Panhandle residents who have plans to travel out of state may want to rethink those plans.
During a daily briefing Thursday and again Friday, Panhandle Public Health District officials are asking all travelers to self-quarantine.
In a release issued Friday, PPHD spelled out the guidance:
— To limit spread in Nebraska, all travelers should self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning home and immediately report any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to their health care provider or public health.
— Returning travelers should assume that COVID-19 disease is present at the locations they have visited and traveled through and self-quarantine.
— Residents that support the critical infrastructure of our community, like truckers, are encouraged to continue to provide their vital services. When they are back in the Panhandle, they are encouraged to stay at their house (self-quarantine).
— Traveling to and from work is understandable; the idea is to stay in the same community and practice strict social distancing.
Health care workers have different guidelines and should consult with a trained medical professional at their facility (infection preventionists or physician) and establish a specific infection control protocol that mitigates patient and co-worker exposures.
On Thursday, Panhandle Public Health District Director Kim Engel said the United States has seen cases following on the same trajectory as Italy, which is “really struggling right now. Their health care system is overwhelmed.” Italy has experienced cases doubling every two to three days. The United States is about 11 days behind Italy, she said.
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control are asking that all travelers follow instructions and self-quarantine, Engel said. Officials had been directing quarantines based on whether or not people had traveled to “hot spots,” but due to a two-week incubation period, it was found that the coronavirus would be circulating before it was apparent that an area had been affected.
“We are being just extra cautious to try to flatten that curve and give our our health care system more time to spread that out so they are not overwhelmed,” Engel said.
If a person is asked to self-quarantine, “we want you to stay home,” Scotts Bluff County Public Health Director Paulette Schnell said. “We want you to stay in your home, away from other people if they live in your house.”
As a community, Schnell said, people can step up and “be a good neighbor,” helping those asked to self-quarantine or isolate. People can take others items from the grocery store or things that they need, leaving things at the door or other places to help out.
If a person has been asked to isolate, they are experiencing symptoms but are not sick enough to be hospitalized. Schnell said 80% of people who are diagnosed with the coronavirus will suffer mild cases and will be asked to isolate. In both self-quarantine and isolation, people will be asked to separate themselves from other family members in the home to prevent exposing them.
Engel said that people will continue to be asked to follow the guidelines on social distancing, such as not gathering in groups of more than 10 and staying six feet apart.
Restuarants, bars and other establishments are asked to limit crowds to not more than 10 people, as well as observing social distancing rules. Engel said health care officials have been pleased to see businesses offering delivery or curbside services during this time.
“We should just assume that the virus is here and we want to stay apart so that we don’t get it,” she said. “We should also assume that we have the virus and don’t want to give it to people.”
The goal of social distancing is to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the coronavirus.
For more resources on COVID-19, visit the PPHD website, pphd.org. The website also has information for employers under its “Worksite Wellness” section.