The confirmation of a second case of community spread of the novel coronavirus in Douglas County — a 46-year-old man whose illness had no known source — on Wednesday triggered a six- to eight-week closure of schools in the county, the shutdown of bars and restaurants’ shift to carryout and delivery only.
Earlier in the day, the Douglas County Health Department issued a public health order prohibiting all public gatherings with more than 10 people through April 30.
That move made guidelines on crowd size released earlier enforceable by law. All schools in Douglas County already have closed.
Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert provided updates Wednesday afternoon on the Omaha area’s four latest confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The second case of community spread was among the four. Officials said the man began exhibiting symptoms March 11. He was hospitalized in an intensive care unit Sunday after suffering from worsening cough and fatigue and was tested Monday for COVID-19. The positive result came back Tuesday.
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Pour said an investigation found that the man hadn’t traveled recently, had not had contact with another person with COVID-19 or been at any community events where he may have been exposed. He hadn’t even been to the grocery store recently, Pour said.
The man is out of the ICU and still is recovering, Pour said. He did not have any known underlying health conditions.
The man lives with one other person, who is quarantined at home. Pour emphasized that most of the Douglas County residents with COVID-19 have had mild cases.
The three other new coronavirus illness cases, a man and a woman in their 60s and a man in his 40s, all are travel-related. Douglas County now has 23 cases of COVID-19, and Nebraska has 29. That count includes the travel-related case of an Adams County woman in her 40s that was confirmed Wednesday.
Pour’s order, issued Wednesday, allows for exceptions for workplaces, government operations and medical offices. It also lays out some specifics for child care centers.
The goal of limiting crowds, one aspect of what’s known as social distancing, is to slow the spread of the virus and reduce any spikes in demand for health care.
“Again, we want to prevent the overload of our health care systems,” Pour said.
Stothert also has signed a proclamation declaring a state of emergency for Omaha for 72 hours, and the Omaha City Council has approved extending it until July. However, Stothert noted that everything that needs to be done already is covered by the governor’s guidelines and Pour’s order.
“We do … understand how difficult this is for every single person in the community,” the mayor said.
Stothert said people seem to be taking the precautions seriously. Omaha police who conducted compliance checks on St. Patrick’s Day found the numbers in the bars to be “pretty much” in compliance with the 10-person limit.
Stothert also signed an executive order Wednesday creating a community advisory response board to provide long- and short-term assistance for people, organizations and businesses in Omaha that are affected by the coronavirus. It will include a variety of coordinated community responses in a variety of sectors, including housing and homelessness; workforce and employment; small business; child care; food security and other areas.
A fund has been created for housing assistance, including rent and mortgages, and will be available in mid-April. More information will be forthcoming, she said.
Meanwhile, the last of the 15 cruise ship passengers who had been in treatment or quarantine on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus left for home Wednesday. That completes a federal operation that UNMC and Nebraska Medicine had been supporting since a separate group of 57 Americans arrived Feb. 7 from the hard-hit Wuhan area of China. They were under quarantine for 14 days at the Nebraska National Guard’s Camp Ashland.
The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit remains empty. One patient, a 36-year-old woman thought to have contracted the virus in England, continues to be treated in a converted space in the Nebraska Medical Center, operated by Nebraska Medicine.