A sign at a drive through testing site in Lot D of the CHI Health Center on Monday, May 04, 2020. This was part of the TestNebraska initiative launched two weeks ago by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Receiving results from COVID-19 testing has been slower in the recent week, Panhandle Health officials said Monday.

During Monday’s daily PPHD briefing, officials announced four new cases of the coronavirus. Within the last week, numbers have been lower, often in the single digits. Scotts Bluff County Public Health Director Paulette Schnell said that TestNebraska is “updating its lab to expand its testing abilities and the results coming out from last week are slower than we would like.”

In one article, Schnell said, it was reported that TestNebraska’s average time for results was 48 hours. “We have not seen that with our testing this week,” she said, saying that currently the Panhandle has 100 tests pending results through TestNebraska. The Panhandle is seeing receiving results take up to an average of 72 hours.

Despite that, TestNebraska continues to be the primary resource for persons to receive free testing. TestNebraska is offering testing at hospitals in three communities: Chadron Community Hospital, Regional West Health Services and Gordon Memorial Hospital.

People can visit TestNebraska.com to sign up for those tests and additional testing sites are in the process of being set up in Alliance and Sidney. Community Action Health Center is also offering testing in Scottsbluff, with testing available on the website, tinyurl.com/y7msahzq, and at Morrill County Community Hospital, available by calling 308-262-1616. TestNebraska and CAPWN testing is free. Morrill County Community Hospital will bill insurance or take payment for testing. People can also contact their local hospital or clinic for information on testing access.

The four new cases announced Monday were: a Box Butte County man in his 60s, designated as community spread; two Morrill County women, one in her 20s and one in her 60s, both identified as close contacts of a person who previously tested positive; and a Scotts Bluff County teen girl, also identified as a close contact.

To date, the Panhandle has seen 415 positive cases out of 7,311 tests conducted, with a cumulative positivity rate of 5.7 percent. There are 68 active cases, with four people currently hospitalized. Six deaths have been reported and 341 people have recovered.

Health officials did remind people that the Panhandle remains under Phase 3 of the directed health measures put into place by Gov. Pete Ricketts. The Panhandle has been in Phase 3 since June 22 and PPHD director Kim Engel said that Ricketts is expected to make an announcement that the Panhandle will remain in Phase III well into August.

Phase 3 measures mostly impact the size of gatherings. Indoor gatherings are limited to 50 percent occupancy and outdoor gatherings are limited to 75 percent occupancy. Groups are required to be no larger than eight. Social distancing of 6 feet between groups is recommended and staff and patrons of facilities are recommended to use facial coverings. Facilities with more than 500 people in capacity are required to complete an event plan with PPHD, which does have a list of approved events on its website.

Engel said law enforcement, venue owners and event planners are provided those plans in advance. Events with fewer than 500 people are recommended to complete the plans in order to receive assistance to put into place sound safety precautions.

In Phase 3, some events are not allowed, such as parades, carnivals, midways, street dances and dances. Dancing is permitted at private events with an invitee list, such as a wedding reception or proms.

As directed health measures are in place, health officials have had some say that because they were not “aware” of a measure, they are not required to abide by it. 

“It is just like a law,” Region 22 Emergency Manager Tim Newman said. “And, they always say, ignorance of the law is not an excuse.”

Violation of the directed health measure is punishable by a misdemeanor. Health officials said no one has been cited with a misdemeanor, as officials strive for education and stressing the importance of the health measures when attempting to get voluntary compliance, Engel said.

As fairs occur throughout the Panhandle this week, officials did remind people to continue to exercise precautions, including staying home if feeling ill, and praised extension personnel who have been heading up youth activities and ensuring health measures are taken.

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