At this time last March, Colfax County was struggling to deal with the aftermath of devastating flooding along the Platte River, costing millions of dollars in damages and forcing thousands from their homes and farms along the river.
The one-year anniversary was supposed to be a milestone in recovery from the flooding, but no one could have anticipated what happened next.
Now, Colfax County emergency managers and medical professionals are trying to get on top of another potentially catastrophic issue: COVID-19, which has already begun community spread in Omaha and has wreaked havoc on health care systems across the world, with the U.S. unlikely to be immune.
But, panic over the issue can be alleviated through a calm reading of the facts, and Denise Kracl, public information officer and county attorney for Colfax County, is ready to serve, as she was a year ago when the flooding began to spread.
She made a visit to a local grocery store this weekend and found the shelves stocked with enough toilet paper and paper towels to get people through the crisis. However, she wasn’t able to find sanitizing wipes, as people are snatching them up in order to keep their personal materials safe.
“We have had no reported shortages of any sort of product here in Schuyler,” Kracl said. “I’ve gone to local stores here in Schuyler and I was able to find toilet paper (and) paper towels, everything except Clorox wipes. There are recipes online where you can make your own sanitizing products using bleach.”
The County is still working to address issues far and wide, and Kracl said that until the state hands down more restrictions on public gatherings, it will attempt to put on events in as safe a manner as possible.
“The county does not have any intent at this time, short of a total shutdown, to stop operations,” Kracl said.
But, different county offices have discussed plans to continue services in the event of a lockdown, similar to the ones in Italy and Wuhan, China, not to mention the planned ones in Spain and France.
“Different offices have met to discuss, if there was a shutdown, that they would be as prepared as possible,” Kracl said.
Mark Arps, emergency manager for Colfax County, has already met with officials from CHI Health Schuyler in order to determine the preparedness of the hospital for possible surge or triage situations. CHI is currently restricting access to facilities and referring those with potential COVID-19 symptoms to the proper care.
A hotline has been established for people to contact if they feel like they have the symptoms of COVID-19. Already, 25,000 across the state have taken advantage of the service to keep themselves prepared and filled with the facts about COVID-19 without any fear.
“The helpline is being well-received,” said Connie Peters, President of CHI Health Schuyler in a press release. “Just as we hoped, it’s providing trusted information and calming fears, while identifying those at high risk for COVID-19 and getting them help.”
The possibility exists that Gov. Pete Ricketts will close down schools in Nebraska for the foreseeable future due to the discovery of community spread. If that happens, Kracl is planning to be ready, with the full force of the Schuyler Food and Toy Drive ready to make sure that students and families don’t go without through the duration of the closure.
“If there is some form of a school shutdown, we (will) have as much food available for children as possible," Kracl said. “That’s hugely important to us.”
Schuyler Community Schools on Monday night announced its plans via social media.
"The governor and health officials have required all Nebraska schools develop a plan to close by Friday, March 20th for a minimum of two weeks. To assist our parents in securing day care options, we will be closing schools at the end of the day on Tuesday, March 17th," the district stated. "We will share additional information on our website, social media, and a printed copy with your child at the end of the day on Tuesday. Health officials will re-assess this closure in two weeks. Thank you and goodbye."
Kracl and other officials are hoping that planning takes precedence over panic during this tumultuous time. With many large events being canceled and social distancing measures beginning across the county to slow the virus’ spread, Kracl is asking people to work together, just as they did at this time a year ago to help slow the floodwaters that rushed through their communities.
“One year ago today, we were fighting floodwaters,” Kracl said. “We were successful because we did it together as a community. This is one of those situations where we’re are going to have to pull together as a community again, if things get bad and if the virus comes here. Just because we end up in a shutdown situation doesn’t mean that life is ending.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at email@example.com.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!