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The legislative chambers inside the Omaha/Douglas County Civic Center.

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to receive reports on the corrections department and COVID-19, as the Omicron variant wave subsides.

Douglas County Corrections Director Mike Myers said that the department experienced an “unprecedented” 95 staff members who missed time because of COVID throughout January. This resulted in nearly $600,000 being spent on overtime pay.

Myers reported 44 confirmed COVID cases among inmates, but said the actual number was likely higher. Meyers said they didn’t have the resources to test everyone in custody, so testing was limited to symptomatic inmates. Positive cases were reported in 28 of the jail’s 30 housing units.

“It was a rough month,” Myers said.

To combat COVID, Myers said the corrections department implemented an N95 mask mandate on Jan. 5 and continued to promote vaccinations for staff and inmates. Over 1,500 inmates received a vaccine dose throughout the month, and 75% of staff have been vaccinated.

To address a growing demand for transparency in the criminal justice system, the Douglas County Corrections Department will be among the first correctional facilities in the United States to implement body-worn cameras for the entire department, Myers said. He said the cameras will be implemented in early April.

“This will improve safety for our staff, and provide greater transparency to the public,” Myers said.

Metro Hospitals Find Breathing Room as Cases Decline

Though daily caseloads have fallen recently, Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse said the county is still experiencing high transmission during her weekly COVID-19 update to the county board, but hospitalizations are now declining.

The county’s seven day case total was down to 361.1 per 100,000 population Tuesday morning, and hospital occupancy has remained below 85% for three days. Omaha’s mask mandate will be lifted when seven day case total dips below 200, and hospital occupancy stays under 80% for a week. On Tuesday the health department announced it would revisit the mask mandate today, Feb. 9.

“Certainly we’re still seeing some severe illness out there, so we need to continue to be vigilant and be careful,” Huse said. “But happily we are perhaps getting a bit of breathing room with this soon.

Huse said the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and area hospitals have worked on decompression efforts to find help for people waiting on hospital space. 

Children under 19 still make up the highest proportion of COVID cases, followed by young adults. Fourteen patients currently hospitalized for COVID are pediatric, out of 342 total.

City Council

The Omaha City Council also met Tuesday, voting to extend infrastructure into growing parts of the city, and approve a preliminary plat for a pavement mixing plant that has environmental concerns.

The City Council voted unanimously to extend the Present Development Zone — a map used to identify parts of the city that need infrastructure improvements — into parts of northwestern Omaha. Along with that item, the City Council approved new schedules for interceptor sewer fees and Arterial Street Improvements Plan (ASIP) fees to pay for the improvements.

Eric Englund from the planning department said the funding comes directly from developers in the area. He said the engineering companies for those developments work with the public works department on the infrastructure improvements.

Council President Pete Festersen said it will take the strain off of the current tax payers and development within the city as the taxbase grows. 

A preliminary plat for Lamp Rynearson Inc.’s pavement mixing plant at 66th and Grover Streets received opposition for potential environmental and noise concerns. The plat was approved 4-3, with Councilmembers Juanita Johnson, Danny Begley and Vinny Palermo voting no.

Councilmember Begley, who represents business in the area, said he’s received complaints about the odor from the plant, and noise from trucks. The site is next to Little Papillion Creek, which raised concerns about water contamination, but the applicant said that shouldn’t be an issue. Begley said he did outreach on this issue, but only heard from business owners and neighbors who oppose the plant.

“I always hear from constituents and neighbors and businesses, but very rarely do I hear from developers or people who have a vested interest in projects,” Begley said. “It’s important to engage your city council representative.”

The current site is already an operating mixing plant, and Englund said the plat would allow the owners to redevelop the site with a new plant. Councilmember Aimee Melton said the redevelopment would improve the issues with noise and odor.


Subscribe to The Reader Newsletter

Our awesome email newsletter briefing tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Omaha. Delivered to your inbox every day at 11:00am.

Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to thereader.com and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

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