Daily Record Explains: COVID-19 Developments, Resources

Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Last Updated: Tuesday, April 14, 8:40 a.m.

Another COVID-19 death has been reported in Nebraska, bringing the state's total to 18, state health officials said.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported late Monday that the state’s 18th virus-caused death was that of a man in his 90s with underlying health conditions living in Washington County. The state stood at 871 confirmed coronavirus cases Tuesday morning, while nearly 10,500 people have tested negative, according to the department's tracking data.

News of the latest death came hours after Gov. Pete Ricketts rejected a call from two state lawmakers to resume normal school and business activities in Nebraska. Ricketts said doing so could lead to a surge in new cases that might overwhelm the state's hospitals.

Ricketts’ current plan will see schools closed and businesses and social gatherings limited until at least April 30.

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WHAT’S GOING ON? A new virus, SARS-CoV-2 or simply the coronavirus, discovered late last year in China has caused a pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019, called COVID-19.

Most people develop only mild symptoms, and some may not display symptoms at all. Some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

HOW MANY CASES? The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services offers a regularly updated dashboard tracking cases. Dashboards are also offered for Douglas County as well as Sarpy and Cass counties using local health department data.

National figures are available in a daily report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Global figures are released daily by the World Health Organization. An interactive dashboard is available from John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

WHO IS AT RISK? Most cases locally have been linked to travel or close contact with someone with the illness – specifically family members. Older adults and people with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are considered at higher risk of COVID-19, according to the CDC. However, anyone could potentially develop serious, life-threatening complications.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMSSymptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Fatigue and sore throat may also indicate the illness.

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HAVE I BEEN EXPOSED? The virus has confirmed community transmission in the metropolitan area, so anyone who has been in public has potentially been exposed to the virus. Travel to certain areas, such as New York and Seattle, would be considered at higher risk of exposure, as well as those who have been in close contact of a known case of COVID-19.

HOW IS CORONAVIRUS SPREAD? The virus spreads mainly person to person, according to the CDC, through respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze.

People are believed to be the most contagious when they show symptoms, but the virus can be spread from a person who is not yet experiencing symptoms. The virus can survive in the air for several hours and on some surfaces for up to three days.

“The best way to slow the spread of COVID-19 is to wash your hands often, avoid sick people, don’t touch your face and stay home if you are sick,” according to the DCHD. “Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or use your sleeve if you cough or sneeze.”

HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF? Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public space or blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Avoid close contact – within 6 feet – of people who are sick. Put distance between yourself and others if the virus has a widespread outbreak in the community.

HOW DO I PROTECT OTHERS? Stay home if you’re sick. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Discard used tissues immediately and wash your hands. If you are sick, wear a facemask around other people, such as in a shared room or when going to seek medical attention. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at least daily.

WHAT DO I DO IF I GET SICK? Don’t panic. Talk to your primary doctor, who is likely test you for the flu, strep throat or other conditions. Your doctor may not test you for COVID-19 but might diagnose you based on symptoms or exposure. Make sure to call before going to an emergency room or clinic. Follow all medical professionals’ and public health officials’ recommendations.

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WHY IS THIS A BIG DEAL? The rapid spread of the new virus threatens to overwhelm the health care system, which could result in additional deaths. Countries like Italy and Spain have had to triage patients, and that’s expected to happen in the United States as well. Doctors will be forced to choose who receives medical care and who is deemed less likely to recover.

A #FlattenTheCurve campaign emerged on social media, urging people to do their part to slow the spread of the virus, reducing the strain on health care resources.

Even if the same number of people ultimately become ill, slowing the spread of the virus means it’s more likely those who get ill will have hospital beds, ventilators and other resources – which are in increasingly short supply – and that a treatment or even a vaccine will become available.

“Flatten the curve” refers to an epidemic curve, showing the distribution of cases over time for an infection. A flatter curve yields a possibly longer but more manageable outbreak.

Canceled events, self-quarantines and other public health measures aim to save lives even if many eventually become sick.

HOW SIMILAR IS COVID-19 TO FLU? The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to a flu or cold, but there is no vaccine and no antiviral treatments available for the new disease. COVID-19 appears to be more deadly than the flu, which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year.

DO I NEED TO STOCKPILE SUPPLIES? You should keep enough food and prescription drugs for two weeks. Bottled water is also recommended, but tap water is safe and will remain available. Stores are experiencing shortages of paper products and cleaning supplies – especially hand sanitizer. Stores are also struggling to keep shelves fully stocked, so certain brands or products may be unavailable at any given time. However, the state’s food supply chain remains robust.

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WHAT CAN BUSINESSES DO? Tell sick employees to stay home, and if they come to work, keep them isolated and send them home. Maintain sanitary conditions at the workplace. Encourage staff to work from home when possible.

Some businesses – those that gather the public together, like movie theaters, and those that require close proximity to clients, like beauty salons – should be closed in accordance with directed health measures. Others should consider being closed to the public.

Small businesses in particular should also consider how the virus outbreak may affect cashflow and the operations of the business. If your business does not have a contingency plan, now is the time to create one.

Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said businesses need to be a partner in the pandemic response. He said it will impact the workforce.

“Businesses are going to have to be flexible,” Slone said.

ARE THE COURTS OPEN? For the most part, yes. Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican said the state courts remain open, and they will continue to operate in the pandemic.

Some court buildings – including in Douglas and Sarpy counties –placed access restrictions on the public, and some court services are limited or disrupted as a result of the virus outbreak. However, the courts have pandemic plans in place to maintain operations.

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WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMAITON? There is a lot of misinformation, so be wary of which sources you trust. Public health experts are sharing updated information here:

Douglas County Health Department

Sarpy/Cass Health Department

City of Omaha / Douglas County

Nebraska Department Health and Human Services

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization

Additionally, Douglas County is offering a COVID-19 hotline at 402-444-3400. Health department officials answer questions daily 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The United Way’s 2-1-1 service will also take calls when the health department’s hotline is closed.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services also offers a COVID-19 hotline for general questions and resources at 402-552-6645. It is open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Daily Record is posting additional COVID-19 coverage at omahadailyrecord.com/covid19.

The Associated Press has its COVID-19 coverage available at apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Do you have a question for The Daily Record? Email us at news@omahadailyrecord.com.

Daily Record intern Molly Ashford contributed to this report, which also contains material from the Associated Press.



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