Almost overnight, extraordinary measures were adopted in North Platte to prevent the spread of the novel corona virus, at the direction of health and government officials.
In hopes of keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed if and when the virus hits in full force, schools started to announce closures March 12-13, acting out of an abundance of caution. Shoppers, acting out of an abundance of concern, started clearing Wal-Mart shelves of bleach, toilet tissue and hand sanitizer a few days earlier.
By Tuesday, many restaurants in North Platte had closed their dining rooms, if not their front doors, and by then, concerned shoppers had started emptying shelves of such items as bread and flour.
With President Trump telling people not to gather in groups larger than 10, the economy is stalling. Business owners are asking for help, and asserting their rights.
Paul Oettinger of Pals Brewing asked city officials Tuesday morning during a press conference to be mindful of Constitutional rights.
Among those rights are the right to peacefully assemble.
In talking with the Bulletin, Oettinger also noted that the state legislature is no longer in session, hampering the First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Chris Blakely, a leading downtown business owner and building restorer, seemed dismayed by the few answers to his questions. Blakely said his tenants will be challenged to make ends meet if business falls off and they could have trouble paying rent. He also said he’d just returned from a family ski trip in Colorado and was advised to self-quarantine the family for two weeks. When he asked what financial help might be available to business owners, City Administrator Jim Hawks said he’s been asked that a lot.
“My phone rang off the hook yesterday with people asking those same questions,” Hawks said.
Hawks said the U.S. Senate is working on a special federal appropriations bill for businesses that will be hard hit. That was all the help he could offer so far.
On Monday, the Nebraska Department of Labor issued short-term unemployment compensation relief for both employers and employees. That information is HERE.
As of Tuesday morning, no one in Lincoln County and the surrounding area was known to have the virus, and only 27 people had been tested, so it is difficult to gauge how bad the problem is.
As of Tuesday, there were just 21 active corona virus cases in the entire state of Nebraska. That number was up from 10 on Sunday, the state Department of Health and Human Services said.
West Central District Health Director Shannon Vanderheiden said the first 20 test samples from the North Platte area were negative, including two that were re-tested because they were at large social settings.
Vanderheiden said another 7 corona virus tests were being processed as of Tuesday morning.
She said the emphasis is now on prevention moreso than testing.