Cases of coronavirus continue to climb, with additional cases reported in Garden and Scotts Bluff counties Wednesday.
As of June 3, 3,082 people have been tested for the coronavirus in the Panhandle. To date, 4.9% of the tests done in the Panhandle have come back positive, according to figures presented on the Panhandle Public Health District’s website and presented by officials during Wednesday’s daily briefing.
There are currently 70 active cases in the Panhandle and for about two weeks, officials have been reporting cases daily. During Wednesday’s briefing, two new cases were reported in Garden County, a teen girl and a woman in her 70s. Both were identified as close contacts of a person who tested positive. In Scotts Bluff County, four more cases were reported: teen girl; a girl, age 10 or under; a woman in her 70s; and a man in his 20s. All of the cases were identified as having been close contacts of a person who tested positive previously, except the woman in her 70s. That case has been identified as having been acquired by community spread.
There have been a number of rumors about local nursing or assisted living facilities in the area having had residents who tested positive for the coronavirus in recent weeks. However, none of the nursing homes have publicly disclosed cases. Some have expressed concern because the elderly are a group at high-risk for hospitilizations and even death from the coronavirus.
Scotts Bluff County Public Health Director Paulette Schnell said that public health officials have been working with long-term care and other facilities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at those facilities and in the community.
“Throughout the Panhandle and throughout this whole time since we started having cases in the area, we have had long-term care and different facilities having had staff and residents who have tested positive,” she said. “We have done a great job with these facilities working with us to really contain that and to identify those and to work through that.”
There have been no known deaths associated with COVID-19 since PPHD began reporting cases on March 2. There have been 20 people who have been hospitalized.
Health officials did discuss one Scottsbluff restaurant that has announced publicly that one of its employees tested positive for the coronavirus. The Tangled Tumbleweed has announced on its Facebook page that one of its employees did test positive and health officials said the business anticipated being closed for two weeks as an extraordinary measure. The facility did follow all health guidelines, they said, and didn’t have to close, but did do so. All employees who may have come into contact with the affected employee have and will be tested as well as any close contacts.
This week, TestNebraska, the contractor arranged by the State of Nebraska to help step up testing in the state, is offering testing in several Panhandle communities. PPHD director Kim Engel said that currently, testing criteria remains limited to those persons who are exhibiting symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. It’s hoped in the future that testing will be opened up to those persons who are asymptomatic, but that has not yet happened. Testing criteria is set by TestNebraska, not Panhandle health officials.
There have been some schedule changes, so those who have previously signed up for testing should be notified of those changes.
The remaining dates for testing are in Alliance, a.m. to 12 p.m., Thursday; Scottsbluff, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Friday; Oshkosh, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Oshkosh; and Sidney, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., Sidney. Persons can sign up at testnebraska.com, where they will take an assessment and it will be determined if they qualify for testing.