Gov. Pete Ricketts will be providing resources to help Grand Island deal with the spike in COVID-19 cases.

In a statement Sunday afternoon, Taylor Gage, director of strategic communications for the governor, said Ricketts and his team met with local leaders and medical professionals.

Gage said the state will provide additional staff to conduct close investigations, communicate with employers to ensure compliance with quarantine directions in the state Directed Health Measure, work with the city’s largest employers on plans for social distancing in the workplace and communicate with the community to increase its focus on social distancing.

The state will also conduct additional testing in Grand Island beginning Tuesday.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, the Central District Health Department said there are 68 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the district. Of this total, 62 are from Hall County, five are from Hamilton County and one is from Merrick County.

Teresa Anderson, health director for the CDHD, said that, in the 45-minute phone call, she, local leaders and medical professionals told Ricketts what is going on in Grand Island and the urgency they feel in addressing the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the community.

When it comes to providing staff to conduct close investigations, Anderson said the state has already had two epidemiologists come to Grand Island “every week for a day or so.” She said that it is essential that CDHD identify those who have tested positive for the coronavirus and to “help jog their memory” about possible exposure to others.

“What we do then is follow up with each of those contacts and explain to them that they have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19,” Anderson said. “We then ask them to self-monitor for 14 days and self-isolate. Should they have symptoms, we want them to notify their provider.”

As a result of the phone conversation with Ricketts Sunday, Anderson said the Nebraska National Guard will set up a testing station at the state fairgrounds and in Kearney to get a baseline measure of how many health care workers and emergency responders may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Testing hours will be from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“That helps us to have a good reflection of how many cases we have had or will have in the community,” she said. “They will be here tomorrow (Tuesday) setting up and will test for five days. We will do about 75 tests a day.

“At the end of that, we can look at those numbers and hopefully that will give us, and the governor, a better indication of the level of spread we have in our three-county area.”

CDHD said the goal is to test 75 health care workers and first responders each day for five days by appointment only. Nasopharyngeal specimens will be obtained and sent to the Nebraska Public Health Lab.

The first priority, CDHD said, is testing of long-term care workers who have been exposed or are having symptoms. Then, the schedule will be filled with other healthcare workers who have been exposed or are having symptoms. Health care workers providing direct care will be prioritized for testing.

At a press conference Monday broadcast online and on GITV, Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele that while he would prefer a shelter-in-place order, Ricketts is unwilling to issue one at this time. He said that many Grand Island residents have urged him to issue this order at the local level, but that he is not authorized to do so because the governor is coordinating the statewide response effort.

Steele said he has also been contacted about closing down certain large manufacturers in town that have been designated as “essential, critical infrastructure” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He said, like the stay-at-home order, only Ricketts is authorized to issue an order to close down these manufacturers.

“Teresa Anderson and I will continue to communicate with Gov. Ricketts and we will keep him informed of events as they are occurring in Grand Island,” Steele said.

PHOTOS: Coronavirus in Nebraska

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