By Forrest Hershberger
Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

Panhandle Public Health Addresses Virus Impact


March 25, 2020

Panhandle Public Health Director Kim Engel says all COVID-19 tests as of March 18 have returned negative. However Nebraska did record its second case of “community spread,” this time in Douglas County.

During a recent video press conference, Engel also said restaurants are still open, for take-out and delivery only. She added that small business loans for up to 30 years and $2 million will be available.

“Of course they (businesses) are being impacted,” she said.

At that time, she said stores were encouraged to schedule the first hour of the day for shopping by seniors and higher-risk residents. Since then, stores in Sidney have followed the PPH suggestion, scheduling specific hours of the day only for senior shoppers.

A sore throat was listed as one of the primary symptoms, said Paulette Schnell, Scotts Bluff County Health Director. According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath can appear two to 14 days after exposure. Test availability is a concern for the Panhandle area. She said a patient can also be swabbed at a lab, a procedure similar to being tested for influenza.

“Each hospital is looking at what they have,” Schnell said.

She said testing is prioritized to those who have traveled to defined “hot spots,” areas including Washington state where a number of COVID-19 cases have been identified.

Since then, the Panhandle's Unified Command, a panel of medical authorities and emergency managers, issued a directive for anyone traveling outside of the Panhandle to voluntarily quarantine themselves for 14 days.

“We want to bend the curve,” Engel said.

Bending or flattening the curve refers to the attempt to stop an anticipated spike in the number of new COVID-19 cases. The concern is the number of coronavirus patients could outnumber the amount of services available.

“I'm being optimistic and trusting that everyone will do the right thing,” she said.

She said the mortality rate is higher among people with a compromised immune system.

On May 22, the Unified Command recommended and ESU13 agreed that all schools in the Panhandle will be closed through Friday, May 1. The March 19 memo said “ This decision will be re-evaluated as circumstances change, with parents and families updated accordingly. School closure may be extended as needed. This is a precautionary public health measure; there are currently no confirmed cases in the Panhandle; however, local health and school officials are monitoring the COVID-19 situation in Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota closely.”


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