Health officials: Wear masks to protect others from spread of COVID-19

Kathy Randall and Marti Wegelin, both members of the Calvary Lutheran Church quilting group, package kits for sewers. Each kit contains materials for sewers to make 15 masks. The quilting group made 1,000 masks for Regional West Medical Center and 500 to 600 masks for members of the congregation.

Public health officials reminded residents to wear masks and take other precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Panhandle Public Health District officials and regional emergency managers wore masks as a show of support during Thursday’s daily briefing.

Scotts Bluff County Public Health Director Paulette Schnell noted directed health measures that require patrons and providers to wear masks, such as at salons, barber shops and tattoo and massage parlors. Restaurant workers are also required to wear masks.

In many situations, such as when going to a restaurant or shopping, Schnell said it is recommended that patrons also wear masks.

“Sometimes, sometimes we get a little confused about why we want to wear the mask,” she said. “...Sometimes you think you’re protecting yourself, but really what it’s about is protecting others. And so when I’m wearing a mask, I’m protecting you. And when you’re wearing a mask, you’re protecting me. And so when we all wear a mask, we’re protecting each other in the community, we’re not spreading the virus.”

Schnell urged people to be “educated consumers,” and consider whether or not to go into businesses where persons aren’t wearing masks to consider in that in making a decision to visit that location. She urged people to support businesses that are requiring masks.

“Really think about who you want to support and where you want to eat, because it is taking a risk, any time you’re around people who do not have a mask on,” she said. “When they have a mask on, they’re protecting you, their customers when you go in. And I think that is great, and we want to support those kinds of places. They’re choosing to support and protect their customers.”

During Thursday’s call, Schnell also talked about antibody tests, which have come up frequently in the PPHD calls. Antibody tests are blood tests that test for antibodies of COVID-19, but are new enough. “It’s a new enough test that trying to interpret the meaning is what is making it a hard test to really decide if it is valuable at this time.”

It may be a key test later, but she said people should be educated consumers and know that there are many companies that are offering the tests. In April, the Nebraska Attorney General issued a warning about antibody tests, alleging that companies are making deceptive claims about the effectiveness of the test. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control have also questioned the tests and said that tests could misdiagnose people. The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office notified consumers that they could file claims with his office if they had been mislead by companies offering antibody tests.

The antibody tests are different from the COVID-19 tests, which are done with a nasal swab, that confirm whether or not a person has COVID-19. Those tests are done and then processed by the state or private labs. The test is used to indicate if someone has the virus currently, Schnell said.

Over the weekend, people will have six opportunities to be tested, if they are symptomatic or believe they have been exposed to the coronavirus. Drive-thru testing, to be conducted by the Nebraska National Guard, will be held at locations to be announced in Sidney and Oshkosh for Saturday; Bridgeport and Alliance, Sunday; Chadron and Gordon, Monday. Testing times will be announced Friday and times scheduled online.

PPHD Director Kim Engel said that 100 tests will be done at each location and officials are hoping to see all tests used. She said that tests aren’t limited to persons who live in those communities, but are available to anyone who is experiencing symptoms or has been exposed to the virus.

“We are really looking at health care, long-term care workers, first responders, grocery store workers and the general public,” she said. “If you have symptoms, or your family member has symptoms, or you think you have been exposed, here is your chance (to get tested).”

On Thursday, officials announced six more cases of the coronavirus in Scotts Bluff County. One, a teen girl, is a close contact of a person who has previously tested positive. Her case has also been connected to another positive case of a teen girl in Wyoming and health officials in that state have been contacted.

Five other cases announced Thursday also involved persons who were close contacts of other cases: Two females, one teen and one infant, and three male teens.

As of Thursday, there are 30 active coronavirus cases out of the 68 cases that have been detected in the Panhandle, Schnell said. Within recent days, several of those cases have been identified as community spread, meaning that health officials have been unable to determine where the persons may have contracted the coronavirus.

Anyone with questions about the coronavirus or Panhandle response can visit PPHD’s website, pphd.org. Officials said that details regarding this weekend’s testing will be available on that website, as well as through the media.

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