In a press briefing on Monday, May 11, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that less restrictive Directed Health Measures (DHMs) will take effect in the Two Rivers Public Health District on May 18, including Dawson County.

These less restrictive DHMs allow for the limited reopening of dine-in services at restaurants, as well as salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors, and massage therapy services. It also increases the per room/space childcare limits from 10 to 15 kids (subject to the usual child-to-staff ratios).

The Governor also issued guidance to resume baseball and softball in June, with enhanced physical distancing measures in place for the safety of athletes, coaches, and spectators. Practices will be permitted starting on June 1, and games can take place as of June 18.

“We have been receiving a lot of questions about youth sports,” Gov. Ricketts said in his statement. “We want to encourage people to take advantage of the outdoors with appropriately socially distanced exercise.”

The current DHM prohibits organized team sports for youth and adults through May 31.

As of Monday, May 11, a total of 863 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the Two Rivers seven-county region, with 707 of those in Dawson County.

At the weekly virtual Town Hall meeting held Thursday, May 7, Two Rivers Health Director Jeremy Eschliman said at this point just under 7% of the Dawson County population has been tested. “We continue to advocate for additional testing,” he said.

At his press briefing on Monday, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced plans to open a mobile testing site in Lexington. “So far, we’ve received 2,358 test results from our Test Nebraska mobile testing sites. Of these tests, 80 have been positive,” Ricketts stated.

Providing a little light at the end of the tunnel, Eschliman said planning for future events is definitely appropriate at this time. “The goal has been to not overwhelm the healthcare system and we have accomplished that. Large scale events for communities really should be discouraged however.”

When asked where he thinks Dawson County is sitting in terms of the curve, Eschliman said by looking at the data he believes we have already reached the climax of the virus and may even be on our way back down. However, he still urges caution and encourages everyone to maintain social distancing.

“In Nebraska we understand social distancing far better than lots of other areas with higher populations. Folks here follow rules and our communities pull together,” Eschliman said.

He shared the most recent figures which shows the statewide mortality average rate is about 1.4% per 100,000 people. “We talk about economics and math, but at the end of the day people are people and we need to really think about what’s best for our communities, said Eschliman. “These are times of high personal responsibility - someone of high risk should just not be going anywhere.”

Dr. Carol Shackleton was also available to answer questions during the town hall discussion, one of which asked why we need to wear a mask if we feel fine. “It’s a matter of source control over personal protection. There’s a lot of people out there who are minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic and the face mask is really helpful in keeping those droplets from other people,” said Dr. Shackleton. “We don’t know who’s asymptomatic, and you don’t know if it’s you. So use the face mask to protect your neighbor, your family, the person down the street that has cancer. You are doing a community service.”

When it comes to the issue of building immunity through exposure, Dr. Shackleton had these thoughts: “There is no way you can sterilize your home to the point that you are in a sterile bubble - you will continue to interact and touch things. We are going to see the Covid virus spread throughout the community. We are trying to slow it down; the illness itself can be very prolonged. Eventually we will develop what we call herd immunity, but to get to that point we will have to have about 90% of our population infected - so we have a long way to go.”

Gothenburg Health CEO Mick Brant said elective procedures will open back up at the hospital beginning May 18. “We will start with the more low risk procedures - colonoscopies and things like that. Joint replacements and those types of procedures we plan to start in June.”

Brant acknowledged that there have been a few positive tests among Gothenburg Health staff, but said none of them are frontline employees and none of them contracted the virus at the facility.

“We sent a whole herd of people to get tested and most of those have come back negative. None of the positives are related to direct caregiving, so I would say we are probably one of the safest places to be right now. About 30-40% of our staff has been tested,” said Brant.

He said as a precaution the YMCA daycare, which has been providing childcare for hospital employees, was closed and quarantined for two weeks. The daycare has now reopened.

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.536.6499