Update: This transcript has been updated to reflect our current AP Stylebook guidelines.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.
[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News”, where we fill you in on what’s been going on in Lincoln this week. I am the KZUM News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: And I’m Grant Ferrell, the “KZUM News” co-host.
Today we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the Wilderness Crossing development and its impact on the Lincoln Community. Then we’ll follow up with a look at how Nebraska officials responded to the leaked Dobbs versus Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion piece and how an overturn of Roe versus Wade might affect local communities. After that, we will have an update on the latest Covid-19 information. And finally, we’ll end the morning with a look at Humanities Nebraska’s upcoming ‘Weathering Uncertainty: Conversations about Climate in Nebraska’ event.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: But first, let’s chat for a moment. It has been a longtime goal to expand our station by adding a newsroom. That’s why we are so excited to introduce “KZUM News”, an original production of KZUM radio. Of course, we have had to do some rearranging to accommodate that growth, and “Big Picture Science” will now be airing every Saturday at 9 a.m. We will be joining you for “KZUM News” at 11 a.m. and “Beta Radio” will follow us up at noon.
Of course, if you miss any of your favorite shows while getting used to the new lineup, you can always find them at kzum.org under our program archive where they will be available for two weeks after their initial broadcast. After that, they will be moved to our SoundCloud account. And now let’s learn more about the Wilderness Crossing development.
[Audio excerpt from Renee Sans Souci’s speech on the Niskíthe Prayer Camp at City Hall the morning of May 16, begins playing.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So, I suggest settling down with a cup of tea or coffee, depending on your preference, because, for this first story, we are doing a deep dive into all of the important facts surrounding the Wilderness Crossing development. The area has been a huge topic of conversation the last couple of weeks due to its recent sale to the Manzitto Inc. for 3.8 million dollars.
Now both Planning Development and Manzitto Inc. declined to sit down with us. So we have very little information regarding the final plans for the development. What information we do have comes from the April 25 city council meeting. And, of course, for those who want to do some light reading this morning, this information can also be found on the city council website under their minutes. But, during this meeting, it was proposed that 141.46 acres of land located near First and Pioneers be annexed. The motion did pass, which means that the land is now a part of the city of Lincoln. The city council also voted ‘yes’ to rezoning that area. Instead of the land being designated for the originally planned agricultural use, it has been rezoned as an R-3 residential district. Of course, Manzitto Inc. has only purchased 75.5 of the 141.46 acres available. But, for that 75.5 acres that was purchased, the city council has granted Manzitto Inc. the capability to develop up to 575 residential units and 30,000 square feet assigned for commercial floor area.
Now if you’re feeling a little blindsided by the suddenness of this news, you’re not the only one. This sale happened very quickly.
In a statement released to us via email by Father Kipper of the Catholic Diocese, he explained that the land was purchased for $800,000 in the year 2000 for undecided, potential future use. The statement then went on to say and I quote,
“After consultation with the Lincoln Diocesan Finance Council, the diocese decided to put the parcel up for sale to the public through a notice published in the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald in May of 2021. Interested parties submitted sealed bids. Manzitto, Inc.’s bid was selected, and the diocese was thus contracted to sell the land to Manzitto. The diocese has never been involved with Manzitto in the details or plans for development of this property. The sale has been closed and the property is now in possession of Manzitto. The diocese has informed Manzitto of the concerns of affected communities,”
End quote. Of course, you probably already heard about several groups stepping up and expressing concern regarding the continuation of this development. But let’s do a quick recap.
At the April 18 city council meeting, members of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp made public statements requesting that officials deny the request to move forward with the Wilderness Crossing development. The land sold to the Manzitto Inc. currently borders the property where the Native American sacred sweat lodge is located. Renee Sans Souci, a co-founder of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp and an education consultant, was kind enough to sit down with KZUM to discuss the history and the meaning of the land located at Snell Hill.
Renee Sans Souci, Co-Founder of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp: Well, prior to the camp, where, you know, we had a number of us native people had attended the city council meetings, and especially on the development that was going to take place there, so on and so forth. And the decisions that were made upon the development process. And of course, we had testified to the city council to not vote to pass, you know, that process. And, of course, in the process, you know, a number of things happened, which led to our decision to make a nonviolent direct action to create that and the prayer count was a result of that decision.
So the history behind this is that you know, when, like I said, when we were truly free, you know, we were free to live as the creator helped us to live. We have land, you know, all the land to sustain ourselves with, with our food that was naturally grown, you know, that was truly organic, as they say. And then we had our bison, you know, the animals that provided, you know, their life for us so that we could live. And when this was all, you know, in place for us, then we were living as we always think, like, we were truly living in a way that was ecologically sound, scientifically sound, spiritually sound. And that was disrupted. So, our life ways were disrupted after first contact, after colonization, you know, after all of these federal Indian policies that came into place, when we, you know, when we were forcibly removed from our lands, you know, we were disconnected from the land that sustained us. And then we were, you know, all herded onto reservations, which, you know, were just a fraction of the area that we lived on before. So now that that happened, no longer were we able to sustain ourselves in a healthy manner that we had before. So all these things, the federal Indian policies that impacted us, you know, had to do with restriction all the time, and containment, political containment. So, when we were contained on these reservations, which were concentration camps, then we were cut off from everything our sources, you know, and left us with very little, you know, to help us to survive.
And one of the things that happened was our ceremonial life way was also disrupted, you know, because the United States government saw fit to outlaw our spiritual practices, our spiritual way of life, the one main way that sustained us, you know, throughout eternity, put it that way, you know, time immemorial.
And so for, I would say, nearly 100 years, you know, that our, to be able to go to sweat lodge was illegal, to be able to practice our ceremonies was illegal, to be able to sing our songs, and to dance as we had done before, you know, was also outlawed. And we had to figure out how to be able to sustain ourselves, but the government and you know, all the people that came here, you know, were forcing us all the time to assimilate, and to become Christianized, you know, so that, then we would become good American citizens. But that didn’t even happen until the 30s, 1930s, 1934. So in all of this, you know, what’s beneath, you know, what, what looks like, now looks like the simple story like, “Oh, those Indians are mad,” you know, it’s always like, “Those Indians are mad again. Jeez, they should get over it,” you know, and we always hear that over and over. And it’s like, really. That’s all you can say, get over it? Do we tell you to just get over 9/11? Do you hear us say that to you? No, we have compassion for you. So, you know, it makes me mad when people don’t understand the impacts of why, you know why this is so traumatizing, so upsetting for us. And it’s because, again, you know, here we are, you know, trying our best to survive here in the urban areas. You know, we do everything, like what everybody else is doing here. You know, we’re working, we’re going to school, we’re becoming educated, you know, we’re taking care of our families, we’re healing. You know, we don’t drink. You know, we don’t smoke. We don’t, you know, on and on all of these things that we no longer do, because those things that were inflicted upon us, you know, that created the kinds of addictions that our people have died from. That’s what we’re healing from. And it wasn’t until 1978 that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed through Congress. And what that meant was now we could practice our native spiritual ceremonies without fear of going to prison. So in a country that was created, and based on, freedom of religion, as they say, the only people that were denied that freedom were Native people, the first peoples of this continent. So yes, we are, you know, this was traumatizing for us to hear that you know, one of our sweat lodges here in town, you know, in Lincoln, of two of them that we have, one is endangered now, and will be impacted by what’s going to take place. So here we are, you know, struggling, and it’s not like any of us are rich, because, you know, we have been systematically impoverished again, you know, because of loss of land, you know, loss of our, our way of life. And here, we are still struggling to be alive. And we’re here, you know, that’s what our statement was about. We are here we are strong. And here we shall remain, meaning that we, as Native people are here on this land still, to this day. We were not killed off, like a lot of people think, you know, “They’re no longer here, they’re dead.” You know, that’s not the case. We’re very much alive. We’re here. And that’s our statement that we made, was all about, you know, who we are; who we are as Native people, why we still believe the way we do, why we resist because we have a way of life. We know who we are. And we want to continue to practice our ways.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Spoilers for those of you just tuning in: all proposed ordinances did pass at the April 25 city council meeting. And on May 2, leaders of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp arrived at Snell Hill prepared to make a statement. Co-leader of the camp, Kevin Abourezk, spoke with us about the experience of setting up and living at the camp.
Kevin Abourezk, Co-leader of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp: Yeah, so we set up camp in the middle of the night on a Sunday evening. And it involves, essentially, two teams of people working together to set up the teepees, seven of them. And everybody had a job, and everybody had a role. And there were some people who were obviously in charge of directing everybody, but other people had other roles. Such as, you know, the two women in the group, their job was to essentially tie the top of the teepee together. And this has become kind of a traditional role for the women in our, in our tribes to do. And the reason for that is that you know, it would traditionally be the women who had set up the teepees, but nowadays, it’s typically the men. But to just sort of pay homage to that history, we do ask that women tie up the tops of the teepees for us when we set them up. So. So you know, it was tough, it was middle, the night, it was cold, and everybody was tired. And luckily, we had people who were bringing us coffee, and, you know, keeping our spirits up and things like that. But yeah, it was it was a strange thing. You know, obviously, nobody in that group had ever had to do anything like that before. So of course, there was a bit of a thrill to it, you know, considering we were setting up these teepees on land that technically belonged to the Catholic Church. And not anybody in the group, obviously. But, yeah, we got everything done in about, took about three hours or so. And our hope was to get everything finished before sunrise, which we managed to do. We also set up a website, created a statement to purpose, you know, for, for our camp. And we created press releases, and we sent those out to media. So, everything went out about 6 a.m., and that was more like 7 a.m. I guess that next morning. And then we just waited to see, you know, who would respond and how they would respond. And you know, we didn’t know if people were going to come and take us to prison that morning or not. We just had no idea.
So, we just waited and slowly people started getting a hold of us and saying you know “what’s going on?” It was mostly media. I don’t know that we heard anything from the landowner for several days actually. And even the police really didn’t even get in touch with us until probably day three or so, I would guess. So mostly what we did up until that point was just kind of keep ourselves busy and get things set up, you know, we had to get set up a kitchen, and we had to figure out, you know, how to get water and how to deal with, you know, human waste and things like that. So, it’s just a lot of work kind of preparing the camp after that.
You know, when we first set up camp, we really fully expected to be arrested or confronted by police or the landowner. And, when that didn’t happen, we were able to start imagining a way off the hill there, because we never planned to stay there forever. But we began to imagine a way off the hill that didn’t involve us being arrested and handcuffed and put in the back of police cruisers, or mug shots run in the newspaper, things like that. That was something that we never really, I certainly never really wanted for, for anybody who followed us out there, who came with us. So we began to think about ways how can we do this? How can we achieve some fraction of our goal but also, but also send a statement? I mean, initially, our plan was just to send a statement, was just to, you know, let people know that we’re there. We’re not going anywhere, our ceremonies are sacred to us, and they should be protected. Now, we began to think of other sorts of goals along the way but initially, that was all we had really hoped for was to send that statement. So we felt like you know, once we had really sent that statement, a strong way and had a lot of people come and visit us and get to know us and we’d had a promise from the mayor’s office to get greater inclusion of our voices within city government. We felt like we had enough to step away and start other aspects of our effort, you know, in order to protect our second, our sacred sweat lodge and the fish farm there, the property itself. So…
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now the website that Kevin referred to is niskitheprayercamp.com. All of the camp’s press releases can be found on the website, and I highly recommend reading them once you have a moment to spare. But among those press releases, you’ll find a statement about the Niskíthe Prayer Camps’ next steps. This statement, made May 16, outlines the camp’s decision to march on Lincoln after Mayor Leiron Gaylor Baird announced that she had signed legislation supporting the Wilderness Crossing development. Members of the camp, led by native flagbearers, took down the final teepee the morning of May 18. The procession proceeded to City Hall and then on to the Capitol, ending at the Catholic Diocese. As the Niskíthe Prayer Camp continues to work towards educating the public, the mayor’s office has begun working to accommodate some of their earlier requests.
Here is T.J. McDowell, Mayor Leiron Gaylor Baird’s aide to tell us more about the Native Advisory Committee and the other requests made by the Niskíthe Prayer Camp leaders.
Hey, T.J. Can you tell us a little bit about your position in the mayor’s office?
T.J. McDowell, Mayoral Aide: Yeah, so I’m an aide to the mayor. I started on March 21, of 2022. So I’m relatively new. I am leading her One Lincoln initiative, which is her diversity, equity, and inclusion priority.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So can you tell us a little bit about what is going on with the Wilderness Crossing development and what all the hubbub has been about the last couple of weeks?
T.J. McDowell, Mayoral Aide: Yeah, there’s been quite a hubbub. You know, I’m not an expert on actual project design. What I know is that a private landowner has, the Catholic Church, has sold a tract of land to a developer, Manzitto, who plans to build a housing development. And this development is on land that’s adjacent to some other private property where there is a long-standing Native American sweat lodge. The sweat lodge was established in either 1978 or 1979 by an elder in the Native American community. So there’s concern that a housing development property adjacent to where the sweat lodges will disturb the kind of sanctity of the sweat lodge.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: A couple of Sundays ago the Niskíthe Prayer Camp was out there getting set up. They were out there for about a week and a half. And in their press releases, they had a variety of requests that they were making of the city government. Can you tell us a little bit about what those requests were and what the city has been discussing with them?
T.J. McDowell, Mayoral Aide: Yeah, yeah. So so they… their ask from May 2 asked for specific things for the City Council, from the Catholic Church, from Manzitto, and then from the mayor’s office. And from the mayor’s office, what we’ve been working on is what, and I think it’s a legitimate, legitimate, legitimate ask in terms of more voice at the table, where decisions are being made that might impact them. So one of the things that they’ve requested is a Native American Advisory Committee that might advise the city about issues that impact the Native community in Lincoln. So one of the things we’re looking at, [is] we have a multicultural advisory committee that advises the mayor and the city council that’s already existing. So, we’re looking at, to start, a subcommittee under MAC that’s focused on Native American issues. And I’m working with the Niskíthe Prayer Camp leaders to identify exactly what the scope in charge of that committee would be, and then what the membership would look like, who would serve on that committee. And, so, we’ve already had one meeting to talk about it and have a meeting scheduled for next week to continue that dialogue. So that was one of their asks, the other ask had to do with more some Native voices on the city boards and commissions, where these decisions are made. And, so, as part of the One Lincoln initiative, the mayor had already had as a priority to diversify our city boards and commissions. And so that falls within that goal already. So I’m working with some Native leaders to identify qualified Native individuals who when openings come up on city, city boards, and commissions that we could consider nominating them for appointment to those boards and commissions. So that was the second thing. And then the third thing had to do with protecting the property that the sweat lodge is on. And, so, the, in that, really the private land owner is already kind of engaged with some options there. And its conservation easements are some different things. And, so, they’ve already been in conversation about what that might look like. And so those, those are, well, so those are the three ask that we felt like in the mayor’s office, we had some, some ability to respond to. So, I visited the Niskíthe Prayer Camp on three different occasions. And tried to listen to understand what they were coming from and, and try to find some ways that we can really address those issues going forward. I’m born and raised in Lincoln myself, and you could tell I’m a black man. And, so, I know what it feels like to be not included in decisions that impact your life. And, so, I’m very supportive of doing what we can to increase the voice and representation of Natives at tables where it’s appropriate.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Awesome. Thank you so much for sitting down with us, T.J.
Of course, members of the Niskíthe Prayer Camp weren’t the only ones worried about the Wilderness Crossing development. The Friends of Wilderness Park also had concerns regarding the environmental impact.
In the groups’ talking points, which were presented at the April 18 City Council meeting, they claimed that the City Planning Department did not use due diligence in their review of the amendment to ensure that Lincoln has a smart, resilient, and sustainable development that protects the environmentally sensitive Wilderness Park. Without analysis, there are concerns that the riparian, wildlife, and pollinator corridors on adjacent properties to Wilderness Park won’t be properly protected or preserved.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Clint Densberger, the Vice President of the Friends of Wilderness Park to learn more about [the] potential impacts the development might have on the environment.
Clint Densberger, Vice President of the Friends of Wilderness Park: Our mission is to protect and conserve the biodiversity and the species that exist within this rare corridor and to promote its use by the broader community. Which we have lots of different ways to enjoy the park, so there’s equestrian use, bicycling communities, jogging communities, birding communities, families, solo hikers, lots of solo adventures. And so it’s a very broad representation of people from Lincoln that enjoy the place and we get visitors from out of state as well.
We were originally emailed the request for a meeting by Manzitto’s, with Manzitto’s, over the late winter, at an unknown date, unspecified date; it fell between board meetings and we didn’t have time to meet immediately. And so we began meeting [in] early March, our first time at their office. And they had not just a few of their board members, but also a couple of city officials present as they presented their proposed development, and then asked us for our immediate feedback and was hopeful that we would be supportive of their effort to become our neighbor there on the west. And the meeting was an hour and a half and gracious on their part, I thought to reach out to us as sort of representatives of the broader community. And we had a few tidbits of feedback immediately regarding light and noise pollution and water pollution and runoff. But we left those comments brief. And wanted to bring that back to the board for a broader board meeting and, and get a broader consensus of where our organization would stand and how this speaks to our mission of conservation, or does not speak to it, and in what ways and come up with a more formal response for them and to them. And that’s what we did.
In subsequent weeks, following that, I think, yeah, they reached out to a concerned neighbor, who lives also adjacent to the new development. And that neighbor spoke to the other neighbors, and they arranged a meeting at a hall, south of town, and Manzittos, and the developers and a couple of city officials again, met with the neighbors. And so for most of those neighbors, it was their first time hearing it, and the president Adam and I, and another board member, Foster, all attended that meeting as well. And that began the first of a few meetings that we held had with the neighbors as well. And that was sort of the first few weeks of the process of trying to understand their specific development and, and trying to understand how that spoke to our concerns for conservation or which ways it would fall short, and if something can be done about that.
Many of our board members are familiar with an organization called the Dark Sky organization in the United States that certifies areas, particularly like vast desert areas, for example, that are very dark and very open for telescopes and stargazing and void of light pollution. And then others on the board are familiar with studies that have been done regarding light effects on insects and birds and migrations and the distraction that causes many of the nocturnal animals And, so, most of all, Wilderness Park in fact is without electricity and has remained dark for time immemorial, really. And of that adjacent development on the West had prior been a farm. And, so, it had relatively little light pollution. This would drastically change that. And we were very concerned about the effects on the migratory birds and the insects and disrupting their routines and their health, their habitat.
In the same way, the noise pollution, of course, this project sounds like it would take many months, if not a couple of years, all of which would require continuous construction. Bulldozers, heavy dirt trucks and backhoes and jackhammers, and really almost continuous noise on top of new neighbors moving in and all their moving trucks, and games and things that they might be doing outdoors and chainsaws and whatever. In the same way that the light affects habitat, so does noise. And in fact, it’s been shown that particular songbirds have been studied and understood that when they have a noise or a noisy environment, many of them are territorial. So, they don’t immediately move. Instead, they increase the sound and the pitch of their own songs. And in that process of singing louder and louder and continuing to try to attract mates, they tend to over-exert themselves and run out of energy enough to keep their young chicks fed. And so just the increase in noise can cause detrimental generational effects on songbirds. And it’s those kinds of concerns that a developer probably isn’t thinking about. And in fact, most citizens probably aren’t aware of.
But as the broader city, there aren’t a lot of open wild spaces. And we have a rare habitat here that we believe needs to be protected for all of Lincoln. And then again, the water is a resource that the city has recognized that one of the primary purposes that the city agreed to purchase this land for originally was this area’s ability to mitigate flood damage downstream and into downtown, where much of that creek had been channelized and dikes put up and yet, still, has had floods. And in the decades that they were channelizing the creek, they learned a lot and environmentalists learned a lot. And it’s come to understand, you know, a general consensus now that that curving meandering streams and rivers, slow down water and they slow down erosion. And here in Nebraska, of course, in an agricultural state, topsoil is very important. And the channelized parts of salt creek increase that erosion and tend to undercut banks which then cave in large sections of earth, cloud the water, and destroy habitat for the species, the aquatic species, and the amphibians, and the birds, and other animals that depend on those species for their survival. And so it has a chain reaction of events that the city understood this area should be preserved in its natural state because it does act like a sponge and helps to absorb all that water with all its various plants and biodiversity and really serves a purpose to help preserve downtown Lincoln.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And that is all of the information we have on the Wilderness Crossing development. We will keep you updated on this ongoing situation, to see how this development proceeds.
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Amantha Dickman, News Director: Now we just wanted to give you an overview of that leaked Dobbs versus Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion piece. A draft of the Supreme Court decision was leaked on May 2. While some were shocked by the leak itself, others were surprised to hear that the Supreme Court was reevaluating a decision long thought to be finalized.
In a Facebook post on May 18, Governor Pete Ricketts released the following statement,
“Roe versus Wade stole the decision on abortion regulations from the states where it rightfully belongs. In Nebraska, we look forward to the possibility of Roe being overturned and that decision returning to our citizens. Instead of recognizing this as an opportunity for dialogue on the issue. Democrats in Washington are attempting to force through radical abortion laws rivaling those of North Korea and China. The bill they just tried to pass in the Senate would force all 50 states to allow abortions up until the moment of birth. It would strip doctors of their right to conscience and force them to abort fully viable babies against their morals. And it would remove parents from the decision when their young daughters are pressured into getting an abortion. Democrats are far from the days of pushing for abortions that are safe, legal, and rare. Instead, they’re fighting for a radical abortion agenda that completely denigrates the value of human life. Nebraska is a pro-life state. If Roe is overturned, we will take every step we can to protect our preborn babies.”
In a later interview with CNN Governor Pete Ricketts announced that he plans to call for an emergency session should Roe versus Wade be overturned. While the final decision won’t be announced until the end of June, we will have more information for you next week. So please don’t forget to tune in. But for now, we’re going to move along because we have a Covid-19 update for you.
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Amantha Dickman, News Director: In a June 1 press release from City Communications, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department announced plans to expand their Covid-19 vaccination clinics to include booster doses for children aged 5 to 11, starting the following day. This decision was prompted by the recent approval of Pfizer booster doses by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Upcoming clinics will be held at local schools throughout June. The availability for those clinics can be found at lincoln.ne.gov. Scheduling options are also available. If attending clinics, all minor children aged 18 and younger must be accompanied by a parent or guardian when receiving the vaccine. Masks are also required at all vaccination clinics.
On May 25, Brian Health Medical Center hosted a press conference to provide the public with insight regarding ongoing changes to Lincoln’s Covid-19 status. Dr. Jim Nora spoke extensively about the current variant.
Dr. Jim Nora, Bryan Health Medical Center: We are really fortunate that we are seeing many fewer cases now than we were seeing at the end of last year and in January. So, as Brad said, only nine inpatients right now in the hospital. That is way, way better than what we had in January when things were really overwhelming for the health system overall.
However, we are starting to see a little bit of an uptick in cases. And this is not unique to Nebraska, this has been something that’s been occurring nationwide, cases in Lancaster County had been rising now for the last six weeks. There is really only one primary variant circulating right now and that is the Omicron, specifically the BA two sub-variant. This is a highly infectious form of Covid-19. So, people who are not vaccinated are particularly vulnerable to that. We are starting to see a number of increases in employee absences due to Covid-19 illness. So once again, this virus is making it harder for us and others to care for patients when people get sick and get excluded from work. The good news is that the vaccines that have been around and continue to be around and available really provide excellent protection. And the main thing is that they prevent significant risk of dying, the risk of dying is much less if you’ve had the vaccine and the risk of an ICU admission is much less than if you’ve had the vaccine. And this is the same thing that we see with influenza vaccine.
You know, a lot of people will say, “Well, I got my flu shot and I got the flu. So, what’s the point?” Well, the point is that you didn’t end up in the ICU or dead and that’s the main benefit of this particular Vax vaccine. So, I would just strongly encourage people who have not been vaccinated to think about getting vaccinated, please ask your neighbors, your family that have had the vaccine, ‘how did it go?’
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Additionally, in a May 31 press release from city communications the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department announced that the Covid-19 risk dial will remain at mid-yellow. The dial, which was elevated on May 17, indicates a moderate level of spread within the community. The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department cited several indicators which informed their decision, including the fact that case counts had remained the same. While data shows no significant change in hospitalization rates, wastewater analysis does show an increase in virus particles. In a press conference held on May 10, Health Director Patricia Lopez explained the process of testing wastewater.
Patricia Lopez, Director of the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department: Since our last briefing on March 22, our team has kept a close watch on Covid-19, nationally, regionally, and locally. And the situation is shifting once again.
Omicron sub-variants are driving increases in cases across the country. And we’re now seeing an increase in cases locally. On this chart you see now, you can see the decline in weekly cases since early February, with new cases leveling off in March and then the current increase in cases that began the weekend and ending April 9. We’ve experienced five consecutive weeks of increased cases. Our wastewater data is also tracking very closely with our current case data. Results of analysis over the past five weeks have shown an increase in Covid-19 virus particles in wastewater. The city of Lincoln has been conducting wastewater surveillance since June of 2021.
Lincoln Transportation and Utility staff collect samples of wastewater each week, which are tested by Biobot Analytics. Under a National Institutes of Health Initiative, Biobot, bought in partnership with Ceres Nanosciences, is recognized as a wastewater-based Epidemiology Center of Excellence. The positivity rate for human testing is also up, reaching 10.2% at the end of last week.
Having a high level of protection against the virus as individuals and in our community helps us be better prepared for a future outbreak. I want to, again, encourage individuals to get their booster doses. These boosters remain critical on helping protect people from severe illness hospitalization and death from Covid-19. Second booster doses were recently approved for those age 50 and older and those aged 12 and over with weakened immune systems. We’re seeing increased cases and older adults who haven’t received their second booster. We strongly encourage everyone who’s eligible to get vaccinated and boosted.
More than 67% of all Lancaster County residents are fully vaccinated, and around 60% of those eligible for a booster have received one. Now is a good time to get caught up on your Covid-19 vaccines if you’re behind. We offer the vaccination at our health department clinics every weekday and walk-ins are welcome. For more information on upcoming clinics, visit covid19.lincoln.ne.gov or simply call us at 402-441-4200. The Covid-19 vaccine is also available through local pharmacies and go to vaccines.gov to find one near you. In addition to vaccination, other public health recommendations include wearing a mask if you have Covid-19-like symptoms, have a positive Covid-19 test, or have been exposed to someone with the virus. Get tested or self-test if you have Covid-19 or flu-like symptoms, or have been exposed to someone with the virus, and stay home if you’re sick. If you test positive ask your healthcare provider about Covid-19 treatments that may be available to you or find a test and treat location at covid.gov.
People with medical conditions associated with higher risk for severe Covid-19 should consult with their healthcare provider about taking additional protective actions.
A reminder that at-home tests are available at the health department in the main lobby on weekdays during regular business hours. We’re located at 3131 O Street, and you can simply walk in and pick up one. Test Kits are also available at all Lincoln City Library locations. Testing continues to play an important role. If you know you have the virus, you can take appropriate steps to length limit the spread and to protect others. We encourage the public to report their home test results to us. A short form is available on our Covid-19 Website in the testing section. And there are instructions on what you should do if you’re positive.
In closing, Covid-19 is still here and cases are once again starting to increase locally. Our actions have helped shape the course of the pandemic and they continue to do so please consider your own personal risk and what actions you can take to minimize that risk. You can find the latest public health guidance on our website. As I mentioned, we don’t know if this uptick will lead to a larger surge. We’ll keep monitoring the situation closely and its impact on our community. And if we continue to see significant changes, we’ll be back with another briefing to help keep everyone informed.
[“KZUM News” transition music, an original piece composed by Jack Rodenburg, fades in and then out. KZUM Radio’s usual underwriting and public services announcements air at scheduled times throughout the hour.]
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: Finally, Humanities Nebraska will be hosting an event named ‘Weathering Uncertainty; Conversations about Climate in Nebraska’ on June 15, at 7 p.m. in the Lied Center for the Performing Arts. In preparation for this event, we sat down with Chris Sommerich, who is serving his 11th year as the executive director of the organization. In an interview with Chris, he explained why Humanities Nebraska is hosting a climate-focused conference.
Chris Sommerich, Executive Director of Humanities Nebraska: You know, you don’t normally think of something like climate change as being a humanities issue. But we’ve really over the last few years been trying to do more programming that brings people together from different perspectives on contemporary issues, and use the humanities to really provide an environment where people can learn, listen, share their thoughts and ideas, and maybe come away from the conversation with maybe a broader perspective on things as people kind of decide what they want to do, what their opinion is, things like that. And so we’ve done different community conversation programs on different topics around the state over the last few years and you know, in 2019, when that terrible blizzard hit Nebraska, and in the rain events that were happening in parts of the state and Blizzard, you know, in the West and the East was flooding like crazy, you all remember I mean, that was over a billion dollars of damage to Nebraska, you know, you had Offutt Air Force Base underwater and eastern side of the state and ranches and so forth devastated out west from the blizzard. And just it was really one of those, part of a sequence of events where we realized in Nebraska, there’s, you know, we need to talk more about this. And there’s been a lot of programs that involve, you know, policy arguments or scientific arguments about things like climate change, but we just again wanted to look at how to bring people together to talk about these things in different ways. Then, with the pandemic, we kind of set it aside for, you know, the last couple of years, but meanwhile, there have been, you know, continued to be other events happening, obviously, droughts and forest fires, and grass fires and different things happening across the state, that have continued to show that we, that we’re dealing with something that affects all of us. And also that, you know, a state like Nebraska has and with our agricultural sector, and you know, being so important to the state that it would really be great to bring people from the agricultural sector and other sectors together to explain how are how are these sectors already responding to climate and so people like us and Lincoln or an Omaha or whatever, can appreciate maybe a broader perspective of how the state is responding to climate change.
Grant Ferrell, News Intern: This live-streamed public event will feature a panel of five speakers who will discuss how different sectors of our agriculture-based economy are responding in the aftermath of multiple weather disasters that are projected to increase as part of climate change. Afterward, an audience Q & A will help clear up any lingering confusion.
Humanities Nebraska encourages community members to learn more and acknowledge the division the topic has caused in the past.
“This is not about politics or about who’s right or wrong,” said Martha Schulski, the Nebraska State Climatologist and moderator of the event in Humanities Nebraska’s press release, “We want to hear from all Nebraskans about how climate change impacts our public health, our agriculture, our water resources, and what Nebraskans think our solutions to some of these issues. It’s a conversation about bringing as many Nebraskans as possible to the table to hear from trusted sources who also want to hear from all of you.”
Amantha Dickman, News Director: As we get ready to wrap up the show, we do have a couple of reminders for you.
The first is that our newsroom is always open to hearing about any concerns, suggestions, or submission ideas you want to share with us. And there are a variety of ways you can contact us to do so. You can give us a call at 402-474-5068 extension line 6 or you can find our social media handles and newsroom information at kzum.org under the ‘Get Involved’ section.
And, of course, if you skip a show and find yourself wondering what’s going on, “KZUM News” is archived on both kzum.org and our SoundCloud account. You can listen at your leisure and find out what you missed anytime, anywhere.
And lastly, I want to give a quick shout-out to Jack Rodenburg of the Rodenburg Music Experience. Jack is the incredible human being who put together all of the original music that our program uses. So, thank you, Jack. We always appreciate the bubbly tunes that set the mood.
With those reminders out of the way, we just want to thank you again for listening to the news instead of making the news have a fantastic afternoon.
[Fades into the KZUM News program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg for the program. Plays and then fades out again.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Thank you for listening to this edition of “KZUM News”, an original production of KZUM radio that airs every Saturday at 11 a.m. And coming up next is “Beta Radio”!