As health officials began to update the media on the local coronavirus picture Tuesday, they received word: two additional COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in Scotts Bluff County.
That makes three cases in the community, though the case is connected to the earlier diagnosis of a 30-something Scotts Bluff County man. The two people are identified as family members of the man.
The disclosure on Tuesday doesn’t add any additional locations to a list of possible sites for exposure in the Scottsbluff community that has included locales from a funeral to a restaurant. Ten close contacts of the man had been tested after he tested positive and had participated in an investigation. Because of that participation, officials released possible exposure sites of the man and his close contacts in Monday’s release. Those sites are located on starherald.com and are listed on page 1 of today’s Star-Herald.
As a result of testing, two of his close contacts — a woman in her 50s and a man in his 70s — tested positive for the coronavirus. The man and woman had been quarantined and are now showing symptoms. Scotts Bluff County Public Health Director Paulette Schnell said they are in isolation.
Also, in the Panhandle, a Kimball County man in his 50s has also been diagnosed with the coronavirus. That man has been hospitalized in Scottsbluff, according to Facebook posts from his family. Locations that the man visited in Kimball, including a local church, have been shared on starherald.com and are listed on Page 1 of today’s Star-Herald.
Close contacts of the man have been identified, many of whom were family members. However, Schnell said, many of them were from out of state so testing has occurred in those states.
That man’s case is believed to have been tied to travel to Colorado, which currently has a stay-at-home order in place as it has seen an influx of cases in recent weeks. People who do travel outside of the Panhandle, from within Nebraska, to adjoining states of Colorado, Wyoming and even South Dakota, are asked to quarantine for at least two weeks. Those who are showing symptoms of the coronavirus are asked to isolate. Guidance on quarantine and isolation procedures have been shared on the PPHD website.
Asked about persons who have not taken travel or quarantine warnings seriously, Schnell said that it is easy when cases of the pandemic are only reported in national news to not take those warnings seriously. However, the Scotts Bluff County man and the Kimball County man were both healthy men.
“These are people in our community,” she said. “We really take that to heart, you may not know them personally, but they are people in your community.
“This is in our community. It is here now.”
She also encouraged people to consider being kind and neighborly during this time, assisting people who have been affected by picking up groceries and even reconsidering their social media posts, instead of making assumptions or commenting about persons.
“We can be the neighbors that we want and know that we are in the Panhandle, she said.
The first case in Scotts Bluff County touched off a series of other efforts to prevent the further spread of coronavirus because it has been identified as community spread. Kim Engel, director of the Panhandle Public Health District, said community spread means that officials are unable to determine a specific person that the man may have contracted coronavirus from or an area that he may have traveled.
Gov. Pete Ricketts had indicated prior to the diagnosis that one case of community spread in the rural public health district would result in a directed health measure, which was announced Monday in all 11 counties of the Panhandle and Grant County.
Engel said that directed health measure:
— Makes gatherings of 10 or less enforceable
— Requires restaurants and bars to close dining areas and move to take-out, curbside or delivery
— Schools are directed to operate without students in buildings, though the directive does not apply to daycares
— Weddings and funerals are subject to the 10-person limit
— Does make quarantine and isolation enforceable
— Results in the cancellation of elective and time sensitive surgeries to preserve personal protective equipment.
Directions for businesses is available on Panhandle Public Health District’s website, www.pphd.org. There has been some misinformation, Engel said, such as that salons need to close at this time. Many businesses aren’t affected by the directed health measure, except for people needing to social distance, follow proper handwashing and other procedures that prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
A presentation for businesses will be hosted on Thursday, 11 a.m. Details for signing up for that presentation are available on the PPHD website. Health officials have also indicated that they can assist in answering questions and resources for employees experiencing lay-offs, reduced work hours and other impacts are available on the website.