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special report
What will look different at the polls on Nebraska's pandemic Election Day

Tuesday’s primary during a pandemic is not your parents’ election. It’s a lot more like your great-grandfather’s experience during the 1918 Spanish flu.

Nebraska voters who haven’t already voted early will still head to their polling places, which state and local election officials say will be staffed and open. They’ll still stand in orderly lines, albeit farther apart.

They’ll tell a poll worker who they are. They’ll grab a ballot and return sleeve and get to vote. But a lot will look and feel different. Starting with the stickers — some counties are opting out.

Here’s what to expect if you’re going to vote or if you still need to return your mail-in ballot:

Where to vote

Nebraska polling places are largely open. Douglas County, home to Omaha, consolidated or moved a smattering of polling places across the city, although it made few changes in the eastern part of Omaha.

People who want to know where to vote Tuesday should check the Nebraska secretary of state’s website for polling places, www.votercheck.necvr.ne.gov/voterview.

Those without Internet access can call their county election commissioner, county clerk or the Secretary of State’s Office at 402-471-2555.

When to vote

Polling places in Nebraska are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Central time, and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mountain time.

Before you go

Voters are not required to wear masks, but state and local election officials recommend it. The state will make masks available for voters who show up without them.

Public health officials recommend people wash their hands, use hand sanitizer if they have it, give people at least 6 feet of social distance and vote the way folks should shop: alone.

Poll workers

Poll workers will receive a safety kit when they arrive to open up their polling place, including an N95 mask, gloves, sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and a face shield, the state says.

They have been instructed to set up polling places to maximize social distancing of at least 6 feet, based on interviews and documents obtained by The World-Herald.

They’ve also been asked to wipe and disinfect every voter touch point between uses, from the sleeves that carry ballots to the booths where people vote, so voting could take extra time.

According to the state, county election commissioners and clerks have said they have enough workers to open and adequately staff the polls.

When you go

Voters should plan to give one another room in line, at least 6 feet. Poll workers will try to help them do so inside polling places by taping off distance markers on the ground.

Secretary of State Bob Evnen said voters should not expect long lines, because more than three-fourths of regular primary voters in Nebraska have requested ballots by mail.

“We anticipate that voting at the polls will be much lighter for this primary than in the past,” Evnen said, citing internal analysis that as few as 25,000 people might show up statewide.

In some counties, including Lancaster, folks will be asked to print their own name when they sign themselves in, to reduce the potential for close contact between poll workers and voters.

Voting booths will be placed at least 6 feet apart, the state says, and voters will get their own pens to keep rather than returning them for shared use.

A sticking point

Prepare yourself for one disappointment. Some counties have opted to skip the “I voted today” stickers this time to keep things moving.

Ballots by mail

If you’re reading this, it’s likely too late to put a Nebraska ballot in the mail. State law requires ballots be received by county election officials by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday.

Take your signed ballot to a county drop box by 8 p.m., Douglas County Election Commissioner Brian Kruse and Sarpy County Election Commissioner Michelle Andahl said.

Do not try to return a ballot requested by mail to your polling place, Kruse said. Poll workers cannot accept it, officials said. And don’t mail it too late. Your vote will not count.

special report
Church was 'really wonderful' for those returning to pews on Sunday in Omaha

There were quick waves of the hand and some fingers wiggling but no hugs Sunday as the people of St. Cecilia Cathedral filed into the pews for Mass.

“It’s so good to see all of you,” Deacon James Tardy said from the altar five minutes before 9:30 a.m. Mass began. “I think that I speak for the whole staff when I say that Mass is not complete without all of you.”

Many churches in Omaha remained closed Sunday as a precaution during the coronavirus pandemic, relying instead on livestreaming of their services. Others chose to reopen while following the Nebraska guidelines that include appropriate social distancing.

A letter to all St. Cecilia members went out last week from its pastor, the Rev. Michael Grewe, asking people to sign up for the Mass they planned to attend so the capacity could remain at 50% or below. He also asked that anyone who has a health problem or is older to please stay home for a while yet.

“The archbishop has dispensed us from the obligation to attend Mass during this crisis, so I respect anyone’s decision to remain at home,” Grewe wrote. “Our 9:30 a.m. Mass will continue to be ‘live streamed,’ so that will help immensely. Should you come to Mass, please wear a mask. This will be a sign of your respect for your health and for the health of those around you.”

Members of the nondenominational Faith Family Church near 95th and Blondo Streets were among the first to return to an in-person gathering with their Wednesday night service. Carissa Eggerling, an assistant administrator, reported that everything went very well during the service attended by about 70 people.

“We are continuing online, too, for the people who aren’t comfortable returning,” Eggerling said. “Every other row of our church is blocked off and we have families sitting together, but they are at least two seats apart from the next family.”

Faith Family Church held 8 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. services on Sunday. After each service, the bathrooms and other areas were thoroughly cleaned by staff, Eggerling said.

“It’s gone very well,” she said. “We follow the guidelines and everyone has been very understanding.”

The elders at Pacific Hills Lutheran Church near 90th and Pacific Streets had been meeting to prepare for reopening. Before the 9 a.m. service Sunday, every other pew was left empty to help ensure the 50% capacity rule was met. Hymnals and bibles also had been removed from all pews.

The Rev. Dan Wittrock asked his flock at St. Bernard Catholic Church near 65th and Evans Streets to rely on common sense while following the state guidelines. There were no prayer books in the pews and ushers propped open the doors before and after Mass.

“We’re very excited about all the parishioners being together by coming back for public Mass,” said Rose Flores, the church secretary. “Our church is a good size and with the older people staying home, we don’t think there will be any problems with social distancing.”

At St. Cecilia, the Rev. James Buckley found ways to note the strange nature of the pandemic while celebrating the Mass for about 100 parishioners. Before the opening prayer, he was undoubtedly smiling beneath his mask as he paused to look out over the congregation.

“The Lord wants his people to gather not only in this church,” he said, “but for all of eternity.”

There is a point in the Mass where the celebrant asks the congregation to give a sign of peace that is normally followed with handshakes, hugs and kisses. Buckley instead asked for “a wave of peace” and there was a flurry of animation from slow-motion passes of a hand to a few two- finger peace signs reminiscent of the 1960s.

Just before concluding the Mass, Buckley also asked all the mothers present to stand for a special Mother’s Day blessing. That was special for Sharon Cyr, who said she was overjoyed to be back in a pew.

“It was wonderful, great, fantastic, awesome,” Cyr said. “I missed receiving Communion, and the blessings, of course, are very special.”

The Mass was comforting for Madalyn Holyfield, who attended with her boyfriend, Paul Cordes. Holyfield is in the process of becoming Catholic and would have been confirmed already if not for the pandemic.

“Being here today was a unique emotion for me,” she said. “It was really wonderful because I am in the (Rite of Catholic Initiation) process and I was supposed to be confirmed on Easter.”

Dr. Louis Safranek attends Mass regularly at St. Cecilia and approved of all the precautions being taken there. His brother, Dr. Tom Safranek, is Nebraska’s epidemiologist for the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I gave it my blessing,” Safranek said, with a twinkle in his eye. “I thought it was done very well. That’s what the church is all about. It is the mystical body coming together.”

______________________________________________________________Photos: Our best staff photos of May 2020

Photos: Our best staff photos of May 2020

Lost revenue due tovirus hits college budgets hard
No program or salary cuts yet in Nebraska like other colleges, but exec says they 'know it's gonna be bad'

Colleges across the nation have begun to make budget cuts as they see their finances suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Iowa State University will trim $4 million from its athletic department, mainly in pay cuts. The University of Akron in Ohio plans to consolidate its 11 academic colleges into five to address a $65 million loss. And executives at the University of Oregon, the University of Delaware and the University of Southern California have volunteered to take pay reductions.

Although Nebraska institutions aren't proposing executive pay cuts or specific program eliminations yet, public higher education leaders here anticipate a harsh budgeting situation this year and next. They say it's too early to know whether the word "brutal" might fit.

The coronavirus outbreak threatens just about every source of money that colleges and universities rely on — state money, tuition, campus events and activities, residence halls, endowments — so administrators have begun to prepare for the worst.

"I'm telling you, we are looking at every option on the table," NU chief financial officer Chris Kabourek said. "Hope is not a strategy."

Colleges here and elsewhere have started addressing the reductions that will be required if state tax revenue slumps and enrollments fall.

"What we're currently experiencing is a multitude of hits," said David Tandberg, senior vice president for research with the Colorado-based State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. "It's hard to exaggerate the extent of the problem we are facing."

Tandberg said that in past recessions, enrollments tended to rise with unemployment. That isn't expected this time, he said, because of uncertainty over what colleges will be able to offer this fall. Further, he said, the number of international and possibly out-of-state students will drop, he said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said late last week that the state is well-prepared for the budgetary challenges posed by the coronavirus. He said that state revenue through March was $296 million ahead of the forecast made last year and that the state had a cash balance of $583 million and savings of $488 million through April.

Nebraska "is in a very strong financial position coming into this emergency," Ricketts said. Budget tightening will take place, he said, but it's too early to say how much.

"Certainly we know there's going to be an impact," he said. And the virus menace will persist, he said, until a vaccine is available.

Like everywhere else, public higher education in Iowa is suffering. Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen told the Iowa Board of Regents in late April that she anticipates $88 million in refunds (for dormitory evacuations, for instance) and other lost revenue fromMarch through August.

"The financial impact on Iowa State University will be unprecedented," she said.

Many colleges, including those in the NU system and the Nebraska State College System, have assured families and students that they intend to offer on-campus courses during the fall semester. That's seen as important for maintaining enrollments, because the online classes that have been delivered this spring fail to give a student in-person contact with professors or the college experience in general.

TheUniversity of Nebraska-Lincoln is considering scenarios that anticipate a 10% cut in state money and tuition, the key factors that make up the operating budget. Two sources at the University of Nebraska at Omaha say Chancellor Jeffrey Gold has asked administrators to consider budgets requiring 5%, 10% and 20% cuts. Gold referred budget questions to the NU system's central office in Lincoln.

State Sen. John Stinner of Gering said he has suggested that weak state revenue will require cuts from that source of up to 10%, based on information from bond rating services. But it's not clear how badly the pandemic will suppress state revenues.

The Legislature will need to consider at least four months' worth of state revenues affected by the coronavirus to make projections, said Stinner, chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Numerous administrators interviewed said no employees have been laid off or given unpaid leave in public higher education in Nebraska, and no academic programs have been slashed — yet.

The Nebraska State College System declined to discuss the looming budget problems, saying it's too early to speculate on how bad they might be.

Kabourek said NU administrators generally are looking at 5% and 10% budget-cutting scenarios. Using 2019-20 as a guide, a 5% cut in state allocations and tuition revenue would approach $50 million. That's in addition to a virus-related $50 million shortfall late in the 2019-20 budget year.

He said the NU system wants to protect students, faculty members and staffers from cutbacks as much as possible, but it's realistic to expect some jobs will be affected.

The NU Board of Regents plans to approve a budget in June. That would be well before administrators, with faculty members' input, could make specific program cuts.

University of Nebraska at Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen said he has no "fluff" to trim. He eliminated three intercollegiate sports in 2017-18 and about 35 faculty members, staffers and administrators.

Kristensen said he will know better what to expect from enrollment in August. Union contracts with faculty members preclude any prompt decisions anyway. The higher education concept of shared governance with faculty members also means bringing professors into those discussions.

Program cuts are a possibility, he said, but it's wise not to discuss specific options until such announcements are necessary. "That kills that program, the moment you talk like that," he said. "It's premature to speculate on what's going and what's staying."

Kristensen said he hoped enrollment will be more solid than many fear.

The NU system last month announced that the coronavirus-related $50 million shortfall in the current year would be covered through reduced spending, federal stimulus aid, reserves and other cash. Construction projects also will be reviewed and possibly delayed. And there will be more cuts in 2020-21, Kabourek said.

The six public community colleges in Nebraska expect trouble, too. But they have the advantage of using local property tax money, something the four-year public colleges don't have.

"We know it's gonna be bad, but it's hard to know how bad," said Greg Adams, who heads the Nebraska Community College Association.

Dave Koebel, vice president for finance at Metro Community College, put it this way: "We've been preparing for the rainy day. It's raining now, I think."

UNL spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke said her institution has established "a pre-planning committee of faculty and administrators." They will develop the approach to potential budget reductions, Fiddelke said.

She also said each college and major unit at UNL will undergo its own budget review. UNL already planned to take on a new form of "incentive-based" budgeting that more rigorously considers programs' revenues, expenses and enrollments.

Nicole Buan, UNL Faculty Senate president, said administrators and faculty members have started working together on the coronavirus budget situation. Buan said that "seeing how well that is going, we are confident that shared governance will continue to be normal practice" at UNL.

NU President Ted Carter has announced initiatives to give free tuition to students from families that earn less than $60,000 a year. And he has frozen tuition for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

Carter said the university wants to maintain its enrollment and make sure students feel welcome in the NU system.

Kabourek said he liked the word "transformative" to describe this time, in which profound changes might take place.

The university has been here about 150 years, Kabourek said. "We have to look on the horizon," he said. "We plan to be here another 150 years."

Mnuchin sees 'bounce-back' ahead; Pence self-isolates

HOUSTON (AP) — Trump administration officials spoke optimistically about a relatively quick rebound from the coronavirus Sunday as life within the White House reflected the stark challenges still posed by the pandemic, with Vice President Mike Pence "self-isolating" after one of his aides tested positive.

A balancing act was playing out the world over, with leaders starting to loosen lockdowns that have left millions unemployed while also warning of the threat of a second wave of infections.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin predicted that the American economy would rebound in the second half of this year from unemployment rates that rival those of the Great Depression. Another 3.2 million U.S. workers applied for jobless benefits last week, bringing the total over the past seven weeks to 33.5 million.

"I think you're going to see a bounce-back from a low standpoint," said Mnuchin, speaking on "Fox News Sunday."

But the director of the University of Washington institute that created a White House-endorsed coronavirus model said the moves by states to reopen businesses "will translate into more cases and deaths in 10 days from now." Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said states where cases and deaths are going up more than expected include Illinois, Arizona, Florida and California.

Pence's move came after three members of the White House's coronavirus task force placed themselves in quarantine after coming into contact with the aide. An administration official said Pence was voluntarily keeping his distance from other people and has repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19 since his exposure. He plans to be at the White House on Monday.

Families, meanwhile, marked Mother's Day in a time of social distancing. For many, it was their first without loved ones lost in the pandemic. Others sent good wishes from a safe distance or through phone and video calls.

The virus has caused particular suffering for the elderly, with more than 26,000 deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the United States, according to an Associated Press tally.

At a senior center in Smyrna, Georgia, 73-year-old Mary Washington spoke to her daughter Courtney Crosby and grandchild Sydney Crosby through a window.

In Germany, officials made an exception to allow children who live outside the country to enter for a Mother's Day visit. Germany's restrictions forbid entry except for "compelling reasons," such as work.

In Grafton, West Virginia, where the tradition of Mother's Day began 112 years ago, the brick building now known as the International Mother's Day Shrine held its first online-only audience. Anna Jarvis first held a memorial service for her mother and all mothers on the second Sunday of May in 1908.

"Sheltered safely at home with the family together would be viewed by Anna Jarvis as exactly the way she wanted Mother's Day to be observed," Marvin Gelhausen, chairman of the shrine's board of trustees, said in an address on YouTube.

Matilda Cuomo, the mother of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, called into her son's daily briefing so he and his three daughters could wish her a happy Mother's Day.

The governor announced two policy reversals a day after an Associated Press report in which residents' relatives, watchdog groups and politicians from both parties alleged he was not doing enough to counter the surge of deaths in nursing homes, where about 5,300 residents have died. Nursing home staff in New York will now have to undergo COVID-19 tests twice a week and facilities will no longer be required to take in hospital patients who were infected.

The U.S. has seen 1.3 million infections and nearly 80,000 deaths, the most in the world by far, according to a tally by JohnsHopkins University. Worldwide, 4 million people have been reported infected and more than 280,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a modest easing of the country's coronavirus lockdown but urged citizens not to surrender the progress already made.

Those in the construction or manufacturing industries or other jobs that can't be done at home "should be actively encouraged to go to work" this week, he said. Johnson, who has taken a tougher line after falling ill with what he called "this devilish illness," set a goal of June 1 to begin reopening schools and shops if the U.K. can control new infections and the transmission rate of each infected person.

"We will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity," he said. "We're going to be driven by the science, the data, and public health."

Germany, which managed to push new infections below 1,000 daily before deciding to loosen restrictions, has seen regional spikes in cases linked to slaughterhouses and nursing homes.

France is letting some younger students go back to school Monday after almost two months out. And residents of some Spanish regions will be able to enjoy limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places Monday.

China reported 14 new cases Sunday, its first double-digit rise in 10 days.