Clinical trial begins in US to test possible coronavirus treatment

Transmission electron microscope image of the novel coronavirus, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like.

KEARNEY — As of Monday afternoon, three cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) have been confirmed in Nebraska, but none in central Nebraska.

Nine more Nebraska cases are undergoing further testing at the Nebraska Public Health Lab.

Tests of 36 other suspected cases have been ruled negative.

Those statistics were provided by Jeremy Eschliman, health director of Two Rivers Public Health Department, which covers seven central Nebraska counties.

Here in Kearney, both CHI Health Good Samaritan and Kearney Regional Medical Center are taking steps to contain the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19, which began in China and is creeping around the world.

Good Sam is asking people headed for clinics and emergency rooms to call ahead if they suspect they may have the virus. “By calling ahead, not just walking in, we are not only ensuring the best care plan for the patient, but also reducing the risk of exposing anyone else,” said Mike Schnieders, president of Good Sam.

Amanda Polacek, marketing coordinator at KRMC, echoed that.

“People who have fever, a cough and difficulty breathing should contact their primary care provider’s office first. Calling in advance will allow a health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also help to prevent possible spread of COVID-19, influenza and other viruses,” she said.

In other COVID-19 developments:

- Good Sam and St. Francis Hospital, a CHI Health hospital in Grand Island, have established a free, joint Help Line as a first step for those who think they may have the disease, Schnieders said.

First, individuals should visit That site asks questions ask about recent travel, exposure to anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, a person’s symptoms and a fever over 100.4 degrees.

People who are deemed to be at high risk will be directed to the Help Line. A health care provider will call them within 30 minutes.

Information gleaned during that call will determine the next steps, according to Dr. Scott Frankforter, medical director at St. Francis. “You may just need more information, or your symptoms could easily be addressed with a Virtual Care video chat with our health care providers,” he said.

- At CHI Health clinics and its emergency room, a staff member will greet and ask a few questions of all patients when they come in. If needed, the staff member then will provide a mask and take the patient to a private room.

“This does not mean we think you have COVID-19, but we are taking precautions in your best interest,” Frankforter said.

- Both hospitals are urging people who have signs of a cold, flu or another illness not to visit friends and family in the hospital.

“Our patients are more susceptible to outside germs. Please do not visit patients if you have had a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches or nasal congestion in the past 24 hours,” Schnieders said.

- The TRPHD urges anyone who is sick and developing a fever, cough or has difficulty breathing to seek medical care right away. TRPHD is coordinating response in its seven-county, 98,000-resident region. Those counties include Buffalo, Dawson, Franklin, Gosper, Harlan, Kearney and Phelps.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued criteria for COVID-19 testing. It includes fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness, and people with known exposure with a person known to have COVID-19 illness, or individuals requiring hospitalization with no alternative explanatory diagnosis.

The CDC also said those who have traveled to a foreign country should tell medical officials where they traveled, when and the degree of exposure.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and its partners are tracking the unfolding outbreak, Eschliman said. Older adults and people with underlying health conditions are more likely to be severely affected, DHHS said.

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