At least for now, the city library and the city recreation center are open to serve the public, Mayor Dwight Livingston said Tuesday morning at a press conference in the city council chambers.
Decisions are being made hour-by-hour and day-by-day, he said.
Livingston and City Administrator Jim Hawks said all city services will continue through the corona virus shut-down – including police, fire, electric and water, streets, public transit, trash and sewage treatment.
They said the city is doing everything it can to protect residents and employees.
Events, such as basketball tournaments, are cancelled at the city recreation center.
As of Tuesday, there were 21 active corona virus cases in Nebraska, the state Department of Health and Human Services said. The department did not provide other information, such as ages and locations of the recent cases. The first cases were in the Douglas County (Omaha) area.
Extraordinary measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus, in hopes of keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed when the virus hits in full force.
North Platte schools
The North Platte public schools will provide free pre-packaged breakfasts and lunches to children in the school district ages 18 and younger.
The free meals began Wednesday, March 18 and continue until further notice, spokeswoman Tina Smith said.
The drive-thru will be open Monday-Friday from 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. at Madison Middle School, 1400 N. Madison Ave. Breakfast and lunch will be provided in pre-packaged bags.
Children must be in the vehicle to receive their bag of food. Cars should enter from Jackson Ave., which is on the west side of Madison, and go through the alley to the loading dock. Stop and pick up the bags and go out onto 14th St.
Please do not park and get out of your vehicle, nor congregate nor consume meals on-site.
The school district’s backpack program that sends food items home with students over the weekend will continue. Backpacks will be filled Thursday and Friday at the McKinley Education Center. The food is provided through the district’s food and nutrition services programs, Smith said.
Smith also said the Nebraska Department of Education has waived requirements for academic testing this spring, as well as for “make-up” days.
Other public schools in Lincoln County are also giving away food.
After the press conference, Library Director Cecelia Lawrence told the Bulletin that a family drove to North Platte’s library from 200 miles away to print some government paperwork because other libraries were closed.
Lawrence said the library’s puzzles and toys have been sanitized and put away. Computers are not available for recreational use. Librarians will help patrons print or access necessary information, but not use social media.
Patrons are encouraged to bring their own computer or phone and use the library’s wi-fi connection.
She said books and other materials that are returned will go into quarantine. If need be, those materials can be sanitized in special “ovens” to disinfect them, she said.
Other city services
North Platte residents are encouraged to use the drive-up window at city hall to pay their utility bills, and not go inside the building.
Fire Chief Dennis Thompson said rescue and fire services will continue. If people need an ambulance, they might be surprised to see the rescue crew wearing protective masks. Thompson said if people are sick, they should contact their doctor first.
The fire department and hospital will work together to set up a drive-up location where saliva swabs can be taken for those who are told by their medical provider to get tested. That will be located at the Great Plains Health Pavilion, north across Francis St. from the GPH Emergency Room. It will be open from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. daily.
Public Health Director Shannon Vanderheiden said people who have respiratory symptoms are first tested for known viruses first (a “respiratory panel”). If known viruses are found, patients are not tested for the corona virus.
As of Tuesday morning, 27 people in the North Platte area had been tested for the corona virus. Vanderheiden said the first 20 test samples were negative, including two that were re-tested because they were at large social gatherings.
Vanderheiden said 7 more corona virus tests are being processed. She said results are returned in 24-48 hours.
She said the suspicious symptoms (criteria) are now — a cough or sore throat or a fever — which is a broader set of criteria than just last week. Previously, the criteria was a combination of those symptoms. People with one of those symptoms should call their medical provider and stay away from others.
Megan McGown of Great Plains Regional Health said the hospital has held exercises in responding to a pandemic for years, and the staff is as ready as they can be. She noted the big patient rooms, negative pressure rooms designed to expel pathogens from the room, and a bio-hazard tent that could be set up. In an emergency, some patient rooms can be converted to hold two occupants, if both patients are afflicted with the corona virus.
Again, everyone is reminded to keep a distance from others — 3-6 feet is recommended — wash their hands frequently and cover their mouths when they cough.