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Ricketts bans evictions linked to coronavirus

Ricketts bans evictions linked to coronavirus

As the numbers of coronavirus cases climbed and restrictions on individuals and businesses tightened, Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an executive order Wednesday to prevent evictions of Nebraskans significantly impacted by the coronavirus who are unable to pay rent.

The relief is intended for those who have become ill, lost income because of job loss or wage reductions or missed work to care for a loved one, such as a child who cannot attend school or a sick family member.

The order, which applies to rent due on or after March 13, does not cancel any rent payments.

It's too early to know when the coronavirus outbreak may peak in Nebraska, Ricketts said, but his strategy remains focused on slowing the spread of the virus by limiting crowd size rather than closing businesses.

Asked if he agrees with President Donald Trump's assessment that the virus may be sufficiently corralled in time to allow Americans to gather at Easter Sunday church services a couple of weeks from now, Ricketts said he "wants to do what's best" to contain the outbreak.

"Not one-size-fits-all," the governor said at his daily coronavirus news briefing. "There may be parts of the country more lightly impacted.

"It may be different in Omaha than it is in McCook," he said.

"We would all like to get back to normal as quickly as possible," the governor said, "but protective health measures" must come ahead of that goal.

While cities and states across the country have gone to "stay-at-home" or "safe-at-home" orders, Ricketts' strategy remains anchored to a directive limiting gatherings in the state to 10 people.

Nebraska is "way ahead" in terms of protective health measures, he said, but "we expect more cases as we get more testing."

New cases confirmed by local health departments Wednesday included two women in Douglas County, one in her 30s and the other in her 40s, the first confirmed case in Dodge County (woman, 40s), the fifth case in Washington County (woman, 60s) and the third case in Saunders County (woman, 50s).

Two cases reported Tuesday, in Lancaster and Saunders counties, were classified as community-spread Wednesday, meaning health department staff have been unable to identify where the person was exposed to COVID-19.

Ricketts praised the Legislature for its swift action in returning to Lincoln this week to appropriate $83.6 million in emergency funding to battle the virus.

That legislative consensus in Nebraska comes "at a time (of) huge partisan bickering in Washington" over its response to the crisis, the governor said.

"Nebraskans come together and work together," he said. "Here in Nebraska we know how to get things done."

Looking ahead, Ricketts said the state is considering options if it becomes necessary to find more quarantine space to house people diagnosed with the virus.

About 5% of the people who are infected need a hospital bed, he said.

Asked if Medicaid expansion to serve uninsured Nebraskans should be moved up from its planned Oct. 1 implementation date, the governor said revising the state's current plan now would delay implementation until next January.

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