Governor Pete Ricketts and a group of health officials have announced that the state has received confirmation of the first case of the COVID-19 virus in Nebraska.
During an afternoon conference call with reporters, Dr. Robert Penn, Epidemiologist for Methodist Hospital in Omaha, said a 36-year-old woman arrived at one of the hospital’s emergency departments Thursday with symptoms of pneumonia and low oxygen levels.
Penn says the woman had a recent history of travel to the United Kingdom, and for the 12 days prior to Thursday, her respiratory symptoms were mild.
Penn says following notification from the emergency department attending physician, staff immediately initiated precautions in light of the coronavirus outbreak. “Appropriate precautions for all health care workers caring for this patient, including putting her in a negative airflow room, special masks, eye protection, gowns and gloves,” says Penn, “and we began working with our local health department because we were concerned enough about COVID-19 that we wanted to coordinate how we cared for the patient with them.”
Penn said the patient was transferred to Methodist’s main campus ahead of confirmation of the presence of the virus on recommendation of staff at UNMC. He says she’s now “very seriously ill, and we’re now in the process of transferring her to the Biocontainment Unit at Nebraska Medicine.” Dr. Bill Lydia with Methodist says the transfer will involve the use of an isolation pod.
Penn said hospital staff will be participating with the health department in looking back at people that may have been exposed.
Nebraska CMO of Public Health, Dr. Gary Anthone, says the confirmation of an initial coronavirus case in the state is something that has been anticipated, and officials in DHHS have been working with local health departments and federal agencies since early January in preparation. Athone says the state’s epidemiology team will be on location shortly to begin the contact investigation with Methodist officials and others.
Officials from UNMC and Nebraska Medicine offered kudos to colleagues at Methodist Hospital, who they say were able to quickly screen the patient’s symptoms and travel history, and implement a strategy of containment.
Ricketts says as the virus spreads, the state’s communities will continue to take new measures to help keep people safe and as healthy as possible. He says common-sense hygiene practices are a key to helping slow the spread of the virus.