A1 A1
Best vaccine, hands down: Not touching your face
To follow seemingly simple advice to keep virus at bay, you need to 'outsmart' habit

Partway through a conversation about simple solutions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, a certain reporter caught himself, his hand flitting across his face with absent-minded determination.

A rub to the eye and a scratch to the nose before settling into a pose akin to Rodin's The Thinker, with chin in palm, fingers curled against the mouth. It's a typical taxonomy of face touches, but it would make public health experts shudder — especially now.

That's because this reporter just moved his hand over every place a respiratory infection — including the coronavirus — finds entree into the human body, all in less than a minute. If you have COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, it began in your eyes, nose or mouth — your facial mucous membranes.

By now, most readers have seen the entreaties from agencies like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Wash your hands; don't touch your face. It's some of their simplest advice, yet it's some of the most difficult to follow. And that's not really our fault.

We've been building the habits nearly all our lives.

"It's very hard to change, because you don't even know you're doing it," said William Sawyer, a family doctor in Sharonville, Ohio, and founder of Henry the Hand, a nonprofit organization that promotes hand hygiene. "It's habit, and habits are hard to change."

Especially those as pervasive as face touching. A 2015 study found that we touch our face an average of two dozen times an hour, and 44% of that touching involves contact with eyes, nose or mouth.

Like all our habits, touching our face has been reinforced over time: It begins with an itch or an irritation, which feels better, temporarily, when scratched or rubbed. That reaction then becomes a tic, Sawyer said.

But passing unseen are the legions of germs living on your hands — picked up from your phone, keyboard, a doorknob or elsewhere — hitching a ride on the way to your throat, sinuses and lungs.

Not touching your facial mucous membranes, an area known as the "T-zone," is perhaps the most important step you can take to prevent an infection, Sawyer said.

"It's the one behavior that would be better than any vaccine ever created," he said. "Just stop this simple behavior. Stop picking, licking, biting, rubbing — it's the most effective way to prevent a pandemic."

People are more likely to get the virus by picking it up from a surface and touching their face than they are to breathe in droplets directly from someone who is infected, Sawyer said.

"They will give it to themselves, not the person down the hall," he said. Sawyer created Henry the Hand and its mascot, a T-shirt-clad yellow hand preaching hygiene awareness, in the '90s when his children were in day care, which he called "a petri dish." He began promoting it internationally after the outbreak of SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, in 2002.

The simple, one-two punch of hand washing and avoiding the T-zone can be empowering, Sawyer argued, because it's an achievable solution to a problem that feels more urgent with each headline.

"Good health and wellness is in their hands," he said.

But identifying the problem is just the first step. And the easiest. Next, you have to try to break the habit.

"Habit change is very, very difficult," said Elliot Berkman, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon who studies habits and behaviors. "When you try to break habits, you're working upstream against your own evolutionary history."

Berkman said people must be able to "outsmart their habit" or form a different one. One way to do that quickly is to change something in your environment, he said. Wear something on your hands or face (just not a mask if you're not sick) that can serve as a cue, an interruption to an automatic action.

"The practical thing is to assume you're going to touch your face and try to change something else," he said. "Something that, when you touch it, it reminds you of what you're supposed to be doing. It draws your attention to the thing you're trying to change."

If you need to scratch your face, Sawyer said, cover your finger with a tissue first. It's the bare hand you should avoid, he said, but gloves are no panacea, either, as they can also carry germs.

Kroger limits certain health, sanitization products as shelves clear

The company that owns Baker's supermarkets is placing limits on the number of certain products that customers buy as its shelves are cleared by people doing heavy stocking in preparation for any spread of the coronavirus.

"Due to high demand and to support all customers, we will be limiting the number of sanitization, cold and flu related products to 5 each per order. Your order may be modified at time of pickup or delivery," Kroger Co. said on its website.

Kroger is the nation's biggest independent grocer. Amazon is warning same-day grocery customers that delivery may be limited. Target and Walmart are scrambling to replenish shelves with basics like canned goods, toilet paper and other household essentials, but have yet to announce rationing.— From wire reports

Schoolkids peer into womb with live ultrasound as abortion opponents go high-tech

Haley Lubek, 24 weeks into her pregnancy, lay on a wooden folding cot inside the student center at Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha.

A dozen students sat in the room with her and watched as ultrasound technician Angela Himmelberg passed the machine’s probe over Lubek’s gently bulging tummy.

Himmelberg narrated as a live video image projected on a wall.

“Can you see the eyes?” Himmelberg asked the students.

“Here’s an arm right here … there’s a foot digging into the placenta.”

Live ultrasounds like this one have emerged as a tool for abortion opponents in Nebraska.

Instead of showing gory pictures of aborted fetuses to dissuade women from abortions, the volunteers at Heart of a Child Ministries are trying to win over hearts by literally showing a tiny beating heart.


Nikki Schaefer, director of Heart of a Child Ministries, gives a presentation to students on Feb. 28 at St. Mary’s School.

The volunteers have been giving their presentations at metro-area Catholic and private schools. But they say they’ve also taken it on the road, to several surrounding states as well as California.

Ultrasound technology entered into the national abortion debate in a big way last year.

In May 2019, Focus on the Family arranged for the broadcast of a live ultrasound on giant TV screens in Times Square. An estimated 20,000 people gathered to watch the event dubbed “Alive from New York.”

The woman who underwent the televised ultrasound was former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson, now an abortion opponent, who was 36 weeks pregnant. Johnson has said she parted ways with Planned Parenthood after witnessing an ultrasound-assisted abortion in 2009.

The Times Square event was a response to New York’s passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which protects reproductive rights. The law states that a woman may abort after 24 weeks of pregnancy if her life or health is at risk, or if the fetus is not viable.

Ultrasounds are “a tremendous game-changer,” said Paul Batura, vice president of communications for Focus on the Family.

“It’s a window on the womb,” Batura said.

He said that not only has it changed the debate, but women who are shown an ultrasound of their baby are less likely to have an abortion.

Nikki Schaefer, director of Heart of a Child Ministries, said the presentations have been well-received.

However, a presentation scheduled last month at St. Margaret Mary School in Omaha was canceled after some parents expressed concerns.

The reasons for the cancellation aren’t clear, but the sensitive nature of the topic, concerns that the presentation could be political and the age-appropriateness appear to be factors with some parents.

Schaefer said her group intends to give a preview presentation to St. Margaret Mary parents so they can decide for themselves whether it would be appropriate for their kids.

Tim McNeil, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha, said the archbishop does not object to the presentations.


Students take a parting gift of a little baby figurine following a presentation by Heart of a Child Ministries on Feb. 28 at St. Mary’s School.

“He knows Nikki and likes, as we all do, what she’s trying to do,” McNeil said.

Andi Curry Grubb, Nebraska state executive director of Planned Parenthood, said this week she only recently started hearing about the ultrasound presentations and hadn’t attended one.

She said Planned Parenthood focuses its efforts on reducing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

“We tend to focus on what research shows us, that the most effective ways of doing that from an education standpoint is providing comprehensive sexual health education that is age-appropriate and medically accurate,” Curry Grubb said.

The comprehensive approach, for instance, would include giving young people the information they need to understand their bodies, what a healthy relationship looks like and how to avoid unintended pregnancies and STDs by various means, whether abstinence, birth control options or condoms.

“It tends to work best when you’re approaching it from multiple perspectives and not just focusing in on one, like an ultrasound or something really specific like that,” she said.

Curry Grubb said a majority of Americans support safe and legal access to abortion, and that hasn’t changed much over the years.

A Pew Research Center survey last year found that 61% of Americans favored keeping abortion legal in all or most cases.

Seven in 10 people surveyed said they did not want to see Roe v. Wade completely overturned, the center reported.


Students watch as Kathy Havranek conducts an ultrasound on Kelly Miller during a presentation by Heart of a Child Ministries on Feb. 28 at St. Mary's School.

Abortion rates have been dropping in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The total number of reported abortions in the United States decreased 24% from 825,240 in 2007 to 623,471 in 2016, the CDC says.

The abortion rate decreased from 15.6 to 11.6 abortions per 1,000 women age 15 to 44.

The CDC says multiple factors influence the incidence of abortion, including access to health care services and contraception, availability of abortion providers, state regulations such as mandatory waiting periods, parental involvement laws, increased acceptance of childbearing outside marriage and even the economy.

Under current law, Nebraska bans almost all abortions once a fetus reaches 20 weeks after fertilization. The only exceptions are to protect a woman’s life or to prevent major physical problems.

Schaefer’s family started the nonprofit anti-abortion organization in 2012. They have done presentations for several years.

She has home-schooled her six kids.

Her husband, Bernie, is vice president of development at Spirit Catholic Radio in Omaha.

Sign up for the Live Well Nebraska newsletter

Get the latest health headlines and inspiring stories straight to your inbox.

The students who gathered for the evening presentation at Skutt High were members of Skyhawks for Life, a school club.

The volunteer mom and subject of the procedure was Haley Lubek, who has 9-month-old twin boys. She put them to bed before heading to the school.

She is expecting a baby girl, who has a name already, but the parents are keeping that a secret for now.

The ultrasound in the presentation is not done for any medical purpose — doctors don’t review the images. Lubek gets those medical scans separately.

Lubek said she participates to send a message.

“It’s a very profound message,” she said, “to be able to see a live baby inside of you.”

The Skutt presentation was tailored to high school-age kids.

Himmelberg started the presentation with a brief video on human reproduction, including how the sperm and egg meet in the fallopian tube and the egg lodges in the uterus.

Quickly, it was time for the main event.

Lubek lay down, covered by a sheet for privacy. Himmelberg used the ultrasound paddle, known as a transducer, to scan Lubek’s belly.

Himmelberg became a tour guide on the developing fetus. At one point, she searched and located the beating heart, the beating of which students could hear on a speaker.

There’s no better sound for an expectant mom, Himmelberg told the students.

“Isn’t that amazing?” she asked.


Billie Dixon, a parent, tears up as she listens to Julie Gallegos speak about her family’s decision to adopt a young boy during a presentation by Heart of a Child Ministries on Feb. 28 at St. Mary’s School.

Jake Newman, the Skutt club secretary, had never seen a live ultrasound.

He’s seen pictures and images on TV, he said, but never anything like this.

He said he normally squirms at the sight of a medical procedure.

Not this time.

“The part that really got me was the heartbeat,” Newman said. “Not even hearing it but seeing it. You can literally see the baby’s heart pounding out of its chest.

“My jaw dropped. I couldn’t even look away. It was awesome.”

After the procedure, presenter Kristen New described for students her transition from abortion rights clinic worker to anti-abortion advocate. She described how abusive comments hurled at her by a clinic protester had initially solidified her commitment to the abortion rights cause. But she eventually had a change of heart, she said, after seeing the remains of an aborted fetus and after suffering a health scare that caused her to reexamine her life.

She told the students that the abortion issue will touch them all. It’s not enough, she said, that they have compassion for the unborn. They must have compassion for the woman considering abortion and everyone involved, she said.

The women need to know you care about more than just their baby, she said.

The graphic signs that clinic protesters use only drive the women inside the clinic, she said.

According to Schaefer, the group presents about once a week. On Friday, the volunteers presented to classes at St. Mary’s School in Bellevue.

At those presentations, the abortion content and human reproduction material were toned down, but the anti-abortion message was still clear. The presentations were tailored to the younger students.

The St. Mary’s fifth through eighth grade students watched a live ultrasound, followed by a speaker who described how she and her husband adopted a baby boy. She talked about how the number of couples wanting to adopt far exceeds the babies available.

During the ultrasound portion, a different woman volunteered for the procedure, Kelly Miller, who was 21 weeks pregnant and carrying a boy.

Miller said the she believes the presentations will be more effective in persuading women than “meeting them at the door with a sign.”

“I don’t think today that that’s going to change minds,” she said.

Separate staircases by gender and a fire escape slide: Check out six interesting features that once existed or still exist at local high schools

Separate staircases by gender and a fire escape slide: Check out six interesting features that once existed or still exist at local high schools

Sanders rejects any 'Trump-type effort' against resurgent Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — His front-runner status slipping, Bernie Sanders refocused his Democratic presidential campaign on surging rival Joe Biden on Wednesday as the senator's allies grappled with the fallout from a Super Tuesday stumble that raised internal concerns about the direction of his White House bid.

Sanders targeted Biden's record on trade, Social Security and fundraising just hours after billionaire Michael Bloomberg suspended his campaign and Elizabeth Warren confirmed that she was privately reassessing her future in the race. The dramatic shifts signaled that the Democrats' once-crowded nomination fight had effectively come down to a two-man race for the right to face President Donald Trump in November.

Sanders declared himself "neck and neck" with Biden as he faced reporters in his home state, Vermont, one of just four states he captured on the most consequential day of voting in the party's 2020 primary season. Biden won 10 states, including delegate-rich Texas, assembling victories that transcended geography, race and class.

"What this campaign, I think, is increasingly about is, which side are you on?" Sanders said.

The progressive candidate lobbed familiar attacks against the former vice president's record but ignored supporters' calls to be more aggressive. He insisted that his campaign would avoid any "Trump-type effort" that included personal criticism.

"I like Joe. I think he's a decent human being," Sanders said. "Joe and I have a very different vision for the future of this country."

Biden said he would unify the country and, without naming Sanders, knocked the senator's frequent contention that he is beholden to an elite party establishment. "The establishment are all those hard-working people" who voted Tuesday, Biden said in West Hollywood, California.

Elected officials and leading donors rallied around Biden after his Super Tuesday romp. Some top Democrats have been skeptical of his political strength but raced to unite behind him to blunt Sanders' rise.

After suspending his campaign, Bloomberg became the fourth failed Democratic presidential contender this week to endorse Biden. Bloomberg called Biden the best chance to defeat Trump in the general election.

Warren's future was uncertain. Sanders confirmed that he spoke to his progressive ally earlier in the day, though it was unclear whether she would endorse him — or anyone else — should she leave the race. Warren didn't win a single state Tuesday and finished in third place in her home state of Massachusetts.

A resurgent Biden, meanwhile, was poised to finish Super Tuesday with more delegates than Sanders — a stunning shift. Sanders' team had hoped he would finish the night more than 100 delegates ahead of his next closest competitor.

Biden's allies sought to quickly capitalize on his success and take on Sanders. A Biden campaign co-chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond, blasted Sanders for suggesting that the Democratic establishment was colluding against him. Richmond said Biden is earning his votes.

"I just did not know that African Americans in the South were considered part of the establishment," the Louisiana Democrat said, noting that Biden's overwhelming support among black voters gave him wide delegate gains in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia, among other states.

Some Sanders backers voiced criticism of his campaign's strategy, suggesting that he hasn't been tough enough in attacking Biden. Sanders prefers to focus his criticism on Biden's record on key issues.

Roseann DeMoro, a key Sanders ally and a former president of National Nurses United, said Sanders' struggle was likely tied to his "gentle" approach.

"Is Bernie too gentle on the Democratic Party? I think he's a gentleman, and they are not," DeMoro said. "Bernie's a statesman, and he's up against sharks. He needs to call people out for who they are."

Omaha police union critical after judge transfers accused shooter's case to juvenile court

To the members of the Omaha Police Officers Association, Douglas County District Judge Marlon Polk is at the top of the list — the list of judges with whom the police union routinely disagrees.

“I think Polk has secured his seat as the No. 1 judge that makes the worst decisions for public safety,” said Tony Conner, the police union president. “Polk has had this pattern for quite a while now.”

Last week, Polk ordered that 18-year-old Dakota Nagel, who is accused of shooting at Omaha police officers, should not be charged as an adult. It was the third time since late in 2017 that Polk has transferred a case of an alleged would-be cop shooter to juvenile court.

The Douglas County Attorney’s Office has appealed the decision.

Nagel was charged with six felonies, including attempted assault and use of a deadly weapon. He faced a total of 20 to 240 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Juvenile court will have jurisdiction over him until he turns 19 in February 2021.

Polk issued a written order last week in response to a Feb. 10 hearing on the motion to move the case to juvenile court.

In his order, Polk wrote that the law states that if someone under 18 years old commits a crime, the case “shall be” transferred to juvenile court unless the state proves there is “sound basis” for charging the juvenile as an adult, based on a number of factors.

Polk explained that in this case, there was no sound basis, in part because Nagel has a learning disability and does not have “any significant sophistication or maturity as far as juveniles go.”

“The Court notes that the current charges are serious and do greatly concern public safety, including the alleged use of a firearm and potential gang association,” Polk wrote. “This Court does not believe the charges themselves indicate any desire by this juvenile to be treated as an adult or an extended pattern of living as an adult, but may offer an opportunity for rehabilitative intervention, which is in the best interest of the juvenile.”

Polk’s bailiff said Wednesday that the judge does not comment on cases.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said it concerned him that Polk, in his order, acknowledged Nagel’s gang ties and previous juvenile record yet still contended that less than a year of programming would help Nagel. Kleine said he respectfully disagrees with Polk’s order and the reasoning behind it.

“There’s certainly things he puts in his own order that shows it should have stayed in district court,” Kleine said. “There’s officers that are putting their lives on the line to keep the public safe. They’re getting shot at by individuals. (District court) is most appropriate.”

Nagel’s attorney, Lauren Micek, an assistant public defender, declined to comment, citing the office’s policy of not speaking about pending cases.

Sign up for World-Herald news alerts

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

On Nov. 12, according to Polk’s order, two Omaha police officers in an unmarked police vehicle were conducting surveillance on a man’s home near 25th and Iowa Streets. A 2006 Hyundai pulled out of the driveway and the officers began to drive after it.

The occupants of the vehicle fired shots at the officers, then stopped the vehicle and ran. They were caught and taken into custody.

The officers, Detectives Robert Seitzer and Robert Soldo, were not injured. Nagel, then 17, was a passenger in the vehicle.

Conner said he has spoken to both detectives, who he said were disappointed in Polk’s decision to transfer the case.

The police union is still considering whether to launch an official anti-retention campaign against Polk. Conner noted that he is sharing the union’s stance on the Omaha Police Officers Association’s social media.

Juvenile court, Conner said, “is a slap on the wrist. Juveniles are back on the street and nothing has changed in their environment, and they’re right back out creating havoc like they did before.”

Polk’s order emphasized the juvenile court services that Nagel still could receive — gang intervention, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, curfew, group home applications and psychotherapy — though they would end in less than a year, when he turns 19.

“Rehabilitative services in juvenile court have not been exhausted and could be implemented regardless of (Nagel’s) age,” Polk wrote, citing testimony from a state juvenile probation worker.

Polk’s previous decisions also have frustrated law enforcement.

In November, Polk transferred the case of 16-year-old Esai Pinales to juvenile court. Authorities say that in June, Pinales and 18-year-old Keven Solorzano shot at an unmarked Omaha police car with two detectives and an intern inside.

Pinales’ case is stalled as it awaits the result of Kleine’s appeal of Polk’s decision. Solorzano will be sentenced by Polk in April.

In November 2017, Polk transferred to juvenile court the case of Tyler Pitzl, who in September of that year had shot at Douglas County deputies, striking one. When Polk transferred the case, Pitzl was 15 months from turning 19.

A juvenile court judge ordered him to serve community service and probation in the shooting and an additional year of probation and 40 hours of community service on a misdemeanor charge of false reporting. In May 2018, while his juvenile court case was pending, he called 911 to report that he had been robbed at knifepoint, a story he later recanted.

Notable crime news of 2020