LINCOLN — Nonprofit groups that provide food and housing aid for communities will receive COVID-19 grants, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Thursday as he described the state of the coronavirus pandemic in Nebraska as “stable.”

Ricketts said the state has been “incredibly successful” in slowing the spread of the virus and achieving his top goal — to avoid overwhelming the state’s hospitals with coronavirus patients.

“The number of coronavirus patients in our hospitals is actually going down,” he said.

There were 131 such patients on Thursday, a decline from 149 on April 25, when the state started tracking that data.

“While we’re in a good position right now, we can’t get cocky,” Ricketts said at a press conference. “We’ve got to continue to manage this.”

The governor also provided information about Community Cares, which that will help nonprofits and other providers of meal delivery, emergency shelters, homelessness prevention services and mental health services. About $85 million of the state’s $1.1 billion in federal CARES Act money will be devoted to such grants, Ricketts said.

Of that $85 million, $40 million is set aside for individual grants of at least $12,000 to help charitable organizations cover increased costs or decreased revenue caused by COVID-19, and $43 million is devoted to “response and recovery” grants to help homeless shelters, meal delivery services, and health and mental health providers.

“Our overall goal is to help those organizations that take care of Nebraskans, whether it’s food insecurity, housing or behavioral health,” Ricketts said.

About $2 million will be granted to child care providers and places of worship, in grants of $250 or $500, to help them buy personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, as well as cleaning supplies.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services will take applications — as early as Monday for some of the grants — and will make the awards in mid-July.

“In my 30-year career, I’ve never been able to give away this much money,” said Danette Smith, the director of the department.

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Ricketts had previously announced how he would divvy up the CARES Act money sent to the state to distribute.

While the federal government’s guidance was to set aside $450 million for local governments to cover their costs of battling the virus, the governor instead set aside $100 million, diverting more money to grants for small businesses and livestock producers.

Ricketts on Thursday said he believes that $100 million will be adequate to cover the direct expenses of counties and cities and that it made sense to give more aid to businesses and ag producers, which pay taxes that support government.

In related news:

» The state’s TestNebraska program is still lagging far behind its goal of conducting 3,000 tests a day, averaging between 1,400 and 1,600 daily. Ricketts has blamed a shortage of people signing up to be tested and urged Nebraskans to register online for the free tests.

He announced that the Nebraska National Guard is transitioning back to its normal duties and that local hospitals across Nebraska will start assuming testing duties at TestNebraska sites outside of Omaha.

» Closures and restrictions at local doctors’ offices because of COVID-19 have caused a decline in immunizations for other diseases, like measles and whooping cough. Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, urged parents to arrange for such vaccinations because they are a proven way to reduce illness and even death. The state has a program for low-income families to get free or reduced-cost shots. Call 800-798-1696 for information.

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