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Millard students will likely wear masks in the fall, and other districts haven't ruled it out

Students in the Millard Public Schools will likely be wearing masks at school in the fall and could face other substantial changes because of COVID-19.

The district has ordered 60,000 masks, two masks for every teacher and student, officials said.

There would be some exceptions to wearing masks — for instance, medically fragile children, an official said.

The school board was briefed Monday on the district’s preliminary plans for reopening buildings for the 2020-21 school year.

Under the plans floated by district administrators, kids would be washing and sanitizing hands repeatedly throughout the day, coming and going from classes.

“We are ordering buckets and gallons of hand sanitizer,” said Chad Meisgeier, the district’s chief financial officer.

Teachers and paraprofessionals would be asked to help wipe down desks between every class period.

Lunch menus could change with limited food choices.

Although officials hope to start on time, the calendar could be modified, including a potential late start and trimming out breaks.

Whatever plans are implemented, officials said they are aware of the burden that distance learning and irregular class schedules would put on working parents and staff with children.

Officials said they expect to adhere to the state’s recommended guidance, including the recommendation that masks be worn when social distancing is not feasible.

Board President Linda Poole said some decisions are made at the state level and the district has no control. “If they say kids have to come to school with masks on, yeah, they do ... ,” she said. “So some of it we don’t have control of, but we’re trying to do what’s best for kids and our community.”

It’s not clear if other districts will take the same approach as Millard. When asked about requiring masks when school starts, most Omaha metro area public school officials told The World-Herald that it’s too early to say for sure.

Officials in the Papillion-La Vista Community Schools have ordered masks for their staff.

“We have put in an order for masks — not the disposable — the cloth double-sided,” Papillion-La Vista Superintendent Andy Rikli said.

“Our hope on the student side is that we’re going to order some masks for students,” he said. “I don’t know if we will get to a point where we will order one mask for every student.”

School officials are still not sure if students will be learning remotely, face to face or some combination in the fall because of COVID-19.

Rikli said if students are allowed back in school every day, and the health department requires masks, his district may have to order more.

If students are again learning remotely, then there won’t be a need, he said.

Omaha Public Schools spokesman Jeremy Maskel said Monday that with both the federal Centers for Disease Control and Nebraska Department of Education recommending masks, “it is part of our consideration when planning.”

“The specifics, though, will be determined as we get closer to the coming school year and have more information on health conditions and guidance,” he said.

OPS officials want to maximize in-person learning time for students, while prioritizing health and safety, he said.

Current CDC guidance says schools should “teach and reinforce use of cloth face coverings.”

The CDC also says schools can determine in collaboration with state and local health officials “whether and how to implement” the guidance in light of local circumstances.

The CDC says face coverings may be challenging for students, especially young ones, to wear in all-day settings such as school.

Face coverings should be worn by staff and students as feasible, it says, and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.

Coverings should not be placed on children under 2 or those who have trouble breathing or are unable to remove them without assistance.

State guidance effective Monday recommends masks as well as a limit on class sizes.

It allows groups of up to 20 people to gather for summer school, camps and programs, which could be extended to the fall and guide districts.

Photos: Fighting measles in Nebraska, Iowa through the years

Mourners near and far travel to pay respects to George Floyd

HOUSTON (AP) — The last chance for the public to say goodbye to George Floyd drew thousands of mourners Monday to a church in Houston where he grew up, as his death twoweeks ago continues to stoke protests in America and beyond over racial injustice, and spurred France to abruptly halt the use of police chokeholds.

In a reflection of the weight of the moment, the service drew the families of black victims in other high-profile killings whose names have become seared in America's conversation over race — among them Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin.

"It just hurts," said Philonise Floyd, George Floyd's brother, sobbing as he ticked off some of their names outside the Fountain of Praise church. "We will get justice. We will get it. We will not let this door close."

Under a blazing Texas sun, mourners wearing T-shirts with Floyd's picture or the words "I Can't Breathe" — the phrase he said repeatedly while pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer — waited for hours to pay their respects as Floyd's body, dressed in a brown suit, lay in an open gold-colored casket. Some sang "Lean on Me" and Houston's police chief bumped fists and embraced others in line.

Some knew Floyd in the nearby housing projects where he grew up. Others traveled for hours or drove in from other states. Those who couldn't make it whipped up their own tributes: In Los Angeles, a funeral-style procession of cars inched through downtown as the viewing began in Houston. In Tennessee, residents of Memphis held a moment of silence.

Bracy Burnett approached Floyd's casket wearing a homemade denim face mask scrawled with "8:46" — the length of time prosecutors say Floyd, who was black, was pinned to the ground under a white officer's knee before he died.

"All black people are not criminals. All white people are not racists. All cops are not bad. And ignorance comes in all colors. That's what I thought about when I viewed the body," said Burnett, 66.

Floyd's death on May 25 has inspired international protests and drawn new attention to the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. by police and the criminal justice system.

Hours into the viewing, a judge in Minneapolis kept bail at $1 million for Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with second degree murder in Floyd's death. Chauvin, 44, said almost nothing during the 11-minute hearing while appearing on closed-circuit television from a maximum-security prison.

Two weeks after Floyd's death, the impact continued to resonate at home and abroad.

"With this happening to him, it's going to make a difference in the world," said Pam Robinson, who grew up with Floyd in Houston and handed out bottled water to mourners waiting outside the church. The punishing heat spiked above 90 degrees and got to dozens in line, including one person who was taken to a hospital. Dozens more were helped to a cooling tent.

Comill Adams said she drove more than seven hours from Oklahoma City with her family, including two children ages 8 and 10. They wore matching black T-shirts with "I Can't Breathe" on the back.

"We had been watching the protests on TV. We've been at home feeling outraged. At times it brought us to tears," Adams said. "The fact this one is causing change, we had to come be a part of it."

Mourners were required to wear masks over fears of the coronavirus and stood 6 feet apart as they paused briefly to view the casket. On a stage behind the casket, two identical murals showed Floyd wearing a black cap that read "Houston" and angel wings drawn behind him.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbottwas among the first to view the casket, wearing a striped gold-andcrimson tie, the colors of Floyd's Houston high school, where Floyd was a standout football player.

"George Floyd is going to change the arc of the future of the United States. George Floyd has not died in vain. His life will be a living legacy about the way that America and Texas responds to this tragedy," Abbott said.

Floyd's funeral will be Tuesday, followed by burial at the Houston Memorial Gardens cemetery in suburban Pearland, where he will be laid to rest next to his mother, Larcenia Floyd.

special report
Majority of Grand Island coronavirus patients given experimental plasma and drug have gone home

In the intensive care unit at the Grand Island hospital, Juana Esther Gomez was struggling to breathe.

She had been in the hospital for more than a week battling COVID-19, but her fever was still high and her oxygen levels still too low.

The doctors and nurses at St. Francis told the 58-year-old this was her last, best shot to avoid being placed on a ventilator.

They would try one more respiratory therapy, and if Gomez and her family agreed, they could try two still-experimental treatments for COVID-19 patients.

She would receive an infusion of convalescent plasma donated by COVID-19 patients who had recovered and a drug that was being tested to see if it had any effect on the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

She prayed to God, told him that she was at his mercy, and signed off.

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She received the first dose of medication May 1, a Friday night, followed by the convalescent plasma Saturday afternoon. That night, her fever broke.

She didn’t feel quite so weak and disoriented Sunday, and she was able to eat a few bites of food. On Tuesday, May 5, after 12 days in the hospital, she was released.

One month later, she still is regaining her strength. She used supplemental oxygen for several weeks, but “now I feel so good that I can’t believe I went through all that,” she said, “that there was a time it was so bad.”

Few predicted that Grand Island and St. Francis Hospital would be at the center of a major coronavirus outbreak in Nebraska. But in April, the ICU was filling up fast with seriously ill COVID-19 patients like Gomez.

One problem: There was no cure, no vaccine and no approved treatments for this very new and very contagious virus sweeping through the region. Doctors could mostly provide what’s called supportive care: fluids, electrolytes and supplemental oxygen. They could keep patients’ vital signs stable.

So the hospital’s clinical trials staff, who typically work on cancer studies, started pulling the research and figuring out how St. Francis could get permission to use experimental drugs and treatments through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s expanded access program, also known as “compassionate use.”

There was a waiting list for remdesivir, the antiviral being used in a number of clinical trials, including one at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

But they were able to get permission to use convalescent plasma supplied by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and a drug that is FDA-approved for a different use. (St. Francis staff said they could not name the drug without the permission of the pharmaceutical company that makes it.)

Ultimately, 39 patients agreed to try the plasma, the drug, both or a respiratory technique called “proning” that involves having patients lie on their stomach to remove pressure from their lungs.

“Anyone we presented treatment to was on board,” said Sarah Einspahr, a clinical research nurse. “We really didn’t have anything else.”

Pauline Sanchez of Grand Island survived COVID-19. She was treated at St. Francis with the experimental plasma and drug. The breast cancer survivor spent seven days in the hospital before being released.

Pauline Sanchez, who, like Gomez, is 58, received both the drug and the plasma.

The Grand Island resident is a breast cancer survivor who has diabetes and prior respiratory issues. Even before she became infected with the coronavirus in late April, she used oxygen to help her breathe at night. She also faced the prospect of being intubated and placed on a ventilator. She was scared of dying while hooked up to machines.

“Cancer scared me, but not this much,” she said. “I have a lot of enemies, let me tell you, but I would not wish this on any of them.”

She spent seven days in the hospital before being released. She’s still not 100%, but she’s planning to donate her plasma, too, returning the favor in the hopes that the coronavirus antibodies in her blood can help someone else.

Critical care doctors and nurses like Dr. Nikhil Jagan were pulling jam-packed 12-hour shifts to care for the ill, which included having to put on and remove masks, gloves and gowns multiple times a day and talk by phone to family members who were barred by hospital rules from visiting.

Jagan said he was trying to keep up with the latest news and treatments during his off hours. But having Einspahr, clinical research manager Mary Gulzow and others research treatments and set up the approval process was a huge help.

“Without a strong clinical research staff and a supportive environment,” he said, “it would not have been possible.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Jagan treated some patients with hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug initially touted by some as promising. But the hospital stopped using it as more evidence emerged about its effectiveness and concerns were raised about possible side effects.

Securing patient consent for the plasma and the drug was not an easy task.

A number of the COVID-19 patients treated at St. Francis did not speak English and required interpreters. Some were so sick that they were barely conscious, and a family member had to decide if they wanted them to receive the plasma or the drug.

When a patient did consent, an extensive process began that involved a witness who had to suit up before entering the person’s hospital room. The patient would give his or her verbal OK and the witness, usually a nurse, would actually sign the consent form outside the room for fear that even the paper could become contaminated with the virus.

Some patients who received the treatments still died. So far, the hospital has treated more than 100 COVID-19 patients.

But “the overwhelming majority of patients who received one of those treatments went home,” Gulzow said. “The majority of patients had positive outcomes with the drug and the plasma.”

Their patients and data could become part of ongoing research. Researchers still are trying to determine if convalescent plasma and different drugs reduce COVID-19 death rates or result in shorter hospital stays.

“Hopefully, we find out there are treatments that are effective,” Einspahr said.

Gomez is grateful for the medical care she received, especially when Grand Island, and its Latino community, has been hit so hard by the virus, she said. She’s an immigrant from El Salvador, and her entire family became sick with COVID-19.

Gomez’s son, who lives with her and her husband, became ill first — they think he may have been exposed at his job as a social worker. Then, her husband and daughter got sick. They all were quite ill, but they able to recover at home while Gomez was hospitalized.

The St. Francis staff helped her return to them.

“I don’t know how to pay them back,” she said.

Photos: Nebraska's coronavirus helpers

Dozens tell Nebraska lawmakers their frustrations with police, ideas for change

Feelings of frustration, mistrust and dissatisfaction with law enforcement and the criminal justice system spilled out Monday at a listening forum of the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, as each speaker shared his or her own personal anecdotes about injustice.

Keondre Jackson listed his interactions with Omaha police since he was 12 years old, including one time he called 911 to report someone who was doing drugs in a Walgreens restroom. Now 22, he said he felt officers treated him as a criminal.

Halley Taylor, a teacher at Omaha South High School, said that it appears officers never exhaust pepper balls or tear gas, but she runs out of paper for her classroom every year.

The Rev. Darrell Goodwin said in the past year in Omaha he’s been pulled over three times by law enforcement.

“No reason, no citation,” he said. “I was simply given a warning for driving black in the state of Nebraska.”


Rev. Darrell Goodwin speaks to members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee at a listening session on policing and minority treatment.

The eight state senators on the committee listened to dozens of public commenters from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Scott Conference Center — an event that was scheduled because of recent protests of the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd and Omahan James Scurlock, as well as other issues of racial inequality. State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, who is on the committee and is the attorney for Scurlock’s family, encouraged people to attend during Sunday’s march down Dodge Street.

Another session will be Tuesday at NET’s headquarters in Lincoln. Both sessions are livestreamed by NET.

Chairman Steve Lathrop of Omaha said he looked forward to listening to everyone’s experiences, concerns and ideas for change.

“The events of the last two weeks have demonstrated the need for a dialogue,” he said. “Today isn’t a day for politicians to speak, it’s a day for the community to speak.”


Chairman Steve Lathrop of the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee at a listening session.

At least 90 people signed up to speak and were each given five minutes to talk. Several appreciated the chance to be heard in a public forum by lawmakers but also said that it was time for actual change.

“I’m tired of people talking about listening,” said Gwen Easter, who spoke about gentrification in North Omaha and how it has affected her community center nonprofit and child care business. “No, I want some action.”

Many speakers identified specific reforms and changes they’d like to see within law enforcement. Some of the ideas included taking funding away from policing and instead investing in mental health or public defenders, requiring officers to take ongoing cultural competency training or psychological testing or forming citizen review boards statewide that have power to hold agencies accountable.

Alisha Shelton mentioned Floyd’s death and the officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. She said there’s a law to protect bystanders who render aid at emergency scenes and there should be a law to protect those who step in to protest officer wrongdoing.

“I want protection for bystanders to be able to say, if you’re not going to check yourself if you are draining the life out of somebody, I’m going to tell you to stop,” she said, to applause from the roughly 100 people in the room. “I don’t know what I could have done as a black woman to not also have been arrested.”

She also said officers should live in the neighborhoods that they patrol.

“You do need to know the people who you are serving,” she said. “And I think we need to bridge that gap.”

Former Omaha Police Officer Tariq Al-Amin said there’s a great relationship between the department and “organizations that have the ear of the administration” but that hasn’t trickled down with citizens.

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“Community policing is when the officer can get out of his car … and go in and introduce themselves to business owners or people on the street,” he said.

He also said law enforcement needs to better educate the public on what to do during a traffic stop or inform them of their rights during a search.

Clarice Dombeck, a UNO student majoring in black studies and sociology, said more black leaders are needed at the Omaha training academy and the Nebraska Law Enforcement Training Center. She said the listening session was a good opportunity for her voice and others to be heard and for it to turn into action.

“It’s a start,” she said. “Time is up for this white supremacist capitalistic system.”

Ja Keen Fox recounted a time where he was being pulled over for a headlight that was out — but felt unsafe to do so in a dark area. He called 911 so dispatchers could relay to the officer that Fox planned to drive to a well-lit area and pull over. The message wasn’t received or was miscommunicated, he said. When he pulled over, he said, there were eight police cruisers surrounding him and officers with guns drawn.

“Not only was I feeling unsafe, I was unsafe,” he said. “Black and brown people believe the police to be a part of what is making the public unsafe. We need to acknowledge the police as a barrier to actual public safety.”

He called for the demilitarization of police and said it’s not possible to “increase peace in our state while also stockpiling weapons of harm and hate.”


Alisha Shelton speaks to members of the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “I want protection for bystanders to be able to say, if you’re not going to check yourself if you are draining the life out of somebody, I’m going to tell you to stop,” she said.

Several spoke about their recent experiences while protesting when Omaha police officers and other law enforcement fired pepper balls and tear gas into the crowd. They said that wasn’t right.

Fox apologized for his raspy voice because he had been protesting outside Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine’s home recently against Kleine’s decision to not charge bar owner Jake Gardner in the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Scurlock.

Later Monday, a judge appointed a special prosecutor in the case that will be brought to a grand jury to decide on potential charges.

Numerous people asked for justice for Scurlock and said they didn’t understand Kleine’s decision.

“A self-proclaimed white supremacist came to a racial protest with a loaded gun and killed a black man and was never even booked into jail that night,” Elexis Martinez said.

Gregory Hepburn said he could barely put into words the sense of relief he feels when his two black and Mexican sons return home safely. He acknowledged the Omaha Police Department’s positive work with Police Athletics for Community Engagement but said implicit and explicit bias still exists and must be fixed.

Jackson, the man who had called police to report a crime but himself felt treated as a criminal, said some police funding should address education, homelessness and poverty. And he noted that other young people are leaving Nebraska.

“I feel safer in the South than I do here,” he said. “I’d much rather deal with Confederate flag-waving racists in the South than the closet racists (here),” he added to loud applause.

Several rallies and protests in Omaha on Friday

Photos: Several rallies and protests in Omaha on Friday