Ricketts says Nebraska schools safe to reopen despite virus


OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday that he remains confident that the benefits of reopening schools this fall outweigh the risks posed by the coronavirus and that he thinks students can return to the classroom safely.

Ricketts said it’s important to reopen schools because of the academic, social, behavioral and nutritional benefits of having kids in class.

“It’s important from an academic standpoint, but it’s not just about academics either,” Ricketts said. “There’s a wide variety of things that go into the overall health of a child when it comes to why it’s important that they’re back in classrooms.”

Ricketts and Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said schools across the state have drafted detailed plans to keep children safe while reopening after consulting with local health officials and the state. Many districts are also offering parents an online-only option for their children to learn. Some districts are planning a hybrid approach in which kids alternate between online and in-person instruction.

“It’s hard to balance between the safe environment when dealing with a pandemic while also understanding the impacts of not having school operating. Balancing those things is absolutely critical,” Blomstedt said.

Having multiple options available for families is part of what will help schools successfully reopen this fall, and Blomstedt said parents will likely become more comfortable with schools being open as time passes.

“I understand the fears and trepidations that folks may have as we walk forward,” he said. “But as we do this together, we’ll get a comfort level. We’ll get a comfort level of how that’s going to work in schools. We’ll understand when cases may pop up in schools that we’re going to address those.”

Some schools have already seen virus cases among students participating in practices and rehearsals for sports and activities before the school year begins. And schools in other states have had students and staffers test positive for COVID-19 within a day or two of reopening.

Blomstedt said conducting detailed contact tracing when students become ill will help schools manage the risks and determine how many other students might have to quarantine themselves following a positive case.

Nebraska’s coronavirus case numbers have slowly trended upward this summer after the state eased restrictions and more businesses reopened. The seven-day rolling average of new daily cases in Nebraska has risen over the past two weeks, from 212 new cases per day on the seven-day period that ended July 19 to 285 new cases per day during the period that ended Aug. 2.

Since the virus outbreak began, Nebraska has had 26,702 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 332 deaths linked to the virus, according to the state’s online tracking portal. There were 491 additional cases reported since Friday.

Even though the number of cases continues to rise in the state, officials said hospitals have the space available to help people who contract the virus. Nebraska had 40% of its hospital beds and 83% of its ventilators available as of Monday, according to the tracking portal.

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