Word has been circulating throughout the community the past few days of a spike in the number of positive Covid-19 cases in Gothenburg. That news prompted a Town Hall meeting on Monday afternoon involving Gothenburg Health, Two Rivers Public Health Department and Gothenburg Public Schools.

The last Town Hall meeting was June 4. “We decided then that we weren’t going to have another one of these until there was a need,” said meeting facilitator Nate Wyatt. Unfortunately that need arose. Wyatt shared that since the last meeting the pandemic has hit him close to home as a member of his family recently tested positive. He shared a quote from Mike Tyson that he said sums up how he feels right now. “Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.”

Dr. Anna Darymple has served as the spokesperson for Gothenburg Health during the pandemic, and addressed the audience listening in to Monday’s meeting. She confirmed the fact that there has been a surge in cases in the community recently.

“We had a pretty uneventful month in June, then about two weeks ago we started seeing a small uptick and last week we had a sharp increase in positive cases,” Dr. Dalrymple shared. “It is local community spread, not people traveling through. The percentage of cases is going up, and that is definitely a concern.”

She said the hospital does have a rapid test which gives results in 15-20 minutes. “However, given the need right now we are prioritizing those for people who are sick. So it depends on symptoms whether you are offered the rapid test - otherwise you will receive the regular test that takes about three days,” she said. She also asked people to please call ahead if they plan to come to the clinic as opposed to just walking in.

Jeremy Eischliman, Health Director for Two Rivers, said the cluster of positive cases that has been found in Gothenburg is not specific to a particular industry, but rather is the result of social activity. He said that things such as sharing a meal together can spread the virus more quickly.

“Indoor spaces where people are in close proximity; social gatherings indoors; these are events to steer clear of right now. Those are the places we have seen clusters developing,” said Eischliman.

When pressed about releasing specific community information Eischliman did not budge, saying in an effort to protect individual privacy only county-wide information would be shared. The department’s report released Monday morning showed seven new confirmed cases in the district on Sunday, July 26. Of those only one was in Dawson County. Saturday’s report however lists 14 new cases in the Two Rivers district, with 10 of those in Dawson County. Specific communities in the county however are not revealed.

On Friday, July 25, Two Rivers reported the 10th Covid-19 related death in the district - a Dawson County male in his 80s. There were two confirmed cases reported in Dawson County on Friday, July 25, and four the day before that.

Dr. Dalrymple explained that when health officials talk about “close contact” it means being within six feet of someone for at least 15 minutes who has tested positive, or if you have been coughed or sneezed on. “Just a very brief walk by somebody doesn’t count,” she said.

Eischliman said once the health department is notified of a confirmed positive, they follow up with that individual to determine who they may have had close contact with during the previous 48 hours. Those people are in turn contacted and given an extensive survey which includes their health information and any possible symptoms, as well as anyone they may have been in close contact with. An individual who has tested positive must isolate themselves for 10 days, while anyone who may have come in close contact with a confirmed positive should quarantine for 14 days.

Katie Mulligan with Two Rivers said that while cough, fever and shortness of breath are very iconic symptoms for those with the virus, health professionals are seeing different symptoms as well - especially in younger people. “One common thing we are seeing is a total loss of smell. Sometimes your sense of smell is weakened when you are congested or stuffed up due to allergies, but this is a complete loss of smell,” she said. “We are also seeing that fever is present as much as it is absent. And we are seeing more flu-like symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea and body aches.”

Early on it was thought the virus could also be easily transmitted through surfaces, but Dr. Dalrymple said the idea on that has changed. “Most transmission is coming directly from someone’s respiratory droplets. The virus can live on certain materials for up to 72 hours, however after just a couple of hours the amount that lives on a surface is so low it is very difficult to contract it,” she said.

The thing that hasn’t changed is the recommendations for what we all need to be doing to protect ourselves and slow the spread. And number one on that list is masks. “Mask wearing is not a political issue, it is a health issue,” said Dr. Dalrymple. “It is not unclear - masks are very helpful for driving down transmission. If you want your kids to go back to school, if you want Husker football - wear your mask. Especially if you cannot maintain that six foot distance.”

In response to the impact that a spike of positive cases might have on the local healthcare facility, Dr. Dalrymple said they are well prepared. “We made a lot of contingency plans back in March, and we know exactly where we would place patients. We have actually had Covid positive patients in our hospital now. We are regularly looking at our supply numbers and those kinds of things,” she said.

Dr. Todd Rhodes, Superintendent of Gothenburg Public Schools, thanked both health entities for their support and guidance. “One of the positives that has come out of this pandemic is our relationship with Gothenburg Health and Two Rivers. We really need to rely on those health officials to guide us on best practices to be safe - which is our number one goal,” said Rhodes. “Our second goal is to be in person with our students and give them a physical educational opportunity. Kudos to our instructional staff and what they were able to put together in the Spring, but we absolutely want to be open in person. And our plan is just that. We’re very excited to see kids and open up our doors.”

The Town Hall meeting also provided an opportunity to remind the public of the importance of following the CDC recommendations of physical distancing, wearing masks in public and frequent hand washing. “The whole point of these meetings is to educate yourselves and share that with others,” said Wyatt.

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