NDN COVID-19 file

A woman in her 30s with underlying medical conditions is the first positive COVID-19 case in Madison County, according to the Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department.

On Monday, the health department was made aware of the first positive case in its four-county district, which includes Madison County. Upon being made aware of the case, health department officials initiated the contact investigation and found that the woman has not left her home since her symptoms began last Wednesday.
 
Late Tuesday morning, the health department indicated that it is working on the investigation to determine if this is a travel-related or community spread case. It will likely take a few days, but the department is working with the governor’s office to release more information. 
 
As of Monday evening, 64 tests had been conducted in the Elkhorn Logan Valley service area, including 36 in Madison County. Of those 36, 25 have come back negative and 10 are pending. 
In Cuming, Burt and Stanton counties, 12 people have been tested, with eight coming back negative and four pending.
 
Also Monday, Nebraska lawmakers advanced an $83.6 million emergency funding package to help fight the new coronavirus as Gov. Pete Ricketts sought to assure the public that the state is "well ahead of the curve" compared to others in its response to the global pandemic.

“We have a plan, we’re working our plan and will continue to work our plan,” Ricketts said at his daily update with news media at the state Capitol.

As of Monday afternoon, Nebraska had 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The governor said Nebraska’s plan of attack against the virus was developed with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which has national experts on pandemics, and that the spread of coronavirus in Nebraska has been slower as opposed to states like New York.

The state’s plan, he said, does not include shelter in place orders, like those placed on residents of California, Illinois and other states, and restrictions should get no worse than those imposed in the Omaha area, which have led to the closure of sit-down restaurants and bars.

Still, Ricketts would not predict when things might get back to normal.

“I know we’re going to get back to normal at some point. I can’t tell you when,” the governor said, adding that slowing the spread of the coronavirus will prolong the period of restrictions.

In the Omaha area, the public health directive ordered there will be reviewed on April 30. It was sparked after two cases of “community spread” coronavirus — in which contact with the virus could not be traced to travel or contact with infected people — were found in Douglas County, which has 35 of the state’s 53 known cases.

In Lincoln, the new funding bill sailed through a key procedural vote in the Legislature with no lawmakers dissenting.

"We'll get through this, but now it's our turn to put aside our partisan politics and pass this bill," said Sen. John Stinner, chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

In an eerily quiet legislative chamber, lawmakers gave the green-light for millions of dollars for personal protective equipment for local governments, lab testing at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and an ultraviolet light box that would disinfect old face masks so health officials could reuse them.

The package also sets aside millions of dollars for expected overtime costs in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and state-run care facilities.

One additional vote on Wednesday is required before the bill goes to back to Ricketts, who proposed the initial funding package. Lawmakers agreed to all of his proposals but added $25 million for him to use for new, unforeseen expenses. Some lawmakers wore masks and gloves as they cast their votes, and only they and a small handful of staffers were allowed onto the legislative floor. Members of the media were required to watch the proceedings from overhead balconies, unlike most days when reporters sit immediately off to the side of where lawmakers vote.

"It is truly a historic time in our country and for us to be here, to be able to do something to help the residents of the state of Nebraska," said Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk.

Meanwhile, Ricketts announced that the state will follow the federal government's lead in extending the deadline for income tax filers to July 15. Income tax returns are typically due on April 15, and Ricketts urged tax filers who aren't affected by the virus to still file their taxes by then to help the state maintain its cash flow.

The governor said his administration was also looking at whether to impose a moratorium on evictions to protect renters who have suddenly lost their incomes due to the pandemic. In the meantime, he urged landlords not to kick tenants out of their apartments during the crisis.

Ricketts said he doesn't expect to order more restrictive measures than what has already been announced, such as limiting gatherings to 10 people and only allowing restaurants and bars to offer carry-out or delivery services. He said additional restrictions weren't necessary because larger states were likely exposed to the virus much earlier than Nebraska, before it was widely viewed as a major public health threat.

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Editor's note: The Associated Press and World-Herald News Service contributed to this story.

In other news

The City of Norfolk was recently awarded a Nebraska EAB Recovery grant, a collaborative program of the Peter Kiewit Foundation and the Arbor Day Foundation to promote proactive tree recovery efforts with the impending effects of the emerald ash borer (EAB).

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