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What rift? Democrats say primary rival's snub won't hurt Eastman campaign

Kara Eastman and Nebraska Democrats stumbled a bit out of the blocks on day one of their general election campaign against Rep. Don Bacon, with one of Eastman’s primary rivals declining to endorse her.

But Democrats argued that Ann Ashford’s snub — which was based both on policy and personal differences with Eastman — was not a sign of a wider rift within the party’s ranks.

To the contrary, they say, the party and its apparatus are far more in sync with Eastman than two years ago, when differences among Eastman, state party leaders and the fundraising arm of House Democrats in Washington contributed to Eastman’s narrow loss to Bacon.

“I can say for certain that Ann’s decision not to endorse Kara yet — and I use the word yet, because I’m confident it will come — is not a sign of any rift in the party,” said Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democrats. “We are moving together as a team, leaving anything that happened in 2018 behind us.”

Bacon, the Republican seeking a third term for the Omaha-area House seat, said Ashford’s non-endorsement was another indicator that Eastman’s positions on the issues are too extreme.

“Kara Eastman is so extreme that even moderate Democrats are struggling with her policy positions,” Bacon said, inviting Ashford’s supporters to join his campaign. “Most Nebraskans do not support socialism or massive government takeovers, regardless of their party affiliation.”

If the first day of the race to Nov. 3 is any indication, the Bacon-Eastman battle will be lively.

Wednesday started with the Ashford campaign’s call with reporters in which the Omaha attorney said she would not be endorsing Eastman.

She cited differences over policy, including Eastman’s support for the “Medicare for All” single-payer health care plan.

But she also cited a personal reason: a statement by Eastman in which she characterized Ashford’s motives for running as bad blood after her husband’s loss to Eastman in the 2018 Democratic primary.

“That kind of rhetoric and behavior … sets women back 50 years to a time when it was normal to characterize women as mere extensions of their husbands,” she said. “That’s actually deeply offensive.”

Eastman released a statement that downplayed her differences with Ashford.

“We may have policy differences, but these differences are minuscule compared to the differences we have with Don Bacon and Donald Trump!” Eastman said.

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Eastman said she’s excited to come together with both Ashford and Gladys Harrison, the third candidate in Tuesday’s Democratic field, to wrest the district from Republicans.

For her own part, Harrison, owner of Big Mama’s Kitchen restaurant in North Omaha, voiced her support for Eastman on Wednesday. She said any differences among the three candidates are “selfish and petty” compared to the serious issues facing the nation and district.

Several Democrats downplayed the significance of Ashford’s words.

“I think it’s unfortunate and disappointing that Ann doesn’t want to support Kara,” said Crystal Rhoades, the chair of the Douglas County Democratic Party. “But I don’t think that means those who voted for Ann won’t be open to voting for Kara.”

Paul Landow, a University of Nebraska at Omaha political science professor long active in Democratic politics in Omaha, noted that Ashford was a lifelong Republican before changing parties in recent years.

“A lot of people weren’t supporting Ashford because they didn’t feel she was a Democrat in the first place,” he said.

Two years ago, in Eastman’s first run, Democrats didn’t fully come together. Eastman supporters said the problems were rooted in the fact that party leaders had actively supported Brad Ashford in the primary. Regardless of the reason, there wasn’t a coordinated get-out-the-vote effort between Eastman’s campaign and the state party, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t help Eastman with television ads, as it did with other competitive House races.

Kleeb said that won’t be the case this year. The state party, Eastman’s campaign and the staff of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden are currently in the process of hiring the first staffers for the fall’s coordinated campaign.

“Kara’s team and our team get along great,” she said.

Similarly, Trump has a handful of staffers on the ground in Omaha who have said they’re helping the president and Bacon.

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The DCCC also showed that it’s ready to play in the 2nd District race by releasing a poll that had Eastman narrowly leading Bacon, 48% to 47%. While the numbers were well within the poll’s margin of error, 4.6 percentage points, Eastman spokesman Dave Pantos said her showing was significant in a district where Republicans enjoy a registration advantage.

“If we are up by 1%, it’s because Bacon has some work to do,” Pantos said.

But the poll numbers also suggest that Eastman has work to do. Her level of support in the district lagged Biden’s, who led Trump in the same survey 52% to 41%.

There’s no doubt that Trump will be a major factor in the race. A congressional scorecard says Bacon has voted with the president 94% of the time, and on election night Eastman repeated a claim that Bacon had “signed” a loyalty pledge to Trump that said he wouldn’t criticize the president.

Bacon has denied that he signed any such pledge. And there’s no evidence that Bacon and other Nebraska GOP officeholders who agreed to be honorary chairmen of Trump’s re-election campaign were asked to sign such a pledge.

Bacon said he sometimes disagrees with Trump. But he also said most of the president’s positions on issues like abortion, taxes and health care align much better with 2nd District voters than those of both Biden and Eastman.

“The fact is her views are too far out there and too far left for this district,” he said.

2020 Nebraska primary voting

Photos: 2020 Nebraska primary voting

As new clusters emerge, WHO warns virus may be here to stay

BRUSSELS (AP) — New coronavirus clusters have surfaced around the world as nations struggle to balance reopening economies and preventing a new surge of infections, while a top global health official warned Wednesday that COVID-19 could be around for a long time.

Several countries that had loosened restrictions were reimposing them after new clusters were found.

"This virus may never go away," Dr. Michael Ryan, a top World Health Organization official, said in a press briefing Wednesday. Without a vaccine, he said it could take years for the global population to build up sufficient levels of immunity.

"I think it's important to put this on the table," he said. "This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities," he said, noting that other previously novel diseases like HIV have never disappeared but that effective treatments have been developed.

Lebanon and South Korea have resumed restrictions on movement after a surge in cases.

Authorities in Wuhan, the

Chinese city where the corona­ virus pandemic first broke out, are planning to test all 11 million residents in the next 10 days. The order came after the discovery last weekend of a cluster of six infected people at a residential compound in the city, the first new cases in more than a month.

Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned Wednesday of the threat of a pro­ longed recession resulting from the viral outbreak and urged Con­gress and the White House to act further to prevent long­lasting economic damage.


U.S. border agencies quickly expelled 600 child migrants in April after federal agencies be­ gan prohibiting asylum claims at the southern border, citing the coronavirus pandemic. Migrants' advocates call that a pretext to dis­pense with federal protections for kids.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is defending the $3 trillion price of tag of Democrats' pandemic re­lief package as what's needed to confront the "villainous virus" and economic collapse. In an interview Wednesday with the Associated Press, Pelosi acknowledged that the proposal, up for a House vote on Friday, is a starting point in ne­ gotiations with President Donald Trump and Republicans.


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says he has been diagnosed with double pneumonia caused by the coronavirus and has not met in person with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a month. Peskov told a Russian business newspaper Wednesday that, after testing positive, he remained at home for several days until a CT scan showed infections in both of his lungs.


Uber outlined new safety proce­ dures at a virtual event Wednes­ day, a move aimed to inspire more drivers and riders to feel com­ fortable getting into a shared car again.

The rules will require drivers, passengers and food delivery cou­riers to wear face masks as cities begin to reopen across the U.S. Uber also will ask drivers to sub­mit a selfie showing them wearing a mask.


America faces the "darkest winter in modern history" unless leaders act decisively to prevent a rebound of the coronavirus, says a government whistleblower who alleges that he was ousted from his job for warning the Trump administration to prepare for the pandemic.

Immunologist Dr. Rick Bright makes his sobering prediction in testimony prepared for his appearance Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

A federal watchdog agency has found "reasonable grounds" that Bright was removed from his post as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for sounding the alarm.

Bright's testimony follows this week's warning by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, that a rushed lifting of store closing and stay at home restrictions could "turn back the clock," seeding more suffering and death and complicating efforts to get the economy rolling again.

Trump has dismissed Bright as "a disgruntled guy.''


Despite the risk that loosening restrictions could lead to infection spikes, European nations have been seeking to restart crossborder travel, particularly as the summer holiday season looms for countries whose economies rely on tourists flocking to their beaches, museums and historical sites.

The European Union unveiled a plan to help citizens across its 27 nations salvage their summer vacations after months of coronavirus lockdown and resurrect Europe's badly battered tourism industry.

The EU's executive arm, the European Commission, laid out its advice for helping to get airlines, ferries and buses running while ensuring the safety of passengers and crew. It's not clear whether EU nations will follow that advice.


The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency on Wednesday said they were probing attempts by Chinese government supported hackers and others to target U.S. organizations conducting research on vaccines, treatments and testing related to the pandemic.

The agencies warned that all U.S. institutions engaged in the work on COVID19 should assume that they're being targeted by foreign hackers looking to take valuable information.

The United States has routinely raised alarms about Chinese cyberattacks and cyberspying. The Justice Department has identified and brought charges against multiple Chinese officials involved in hacking and espionage.


Outbreaks of the coronavirus could sweep through large camps where crews typically stay as they fight wildfires across the U.S., ac cording to a federal document obtained by the AP, and the problem is likely to get worse the longer the fire season lasts.

The U.S. Forest Service's draft risk assessment predicts that even in a bestcase scenario — with social distancing followed and plenty of tests and protective equipment available — nearly two dozen fire fighters could be infected with COVID19 at a camp with hundreds of people who come in to combat a fire that burns for months.

The worstcase scenario? More than 1,000 infections.

This report includes material from CQ-Roll Call and Bloomberg.

Ricketts calls editorial critical of test effort 'premature'
G.I. paper said TestNebraska didn't share results with health officials; that, other glitches fixed, governor says

LINCOLN—Gov. Pete Ricketts announced some fixes to the TestNebraska initiative on Wednesday to address startup problems, and he pushed back against a newspaper editorial giving the program a "failing grade."

"First of all, guys, it's been a week and a half (since the testing began)," Ricketts said, when asked about the editorial. "It's a brand-new program."

"We rushed this to get it out as quickly as possible," he said. "We certainly could have spent a month or two testing this, but we thought the better deal here was to make sure we had more testing."

An editorial in the Grand Island Independent on Tuesday said TestNebraska had failed medical providers in that central Nebraska hot spot for COVID-19 because the public-private testing collaboration hadn't shared positive test results with public health officials there since testing began. That left doctors and nurses "flying blind" in battling the highly contagious virus, the newspaper said.

Ricketts said that the editorial was "premature" because Test-Nebraska data had been incorporated into the state's coronavirus data system by Tuesday night and information was now being provided to local public health districts.

Incorporating such data streams takes time, he told reporters at his daily coronavirus briefing, in which he announced that a new hotline had been set up to take citizens' questions about TestNebraska.

The previous hotline, which had been staffed by personnel with a state poison control center, had become overwhelmed will callers, leading to hours-long wait times on hold after the state, on Friday, expanded the priority for testing to those 65 & over and packinghouse workers.

The new hotline — 402-2079377 — is being staffed by employees of the Utah firms signed to a $27 million, no-bid contract with the Ricketts administration to eventually ramp up COVID-19 testing to 3,000 tests a day. That would be more than triple the amount of tests when the contract was signed April 19.

Ricketts also said a mistake had been corrected in which a local public health official had erroneously told some people who couldn't find a time slot for a TestNebraska test to come in anyway. Everyone must schedule a test, the governor said.

Ricketts on Wednesday again urged Nebraskans to sign up for testing via TestNebraska.com, saying it will help officials determine where the virus is spreading and guide decisions on loosening social distancing measures. But he also urged patience, because the rush of new applicants approved for testing had gobbled up all the available time slots for tests.

"Even if it wasn't a perfect solution, we weren't going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good," he said of the ramp-up problems.

Ricketts announced the TestNebraska initiative on April 21, the same day Iowa announced an identical Test Iowa program. Under the contract, four Utah companies — which were already running a Test Utah initiative in that state — agreed to set up an online assessment for Nebraskans and provide the hard-to-obtain equipment and supplies to dramatically expand testing in the state.

The governor has insisted that no other group of companies, including those in Nebraska, had the available COVID-19 test kits and high-tech analytical equipment necessary, though some state senators have questioned that.

Testing via TestNebraska began last week at sites in Omaha and Grand Island with CHI Health and Nebraska National Guard personnel staffing the drive-thru tents. A Lincoln site was added on Friday, and one in Schuyler started on Monday. On Thursday, a test site will open in Norfolk, and on Friday, one will debut in Lexington, replacing test sites in Schuyler and Grand Island.

A total of 1,278 people were tested Tuesday. The companies have promised to eventually provide up to 3,000 tests per day and to operate six drive-thru test sites across the state, with locations guided by the online assessments.

But there have been questions raised about the low rate of positive findings generated by the tests, both in Nebraska and in Utah. So far, of the 3,575 tests done in Nebraska, only 121 people tested positive, a rate of only 3.4%. That compares to 17% for all other coronavirus tests done in the state.

Ricketts said the disparity is because the non-TestNebraska testing has focused on hot spots across the state, such as meatpacking communities where coronavirus has infected hundreds of workers, resulting in a high rate of positive tests. TestNebraska tests, he said, have included many first responders and health care workers who have shown no symptoms, so the rate of positive tests will be much lower.

When asked if the state was collecting data to compare the rate of positive tests for just those saying they had symptoms — a more apples-to-apples comparison — Ricketts said no. He said that the testing done by TestNebraska had been validated before the program launched by comparing it with tests done by the public health lab in the state. He said he did not know if the tests had been validated since then.

Also at Wednesday's briefing:

• Ricketts updated the toll taken by the virus on residents and staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Such long-term care residents accounted for 73 of 103 deaths caused by the virus as of Wednesday afternoon. A total of 292 residents and 223 employees at 55 facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Ricketts has come under fire for refusing to release information on the numbers of cases in specific long-term care facilities, unlike Iowa and many other states. He said his policy is to release aggregate numbers only.

• The governor acknowledged that some information about infections out of a Dakota City meatpacking plant had inadvertently not been shared immediately Friday with officials in adjacent Sioux City, Iowa. The mistake was discovered Monday and rectified then, he said.

• Four-hundred vials of remdesivir, a COVID-19 treatment that has shown promise in reducing severe symptoms and preventing fatalities, are headed to Nebraska. They are part of the 677,000 purchased by the federal government. The University of Nebraska-Medical Center was among the institutions that participated in the testing of the drug.

• First lady Susanne Shore said the Nebraska Impact COVID-19 Relief Fund she helped launch has raised $340,000 so far and spent $260,000, mostly on food boxes to help those affected by the outbreak in hard-hit meatpacking communities.

She said the effort has become a "crisis response group" for families in need. Shore called for donations of money and homemade cloth masks, directing donors to the NEImpact.org website.

• Ricketts said it was appropriate for the Omaha Tribe to set up COVID-19 checkpoints at entrances to its headquarters in Macy as a way to protect tribal members, as long as the tribe wasn't blocking nearby U.S. Highway 75. In South Dakota, the governor and the Oglala Sioux Tribe have been battling over similar checkpoints.

martha.stoddard@owh.com, 402-473-9583


212 workers test positive for coronavirus after mass testing at Tyson pork plant in Madison

Increased testing at the Tyson Foods pork plant in Madison, Nebraska, which temporarily shut down last week for deep cleaning, revealed that 212 workers had COVID-19.

More than 1,400 workers, contractors and vendors at the plant, south of Norfolk, were tested by either Tyson or local health care providers at the beginning of May.

That means about 14.5% of the entire workforce there tested positive, according to the results released jointly by Tyson and the Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department, giving a clearer picture of just one of the meatpacking plant outbreaks in Nebraska.

Seventy-four of those who tested positive had no symptoms.

By Wednesday, 302 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the Elkhorn Logan Valley health district, which includes Madison, Burt, Cuming and Stanton Counties in northeast Nebraska. Most of the cases — 269 — involve Madison County residents.

Some state-ordered restrictions were relaxed in the four counties starting Wednesday, earlier than anticipated.

“Most of our mass testing results have come in, and I feel comfortable with beginning the process of relaxing the directed health measures in this district sooner than the original May 31st deadline,” Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Director Gina Uhing said in an earlier press release.

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Tyson announced May 4 it would temporarily halt production at the plant to deep-clean, sanitize and await test results. Limited production resumed Monday, Tyson spokeswoman Morgan Watchous said.

“Team members who have not been tested will be unable to return to work and all new hires will be tested prior to starting work,” she said in an email.

Workers who tested positive are on paid leave, and a number have already recovered, Tyson said in a press release.

Returning workers will undergo daily health screenings and temperature checks before they enter the plant, and workers will receive masks or face shields if they work in areas where barriers can’t be installed to separate and space out employees, Watchous said. More nurses and interpreters will be on hand to launch a coronavirus education and prevention campaign.

“As it is doing in Madison, Tyson will disclose verified test results at other plants to health and government officials, team members and stakeholders as they become available as part of its efforts to help affected communities where it operates better understand the coronavirus and the protective measures that can be taken to help prevent its spread,” the Tyson press release said.

The company has not yet released mass-testing results for its Dakota City, Nebraska, beef plant, which also temporarily closed. A source told the Sioux City Journal at the end of April that 669 workers there had tested positive. The plant employs around 4,300 people and has reopened on a slower production schedule.

Disclosing coronavirus case numbers tied to meatpacking plants has become a hot-button issue in Nebraska, where Gov. Pete Ricketts has said the state will release numbers only in the aggregate, without naming specific plants or companies. He said he has advised local health departments to ask permission from the meatpacking companies before reporting about cases at specific plants.

Ricketts also said local departments should verify employment information before reporting cases linked to specific plants, citing cases in which he said people being tested have not given accurate information.

Soon after, the Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Department said it would hold off on releasing more Tyson numbers until it received more guidance from the state.

The governor’s stance drew criticism from MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, who said Ricketts wasn’t releasing enough information about coronavirus clusters in prisons, meatpacking plants and nursing homes. Ricketts said Maddow had “her own agenda.”

As of last Wednesday, 1,005 of the state’s 6,771 coronavirus cases — just under 15% — involved employees at packing plants and other food-processing facilities.

Ricketts, on Wednesday, said that he was not planning additional steps because of the test results out of Madison but that the state continued to work with all food processors in the state about “best practices.”

He said a “playbook” for protecting packinghouse workers developed by the University of Nebraska Medical Center “was continually evolving.”

“So if we learn things, that gets updated,” Ricketts said.

World-Herald staff writer Paul Hammel contributed to this report.

Top 25 counties with the highest percapita rates of COVID-19 infection

Top 25 counties with the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 infection