Continued calls for people to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of the coranvirus were the key focus of a call updating the media and other officials on the state of cases in the Panhandle.
As of Wednesday, three cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Scotts Bluff County and one case has been reported in Kimball County. There were no new cases reported.
In neighboring Goshen County, one case had also been reported last week. Heather Saul, of Goshen County Public Health updated the Star-Herald with results from the state epidemiologist who says it has not been determined if that case is community spread or not. No locations of potential exposure connected to that case in Scotts Bluff County or Goshen County have been issued for the public. All close contacts have been alerted.
Paulette Schnell, Scotts Bluff County Health director, outlined that 210 cases and four deaths have been reported in the state. In the Panhandle, 167 people have been tested, with a total of 39 test results still pending as of press time.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts outlined that people need to be more cognizant of social distancing and other measures put into place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. With Scotts Bluff County’s cases as having been traced back to community spread, Ricketts earlier issued an order that the 11 counties of the Panhandle and Grant County would be under a directed health measure through May 11. That measure resulted in changes at restaurants and bars, as well as limits to gatherings. PPHD officials reiterated that violation of the directed health measure is enforceable and a person can be charged with a misdemeanor.
“We are getting a lot of questions about the directed health measure,” Kim Engel, director of Panhandle Public Health District, said.
Some questions this week have included whether or not convenience stores have to close eating areas, if hotels can continue to offer continental breakfast seating and if bowling alleys can continue to serve alcohol and food. All of those establishments also fall under the direct health measure and must move to an option that includes take-out, delivery or curbside pickup. At the hotel, for example, guests would need to take their food to their room, rather than eating it in a designated seating area. Salons and fitness centers can remain open, but social distancing among patrons is required.
One of the stringent requirements is that anyone who lives with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms, such as cough, fever, sore throat and difficulty breath, must also quarantine.
A lot of questions have also been asked throughout the week about people traveling. The guidance continues to be that people who are traveling between states — except commuters for essential businesses — should quarantine for 14 days from the date of the test or the onset of symptoms. Ricketts has indicated he will not stop interstate travel, however, the state has taken action and is no longer granting turkey hunting permits to out-of-state persons. The need to self-quarantine applies to those out-of state persons who have already been granted turkey hunting permits, are camping or otherwise staying in the Panhandle. People who travel to the state for the upcoming holiday are advised that they should self-quarantine for 14 days.
Essential workers continue to be advised that they should follow the policies of their employers if traveling between states. Also, if essential workers have been identified as having been at any of the locations identified in the Scotts Bluff County and Kimball County cases, they are advised to contact their employer for guidance. Members of the general public are advised to self-quarantine.
Jessica Davies, assistant director of PPHD, said people with questions about the directed health measure and how it applies to their business can reach out to PPHD officials for guidance. She said that often times, its best for staff to discuss situations personally with those having questions to try to address specifics about their business or situation.
Resources continue to be a problem, Schnell said during Wednesday’s call. There are limits to personal protective equipment (ppe) for health workers. Guidance for those who are sewing masks and other things for health care workers has now been issued by PPHD as some hospitals begin accepting the homemade items. Those facilities needing PPE can reach out to PPHD, which has a taskforce for areas such as health care and public safety, and a form so that the organization can assess the need and provide equipment.
“We are doing our best to meet those needs with the resources that we have,” Tabi Prochazka, deputy director at PPHD, said.
Additional information, including guidance for businesses, those in the ag community and others, is available on the PPHD website, pphd.org.