Morrill County rodeo linked to COVID-19 case

A Morrill County rodeo has been identified as a possible exposure site as Panhandle health officials announced new coronavirus cases.

During Monday’s Panhandle Public Health District’s daily briefing, officials announced Camp Clark Rodeo, held over the July 4 weekend, as a daily exposure site. It’s the first community exposure site in some time that has been announced since PPHD began tracking coronavirus cases and doing monitoring in the Panhandle on March 2.

Officials would not say how many of the 12 people who were announced as new cases of the coronavirus could be tied to the rodeo.

“At least one,” Scotts Bluff County Health Director Paulette Schnell said.

Schnell said, “What we identified was the person or people who were there that were positive were at a lot of different places and may have been in close contact with people that they cannot identify.”

Last month, a Morrill County event, a golf tournament played on June 20, had been tied to an influx of coronavirus cases. Kim Engel, PPHD director, said that not all cases in Morrill County since that date were tied to the event, but a large number were. A total of 38 cases were announced in Morrill County over an approximately two-week period beginning June 24.

None of the 12 identified during Monday’s call were Morrill County residents, but from other counties.

Officials said that the case is a reminder of the importance of following social distancing rules, limiting groups to eight or less, wearing a mask and taking other precautions.

“We really do know that we can hold events, we can hold them safely,” Tabi Prochazka, deputy director of health promotions and prepardness, said.

Events with more than 500 people are required by the directed health measure to submit a plan to PPHD that covers how it will put into place and enforce safety precautions to limit the spread of the coronavirus. It’s important to take those measures, Prochazka said, to prevent those events from having to be listed as community exposures sites.

Nationally, health officials have dubbed events where one person spreads the coronavirus to lots of people who get infected as “superspreader events” and are reported to be tied most often to the transmission of the virus. Events from birthday parties to choir rehearsals have been listed as events where high transmission of the virus have occurred. Even restaurants and bars have been tied to “superspreader events” in recent weeks.

In the coming weeks, many events are planned and it will be key to limit exposure, especially as area schools approach the beginning of school.

“Every county is going to be having their county fair in the next few weeks,” Engel said. “We have visited with many counties. There are still a few that we are trying to make arrangements with.”

However, Engel said, 4-H and other organizations involved with county fairs have also put out guidance to ensure that events are held with the safety of attendees and participants in mind.

PPHD officials are working with people on a variety of events. Approved events are also listed on the pphd.org website.

Engel said, “It’s not that we don’t want those things to happen, but there needs to be plans and deliberation to ensure that (the event) follows the rules.”

Multiple testing sites are available in the Panhandle and people can also ask their health care provider for a test, though a health care provider may limit testing based on criteria. Engel said that people who do voluntarily test for the coronavirus, perhaps because they are suffering symptoms or believe they have been exposed, are asked to quarantine until they receive the results. Persons who test positive or are identified as close contacts of a person who tests positive are required to self-quarantine for 14 days by the directed health measure.

During Monday’s call, health officials were also asked about employers being notified if an employee has tested positive for the coronavirus. Close contacts of an employee would be notified if an employee tests positive for the coronavirus, but due to patient privacy, an employer may not be notified that one of its employees tested positive for the coronavirus if a worksite or employee did not identify a possibility of exposure to have occurred.

For employer’s wanting to confirm that an employee has been tested and ordered to quarantine, PPHD Assistant Director Jessica Davies said that coronavirus patients are provided documentation that they have been ordered to self-quarantine that can be provided to an employer. PPHD will also provide return to work documentation that the employee can provide, if it is requested.

Twelve persons were announced as having tested positive for the coronavirus during Monday’s call. Nine persons were announced as having tested positive in Scotts Bluff County. Seven of those persons were identified as close contacts of a person who previously tested positive: two teenage girls, three women in their 40s, one woman in her 70s, and a teen boy. One man in his 40s and a woman in her 20s were identified as community spread cases. In Kimball County, two people were reported to have tested positive, a woman in her 60s, identified as a close contact, and a man in his 60s, announced as a travel-related case. A Cheyenne County woman in her 30s has also tested positive.

As of Monday, 350 people in the Panhandle have tested positive out of 6,132 people tested, which is a cumulative positivity rate of 5.8 percent. To date, 283 people have recovered, with 16 new recoveries listed Monday. Out of 71 active cases, four people are hospitalized. As of Monday, July 13, a total of 38 people have bene hospitlized since data began being collected on March 2 and five people, all elderly, have died.

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