LINCOLN — A survey of Nebraska businesses done in April indicated that 87% have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting loss of traffic and sales.

“The impact is vast, touching every part of Nebraska and every industry,” said Cathy Lang, the head of the Nebraska Business Development Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The survey, done to gauge the extent of economic damage done by the pandemic, also indicated that the average loss of revenue among respondents was 44% while the average impact on employment was a drop of 35%.

But Lang said she was encouraged at the number of companies that, despite that, were still working to retain their employees and maintain their hours. About 42% of respondents statewide said they were not planning to cut employees or their hours.

“Something very special is happening in our state,” said Lang, a former state labor commissioner. “Let’s just say, our businesses and organizations are doing all they can to keep the economy of Nebraska going.”

The survey, conducted from April 15 to 25 by the UNO business center, got 4,500 responses. A follow-up survey is planned in June to see if conditions are improving or worsening.

Among the findings in the survey released Tuesday:

  • The hardest-hit sectors were arts and entertainment, health care and social assistance, educational services, and lodging and restaurants.
  • On average, the businesses reported that 50% of their workforce has been able to work remotely from home.
  • 71% of the businesses had placed some restrictions on the public entering their workplace.
  • The two top concerns expressed by survey respondents were the financial impact on their operations and how long the quarantine restrictions will last.
  • The regions of the state reporting the worst business damage were Omaha (92% of respondents) and Lincoln (91%).

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who unveiled the survey during his daily coronavirus briefing Tuesday, said the results will be used by state economic development leaders to craft strategy on how to reopen the state as restrictions on businesses and gatherings are gradually lifted.

In other news from the briefing:

Increasing testing

Ricketts said that over the past week, roughly 22,200 COVID-19 tests had been reported to the state’s dashboard, compared with 13,300 the previous week. Testing should continue to increase, he said, as the state’s $27 million TestNebraska initiative continues to ramp up. The program is slated to provide 3,000 tests per day by the end of the month.

More contact tracers

The state has hired 40 workers at an Omaha company, Professional Research Consultants, to supplement the 266 contact tracers who have been hired by the state. More private firms, Ricketts said, will be retained to do the contact tracing, which seeks to discover with whom an infected person had come into contact and to get those people to isolate and not spread the virus.

The state’s goal is to eventually employ 1,000 contact tracers. Such research, the governor said, is a key to being able to identify who should avoid social contact and stay home and who can “return to a more normal life.”

PPE supply

Ricketts said the state now has a 60-90 day supply of personal protective equipment and is “looking good” in terms of its supply. The equipment is distributed to the state’s local public health districts, which then distribute them to first responders, health care workers and others in their respective areas based upon their requests.

Meetings via Zoom

The governor extended an executive order through the end of June that allows local town councils and county boards to continue to hold meetings via Zoom and other social media platforms. But he said he would not be extending that order beyond then.

Paying rent

Ricketts also said he’s letting an executive order expire at the end of May that had blocked court action to evict renters due to nonpayment of rent caused by the coronavirus. The governor said that with pandemic aid and unemployment checks now flowing, renters need to pay their bills now so they “don’t fall too far behind on rent and not catch up.”

Hospitalized cases

The percentage of people who test positive for COVID-19 who are hospitalized is dropping, the governor said. A month ago, about 11% of those who tested positive ended up in the hospital, a rate that has dropped to about 4.8% now. That makes sense, Ricketts said, because initially, the only people being tested for the coronavirus were those who came to a hospital with an illness.

Nursing homes

The state’s nursing homes continue to be hard hit, with 380 residents of care centers and 280 employees testing positive so far. Of the state’s total coronavirus deaths, 62 have been nursing home residents.

Bars still closed

Bars and lounges that don’t serve food are being asked to remain closed, Ricketts said, in large part because more of their patrons stand and cluster closer together than do restaurant patrons, producing prime conditions for spreading the virus.

Some bar owners have complained that some taverns, brewpubs and sports bars, with minimal food service, are being allowed to reopen when bars that do not serve food cannot. The governor said he will be looking at whether to relax restrictions on bars in June. “This is not something that is permanent,” he said. “We’re doing this one step at a time.”

Our best staff photos of May 2020

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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