Health department reports local COVID-19 cases

Article published by DC Post-Gazette

OMAHA – The Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) has received presumptive confirmation of two more COVID-19 cases related to the first case and a fourth unrelated case as of Tuesday. These presumptive positive cases are family members of Nebraska’s first case, a 36-year-old Douglas County woman.

These two family members had COVID-19 symptoms and have been in self-quarantine since Friday and remain there. Other close contacts of the first case have tested negative for COVID-19.

“We expected this to happen,” Health Director Dr. Adi Pour said. “This demonstrates the importance of contact investigations and shows how well they work.”

The good news is these three newest cases had limited exposure to other individuals in the community. DCHD epidemiology investigators have developed a list of contacts and will be reaching out to them individually. Those individuals will be informed of any health risks and how they can protect themselves and other potential contacts.

These are the second, third and fourth cases in Nebraska, other than individuals who were brought to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship. Anyone with questions about COVID-19 is welcome to call DCHD’s information line at (402) 444-3400 weekdays from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Outside those hours questions can be directed to the United Way’s 2-1-1 Resource Hotline.

Public Health officials continue to believe the risk to the general public is low. People are encouraged to monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms which include a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, or develop symptoms, contact your health care provider and notify them of your potential exposure to a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus. Please call ahead before you go to the doctor’s office or an emergency room.

Mayor Jean Stothert has directed City departments to update emergency preparedness plans to ensure that city services will continue in the event of a COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Stothert signed an Executive Order on Friday, March 6 that requires all departments to update existing “Continuity of Operations” plans to protect the city’s workforce and help avoid interruptions to services.

“Public safety and public health are first and foremost. Every department is prepared so city government can continue if that becomes necessary,” said Mayor Stothert.

In part, Executive Order S-43–20 reads: “Identifying critical and essential processes and emergency successors is inherent to the success  of City government operations during emergencies. Continually updating workplace procedures so that all employees understand their role in the event of a pandemic is essential. The primary threat to the performance of critical and essential services during a pandemic is high absenteeism. Preparing and protecting our workforce will help avoid interruptions to these services.”

Friday, the 36 -year old Oma- had woman tested positive for COVID-19. She is hospitalized in the Biocontainment Center at the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine. The Health Department reported she recently returned from the United Kingdom and there is no indication of community spread at this time.

Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour described her as “critically ill, but stable.”

Omaha Fire Department medics. safely transferred the woman from Methodist Hospital to UNMC Friday night. Medics wore CDC-approved personal protective gear. The patient was transported in an encapsulated pod.

“Our First Responders are highly trained in transporting patients with communicable diseases. They safely transported not only patients that tested positive for COVID-19, but also the patients with Ebola virus that were treated at UNMC,” said Mayor Stothert.

The woman had visited three  health care facilities before she was admitted to the Biocontainment Center. As a precaution, 30 health care workers have self-quarantined for 14 days. None has COVID-19 symptoms.

She also played in a Special Olympics basketball game in Fremont on Feb. 29. State and local health officials are requesting players, coaches and team staffs to self-quarantine until March 14. The Special Olympics event was held at the Fremont Family YMCA at 810 N. Lincoln Avenue.

At a news conference Saturday at the Douglas County Health Department, Mayor Stothert reassured citizens.

“The citizens of Omaha are in good hands,” said Mayor Stothert. “With the leadership and expertise of Douglas County Health Director Pour and Nebraska Medicine, and the support of the State of Nebraska Health Department, no other city has the training, facilities, and preparedness to respond to this type of virus.”

Pour said there are two goals at this time, to contain the virus as long as possible to avoid community spread, and to protect high-risk persons – those with diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illness, compromised immune systems and the elderly “At this time, we do not see any community spread. It should be safe to move around as usual,” Pour said.