Weekly Column

**Click here to download audio of this week’s column**

You have probably seen the headlines about the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. In Nebraska, one woman is in critical condition, two of her family members have tested positive, and schools have now closed in districts including Hooper, Fremont, and Plattsmouth.

While the news can certainly be scary and everyone should take necessary precautions to stay safe, it is important to know that our fellow Nebraskans are doing incredible work in our state to monitor and stabilize the situation. 

The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and Nebraska Medicine have stepped up in combatting this disease. They are currently housing individuals from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in their 20-bed National Quarantine Unit and moving some patients as needed to their Nebraska Biocontainment Unit. Others have been released after being cleared. The Nebraska woman in critical condition is also receiving care in the Biocontainment Unit.

However, UNMC is going beyond quarantining individuals, and is also now working to test treatments. On February 26, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that America’s first clinical trial on coronavirus therapy had begun at UNMC, evaluating the safety of an antiviral drug to treat the disease.

This work being done at our state’s largest university is not the first time that the University of Nebraska has tackled an infectious disease head-on. In 2014, during the peak of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, UNMC aided in international efforts to contain the outbreak. 

There is more good work being done in Nebraska to keep the entire country healthy. Last month, the Nebraska National Guard’s Camp Ashland took in 57 evacuees from Wuhan, the epicenter of COVID-19, and held them for quarantine. They were monitored 24/7 and were checked twice daily for the disease. After a 14-day quarantine period, all 57 people were released to fly home out of Omaha’s Eppley Airfield.  

I am grateful for the work done by the CDC employees who were stationed at Camp Ashland, as well as for the Guard itself for allowing its facilities to be used to help protect our fellow Americans.

Recently, Congress came together to approve a supplemental funding package to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. This legislation will help with the development of vaccines and shore up hospital and health system preparedness. It will also support the efforts of state and local governments and community health centers as they work to address this crisis.

Also, I recently joined with a bipartisan group of senators, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Ben Sasse in introducing bipartisan legislation to help ensure manufacturers and distributors can produce respirators during health crises. Similar legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Don Bacon. Respirators are crucial for treating Americans with coronavirus and keeping our health workforce safe. Our legislation would ensure that the manufacturers of those respirators are legally protected. It would grant them the same limited liability protection already granted to producers of other drugs and medical devices.

All of these efforts are happening in tandem with efforts at the national level to contain the disease.

When times were tough, and the world was looking for a way to contain the outbreak of a deadly disease, Nebraskans were there. From Camp Ashland to UNMC and Nebraska Medicine, to our community and Critical Access hospitals, to our medical practitioners across the state, there are truly countless Nebraskans making our state proud, and making me so proud to represent it as your senior Senator.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you next week.