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Presumptive coronavirus cases found in Nebraska and Iowa

Staff Writer
Syracuse Journal-Democrat

Governor Pete Ricketts announced tMarch 6 hat the first presumptive positive case of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) had been reported to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

“As we receive news of the first case of coronavirus in our state, I continue to urge Nebraskans to practice healthy habits to avoid transmitting germs,” said Gov. Ricketts.  “Like a snowstorm, Nebraskans should be planning in case they need to be at home for an extended period, and they should also plan in case schools close.  At the same time, I want to assure Nebraskans that State leaders and medical professionals across Nebraska are doing their utmost to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on public health.”

The case is travel-related.  The patient is a woman in her 30s from Douglas county who recently returned from England at the end of February.  She started experiencing symptoms and was hospitalized at Methodist Hospital on March 5.  Yesterday, public health officials received notification that this person could possibly have the virus, and they immediately ordered COVID-19 testing, which came back positive this afternoon.  Currently, she is being transferred from the progressive care unit at Methodist Hospital to the Biocontainment Unit at Nebraska Medicine /the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).

DHHS is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the local health department to identify additional people who came in close contact with this person in order to decrease the spread of the illness.  These people will be self-isolated and actively monitored twice daily by public health officials for fever and respiratory symptoms.  If they start experiencing symptoms, they will immediately undergo further testing.

“DHHS and its public health and healthcare system partners have been monitoring this situation very closely with the knowledge that we could see travel-related cases here in Nebraska,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS.  “We quickly recognized we had a potential coronavirus 2019 case and took immediate action.  Our goal is to protect Nebraskans and prevent the spread of the disease.”

This is a travel-related case, and it’s important to remember that there isn’t evidence of COVID-19 spreading in Nebraska communities at this time.

Travelers who recently returned from China are also self-isolating and being actively monitored by their local health department.  Travelers who returned from countries with community spread of COVID-19 within the last 14 days are also being actively monitored.

“Ensuring the health of Nebraskans is our main priority,” said Dr. Tom Safranek, State Epidemiologist for DHHS.  “These actions are meant to help decrease the risk of disease spreading in the community.  However, even with these actions, we may see additional confirmed cases in Nebraska.”

Nebraskans all have a role to play in this response, and DHHS continues to urge Nebraskans to take action to prepare, if they haven’t already.

Make sure you have two weeks’ worth of food and water, check regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply, and think through what you would do if schools and childcare centers close or you have to work from home.  Here’s where you can find tools and resources for individuals and families, schools, communities, businesses, healthcare facilities, and first responders: http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/coronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/covid19.  For information on building a readiness kit, go to https://www.ready.gov.

Practicing good health habits can help prevent the spread of coronavirus disease and other respiratory infections:

  • Stay home if you are sick.

  • Avoid close contact with those who are sick.

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and then throw the tissue in the trash.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Nebraskans can find useful and reliable information to keep them informed on dhhs.ne.gov and its Facebook and Twitter sites as well as local health department websites and social media sites.

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 continues to evolve.  The virus originated in China and has spread beyond the country’s borders with cases now reported in multiple other countries including the United States.

Nebraska public health leaders will continue to address this threat.  Here are steps they are already taking:

  • Sharing the latest guidance and information with local health departments, hospitals, health care providers, first responders, and local and state labs through our extensive Health Alert Network to ensure a well-coordinated response in Nebraska.

  • Engaging in active and ongoing communication with the CDC and other state and federal partners as part of the overall national response to this emerging public health threat.

  • Reviewing and enhancing response plans.

  • Monitoring Nebraskans returning from countries with community transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 to ensure timely medical care if needed and minimize the potential risk to others.

  • Facilitating confirmatory testing, isolation, and monitoring of Nebraskans experiencing symptoms to identify cases as soon as possible.

  • Having a system in place to track and monitor people who have contact with a confirmed case in an effort to immediately detect secondary cases and minimize the potential for ongoing, undetected, person-to-person transmission.

  • Updating the DHHS website and social media sites with the latest resources and information to help keep Nebraskans informed.

In Iowa, Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) released the following statement March 8 after the announcement of three presumptive positive cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iowa:

“With the first presumptive positive cases of coronavirus confirmed tonight by the Iowa Department of Public Health, it is more important than ever that Iowa families and communities take the necessary steps to avoid further spread of this disease. That includes continuing to exercise good community hygiene – including regularly washing hands and disinfecting frequently-used surfaces — and minimizing exposure to others if you are sick.

My office is in communication with the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and our local public health officials to get the most up-to-date information on their efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa. I’m confident that the additional funding that Congress has voted to provide will empower these professionals to work quickly to curb the impacts of this virus.

I will continue to use my voice as one of Iowa’s public officials to share any guidance or updates from our public health experts. I’m grateful for their diligent and tireless work in responding to this public health crisis, and I know they are working night and day to develop treatments, improved tests kits, and preventive measures to keep our country healthy and safe.”

Rep. Axne is encouraging all Iowans who have questions or want updates about novel coronavirus to visit the websites for the IDPH, the CDC, or call the IDPH’s hotline by dialing 211.

Her website includes prevention recommendations from both agencies, as well as travel guidance from the U.S. Department of State and warnings about potential scams related to coronavirus.