YORK – A second online meeting was held Thursday morning, during which leaders from many different sectors in the community shared information about efforts during the COVID-19 situation.
Last week, the entire meeting was about closures and changes and unprecedented actions.
This week’s meeting had updates about those things – but there was also an infusion of optimism and appreciation.
Laura McDougall, director of the Four Corners Health Department, told the group that there are still no lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Four Corners Health Department District (which includes York, Butler, Polk and Seward Counties).
“Medical providers are starting to clinically diagnose because of the number of tests that are available,” McDougall said. “The tests are being prioritized for high-risk individuals. Just know that our actions will be based on lab-positive cases, but we do have some illnesses in which we are not knowing exactly what they are.”
Cases are continuing to ramp up across Nebraska, McDougall said. There are currently 69 in the state.
“And yesterday, due to the community spread cases in Lancaster, Sarpy and Saunders Counties – those were the triggers there to take more strict actions,” she said.
Right now, in the Four Corners District, the department is monitoring 163 people who are self-quarantining at home. “These people have not had lab tests,” McDougall said. Many self-quarantined due to recent travel and other issues. She said some of those people will leave quarantine this weekend (due to the fact the two-week period for them has ended and they are not ill).
“We will notify the public of all changes in status,” McDougall said.
She also addressed some questions her department has received from the public. One being if it is OK for people to go outside for a walk. She said going for a walk is recommended, “we recommend that you go outside. Just stay away from other people, with 6-10 feet of spacing. We have great trails, for people to walk, and it’s good for your mental health as well.
“We have also had the question if what we are all doing (with social distancing) is making a difference,” McDougall said further. “Absolutely. We see other areas of the United States where they were slower to act and how the virus is spreading there. We are still expecting it to spread into our area but we want to keep it at a low level.”
She noted that the state legislature has allocated funds for the purchases of personal protective equipment (for medical personnel and first responders), “and we will be getting an idea this week of what everyone in our district needs.”
How long is all of this going to last? McDougall referred to a quote from a national medical professional who says “we are on the virus’ timeline. We don’t know how long this will last, but we will try to manage the virus.”
It was also noted that for now, the 10-person limit remains a strong recommendation for this area – it’s just not a law-mandated order yet.
York County Commissioner Randy Obermier and York Mayor Barry Redfern reiterated that closures of public facilities remain in force – but all staff members are working and are available by phone and email. Henderson City Clerk Connie Brown said that’s also the case in her town.
Jim Ulrich, CEO of York General Health Care Services, said that within their walls and campuses, “we continue to reallocate staff where they are most needed. We are also doing detail preparation for the potential surge of patients. We continue to push to do our part to flatten the curve.”
Lisa Hurley, director of the York County Development Corporation, addressed rumors that certain manufacturing companies are laying off workers – she said that is not true as many of them are considered essential businesses. Hurley added that a meeting will be put together in the near future for the local manufacturers and she is preparing for the public a list of businesses that are considered to be officially essential in nature.
“We are working on getting funds from sources to help businesses and the city is looking at re-use funds to help,” Hurley added. “One thing I want to add is that most of our local businesses have shifted to doing business in ways to help and we so appreciate those efforts of all those who are thinking outside the box.”
Madonna Mogul, director of the York Chamber of Commerce, agreed, echoing appreciation and enthusiasm coming from the community working together.
Regarding education, two local school superintendents also spoke – York’s Mitch Bartholomew and Heartland’s Brad Best.
“In conjunction with all the other ESU 6 schools, we all closed indefinitely,” Bartholomew said. “We will re-evaluate the situation on April 30. It is our hope to come back for school for a few weeks, but to be honest we are doubting that will happen. Activities are off, indefinitely. We have some big events coming – prom and graduation – we are postponing those events indefinitely. Unfortunately, we just don’t know what will happen. Our goal is to have some sort of graduation ceremony at some time – it might be July, we just don’t know. We unveiled our learning plan on Monday – the teachers are doing the best they can. They are working tremendously hard and what they’ve been asked to do is incredible. We are feeding (with free sack meals) between 400-450 students and in the future we plan to have two to three drop spots in the community so some can just walk to pick up their food. We just need to get approved for those locations before I can announce them.”
“We are operating under the same parameters,” Best said. “We are trying to enrich learning for our students. I refer to the old adage of ‘we’re learning to build the airplane while we fly it.’ This is not normal, but we are also trying to treat this as an opportunity. It’s been very stressful but also rewarding so far.”
Best added that about 50 percent of the Heartland student body is participating in the free meal distribution program in Henderson and Bradshaw.
Emily Lutz from York College said most of their students have already gone home – several remain because they could not return home for a variety of reasons. They, too, have switched to online learning for the rest of the semester. And big events, such as Songfest and graduation have also been postponed.
It was noted that the Kilgore Library has extended its Wi-Fi hours for those utilizing it outside in their vehicles. And free books are available from the Little Libraries in front of the library and throughout the community.
Volunteers are still needed to help make protective masks as a number of local groups are volunteering to sew them. Right now, all groups are need of elastic and donations of that item are needed.