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Nebraska Legislature may suspend session due to virus threat

March 12, 2020 GMT

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers are set to take a four-day recess after they adjourn on Thursday, but they may extend the break to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak at the state Capitol, the legislative speaker announced Thursday.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer said lawmakers are still tentatively planning to reconvene as scheduled on Tuesday, but they may temporarily suspend their session if health officials confirm a community-spread case of the virus in Lincoln during that time. Scheer said he will let lawmakers and the public know by Monday night at the latest.

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The coronavirus has triggered a global panic and forced the cancellation of major events at the urging of public health officials.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, nearly 81,000 people have been diagnosed and nearly 63,000 have so far recovered.

In Nebraska, lawmakers have been trying to discourage visitors to the Capitol. Scheer said lawmakers were closing the public viewing balconies over the legislative chambers until further notice, restricting lawmakers’ contact with lobbyists when lawmakers are in session and urging school groups not to visit.

Scheer said legislative leaders will decide how to proceed on a day-by-day basis and that he’ll keep lawmakers and the public updated if the situation changes.

Sen. Mike Hilgers, chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Board, announced Wednesday that visitors would no longer be allowed to sit in roped-off areas of the chamber that are normally reserved for guests of lawmakers. He also said a planned St. Patrick’s Day event held by lobbyists was canceled.