COVID-19 Daily Roundup: Ricketts Requests $58 Million Emergency Appropriation, Truck Driver Training Sees Increased Interest

March 20, 2020, 5 p.m. ·


Governor Pete Ricketts held a press conference with updates on Nebraska’s response to coronavirus today. Plus, as the nation faces a shortage of truck drivers, one Nebraska training company is seeing an uptick in interest.

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Ricketts Requests $58 Million Emergency Appropriation

Governor Ricketts is requesting the legislature approve a $58 million emergency appropriation. The money would be transferred from the state’s cash reserve to the governor’s emergency fund. That funds would be used to purchase personal protective equipment like masks for first responders, as well as other parts of the state’s coronavirus response.

Ricketts says transferring the money to the governor’s emergency fund will keep funds separate.

“It will not get mixed up with our other regular operations that we have for example, the Department of Health and Human Services or Veterans’ Affairs or anything like that,” Ricketts said. “So this will allow us to keep those dollars specifically separated so we’ll know that we’re spending these dollars on fighting the coronavirus.”

The legislature is in a recess due to COVID-19, but may be called back to vote on appropriations.

Lincoln Announces First Coronavirus Case

Today the first case of COVID-19 in Lincoln was announced. The individual is a 48 year old man who traveled to Colorado earlier this month. He developed symptoms last weekend and notified his health provider. He has been in self-isolation since Monday. This brings the total number of cases in Nebraska to 33.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird held a press conference today, and said officials knew the arrival of coronavirus in Lincoln was a question of when rather than if.

“Lincoln and Lancaster County Residents can be assured that our local public health officials have been, with our community partners, preparing for weeks for this moment,” Gaylor Baird said.

Truck Driver Training Sees Increased Interest

Representatives from the grocery industry have noted that gaps in the supply chain are worsened by a shortage of truck driver’s to move supplies to warehouses.

Larry Marsh is owner of JTL Truck Driver Training in Omaha and chairman of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association. He says the nation has a shortage of around 50,000 drivers and that the population of truck drivers is aging while demand for those drivers has increased.

Marsh’s business is still training drivers, while limiting classes to 10 students. In the classroom, they keep people six feet apart. When training in trucks, they wipe down controls between drivers and try not to switch drivers very often. Training at JTL takes four or 10 weeks, depending on if students are full or part time. Marsh has seen an uptick in interest in the training, and says an industry contact has also noticed an increase at other training schools.

JTL conducts state Commercial Driver’s License driving exams, which they will continue to do during the crisis. However, Marsh is hoping the state Department of Motor Vehicles will continue to issue CDLs, as well as commercial learner’s permits. If not, he’s worried the shortage of drivers could worsen.

“If the general population of the driving, if they start to drop off because of some of the virus, we need to get healthy people back in there to take their place,” Marsh said. “And if we drop that off for two or three or four weeks, that’s a significant number of drivers that aren’t gonna be available to even move that freight.”

Marsh says he hopes during the pandemic that truck stops will stay open to feed truck drivers as they delivery supplies.

Fremont Area Meat Processor Continues Operations with Limited Changes

Lincoln Premium Poultry in Fremont is still operating during the COVID-19 crisis. The plant processes chicken for Costco.

A spokesperson said the plant has moved away from self-serve in cafeterias and is wiping down common surfaces.

They also said it is difficult for employees to maintain social distancing while on the floor of the plant.

Jessica Kolterman is a spokesperson for Lincoln Premium Poultry. She said the plant doesn’t currently plan to close.

“I was talking to a group of our maintenance team the other day, and one of them said, 'So we’re gonna run ‘til the wheels fall off,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty much what our plan is,’” Kolterman said. “Even if that means that the management is out there working the floor, that’s our intention right now. We will do everything we can, even if we do have to scale back a certain amount because of a lot of people being gone or something like that. We’re gonna do everything we can to keep providing safe food for our country.”

Kolterman said employees have sick leave but may not have any available at this time. Management will work with employees on a case to case basis and their intent is that no one will lose their job due to this pandemic.

Retailers Take Advantage of Social Media to Supplement Foot Traffic

Threads, Footloose and Fancy is a footwear and accessories store in downtown Lincoln. Hannah Owen is a sales associate there, and said they usually see about 50 people come to the store on a busy weekend day. Lately they’re seeing around 10 per day, and that foot traffic is down in the downtown area in general.

The store is supplementing its in-person sales by selling some items on Instagram. They post pictures of their merchandise and customers can call to purchase an item, and then pick it up curbside or have it shipped to them for free. Owen said the sales help boost morale.

“It’s actually been really awesome,” Owen said. “People are really wanting to support local businesses, which is really inspiring and motivating, ‘cause with all of this, with no people in the store it’s really easy to get unmotivated and sad because you feel like you’re not selling anything, but being able to do everything through like Instagram and all that has been really awesome”

Threads has been closing an hour early to deep clean the store every night.

Animal Shelter Seeks Emergency Foster Homes for Pets

Pam Wiess is vice president of of PR and Marketing at Nebraska Humane Society. She said during a disaster animal shelters often see more people surrendering their pets because they can’t take care of them. They also often see a decrease in adoptions as people stay home during a crisis.

However, Wiess isn’t sure those usual expectations will hold during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is kind of unprecedented, because we’re in unknown territory right now,” Weiss said. “So we may see as things move on and children are at home and people are getting bored and they want something to do they may want to bring a pet into the home and it may be a great time.”

Wiess said the humane society is looking for emergency foster homes to get pets out of shelter, and that donations, especially cash, are welcome to help support the shelter.

Kelsey Eihausen also contributed reporting to this story.

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