The first person in Lincoln County known to have the novel corona virus is a Bailey Yard employee, who apparently picked it up on an international cruise, Union Pacific has said.
Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza confirmed that the man is in his 50s and employed at Bailey Yard. He and 17 others from the yard who are known to have contacted the virus are in self-isolation.
Shannon Vanderheiden of the West Central Health Department has said the case presents no immediate danger to the community, but workers in Bailey Yard are concerned.
In a message to employees Wednesday, Bailey Yard superintendent Mike SantaMaria said the man went into isolation on Saturday, March 14.
SantaMaria is directly affected — one of the 17 team members who are now self-isolating. He is the general manager of the Great Plains Service Unit, which encompasses Bailey Yard.
Santa Maria told employees that any areas were the first case may have worked were professionally decontaminated “by an external vendor specializing in sanitizing bio-hazardous environments.”
Bailey Yard employees who spoke to the Bulletin on condition of anonymity said they suspect one or two others went on the cruise with him, and could have spread the virus when they returned.
According to a text message circulating through the employees, the manager went right back to work after he returned from the cruise, instead of isolating himself, thereby endangering others. One worker called it “reckless.”
Espinoza said the man reported symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to one of the nurses at the yard, who reported the situation to the West Central District Health Department.
Also, two more Lincoln County cases were reported Thursday night — a woman in her 40s who was traveling in Colorado when she became ill, Vanderheiden said in a press release, and a man in his 20s who was in close contact with the first man who tested positive for COVID-19.
Vanderheiden did not specify if the 20-something-year-old man worked at Bailey Yard. but she said the virus is still not classified as “community-spread.” In keeping with health department practices, information about victims is greatly limited to protect privacy.
She did say that officials are busy, investigating and identifying those who may have also been exposed in the two latest cases, so those people know to self-isolate and be monitored.
“Our focus right now is to complete the contact investigations and to protect the health of the community,” she said.
Vanderheiden and other public health officials remind everyone with symptoms of a respiratory illness (cough, labored breathing) to isolate themselves immediately and contact their healthcare provider or the WCDHD to be tested. A fever above 100.4 is another significant sign the the body may be fighting the corona virus. The fever may occur with the onset of respiratory symptoms, or may appear later, officials say.
SantaMaria said anyone at Bailey Yard, or in the UP system, who suspects they have been exposed to COVID-19 should contact the company nurses.
“Compensation will not be impacted for any employee, both (union) agreement and non-agreement, who were potentially exposed at work and have to quarantine,” SantaMaria said.
SantaMaria sent thoughts and prayers to the impacted employees and their families.
As of Thursday night, the total number of positive tests in Nebraska is 32. A case was reported Wednesday in the Hastings area. The other cases are in the eastern part of Nebraska.
On Thursday, Gov. Pete Ricketts put an enforceable limit on public gatherings in Cass, Douglas, Sarpy and Washington counties, after a second case of community transmission of COVID-19 was discovered in Douglas County. His order requires restaurants and bars in these areas to close their dining areas immediately and move to takeout service, delivery and/or curbside service.
The order will be in effect until April 30.
Also, Ricketts officially directed schools to operate without students in buildings, but school staff can work there. Most of the schools in Nebraska have already taken that precaution to prevent the spread of the virus, or dramatically slow its spread.
This report was updated at 1 p.m. Friday, after health officials confirmed that the 20-year-old man was connected to the first COVID-19 case.