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DHM extended through Nov. 24

DHM extended through Nov. 24

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WAVERLY – Because COVID-19 cases, positivity rate and hospitalizations remain at high levels, local regulations requiring the wearing of masks in public places in Lancaster County has been extended another month, according to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD).

The LLCHD announced Oct. 26 that the local Directed Health Measure (DHM) that was set to expire Oct. 28 has been extended through 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 24.

The mask requirement will affect fans from outside of Lancaster County who attend the State Volleyball Championships this week in Lincoln.

The DHM, which took effect Aug. 26 in response to the Delta variant appearing in the state. It requires all individuals ages two and older must wear a mask indoors, whether they have been vaccinated or not.

There are exceptions. For example, individuals who are eating or drinking while seated, exercising or working in a job that prevents wearing a mask. Also if you are obtaining services or buying items that require temporary removal of the mask, that is permitted. Persons who are giving a speech, lecture or broadcast can take off their mask as long as the audience is six feet away.

If a person has a medical condition, a mental health condition or a disability that prevents them from wearing a mask, they are also exempt.

People participating in a court hearing, members of the Nebraska Legislature that are meeting or in session and individuals accessing federal or state government services are also allowed to remove their masks.

Masks are also not required if a person resides in a congregate living setting, group home or residential drug and/or mental health treatment facility or a shelter.

Despite the extension of the DHM, there was good news on the pandemic front. Health Director Pat Lopez said Lancaster County reached its initial goal of having 75% of residents ages 16 and over are fully vaccinated on Oct. 26.

Lopez said the next focus for the Health Department is to fully vaccinate 75% of all Lancaster County residents. Currently about 60% of the 319,000 residents in the county are fully vaccinated.

“Since the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in mid-December of last year, we’ve seen a tremendous response from our community and our partners,” Lopez said. “Achieving this milestone gives us reassurance that we’ve been able to reach and help protect a significant portion of our population through vaccination.”

The COVID-19 Risk Dial remains in elevated yellow for the third consecutive week. This means that the risk of the virus spreading and the impact on the community is moderate. On the color-coded dial, red represents the highest risk of COVID-19 spread, and green represents the lowest risk.

The position of the Risk Dial is based on multiple local indicators and information from the previous three weeks.

- The seven-day rolling average of new daily cases has leveled off at about 80 cases a day for the first three weeks of October. Lopez said LLCHD would like to see a sustained average of 40 to 45 cases a day.

- The community positivity rate has remained in the 9% to 10% range for the past 10 weeks. Lopez said a rate down in the 5% to 7% range would indicate that the risk of transmission is reduced.

- The seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations has been below 100 patients since October 6, but Lopez said that number is still too high and local hospital capacity remains a serious concern for the entire community.

- Eighteen local residents have died from COVID-19 in October. Ten were unvaccinated.

For general information on COVID-19, visit covid19.lincoln.ne.gov or call the Health Department hotline at 402-441-8006.

Reach The Waverly News staff at news@newswaverly.com.

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WAVERLY – The Waverly Board of Education will hold a recall election in January after petitioners received the 88 signatures needed to force a vote to remove school board president Andy Grosshans from his position. 

The recall bid was filed by Rebecca Kellner-Ratzlaff following the board’s extension in July of a resolution that gives Waverly Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Cory Worrell the authority to make decisions on the district’s COVID-19 response without waiting for a scheduled school board meeting or calling a special meeting. 

“In passing this resolution, Mr. Grosshans silences the representation he was elected to uphold by his constituents,” Kellner-Ratzlaff wrote in her request for petitions filed on Sept. 7.

Grosshans’ defense statement included with the petition read: “For 12+ years, I have worked hard to make well-informed decisions to provide the students of District 145 with a safe environment in which to receive an outstanding education. In these difficult times, I hope for continued understanding and patience as we use key resources and area experts to do what’s in the best interest of all students.” 

The resolution was developed and approved at the start of the pandemic in April 2020, and the school board voted on July 5 to extend the resolution for the duration of the 2021-22 school year. 

Grosshans said the school’s attorney, Justin Knight, estimated that 90% of Nebraska school districts adopted similar resolutions in the 2020-21 school year, and approximately 40% readopted the resolutions for the current school year. Knight told Grosshans that many school districts felt like the worst of the pandemic had passed and that they could “let their guard down” for 2021-22.

“We didn’t feel that things were over yet and that we could afford to do that,” Grosshans said. “We felt it was important that Dr. Worrell had the ability to make quick decisions. These things with COVID can happen very, very rapidly, and if we have to rely on calling a meeting where it’s days out, then sometimes we’re losing valuable time.” 

The risk of COVID-19 transmission in Lancaster County is still high, according to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department’s risk dial.

In August, Worrell exercised his authority granted by the resolution, choosing to follow a recommendation from the LLCHD that children under the age of 12 wear masks in school. Masks are currently required for all pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students in District 145.

On Sept. 6, District 145 parents attended the school board’s regularly scheduled meeting to voice their concerns over the decision to require masks in school. One parent, Angie Stara, co-founded a Facebook group called “Unmask Our Dist. 145 Kids,” and wrote in an email to The Waverly News after the meeting explaining that the group’s goal was “to get the school board members to take back the power they gave to the superintendent, back in July, to make all COVID-related decisions solely by himself.”  

The next day, Kellner-Ratzlaff filed for the petition to recall Grosshans. She was part of the “Unmask Our Dist. 145 Kids” group and in August had been active in petitioning against the school board’s initial decision to require masks for the 2021-22 school year. Kellner-Ratzlaff could not be reached for comment. 

Grosshans said he understands why citizens are frustrated, but he said the district’s COVID-19 response has been geared toward ensuring students receive an in-person education.

“I’m like everybody, I don’t like wearing a mask any more than anybody else does,” Grosshans said. “But I have a responsibility to the students and staff of this district to do everything we can to keep people safe and healthy while also providing the best option for quality education.”

Grosshans was a write-in candidate for the Waverly school board Ward 4 seat in the 2020 election. He had previously served on the school board since 2008 but hadn’t planned to run for the seat in 2020. No other candidates filed to run by the March 2, 2020 deadline, and the pandemic made its first impact locally that month.

“I thought, well, I’ll go ahead and try to serve another term to help get through this really difficult time,” Grosshans said. “By that point, I had to run as a write-in candidate, and by its very nature, that’s going to attract a lot fewer votes.” 

He won the election with 101 votes out of 249 total. For a recall petition to be sufficient under state statute 32-1303 (1), it must receive signatures totaling at least 35% of the number of votes cast in the general election. Rounded up, 35% of 249 works out to 88. 

Now, the nearly 1,400 voters in Ward 4 will receive mail-in ballots that read: “Shall Andy Grosshans be removed from the office of the Board of Education of Lancaster County School District 55-145, a/k/a Waverly School District 145?” Voters will then check “Yes” or “No.” Ballots must be returned to the Lancaster County Election Commission by 5 p.m. on Jan. 11.

Sam Crisler is a reporter for The Waverly News. Reach him via email at sam.crisler@wahoonewspaper.com.

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