In a continuing effort to keep the residents of Gothenburg informed on the latest updates and information concerning the Coronavirus, various community leaders hosted a virtual town hall meeting on Monday afternoon, March 23. The meeting became even more important with the confirmation of a positive case of COVID-19 in Gothenburg over the weekend.

“We did have a positive confirmed case on Sunday,” said Dr. Anna Dalrymple as she addressed those sitting in on the meeting. She said in an effort to minimize contact between patients at Gothenburg Health, a dedicated sick side and dedicated well side have been established at the clinic and in the emergency room. “We’re trying to keep those separated as much as we can.”

She said the clinic is also working on schedules to minimize non-essential visits. “We have one positive case and are likely to have more - I cannot emphasize enough the importance of social distancing and staying home,” said Dr. Dalrymple. “There are still some people not taking this seriously, and we need to take this very seriously right now.”

Dr. Dalrymple said that as the community moves into a more high risk phase, more aggressive isolation will be recommended, including by businesses. “If you can work from home now would be the time to do that. Maintain groups of less than 10 people, and remain six feet apart. At this point there needs to be no group gatherings at all. Break rooms in businesses need to be closed,” she said.

The doctor also strongly discourages non-essential travel and limited home visits. “Staying at home doesn’t mean you can’t go out the door - being outside is a good thing, just not mingling with others,” Dalrymple explained.

One major concern aside from the physical ramifications of the virus is the mental health of all Americans during a time of self isolation. “First of all you have to take care of yourself,” said Dr. Carol Shackleton. “Eat well, get lots of sleep, drink plenty of water, and take a break from the news. It’s important to stay updated, but take a break and read something pleasant, something to get your mind off of the intensity that we’re facing.”

Dr. Shackleton also recommends physical activity, such as running on a treadmill or taking a walk around the lake. “Such activity produces endorphins that make you feel better,” she added.

Other recommendations Shackleton shared with the town hall group included keeping in touch with your spiritual family. “If your church is closed and you have a computer, try streaming your church service. You can worship together at home as a family. Skype with other family members. Older adults also need to work with someone to help them find a sense of purpose. Try crossword puzzles, knitting or other activities.”

Shackleton also urged residents to reach out to other community members, particularly the senior citizens who are in lock down. She suggested sending cards of encouragement to residents at Hilltop Estates and Stone Hearth. You can also visit residents outside their windows and display signs of support.

“Think of self care like putting on an oxygen mask on an airplane - you are always instructed to put on your own before helping someone else,” said Shackleton.

Scott Bahe, administrator of Hilltop Estates, echoed the doctor’s recommendation saying window visits and cards can help support the psycho-social aspect of the residents.

“Infection control is our number one priority in the facility,” said Bahe. “Our other priority is keeping our caregivers healthy - without them we are out of business and a lot of people are not receiving care. We’re asking staff to go to work, grocery store and home. Expressions of support for residents and staff are appreciated.”

A NEW WAY OF DOING BUSINESS

If you have visited the local grocery store within the past week or two you have likely noticed that some items are in short supply. Colten Venteicher addressed the town hall forum on behalf of the GIC regarding our local business district and how the pandemic is affecting the way they operate. Now that we are isolating ourselves there is more of a temptation to socialize when we see people we know at the grocery store. But Venteicher strongly discourages doing that.

Trying to do their part to protect their customers as much as possible, Peterson’s Market has put tape on the floor to designate six foot distancing between patrons. Staff is also taking precautions by wearing gloves and frequently sanitizing registers and high touch areas.

The store is offering a service for the elderly and residents considered high risk, by providing delivery service and curbside pickup. Those individuals can place their grocery order by calling 537-2048. The store is asking customers to not bring in reusable bags for their groceries, but rather just use the plastic bags provided by the store.

Dollar General will be closing at 9 p.m. each night to sanitize the entire store, and management asks the public to limit shopping and maintain social distancing.

“We have an amazing business district. It’s fun to see so many businesses step up and find different ways to accommodate their customers,” said meeting facilitator Nate Wyatt.

“If someone in the workplace tests positive, or if you have been exposed to someone who is suspected of having it or has been diagnosed and you have had close contact, you need to self quarantine for 14 days,” said Dr. Dalrymple. “And if you have symptoms - fever over 100.4, cough, sore throat - stay home!”

SCHOOL & FOOD UPDATE

Monday saw the implementation of a new method of educating and feeding the children of Gothenburg. All students from first grade on have been equipped with a laptop from the school, while kindergarten students were given a packet of materials on their last day before the lock down on March 18. Teachers began using that system on Monday, and GPS Superintendent Dr. Todd Rhodes said it is a work in progress.

“I talked to the staff about remaining patient with families, students and households with all that is happening,” said Dr. Rhodes during the Monday afternoon town hall meeting. “The learning can take place at lots of different times. We are going to fail forward with this - there are no rules around it, so we will continue to do the very best we can for our kiddos and their parents.”

Rhodes said the decision was made Monday morning to move the custodial staff to a week on week off type of schedule. He has also communicated to all employees that they need to stay home unless it is essential or mandatory to be in the building.

With the confirmed case of Coronavirus in the community, Dr. Rhodes said the school closure has now been pushed back through April 3. “We will continue to work with local health officials to keep our families informed,” said Rhodes.

He also took a moment to remind the public about the free sack lunches being offered through the school food program. The sack lunches are available to ALL residents of Gothenburg age 0-18, and can be picked up at the high school parking lot

The school’s backpack program, which provides weekend meals to at-risk families during the school year, will be starting Friday, March 27. The backpacks will be available for pickup at American Lutheran Church in the north alley. Kendra Boyd, one of the directors of the program, said all participating families have been notified.

“We are well supplied through April at this point. However, canned chicken and canned tuna are always items we can use,” Boyd said. “The food pantry is also in pretty good shape at this point - right now we do not have an immediate need for anything, but that could change pretty quickly.”

Anyone wanting to donate to the backpack program can send a donation to: American Lutheran Church, Backpack Program, 1512 Ave. G, Gothenburg NE, 69138.

OFFICIALS URGE CARE, NOT PANIC

Sen. Matt Williams joined the meeting from Lincoln, where the Legislature remains in recess with no timeline yet of when the session will resume. He praised his constituents and fellow Gothenburg community members for their proactive approach to the pandemic.

“It’s clear that we are in uncharted territory, but this is real. There is no group of leaders I would rather bank on than the ones we have been hearing from in these meetings,” said Williams. “When faced with adversity people will either quit, pass blame or step up. We know blaming others doesn’t solve the problem, it’s up to each of us to do our share and step up to accept responsibility. Stay home. Together we will never be alone.”

When asked about the possibility of a mandatory lockdown across the state, Williams said at this point he has not heard any discussion about that.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise that we have a confirmed case in Gothenburg, but it does make it very real,” he said.

Gothenburg Mayor Joyce Hudson also commended the community for taking precautions to protect themselves and each other. “First of all this is not a time to panic. We have a very strong community, and we know how to work together - so let’s keep that up,” she said.

She said that as of now the library and city offices are on lockdown. However, patrons can call the library and order a book, and library staff will put it out for pickup.

“In Gothenburg All Means All - we all have to do what is recommended by the CDC. While this isn’t a time to panic, this is real. When you get off work you need to go home, and if you can work from home do it. We need to do what we have to do now so we can have summer,” Hudson said.

“You can have no symptoms or mild symptoms and still be carrying it. That’s why we are pushing the social distancing and staying home,” Dr. Dalrymple added.

Wyatt closed the meeting with one final remark: “Take care of yourselves so you can take care of other people.”

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