Health Officials Confirms New Cases, Fans Limited at Basketball Tournaments, Testing Becoming More Widely Available

March 11, 2020, 4:44 p.m. ·


The number of coronavirus cases in Nebraska has expanded to 10. The impact is being felt all over the state, most notably today with changes to the boys basketball state tournament.

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The Douglas County Health Department confirmed five new presumptive cases of coronavirus COVID-19 in Nebraska Wednesday evening, bringing the state's total number of cases to 10.

They are all close family members of Nebraska's fourth known casea woman who recently traveled to California and Nevadaand are therefore not being classified as community spread. All of them have been in self-quarantine for multiple days and have not required hospitalization.

Officials believe the risk to the wider community is low, but will still investigate any potential exposures to others from these new cases.

In a statement, the DCHD said questions about COVID-19 can be answered at the DCHD’s information line at (402) 444-3400, which is active on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. CT until 4 p.m CT. Outside those hours, the United Way’s 2-1-1 Resource Hotline is available.

Original story, 4pm CT:

NCAA Moves to Limit Fans at College Basketball Tournament

The NCAA will limit attendance at the men's and women's college basketball tournaments to essential staff and some family. The news broke Wednesday afternoon and will impact the slate of tournament games set to begin in Omaha next week.

Boys Basketball Tournament Limits Games to Immediate Family

The boys high school basketball tournament is scheduled to start tomorrow morning, and will be held with immediate family only in attendance, on recommendation from Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department. The NSAA released a statement explaining that those allowed to attend the games are “varsity players, coaches, team support personnel (athletic trainers and student managers) and school administrators of the qualifying schools and their immediate families. Immediate family includes parents, stepparents, guardians, siblings, other members living in the athlete’s household, and grandparents.” Each school will provide a list of those who meet the criteria to attend.

This decision was made after a case was discovered where a person with COVID-19 attended girls basketball games in Lincoln.

The move is causing strong reactions from many people connected to the tournament. Mitchell Stine, Athletic Director at Norris High School, said he supports the decision but he’s fielding a lot of questions from parents and students

“It’s a pretty fluid situation right now, as you can expect,” Stine said. “We’re just trying to process everything and still provide, you know, a positive experience for the team and for our community.”

Many were planning to send band and cheerleaders to the tournament. Some schools were even planning on cancelling classes to allow students to come to games in Lincoln. Band, cheerleaders, and dance team members will not be allowed at the tournament.

Abby Terwey teaches special education at Hastings Public Schools. Her daughter is on the dance team for Hastings. She said her daughter is very disappointed.

“I was heartbroken, for not just the basketball team, but for the kids, the student section, the cheerleaders, the dance team, the band, because these kids have been looking forward to this for so long, and it’s the first time Hastings has made it to the state tournament since 2004, so it was a really big deal to them.”

This change will likely have impacts beyond the students and fans who’d planned to attend the tournament. The boys state basketball tournament represents a significant economic impact for the Lincoln area, including money spent at local hotels and restaurants.

Health Department Recommends Avoiding ER

The press conference where the tournament was announced also included other recommendations from the Lincoln/Lancaster Health Department. The department is asking people not to come to an emergency room if they have symptoms of the coronavirus. They said the ER needs to be left for people with critical health needs, and those with a cough or other mild symptoms should contact a regular health provider for instructions.

If people do have symptoms and test negative for other respiratory illnesses, they will likely be tested for COVID-19. Pat Lopez is interim director of the Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department. She said testing is becoming more widely available, but the health department asks that people go through the proper channels.

“We now have other labs that are doing testing, so we’re working through that process,” Lopez said. “Even though we have more tests available, I really am strongly urging people to contact their healthcare provider, and not just come to a lab and want to have a test, because there are certain parameters. And that’s allowing us to know what’s happening in the community, even though the labs report to us."

How Are Schools Impacted?

The person who attended basketball games in Lincoln is a student from Crofton, and the school district there is now closed for the week. As more schools close, the requirements for length of school year come into play, much as they did last year during flooding.

The Nebraska Department of Education says there is a waiver process if schools have to be closed for coronavirus, and they’re not able to make up that time before the end of the year. The Nebraska Board of Education and the Department of Education are usually the ones who decide on the waiver. They say they are usually very flexible, including last year during the floods.

The Department of Education says the decision to close a district happens at the district level. Nebraska's Board and Department of Education tell administrators to make the best decision for their district. Many districts build-in days for things like this, including snow days. Districts can also use what would have been teacher in-service days for instruction and can also add small increments of time to school days to make up lost instructional days.

David Jespersen is Public Information Officer for the Nebraska Department of Education. He said e-learning is an option and encouraged if possible when schools do shut down.

“We’re certainly in support of schools being able to maintain some sort of normalcy for their students, even if they decide they need to close down for a time being. What that means is really up to them,” Jesperson said. "But certainly if there is the opportunity to have that e-learning, that’s something that they should definitely look at, a plan that they should see if they have the capabilities for it.”

E-learning could be difficult for some schools in areas where broadband internet is not reliable. Some students also may not have a computer at home to make e-learning possible.

Workplace Impacts

At least one large employer is asking some employees to work from home. Farm Credit Services employs 1800 people, with 800 of them in Omaha. The company has started 2-week rotations of about half the employees in Omaha working from home. This is meant to ensure continuity, as not everyone is working in one space, and presumably if people from one group got sick the others would be at home and not exposed. Employees are using laptop and video conferencing. The company says this is something they have practiced for.

Scott Binder is Chief Operating Officer of Farm Credit Services. He says the system is meant to keep the business going.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we overreact to this, but we also want to make sure that employees are as safe and they can be,” Binder said. “And that we do all we can as a company to slow this down, and try and create a business that is sustainable and we have great continuity going forward.”

Farm Credit Services has suspended all air travel through March. They are also asking employees in offices outside of Nebraska not to travel. Offices are also undergoing additional cleaning.

Other Coronavirus Updates for Nebraska

Nebraska has 5 cases of the coronavirus. So far 47 tests have come back negative, and 16 tests are still being run.

The Douglas County Health Department identified an auto parts store in Omaha where people may have been exposed during certain times last week.

Congressional candidate Ann Ashford of Omaha announced today that her campaign will suspend all canvassing going forward. In a statement, Ashford's campaign said volunteers will still distribute literature at doorsteps but will not ask citizens to answer the door.

"Having worked with the infectious disease folks at Clarkson Hospital through the early 1990s they taught me well," Ashford said. "We are instructing our staff in the same way I was taught, no handshakes and personal space."

The Department of Veterans Affairs is not permitting visitors to their nursing homes.

Insurance companies are largely coming out to say that COVID-19 testing, where medically necessary, will be covered without cost to the patient. At least one insurer is also offering to cover the cost of telemedicine visits, which would keep people out of a waiting room where they might infect someone else.

Christina Stella also contributed reporting to this story.

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