WAHOO – The coronavirus has made huge changes to life in Wahoo and the surrounding area in recent days and weeks.
One of the biggest changes is the fact that all area schools are closed for at least two weeks. However, the Nebraska Department and the governor have told school officials to plan for six to eight weeks.
On Sunday, officials from schools throughout the area sent notices to parents that students will stay home for at least two weeks. The schools include Ashland-Greenwood, Cedar Bluffs, East Butler, Mead, Raymond Central, Wahoo and Yutan public schools and Saunders County Catholic Schools.
However, those closures could be extended as news broke Monday that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued guidelines that no more than 10 people can gather in public through March 31. The restrictions are necessary to reduce exposure potential, according to the CDC and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
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.
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.
Each school district is dealing with the closure differently, but all are using technology to keep students engaged while they are home.
Cedar Bluffs allowed students in the building on Monday for a regular school day. Students spent their time cleaning out their lockers, checking out computers and gathering their personal items, according to a message sent to parents from the district.
Wahoo Public also held school on Monday.
“The rationale for having students in on Monday is so they can collect any and all of their supplies they might need to participate in enrichment opportunities the teachers will be providing,” Superintendent Brandon Lavaley said in a statement to parents sent on Sunday.
East Butler held school on Monday and Tuesday. In a video statement on social media, Superintendent Sam Stecher said administrators and teachers will “game plan” to decide how to proceed during the closure.
Saunders County Catholic Schools and public school districts in Ashland-Greenwood, Mead and Yutan suspended classes starting Monday.
Most districts indicated they will evaluate the situation regularly to determine how long the closures will last.
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.
The City of Wahoo is also making some changes. City Hall closed to walk-in traffic last Tuesday. The drive-up window is open during regular hours.
Persons requesting an in-person meeting with a member of the city staff can do so by calling 402-443-3222.
The Wahoo Civic Center and Public Library announced Tuesday morning that they would close through at least March 31.
The Wahoo Senior Center and Thrift Store closed on Tuesday until further notice. The Senior Meal Program will serve meals by delivery only. The Busy Wheels transportation program also remains operational, however, hours are limited.
The Nebraska Legislature suspended the current session on Monday. However, public meetings for villages, cities, counties and school districts will continue as normal with possible changes.
On Monday, the governor 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 coronavirus is most dangerous for the elderly and people with chronic diseases. As a result, long term care facilities in the county had already shut the doors to visitors and volunteers well before the CDC’s recommendations to limit public gatherings.
South Haven Living Center in Wahoo began restricting visitors on March 7.
Visitors are also not allowed at the Saunders Medical Center (SMC) Long Term Care facility, with the exception of emergent or end of life situations, said Sam Brookbeck during a briefing at SMC on Monday.
The facility is also modifying their operations to put social distancing methods in place, Brookbeck said. That means changing number of people at tables during meals. They have called in temporary staff to help with meal time, he added.
Saunders Medical Center is restricting visitors to the hospital to two at a time. Visitors are screened and no one under age 18 is allowed. All are asked to wear a surgical mask.
Stacie Sabatka, director of clinics at SMC, said they are fielding a lot of phone calls at the clinic.
“Nurses are spending a lot of time educating and calming those fears and anxiety,” she said.
The entire SMC facility is also prepared for the day when their staff will succumb to the coronavirus.
“”We know eventually we’re going to have some staff that will be ill,” Sabatka said.
Jessica Trutna, SMC infection control officer, said the situation is changing quickly.
“Sometimes it feels like hourly,” she added.
When the coronavirus arrives in the area, the hospital has set up a special room for those patients.
Trutna said there is one room in the emergency department with a negative air flow. It will be used for patients that have a high possibility of infection from the coronavirus.
The hospital is expanding their triage area in the emergency department to separate the coronavirus patients from other patients, said Chief Executive Officer Julie Rezac.
“During this time we still have other emergencies to take care of,” she said.
Rezac said the facility is ordering as many medical supplies as possible, which is a challenge at this time of shortages. She is asking staff to be mindful of how they use the supplies as well.
SMC is working with county and local emergency management officials and Three Rivers Health Department to prevent gaps in health care when it comes to the coronavirus.
Tiffany Alcorn is working with Grant Anderson, director of emergency management services (EMS) for the City of Wahoo. They are making sure all EMS departments in the county are prepared, Alcorn said.
Anderson said they started planning two weeks ago.
“As we sit today, our EMS agencies in Saunders County…are in a pretty good position to handle it,” he said.