masked students

Students have gotten accustomed to wearing masks at all events

In response to the increase in the number of positive Covid cases in Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts has announced changes to the State’s directed health measures (DHMs) that went into effect statewide on Wednesday, Oct. 21. Those changes primarily affect gatherings, bars/restaurants and elective procedures/surgeries.

It is always difficult to move backwards, but that is exactly what the governor has chosen to do in this case. The new DHM requires indoor gatherings to be limited to 50% of rated occupancy, not to exceed 10,000. Outdoor gatherings, meanwhile, will remain at 100% capacity with a maximum of 10,000.

Bars and restaurants will be limited to eight persons per table and patrons will be required to be seated while on premise unless they are placing an order, using the restroom, or playing games. Bars and restaurants are still allowed to operate at 100% capacity. Wedding and funeral reception venues are also still at 100% capacity and must follow the eight persons per group/table rule.

In order to continue elective procedures, the new DHM requires hospitals to maintain at least 10% of their staffed general and ICU beds as reserve capacity to treat Covid patients. Hospitals must continue to accept and treat Covid patients and must not transfer Covid patients to create capacity for elective procedures.

The governor also launched a campaign to encourage Nebraskans to avoid the “Three C’s” to help slow the spread of the virus: 1) crowded places, 2) close contact, and 3) confined spaces. The State’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Gary Anthone, announced the State of Nebraska is allocating up to $40 million of CARES Act funding to support hospital capacity.

The new DHMs are scheduled to remain in effect until Nov. 30.

As word spread through Gothenburg this past week of the loss of another community member to Covid, the reality of just how real this virus is continues to hit close to home. With the and the increase in the number of positive Covid cases locally, many people have questions and concerns about what and what not to do. Those concerns prompted community leaders to host a Town Hall meeting Oct. 13, the first such meeting since July.

At the time of the last meeting in July, Dawson County was still in Phase III of the governor’s DHM. There was also only a small percentage of the county’s population that had been tested for Covid at that time. With the availability of more tests and rapid testing in Gothenburg, health experts said they expected to see an increase in the number of positive cases.

Dr. Aravind Menon is an epidemiologist with Two Rivers Public Health Department. Dr. Menon has a PhD in public health, and is a research and implementation expert with more than 15 years of public health experience in the USA, India and Southern Africa. He shared his thoughts during the Oct. 13 meeting about the rise in cases.

“Since July we have had just over 1,000 tests conducted in Gothenburg and had 82 positives. We are seeing a total of nine new cases in a week, which I’m not sure qualifies as a spike,” Dr. Menon said. He added that he does not believe the current increase in cases we are seeing is the result of what is known as a “super spread”.

Gothenburg Health’s Dr. Carol Shackleton also sat on the panel of the Town Hall and agreed that while Gothenburg Health is performing more tests, we are also seeing more cases. She wants to remind the public of the proper protocol if you receive a positive test result.

“From the onset of symptoms or a positive test, whichever is first, people need to quarantine for 10 days at home. They need to be 24 hours fever free and show improving symptoms after that quarantine before returning to work,” said Dr. Shackleton.

She also said though not required by DHM mandates, wearing masks is still very highly recommended - as is getting a flu vaccine. When asked when is the time to get a flu shot, she emphatically stated, “Now! The symptoms for influenza and Covid are very similar, and you don’t want to have your immune system at risk,” said Shackleton.

Dr. Shackleton said the high dose vaccine is recommended for the elderly and those with compromised immunity. Individuals can get vaccinated at the Gothenburg Health clinic or the pharmacy, and most insurance companies offer the vaccine at no charge.

Dr. Manon agreed with Shackleton and also encouraged everyone to get a flu shot. “I would not be surprised to see more people getting the flu vaccine this year, and a lower rate of influenza as a result of that and practicing masks/social distancing,” he said.

Wearing masks is something students at Gothenburg Public Schools have been doing since day one of the school year - and Superintendent Dr. Todd Rhodes said he is glad the district implemented that policy from the get-go. “Mandating masks at the beginning of school was the best decision we could have made - not to have to go back and mandate that now. We have been one of the rare schools that has not had an event cancelled or postponed due to the virus - we’ve been really fortunate as it relates to our extra-curricular activities,” said Dr. Rhodes.

He said school administrators use the guidance from the medical community and Two Rivers Health Department to determine where the district needs to be on the risk tier dial. “We have dealt with a very few positive cases among students and staff and had some quarantine due to exposure, but with the tracing we have done with the help of Two Rivers we have not found any cases where that exposure came from the school,” he added. “Our obligation in school administration extends beyond our students - it extends into our community and to keeping everyone safe. Our kids have done a wonderful job and so has the community at large. The bottom line is, we’ve got to keep our masks up to keep our doors open.”

When asked if the City plans to intervene with any type of mask mandate for the public, City Administrator Gary Greer said no. “From the very beginning we have tried to be a source of information, and we are going to follow the governor’s guidelines. There is currently no mask mandate from the governor. But we are trying to take the position to help people do the right thing and provide information,” Greer explained.

Trying to calm fears by providing accurate information is the goal behind the Town Hall meetings, and moderator Nate Wyatt added one last bit of encouragement to end the meeting. “There is a new sense of normal, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have hope, excitement and optimism about the future.”

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.537.9498