ASHLAND – As Nebraska reported the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state last week, public facilities in the Ashland area are watching what unfolds.
Last Friday, a 36-year-old Omaha woman was taken to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center for treatment of coronavirus, also called COVID-19. The woman had recently traveled to the United Kingdom with her father. Her father and another family member have also tested positive for the virus and are self-quarantined in their Omaha area home.
State health officials said the woman, who was identified in an article in the Omaha World-Herald as special needs, played in a Special Olympics basketball game at the YMCA in Fremont on Feb. 29.
Many other Special Olympics athletes and coaches were at the tournament, and secondary contact is a concern for area schools.
State and local health officials have asked those who attended the Special Olympics basketball event to self-report to Three Rivers Health Department in Fremont and self-quarantine for at least 14 days after the event and monitor their symptoms.
Jason Libal, superintendent of Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools, said no students or staff from the district were involved in the Special Olympics event.
On Saturday, some youth wrestlers from Ashland were participating in a district tournament in Fremont. They were there when local officials there cut the meet short after learning that the Fremont schools, universities, library and other public facilities were closing to prevent possible spread of the virus.
No one at the youth wrestling meet has been diagnosed with coronavirus, Libal said.
“From our understanding, there is little to no risk for those families,” he said. “They have simply been advised to monitor their health moving forward.”
Fremont public and parochial schools and Plattsmouth and Logan View public school districts have cancelled classes for at least a week in response to the virus.
Libal said Ashland-Greenwood remains open for classes and activities. The district will consult experts if a decision to close was necessary, he added.
“We would lean heavily on the advice of our local, regional, and state health departments related to such a decision,” he said.
In some instances, plans for some large state school-related events have been altered because of the virus threat. The 2020 National Geographic GeoBee State Competition was originally supposed to be held at the University of Nebraska at Omaha on March 27. However, due to concerns about the COVID-19 virus, the contest will be done online on the same day.
The State Basketball Championships are still set to start Thursday in Lincoln, according to information published in a Lincoln Journal Star article on Monday.
Libal said Ashland-Greenwood will consult health officials to determine whether to cancel or postpone any events, but there are no plans to do so at this time.
“At the current time, all events are on as scheduled,” he said.
As a precaution against the virus, Ashland-Greenwood officials have changed their cleaning routines, Libal said.
“We are spending additional time sanitizing and cleaning touch point, and hard surface areas,” he said.
A diagnosis of COVID-19 is more prevalent in adults than in children. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that most confirmed cases of the virus have occurred in adults. Older adults and adults with chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease or those who have compromised immune systems are more susceptible to the disease.
Local facilities that serve the elderly are taking extra steps to keep their residents protected from COVID-19.
Although there have been no diagnoses of the virus at Azria Health Ashland (formerly the Ashland Care Center), the facility began restricting visitors last Saturday in response to what has been happening in Fremont and other areas, according to Courtney Flanagan, director of nursing.
“We have closed the building to outside visitors at this point to minimize contact with the public,” she said.
They have also cancelled all volunteer activities, Flanagan said. The restrictions will last until at least March 14.
Flanagan said sent letters to and called the family members of the 75 residents in the facility to inform them of the temporary procedure. They anticipated initial concern from the families, but no negativity.
“After they asked their questions, they have been fine,” she added.
Visitors are not restricted, but limitations have been placed at Oxbow Living Center in Ashland, according to Executive Director Kerry Dierks.
“We are still letting family members in but we are asking if they are sick to postpone it,” she said.
Residents are receiving daily fever checks and are being monitored for possible symptoms of COVID-19, Dierks said.
The staff has prepared for possible quarantine by stockpiling food and medical equipment.
“If we go into full quarantine, we’re ready,” Dierks said.
Staff and all 80 residents are also being reminded to wash hands frequently and use the extra hand sanitizer stations that have been installed at the facility, the executive director added. Staff members also assist residents in the memory care unit to make sure they are washing their hands.
As of Monday, there had been 423 total cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and 19 deaths. The virus has been reported in 34 states and the District of Columbia. In Nebraska, along with the three people with a confirmed diagnosis, nine are undergoing further testing at the Nebraska Public Health Lab, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Thirty-six cases have tested negative so far, the DHHS also reports.
According to the CDC, Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.
Health officials suggest that anyone who experiences these symptoms should self-quarantine and call their health care provider. Health officials also urge anyone who is exhibiting possible
symptoms of COVID-19 or any other illness to stay home.
The virus spreads by person-to-person contact when respiratory droplets are expelled by a cough or sneeze and land in the mouth or nose of someone standing nearby. The virus can also live on hard surfaces or objects and be passed along when these areas are touched and then the person touches their face.
Everyday preventative measures include avoiding close contact with individuals who are sick; keeping hands from eyes, nose and mouth; covering a cough or sneeze with a tissue that is discarded immediately; cleaning and disinfecting high touch objects and surfaces and washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
The newness of this coronavirus creates many unknowns, said Terra Uhing, executive director of Three Rivers.
“This is fluid, COVID-19, it is changing almost by the minute,” she said in a press conference Monday.
Hotlines have been set up to deal with COVID-19 questions. Three Rivers has collaborated with Dodge County Emergency Management and Fremont Area United Way to activate a 2-1-1 hotline for residents of Saunders, Dodge and Washington counties. The hotline will answer questions about prevention, symptoms and the situation in Fremont.
The Nebraska public health online system is located at dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Coronavirus.aspx. The CDC’s information line is 800-232-4636.