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not yet available to the public. The CDC has not announced a date, but it’s expected to be spring before sufficient supplies are available to begin mass vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccination will not be mandated in the state, however Nebraskans, and health care workers in particular, are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated as doses become available. 

DHHS is working with local health districts, federally qualified health centers and hospital systems to ensure an expeditious delivery process.

As data is compiled, DHHS plans to launch a COVID-19 vaccine dashboard sharing a variety of metrics and providing a picture of how the vaccination is progressing.

The Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine 94% effective in phase three clinical trials. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. The vaccine does not contain a live virus and cannot give individuals COVID-19.

The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, those who have experienced allergic reactions to other vaccines, and those with compromised immune systems to discuss the benefits and risks of taking the vaccine with their medical provider before receiving it.

The potential side effects from the vaccine are similar to those experienced by people who receive the flu shot: soreness at the injection site, fever, headaches, and body aches that usually go away within 24 hours. Unless symptoms worsen or linger, there is no need to seek medical care. Pfizer reported no serious side effects from the vaccine, and there were no deaths directly linked to the vaccine. The FDA and CDC will continue to monitor the COVID-19 vaccine for safety and effectiveness and any long-term or rare side effects.

* NCDHD reports 80 COVID-19 cases, 5 deaths

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Dec. 22)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 80 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new positive cases were 17 in Holt County, seven in Cherry County, three new cases in Brown County and two in Rock County.

NCDHD reported five additional deaths related to the virus in the nine-county district, which included a Holt County woman in her 90s, a Holt County man in his 80s, two Knox County men in their 70s and an Antelope County woman in her 80s.

There have been 499 cases reported in the past 14 days, with 3,574 overall cases. Of those 1,445 people have recovered from the virus and 47 have died. 

NCDHD’s office will be closed Thursday and Friday. Anyone with questions may call the Nebraska COVID-19 Hotline at 402-552-6645.

COVID-19 testing will not be offered Dec. 24 or Dec. 25.

Residents may be tested for the virus from 1 until 3 p.m. each Tuesday at the Rock County Fairgrounds, and from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday at the O’Neill Armory north parking lot. Visit www.testnebraska.com to sign up.

Testing is also offered from 1:30 until 3:30 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the Valentine United Methodist Church.

Area students graduate from UN-L Saturday

(Posted 7:15 a.m. Dec. 21)

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln conferred 1,404 degrees during a virtual graduation celebration Saturday.

The 1,382 graduates are from 42 countries, 36 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 150 Nebraska communities.

Area graduates from UN-L include:

Newport

Katherine Osbon, Bachelor of Arts degree in Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Management with distinction from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Rachel Stewart, Bachelor of Science degree in Agribusiness from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Atkinson

Megan Bilstein, Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Valentine

Caden Billings, Bachelor of Science degree in Grazing Livestock Systems from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

North Platte man pleads guilty to numerous charges

(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 18)

During Brown County District Court proceedings Thursday, Dylan Henson, 28, of North Platte, pleaded guilty to a myriad of felony and misdemeanor charges.

Henson entered a guilty plea to a felony charge of making terroristic threats, misdemeanor third-degree assault and second offense driving under the influence charges.

Henson also pleaded Thursday to a second felony count of making terroristic threats, a felony count of tampering with a witness, and misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon and driving under the influence.

Sentencing in Brown County District Court on all of the counts has been scheduled for Feb. 9.a

NCDHD confirms 110 additional COVID-19 cases

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 18)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 110 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting on Monday. Among the new cases were 14 in Holt County, 10 in Cherry County, nine in Brown County, five in Boyd County, two in Keya Paha County and one new case was reported in Rock County.

The health department reported 152 people recovered from the virus in the past week in the nine-county district, including 28 recoveries in Holt County, 15 in Cherry County, nine in Brown County and seven people recovered in Boyd County.

There have been 554 COVID-19 cases reported in the past 14 days in the district, with 3,494 total confirmed cases. Of those, 1,445 people have recovered from the virus and 42 people in the district have died.

There have been 250 confirmed cases in Brown County, with 86 people recovering and three deaths. Rock County has had 134 confirmed cases, with 79 people recovering and one death. Forty Keya Paha County residents have been confirmed to have the virus. Of those, seven have recovered. Cherry County has had 367 confirmed cases, with 127 recoveries and five deaths. Holt County has experienced 662 confirmed cases, with 320 recoveries and 10 deaths. A total of 169 Boyd County residents have tested positive, with 69 recovering and two deaths.

Gov. Pete Ricketts laid out the threshold for Directed Health Measure changes which are tied to the percentage of staffed hospital beds in Nebraska filled by coronavirus patients. Nebraska moved from the orange level, which is 20-24.99% coronavirus hospitalization rate, to the yellow level, which is 15-19.99%. As a result of the lower threshold, the DHMs relaxed in the below manner:

The maximum capacity for indoor gatherings increased from 25% to 50%.

Fan attendance at extracurricular activities—both school and club—is no longer limited to household members of participants; however, it is limited to 50% the rated occupancy.

Tables at restaurants and bars remain limited to groups of 8 or less.  Individuals must still be seated unless ordering food, using the restroom, or playing games.  Six feet of separation between groups returns to a guidance.

Masks are recommended, rather than required, for establishments such as childcare centers, salons, barber shops, massage therapists, and body art studios.

Elective surgeries may resume in the event a hospital keeps 10% of its capacity available to treat coronavirus patients.

Commissioners set hearing Jan. 19 for road abandonment

(Posted 12:30 p.m. Dec. 17)

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Brown County Commissioners set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 19 for the possible abandonment of two platted roads in Hidden Paradise. Anyone in favor of or opposed to the abandonment will have the opportunity to speak during the hearing.

The commissioners discussed the replacement of the Camp Witness bridge with Duane Saner and Joe Shudak. The county can receive cost-share assistance from the state to rebuild the bridge destroyed during 2019 flooding. The Camp Witness representatives agreed to raise funds to help offset the county’s portion of the bridge construction, as the bridge primarily benefits Camp Witness to provide access to its full property. The board, with Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus absent, approved proceeding with the Camp Witness bridge replacement.

The board did not take any action on the potential replacement of another little-used bridge over Fairfield Creek.

The commissioners approved several citizens to serve on various boards. Upon a recommendation from Extension Educator Chandra Giles, the board approved the appointment of Brad Arens to a three-year term on the BKR Extension Board.

Brown County Hospital Administrator John Werner recommended the board reappoint Brent Deibler to the Hospital Board of Trustees, and the board approved another six-year term for Deibler on the board.

The commissioners appointed Charlie Kyser to serve a three-year term on the Northeast Nebraska Area Agency on Aging Advisory Board.

The board discussed making three appointments to the Brown County Planning Commission with Zoning Administrator Tom Jones, but tabled action on the appointments until the Jan. 5 board meeting.

The commissioners approved NIRMA property schedules as revised, and voted to close the Brown County Courthouse Dec. 24 in accordance with federal and state proclamations.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Jan. 5.

Scott donates $15 million to Northeast Community College

(Posted noon Dec. 17)

Christmas has come a week early for Northeast Community College. The institution has received a substantial financial gift that will assist students for generations to come. 

President Leah Barrett was notified recently that author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott is donating $15 million to the College, making it the largest single donor contribution in Northeast’s history. Scott is contributing $4.1 billion to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. Northeast Community College is among the organizations.

Funding comes after Scott and her team took a data-driven approach to identify organizations, including those providing higher education and workforce training. The team chose organizations that have a high potential to impact those who are struggling, especially those who have seen their lives upended by the pandemic. She said the carefully selected organizations have dedicated their lives to helping others, serving “real people” face-to-face, day-after-day to alleviate suffering of those hardest hit by the effects of COVID-19. 

“On behalf of the Board of Governors, faculty, staff, students, and future students, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Scott for recognizing Northeast Community College with her extreme generosity,” Barrett said. “This donation is in alignment with our efforts to create pathways for all people in our 20-county service area to earn a certificate or degree. It will allow us to more effectively engage with the underrepresented students in Nebraska’s higher education communities by providing scholarships for thousands of people in our region in perpetuity.”

The Northeast Community College Foundation will place Scott’s gift in an endowment to support student scholarships and student success initiatives across the College’s 20-county service area. 

Barrett feels Northeast was selected by Scott’s philanthropy because it is tackling complex challenges that require sustained efforts over many years, while simultaneously addressing consequences of the pandemic. She said Scott wants to call attention to organizations and leaders who are driving change – “empowering leaders who are well-positioned to accelerate progress.”

The donation comes at a good time for many students who have put their education on hold. The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the path of many low-income students who wanted to attend college. As a result, hundreds of prospective students in northeast Nebraska had to reprioritize their pursuit of higher education to take on additional responsibilities to support their families.

Barrett said Scott recognizes that her generous gift can make a difference in the region by creating opportunities for economic mobility, addressing equity and improving access.  

Barrett said the work Northeast has undertaken aligns with Scott’s values and philosophies in how it is addressing workforce development, providing avenues of success and opportunities for English language learners and first-generation college students, concentrating on diversity, equity and inclusion, supporting the expansion of rural broadband, and much more.

“Her gift will help in so many ways for not only our students, but for our entire 20-county region. Words of ‘thanks’ are simply not enough.”

Scott is also encouraging others to give to the organizations she has contributed to.

“If you’re craving a way to use your time, voice, or money to help others at the end of this difficult year, I highly recommend a gift to one of the thousands of organizations doing remarkable work all across the country,” Scott said. “Every one of them could benefit from more resources to share with the communities they’re serving. And the hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own.”

The way Barrett was notified of the donation to the College is a story in itself. Two weeks ago, she received an email from a person who wrote, “I support the efforts of a philanthropist who is interested in contributing to Northeast Community College. I was hoping we could schedule a quick
15-minute follow-up call to discuss next steps.”

Barrett said, “I was quite skeptical at first, but I still scheduled a call – what did I have to lose? The call was late in the day just two weeks ago. After a brief conversation, I hung up the phone and just had a good cry. I was overwhelmed by the emotion, the opportunity and the responsibility. Scott’s representative articulated that the success of Northeast Community College and my life’s journey in higher education had been noticed.”

Steve Anderson, of Concord, chair of the Northeast Board of Governors, said Scott’s gift will be transformational as it will assist many students who have been unable to achieve their goal of attending college, earning a degree and accomplish the success they desire. He said the gift also fulfills a wish of
J. Paul McIntosh, the late Norfolk businessman, developer and philanthropist who served on the Northeast board of governors and foundation board for more than twenty years.

“J. Paul had a dream to fund scholarships for anyone in northeast Nebraska who has a desire to attend Northeast Community College; now MacKenzie Scott has allowed for that dream to come true. Her philanthropy will be felt across the College’s entire 20-county service area,” Anderson said. “This unselfish gift is extraordinary in not only the magnitude of the dollars she is providing, but its impact will give students the opportunity to achieve their dreams and have a bright future. It is simply priceless.”

Area sheriff’s department involved in vehicle pursuit Saturday

(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 16)

Multiple law enforcement agencies worked together to arrest a subject who had been involved in multiple pursuits over the weekend.

The effort involved the Nebraska State Patrol, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and the sheriff’s departments of Brown, Blaine, Cherry, Logan, Hooker, and Thomas counties, as well as the Thomas County Volunteer Fire Department.

At approximately 8 p.m. Friday, a trooper attempted to stop a Dodge pickup for speeding on Highway 83 north of Thedford. The vehicle refused to stop and the trooper initiated a pursuit. During the pursuit, the vehicle drove through a pasture fence and into a field.

At that point, the trooper discontinued the pursuit and additional troopers and sheriff’s deputies responded to search for the subject. During the pursuit, a sport motorcycle had fallen from the bed of the pickup. The bike was located and impounded. The subject was not located Friday night, but law enforcement remained in the area to watch for the vehicle.

Saturday morning, the Brown County and Cherry County Sheriff’s departments were also involved in a pursuit with the same Dodge pickup but were unable to apprehend the suspect. Law enforcement officers remained in the area and at approximately 4 p.m. Saturday, the suspect was located with his vehicle on Highway 91 north of Dunning. The vehicle had run out of gas.

The suspect provided false information about his identity, but a trooper was able use the mobile AFIS fingerprinting device to positively identify the suspect as Dylan Yohe, 23, of Wichita, Kan. Yohe was placed in custody for an outstanding warrant from Kansas.

Yohe was also arrested for numerous violations in relation to the pursuits, including charges of flight to avoid arrest, willful reckless driving, no operator’s license, criminal mischief, trespassing, criminal impersonation, possession of an open alcohol container, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Yohe was lodged in Custer County Jail.

School Board approves obtaining bids for building rehab projects

(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 15)

The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education on Monday approved a resolution to work with Trane on a large-scale school building rehabilitation project.

The board approved having Trane obtain bids to replace 39 wood windows in the middle and high school building, replace the McAndrew Gymnasium floor and replace carpeting and tile in the entry way on the west entrance to the building.

Superintendent Dale Hafer said Trane provided a guaranteed maximum price on the work of $700,500, but he said the actual cost will likely be lower.

In addition to replacing the windows in the older portion of the building, one of the new windows in each room will have the ability for staff to open and close it, and new roller blinds will be installed. The guaranteed maximum price to replace the windows and install the blinds is $558,000.

The maximum price to replace the gym floor is $135,000, and the maximum price for the carpet and tile replacement is $7,500.

Those projects were all a part of the Phase 2 work recommended by Trane after inspecting the district’s facilities. Phase 1, which included roof replacement work, was completed this year.

The district uses depreciation funds and a special building fund to pay for the work.

The board approved the resolution, with Trane obtaining the bids on the work and the board maintaining the opportunity to accept or deny those bids. The work would commence in the summer of 2021.

In other business Monday, Karen O’Hare and Neiley Arens, representing the Ainsworth Child Development Center, presented the board with information on a daycare and early child learning center the group is working to bring to the community.

O’Hare said the lack of daycare for children age 5 and under is pretty dire in the community.

“We only have six in-home daycare providers in the county,” O’Hare said. “It is not enough, and Miss Marsha (Fuchs) is planning to retire next year from her preschool.”

O’Hare said 72 percent of respondents to a recent survey indicated it was extremely difficult to find child care, and 60 percent reported missing work due to the lack of available child care.

She said the group, which also includes Chelsey Peterson, Devyn France, Riley Pierce, Marsha Fuchs and Reagan Fairhead is probably a year out from constructing a facility, which would give the group the ability to care for 46 children.

O’Hare said a building site was being secured, and the cost to build the center would likely be around $700,000.

“We would already be at 60 percent of capacity with the people who have reached out to us,” O’Hare said.

She said the group would need to raise 50 percent of the cost of the construction to be eligible for any grant assistance. She said the group was selected by the Community For Kids Foundation to be that charity’s 31st community. That selection includes help with the building design and other logistical assistance as well as a $10,000 grant.

Board member Brad Wilkins asked how the school board could help the group.

“This is a huge issue,” Wilkins said. “I have employees who, if day care is not available, have to stay home from work.”

O’Hare said the group needed community support, and people willing to help the group raise funding. She said the North Central Development Center agreed to allow the group to use its non-profit status to accept donations until the group’s non-profit paperwork is processed by the IRS.

During his report Monday, Activities Director Scott Steinhauser told the board the governor has relaxed the attendance restrictions for extra-curricular activities, but the Nebraska School Activities Association want schools to continue limiting attendance until the holiday break.

“There won’t be a whole lot of change before the moratorium,” Steinhauser said.

The NSAA guidance sent to schools effective until Jan. 4 indicated attendance at extra-curricular activities will continue to be limited to household members, and all non-participants are still required to wear masks at all times.

Hafer said the activities directors are going through significant planning each week whether the teams are playing at home or away.

“There are always curveballs,” Hafer said. “Look at today for instance, there is a difference between the governor’s message and the NSAA.”

The superintendent encouraged fans to continue to work with the school. He said some form of attendance limitations would likely continue through the winter season.

“We are grateful our students are participating in all activities at this point,” Hafer said.

Hafer said, since implementing a mask mandate in the school, there have been fewer quarantines required due to close contact.

During his report, Secondary Principal Steve Dike reported only six students in the high school had failing grades at this point in the semester. He said that number was down from 21 last year and 26 two years ago.

Semester tests were being conducted over three days this year, with the first day of testing Wednesday. Semester tests then continue through Friday for all high school students.

In other action items Monday, the board approved the resignation of middle school special education teacher Teresa Halley, effective at the end of the school year. Halley is in her first year with the district.

The board approved an option enrollment request allowing senior Stryker Stanley to option out of the district and in to the Rock County Public School district.

The board approved the second reading of policy updates as recommended by the Nebraska Association of School Boards.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 11.

First COVID-19 vaccine doses arrive in Nebraska Monday

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 15)

The first doses of the much anticipated COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Nebraska Monday.  The state is expected to receive 4,875 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the day and 15,600 by week’s end.

 “We are all very excited to know that the Pfizer vaccine has begun to arrive in Nebraska.  And although this marks the beginning of what we hope will be an end to this pandemic, we cannot forget that we must continue to slow the spread,” said Department of Health and Human Services CEO, Dannette R. Smith. “We must continue to be responsible and wear a mask and we must avoid the three Cs: crowded places, close contact and confined places.”

DHHS is working with local health districts, federally qualified health centers and hospital systems to ensure an expeditious delivery process. Two hospital systems administered the first vaccines Monday and other recipients are expected to begin administering Tuesday.

The state is not mandating the vaccine, however it is strongly encouraging that people, particularly health care workers, get vaccinated once doses become available. 

“Today marks a path forward as the vaccine will enable our healthcare workers who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic since March to have added protection against this virus,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS.  “This vaccine has endured a significant amount of scrutiny during the clinical trials in which more than 40,000 individuals participated. We are encouraging all healthcare workers who are in Phase 1A that can be vaccinated to do so as this will offer added protection to those who they are interacting with daily through their work-related duties and their personal lives.”

The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are advising women who are breastfeeding, individuals who have experienced allergic reactions to other vaccines and those who have compromised immune systems to discuss the benefits and risks of taking the vaccine with their medical provider before receiving it.

The potential side effects from the vaccine are similar to those experienced by people who receive the flu shot: soreness at the injection site, fever, headaches, and body aches that usually go away within 24 hours. Unless symptoms worsen or linger, there is no need to seek medical care. Pfizer reported no serious side effects from the vaccine, and there were no deaths directly linked to the vaccine itself. The FDA and CDC will continue to monitor the COVID-19 vaccine for safety and effectiveness and any long-term or rare side effects. 

The Pfizer vaccine was 90 percent effective in a phase 3 clinical trial. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60 percent effective. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain a live virus and cannot give individuals the coronavirus. 

The Pfizer vaccine does require two doses spaced about three weeks apart to be effective. The same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses.

The Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was granted Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration Friday evening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also voted Saturday to recommend the use of the vaccine for individuals 16 and older under the emergency use authorization.

Another 142 COVID-19 cases confirmed by NCDHD Monday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Dec. 15)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 142 new COVID-19 cases in the district Monday since the last report Thursday. Among the new cases were 18 in Holt County, 18 in Cherry County, 13 in Boyd County, 10 in Brown County, six in Rock County and four new cases were reported in Keya Paha County.

The NCDHD reported a Pierce County resident died as a result of the virus, bringing the total number of deaths to 42 in the nine-county district. There have been 587 cases confirmed in the past 14 days in the district, and 3,384 total cases. Of those, 1,293 have recovered.

Gov. Pete Ricketts laid out the threshold for Directed Health Measure changes which are tied to the percentage of staffed hospital beds in Nebraska filled by coronavirus patients.

Nebraska moved from the orange level, which is 20-24.99% coronavirus hospitalization rate, to the yellow level, which is 15-19.99%. As a result of the lower threshold, the DHMs relaxed in the below manner:

The maximum capacity for indoor gatherings increased from 25% to 50%.

Fan attendance at extracurricular activities—both school and club—is no longer limited to household members of participants; however, it is limited to 50% the rated occupancy.

Parties at restaurants and bars remain limited to groups of 8 or less. Individuals must still be seated unless ordering food, using the restroom, or playing games.  Six feet of separation between groups returns to a guidance.

Masks are recommended, rather than required, for establishments such as childcare centers, salons, barber shops, massage therapists, and body art studios.

Elective surgeries may resume in the event a hospital keeps 10% of its capacity available to treat coronavirus patients.

NCDHD COVID-19 testing sites offer a 15-minute rapid test and the standard PCR test. The rapid test is only offered to individuals who are currently exhibiting symptoms associated with COVID. NCDHD will not host testing clinics on December 24 and December 31.

All testing is offered free of charge from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday at the north parking lot of the O’Neill Armory and from 1 until 3 p.m. Tuesdays at the Rock County Fairgrounds.

Pre-registration for testing at www.testnebraska.com is highly encouraged, but not required.

Nominations for Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame due Dec. 31

(Posted 3:15 p.m. Dec. 14)

The deadline to submit nominations for the 2021 Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame is December 31. Started in 2006, the Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame continues to recognize men and women who have made a lasting contribution to the Sandhills and the cowboy way of life.

Nomination forms are available by contacting any Hall of Fame board member or Executive Secretary Rod Palmer at PO Box 127, Ainsworth, Nebraska or calling 402-387-2212.  Nominees must be 50 years or older or deceased.  The nominee must fit the following criteria:

“The Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame honors those individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the Western lifestyle or horse culture in the area of competition, business, or support of rodeo in the Sandhills of Nebraska.  This includes rodeo, ranching, rodeo stock contractors, western arts, western entertainment and special achievement awards.”

Online nomination forms are located at the website: www.sandhillscowboys.com

The mailing address is:

Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame

353 N Main St.

P.O. Box 127

Ainsworth, NE 69210

Area students scheduled to graduate from UNK

(Posted 10:45 a.m. Dec. 14)

Graduate and undergraduate degrees will be conferred for 410 winter graduates at University of Nebraska at Kearney commencement exercises Thursday and Friday at UNK’s Health and Sports Center.

Graduate degrees will be conferred at a hooding ceremony scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, and undergraduate degrees will be conferred at exercises 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 18.

Area students scheduled to graduate from UNK include:

Ainsworth

Meshayla Appelt, a Bachelor of Science degree in social work

Roberta Denny, a Master of Education degree in secondary education curriculum and instruction

Seth Taylor, a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, summa cum laude

Stuart

Hailey Paxton, a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and special education, magna cum laude

Atkinson

Josie Paxton, a Bachelor of Arts degree in early childhood inclusive field education

North Central Community Wildfire Protection Plan updated

(Posted 10:30 a.m. Dec. 14)

The North Central Nebraska Community Wildfire Protection Plan five-year update for Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Holt, Keya Paha, and Rock counties has been completed. The Nebraska Forest Service worked with counties, emergency managers, fire departments, natural resources agencies, and others to update the plan the counties adopted in 2015.

The Wildfire Protection Plan is intended to enhance collaboration and communication among the agencies and organizations who manage wildfire in north central Nebraska, and to help them effectively prepare for and respond to wildfire.

Landowners in counties with a plan are eligible to apply for federal and state cost-share funds for vegetative fuels reduction and other hazard mitigation efforts in at-risk areas within their boundary. The plan may also provide increased opportunities for counties, municipalities, and rural fire districts to seek grant funding for activities related to fire protection.

The plan, part of a statewide network of Community Wildfire Protection Plans, provides information useful to both local emergency responders and those from outside the area who provide mutual aid. The plan consolidates and relays critical information needed for responders in unfamiliar terrain.

The updated plan is available online at https://nfs.unl.edu/documents/CWPP/NCCWPP.pdf.

* Area students graduate from UN-L Saturday

(Posted 7:15 a.m. Dec. 21)

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln conferred 1,404 degrees during a virtual graduation celebration Saturday.

The 1,382 graduates are from 42 countries, 36 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 150 Nebraska communities.

Area graduates from UN-L include:

Newport

Katherine Osbon, Bachelor of Arts degree in Hospitality, Restaurant and Tourism Management with distinction from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Rachel Stewart, Bachelor of Science degree in Agribusiness from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Atkinson

Megan Bilstein, Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Economics from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Valentine

Caden Billings, Bachelor of Science degree in Grazing Livestock Systems from the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

* North Platte man pleads guilty to numerous charges

Posted (Dec 18th)

(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 18)

During Brown County District Court proceedings Thursday, Dylan Henson, 28, of North Platte, pleaded guilty to a myriad of felony and misdemeanor charges.

Henson entered a guilty plea to a felony charge of making terroristic threats, misdemeanor third-degree assault and second offense driving under the influence charges.

Henson also pleaded Thursday to a second felony count of making terroristic threats, a felony county of tampering with a witness, and misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon and driving under the influence.

Sentencing in Brown County District Court on all of the counts has been scheduled for Feb. 9.a

* NCDHD confirms 110 additional COVID-19 cases

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 18)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 110 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting on Monday. Among the new cases were 14 in Holt County, 10 in Cherry County, nine in Brown County, five in Boyd County, two in Keya Paha County and one new case was reported in Rock County.

The health department reported 152 people recovered from the virus in the past week in the nine-county district, including 28 recoveries in Holt County, 15 in Cherry County, nine in Brown County and seven people recovered in Boyd County.

There have been 554 COVID-19 cases reported in the past 14 days in the district, with 3,494 total confirmed cases. Of those, 1,445 people have recovered from the virus and 42 people in the district have died.

There have been 250 confirmed cases in Brown County, with 86 people recovering and three deaths. Rock County has had 134 confirmed cases, with 79 people recovering and one death. Forty Keya Paha County residents have been confirmed to have the virus. Of those, seven have recovered. Cherry County has had 367 confirmed cases, with 127 recoveries and five deaths. Holt County has experienced 662 confirmed cases, with 320 recoveries and 10 deaths. A total of 169 Boyd County residents have tested positive, with 69 recovering and two deaths.

Gov. Pete Ricketts laid out the threshold for Directed Health Measure changes which are tied to the percentage of staffed hospital beds in Nebraska filled by coronavirus patients. Nebraska moved from the orange level, which is 20-24.99% coronavirus hospitalization rate, to the yellow level, which is 15-19.99%. As a result of the lower threshold, the DHMs relaxed in the below manner:

The maximum capacity for indoor gatherings increased from 25% to 50%.

Fan attendance at extracurricular activities—both school and club—is no longer limited to household members of participants; however, it is limited to 50% the rated occupancy.

Tables at restaurants and bars remain limited to groups of 8 or less.  Individuals must still be seated unless ordering food, using the restroom, or playing games.  Six feet of separation between groups returns to a guidance.

Masks are recommended, rather than required, for establishments such as childcare centers, salons, barber shops, massage therapists, and body art studios.

Elective surgeries may resume in the event a hospital keeps 10% of its capacity available to treat coronavirus patients.

* Commissioners set hearing Jan. 19 for road abandonment

(Posted 12:30 p.m. Dec. 17)

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Brown County Commissioners set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 19 for the possible abandonment of two platted roads in Hidden Paradise. Anyone in favor of or opposed to the abandonment will have the opportunity to speak during the hearing.

The commissioners discussed the replacement of the Camp Witness bridge with Duane Saner and Joe Shudak. The county can receive cost-share assistance from the state to rebuild the bridge destroyed during 2019 flooding. The Camp Witness representatives agreed to raise funds to help offset the county’s portion of the bridge construction, as the bridge primarily benefits Camp Witness to provide access to its full property. The board, with Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus absent, approved proceeding with the Camp Wintess bridge replacement.

The board did not take any action on the potential replacement of another little-used bridge over Fairfield Creek.

The commissioners approved several citizens to serve on various boards. Upon a recommendation from Extension Educator Chandra Giles, the board approved the appointment of Brad Arens to a three-year term on the BKR Extension Board.

Brown County Hospital Administrator John Werner recommended the board reappoint Brent Deibler to the Hospital Board of Trustees, and the board approved another six-year term for Deibler on the board.

The commissioners appointed Charlie Kyser to serve a three-year term on the Northeast Nebraska Area Agency on Aging Advisory Board.

The board discussed making three appointments to the Brown County Planning Commission with Zoning Administrator Tom Jones, but tabled action on the appointments until the Jan. 5 board meeting.

The commissioners approved NIRMA property schedules as revised, and voted to close the Brown County Courthouse Dec. 24 in accordance with federal and state proclamations.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Jan. 5.

* Scott donates $15 million to Northeast Community College

(Posted noon Dec. 17)

Christmas has come a week early for Northeast Community College. The institution has received a substantial financial gift that will assist students for generations to come. 

President Leah Barrett was notified recently that author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott is donating $15 million to the College, making it the largest single donor contribution in Northeast’s history. Scott is contributing $4.1 billion to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. Northeast Community College is among the organizations.

Funding comes after Scott and her team took a data-driven approach to identify organizations, including those providing higher education and workforce training. The team chose organizations that have a high potential to impact those who are struggling, especially those who have seen their lives upended by the pandemic. She said the carefully selected organizations have dedicated their lives to helping others, serving “real people” face-to-face, day-after-day to alleviate suffering of those hardest hit by the effects of COVID-19. 

“On behalf of the Board of Governors, faculty, staff, students, and future students, I want to express my sincere gratitude to Scott for recognizing Northeast Community College with her extreme generosity,” Barrett said. “This donation is in alignment with our efforts to create pathways for all people in our 20-county service area to earn a certificate or degree. It will allow us to more effectively engage with the underrepresented students in Nebraska’s higher education communities by providing scholarships for thousands of people in our region in perpetuity.”

The Northeast Community College Foundation will place Scott’s gift in an endowment to support student scholarships and student success initiatives across the College’s 20-county service area. 

Barrett feels Northeast was selected by Scott’s philanthropy because it is tackling complex challenges that require sustained efforts over many years, while simultaneously addressing consequences of the pandemic. She said Scott wants to call attention to organizations and leaders who are driving change – “empowering leaders who are well-positioned to accelerate progress.”

The donation comes at a good time for many students who have put their education on hold. The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the path of many low-income students who wanted to attend college. As a result, hundreds of prospective students in northeast Nebraska had to reprioritize their pursuit of higher education to take on additional responsibilities to support their families.

Barrett said Scott recognizes that her generous gift can make a difference in the region by creating opportunities for economic mobility, addressing equity and improving access.  

Barrett said the work Northeast has undertaken aligns with Scott’s values and philosophies in how it is addressing workforce development, providing avenues of success and opportunities for English language learners and first-generation college students, concentrating on diversity, equity and inclusion, supporting the expansion of rural broadband, and much more.

“Her gift will help in so many ways for not only our students, but for our entire 20-county region. Words of ‘thanks’ are simply not enough.”

Scott is also encouraging others to give to the organizations she has contributed to.

“If you’re craving a way to use your time, voice, or money to help others at the end of this difficult year, I highly recommend a gift to one of the thousands of organizations doing remarkable work all across the country,” Scott said. “Every one of them could benefit from more resources to share with the communities they’re serving. And the hope you feed with your gift is likely to feed your own.”

The way Barrett was notified of the donation to the College is a story in itself. Two weeks ago, she received an email from a person who wrote, “I support the efforts of a philanthropist who is interested in contributing to Northeast Community College. I was hoping we could schedule a quick
15-minute follow-up call to discuss next steps.”

Barrett said, “I was quite skeptical at first, but I still scheduled a call – what did I have to lose? The call was late in the day just two weeks ago. After a brief conversation, I hung up the phone and just had a good cry. I was overwhelmed by the emotion, the opportunity and the responsibility. Scott’s representative articulated that the success of Northeast Community College and my life’s journey in higher education had been noticed.”

Steve Anderson, of Concord, chair of the Northeast Board of Governors, said Scott’s gift will be transformational as it will assist many students who have been unable to achieve their goal of attending college, earning a degree and accomplish the success they desire. He said the gift also fulfills a wish of
J. Paul McIntosh, the late Norfolk businessman, developer and philanthropist who served on the Northeast board of governors and foundation board for more than twenty years.

“J. Paul had a dream to fund scholarships for anyone in northeast Nebraska who has a desire to attend Northeast Community College; now MacKenzie Scott has allowed for that dream to come true. Her philanthropy will be felt across the College’s entire 20-county service area,” Anderson said. “This unselfish gift is extraordinary in not only the magnitude of the dollars she is providing, but its impact will give students the opportunity to achieve their dreams and have a bright future. It is simply priceless.”

* Area sheriff’s departments involved in vehicle pursuit Saturday

(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 16)

Multiple law enforcement agencies worked together to arrest a subject who had been involved in multiple pursuits over the weekend.

The effort involved the Nebraska State Patrol, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and the sheriff’s departments of Brown, Blaine, Cherry, Logan, Hooker, and Thomas counties, as well as the Thomas County Volunteer Fire Department.

At approximately 8 p.m. Friday, a trooper attempted to stop a Dodge pickup for speeding on Highway 83 north of Thedford. The vehicle refused to stop and the trooper initiated a pursuit. During the pursuit, the vehicle drove through a pasture fence and into a field.

At that point, the trooper discontinued the pursuit and additional troopers and sheriff’s deputies responded to search for the subject. During the pursuit, a sport motorcycle had fallen from the bed of the pickup. The bike was located and impounded. The subject was not located Friday night, but law enforcement remained in the area to watch for the vehicle.

Saturday morning, the Brown County and Cherry County Sheriff’s departments were also involved in a pursuit with the same Dodge pickup but were unable to apprehend the suspect. Law enforcement officers remained in the area and at approximately 4 p.m. Saturday, the suspect was located with his vehicle on Highway 91 north of Dunning. The vehicle had run out of gas.

The suspect provided false information about his identity, but a trooper was able use the mobile AFIS fingerprinting device to positively identify the suspect as Dylan Yohe, 23, of Wichita, Kan. Yohe was placed in custody for an outstanding warrant from Kansas.

Yohe was also arrested for numerous violations in relation to the pursuits, including charges of flight to avoid arrest, willful reckless driving, no operator’s license, criminal mischief, trespassing, criminal impersonation, possession of an open alcohol container, possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Yohe was lodged in Custer County Jail.

* School Board approves obtaining bids for building rehab projects

(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 15)

The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education on Monday approved a resolution to work with Trane on a large-scale school building rehabilitation project.

The board approved having Trane obtain bids to replace 39 wood windows in the middle and high school building, replace the McAndrew Gymnasium floor and replace carpeting and tile in the entry way on the west entrance to the building.

Superintendent Dale Hafer said Trane provided a guaranteed maximum price on the work of $700,500, but he said the actual cost will likely be lower.

In addition to replacing the windows in the older portion of the building, one of the new windows in each room will have the ability for staff to open and close it, and new roller blinds will be installed. The guaranteed maximum price to replace the windows and install the blinds is $558,000.

The maximum price to replace the gym floor is $135,000, and the maximum price for the carpet and tile replacement is $7,500.

Those projects were all a part of the Phase 2 work recommended by Trane after inspecting the district’s facilities. Phase 1, which included roof replacement work, was completed this year.

The district uses depreciation funds and a special building fund to pay for the work.

The board approved the resolution, with Trane obtaining the bids on the work and the board maintaining the opportunity to accept or deny those bids. The work would commence in the summer of 2021.

In other business Monday, Karen O’Hare and Neiley Arens, representing the Ainsworth Child Development Center, presented the board with information on a daycare and early child learning center the group is working to bring to the community.

O’Hare said the lack of daycare for children age 5 and under is pretty dire in the community.

“We only have six in-home daycare providers in the county,” O’Hare said. “It is not enough, and Miss Marsha (Fuchs) is planning to retire next year from her preschool.”

O’Hare said 72 percent of respondents to a recent survey indicated it was extremely difficult to find child care, and 60 percent reported missing work due to the lack of available child care.

She said the group, which also includes Chelsey Peterson, Devyn France, Riley Pierce, Marsha Fuchs and Reagan Fairhead is probably a year out from constructing a facility, which would give the group the ability to care for 46 children.

O’Hare said a building site was being secured, and the cost to build the center would likely be around $700,000.

“We would already be at 60 percent of capacity with the people who have reached out to us,” O’Hare said.

She said the group would need to raise 50 percent of the cost of the construction to be eligible for any grant assistance. She said the group was selected by the Community For Kids Foundation to be that charity’s 31st community. That selection includes help with the building design and other logistical assistance as well as a $10,000 grant.

Board member Brad Wilkins asked how the school board could help the group.

“This is a huge issue,” Wilkins said. “I have employees who, if day care is not available, have to stay home from work.”

O’Hare said the group needed community support, and people willing to help the group raise funding. She said the North Central Development Center agreed to allow the group to use its non-profit status to accept donations until the group’s non-profit paperwork is processed by the IRS.

During his report Monday, Activities Director Scott Steinhauser told the board the governor has relaxed the attendance restrictions for extra-curricular activities, but the Nebraska School Activities Association want schools to continue limiting attendance until the holiday break.

“There won’t be a whole lot of change before the moratorium,” Steinhauser said.

The NSAA guidance sent to schools effective until Jan. 4 indicated attendance at extra-curricular activities will continue to be limited to household members, and all non-participants are still required to wear masks at all times.

Hafer said the activities directors are going through significant planning each week whether the teams are playing at home or away.

“There are always curveballs,” Hafer said. “Look at today for instance, there is a difference between the governor’s message and the NSAA.”

The superintendent encouraged fans to continue to work with the school. He said some form of attendance limitations would likely continue through the winter season.

“We are grateful our students are participating in all activities at this point,” Hafer said.

Hafer said, since implementing a mask mandate in the school, there have been fewer quarantines required due to close contact.

During his report, Secondary Principal Steve Dike reported only six students in the high school had failing grades at this point in the semester. He said that number was down from 21 last year and 26 two years ago.

Semester tests were being conducted over three days this year, with the first day of testing Wednesday. Semester tests then continue through Friday for all high school students.

In other action items Monday, the board approved the resignation of middle school special education teacher Teresa Halley, effective at the end of the school year. Halley is in her first year with the district.

The board approved an option enrollment request allowing senior Stryker Stanley to option out of the district and in to the Rock County Public School district.

The board approved the second reading of policy updates as recommended by the Nebraska Association of School Boards.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 11.

* First COVID-19 vaccine doses arrive in Nebraska Monday

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 15)

The first doses of the much anticipated COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Nebraska Monday.  The state is expected to receive 4,875 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of the day and 15,600 by week’s end.

 “We are all very excited to know that the Pfizer vaccine has begun to arrive in Nebraska.  And although this marks the beginning of what we hope will be an end to this pandemic, we cannot forget that we must continue to slow the spread,” said Department of Health and Human Services CEO, Dannette R. Smith. “We must continue to be responsible and wear a mask and we must avoid the three Cs: crowded places, close contact and confined places.”

DHHS is working with local health districts, federally qualified health centers and hospital systems to ensure an expeditious delivery process. Two hospital systems administered the first vaccines Monday and other recipients are expected to begin administering Tuesday.

The state is not mandating the vaccine, however it is strongly encouraging that people, particularly health care workers, get vaccinated once doses become available. 

“Today marks a path forward as the vaccine will enable our healthcare workers who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic since March to have added protection against this virus,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS.  “This vaccine has endured a significant amount of scrutiny during the clinical trials in which more than 40,000 individuals participated. We are encouraging all healthcare workers who are in Phase 1A that can be vaccinated to do so as this will offer added protection to those who they are interacting with daily through their work-related duties and their personal lives.”

The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are advising women who are breastfeeding, individuals who have experienced allergic reactions to other vaccines and those who have compromised immune systems to discuss the benefits and risks of taking the vaccine with their medical provider before receiving it.

The potential side effects from the vaccine are similar to those experienced by people who receive the flu shot: soreness at the injection site, fever, headaches, and body aches that usually go away within 24 hours. Unless symptoms worsen or linger, there is no need to seek medical care. Pfizer reported no serious side effects from the vaccine, and there were no deaths directly linked to the vaccine itself. The FDA and CDC will continue to monitor the COVID-19 vaccine for safety and effectiveness and any long-term or rare side effects. 

The Pfizer vaccine was 90 percent effective in a phase 3 clinical trial. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60 percent effective. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain a live virus and cannot give individuals the coronavirus. 

The Pfizer vaccine does require two doses spaced about three weeks apart to be effective. The same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses.

The Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was granted Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration Friday evening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also voted Saturday to recommend the use of the vaccine for individuals 16 and older under the emergency use authorization.

* Another 142 COVID-19 cases confirmed by NCDHD Monday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Dec. 15)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 142 new COVID-19 cases in the district Monday since the last report Thursday. Among the new cases were 18 in Holt County, 18 in Cherry County, 13 in Boyd County, 10 in Brown County, six in Rock County and four new cases were reported in Keya Paha County.

The NCDHD reported a Pierce County resident died as a result of the virus, bringing the total number of deaths to 42 in the nine-county district. There have been 587 cases confirmed in the past 14 days in the district, and 3,384 total cases. Of those, 1,293 have recovered.

Gov. Pete Ricketts laid out the threshold for Directed Health Measure changes which are tied to the percentage of staffed hospital beds in Nebraska filled by coronavirus patients.

Nebraska moved from the orange level, which is 20-24.99% coronavirus hospitalization rate, to the yellow level, which is 15-19.99%. As a result of the lower threshold, the DHMs relaxed in the below manner:

The maximum capacity for indoor gatherings increased from 25% to 50%.

Fan attendance at extracurricular activities—both school and club—is no longer limited to household members of participants; however, it is limited to 50% the rated occupancy.

Parties at restaurants and bars remain limited to groups of 8 or less. Individuals must still be seated unless ordering food, using the restroom, or playing games.  Six feet of separation between groups returns to a guidance.

Masks are recommended, rather than required, for establishments such as childcare centers, salons, barber shops, massage therapists, and body art studios.

Elective surgeries may resume in the event a hospital keeps 10% of its capacity available to treat coronavirus patients.

NCDHD COVID-19 testing sites offer a 15-minute rapid test and the standard PCR test. The rapid test is only offered to individuals who are currently exhibiting symptoms associated with COVID. NCDHD will not host testing clinics on December 24 and December 31.

All testing is offered free of charge from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday at the north parking lot of the O’Neill Armory and from 1 until 3 p.m. Tuesdays at the Rock County Fairgrounds.

Pre-registration for testing at www.testnebraska.com is highly encouraged, but not required.

* Nominations for Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame due Dec. 31

(Posted 3:15 p.m. Dec. 14)

The deadline to submit nominations for the 2021 Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame is December 31. Started in 2006, the Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame continues to recognize men and women who have made a lasting contribution to the Sandhills and the cowboy way of life.

Nomination forms are available by contacting any Hall of Fame board member or Executive Secretary Rod Palmer at PO Box 127, Ainsworth, Nebraska or calling 402-387-2212.  Nominees must be 50 years or older or deceased.  The nominee must fit the following criteria:

“The Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame honors those individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the Western lifestyle or horse culture in the area of competition, business, or support of rodeo in the Sandhills of Nebraska.  This includes rodeo, ranching, rodeo stock contractors, western arts, western entertainment and special achievement awards.”

Online nomination forms are located at the website: www.sandhillscowboys.com

The mailing address is:

Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame

353 N Main St.

P.O. Box 127

Ainsworth, NE 69210

* Area students scheduled to graduate from UNK

(Posted 10:45 a.m. Dec. 14)

Graduate and undergraduate degrees will be conferred for 410 winter graduates at University of Nebraska at Kearney commencement exercises Thursday and Friday at UNK’s Health and Sports Center.

Graduate degrees will be conferred at a hooding ceremony scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 17, and undergraduate degrees will be conferred at exercises 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 18.

Area students scheduled to graduate from UNK include:

Ainsworth

Meshayla Appelt, a Bachelor of Science degree in social work

Roberta Denny, a Master of Education degree in secondary education curriculum and instruction

Seth Taylor, a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, summa cum laude

Stuart

Hailey Paxton, a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and special education, magna cum laude

Atkinson

Josie Paxton, a Bachelor of Arts degree in early childhood inclusive field education

* North Central Community Wildfire Protection Plan updated

(Posted 10:30 a.m. Dec. 14)

The North Central Nebraska Community Wildfire Protection Plan five-year update for Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Holt, Keya Paha, and Rock counties has been completed. The Nebraska Forest Service worked with counties, emergency managers, fire departments, natural resources agencies, and others to update the plan the counties adopted in 2015.

The Wildfire Protection Plan is intended to enhance collaboration and communication among the agencies and organizations who manage wildfire in north central Nebraska, and to help them effectively prepare for and respond to wildfire.

Landowners in counties with a plan are eligible to apply for federal and state cost-share funds for vegetative fuels reduction and other hazard mitigation efforts in at-risk areas within their boundary. The plan may also provide increased opportunities for counties, municipalities, and rural fire districts to seek grant funding for activities related to fire protection.

The plan, part of a statewide network of Community Wildfire Protection Plans, provides information useful to both local emergency responders and those from outside the area who provide mutual aid. The plan consolidates and relays critical information needed for responders in unfamiliar terrain.

The updated plan is available online at https://nfs.unl.edu/documents/CWPP/NCCWPP.pdf.

* Ricketts reduces some directed health measures

(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 14)

Governor Pete Ricketts announced the state is moving from the “orange” to “yellow” phase of its coronavirus pandemic response plan.

As a result, the state of Nebraska is issuing new Directed Health Measures now in effect that change some of the restrictions put in place to help manage the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, protecting Nebraska’s hospitals has been the ‘north star’ guiding our strategic response to the coronavirus,” Ricketts said. “Coronavirus hospitalizations have decreased from where they were three weeks ago. As a result, we’re updating the state’s DHMs in keeping with our pandemic plan. The virus is still present in our communities, and we all need to continue using the tools we have to slow its spread. I especially urge Nebraskans to be mindful of at-risk loved ones when making plans to celebrate the holidays. Let’s all take personal responsibility to stay healthy and keep Nebraska headed in the right direction.”

Nebraska’s pandemic response plan links DHM restrictions to the percentage of staffed hospital beds in Nebraska filled by coronavirus patients. The percentage is below 20% for a seven-day average, which is the threshold for the state moving to the “yellow” phase of its pandemic plan.

Moving from the “orange” to “yellow” phase involves the following DHM changes:

Fan attendance at extracurricular activities – both school and club – is no longer limited to household members of participants.

Parties at restaurants and bars remain limited to groups of 8 or less. Individuals must still be seated unless ordering food, using the restroom, or playing games.  Six feet of separation between groups returns to a guidance.

The maximum capacity for indoor gatherings goes from 25% to 50%.

Only certain venues where people convene are considered “gatherings” under the State’s DHMs.

Masks are recommended, rather than required, for establishments such as childcare centers, salons, barber shops, massage therapists, and body art studios. 

Elective surgeries can resume as long as a hospital keeps 10% of its capacity available to treat coronavirus patients.

Executive Order 20-36 will remain in place.  It gives public bodies the option to meet virtually by videoconference or teleconference through January 31.

Roger Wiese, the Executive Director of North Central District Health Department, said, “In our Health District we continue to see vast community spread, from all types of gatherings and close contacts. To protect the availability of our local and statewide health care system, I ask all community members to embrace personal responsibility with respects to staying home and isolating when ill, keeping appropriate social distance from others outside your household, and wearing a face barrier when close contact is difficult to avoid. I also ask local organizations, businesses, and municipalities to implement these practices and enact policies and/or ordinances to best protect the stressed health care system and our neighbors.”

* Yankowski enters no contest plea to manslaughter charge

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 14)

During Brown County District Court proceedings Tuesday, Nathan Yankowski, 28, of rural Brown County, pleaded no contest to felony charges of manslaughter and the unlawful/intentional discharge of a firearm in the death of Logan Maring, 18, of Merna.

Yankowski had previously pleaded not guilty to the initial charges of murder in the second degree and terroristic threats.

Yankowski will be sentenced in District Court Feb. 9. Brown County Attorney Andy Taylor said the manslaughter charge, a Class 2A felony, carries a sentence of between three and 70 years in prison.

The charges stemmed from a 2019 incident that resulted in Maring’s death.

Also in District Court Tuesday, Sean Burke, 36, of Ainsworth, appeared for sentencing after previously pleading guilty to unlawful discharge of a firearm and resisting arrest. Burke was sentenced on the felony firearm discharge count to a mandatory minimum of three years in the Nebraska Department of Corrections, with a maximum term of 10 years. Burke was given credit for 296 days served. On the resisting arrest charge, Burke was sentenced to six months in prison, with credit for time served.

Donald Hopkins, 63, of Bassett, appeared for sentencing after previously pleading guilty to charges of attempted assault in the second degree and disturbing the peace. On the Class 2A felony attempted assault charge, Hopkins was sentenced to 18 months of probation. On the misdemeanor disturbing the peace charge, Hopkins was sentenced to 15 days in jail with credit for four days served.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 11)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a one-vehicle accident that occurred early Wednesday, Dec. 9, on Highway 20.

According to the sheriff’s department report, at 12:38 a.m. Wednesday on Highway 20 approximately 4 miles west of Johnstown, a 2016 Ford pickup, driven by Jody Kreycik, 34, of Wood Lake, was traveling west when the vehicle left the roadway and rolled in the north ditch.

Kreycick was transported by the Brown County Ambulance Association to the Brown County Hospital for treatment of injuries suffered during the accident.

The Ford was considered a total loss.

* Another 167 COVID-19 cases confirmed by NCDHD Thursday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Dec. 11)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 167 additional COVID-19 cases in the district since the last reporting Monday. Among the newly reported cases were 14 in Brown County, 13 in Cherry County, 12 in Holt County, six in Rock County, six in Keya Paha County, and five new cases in Boyd County.

NCDHD confirmed 128 additional recoveries since the last report Dec. 3. Among those recovering from the virus were 41 people in Holt County, 13 in Boyd County, five in Cherry County, and one person recovered in Brown, Rock and Keya Paha counties.

There have been 576 COVID-19 cases reported in the nine-county district in the past 14 days, with a total of 3,242 cases, 1,293 recoveries and 41 deaths.

The Directed Health Measures, effective through December 31, have been updated to include the recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention regarding shortened quarantine.

* Ainsworth man dies Tuesday in farm accident near Cozad

(Posted 8 a.m. Dec. 10)

An Ainsworth man died Tuesday after being hit and pinned by a large hay bale on a Dawson County feedlot, authorities said.

The farm accident happened Tuesday afternoon at Darr Feedlot near Cozad, KRVN Radio reported.

The Dawson County Sheriff’s Department said Vergil Heyer, 65, of Ainsworth, was unstrapping hay bales from a semitrailer when the bales fell off the truck, hitting Heyer.

One of the bales landed on top of Heyer and pinned him, witnesses told emergency responders. Workers at the feedlot moved the hay bale off Heyer and performed CPR, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Heyer was a longtime veterinarian practicing in Ainsworth. His funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.

* Work on Ainsworth’s $2 million wastewater project complete

(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 10)

Work on the more than $2 million wastewater improvement project in Ainsworth has been completed, and the city’s engineer on the project told the City Council Wednesday the completion letter and final pay applications should be submitted during the council’s January meeting.

Jess Hurlbert with engineering firm Olsson Associates said all of the work on the project is done, and they are now working through the final paperwork.

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the wastewater project will be a huge improvement to the city’s utility for the next 25 to 40 years. She said, with the new electronic read water meters, not only will it save on staff time, but the city can contact residential or commercial customers if it appears there may be a leak and their water meter is running higher than normal.

“We have already done that on a couple of occasions,” Schroedl said.

The city received a $350,000 USDA Community Development Block Grant to help pay for a portion of the more than $2 million project, which placed new cure-in-place sewer lines in more than 30 blocks, replaced several lift stations and installed new electronic read water meters throughout the city. The city issued bonds for the remainder of the project which will be repaid over time from the city’s wastewater fund.

The council approved a change order on the project, decreasing the price of Bid Section C by $5,269. Hurlbert said the change order reflected the actual price on a piece of the project being lower than the estimate. The council also approved the final pay application for Bid Section C of the project in the amount of $147,825, which reflected the change order.

In other business Wednesday, the council approved the six-month report from the LB 840 Citizens Advisory Review Committee. CARC member Chris Raymond said the committee reviewed the LB 840 financial report, the one active loan from the fund, and two grant projects where the funding had been drawn down and found no issues.

Raymond said several additional façade grants have been approved by the council, but the funds have not yet been drawn down by the applicant.

Raymond said the committee talked about confidentiality for those applying to the LB 840 program for funding, and the committee will meet again to provide recommendations for the council to consider at a future meeting.

The council, by a 2-0 vote with new council member Vance Heyer absent and new council member Shawn Fernau abstaining due to what he said was a conflict of interest, approved two additional façade improvement grants as recommended by the LB 840 Loan Committee, one in the amount of $4,775 and a second not to exceed $10,000. The façade grant program requires a 50 percent funding match by the applicant to make improvements to business properties in Ainsworth.

The council discussed a change in not receiving the specific information in its council packet on each applicant. Schroedl said, after receiving advice from the city’s LB 840 attorney, it was determined anything provided in the council packet would become part of the public record, so to keep the confidentiality of applicants, which is required by the LB 840 statutes, the council would need to visit with the program administrator or LB 840 loan committee personally to obtain additional information about each application.

She said the city continued to work with the LB 840 attorney and the Citizens Advisory Review Committee on recommendations for the council to consider regarding applicant confidentiality.

The council approved an agreement for legal services with Sikyta Law Office to continue having Heather Sikyta serve as the city’s LB 840 attorney. Schroedl said the new agreement was needed as Sikyta was raising her hourly rate by $10 per hour.

Councilman Brad Fiala said the council has been happy with the work and advice Sikyta has provided.

“She is knowledgeable on the LB 840 program,” Fiala said.

Fernau took the oath of office Wednesday and was seated on the council after being elected in November. Heyer, the other newly elected council member, was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

Prior to the new council members being sworn in to office, the council accepted the resignation of Mayor Greg Soles. Soles, who as council president moved into the mayor position earlier this year following the resignation of Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan, said at the time he would fulfill the mayoral duties until his council term expired, which would have been during Wednesday’s meeting.

Soles thanked the city staff, council members and community for their work to better Ainsworth, and encouraged the city to continue to pursue and support development activities in the city.

With the council accepting Soles’ resignation, Council President Joel Klammer moved into the mayor post and will serve the remaining two years of Sullivan’s term.

The council, following the new members being seated, elected Fiala to serve as the council president, replacing Klammer.

The council also approved appointments for the remainder of Klammer’s term as mayor, which include Dr. Mel Campbell as the municipal physician, Rod Palmer as city attorney, Andy Taylor as prosecuting attorney, Bruce Papstein as chief of police, Lisa Schroedl as the city administrator, Brad Miller as the water and sewer superintendent, Kevin Shaul as the city streets foreman, Lloyd Smith as the streets superintendent, the Ainsworth Star-Journal and KBRB Radio for city publications, and the West Plains Bank, First National Bank, Union Bank & Trust and the Nebraska Public Agency Investment Trust as bank depositories.

The council also approved the appointment of Gerry Carr and Mary Jo Huey to the Ainsworth Housing Authority.

In a final action item Wednesday, the council authorized Klammer to sign the year-end certification of the city street superintendent. Schroedl said, by having a certified street superintendent, the city receives an additional $2,000 in streets funding from the state.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for Jan. 13.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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