Editors note: This is a weekly series from The Reader breaking down COVID-19 data from the state. In it, reporter Chris Bowling will look at the latest in COVID-19 numbers and news.

See daily COVID-19 updates here

This week I had a COVID-19 scare.

Someone I was with on Friday tested positive for the virus. Naturally as someone in a perpetual state of anxiety (in other words, a person living in the modern age), I convinced myself that I had it. For the past few days I’ve locked myself in my room, only dashing into the kitchen to grab Pop-Tarts or other small amounts of sustenance as not to contaminate the home or my roommates.

I never had symptoms and got a test right away. I got those results back literally this morning. Negative.

I’m going back for another just to make sure the virus wasn’t hanging out for a few days before it decided to strike, but I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I still had to cancel a lot of plans. I couldn’t watch movies projected outside with my friends. I didn’t meet up to skateboard. The one that stung the most was that my mom, who I haven’t seen since December was going to make the 800-plus mile drive from our hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio to Omaha. We had to cancel that trip, which would have included some walks around the Old Market, maybe a picnic at Memorial Park and then a weekend of camping at Indian Cave State Parks.

I was, to put it lightly, very sad.

But the experience is a small reminder of where we’re at with the virus. Even though Nebraska is in Phase 4, which essentially means totally re-opened, daily COVID-19 cases on a 7-day average almost reached the previous peak from May. 

I’ve been following social distancing, but my scare has definitely made me reevaluate what I’m doing to limit the virus’ spread. Yes I’m not crowding into a certain bar in Blackstone that has the dimensions of a railway car or projecting my spittle onto a crowd during indoor karaoke, but I’ve gotten more relaxed. I’m seeing more people, traveling a little bit, I’ve eaten and had drinks on a couple of patios. 

I don’t know what it would take for the state to reevaluate its reopening because clearly the number of cases statewide is not that alarming. Nor is the number of cases in places like Lancaster County which is seeing more cases than it has ever in the pandemic. And for those who want to point to better testing as the reason for more cases, while we are testing more people daily than ever in the pandemic, the positivity rate is going up. The World Health Organization recommends a 5% positive test rate standard as a sign that a community has the virus under control.

We’re about to head into winter. That means even less opportunities for the kind of socially distanced outdoor activities that we all love. Are more people going to stay in or are they going to pack into bars, restaurants and movie theaters? Those are big questions I certainly don’t have the answer to. There’s huge industries, small businesses, that hinge on the promise people will. But I’m sure if you ask any health official, that sounds like a nightmare. Or maybe not, I guess we’re already officially there if state directives are to be believed.

Meanwhile cases are swelling across the state. A Nebraska inmate died due to COVID-19 while cases are spreading rampantly throughout correctional facilities. There’s a handful of vaccines that are currently in stage 3 of testing but there’s not a clear answer on when one could be available, or whether a large enough number of people would take it.

So all I’m going to say this week is that we need to think long and hard about COVID-19’s presence in Nebraska. While we know a lot more about it, it’s not less prevalent in our communities–specifically in Omaha and Lincoln.

So think about the things you do. Who you could be coming into contact with. What risks you’re taking.

It’s not realistic to eliminate all risks, but you can take measures to limit them. And yes, it sucks. I want to go back to how things were before. I would love nothing to go see a live music show and chug a few Pabst Blue Ribbons. Or see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse with a big bucket of popcorn. But you know that’s just not our reality.

With that comes grief. And somehow, after collectively falling headfirst through the stages of grief, we’ve circled back to denial. We need to finally arrive at acceptance, that this is situation that we can’t cut corners with. And at the very least we need to adopt more understanding for why a drink inside a bar with friends you haven’t seen in months or a wedding you’ve planned for a year, can wait a little longer. Even if you may not get sick, your decisions can mean the difference between someone having a stint in the hospital or not.

So just make good decisions. Care about others. Stay home a little bit more.

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Chris Bowling

Chris has worked for The Reader since January 2020. As an investigative reporter and news editor he’s taken deep dives into topics such as police transparency, affordable housing and COVID-19. Originally...

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