With the advent of the COVID-19 virus, we have been given a reminder that humans share this world with other lifeforms. We are a global economy, and less than six months ago, what was a virus infection transferred to a human from an animal being slaughtered for food in a street market in Wuhan, China, has now changed our lives in Lincoln County.
Projections are for Nebraska to experience a 30% or higher infection rate, with most of those infected experiencing symptoms anywhere from cold symptoms to a bad case of the flu.
The fear is for the 5% to 10% of our neighbors and loved ones with compromised immune systems due to existing diseases or prior medical treatment and for those over 65 years of age who may have deteriorating immune systems. They face up to a 15% mortality rate. Our best hope to minimize the effects of COVID-19 may be found with existing drugs, mainly one presently used for malaria. Its ability to combat symptoms of malaria may also be effective against COVID-19. Its use could allow the immune systems of those who may have severe symptoms the time needed to win the battle against the virus. If we can control the symptoms, we can greatly reduce those who need to be hospitalized. Making those drugs available is in the hands of the federal government.
On Wednesday, the Legislature gave the governor access to up to $83,619,600, approximately 13% of our expected cash reserve funds. He had asked for $58,619,600 for a detailed list of needs his advisors recommended. Wisely, Speaker Jim Scheer made the decision to add $25 million to the authorization, to be used in the event the situation calls for more expenditures. We are working on a very short timetable and he already had concerns of being able to convene the 33 senators necessary to pass the emergency designation for LB 1198. There is a possibility the Legislature would not be able to convene quickly in the future with the votes necessary to authorize additional funds.
The governor’s plan is to run the emergency operation through the Governor’s Emergency Cash Fund, with the bulk of the funds ($38.2 million) going to purchases of personal protective equipment and other supplies, and dispersal of those supplies to local medical personnel and first responders. We must keep those individuals healthy as they interact with those infected by the virus. Funds will also be available for emergency staffing needs of local health departments.
Other uses of the emergency funds are $4.04 million for additional Department of Health and Human Services staffing expenditures and $13 million for overtime and additional staff for veterans hospitals and DHHS care facilities. The University of Nebraska Medical Center will receive $3.1 million to purchase robotic equipment and other supplies and to hire personnel to conduct COVID-19 laboratory testing for Nebraska. We need to pray that things go well and that the governor will not need the additional funds.
Nebraskans have been proactive in slowing down the spread of the disease. As individuals, we should continue to keep a reasonable space between each other, emphasize personal hygiene and commit to calling or emailing our isolated friends and relatives. We also must support our local businesses; the restaurant business and their employees are being hit hard. You may not be able to eat in their dining area, but drive-thru and carry-out options are available.
In three or four weeks I plan to be back at the Legislature finishing up the last 17 days of the session and voting for passage of the budget, LB 720 (economic development bill), LB 147 (our teacher/student protection bill) and LB 1021 (our micro-TIF redevelopment plan for small towns). I also plan to be listening to my favorite sport, baseball, on the radio; eating in my favorite restaurants (of which I have many); visiting friends (of which I could always use more); and thanking God that His will was done.
Contact Sen. Mike Groene: firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2729.