Omaha Schools Out Starting Monday, NU Moves Classes Online, NCAA Tournament Cancelled Due to Coronavirus

March 12, 2020, 5:05 p.m. ·

Wahoo coaches stand by the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena, as families sit in the stands. (Photo by Allison Mollenkamp, NET News)

The University of Nebraska moved all classes online today, and the state boys basketball tournament began with only immediate family in attendance.

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UPDATE 8:45pm CT:

Omaha Public Schools announces district schools will close beginning Monday, March 16 as a preventative measure to limit spread of coronavirus. Packets for elementary students can be picked up at schools Monday 8:30-5;00; middle and high school students will be sent digital activities (ungraded) once a week via email or other social platforms. For more information,


The Omaha Public Power district has announced it will suspend disconnections for non-payment through April 30. President Tim Burke says he knows customers depend on electricity to stay connected. He said the utility will reevaluate the suspension after April 30.

University of Nebraska Makes Changes to Classes, Athletics

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska at Omaha cancelled classes for next week, and the following week is spring break. The University of Nebraska at Kearney will hold classes as normal next week. After that, all classes at all three campuses will move online. The two weeks is meant to give professors time to figure out how to alter their curriculum for an online environment. Dorms will remain open, but students are encouraged to go home. The university will continue to support students who remain on campus.

Deb Fiddelke is chief communication and marketing officer for UNL. She said the measure is meant to slow the spread of the virus.

“These kind of early intervention measures, by everything the public health officials tell us, can help spread out the impact of this disease so it is not so severe so quickly, and overwhelms our healthcare system,”Fiddelke said. “So obviously, our first and foremost concern is the safety of our own UNL community. But this was a decision that was very much also made with our Lincoln community and the state of Nebraska in mind, as well.”

UNL is also moving to only immediate family for all athletic events. They have cancelled all non-essential travel for the semester, and all study-abroad programs are cancelled through the end of June.

NCAA Cancels Basketball Tournament, Including Omaha Regional

Omaha was scheduled to host first and second round games for the division on men’s basketball tournament. On Wednesday, the tournament announced games would be limited to essential staff, immediate family, and the media. Those groups, plus players, were expected to amount to around 1500 people.

Tracie McPherson is director of communications for Visit Omaha. She says the economic impact of the tournament is significant for the Omaha area.

“We estimate it’s going to be a $5 million loss in the tourism business, which is, again, a loss to the city’s economy,” McPherson said. “And that’s a big chunk of change when you think about the boutique hotels, small restaurants, who depend on tourism to keep the restaurant doing well. So again, it’s gonna be tough on some of our tourism partners within the city of Omaha.”

McPherson says it’s tough to plan ahead without knowing if concerns about the spread of coronavirus will affect other Omaha events like the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials. Omaha’s tourism industry plans to take one event at a time and try to stay optimistic.

Boys Basketball Tournament Proceeds With Immediate Family Only

The Boys High School Basketball Tournament began Thursday with only immediate family in attendance. Games are being held in the same places as originally planned, including a mostly empty Pinnacle Bank Arena. The games do not include cheerleaders, band, or dancers. Families donned school colors, but the games are relatively quiet.

In one game Thursday morning, Wahoo and Mount Michael faced off. Kevin Scheef coaches the boys basketball team for Wahoo. He hopes his team is motivated internally, and not by fans.

“It’s definitely gonna be a unique experience down here, but like I told the kids, our goals are still in front of us,” Scheef said. “Even though the crowd’s not here, we have a great opportunity in front of us. So let’s go make the most of it.”

Parents at the game seemed understanding of the situation, and saw their circumstances as a safety issue. Mount Michael won the game, 76 to 50.

Douglas County Monitors 300 in Self-Quarantine

Several COVID-19 confirmed cases are in the Omaha area. 300 people in Douglas county are in self-quarantine. About a dozen people who showed symptoms were tested for COVID-19 with results are still pending. Individuals in self-quarantine are being monitored through an online system. The Nebraska Health Department is assisting Douglas County with the monitoring.

Douglas County confirmed 5 new presumptive cases Wednesday evening, all of which are household contacts from a person who previously tested positive.

Phil Rooney is spokesperson for the Douglas County Health Department.

“We don’t have community spread at this point, and I think that’s the big thing,” Rooney said. “All these cases are related to travel, or individuals with close personal contact to the people who traveled.”

Rooney said community spread would be a new phase, but he thinks Douglas County is ready. Rooney agreed that limiting fans at the State Basketball Tournament was a good idea.

Legislature Limits Visitors, Lobbyists

The Nebraska legislature is currently in session and plans to continue until mid-April. Senator Jim Scheer, speaker of the Nebraska legislature, announced Thursday balconies in the legislature will be closed to visitors, and legislators will limit meetings with lobbyists in rotunda. The new rules take effect Tuesday.

The Nebraska legislature is evaluating options for continuing the session on a daily basis. By law, the session can only last 60 days, but the legislature could recess for an indefinite period of time and come back later.

Scheer said he’s currently prioritizing keeping the state budget running.

“The priority for me right now is trying to make sure the budget is done so that if something were to come up, at least we would have the continuation of funding for the state budget to move forward in July,” Scheer said. “If we pass a bill on any of those other bills, if we pass a bill whatever that bill might be March 15 or June 15 or September 15 – any of those other bills – aren’t necessarily time-specific.”

Budget debate is expected to last into next week. Scheer said this is new territory, and he doesn’t know of a time when the legislature took an extended recess.

Other Nebraska Coronavirus Updates

Nebraska’s Chief Justice said courts will continue their work, but if someone involved in a case is at greater risk of transmission, they should notify the court.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services is implementing a survey for people coming to visit people in prison as a means to screen for coronavirus exposure.

The Winnebago Tribe issued a travel ban for all its employees, which means no mass transit and no travel outside Nebraska.

Fred Knapp and Brandon McDermott also contributed reporting to this story.

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