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Nebraska virus testing website draws 20,000 on first day

April 22, 2020 GMT
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Neb. Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at a news conference about the coronavirus outbreak in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Neb. Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at a news conference about the coronavirus outbreak in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, April 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A new Nebraska website designed to ramp up testing for the coronavirus logged about 20,000 new registrations on its first day, and the data that residents submit could help determine which parts of the state get tested first, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday.

Ricketts said the $27 million program, similar to ones Iowa and Utah, will help state officials decide where to first use the 540,000 new tests that were included in the deal with a private contractor.

He said front-line medical and public safety workers will get first priority for testing, followed by people who report a lot of symptoms on the Test Nebraska website, followed by people with just a symptoms and then potentially people who are asymptomatic.

“Part of it, frankly, will be driven by people filling out the assessment,” Ricketts said at his weekday coronavirus news conference. “So if you are interested in having free testing in your area, that’s another good reason why you should go and fill out that assessment.”

His comments added more detail to the plan announced Tuesday, which is designed to increase testing from the state’s current capacity of 600 to 800 per day to 3,000 per day once it’s fully running in about five weeks. It’s virtually identical to a program announced in Iowa, which recorded 80,000 registrations within its first 24 hours.

Ricketts said the data that residents submit will belong to the state, can’t be accessed by the companies administering it, and won’t be sold to any other party. He said the information will eventually be destroyed. Like Iowa, Nebraska has signed a contract with Nomi Health, a Utah-based startup. The company and its subcontractors will run the website and mobile testing sites, with the goal of targeting where tests are needed most.

Ricketts said the costs will be covered with federal money from the recently approved coronavirus stimulus package.

Meanwhile, Nebraska state health officials reported a one-day jump of nine COVID-19 deaths, bringing the state’s total deaths from the disease to 42 since the outbreak began.

Three of the deaths reported late Tuesday by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services were from Hall County, which has emerged as a hot-spot for the virus in the state. Those deaths included a man in his 70s, another man in his 90s, and a woman in her 70s.

Another four deaths were reported Tuesday out of the Omaha area in Douglas County — all men in their 60s and 70s with underlying health conditions.

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The other deaths were a woman in her 50s form Seward County and a woman in her 80s from Adams County. Officials said both had underlying health conditions.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness.

Nebraska’s online coronavirus tracking portal showed 1,813 confirmed cases in the state as of Wednesday evening. Nearly 17,400 people had been tested for the virus statewide as of Wednesday evening, with nearly 15,500 testing negative for the illness.

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

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Associated Press reporter Margery A. Beck contributed from Omaha