The Center for Disease Control has issued new guidance, advising people to wear cloth masks in areas where they are not able to avoid close contact with others.
Kim Engel, Panhandle Public Health District director, outlined the new CDC guidance during Friday’s daily briefing on the effects of the coronavirus in the Panhandle.
According to the CDC, studies continue to show that a significant portion of people who lack symptoms, or asymptomatic, can transmit the virus. Persons who later show symptoms are also able to transmit the virus before showing symptoms to people in close proximity, through means such as speaking, coughing or sneezing.
With those findings, the CDC is recommending that people wear cloth face coverings, such as cloth masks or bandannas in areas where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as in grocery stores or at pharmacies, Engel said.
“When we think about who is on the front line of this, it is really all of you,” Engel said, urging people to follow social distancing guidelines, to wash their hands and to not gather in groups. “It is all of us. We can make the most difference. ... It is what we decide to do each day.”
Earlier this week, Panhandle Public Health District worked with its task force of health professionals to put together a list of facilities that are accepting the homemade masks for use by workers. Information about facilities accepting masks, and even some links for guidance on making masks is available on the Panhandle Public Health website. Other resources have also popped up. On Friday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis urged all Colorado citizens to wear masks and announced a new website, coloradomaskproject.com, that includes how-to guides for masks.
People are not asked to wear the N95 masks or respirators that are used by health care professionals. Those supplies need to be used by health care workers, PPHD officials said.
As of press time on Friday, Nebraska reported 285 positive coronavirus cases and six deaths. Scotts Bluff County Public Health Director Paulette Schnell reported that 210 people have been tested in the Panhandle and nine people have tested positive — six people in Kimball County and three people in Scotts Bluff County.
Forty-three tests are currently pending. Typically, Schnell said, tests are back within a 24- to 48-hour time period. The Department of Health and Human Services has outlined the criteria for testing: Hospitalized patients with a clinical presentation consistent with COVID-19; Health care workers ; Public Safety/First Responders (EMS, law enforcement, firefighters) ; Residents and staff at nursing homes Residents and staff at group homes, homeless shelters, and child care facilities ; People over 65 years old; and Anyone with underlying conditions where a COVID-19 infection could result in severe illness or death.
However, in Thursday’s report, Schnell said all requests for testing in the Panhandle have been done.
“Any doctor who has called and asked for a test, we have not turned anybody done,” she said.
As persons are tested and cases confirmed, contact investigations are completed. Persons close to those confirmed to have the coronavirus, or showing symptoms, are asked to isolate or to quarantine, depending on their condition. In Kimball County, all residents have been asked to monitor their health, taking their temperature twice daily and monitoring for symptoms. If possible, people are asked to stay at home.
In Kimball, the school district has announced that it has stopped its food preparation program for children. The city has announced closure of its playgrounds and the school district has also followed suit.
“Our concern in Kimball County is that there seems to be community transmission,” Engel said. “There are several close contacts who seem to be symptomatic and we are getting tests on those.”
In neighboring Goshen County, officials announced a second case of the coronavirus. Heather Saul, Goshen County Public Health emergency response coordinator, said the Wyoming Department of Health is investigating after a patient, a man in his 20s, tested positive for the coronavirus. High risk contacts will be notified. The patient is currently not hospitalized.
Last week, Goshen County authorities announced its first case on March 27, a woman in her 40s. The source of that case had not yet been attributed as community spread or otherwise, Saul said earlier this week.
For more information on the coronavirus and resources from PPHD, visit its website, www.pphd.org. The website also lists locations that have been announced as probable exposure sites in the Panhandle coronavirus cases.