Positive COVID-19 cases and exposures spurred closures and notifications throughout the Panhandle Thursday.

One business, Oregon Trail Roadhouse in Gering, and the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library both made public notifications that those businesses would be closed due to connections to coronavirus cases. After positive tests in Dawes County, Chadron High School notified staff and students of potential for exposure there.

The Orgon Trail Roadhouse has opted to close temporarily after employees were confirmed positive for COVID-19, Panhandle Public Health District said in a press release Thursday.

Oregon Trail Roadhouse, working with PPHD and its unified command, announced that it had closed effective Thursday and would reopen for business on Thursday, Aug. 6, “to allow ample recovery time for employees who have been confirmed positive for COVID-19 and other employees who are quarantining.” Specific information regarding the number of employees who had tested positive was not part of the release.

However, according to PPHD in its release, “OT Roadhouse has remained stringent with their protocols through morning and evening disinfecting and sanitizing of the entire establishment, social distancing practices, and frequent handwashing and sanitizing. Upon reopening, they will be increasing their standards by requiring employees and encouraging customers to wear masks and daily temperature checks and symptom monitoring for employees."

Oregon Trail Roadhouse in Gering and Panhandle Unified Command have worked closely in preventing any potential concerns for employees and the community “as they remain committed towards mitigating any further risk and keeping everyone safe and healthy,” the release said.

On its Facebook page, the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library announced that it would close due to possible COVID-19 exposure. In replies to comments on the page, officials said that potential exposure may have occurred on Monday, July 27, and staff would be notifying patrons who could have been exposed. However, the library’s mask policy, cleaning procedures and self-checkout “will have greatly limited any potential exposure to patrons.”

During the PPHD briefing, Scotts Bluff County Public Health Director Paulette Schnell said that “there was no public exposure, so there is no direct concern with that, but because of staffing, they chose to close until they know for sure how that plays out with testing results.”

Restaurants or businesses aren’t required to notify the public when they close or have a positive case.

“Ultimately, it’s the business’ decision whether they want to close for a certain period of time or not, PPHD Assistant Director Jessica Davies, who works with workplaces, said. “We only inform that decision by what we know as far as exposure.”

Often times, she said, if one or two employees test positive, other employees are identified as close contacts and that can make an impact on the business’ staffing numbers and they have to make decisions about whether or not they are able to continue to operate.

PPHD continues to offer a regular business call for employers and others. For 15 weeks, PPHD held a weekly call and now that call has been moved to monthly. PPHD continues to offer resources for business owners with questions about the virus and proper procedures to take for sanitation and other steps to limit exposure, Davies said.

Also on Thursday, Panhandle Public Health District Officials notified staff and families at Chadron High School that a volleyball player had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

According to a letter posted on the Chadron High School’s blog, the player would self-isolate, as required, until determined to have been recovered. All close contacts have been contacted and quarantined.

Health officials were asked if people in the community should be concerned about a possible spike in cases as four people were reported to have tested positive Dawes County.

Panhandle Public Health Director Kim Engel said, “I think that there’s always a potential for a spike anywhere. And the more that people are active and out and about, it’s more likely to happen.”

She explained that possible exposure is the reason that officials are trying to be cautious as schools re-open and are aiming to do things as safely as possible. PPHD does recommend masks in districts that are at the moderate level or above on the risk dial. And, of course, social distancing and proper handwashing are also key preventative procedures that all people should be practicing. Schools have been announcing their reopening plans in recent weeks and many go into more specific detail about plans that they are implementing.

Directed health measures require a person who has been diagnosed with the coronavirus to isolate for 10 days from when symptoms first appeared and are determined to be recovered after they have been fever-free, without medications, and free of other symptoms for at least 24 hours. Close contacts are required to quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus.

As schools release their plans, some mentions have been made that students wearing masks would result in teachers or students not having to quarantine if an exposure were to occur among staff or students. Asked by the Star-Herald about such information and if health measures requiring quarantine and isolation had changed, Schnell explained that guidance has not changed. She clarified that wearing masks limits the possible spread, but doesn’t change health measures regarding isolation and quarantine at this time.

Many studies have shown that persons wearing a mask — particularly if a person who has the virus and a close contact are both wearing a mask — are less likely to contract the virus. Studies have shown masks as effective in reducing the spread of the virus, Schnell said. 

Nine new cases were announced on Thursday. Four cases in Dawes County were reported: a teen girl, identified as community spread; a teen boy, a man in his 40s, and a woman in her 40s, all identified as close contacts. Four cases were reported in Scotts Bluff County: a woman in her 30s, identified as having acquired the virus by community spread; a teen girl, a woman in her 30s and a man in his 50s, all identified as close contacts. One case was announced in Cheyenne County involving a woman in her 60s identified as a close contact.

Currently, there are 63 active cases in the Panhandle. To date, 428 people have tested positive and 359 people have recovered. There have been six deaths reported in the Panhandle.

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