A1 A1
Local
special report
News to start your day: A few stores are limiting meat purchases; Omaha schools ponder options

The latest coronavirus numbers

Nebraska cases: 6,438

Nebraska deaths: 81

Iowa cases: 10,111

Iowa deaths: 207

U.S. cases: 1.23 million

U.S. deaths: 71,921

Meat purchases are being limited at a few grocery stores

Grocery stores including Hy-Vee, Baker’s, Sam’s Club and Costco are beginning to limit meat purchases as meatpacking plants stricken by the coronavirus scramble to stay open and fully staffed.

But there’s no need to run out and fully stock the freezer, yet.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and an agriculture professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said they don’t expect imminent meat shortages, even as the ongoing pandemic forces more Americans to stay home and cook more meals there, driving demand at the grocery store.

“You may not find the same selection you found before, but you’re going to find … something to be able to feed your family,” Ricketts said Tuesday at his daily coronavirus briefing.

Read more.

Omaha-area schools are considering their options for the next school year

The Omaha Public Schools board was about to approve the purchase of 54,400 iPads to help with distance learning for the next school year.

But first, school board member Lou Ann Goding wanted to know what the purchase signaled about the start of school.

Did the purchase mean the district anticipated not opening this fall? Or were the iPads there to help in case the district had to close later?

“I think if my crystal ball was working that well it would be great,” OPS Superintendent Cheryl Logan said. “I don’t know.”

Superintendents across the state are trying to prepare for the myriad of ways the novel coronavirus outbreak could disrupt school in the fall. But they are dealing with a lot of unknowns.

Read more.

Gov. Ricketts defends decision not to impose stricter restrictions

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and three other Republican governors joined Tuesday in a guest editorial defending their decisions not to impose stricter coronavirus restrictions.

All five hail from states in the middle of the country that have taken heat on the national stage for their approaches to the pandemic.

Three, including Nebraska, Iowa and Wyoming, did not impose stay-at-home orders on state residents. The two others, Arkansas and Missouri, gave businesses more leeway in staying open than many coastal states.

Read more.

Photos: Our best staff photos of May 2020

Photos: Our best staff photos of May 2020

Education
special report
Omaha-area school districts considering several options for start of next school year

The Omaha Public Schools board was about to approve the purchase of 54,400 iPads to help with distance learning for the next school year.

But first, school board member Lou Ann Goding wanted to know what the purchase signaled about the start of school.

Did the purchase mean the district anticipated not opening this fall? Or were the iPads there to help in case the district had to close later?

“I think if my crystal ball was working that well it would be great,” OPS Superintendent Cheryl Logan said. “I don’t know.”

Superintendents across the state are trying to prepare for the myriad ways the novel coronavirus outbreak could disrupt school in the fall. But they are dealing with a lot of unknowns.

Since last month, Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt has advised districts to draw up contingency plans in case the coronavirus crisis lingers.

Blomstedt said Tuesday that he hopes to produce a set of statewide protocols on reopening that would guide district officials as they work with local health departments to make decisions for the fall.

The World-Herald's complete coronavirus coverage

What health experts say about social distancing will be a crucial factor in deciding when and how to open.

The 6-foot spacing would be difficult to implement in classrooms of 20 or 25 students and next to impossible in the congested hallways of some middle schools and high schools.

If gatherings are limited, that would create problems in classrooms and cafeterias.

Logan said district officials have prepared several calendars with potential scenarios for next school year, which will be presented soon to the OPS board. Logan said she is “very certain” that schools will be called upon to participate in community disease mitigation again.

Logan said she also expects spot outages to occur, meaning classrooms and schools will have to close because someone in the school community has tested positive for the virus, which then will prompt teachers and students to stay at home.

The iPads, Logan said, will help students and staff go from attending schools to remote learning.

Millard Public Schools Superintendent Jim Sutfin sees four potential scenarios for fall: a normal opening, a delayed opening, an opening with a blend of classroom and remote learning and opening entirely with remote learning.

Sutfin said the district also must be ready to open normally but then shut down for some period because of an outbreak.

Millard, he said, will be ready to implement the right option to match the health conditions.

“We will have them worked out to the best of our ability,” he said.

The most difficult option, he said, would be to open entirely with remote learning.

In normal years, Sutfin said, teachers use those first days and weeks of the year to establish relationships and routines with students.

Westside Community Schools Superintendent Mike Lucas laid out several potential scenarios for next school year in a letter home to students and staff. He stressed that nothing is written in stone.

“It is too early to tell,” he wrote.

For example, if school can’t start until September, Westside would adjust the calendar and end the year in June.

Or if classes have to stay small, half of the students might go to school on Mondays and Wednesdays, with the other half going on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and alternating Fridays.

Lucas wrote that he’s committed to having kindergarten roundup and middle and high school orientation because “those transitional pieces are critical to our students’ success in new surroundings.”

Photos: Nebraska's coronavirus helpers

Money
TD Ameritrade plans to hire 275 in Omaha as online activity booms amid shutdown

Layoffs, job furloughs and working from home in March have contributed to booming activity for TD Ameritrade — and the need to hire more workers.

As the American economy sputters through the coronavirus pandemic, Omaha-based TD Ameritrade churns with record-setting bustle.

The online brokerage firm aims to hire 275 people for its Omaha team and more than 525 others for TD Ameritrade jobs in four other cities around the country.

TD Ameritrade said the first three months of this year broke records, and the company expects activity to remain high. The company cited the volatility of the market as the primary reason for the surge in action.

The demand from new and old customers is great, said spokeswoman Becky Niiya. “And we want to make sure we have the staff to be able to service them,” Niiya said.

The coronavirus crisis shows why it’s critical to support local journalism

All of the Omaha jobs, and most of the more than 800 nationwide, will fall under the category of “entry-level financial services trainees,” Niiya said. The job involves a mix of telephone and online client service.

From January through March, the company had a record number of client trades, 2.1 million per day, TD Ameritrade said through its quarterly report. The prior record, set in the previous quarter, was 1 million — less than half the new record.

TD Ameritrade also registered a record for net new client assets of $45.4 billion.

TD Ameritrade attributed the furious activity to, among other things, the volatility of the market and the fact that more people stayed home in March because of the coronavirus situation and therefore had time to manage their investment portfolios. Further, TD Ameritrade went to zero-commission trading last year, just as Charles Schwab and some other companies did.

Schwab announced late last year that it had reached an agreement to acquire TD Ameritrade. TD Ameritrade interim president and CEO Steve Boyle said only days ago that the deal is expected to be complete in the second half of 2020.

Despite the frantic demand for Ameritrade’s services, the value of TD Ameritrade’s publicly traded stock fell from $52.65 per share in early May 2019 to $36.06 as of Tuesday. Financial services businesses generally have suffered during the recent stock-market decline and coronavirus crisis.

The World-Herald's complete coronavirus coverage

Boyle last month called this period unprecedented. “As we’ve seen before in times of market uncertainty, clients increasingly turned to our educational resources. … It goes without saying that an environment such as this has resulted in heightened client engagement.”

Boyle added that TD Ameritrade delivered its services last quarter “in the midst of a herculean effort to transition our workforce to a work-from-home program” because of the virus outbreak.

TD Ameritrade also needs workers in Chicago, St. Louis, San Diego and the Dallas suburb of Southlake.

Potential employees may fill out an online application at jobs.tdameritrade.com and then type in “financial services trainee” in the appropriate box. Officials declined to give a starting wage.


Our best staff photos of May 2020

Photos: Our best staff photos of May 2020

Local
special report
Erin Grace: 2020 releases a new horror — murder hornets

Murder hornets are a real thing, and they’ve crossed the globe to North America. How very 2020!

It makes perfect sense as coronavirus swirls and the economy tanks that biology would try to squeeze onto this crowded stage and share some of misery’s spotlight.

In case you missed the buzz, a creature described as the world’s largest hornet, with Hannibal Lecter-style sadistic tendencies, has arrived in our hemisphere. It mostly goes after bees. But should you accidentally stir up a murder hornet’s nest, at best you’ll feel like you’ve been pricked with a fire-hot thumbtack.

At worst, you’ll die.

For help understanding this latest threat, I interrupted Creighton University biology professor Ted Burk. He was grading papers but I had to, you know, bug him.

TED BURK 

Ted Burk is a biology professor at Creighton University.

First, some good news. Are you apt to run into a murder hornet in Omaha?

The odds of that right now, said the professor, who specializes in entomology and animal behavior, “are pretty fairly low.” The species is native to eastern Asia but recently has been spotted in the Pacific Northwest. It probably hitched a ride on a container ship.

A murder hornet might someday feel right at home in temperate Nebraska, especially in hilly, wooded parts of Omaha. But if that happens, Hannibal the Hornet is so big (ew) and conspicuous (ewwww) — with hives the size of shoeboxes or basketballs (Mama!) — that Burk said chances are good of detecting and eliminating colonies.

One cannot be too careful, though. So, professor, what does this creature look like?

“They get up to two inches long,” he said. “They’re very big. They’re actually quite striking. The head and abdomen are a bright orange. The thorax is a darker brown. They almost look like shiny plastic — very bright and colorful. Pretty distinctive.”

He said a good local comparison is the cicada killer, a kind of wasp that appears in these parts in late summer. But murder hornets are bigger and nastier and, unlike their cicada-killing relatives, harmful to humans.

“They are actually quite vicious insects,” he said. “They go around catching and killing and munching up any kind of large insect.”

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 

The Asian giant hornet, dubbed the “murder hornet,” is a 2-inch-long killer with an appetite for honey bees. It has been found in Washington state and entomologists are making plans to wipe it out.

These carnivorous murder hornets go after insects like honey bees with a premeditated plot: Hornet scout finds beehive. Marks it. Goes back and recruits other murder hornets to attack the beehive. The poor honey bees are generally defenseless as the bigger hornets bite off their heads, wiping out a beehive “in one afternoon.”

Murder hornets are “very devastating” to European honey bees. Japanese honey bees have adapted with “a fascinating defense,” that involves attacking the hornet scout.

“They swarm it, bite and grab on and shiver to generate heat,” Burk explained. “They raise the temperature up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit or greater and bake the wasp to death so it can’t go back and recruit its nest mates.”

This makes honey bees, so necessary for pollination, even more lovable. They kill in self-defense — with a hug.

The murder hornets don’t seek out human victims. But they tend to burrow in cool, out-of-the-way places that a person could stumble upon. Then they react with cell-destroying stings with neurotoxins that are, Burk said, “very, very painful.”

“In Japan and China and East Asia where these guys are from,” he said, “there are dozens of fatalities each year.” In fact, it’s advised that if one gets 10 stings “you should head straight for a hospital.”

THE WASHINGTON STATE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE 

The Asian giant hornet, dubbed the “murder hornet,” is a 2-inch-long killer with an appetite for honey bees. It has been found in Washington state and entomologists are making plans to wipe it out.

Honey bees can be deadly to humans, too. Some people are allergic and go into anaphylactic shock when stung by a bee or wasp — or a murder hornet.

Nature can be cruel, but these murder hornets didn’t just fly here by themselves.

Burk said that the murder hornets are just another example of an invasive species that arrives quite innocently through increased world trade. These Asian insects hitched rides to the United States on boats just like European species did hundreds of years ago. You can thank Europe, he said, for clover, dandelions, house mice and rats.

The murder hornets like to make homes in abandoned mouse burrows, hollowed out areas around tree roots and, Burk posits, inside shipping containers. All it takes is a single, mated queen inside a shipping container to spread a species beyond its normal borders.

Somewhat like coronavirus. Said Burk: “The increasing interchange among people around the world is a common thread here.”

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.

Murder hornets are terrible for honey bees who already face challenges. Hornets native to Nebraska are pests but an important part of the food chain.

Burk said he wished people had “a more tolerant attitude in general about nature” — and in particular about scary-looking, scary-acting creatures. He said the name “murder hornet” was “really unfortunate.” After all, we don’t go around ascribing criminal motives to other predators such as lions, tigers or eagles.

And Burk noted that the world’s most dangerous animal is the one you see in the mirror.

Ouch!

That stung.


Our best staff photos of May 2020

Photos: Our best staff photos of May 2020