Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) has been all over the news and top of mind for Americans as the virus reaches new corners of the world.

As it spreads, we’re working hard to make Nebraska the best-prepared state in the country. We’ll need everyone’s help to blunt its impact on Nebraska and to keep our families and communities as healthy as possible.

Coronavirus has the potential to spread quickly, and we need to take immediate action to be prepared.

As you prepare, think of how you would get ready for an incoming snowstorm. If you wait until it starts snowing, it’s too late. Now is the time to make sure you have two weeks’ worth of food and water, to ensure a continuous supply of prescription drugs, and to plan for what to do in case schools and daycares close or you have to work from home.

Practicing good health habits can also help prevent the spread of coronavirus and other respiratory infections:

Bump elbows rather than shake hands to prevent the transfer of germs.

Stay home if you are sick.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Do not greet people with hugs or kisses.

Wash hands often to protect yourself from germs.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and then throw the tissue into the trash.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Stay up-to-date on information sent out by your local public health department.

If you travel overseas, be extremely diligent about practicing good hygiene. All international travelers should check the State Department’s website (travel.state.gov) for guidance and updates. Travelers returning to the U.S. should monitor their health closely and immediately self-quarantine and contact a healthcare provider if they develop any symptoms of illness.

My office, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and public health partners are closely monitoring COVID-19 to anticipate its impact on Nebraska and our healthcare systems.

DHHS has dedicated teams working to address this serious public health threat. These include leading public health experts who have extensive experience responding to disease outbreaks and other public health emergencies. They, along with local health departments, will continue to take action to help prevent the spread of disease and protect the health of Nebraskans including:

Sharing the latest guidance and information with local health departments, hospitals, healthcare providers, first responders, and local and state labs through our extensive Health Alert Network to ensure a well-coordinated response in Nebraska.

Engaging in active and ongoing communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other state and federal partners as part of the overall national response to this emerging public health threat.

Reviewing and enhancing response plans to be ready for the detection of this virus in our state.

Monitoring Nebraskans returning from countries with community transmission of COVID-19 to ensure timely medical care if needed and minimize the potential risk to others.

Facilitating confirmatory testing, isolation, and monitoring of Nebraskans experiencing symptoms to identify cases as soon as possible.

Having systems in place to track and monitor people who have contact with a confirmed case in an effort to immediately detect secondary cases and minimize the potential for ongoing, undetected, person-to-person transmission.

Nebraska is blessed to have the world’s leading experts on infectious disease right here in our state at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). UNMC is home to the only federally funded quarantine unit in the country. The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit at UNMC has a track record of successfully treating special pathogens—having played a leading role during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

Currently, several travelers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship are undergoing monitoring at UNMC. The CDC standard is to have two tests showing no illness, 24 hours apart, to make sure someone is fully healthy and ready for release from quarantine. In Nebraska, we’re going above and beyond the CDC guidelines. We’re doing three tests, 24 hours apart, before releasing anyone.

UNMC has begun a clinical trial for a vaccine to treat COVID-19. This is the first clinical trial in the United States to evaluate an experimental treatment. In the last week, the U.S. Congress passed a $8.3 billion appropriations bill to provide funding to combat coronavirus. These funds will enable us to ramp up efforts to keep people safe. Nebraskans can be confident that we have dedicated, proven leaders at the helm who specialize in keeping the public safe during this sort of public health threat.

Part of being prepared is being informed. I understand that many Nebraskans have questions and concerns about COVID-19. You can find reliable and useful information at www.cdc.gov/covid19 and dhhs.ne.gov/Coronavirus, as well as at www.facebook.com/NEDHHS. Helping Nebraskans understand how to stay healthy is the State’s top priority right now. As Nebraskans, we are in this together, and we all have a role to play. I hope you’ll proactively make preparations and practice good hygiene to help keep your community as healthy as possible.

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