Updated on April 1 1:03 p.m.
Caps on public gatherings. Large community events shuttering. Public officials from the local to federal levels scrambling. The Covid-19 crisis has shifted dramatically in Omaha leaving many adapting day by day, hour by hour to a slew of guidelines, information and public emergency notices.
In an effort to provide the news you need through a pandemic, the effects of which could take a long time to abate, The Reader has pared down the noise into an ever growing local resource guide.
If you see anything missing or have any questions about Covid-19 you’d like answered, please let us know at the bottom of the page so we can continue serving the community as best we can.
Trusted agencies for Covid-19 updates
This interactive map provides up to date information confirmed cases and exposure locations.
- Through the CDC website you can find up-to-date inform on how to protect yourself, what to do if you think you’re sick and updates from the nation’s authority on infectious diseases.
- The state’s DHHS page will offer Nebraska-specific recommendations as well as updates on the number of confirmed cases as well as negative tests. See their map for cases across the state.
- The Mayor primarily uses her Facebook page to announce new information or livestream press conferences.
- Directives for how to handle the spread of Covid-19 have followed a top down trajectory. So, in addition to paying attention to federal news, staying up to date about Governor Pete Ricketts’ announcements is advantageous.
In addition to The Reader’s coverage, several outlets have dropped their paywalls for Covid-19 coverage. Here are just a few of the most reliable, informative ones we’re reading.
This University of Washington and Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation led project uses current Covid-19 case data to project the pandemic’s spread over the next four months. Nebraska’s peak will come April 30, according to the study, when the disease will kill about 13 people every day and overwhelm state healthcare’s current supplies of beds, intensive care beds and ventilators.
Many millions to fight the virus
In March, public officials went from either mild distress or outright rejection over the threat of Covid-19, to all-hands-on-deck fervor. Here’s a list of the major legislation passed to soften the pandemic’s blow.
Congress and the President Donald Trump have worked together to expedite funding for fighting Covid-19.
- Nebraska already received $6.5 million in relief funds on March 11 from an $8.3 billion funding bill signed into law March 6.
- An additional multi-billion dollar bill called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act signed into law March 18, will provide safety nets for citizens by guaranteeing more sick leave and free coronavirus testing while expanding food assistance, unemployment benefits and require additional protection to health care workers
- On March 27, the federal government allocated $2.2 trillion to fight Covid-19. The plan would include $500 billion for direct payments to Americans as well as $300 billion for relief to small businesses, $50 billion for airlines and $150 for other industries.
- The fund will pay $1,200 to individual Americans. Married couples will receive $2,400 and parents will receive $500 for every child they care for. The Internal Revenue Service has not released a deadline or schedule for the payments, although they could come within three weeks.
Where to find food?
Having sufficient food supplies is a recommended step as Covid-19 continues to spread. But the variety of hoarding and preparation that’s taken place may leave some families in the gap along with others already facing food insecurity. Here are several community resources to keep your family fed through the Covid-19 crisis.
- See Food Bank for the Heartland’s interactive map for mobile and fixed pantries as well as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs.
- Food Bank for the Heartland also has a list of resources for parents, its April mobile pantry list and its pantry partners listed by zip code.
- The local organization has bolstered its food pantry at The Burrow Center at 6101 NW Radial Highway. The center will have pre-packaged boxes of food available for pickup between 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Pre-packaged food boxes are now available at our Burrows Center (6101 NW Radial Highway). Remember: we’re here to help! If you need assistance with food, utility bills, or other essentials, please call: (402) 898-6090. pic.twitter.com/n6RS3Wo2s7
— The Salvation Army of Omaha (@salarmyomaha) March 17, 2020
Restaurant closures and transitions to curbside pickup and deliveries
As many restauranteurs shut their doors, some have kept the kitchens open by offering takeout and delivery. The Omaha World-Herald has a comprehensive list of where your favorite spots stand.
The CDC has said you cannot contract coronavirus from food, however if you’re picking up or using delivery apps such as GrubHub, DoorDash or Postmates, wash your hands and take other precautions to limit spread.
I want a coronavirus test
In Nebraska tests have so far been limited to: symptomatic, “high risk” patients with underlying health conditions; healthcare workers who had contact with a Covid-19 infected person; people who’ve traveled to infected areas; as well as “other factors” like proximity to areas where community transmission has been reported.
That could change as testing capabilities increase but chances are unless you fall in that category you won’t be tested or you may be tested for another illness, like the flu.
If you do fit that criteria or are displaying serious symptoms, use these resources to get started:
Website: www.CHIHealth.com/coronavirus click on “Take Questionnaire”
Children’s Hospital & Medical Center:
Methodist Health System:
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Hotline: 402-815-SICK (7425)
Phone: (402) 609-2600
According to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, three in-state labs as well commercial labs in Nebraska and across the country have the capacity to test samples for Covid-19.
- CHI Health (capacity: 282 tests/day)
- Nebraska Medicine’s Regional Pathology Service Laboratory (capacity: 280 tests/day)
- Nebraska Public Health Lab (400 tests/day)
- Several commercial labs including Quest Diagnostics, LabCorps and Mayo Clinic (capacity: 100 tests/day each)
Hospital hour changes
One World has changed their hours to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. due to the spread of Covid-19.
School Closures and Food Distribution
On March 13, Governor Pete Ricketts issued guidance for all schools to close by the following Friday for at least two weeks. With return dates still indefinite, here’s what you need to know if your child attends one of these schools.
See this master list for metro area districts meal distribution locations and times.
- In a letter to students and families, Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Logan said OPS would provide printed packets with learning materials in addition to one activity per week per class to be provided via email.
- PLCS will close on March 23 with an indefinite return date.
- The district said Friday it is finalizing plans for remote academic learning as it does not have a planned return date.
- Ralston Public Schools is offering pre-packaged grab-and-go meals daily from 9 a.m. to noon. Breakfast and Lunch is available for anyone 19 year or younger at no cost at Ralston High School at 8969 Park Dr. and Ralston Middle School at 8202 Lakeview St.
- Bellevue Public Schools, which is on spring break until March 20, announced it will postpone their return indefinitely.
- Millard Public Schools will remain closed after spring break with teachers preparing e-learning activities to come.
- To aid students who might miss meals, Millard Public Schools will partner with the NorthStar Foundation and the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
- Remote learning assignments will be sent home March 24 and March 31. The following week is spring break.
- After handing out food on Tuesday, the district said it is currently adjusting its free food dispersal plans and will announce where and when it will distribute meals in the coming weeks.
If you’ve lost your job or fear losing your job
In Nebraska, waivers for unemployment climbed to historic highs following shutdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. If you’re facing less hours or fear losing your job there are several resources available to you.
- On Monday, March 16 the Nebraska Department of Labor announced it would relax its requirements for unemployment benefits from March 22 to May 2 including:
- Eliminating the one-week waiting period for benefits
- Waiving the requirement that applicants be searching for a job
- Expedite online applications
- Any worker who’s lost their job due to Covid-19 is eligible for unemployment benefits through the Department of Labor’s website.
- For those who worry missing work due to Covid-19 could affect their job security should contact Legal Aid of Nebraska
What to do if you’re a small business owner
As the federal government works to increase relief to small business owners affected by Covid-19, the Small Business Administration encourages those people to apply for its disaster recovery loans. These loans can provide up to $2 million in funds. To apply you’ll need:
- to create a loan application account
- have your IRS Form 4506-T ready as well a personal financial statement, schedule of liabilities and your most recent federal income tax return
- additional information or documents depending on your circumstances
- This alternative to layoffs provided by the Nebraska Department of Labor allows employers to maintain their workforce by filling pay gaps with unemployment benefits as they cut hours.
If you’re worried about not being to pay rent, your mortgage or possibly losing your home, there resources that can help.
- Starting April 15, residents 19 years or older will be able to apply for rent or mortgage assistance with the United Way. Applicants can receive a one-time payment of up to $1,500. These funds will be administered by the United Way’s 211 program. If you or someone you know could use this resource, call 211 or visit their website.
- To apply you will need:
- A lease or monthly mortgage statement
- Most recent pay stub and/or letter from employer
- Other supporting documentation
- If you’d like to help support the fund, United Way of the Midlands is accepting donations that will 100 percent housing stability.
Utilities promise to maintain service
Metropolitan Utilities District
- MUD announced Thursday, March 12 it won’t not shut off water to any homes due to late payments until further notice. MUD Director of Water Quality Chris Fox also said coronavirus has not been shown to be a water borne disease and Omaha’s water distribution system is safe.
- On Tuesday, March 17, MUD announced its downtown office which it shares with OPPD at 444 South 16th Street will close until further notice.
Omaha Public Power District
- OPPD said it will suspend disconnections due to nonpayments until April 30. At the time the utility will reevaluate the suspension.
- On March 13, the Federal Communications Commission called on internet providers to up their services in response to Covid-19 to maintain connectivity even as people distance physically. In the call to action, the agency asked providers to:
- (1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic
- (2) waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic
- (3) open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.
- Cox announced it would provide a month free of its Connect2Compete service as well as free support for phones and desktops, resources for discounted, refurbished equipment and a Learn from Home toolkit for schools.
- CenturyLink promised to maintain speeds despite increased demand, waive late fees and not terminate service due to financial reasons.
Spectrum is offering two months free access for teachers and students who don’t already have internet.
Comcast is offering two months free access to its Internet Essentials package as well as increased speeds from 15 to 25 megabytes per second.
Nonprofit impacts and how you can help
SHARE Omaha has a list updated hourly providing information on nonprofits’ responses to the pandemic as well as what they’re doing to help. In addition to organizational moves, there are also several links directing donations, volunteers and more.
A few other notable ways you can help:
- As public officials scramble to contain the spread of Covid-19, the Omaha Community Foundation started its Covid-19 Response Fund to assist those affected by the pandemic and ease economic consequences.
Volunteer with a food pantry
- Food Bank for the Heartland is also accepting volunteers at this time.
Donate to United Way of The Midlands
- In working with the Omaha Community Foundation, the United Way of the Midlands established a housing stability fund to assist people in paying rent and mortgages during the crisis. Visit their page to donate, 100 percent of which will go to the fund and those in need.
Work part-time at a grocery store
- Hy-Vee has asked for people to apply for part-time jobs at their locations to help restock shelves as well as sanitize and clean the stores.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus, or Covid-19 as this novel strain of the common disease that appeared in late 2019 is called, is a flu-like respiratory disease caused by a virus that spreads human to human.
How does it spread?
The virus that causes Covid-19 spreads between people in close contact with each other which is why the CDC has recommended people maintain distances of six feet.
Covid-19 spreads through respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes. Inhaling that or touching a surface the virus is on and then touching your mouth, eyes or face are primary ways the virus spreads.
After two to 14 days of exposure, symptoms including fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath may occur.
It’s possible to carry the virus and not display symptoms or have very mild symptoms. However others will require hospitalization and intensive care as well as breathing assistance from a ventilator.
Who’s at risk
While high-risk demographics were originally thought to be older people and those with existing health conditions that make them prone to illness, new CDC research shows people between 20 and 54 made up 40 percent of the first hospitalized cases in the U.S.
What can I do?
Government and health officials have made recommendations that individuals distance themselves from others, limit gatherings to 10 people and stay inside as much as possible as to prevent spread.
These graphics from the Washington Post show the activity of the disease without these measures.
What does “flatten the curve” mean?
The more stringent measures we take the more we “flatten the curve,” meaning we limit how quickly the disease will spread. This is essential because not only does it lessen the disease’s impact, but also, and most importantly, it lessens the strain put on hospitals, clinics and healthcare providers.
Unlike supplies of sanitizing materials and face masks or even hospital beds to an extent, increasing the healthcare workforce is near impossible. So, as case loads increase dramatically to the point hospitals lack the necessary equipment (respirators, hospital beds, ect.), doctors and nurses have to make hard decisions about who they can help and who they can’t.
And the best way to “flatten the curve” is to follow orders to: keep groups under 10 people; washing your hands often and thoroughly; distancing yourself from others; staying inside if you feel sick; and only leaving home in general for essentials.
Doesn’t the flu kill more people every year?
Yes, but we’ve never seen a strain like Covid-19 before. By some estimates it spreads faster, it has a higher death rate—killing 3.5% of infected people versus 0.1% for the flu, according to the CDC.
In short, this disease in new and has infected a smaller amount of people so far but it’s spread quickly, has a higher death rate (as far as we know) and there’s just so much we don’t know.
How bad can this get?
The short answer is no one really knows. An early CDC report said in a worst case scenario, meaning no social distancing or crowd control, between 160 and 214 million could be infected. That’s between half and 65 percent of the United States population.
That was before cities, states and the federal government took serious action to stop the disease’s spread and the CDC has since said we’re unlikely to reach those numbers. However it is clear Covid-19 will be a concern through April possibly into May and June.
One projection model however puts the peak for the United States at mid-April and for Nebraska at April 30. At both of those peaks, state and national healthcare would likely be overwhelmed, pushing the limits of supply capacities, according to the the study from the University of Washington and its Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
The effect on the economy
Since March 4, Wall Street has seen a series of historic downward plunges that have triggered halts and some hysteria. Financial stability has somewhat returned amid Congressional efforts to help every American from struggling families to major corporations.
The Federal Reserve dropped interests rates to nearly zero. The federal government is spending a lot of money very quickly to put money in citizens hands, support small businesses and prop up healthcare. Meanwhile airlines say they’re experiencing their worst drops in business since 9/11 and some states have seen spikes in unemployment benefit applications.
In Omaha, the loss of the College World Series and Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders meeting alone will likely result in tens of millions in irreparable harm. That’s to say nothing about businesses closing, people losing their jobs and many other smaller events being canceled or postponed.
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