Daily Record Explains: COVID-19 Developments, Resources


A road sign over Interstate 80 in Omaha directs motorists to contact 511 for quarantine guidance, March 31, 2020. Travelers coming back to Nebraska from out of state are asked to self-quarantine. (AP)
By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Last Updated: Saturday, April 4, 9:30 a.m.

Ten workers at a central Nebraska beef plant have tested positive for the new coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, public health officials announced Friday.

The cases were confirmed at the JBS beef plant in Grand Island, according to the Central District Health Department. The plant will not be shut down, however, because the federal government considers food and agricultural production and processing facilities essential infrastructure.

Hall County, which includes Grand Island, has the state’s second-highest number of confirmed positive cases, with 26 as of Friday afternoon, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The most confirmed cases are in Douglas County, encompassing Omaha, where officials have logged 124 so far.

“Our numbers are ever-increasing,” said Teresa Anderson, director of the Central District Health Department, which covers Hall, Merrick and Hamilton counties. “This is not good, but it is not unexpected.”

Statewide, Nebraska had 285 confirmed cases as of Saturday morning, and six have died. More than 4,500 have tested negative.

Among those with the virus are seven new cases at the Douglas County Health Center, a long-term care facility in Omaha. Local health officials said Friday that five residents and two employees at the center were the latest to test positive for COVID-19. All five residents are being isolated in their rooms, and the two employees are in isolation at home. All are in stable condition. Those cases were among 10 new cases reported Friday in the Omaha area.

 Since Sunday, the center has seen 18 positive COVID-19 cases – 13 residents and five employees.

The news came as health experts who are advising Gov. Pete Ricketts warned that Nebraska is only in “the second inning” of its struggle against the outbreak, and more deaths are expected.

“We really won’t be able to return to a complete normal until we have a vaccine,” said Dr. James Lawler, a University of Nebraska Medical Center physician. “But what we can do is keep the epidemic curve in our community at a level that’s low enough that we preserve the health care system.”

Lawler said Nebraska’s move to close schools early likely helped, because schools are among the most densely populated areas of the state.

State officials also announced that a Gage County woman is the sixth known person in Nebraska to die from COVID-19.

The woman was in her 90s and had underlying health conditions, the Nebraska Health and Human Services Department said in a news release.

For most people, COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illnesses.

Ricketts said he doesn’t plan to deviate from his regional approach for stay-at-home orders rather than issue a statewide order, as other governors have done to fight the pandemic’s spread.

However, as of Friday evening, Nebraska has issued directed health measures that extend to the last of the state’s 93 counties.

 

Those enforceable orders prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people and forcing restaurants to close their dining rooms in areas where confirmed cases of the virus can’t be traced.

Ricketts said some of Nebraska’s rules are stricter than other states that have full shelter-in-place orders. He cited Florida’s statewide order, announced Wednesday, which exempts religious services. Nebraska’s 10-person limit doesn’t include such an exemption, he said.

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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. The illness has reached Omaha and has spread across much of the United States already.

HOW MANY CASES? The United States had 186,101 cases and 3,603 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, there were 823,626 cases and 40,598 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the World Health Organization. The Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering has an interactive dashboard showing COVID-19 cases across the globe. Nebraska DHHS also has a dashboard.

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.

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.

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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, choosing 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.

Officials are working on relief packages for businesses and workers, particularly those who lose their jobs due to the pandemic. The Small Business Administration offers disaster assistance loans for small businesses impacted by COVID-19.

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 have 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.

The U.S. District of Nebraska has suspended jury trials, as has the Fourth Judicial District Court in Douglas County. The Nebraska Supreme Court and Court of Appeals are considering dropping oral arguments for their April calendars.

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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

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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