Rural Nebraska communities preparing to go back to school

Posted at 6:06 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-07 19:19:44-04

BLAIR, Neb. (KMTV) - Living is simple in rural Nebraska but COVID-19 doesn't discriminate population size.

In Washington, Saunders and Dodge counties overlooked by the Three Rivers Health Department, the case count has now reached over 1,000. That number might seem small compared to Douglas County, but the problem is that the number keeps growing.

"Saunders County had a fair here last weekend so I look for there to be potentially to be some more cases in regards to that because they're large gatherings. And then Washington County has seen an uptick too,” said Terra Uhing, Health Director of the Three Rivers Public Health Department.

In Washington County is the city of Blair. We know how Omaha metro schools are planning to reopen but what about rural counties and cities like Blair?

Superintendent of Blair Public Schools Randy Gilson says population size doesn't matter and that every precaution is still being taken, including a team of UNMC experts guiding them through their reopening.

"They had an opportunity to sit in our classrooms, walk our schools and really review our plans and then provide us with suggestions or recommendations based on research,” Gilson said.

Blair - a school district with just over 2,000 students - is requiring masks, a decision that was made by the school board about a week ago. But not without some controversy.

"Of course that's a polarizing issue and especially as you move more into a rural setting. But it's important,” Gilson said.

"I would tell you a lot of the rural communities think that it's not there, that it's only in the bigger communities. So, I think there's for sure a misconception on that,” Uhing said.

But Blair isn't letting up on the precautions. Classrooms are being prepared to maximize social distancing come first day of school, August 19.

According to Arbor Park Intermediate School Principal Kyle Johnson, starting up school at 100 capacity is not as much of a stressor as perhaps what educators in Omaha were feeling, before the district decided to go fully remote.

"There's been a lot of anxiety as well. But mostly we just want kids here, we want them back,” Johnson said.

Blair has multiple plans in place including offering virtual streaming for students to attend class from home and also fully remote sessions.

But where the living is easy, the living is also subject to viruses like COVID-19. With the case count growing, schools are doing their best to prepare.

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