ASHLAND – The coronavirus has made huge changes to life in Ashland and the surrounding area in recent days and weeks.
One of the biggest changes is the fact that Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools is closed for at least two weeks.
On Sunday, Superintendent Jason Libal issued a statement via social media and the school website notifying the public that school will remain closed until at least March 27.
“Due to the proximity of our community and the first case of COVID-19 ‘community spread’ diagnosed in Omaha, we feel out of extreme caution for the safety of staff and students and those they come in contact with that this decision is warranted at this time,” the statement read.
Three Rivers Health Department, which serves Dodge, Washington and Saunders counties, reported that as of March 13 there were 19 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in the state.
There were no reported cases in the area served by Three Rivers. Twelve individuals have been tested and all were negative, the health department said.
All activities and sports are also put on hold for the time being. The Nebraska Schools Activities Association suspended practices until March 30 and competitions until April 2. Statewide academic assessments normally held in the spring have been suspended by the NDE.
These announcements were made on Monday as Gov. Pete Ricketts began issuing recommendations to limit the number of people at public events and gatherings.
In the morning, Ricketts said the limit should be 50, but later reduced that figure to 10. These guidelines were issued on Monday by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce exposure potential and apply through March 31, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reported.
The DHHS said by reducing the number of people gathering together and modifying, cancelling or rescheduling public events, spread of the coronavirus may be slowed.
The City of Ashland is also making some changes, according to City Administrator Jessica Quady.
Although they have not closed their office at City Hall, the staff has put a sign on the door asking anyone who is sick to not come into the building.
Residents can use alternate options to pay utility bills, Quady said.
The city council is scheduled to meet on Thursday, and Quady said they will hold the meeting, but she has asked non-essential personnel not to attend so there is a little wiggle room as far as the 10-person limit for public events. “That gives us leeway of three people in case anyone wants to come,” she said.
However, Quady said she has pared down the agenda to only items that are necessary to keep the city functioning.
On Monday, Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an executive order to permit state and local governmental boards, commissions, and other public bodies to meet by videoconference, teleconference, or other electronic means through May 31.
The governor’s order stipulated that all such virtual meetings must be available to members of the public, including media, to give citizens the opportunity to participate as well as to be duly informed of the meetings’ proceedings. The order did not waive the advanced publicized notice and the agenda requirements for public meetings.
The Ashland Public Library closed to the public on Monday, making the announcement just minutes after the school district suspended classes and activities.
“It was our trigger,” Quady said.
All library programs and room reservations are also on hold. The library’s digital book services are still accessible.
The city-owned Jack Anderson Ball Park in Ashland is still operational. However, school sports are on hold for now.
“We’re playing it by ear as far as the ballfields are concerned,” said Quady.
As for the city’s parks, Quady said they are not doing anything differently.
“It would be almost impossible to clean them,” she added.
Long term care facilities in Ashland had already shut the doors to visitors and volunteers well before the CDC’s recommendations to limit public gatherings.
Azria Health Ashland (formerly Ashland Care Center) began restricting visitors on March 7.
On March 15, Oxbow Living Center announced that they will not be allowing guests into the facility. They are helping residents connect with family through phone calls, video chatting and other remote means of communication, the facility said in their statement.
The Greenwood Village Board of Trustees held an emergency meeting Monday night to discuss temporary closures of the village office, library
and community building and possibly waiving late fees and disconnections in March for utilities.
With the public gathering limitation, local restaurants are also feeling the effects.
Some that do not already have a drive-through are instituting delivery options.
Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum is closed to the public through March 31, including field trips, group tours and rentals.
“No one on the museum staff has tested positive for the coronavirus and to our knowledge we have had no visitors infected with the virus,” said Jeff Cannon, executive director for the museum. “In order for us to comply with Gov. Ricketts and do our part to keep our visitors and staff safe, we will be closed.”
The Nebraska Legislature suspended the current session on Monday.