LINCOLN — COVID-19 placed an immense strain on hospitals and the medical field with thousands of cases and deaths in the nearly three years of the pandemic in Nebraska.
Public health directors as well as state and local governments issued directed health measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, action that helped “save” local hospitals according to one registered nurse in Lincoln.
“When DHMs [directed health measures] were announced, there would be a collective sigh of relief amongst bedside clinicians, myself included,” nurse Julia Keown told the Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday. “We would actually cheer because we knew it was going to work, and it did.”
Keown explained that the measures led to fewer patients dying from COVID-19 and fewer times health care professionals had to tell family over Zoom that their loved ones had died.
One legislative proposal seeks to change who can issue these measures, taking the authority away from public health directors and changing their roles to one of advisement.
Legislative Bill 421, proposed by State Sen. Kathleen Kauth of Omaha, would require county boards or city councils to vote to adopt directed health measures, alongside state officials’ approval.
“It maintains the importance of the education and experience brought by public health directors but redirects the responsibility of restricting liberties,” Kauth said. “This should also serve to redirect the ire of the public from the public health director to the elected officials where it belongs.”
Keown was one of five medical professionals who testified against the legislative proposal Wednesday. Two private citizens testified in support of the bill.‘Maintain our rights’
Kauth said her bill is a direct response to actions taken during the pandemic that she said restricted individual freedoms. She said this included mask mandates and restrictions on public gatherings.
“It is critically important, especially in what may be an emergency, to maintain our rights,” Kauth said. “Elections have consequences, and the responsibility for decisions regarding citizen freedoms must live with those elected officials.”
The bill mirrors backlash in Lincoln and Omaha over health measures that led to a failed recall campaign against the mayor and city council members in Lincoln and lawsuits against the health director in Omaha for issuing a mask mandate without the city council’s approval.
Then-Attorney General Doug Peterson dropped his lawsuit after the Omaha City Council approved an ordinance allowing the council to veto public health measures.
Dr. James Lawler, who is a professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said the bill would make Nebraska less safe because it could delay health decisions.
In all of his experiences, Lawler said, critical and effective public health responses rely on speed, technical expertise and professional courage.
“LB 421 would undermine all of these in Nebraska,” Lawler said, adding that speed is the most important principle.Day-to-day operations
The health departments in Douglas and Lancaster Counties issue about 120 work restrictions and isolation or quarantine orders every year, Lawler explained, excluding COVID-19.
This includes action on diseases or pathogens such as hepatitis, salmonella, norovirus or tuberculosis, which all would need to be approved by elected officials.
“Most of the time, these orders are executed quietly. The emergency is contained and we never hear about it,” Lawler said. “But I, for one, am certainly glad these unsung heroes are working tirelessly behind the scenes every day.”
This means any directed health measure would require county or city as well as state approval.
Dr. Jim Nora, an infectious disease physician in Lincoln, testified against the bill and said medical professionals also want to uphold liberties and values. He said it should never be the intent of health policies to be arbitrary or discriminatory.
Jon Cannon, executive director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials, also testified in opposition.
He said that gathering a quorum of city council members or county board members could be difficult, in addition to needing to abide by the open meetings act.‘Arbitrary, wide-sweeping’ overreach
David Splonskowski of Omaha testified in support of Kauth’s bill because he said his family was hurt in the spring of 2020, mainly because of restrictions placed on church gatherings.
This placed an “undue burden” on his worship, he said, but these concerns fell on “deaf ears” when he contacted his county health director.
“It doesn’t necessarily prevent poor decisions being made,” Splonskowski said of the bill. “But at least it does allow residents to petition their local elected officials regarding the limitation of certain health directives.”
Stacey Skold of Malcolm, who has a Ph.D. in human sciences, said unelected officials ordered “arbitrary, wide-sweeping” mandates over the past three years that have eroded democracy.
Passing Kauth’s bill would close the loophole in medical directives, Skold said, arguing the bill needs additional language to prohibit injections as part of health measures.
Ultimately, Skold said the Legislature should also develop a medical bill of rights.‘Very scary time’
State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, a committee member, expressed concern over how the bill would have affected her community during significant flooding in 2019.
Fremont became an island, Walz said, and if the health director’s actions involving contaminated water quality had required additional approval, she questioned how that would have worked.
“It was a very, very scary time for the members of our community,” Walz said.
State Sen. Brian Hardin of Gering, committee vice chair, said Kauth’s bill would act as a check and balance on health directors. He pushed back against opponents’ testimony throughout the hearing. State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, committee chair, said the bill seemed reasonable due to the unprecedented action taken in response to COVID-19.
Dr. Echo Koehler, testifying in opposition for the Nebraska Nurses Association, said the bill would add “bureaucratic red tape” and undermine public health.
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, another committee member, repeatedly thanked medical professionals for their time in testifying and said openly she would not vote for the bill.
“You can thank me by not passing this bill,” Keown, the registered nurse, told Cavanaugh.
The committee took no immediate action on the legislation.
Patrick Carr, Standard-Examiner ❮ ❯The 6A and 5A boys and girls basketball state tournament returns to Weber State’s Dee Events Center this week, starting with quarterfinal action on Tuesday and Wednesday. AF played the second-toughest schedule of any 6A team this year. This year’s Davis team won its first region title since 2013, has a 19-2 record and is the No. 12 Davis vs. No. 21 Spanish ForkThursday3 p.m. and 4:40 p.m. — 6A Girls semifinals7 p.m. and 8:40 p.m. — 6A Boys semifinalsFriday3 p.m. and 4:40 p.m. — 5A Girls semifinals7 p.m. and 8:40 p.m. — 5A Boys semifinalsSaturday11 a.m. — 6A Girls championship1:30 p.m. — 5A Girls championship4:30 p.m. — 6A Boys championship7 p.m. — 5A Boys championshipConnect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at [email protected], Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.28 days ago Standard-Examiner
21 Layton 59-45 in the second round of the 6A girls basketball state tournament, which moves the Silverwolves on to next Tuesday’s quarterfinals at Weber State’s Dee Events Center. Knudson went 4 for 5 on free throws and led Layton with 15 points. 4A GIRLS QUARTERFINALS: Snow Canyon 52, Bear River 47LOGAN — No. 5 Morgan led 13-7 after one quarter, then No. 4A BOYS QUARTERFINALS: Layton Christian 69, Ridgeline 68LOGAN — Tyrese Lacey made an up-and-under basket with 2.8 seconds left, then stole the ensuing inbound pass to help No.1 month ago Standard-Examiner
Company executives discussed Tesla’s German facility in their Q4 earnings call and said they were focused on making it more efficient. Elon Musk said separately that the value of the IRA’s tax credits are “very significant” and stressed they rely on domestic manufacturing. Welcome to Daily on Energy, written by Washington Examiner Energy and Environment Writers Jeremy Beaman (@jeremywbeaman) and Breanne Deppisch (@breanne_dep). Wind also performed well across the affected regions during the storm, significantly better than during Winter Storm Uri. Problems with gas: Gas generators had immense problems during Winter Storm Uri, NERC found in its assessment of the storm.1 month ago Washington Examiner
1 / 13 Fremont's Charli Hunt, right, drives against Davis' Olivia Lifferth on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Plain City. BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner 6 / 13 Fremont players celebrate during a game against Davis on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Plain City. BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner 7 / 13 Fremont's Sierra Eddie looks to pass against Davis on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Plain City. BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner 11 / 13 Davis player Kate Richards drives up the floor against Fremont on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Plain City. BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner 13 / 13 Fremont's Sierra Eddie (12) drives past Davis' Avery Dain (20) on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Plain City.1 month ago Standard-Examiner
Overall, 20 area boys wrestlers booked their spots in Thursday’s semifinals at 11 a.m.At 106 pounds, Roy High freshman Kaleb Blackner pinned both of his opponents to advance to the semifinals. Syracuse’s Teague Brown will face Westlake’s Korbin Chuchran in the other 120 semifinal. Layton’s Noah Bull pinned Westlake’s Jamyne Xoumphonphackdy and will face Jacob Carson of Pleasant Grove in the other 126-pound semifinal. In the 138-pound semis, Syracuse’s Gavin Regis faces Westlake’s Josh Fish and Layton’s Jace Lemons takes on American Fork’s Tege Kelley. At 115 pounds, Weber’s Aleena Navarrete takes on Westlake’s Ella Arnold in the semis, Layton’s Erin Fuller upset No.1 month ago Standard-Examiner
T’maea Eteuati scored eight points for Davis (18-1, 11-0 Region 1) and Olivia Lifferth added seven. Aly Coombs scored 11 points and Charli Hunt tallied 10. Ashlyn Wight added 11 points. Aubree Fry scored 11 points for Bear River (10-9, 3-6 Region 11). Beau Belnap scored 11 points.1 month ago Standard-Examiner
1 / 10 Syracuse's Kaden Ericksen (2) throws a pass as Fremont's Braden Flinders (3) runs the floor on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Plain City. BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner 6 / 10 Fremont's Treyden Hoggan prepares to shoot against Syracuse on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Plain City. BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner 7 / 10 Syracuse's Brevin Hamblin rises for a layup against Fremont on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Plain City. BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner 8 / 10 Fremont's Braden Flinders dribbles the ball against Syracuse on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Plain City. BRIAN WOLFER, Special to the Standard-Examiner 10 / 10 Syracuse guard Kane King signals a play against Fremont on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, in Plain City.1 month ago Standard-Examiner