Health care officials continue to warn people to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As of Monday, no positive cases had been reported yet in the Panhandle, Scotts Bluff County Public Health Director Paulette Schnell said during a call of the Panhandle Public Health District’s Unified Command. Seven people were tested over the weekend and she said six texts were pending Monday. It takes about 24-48 hours for results to be received from the state’s lab.

“What we want you (the public) to realize is that does not mean we do not have any cases (in the Panhandle),” she said. “We do not have any severe cases. There are likely those mild cases out there that could be in our community and probably are due to our surrounding areas having as many cases as they do,” she said.

Schnell said that health care facilties have been testing those who present with symptoms and those who are in high risk populations, such as the elderly, health care workers. Schnell and Panhandle Public Health District Director Kim Engel answered rumors that had been circulating over the weekend that people were being sent out of the area to avoid positive test results, saying that would not occur because its important for health care workers to have an accurate picture of the cases in the communities.

There have been persons who have tested in other areas, such as Colorado, because those individuals were in those communities and may have been exposed. There can be some delay in getting those results back, but again, as of Monday, no positive cases had been reported in the Panhandle.

For local health officials, they are keeping a watchful eye on Colorado, considering the number of cases in that state as more likely to impact western Nebraska than cases in eastern Nebraska because of proximity. As of Sunday evening, Colorado officials were reporting a statewide total of 591 cases with a total of seven deaths. Updated numbers were not yet available as of presstime on Monday.

Persons have been asked not to travel outside of the state and those that have to travel for essential jobs, such as agriculture and truck driving, have been asked to quarantine at home when they return and observe other recommended practices.

Social distancing and proper hand washing continue to be the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The need for social distancing is among the key reasons that 14,000 Panhandle students will not come together in classrooms until May 1. Engel said that health officials and school superintendents throughout the state participated in a teleconference with Nebraska Department of Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt on Sunday and he continued to recommend that schools should not re-open until May. Panhandle district officials met immediately afterward and came to an agreement that the districts would set a date of May 1 for planned school closures.

However, Engel said, officials are meeting weekly to re-assess the coronavirus response, as well as discuss challenges and ideas for providing services to students. Some district have already announced alternative schooling plans.

“Together, we will monitor and re-assess the situation between now and then (May 1),” Engel said.

Other topics during Monday’s call included reminding residents that they are not to flush anything but “things that come out of your body and toilet paper” down toilets. Officials have expressed concerns about sewer back ups due to toilet paper shortages, officials said during the call.

On Thursday, PPHD will once again host a call for persons in the business community to discuss the coronavirus and response. A recent call had exceeded the number of persons that could attend, so the call has been opened to allow up to 1,000 people, Jessica Davies, assistant health director said. The call will discuss such things as Gov. Pete Ricketts’ announcement that the deadline for filing taxes has been extended to July 15, as well as other topics related to the business community.

mloeks@starherald.com

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