As we battle coronavirus as a state, we must work together to practice physical distancing as we reopen the parts of our society that were temporarily closed. This is a virus for which we have no immunity. We can’t stop it, but we can slow its spread to ensure that we preserve our healthcare system.
An analogy I use is that we could end almost all traffic fatalities in Nebraska by lowering the speed limit to five miles per hour. But we don’t do that. With regard to coronavirus, we have put measures in place that have essentially “reduced the speed” in society to five miles per hour. We’ve slowed everybody down to protect the healthcare system. These measures have worked, and we have flattened the curve in Nebraska. This has allowed us to succeed in our main goal of preventing our hospitals from being overwhelmed.
These restrictions have had difficult consequences, but they were necessary for a short time. Now that we’re confident in our ability to maintain our healthcare system, we can begin to find the right speed as we move forward.
As we return to a more normal way of life, we’re not going to floor the accelerator. We’ll proceed with caution, gradually picking up the pace while keeping a constant eye on public health data. The Test Nebraska initiative with its three-part strategy—1) Assess, 2) Test, 3) Trace—will help us to gather the data we need to make smart decisions about how fast to move forward.
Test Nebraska: Assess
The first step of our Test Nebraska strategy is to have Nebraskans fill out a simple, five-minute health assessment at TestNebraska.com. These assessments help us determine where to deploy our testing resources. Right now, anyone who takes the assessment will be prioritized for testing if they choose the response “yes, I have symptoms.” Additionally, anyone who selects health care, first responder, or food processing as their occupation will also be prioritized, even if they do not report any symptoms of illness on the assessment.
Everyone who signs up at TestNebraska.com will receive periodic follow-up emails requesting updates to their health assessment. Symptoms can develop quickly, and we ask people to update their assessment from time to time as requested. So far, about 140,000 Nebraskans have completed assessments. Please help us to increase that number by signing up and encouraging your friends and family to do the same.
Test Nebraska: Test
We’re using information from the assessments to decide where to set up mobile testing sites across Nebraska. The Nebraska National Guard is overseeing the test sites to ensure that they run as smoothly as possible. We’ve tested at sites in Grand Island, Lincoln, Omaha, and Schuyler. We are moving to Lexington and Norfolk as well. We have set up our laboratory at CHI Health St. Elizabeth in Lincoln to serve as the central site to analyze the samples collected at our Test Nebraska locations. At capacity, we expect the lab to process 3,000 tests per day once testing is fully ramped up.
Test Nebraska: Trace
Testing helps us identify positive cases so that we can isolate individuals with coronavirus and quarantine the members of their household. This serves the dual purpose of helping affected individuals monitor their health and of reducing exposure in the community. Whenever someone tests positive, public health teams interview them to learn more about the people and places they’ve recently visited. We then ask additional folks to quarantine if there’s a significant risk that they’ve been exposed to the virus. We’re continuing to mobilize and equip teammates within our Department of Health and Human Services to perform contact tracing. Our goal is to have 1,000 additional contact tracers at the State that can support our Local Health Departments.
Nebraskans should expect to see our cumulative number of coronavirus cases rise as we expand testing. This does not necessarily indicate an increased rate of infection. In part, it reflects our enhanced ability to trace the spread of the virus.
Throughout May, we are continuing to ask everyone to follow our Six Rules to Keep Nebraska Healthy:
• Stay home. Do not take unnecessary trips outside the home. Respect the ten-person limit.
• Socially distance your work. Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace.
• Shop alone and only shop once a week. Do not take family with you.
• Help kids follow social distancing. Play at home. No group sports or playgrounds.
• Help seniors stay at home by shopping for them. Do not visit long-term care facilities.
• Exercise daily at home or with an appropriately socially-distanced activity.
As we relax restrictions, Nebraskans will still need to be mindful of maintaining physical distance from one another. Physical distancing combined with testing and contact tracing will help us continue to protect our healthcare system. These measures are especially important for Nebraskans with health conditions such as asthma, heart disease, a compromised immune system, diabetes, or respiratory illness.
For the latest information, visit www.Governor.Nebraska.gov and subscribe to the coronavirus updates. You can also visit dhhs.ne.gov/coronavirus for more information. Additionally, we’ve set up a Test Nebraska hotline at 402-207-9377 to answer questions about the testing initiative.
We will get through this as we have always done in Nebraska—by working together.