As coronavirus cases near Panhandle, health officials remind people of risks of traveling

As surrounding states of Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota continue to see an increase in cases of the coronavirus cases, Panhandle public health officials are reminding people of the risk of traveling.

On Friday, Goshen County and Wyoming authorities confirmed the first case close to the Panhandle — a woman in her 40s has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

With the case in the neighboring county, Scotts Bluff County Health Director Paulette Schnell, “We just want to remind people that we do have those cases showing up close by and to continue to do social distancing, staying at home if you are experiencing symptoms and not traveling.”

During the daily briefing that afternoon, Panhandle Public Health officials discussed travel after receiving a question about whether or not it was OK for people to travel to areas. Questions included traveling to pick up items that a student may have left at college or even for the holidays.

Both Wyoming and Colorado have issued stay-at-home orders. So far, Nebraska has not issued any statewide directed health measures, though Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has imposed directed health measures in several Nebraska counties with cases of community spread, including Douglas and Sarpy.

Those measures include a mandatory 10-person limit on crowd sizes, plus the closing of bars, in-house dining at restaurants and elective surgeries. Restaurants still can offer food for takeout. The purpose, Ricketts said, is to slow the spread of the virus and keep hospital beds available.“Every time we travel, we add the risk of spreading (the coronavirus,” Kim Engel, Panhandle Public Health Director.

Depending on the college or community restrictions, people should check before traveling to a child’s dorm. As for the Easter holiday, though its still a couple weeks away, Engel said, “it might be a good holiday to consider virtually celebrating with your family.”

Nebraska public health officials reported the first two deaths — one in Douglas County and one in Hall County — that were the result of COVID-19. Both had underlying health issues. As of early Friday evening, 85 people had tested positive in Nebraska.

Schnell said 76 tests have been completed in the Panhandle, however, no positive tests have yet been reported. There are currently 18 tests pending results.

As the state sees an increase in commercial labs, Schnell said those test results, whether positive or negative, would be reported to the state health department. Each day, health officials have had to answer questions about who are being tested right now, as testing is limited: those who are hospitalized and having an abnormal chest Xray, those who are considered special classes, such as first responders, health care providers, daycare workers, etc., and symptomatic. Right now, Schnell said, state officials have allowed the Panhandle health district to extend testing to some persons who may be mild cases of the coronavirus, however, specific guidelines for testing those persons have also been outlined for physicians. Only those who are symptomatic are tested, as required for the effectiveness of the test.

Holiday plans won’t be the only activities seeing changes. In the upcoming weeks, officials will be providing guidance to ranchers as brandings start to occur. Officials have worked with area ranchers to develop guidance, stressing that brandings “are strictly business, focusing on getting the work done and it not being a social gathering,” Tabi Prochazka, deputy director of PPHD, said. The organization has also worked with the Nebraska Cattleman’s Association for guidance at livestock auctions.PPHD has also worked with long-term health facilities to give them guidance on best practices for transferring patients, accepting patients and isolating patients during this time to limit spread and on screening staff to ensure they are healthy.

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