UNMC coronavirus expert: We're in the second inning

UNMC coronavirus expert: We're in the second inning

Just getting started.

As Nebraska braces for a peak in the coronavirus outbreak in the state this month, a University of Nebraska Medical Center health care expert Friday put the battle against the deadly virus into stark perspective.

"This is the second inning of this game," Dr. James Lawler said during Gov. Pete Ricketts' daily coronavirus news briefing.

"We are very early in this event.

James Lawler

James Lawler

"And this virus is here to stay," he said. 

"We cannot return to complete normal until we have a vaccine."

Estimates of the time needed to develop a successful vaccine to combat the new virus generally range from 12 to 18 months. 

Lawler is an associate professor in the department of internal medicine at UNMC and executive director of international programs and innovation for the Global Center for Health Security, as well as director of clinical and biodefense research at the National Strategic Research Institute.

"These are sometimes frightening times," he said. "These are certainly anxious times."

Ricketts said that "we have a long road ahead of us in April."

However, the governor said, there's a positive immediate sign in "the flat number of new cases" that have been identified despite increased testing for the virus in Nebraska.

And, he said, tracking by Google shows progress in social distancing, a key element in the state's plan to contain the virus.

Included in the data was a 24% decrease in workplace numbers, a confirmation that more Nebraskans are now working at home. 

"The name of the game is all about preserving the health care system," Lawler said, echoing words the governor spoke earlier this week about his primary concern.

Dr. Gary Anthone, the state's chief medical officer, said there have been 279 positive tests in Nebraska and "the vast majority" of the people who have been infected are treated with self-isolation at home.

"Eighty-five to 90% will recover on their own at home," he said.  

Overall, Nebraska reported 285 cases of COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon and six deaths from the disease. Earlier in the day, Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele announced that 10 cases had been identified at the city's JBS Swift plant.

Meanwhile, Ricketts put all of the state's 93 counties under directed health measures,  meaning gatherings are limited to 10 people, bars and restaurants must go to delivery or carry-out, and salons and tattoo parlors must close.

The new directed health measures run through May 11.

Once again, Ricketts fielded questions as to why he does not speed up Medicaid expansion at this time to make an estimated 90,000 Nebraskans eligible for health care coverage and why he resists releasing more inmates from crowded prisons in view of the new health care threat. 

Changing the Medicaid expansion plan that's due to become operative Oct. 1 would actually delay implementation until next Jan. 1, the governor said, because of the need to rewrite the state's plan for the expanded system and the need to return to the federal government for another round of approval.

"You don't get sent to prison on your first offense," Ricketts suggested in answering the other question.

"Nebraskans do not think letting people out of prison is a good idea," he said.

Latest updates on coronavirus in Lincoln and nearby

See the latest news as more coronavirus cases are identified in Nebraska.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported late Thursday night that an 11th Nebraska resident has apparently contracted the coronavirus. HHS is waiting for confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the University of Nebraska-Lincoln moves to online-only classes amid a global coronavirus pandemic, administrators are encouraging students to move out of their residence halls and back to their parents' or permanent residences.

Legislature

Hy-Vee at the Capitol had a contract to supply lunch meals and sandwiches weekdays until the end of the legislative session, but because of COVID-19 concerns it has decided to shut down its operation early.

The Zoo Bar, Duffy’s Tavern, Bourbon Theatre, 1867 Bar and Bodega’s Alley — the downtown live-music venues — have all closed and canceled shows for at least two weeks in an effort to battle the spread of the coronavirus.

“At this point, everyone should just take a deep breath and wait till we announce procedurally how we will address these things,” said Matt Larson, associate superintendent of instruction.

As bad as the losses from major event cancellations are, economists say the economic damage they cause is likely to pale compared to the effects of the widespread closings of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses.

The mall announced in a news release that it would suspend its hours, starting at 7 p.m. Monday, with plans to reopen April 6.

Many companies have pledged to pay employees for at least the next two weeks, ranging from large retailers such as Kohl's and The Buckle to small local businesses such as Sandy's. But plenty of people are finding themselves out of work with no pay.

Marcus Hotels & Resorts on Tuesday announced it will close a number of hotels it owns temporarily, including the Marriott Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln.