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Collegesgo fully virtual to recruit students
Conveying campus atmosphere is a challenge with in-person visits impossible amid outbreak

Campus tours enable prospective students to breathe a college's atmosphere and decide whether the school could become home.

But this spring, campus visits are limited to the presentations schools can make through virtual tours, which are a distant imitation of strolling through campus.

One prospective student on a virtual visit offered by Midland University last week asked: "Since we don't get to join you on campus in person, how would you describe Midland's campus feel?"

Conveying campus feel and character is the challenge for virtual tours. Colleges are doing their best to sell themselves using visits via video conferences. But by comparison to an in-person tour, virtual technology limits what colleges can show and who the prospective students can meet.

Following the coronavirus shutdown of campus tours in March, admissions teams have hustled to assemble tours via remote technology. Sessions typically are live and interspersed with some prerecorded video, photographs and charts.

Sessions can be fashioned for a student's interests and may include admissions counselors, professors, coaches and students already enrolled. Some are group sessions and some are one on one.

Dusty Newton, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, said he was "not sure we've figured out how" to provide a sense of campus character remotely. "How can we come close to that?"

Students who visit a campus are more likely to attend that school, said Sara Hanson, vice president for enrollment services at the College of St. Mary. That makes the virtual visit a critical feature of recruitment this spring, Hanson said.

Grant De Roo, principal with ADV Market Research in Iowa City, said in-person visits have always been critical to college recruitment. "It really comes down to the visit on campus," De Roo said. "It's really a gut feel."

This spring, though, admissions teams must say, "Let's just do as much as we can. Let's do whatever we can," De Roo said.

He said many colleges have moved their application deadlines from May 1 to June 1 to adjust for the confusion of this recruiting season. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Creighton University are among those.

Two Midland admissions counselors lastweek led a live, two-hour Zoom session, which was joined by more than 10 prospective students from Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, California, Hawaii, Canada, Great Britain and Hungary. Initially the students asked no questions.

Admissions counselor Polly Latshaw joked that either she was doing a great job of explaining things or the prospective students had just gotten out of bed that morning. The student from Hungary, Nora Rozsa, noted that it was almost 6 p.m. where she lives.

Brownell Talbot junior Josie Petrulis had already visited Marquette, the University of Wisconsin and Chicago-Loyola in person before the coronavirus shutdown.

Since then, she has taken a virtual tour of Hastings College and plans to take tours at other schools. Petrulis said she had heard that the Hasting campus was attractive, but it was hard to get a sense of that in an online tour. She spoke to an admissions counselor, a student and a basketball coach, among others.

She had hoped to meet remotely with a business faculty member, but time didn't allow it, she said. She said she loved her actual visit to Marquette, but Hastings is still in the running. She'll eventually have to visit the campus when the virus shutdown ends, she said, if she intends to go there.

"Pictures only tell you somuch," she said.

At Concordia University in Seward, an actual tour often includes going to the daily 11 a.m. chapel service, which impresses some parents and prospective students.

"Many of them have said, 'That's what makes Concordia special,' '' said Aaron Roberts, the school's director of admissions. The service, still given, is now livestreamed online.

Roberts said that calling every family that was lined up for an actual tour and rescheduling to the virtual variety proved challenging.

De Roo said the logistics of lining up everyone for a single virtual tour — the coach a student wants, the professor in the student's major, the admissions counselor, the college students who can describe life there — is difficult.

"The coordination there is a massive undertaking," he said.

At UNL, separate virtual meetings are often necessary, said Abby Freeman, director of admissions. A prospective student might have a virtual visit with the baseball coach one day and with a math professor another day.

"They could talk with us every day if they wanted to or felt they needed to," Freeman said. "Our goal is to be ready and available to them."


• Some schools' virtual sessions go beyond two hours, but Chris Schukei, dean of admissions at Hastings, tries to limit his to 60 to 75 minutes. Schukei, who worked with comedian David Letterman's television show for 11 years, said he thinks a student might tune out longer visits.

• At Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, a coach or an admissions counselor gives a live tour of campus with a smartphone, by Facebook Live or FaceTime.

• Creighton doesn't use prerecorded videos of campus during virtual visits, preferring instead to personalize the visit for each prospective student, said Mary Chase, vice provost for enrollment. If a student wishes, he can use Google Maps to tour the campus and buildings, Chase said.

• Metro Community College, which enrolls many older students (more than 50% of its student population) and has a different recruiting schedule from a conventional school, has just wrapped up taking photos of its campuses for its website and upcoming virtual tours.

• Chadron State last week began offering video chats with student ambassadors. Some sessions are offered Tuesday evening.

Admissions directors generally said it's too early to say how effective the virtual tours have been. Most said the technology itself — Zoom, Facebook Live, Blackboard Collaborate — has worked OK.

Concordia's Roberts said that as of April 14, his school has confirmed, through application deposits, 282 new students. That's exactly the number that had confirmed by April 14 last year, he said.

Hanson, with the College of St. Mary, didn't rule out the chance that some students might prefer the virtual visit. After all, it gives prospective students who are a long way from Omaha the chance to look the college over without a long drive or flight.

"I'll be curious whether students actually prefer the virtual visit versus face to face," she said.

Midland University President Jody Horner told the recent virtual visitors that she knew they had missed significant high school events because of the virus outbreak.

But that is no reason, Horner said, for any students to abandon their dreams. We want you, she said, to be a future Midland Warrior.

rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123

Political unrest further roils mix of health and economic crises

WASHINGTON (AP) — The global health crisis is taking a bitter political turn with tensions worsening between governments trying to keep the coronavirus at bay and people yearning to restart stalled economies and forestall fears of a depression.

Protesters worrying about their livelihoods and bucking infringements on their freedom have taken to the streets in some places. A few countries are acting to ease restrictions, but most of the world remains unified in insisting that it's much too early to take more aggressive steps.

In the United States, the Trump administration says parts of the nation are ready to begin a gradual return to normalcy. Yet some state leaders say their response to the pandemic is hindered by an inadequate federal response.

After insisting that the country's virus testing system was without fault, President Donald Trump announced Sunday that he would be using the Defense Production Act to compel increased manufacturing of testing swabs. White House officials will also hold a call Monday with the nation's governors to help walk them through where to find supplies, he said.

Trump supporters in several states have ignored social distancing and stay-athome orders, gathering to demand that governors lift controls on public activity.

Trump defended the demonstrations on Sunday night, saying "these people love our country. They want to go back to work."


Restrictions have begun to ease in some places, including Germany, which is still enforcing social distancing rules but intended to begin allowing some small stores, like those selling furniture and baby goods, to reopen Monday.

The European Center for Disease Control said the continent now hasmore than 1 million confirmed cases and almost 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

The International Monetary Fund expects the global economy to contract 3% this year. That's a far bigger loss than 2009's 0.1% after the global financial crisis. Still, many governments are resisting pressures to abruptly relax lockdowns.

"We must not let down our guard until the last confirmed patient is recovered," said South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

In Britain, which reported 596 more coronavirus-related deaths Sunday, officials also said they're not ready to ease efforts to curb the virus's spread. U.K. minister Michael Gove told the BBC that pubs and restaurants "will be among the last" to leave the lockdown, which is in place until May 7.

France's health agency urged the public to stick to social distancing measures that have been extended until at least May 11, and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said people could be required to wear masks on public transportation and suggested that no one plan faraway summer vacations.

Trump is pushing to begin easing the U.S. lockdown in some states even before his own May 1 deadline, a plan that health experts and governors from both parties say will require a dramatic increase in testing capacity nationwide. But Vice President Mike Pence insisted Sunday that the country has "sufficient testing today" for states to begin working toward the initial phases of reopening their economies.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said Sunday that his state can't begin lifting restrictions until it is able to test more people daily. "Right now, we're not even close as a nation, let alone as a state, to where we should be on testing," he said.


The Trump administration and Congress are nearing an agreement on an aid package of up to $450 billion to boost a small-business loan program that has run out of money and add funds for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.

"We're getting close to a deal," Trump said Sunday.

Along with the small-business boost, Trump said the negotiators were looking at "helping our hospitals," particularly hard-hit rural health care providers.

Adeal could be announced Monday, Trump said at a White House briefing.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier Sunday that he was hopeful for a deal that could pass Congress quickly and get the Small Business Administration program back up by midweek.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were also hopeful.

Under the emerging deal, there would be $300 billion for the small-business payroll program, and $50 billion would be available for a small-business disaster fund. Additionally, it would provide $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing, according to those involved in the talks.

special report
Omaha streets are 'a minefield': Will coronavirus concerns affect vote on $200 million street bond?

The beautiful brick homes that characterize the neighborhood north of Memorial Park don’t quite mesh with the state of the streets that run along them, some of which are pockmarked by cracks and potholes.

As nearly any Omaha driver can attest, such streets exist across the city. Voters now face a decision: Pay more in property taxes and, in exchange, the city will have more capacity to consistently repair and maintain the roads.

By voting yes on the $200 million streets bond issue appearing on the May 12 primary ballot, the City of Omaha will undertake street maintenance projects around the city, in every City Council district and dozens of neighborhoods.

The money — which would provide an additional $40 million a year over the next five years to resurface and repair residential streets and major arterial roadways — would help bridge a gap between what the city currently spends to fix and maintain roads and what experts say the city should be spending.

Weeks ago, there seemed to be little doubt about whether voters would approve the measure. Bond issues in Omaha typically win easy approval, and the problems with city streets are clear to most any driver.

Passage of the bond issue would raise property taxes by an estimated $26 for every $100,000 of valuation.

Will economic anxiety influence the outcome of the vote?

“I think it’s a wild card,” said Paul Landow, professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “Normally, you could easily predict a win for a bond issue in Omaha, but today I think that people are much more concerned about their health and the health of their family. I don’t think right at this moment they’re concentrating on the potholes at all.”

Mayor Jean Stothert, who earlier this year asked the City Council to put the bond issue before voters, said she understands that priorities have changed. Those who are out of work may view the bond issue differently than they would have two months ago, she said.

But she encouraged people to think down the road.

“We absolutely recognize that people’s priorities are different,” she said in a recent interview, “but (the coronavirus pandemic) will end. This will go away. And the issues with the roads have always been there, and they’re still there, and they will be in the future.”

Transportation experts have said Omaha should be spending $75 million a year to resurface its 5,000 lane miles once every 20 years. But the city is currently able to spend $41 million — a $34 million gap.

That funding chasm has created a lot of headaches for Omaha drivers, who consistently complain about the city’s aging streets. Stothert has said road work has been underfunded by city administrations going back decades.


North 58th Street north of Memorial Park is among the roads set for improvements under the $200 million bond issue.  

Steve Wilwerding, who lives with his wife in the Dundee area, said the streets near his home are certainly in need of more permanent repair. He’s already voted yes for the bond issue through a mail-in ballot.

The systems engineer said crews come out every year to fix potholes along Davenport Street, but the repairs don’t last long.

“I do think that the streets in Omaha are in pretty poor shape,” said Wilwerding, 40. “I think we’ve been kicking the can down the road for a really long time.”

City officials haven’t specified which roads and residential areas will see construction first, but they have created a list of priority projects to give voters an idea of where the city would begin. Bob Stubbe, the city’s public works director, said the list encompasses about $80 million to $100 million worth of work.

Projects on the list span neighborhoods across the city, including Florence, Walnut Grove, Cherry Ridge, Oak Hills, Candlewood, Miracle Hills and Happy Hollow.

Major arterial roads slated for resurfacing or repairs include 120th Street from Blondo to West Maple Road; 108th from L to V Streets; Pacific from 132nd Street to Bob Boozer Boulevard; and 60th Street from Ames Avenue to Sorensen Parkway.

The work will include a mix of street resurfacing, concrete repair/replacement and brick rehabilitation. If the bond issue passes, the city could begin related road work this summer, Stothert has said. Where the first projects occur will depend on engineering costs, planning work and other factors. Some of the money would go toward unimproved roads — streets that were never built to city standards and have badly deteriorated.

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Since Stothert took office in 2013, the city’s street resurfacing budget has increased every year. The city’s 2020 budget included $12.6 million for it. But on average, the city resurfaces about 125 lane miles each year — half of what city officials say it should be doing each year.

On Friday, the mayor warned that the city’s budget will take a hit because of the effects of the coronavirus. The city doesn’t yet know how big that hit will be, but if it were 10% of the city’s $420 million general fund budget, that would leave a $40 million hole.

The Public Works Department pays for most of its work outside of the general fund through a mix of gas taxes, sewer fees, the wheel tax and other sources.

The city could increase the wheel tax, which costs drivers $50 a year, without a public vote, but Stothert has said she doesn’t support that option to pay for more street funding. She has said it’s important that a long-range funding plan have buy-in from taxpayers.

After last year’s record-setting winter that inundated Omaha’s roads with potholes, the city spent more than $13 million from January to June to repair about 67,500 of them. Those are quick fixes, Stothert said, and a long-term pavement maintenance and rehabilitation program — like the one the bond issue would create — would fix and maintain streets on a regular basis.

“You can put those streets on a regular cycle so that they don’t get to a point where they look like a minefield,” said Stubbe, the public works director.

The $200 million in bond funding would cover only a portion of the city’s streets. The city would need to come back with a series of bond issues to keep going. Over a 20-year period, the city expects that it would have the funding to resurface every street in Omaha. Stothert has said the city can accomplish that with a one-time increase in the property tax levy.

Councilwoman Aimee Melton, who represents northwest Omaha, said she understands that many Omahans are counting every dollar right now and that a tax increase may not be attractive to some. But one way or another, Melton said, drivers will pay: either to fix damage to their vehicles caused by poor roads or through the bump in property taxes.

Councilman Brinker Harding, who represents parts of west Omaha, said it may be more important than ever for Omahans to consider passing the bond issue because of the economic impact. New roads projects would spur construction and create jobs.

Stothert made a similar argument.

“I don’t think there would be a bigger boost to our economy than having a lot more construction jobs created to work on these multiple road projects,” she said.

The unemployment rate in Nebraska jumped from 2.9% in February to 4.2% in March — its largest monthly jump in nearly 45 years.

If the bond issue fails, a new one couldn’t be added to the Nov. 3 ballot because of a law requiring at least a six-month gap, Stothert said. The following election would be the May 2021 city election, which will include the mayoral and City Council races. Stothert said she wouldn’t be interested in adding a bond issue to that election.

Votes on the bond issue are already being cast as a surge of people request early ballots. Douglas County expected to receive 125,000 mail-in ballot requests by Monday.

Stothert had planned to hold a series of town hall meetings in March and April to talk about the city’s street needs, but those meetings were canceled because of the coronavirus. Anyone who requests an early ballot should receive a pamphlet from the city with information about the bond issue.

Landow, the UNO professor who worked as chief of staff for former Mayor Mike Fahey, said he plans to vote yes on the bond issue.

“The streets are in the worst condition they’ve been in in my memory — and I’m pretty old at this stage of the game,” said Landow, 71. “I think something needs to be done.”Omaha’s 10 busiest intersections

Omaha's 10 busiest intersections

What to expect when you're expecting during coronavirus: Many Omaha moms' plans have been upended

It started with the baby shower.


Then Grandma and Grandpa’s visit from California.


And once Kelli Bello gave birth to her twins, more plans were scrapped.

Big sister Juniper wouldn’t be able to meet her new sisters at the hospital.

A newborn photo shoot was out of the question.

“There are so many things that come from your community when you bring new babies into the world, and we just slowly watched all those fall by the wayside as the virus progressed,” said Bello, who’s 35.

Women like Bello have had to upend some of their plans for delivery — and bringing baby home — as the threat of the novel coronavirus became more serious and as hospital protocol continued to evolve. Revised visitor policies and extra protective equipment are some of the bigger changes to local hospitals’ labor and delivery floors.

“People are still going to have babies in the middle of a pandemic,” said Dr. Tifany Somer-Shely, an OB-GYN with Methodist Physicians Clinic. “We’re one of the only parts of the hospital going ahead, business as usual, visitor policy aside.”

As Bello got closer to her due date, she let some of her birth plans slide. She was becoming more anxious as the virus progressed and as the state saw more cases of community spread.

She delivered twins, Joslyn and Marigold, on March 26 with husband Brian by her side.

The twins remain in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Nebraska Medical Center. Because Joslyn had gone home for a brief stint, she had to stay in an isolation unit when she returned to the hospital to eliminate any potential exposure risk.

When Bello visited her four-day-old daughter, she had to suit up in a mask, gown and gloves. Then she walked a careful path across the unit to visit her other daughter.

Bello goes back and forth to the hospital, which feels to her like the “front lines.” She puts a mask on and washes her hands at the hospital’s main entrance. Once she gets to the NICU, she has her temperature taken before she can head back. Meanwhile, her husband works from home and takes care of daughter Juniper.


Kelli Bello holds twins Marigold and Joslyn together for the first time in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Nebraska Medical Center.

Methodist Women’s Hospital has made similar adjustments in how it handles patients and visitors. People who enter the hospital are given a mask at the door and have their temperature taken. They also are screened for symptoms of the virus and asked about recent travel.

“If there’s one thing that’s consistent, it’s the inconsistency of the environment these days,” Somer-Shely said. “You have to remain flexible at all times.”

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

The precautions put in place for hospital visits and doctor’s appointments have made Davina Schrier feel safe.

Schrier, 39, is days away from giving birth to her first child at Methodist Women’s. When Schrier found out she was pregnant, delivering a baby during a pandemic was the furthest thing from her mind.

Schrier and husband Scott always knew they wanted a family, but they had struggles and disappointments along the way.

“It hasn’t gone exactly how we wanted it to go. That’s been part of us building a family,” Schrier said. “Now we’re just so happy and excited that we’re doing everything we can to not let this put a damper on that.”

The biggest disappointment, even bigger than a canceled baby shower, is not knowing when her son’s out-of-town grandparents will be able to visit.

“He’s only going to be a newborn once. Everyone has been so supportive and knows how long we’ve wanted this family,” Schrier said. “It’s going to be really hard for them to not celebrate with us and meet him right away.”

Schrier said she knows things could change by her due date, but she understands that the policies are in her best interest.

“Here I have been so proud of myself to be my age and having this wonderful, uncomplicated, perfect pregnancy. Then this thing comes out of nowhere that can change everything,” Schrier said. “The most helpful thing has been to stay positive and not let this ruin this time for us.”

If moms and babies have no complications, their hospital stays may be shortened. Women with low-risk pregnancies might have visits delayed so they’re not in the doctor’s office as often. When they do show up for a doctor’s appointment, they check in over the phone from their cars. When a room is ready, they are called into the office. Others aren’t allowed at the appointments unless there are special circumstances.

Staff scheduling changes mean women may not have their doctor there for the delivery. That can cause some stress, Somer-Shely said, but staff is trying to make it a smooth process.

The changes come with a silver lining, Somer-Shely said. Most women find that it’s a quieter, more peaceful time after delivery, which can mean better bonding with baby.

The Bellos have been celebrating little milestones, such as when Joslyn and Marigold were reunited and could share a room. The twins are working on what’s hoped to be their final milestone before heading home — getting through a full feeding without falling asleep.

“We’re still in it,” Bello said. “It’s still hard. Obviously, this is not how we saw this birth experience going. But I’m very grateful. I’ve gotten to know a lot of these doctors and nurses, and they go home to their own families and come back to work every day in this rather scary environment.”

The Schriers know they will have plenty of time at home to adjust to being a family of three. And as she processes what she has been through, Schrier said she’ll think about how to tell her son about this strange time into which he was born.

Family and friends have sent gifts to help prepare the Schriers for their new arrival. The Bellos also have felt support from loved ones: A friend set up an Easter egg hunt for their older daughter. Some people have called. Others have left food on the porch.

“This is just such a strange little slice of our lives,” Bello said, “and I hope we can look back and realize that we were surrounded by a lot of people who care for us, even if they were at a distance.”

One birth, multiple babies: 8 stories of rare cases and surprised parents