Grand Island’s mayor wants to know how the feds will help, says city ‘has paid a price’ – Omaha World-Herald

If meatpacking plants are critical infrastructure that must remain open in a pandemic, then the federal government must supply more coronavirus testing for those essential workers, the mayor of hard-hit Grand Island said.

The federal government needs to provide the resources to assure the safety of the workers and, of course, thats testing, Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele said Thursday.

Meatpacking workers and plants have been deemed critical by President Donald Trump to keep Americas food supply well stocked, even as coronavirus outbreaks threaten workers health and plant operations. Trump signed an executive order Tuesday night invoking the Defense Production Act to keep meat and food production facilities open.

Roger Steele

So Steele wants to know: Whos going to test those workers and keep those plants up and running?

Steele, writing in a letter and speaking at his biweekly press conference Thursday, asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to visit Grand Island, home to a sprawling JBS USA beef plant, where more than 200 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The president, by his stay-open order to JBS, is now responsible to make sure the workers at JBS are tested so we know that they are not infected by the virus when they enter the plant, said Steele, a registered Republican elected in 2018.

He said hed appreciate more answers and assistance from Perdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

I want Secretary Perdue to come to Grand Island so I can explain to him the problems we have faced with government orders that have failed to protect the people of Grand Island, Steele said.

With 1,042 cases, Hall County, where Grand Island is, has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Nebraska higher than the urban counties surrounding Lincoln and Omaha.

Over the past two days, the health department overseeing the three counties in the Grand Island area has reported 12 new coronavirus deaths, most of them residents of long-term care facilities. Thirty-seven people in that area have died in total.

I think Grand Island, during this ordeal, has paid a price, Steele said. Really, all weve received so far are just directions that our essential, critical infrastructure employers are to stay in business.

While the state has sent the Nebraska National Guard there several times to swab peoples noses for testing a testing site was up and running this week at the Fonner Park field house testing supplies and availability have been limited and sporadic, Steele said.

Indeed, the Central District Health Department reported Thursday afternoon that Fridays testing availability was already booked and that testing on Saturday wouldnt be possible after all.

The mayor has not called for the closure of the JBS plant, which, with 3,600 workers, is Grand Islands largest employer. He has toured the plant and thinks the managers there are doing their best to contain the outbreak.

The problem is not confined to JBS, either the virus has been spreading throughout the community and at other employers, Steele said. Last week, more than 125 residents and workers at long-term care facilities in the three-county area tested positive, the local health director said Wednesday, and that number has since risen.

I think JBS is doing everything it can to offer a safe facility, Steele said. But it requires 3,600 employees showing up during different shifts throughout the day, and theres really no in-place testing of those people, and they may be bringing the virus into the plant environment.

The community is working hard to fend off the virus, follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines and increase outreach to its multilingual residents, Steele said. Grand Island residents know the contagious virus is circulating, but many work jobs in meatpacking or manufacturing where working from home isnt possible.

I get feedback, Maybe you folks in Grand Island didnt get the memo, Steele said. No, we got the memo. Weve been working hard to educate the people of Grand Island. Were not sticking our heads in the sand.

As restrictions in other parts of the state begin to ease up, doctors from 16 different clinics and practices in Grand Island said they do not recommend attending religious services until Grand Islands infection rate begins to slow.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said worship services can resume May 4, with some social distancing requirements still in place.

In a letter, the Grand Island doctors said that they know people miss the opportunity to worship together in person but that now is not the time to relax any restrictions.

Physicians of the Grand Island medical community do not recommend resumption of religious gatherings May 4, they wrote. We do not believe congregants can be truly protected, even sitting six feet from other families, while Grand Islands community spread is still rising. Our families are too important.

Masks made by Ann Kane and her family.

Ann Kane and her family are producing masks. Everyone has a job.

Ann Kane and her family have made around 200 masks.

UNMC med student Nate Mattison works on his laptop at his apartment near downtown Omaha.

A bottle of Purell sits on a kitchen countertop as UNMC med student Nate Mattison works on his laptop. Mattison is one of a handful of UNMC students who have stepped up fill various nonprofit needs. Mattison has signed up to be a Big Brother and is currently waiting to be paired up.

Mattison is one of a handful of UNMC students who have stepped up to fill the needs of various nonprofits.

Matt Van Zante prints parts for face shields in his basement.

A 3D printer prints parts for face shields.

Matt Van Zante is among a group making face shields for personal protective equipment for medical personnel.

Matt Van Zante shows off one of the finished face shields he helped make.

Matt Van Zante shows off a finished face shield.

A 3D printer prints parts for face shields in Matt Van Zante's basement.

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Grand Island's mayor wants to know how the feds will help, says city 'has paid a price' - Omaha World-Herald

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