While the three schools in Thayer County, Thayer County Hospital and Blue Valley Lutheran Homes, and other local services and scheduled events have had major adjustments in response to the coronavirus currently affecting communities around the world, there were no confirmed cases in the county as of March 17.
Hospital marketing director, Kassandra Hartley said testing for the virus is administered on a case-by-case basis and for further questions, the TCHS website has updated information.
In a COVID-19 update, TCHS released the following:
“Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a rapidly spreading respiratory illness that was first identified in Wuhan, China. It has since spread to several other countries, including the United States. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and its public health partners continue to closely track COVID-19.
“Please be assured that Thayer County Health Services is working closely with Public Health Solutions to stay up to date on preventative measures and we are following current recommendations. As you may have heard, there have been multiple confirmed cases in Nebraska; however, as of March 16, 2020, it has not reached our community or surrounding areas.
“Current knowledge on how COVID-19 spreads suggests person-to-person spread that occurs mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an ill person coughs or sneezes (similar to influenza and other respiratory illnesses). Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe and may appear within 2-14 days after exposure. Symptoms may include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.
“If you have recently traveled to China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, any European country, Seattle, Washington; the state of California, or New York City, New York and are not experiencing the above symptoms, please contact Public Health Solutions (402-826-3880) for further instructions on self-reporting your travels and next steps.
“If you suspect you have been exposed to and/or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, we ask that you please call ahead to Thayer County Health Services (402-768-4615) before arriving at the hospital to allow our healthcare providers to appropriately plan for your arrival. You will be given further instructions at that time.
“Effective March 12, in an effort to be proactive in preventative measures towards COVID-19 (coronavirus), TCHS is screening ALL patients upon arrival at the facility. If you are not feeling well, please call ahead to 402-768-4615 and proceed to the Emergency Room parking area. From there, a member of our staff will meet you and you will be screened and asked to provide a sample for testing.
“For regularly scheduled clinic visits, please use the main south entrance. There you will be asked a few screening questions that will determine your check-in process. To protect our patients and staff, NO vendor representatives or visitors will be allowed in the facility, except under extenuating circumstances.
“ATTENTION: Per Governor Ricketts’s recommendation that gyms close, effective at 6 p.m. 3/17/2020 the Korff Fitness & Wellness Center will be closed until further notice. All memberships will be put on hold and no refunds will be issued. If you have questions, please call 402-768-4320.
“There are currently no vaccines available to protect against this virus.”
Blue Valley Lutheran Homes
The transition from open to closed doors can be difficult for the facility’s 78 residents, however, Blue Valley Lutheran Homes is taking all precautions, and state and company-wide regulations and requirements seriously.
Certified infection preventionist Leah Stephens said the facility is taking measures to protect the most susceptible population affected by COVID-19.
All employees, whether they are in housekeeping or administration, are screened and asked if they’ve traveled, and that list includes hospice staff and therapists.
The facility is closed to routine services, such as eye checks, deliveries and even hair stylists.
Employees are instructed on hand washing exercises and personal protective gear, Stephens said.
“Essentially, our goal to keep the virus out,” administrator, Doug Cho said. “We’ve been hammered on what to do and why.”
He mentioned some of the first cases of the virus were at a nursing home in Washington state, where 29 residents died.
At the same time, employees are concerned with BVLH residents and their “psycho-social well being.”
While they don’t have all the answers because no one does, and the circumstances surrounding the virus are changing from minute to minute, BVLH is adapting to the immediate situation by encouraging families to communicate online, whether it be social media, FaceTime or Skype.
“We may not have answers to questions, like ‘Is it coming to Thayer County,’” Cho said. “We can answer what we’re doing to keep residents and Blue Valley safe and free from infections and what we know.”
They want residents to receive telephone calls and to provide counseling as well as keeping employees, who have willingly stepped up, informed.
“They’re open to doing what we asked,” Cho said.
Marketing and development coordinator, Ginger Rodolfi, said Monday, residents and staff spent about three and a half hours doing manicures.
Another example is one resident who has a friend visit and read to him daily.
Now the staff is filling that role, Ridolfi said.
“We’re asking the public to be patient with us and we’re open to other ideas of how to interact with families,” she said.
To residents who are able to understand, they are given updates on the virus.
“We explain the situation. This is not going to be over in a week. It could be months,” Cho said.
One of the glitches is the visits from students residents received on a routine basis.
“They enjoyed those kids,” Ridolfi said. Letters and cards to residents, some of whom don’t have anyone to visit or call them, are also encouraged.
Administration and healthcare professionals at Blue Valley are following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Nebraska Public Health.
Superintendent Randy Page has a news release and video on the school’s website and Facebook page in response to the closure.
All schools in the Educational Service Unit 5 area, which includes Thayer County, are closed from March 18 to March 31.
“All 10 schools made the decision together,” Page said.
Thayer Central should have remote learning in place by March 23, although the Nebraska Department of Education has set April 1 as the date if the schools haven’t reopened.
For the elementary, the school will have learning packets and for the upper elementary grades and higher, the in-home school day will look like e-learning, where instructors provide requirements and lessons. Students will digitally submit their completed work.
Page said Tuesday, he expects the governor to address the education sector by Thursday.
He is currently establishing a central location for information that includes services and entities within the county.
“If we don’t, people will create their own narratives on social media,” Page said. “County commissioners, Public Health Solutions, superintendents, leadership and our emergency management should come together as a group, consolidate information and we can relay it to the public.”
A staff member is currently building such a central website.
Superintendent Kolin Haecker said teachers were scheduled to return to school March 18 and work on gathering a curriculum for online instruction.
“If families don’t have internet at home, they will have packets or lessons in written form,” Haecker said.
The district was looking into providing food for the students who receive free or reduced lunches.
Obviously, we want to provide for our students,” Haecker said.
In a message to parents, Haecker stated:
“We plan to resume school on Wednesday, April 1st but may need to extend that closure based on the recommendations from health officials.
“As always, our first priority is the safety and well-being of our students.
“We will continue to keep you informed should we need to extend the school closure.
“I have confidence that we have the best team in place to face this unprecedented challenge together.
“Thank you for your partnership and commitment to keeping our students and our community safe.”
Deshler Public School
Superintendent Al Meier said the Deshler school community has plenty to worry about — stomach flu has rippled among students, and transitioning to off-site learning will take time.
“We have to teach our faculty how to do this because this is not our normal mode,” Meier said.
On Tuesday morning, Meier was on his way to meet with each grade level and explain the rationale of why the school was closing for two weeks and recommend good hygiene habits.
“I want to talk about taking computers home. I’ve instructed teachers to tell them what they need for students to do,” Meier said.
He wants the teachers to give lesson plans some thought, but at the same time, Meier is not in a hurry.
“There are other things families need to worry about. We’ll get with online instruction if we need to,” he said, adding there is nothing being required of students, at least, for the remainder of the week.
If school resumes April 1, Deshler may not have to send instructions home, but if the closure is extended, instructions will be re-evaluated.
He asked Public Health Solutions if there were any confirmed cases of the virus in the county, and as of late Monday night, there weren’t, Meier said.
“Go home and get healthy,” he told students Tuesday.
County clerk Marie Rauner said the courthouse had not received instructions on whether it will be closed or remotely provide services to the public as of March 17.
Drivers license testing was still in operation, however, the treasurer is recommending the public use the online system for payments.