Grand Island-area residents urged to avoid church services; Health Department worker tests positive – Omaha World-Herald

At a Grand Island press conference Monday morning, Central District Health Department Director Teresa Anderson was conspicuously absent.

Anderson has led the response to the hard-hitting coronavirus outbreak in the three-county region surrounding Grand Island.

But even her department isnt immune to the contagious virus.

A Health Department worker not Anderson has tested positive for the coronavirus, the department discovered Sunday, and had worked while experiencing symptoms.

Now the public health workers on the front lines of the effort to track and contain the virus in a central Nebraska hot spot are self-isolating as much as possible, or working in small numbers at the departments office while wearing masks.

I think this proves that we all are at risk for COVID-19, Anderson said in a statement read at the event by Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele.

The health director said employees have been wearing masks for weeks, so they have a lower risk of catching the virus. Still, more will work from home and isolate as much as possible while still coordinating testing and tracking of local coronavirus cases.

By Monday, the department, which covers Hall, Hamilton and Merrick Counties, counted 954 confirmed cases and 25 deaths. Hall County, where Grand Island is located, accounts for 899 cases, the most in Nebraska and almost double the 489 known infections in Douglas County, the most populous county in the state.

Please remember we are at a critical time here in the Central District, Anderson said in her prepared remarks. The number of cases continues to rise at an alarming rate.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Friday that he would relax some restrictions in certain parts of the state that have been less affected by the virus. Religious services can be held again statewide starting May 4 with some limitations, including more distance between worshippers.

Still, Anderson asked Grand Island-area residents to avoid group gatherings, including church and other religious services, until the number of positive cases there begins to drop.

We dont know how bad this will get before we start to see numbers fall, but we are not anywhere close to being able to relax, she said.

Grand Island Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt said this weekend that he was seeking advice from his council of priests on tailoring an approach to fit the varying levels of infection in the dioceses large expanse of Nebraska, stretching from the Platte River north to the state line and west to Wyoming.

That includes some counties that have had no cases, some that have had no new cases for a couple of weeks and some places such as Grand Island and Lexington that have still-growing outbreaks.

Edward Hannon, president of St. Francis Hospital in Grand Island, noted glimmers of hope amid the grim and growing daily count of coronavirus cases.

Were testing more people, so we should expect that that number will go up, he said.

Hospital admissions of COVID-19 patients at St. Francis arent declining yet, he said, but they do seem to be stabilizing.

The 124-bed hospital now has 20 ventilators but hasnt had to use more than 15 at the same time. About 15 patients are typically in the intensive care unit there, and the rest of the hospital is about half-empty. Twenty-four patients have been transferred to other hospitals, including in Omaha.

And most people who are getting sick are able to recover at home, he said.

Since the start of the outbreak in March, St. Francis has admitted roughly 100 COVID-19 patients, or a little more than 10% of total infections in the Central District Health Department.

The great work were doing in the community together washing hands, staying home, keeping 6 feet apart is working, he said. Were making some progress, were flattening the curve, which we set out to do.

Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness at Nebraska Medicine, and Dr. James Lawler, a director at the University of Nebraska Medical Centers Global Center for Health Security, toured the JBS USA beef plant in Grand Island last week.

More than 200 coronavirus cases are tied to the plant, Anderson has said, although workers have tested positive at a number of businesses and workplaces. That includes 125 health care workers and residents at nursing and long-term care facilities who have become ill.

Steele read an email Schwedhelm wrote summing up their visit.

She said JBS had instituted a number of best practices, including providing masks for workers, putting up posters about the coronavirus in four different languages and allowing workers who were pregnant or older than 70 to stay at home with pay.

The plant could work on some other measures, she said, including setting up more hand-washing or hand sanitizer stations and talking more with workers about the importance of social distancing and other prevention strategies outside of work.

We offered some suggestions on airflow and HVAC items and Zach (Ireland, the plant manager) quickly jumped on that and engaged the engineers to see how to take action, she wrote. He reported back success with this.

The plant also distributed flyers in English, Somali and Arabic about safely celebrating Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer that began last week. The plants workers include immigrants and refugees from the Middle East and several sub-Saharan African countries.

Use religious and cultural greetings that avoid physical contact, one of the flyers says. Please avoid hand shaking, hugging and touching while greeting each other.

Masks made by Ann Kane and her family.

Ann Kane and her family are producing masks. Everyone has a job.

Ann Kane and her family have made around 200 masks.

UNMC med student Nate Mattison works on his laptop at his apartment near downtown Omaha.

A bottle of Purell sits on a kitchen countertop as UNMC med student Nate Mattison works on his laptop. Mattison is one of a handful of UNMC students who have stepped up fill various nonprofit needs. Mattison has signed up to be a Big Brother and is currently waiting to be paired up.

Mattison is one of a handful of UNMC students who have stepped up to fill the needs of various nonprofits.

Matt Van Zante prints parts for face shields in his basement.

A 3D printer prints parts for face shields.

Matt Van Zante is among a group making face shields for personal protective equipment for medical personnel.

Matt Van Zante shows off one of the finished face shields he helped make.

Matt Van Zante shows off a finished face shield.

A 3D printer prints parts for face shields in Matt Van Zante's basement.

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Grand Island-area residents urged to avoid church services; Health Department worker tests positive - Omaha World-Herald

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