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LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts says Nebraska is “well ahead of the curve” in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

President Donald Trump says Nebraska is one of the states that’s been “very lightly affected” by the outbreak that’s crippling the economy.

But others, who have tried to plot out the future course of the virus, are urging patience and are waiting for more tests and more data.

Nebraska, they say, may have taken some preventive steps earlier than other states and may eventually escape the full wrath of the virus, but it’s just too soon to predict how bad it will be.

There’s plenty of reason for concern — the Legislative Research Office, as well as a Lincoln doctor, have produced projections that, among other things, raise questions about the state’s capacity to handle a surge of cases.

If half or more of Nebraskans contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and if 5% to 10% of them require hospitalization — as some health organizations have projected — nearly 100,000 hospital beds or more will be needed in Nebraska, a state that has about 7,000 such beds.

“I think we’ve been more lightly affected, but the real answer is we don’t know yet because we haven’t done enough testing,” said Dr. Bob Rauner of Lincoln, who is the chief medical director for a network of 58 independent medical clinics in Nebraska.

“I can see it peaking in the next couple of weeks, but we won’t know until we get the testing,” the doctor said.

Dr. Gary Anthone, Nebraska’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday that while Nebraska has “received encouragement and strong approval” for being an “early adopter” of precautions, residents must continue to practice safety measures.

Rauner, who is also a member of the Lincoln School Board and head of a nonprofit group that promotes wellness of school children, is among the medical professionals and government agencies trying to project what’s ahead for the virus, so they can prepare.

Over the past few weeks, Rauner has produced a series of five videos on YouTube that attempt to estimate the spread of the coronavirus in Lincoln and Nebraska.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center, home to a center specializing in contagious diseases, has also done some projections, as has the research office of the Nebraska Legislature, which recently produced a briefing paper for state senators entitled, “COVID-19 Pandemic: Where is Nebraska headed?”

Their conclusions? Some rough times ahead.

Rauner’s latest video projects that between 30% and 70% of Nebraskans will contract COVID-19, and, assuming that 5% of them will require hospitalization, that between 28,939 and 148,554 will need hospital beds. Projections released on Friday by the Legislative Research Office were somewhat similar, estimating a need for 95,000 hospital beds.

Those are sobering numbers, considering that Nebraska has only 6,958 hospital beds, according to the Legislative Research Office.

The projections help explain why officials from hospitals and the state have said they are already looking at ways to expand their capacity if a “surge” of patients hits. Among the ideas: convert existing hospital space into intensive care rooms, or turn nonhospital buildings into temporary hospitals.

The projections also explain why Ricketts and other government officials have repeatedly emphasized the need to adopt precautionary measures such as hand-washing and social distancing. Those steps can help flatten the curve of cases, so that there’s a slow, steady rise of coronavirus patients that would not overwhelm the state’s hospitals. The goal is to prevent a steep incline in numbers, like that seen in Italy, where the health care system is swamped.

Rauner said he’s produced his YouTube projections to help his patients and clinics prepare.

Nebraska and other Midwestern states are showing lower rates of infection, he said, in part because of their geographic location, which is far from the coasts, where the coronavirus first entered the country. That’s given Nebraska more time and better clues on how to respond.

The Midwest also sees less impact from travelers who might be bringing the virus from other countries and states than major transportation hubs such as New York City, Rauner said.

Nebraskans, he said, might also just be naturally better at social distancing. Italy and Spain are countries where a greeting is accompanied by hugs and kisses on the cheeks; Nebraskans, meanwhile, are more reticent, Rauner said.

Maintaining social distance and avoiding large public gatherings are most important in urban areas, where the population is more densely located, he said. The impact of preventing one infected student from attending a school of 2,000 students day after day cannot be underestimated in blunting the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, Rauner said.

Most sobering are the projections on the number of deaths the virus could cause in Nebraska.

The fatality rate is hard to pin down, Rauner said, because there are so many undiagnosed cases. The Legislative Research Office’s memo assumed a fatality rate of 1% to 3% of all cases, but Rauner said that’s it’s probably 1% or lower, based on the experience in Germany and South Korea.

He estimates, based on a fatality rate of 0.5% of all cases, that between 2,894 and 36,463 Nebraskans could die from the virus.

Rauner said he’s “reasonably confident” that the state’s impact might be on the low end. Schools in Lincoln and Omaha were shut down quickly, and it appears — as Ricketts has said — that Nebraskans are adhering to social distancing recommendations.

“In Lincoln, O Street was dead, downtown was dead,” Rauner said on his most recent video. “That’s bad for local restaurants, but may have stopped the arc of the epidemic in its tracks.”

Photos: Coronavirus affects Nebraska

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A woman exits the St. Thomas Aquinas Church at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Tuesday. Although masses are canceled because of coronavi…

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Bourbon general manager Aaron Galvan puts up a sign to encourage people on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Lincoln. "Someone will probably think t…

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A note grace the front of Yia-Yia's Pizza on St. Patrick's Day on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Lincoln. Several bars and restaurants in Nebrask…

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Douglas County District Judge Horacio Wheelock "appears" in his courtroom using Skype on Tuesday. He recently traveled to Europe and, though h…

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A group of co-workers dines in a room by themselves at the Brazen Head Irish Pub in Omaha on St. Patrick's Day. The restaurant and bar was hav…

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Gary Hylen, of Omaha, eats a plate of corned beef and cabbage at the Brazen Head Irish Pub in Omaha on St. Patrick's Day, Tuesday, March 17, 2…

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Dodge Street looking west in Omaha on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Schools in the area have closed indefinitely and many businesses are encouragin…

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Classes have been canceled March 16-20, extending spring break by a week for the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Classes are expected to move…

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Workers prepare meals to be distributed at Westside Middle School on Monday. The meals were meant to replace the food that kids would be getti…

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Kristen Lightfoot leaves Gilder Elementary School on Monday morning after meeting with Principal Cassie Schmidt, who is in the doorway. Lightf…

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Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets holds a press conference with the Nebraska Department of Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt, center right, a…

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Parking spots were open for blocks in the Old Market on Monday as fears about the coronavirus kept people home.

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Parking spots were open for blocks looking north on 14th Street from Douglas Street in the Old Market on Monday, March 16, 2020. Fears about t…

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Parking spots were open for blocks looking west on Harney Street from 10th Street in the Old Market on Monday, March 16, 2020. Fears about the…

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Nebraska Governor Pete Rickets holds a press conference with the Nebraska Department of Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt, center, and Neb…

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Paper shamrocks are put in a window near 45th and Hickory Streets on Monday. The social media idea is for kids stuck at home because of the co…

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The Auburn fan section got creative in their state championship with Ogallala during the Nebraska state basketball tournament. Crowds were lim…

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Wahoo's Trey Scheef attempts a three-point basket in front of Elkhorn Mount Michael's Bradley Bennett during the first day of the state high s…

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Tammy Hancock and Jaxson, left and Griffin, right, check with Wahoo administrator Marc Kaminski to see if they are the list to attend the firs…

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A woman cleans a walkway near the Anderson Complex on the campus of Midland University on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. The campus is currently clo…

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A local woman with coronavirus disease was brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus Friday night to be treated in the Nebra…

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Officials help passengers off a plane at Omaha's Eppley Airfield into waiting vehicles from Nebraska Medicine.

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Paddy McGown's Pub and Grill located at 4503 Center Street, was did not have the normal crowd it would on Saint Patrick's Day because of coron…

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Emily Moody plays tag with her daughter Janie, 5, as their miniature golden doodle, Wrigley, joins them for "recess" in the family's yard on W…

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Lydia Moody, 9, shows off the family schedule for the week. The family has a daily schedule to help navigate as they stay home amid the corona…

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The wall of a classroom at 88 Tactical is painted with diagrams of various handguns on Wednesday. Gun and ammunition sales are on the rise ami…

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Instructor Bryan Breitkreutz, center, teaches a handgun level 1 class on Wednesday at 88 Tactical in Omaha. 

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Union Pacific employees take part in a digital meeting Wednesday in Omaha. It’s one of the measures the company is using to prevent the spread…

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Tessa Keeran watches as children prepare to eat lunch at Through The Years Child Care. The child care facility makes sure to space the kids ou…

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Tessa Keeran makes sure Laylah Lee washes her hands correctly before lunch at Through the Years Child Care.

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Cassondra June delivers a lunch order to a patrons car Wednesday, March 18, 2020, at Porky Butts. The bbq joint is adapting to new coronavirus…

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Katarina Gleisberg does mindfulness exercise at Memorial Park in the rain on Thursday, March 19, 2020.

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Chloe Corbett and Samuel Stevens stand behind a piece of tape six feet from Chris Stungis, a records clerk, while picking up their marriage li…

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Chris Stungis, a records clerk, steps back six feet as Chloe Corbett and Samuel Stevens come to the counter to verify information on their mar…

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Hannah Holguin, a math teacher at Omaha South High School, readies sack lunches outside the State Farm near 30th and L St. in Omaha on Thursda…

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Ashlyn Franks, 7, of Omaha, carries a sign so people know where to stop for a free lunch outside the State Farm near 30th and L St. in Omaha o…

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Samii Robey, with the UNO Outdoor Adventure Center, pressure washes the holds for the rock-climbing wall at UNO on Thursday, March 19, 2020. T…

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A Tabitha employee waves to a group of volunteers outside as they cheer with supporting messages during a shift change on Thursday, March 19, …

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Volunteers, from left, Emily Schweitzer, Tess Kurtenbach, Jennifer Kimmons and Maryann Castillo cheer with supporting messages to healthcare w…

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Madeleine Morelli, left, sets up a phone to record her husband, Creighton medical student John Morelli, right, when he opens his match day let…

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Creighton medical student John Morelli talks to friends and family on several video chats as he prepares to open his match day envelope at his…

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Emma Lepert, the event planner, brings out a to-go order to a person waiting in a car at Anthony's Steakhouse in Omaha on Friday, March 20, 20…

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Courtney Tatum, the assistant manager, draws a yard sign to let customer know they have takeout and delivery available at Anthony's Steakhouse…

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McKayla Olsen, the assistant general manager, prepares a sake bomb kit for a takeout order at Butterfish in Omaha on Friday, March 20, 2020. N…

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Senior Pastor Olaf Roynesdal makes opening remarks to a mostly empty Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church on Sunday in Omaha. The church conducted…

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Rows of pews sit empty at Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church on Sunday in Omaha. The church conducted services via online streaming as people co…

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Jaeger, a German shepherd mix puppy, watches Ed Snawerdt, of Omaha, from the front seat of his adoptive family's van outside the Nebraska Huma…

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Steven Morris and Dani Alderson, of Omaha, pet Morty before adopting him. The Nebraska Humane Society is holding a sale on adoption fees that …

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A man walks the empty hallways at the Nebraska State Capitol on Monday in Lincoln. Lawmakers were allowed to watch the session from their offi…

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A legislative page places a piece of paper page outlining Gov. Pete Ricketts key points for emergency funding on a desk at the State Capitol o…

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Sen. Mark Kolterman, right, greets Sen. Tony Vargas with an elbow touch Monday.

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A man sits alone in a cafeteria area at Eppley Airfield in Omaha on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Air travel is down as the COVID-19 pandemic sprea…

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A single traveler walks through Eppley Airfield in Omaha on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Air travel is down as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads aroun…

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Healthcare workers bump elbows before conducting drive-thru testing at Bryan LifePointe Campus on Tuesday in Lincoln.

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A woman wearing a mask carries belongings out of Carter Place, an assisted living facility in Blair, Nebraska on Wednesday. Two residents test…

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A child's drawing is taped to a window at Carter Place, an assisted living facility in Blair, Nebraska on Wednesday. Two residents tested posi…

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Keith Binder poses for a portrait in the Benson neighborhood where he worked as a bartender. Regulations put in place to slow the spread of th…

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A man walks past an empty barber shop near P street on Thursday in Lincoln. Captain's Chair closed down in compliance with the new restrictions.

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Katherine Bergstrom plays with Charlie the cat near a safety table in A Novel Idea Bookstore on Thursday in Lincoln. All customers who enter t…

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Curbside pickup locations appeared around downtown Lincoln to assist in social distancing on Thursday.

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Opie plays with a tennis ball as Mikala Hansen teaches her Millard West High School freshman biology class. Schools are adjusting to remote le…

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Millard West High School's Mikala Hansen teaches her freshman biology class through Zoom from her Omaha home on Thursday.

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Millard West teacher Mikala Hansen's dog Opie would rather she play fetch than teach her freshman biology class. Hansen hopes that her dogs do…

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Brandi Udell, and her children, from left, Jazzlen 4; Kolten, 5; and Kaiden, 9; wave to teachers from LeMay Elementary School on Friday. 

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Beth Dawson, right, from LeMay Elementary School and and her son Carter Dawson, are among a group of teachers that drive around neighborhoods …

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Teresa Elliott and her family take a group photo while trying to stay six feet away from each other on her final day of breast cancer radiatio…

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From left, Nancy Toner, Cathy Kruse, Rosie Matz and Toni Schroeder — 6 feet apart with hand-sewn face masks due to the coronavirus — surprise …

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Giant letters spell "hope" in a yard in 13th Street just north of U Street on Thursday in Omaha. 

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Giant letters spell "hope" in a yard in 13th Street just north of U Street on Thursday in Omaha. 

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