The Panhandle continues to see an increase, albeit low numbers, daily in coronavirus cases.

On Thursday, Panhandle Public Health District officials announced a new coronavirus case, a teenager who is a close contact of a previously positive case. The total number of cases in the Panhandle has risen to 79 cases since March 2.

Most of the results from the 453 tests done by the Nebraska National Guard, including in the community of Gordon, have been received back. Only two positive cases have been reported from that testing,. .. Such a large number of negative tests pleased health officials, PPHD director Kim Engel said.

Scotts Bluff County Public Health Director Paulette Schnell said protective measures continue to be needed. She said, “We have had some great results with the availability of the testing. ... But do not assume that means you do not have to be concerned about following some of those things we have asked you to do (social distancing, washing hands, wearing a mask in public and crowds). ... There is always a consideration that you may run into someone who has the virus and may not know it or have very mild symptoms. Consider that when you are out and about.”

According to the PPHD dashboard, the majority of cases in the Panhandle have occurred in the 10-19 age group, with 18 cases among teens. Half of those cases have been reported since the beginning of May 1.

Schnell said there have been a large number of teen cases during the daily briefing call Thursday. State and local health officials continue to reiterate some key messages, including teaching and helping children to maintain social distancing.

“We are seeing a higher amount of teens with cases than other areas of the state,” she said. “We continue to see teens gathering in larger amounts than ten. That continues to be a concern that we have.”

A lot of the teens have experienced mild symptoms, if they feel sick at all, and they are around friends, going about their business, such as being needed in the workforce and “spreading it even more.

“I would encourage our teens, and parents of teens, to educate them about social distancing, washing their hands, and staying home if they are sick,” she said. “All of the things that we want everyone to be doing, we really need to enforce that with our teens.”

Among the main purposes of social distancing and other measures to “keep Nebraska healthy” is to prevent the spread of the virus and to minimize deaths and hospitalizations.

Throughout the state, deaths have occurred largely in the most vulnerable population: the elderly and those in nursing facilities. The Panhandle has not experienced any deaths, but there have been nine hospitalizations, Schnell said. State health officials have said that Nebraska is doing well with availability of ventilators, ICU rooms and staffing, being able to respond as needed.

“We will continue to see cases and people are going to get this, because it is a new virus,” she said. “But if we can flatten the curve and prevent people from getting this in a large amount, very quickly, but (instead) spread it out.”

During Thursday’s call, one person questioned advice about wearing masks. One person cited claims that the U.S. Surgeon General had said that masks were ineffective against preventing the coronavirus. However, Schnell clarified that the entirety of the surgeon general’s statements need to be evaluated and that he advised that wearing masks ineffectively does little to prevent the spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and health officials continue to recommend wearing masks, along with social distancing, to prevent the spread of the virus. Information on correctly wearing masks is available from a multitude of sources, including the CDC.

Panhandle health officials also continue to encourage only essential travel outside of the state.

Information on coronavirus has continued to evolve, specifically regarding symptoms. Schnell said that people continue to be asked to stay at home if they experience cough, fever and shortness of breath. Additional symptoms have been added: sore throat, loss of taste of smell, chills and headache. A listing of common symptoms in a poster form for businesses is being made available through PPHD. Businesses can contact the organization.

PPHD continues to be a resource for public safety and health care facilities to receive personal protective equipment. Officials said that there continue to be shortages of PPE, however, the state has been able to identify distributors and there have been some improvements in getting PPE. Any of those agencies needing PPE can apply through PPHD.

For more information on Panhandle response to the coronavirus, visit www.pphd.org.


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