Health officials in both Nebraska and Wyoming reported the first cases of community spread of the COVID-19 virus Saturday.
The first community spread case of coronavirus disease 2019 in Nebraska was identified in Douglas County. It is the woman in her 60s who tested positive yesterday and was reported as a travel-related case. The Douglas County Health Department’s continuing investigation determined her symptoms were present before she traveled so the case is now being classified as community spread. She continues to self-isolate at home.
“We will continue see more cases in Nebraska and we expect additional community transmission of COVID-19, but we can all work together to help slow the spread,” said Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). “Nebraskans need to be extra vigilant and stay home if they’re experiencing any symptoms consistent with COVID-19 or other respiratory illnesses including fever, cough, shortness of breath and in some cases a sore throat.”
Meanwhile, the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) is saying that a previously identified Fremont County case of COVID-19 signals potential local community spread and warrants special attention and prevention measures related to long-term care.
Lab testing at the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory identified an older adult male Fremont County resident as the second known Wyoming case on March 13. The patient is hospitalized at SageWest Health Care in Lander and is a resident of Showboat Retirement Center in Lander. State and county public health staff are conducting interviews at both facilities, and will recommend testing and other actions needed to help protect residents, patients and staff.
Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with WDH, said community spread means potential spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown. “Our initial follow up with this individual found nothing that could be explained other than potential community spread of this virus in the Lander area.”
“We’re reminding everyone of how genuinely critical it is to do their part,” Harrist said. “Take common-sense steps to avoid sharing your germs with others, especially with those who are more vulnerable to serious illness.” WDH staff will be available to consult as local officials consider decisions about public events and other community-related activities.
Harrist is emphasizing the protection of older Wyoming residents of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living centers. “This is probably our top concern and priority. There are things we don’t yet fully understand about this disease, but it is clear that older people are among those at the very highest risk of severe illness,” she said.
“We have seen very restrictive guidelines issued recently from the federal government for nursing homes and I am recommending the same practices for Wyoming’s assisted living centers,” she said.
The nursing home guidelines say there should be no visitors or non-essential healthcare personnel, except for certain compassionate care situations, such as an end-of-life situation. The federal guidelines have been shared with Wyoming nursing homes by the WDH Healthcare Licensing and Surveys Office and can be found at https://health.wyo.gov/aging/hls/.
Recommended personal actions that can help avoid the spread of COVID-19 or similar illnesses include:
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible.
- Stay home if sick.
- Cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60 percent alcohol.
Symptoms reported with this disease are familiar: fever, cough and shortness of breath. Experts believe COVID-19 spreads mostly between people who are in close contact and through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. People are thought to be most contagious when they are most ill with obvious symptoms.
Two additional presumptive positive cases that are travel-related were reported to Nebraska DHHS today, along with another case under investigation. All are from Douglas County. One is a male in his 50s who recently traveled to Spain and the other is a male in his 30s who traveled to Douglas County from Singapore. Both are self-isolating and DCHD is in the process of identifying close contacts to help reduce further spread.
Certain people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, according to the CDC.
People in these higher-risk groups should:
· Stock up on supplies, including extra necessary medications
· Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
· When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
· Avoid crowds as much as possible.
· Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
· If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.
Nebraska DHHS opened a statewide coronavirus (COVID-19) information line to help answer general questions and share the latest information and resources with Nebraskans to help keep them informed. The number is (402) 552-6645; hours of operation are 8 a.m.-8 p.m. CST, 7 days a week.
Here’s where to find tools and resources for individuals and families, schools, communities, businesses, healthcare facilities, and first responders on the Nebraska DHHS website – http://dhhs.ne.gov/coronavirus and CDC’s website – https://www.cdc.gov/covid19.
For more information about coronavirus disease 2019 and Wyoming, visit:
For more details from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.