Two Nebraskans died from COVID-19 on Friday, public health officials said as the number of those diagnosed with the coronavirus continues to rise.
An Omaha-area man in his 50s became the state's first death Friday afternoon, and, just hours later, it was announced that a Hall County woman in her 60s had also died from the virus.
The Omaha man, who suffered from serious underlying health conditions, had been self-quarantining at home since March 11, the Douglas County Health Department said.
Before his self-quarantine, the man had contact with a known COVID-19 case while traveling out of state.
“The family of this individual has our most sincere sympathies,” said Adi Pour, the county's health director. “This new disease has been in our community for only a short while, but those with co-morbidities are at greater risk of complications."
The Hall County woman also had underlying health issues, according to the Central District Health Department.
“We have community spread of the COVID-19 virus at this time,” said Teresa Anderson, the district's health director. “CDHD is in communication with state officials in regard to issuing a state Directed Health Measure.”
Nebraska had 95 confirmed cases as of Friday evening, up from 74 at roughly the same time Thursday.
The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department announced late Friday it is investigating the fourth lab-confirmed case of COVID-19, a man in his 30s who is isolated.
There also was one new case identified in Dodge County on Friday — a man in his 30s who is hospitalized, as well as a Colorado man traveling in Nebraska who tested positive and has been hospitalized in Adams County.
Sarpy County also announced three new cases Friday evening. The ages of the three range from the 20s to 40s. Of those three cases, one is a close contact of a confirmed case, one was travel-related and the other was community-acquired, a Sarpy County Health Department official said.
Hall County also reported three new cases Friday, including the woman in her 60s who died. All three cases were identified as community-spread.
Friday afternoon, Gov. Pete Ricketts expressed his condolences to the families who lost loved ones.
“I encourage all Nebraskans to keep these families and all families impacted by coronavirus in their thoughts and prayers," he said in a written statement.
The governor said earlier in the day there is no reason to believe Nebraska will be immune to what’s happening in other parts of the country.
"We know we will be impacted like other states — some people will die — our effort is to limit that so we can accommodate those who need to go to the hospital."
Ricketts said the state is steadily ramping up its testing capacity, which now stands at about 1,000 tests a day.
With expanded testing, he noted, "we should see more cases."
Ricketts also announced an executive order that would waive some state licensing requirements for qualified health care providers to clear a path for them to practice in Nebraska if they are needed during the pandemic.
That would include people who are licensed in other states, who may need renewals or who may be retired from medical practice, Ricketts said, as well as some people who may need to meet initial license fee requirements.
Taking action now, the governor said, clears a path for them to "come and help us out" in the event that more health care professionals are needed to meet demand created by the virus in the future.
"Currently, we have plenty to handle the demand," Ricketts said. "We just need to look down the road (in case we) may need more."
The governor said hospital capacity — including intensive care rooms — already is being ramped up, and "we will go out and purchase more ventilators if we need them."
Current state policy, including a directive that limits gatherings in the state to no more than 10 people and mandates that confine restaurants and bars in Lincoln and Omaha to take-out, drive-thru and delivery service, are designed to limit the spread of the virus, Ricketts noted.
Once again, the governor said he does not anticipate the need for a future stay-at-home directive, which is the standard response in cities and states overwhelmed by the virus, including most notably New York City, California and the state of Washington.
As of Friday, 23 states have issued stay-at-home orders, including Colorado and Wisconsin. Cities, including Kansas City, Missouri, also have ordered residents to stay at home.
Meanwhile, Blue Cross Blue Shield announced that it will adopt a policy of covering telehealth medical visits the same as office visits in terms of insurance coverage during the current crisis.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @LJSdon. The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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