You've Got Questions, We've Got Answers: CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)

As concerns around COVID-19 mount across the state, the everyday lives of Nebraskans are changing in real time: so is the information around COVID-19 itself. We've set up a form for you to ask your questions about the coronavirus pandemic's impact on our communities.

Below, you'll find what questions we've been asked so far along with the answers we have along with the sources for those answers. Some of this information is constantly changing and we will work to keep the answers as up to date as possible. Please note the date next to each answer which indicates when it most recently updated.  We'll continue to answer queries and update whenever we can so you can be well informed.



The Basics

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

SARS-cov-19 is a new respiratory virus, and scientists are learning more about it every day.  Symptoms can vary, but the most common indicators of infection are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Sometimes people also have body pains, chills, a runny nose, fatigue, or digestive disruptions—or no symptoms at all. Updated: 03/19/20

SOURCE: WHO

 

How long does the virus survive on surfaces?

The NIH put out a study this week that found COVID-19 lasts a day on cardboard surfaces, two to three on plastic or stainless steel, and only about four hours on copper. Researchers also found that the virus can survive in the air in small droplets for three hours at a time. Updated: 03/20/20

SOURCE: NIH

 

Where did Nebraska's COVID-19 cases come from?

Nebraska's first documented cases are travel-related: that means they were picked up while passing through somewhere else, or contracted from somebody who traveled recently. Updated: 03/30/20

SOURCE: DHHS 
 

Why are so many of them travel-related?

Dr. Ali Khan, who serves as Dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has a few thoughts on this. He suspects the majority mostly shows how COVID-19 initially began to spread across the U.S. from hotspots like New York, California, or Washington.

"This would be very analogous to the early cases we saw in the United States that were coming from China,” Khan said, “Because that's where cases were occurring.” Updated: 04/16/2020
 

Where can I check the case count in Nebraska, and counties with confirmed cases? 

The Department of Health and Human Services has created a map of statewide cases that updates itself as new information comes in. You can see it here. Updated: 03/30/20

 

What is causing people to be admitted to the hospital?

About 80 percent of cases recover just fine at home, but some develop a pneumonia-like response to the virus and need hospital services, like oxygen, IV fluids, fever control, and breathing support. Some who have underlying health conditions may also need help managing how their conditions and COVID-19 are reacting to each other. Updated: 03/18/20

SOURCE: CDC
 

Who is eligible for a relief payment under the recent pandemic relief bill signed by President Trump? What if I still have guaranteed income?

Any single U.S. citizen who makes up to 75,000 dollars a year qualifies for a one time COVID-19 relief check of $1200. If you’re married and make up to $150,000 with your spouse, your household will receive a check for $2400. Those with children will also receive $500 of support per child.

Even if you have steady income, you will still receive a payment providing you make less than the $75,000 benchmark. Seniors who get their income from social security will also receive a payment. Updated: 3/30/20


 

Social Distancing

What is the guidance for keeping restaurants and bars open across Nebraska?

Businesses statewide are now subject to an enforceable Directed Health Measure, which requires them to move to takeout-only. 04/06/20

SOURCE: DHHS 
 

Should daycares close, or are they supposed to just limit 10 people per room?

Yes. Under Governor Ricketts' statewide Directed Health Measure, daycares must limit 10 children per room.. Updated: 04/06/20

SOURCE: DHHS.


My place of employment has over 1,000 employees. Should I avoid this?

Governor Ricketts is not requiring larger employers to adhere to CDC recommendations that groups be capped at 10 people. However, he stressed that employers should allow as many to work from home as possible until further notice. But you should consult with your doctor if you have concerns about how close contact with others could impact your health: if you are in an at risk population and can secure a doctor's note of your risk, you could be eligible for unemployment benefits. Updated: 04/06/20

 

My employer says if I want to not be around others, I cannot work from home. I must take my PTO and after that is gone I take unpaid leave. Is that legal?

So far, yes. We reached out to the Nebraska Department of Labor, who told us that most companies have quite a bit of flexibility in how they can handle time off and working from home during the pandemic. “Generally speaking, yes, employers can require employees to use any paid time off they have available to them during this time,” said Grace Johnson, PIO for the department. “Employers are not required to have employees in a paid status if the employee is not performing services for them. Employers are not required to allow employees to work remotely.”

But keep in mind that this could change if any federal policies are enacted that Nebraska would need to follow. Some employers could also be beholden to union contracts that would dictate otherwise, so check if this may be the case for your workplace. Updated 03/19/20

SOURCE: Gov. Ricketts recently confirmed these policies at a press conference. You can watch it here.


Why are large construction sites and factories with numerous workers allowed to stay open?

This one is fairly simple: they haven't been forced to close yet. While Governor Ricketts has closed some businesses with Directed Health Measures, construction sites are not included. Updated: 04/06/20

SOURCE: DHHS


If I'm undergoing treatment for cancer, should I self-isolate?

This is definitely a question for your doctor: they can help you decide how to make the best choices for yourself.  But Dr. Alison Friefeld at the Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha recently offered some advice to one of our reporters: "Any cancer that's undergoing active treatment including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or immunotherapy would be considered high risk...and so those patients should be practicing social distancing." 

She added that means limiting contact with people outside your household as much as possible, and maybe even those you do live with if they are frequently going out. She added that you should work to keep six feet away from others to reduce the possibility of transmission. Updated: 03/19/20
 

Should recently homebound college students self-isolate after they get home from school? Should their family?

The Nebraska Department say that anybody traveling to Nebraska from any location should self-isolate for 14 days and watch for symptoms. And if you were in close contact with a family member who recently traveled, you should also self isolate and monitor for symptoms. Updated: 04/16/20

 

SOURCE: DHS

 

 

COVID-19 and Everyday Life

 

I'm about to graduate from college. Am I eligible for unemployment or a federal COVID-19 stimulus check?

It depends. The CARES act didn’t include anything solely for students, but it did expand unemployment benefits. Part-time workers, gig workers, people whose job offers were pulled, and those with limited work history--like many college seniors--now qualify. When in doubt, The Nebraska Department of Labor says to apply anyway. They’ll determine your eligibility. There’s also leeway when it comes to getting a federal stimulus check. If a student is a dependent on any person’s tax return, or if their parents pay more than half of their expenses, they likely can’t get a payment. But those who fully support themselves can. Updated: 04/16/20
 

Should I wear a mask when I'm in public, and how do I use it safely?

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends has fallen in line with the CDC recommendations to wear a cloth covering. Do not purchase N95 masks or anything that would be considered medical grade, as health professionals and first responders need that equipment to deal with the public.

But there are plenty of tutorials online for making your own: a mask should fit nice and snug along your face, secured by ties or ear loops, and ideally include a few layers of fabric. It also should be machine washable.

But it's important to don and doff it the right way, otherwise you could accidently infect yourself.

Dr. Beth Beam at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing explains how to make a simple mask at home and use it properly in this video. Updated: 04/16/20

 

The Trump administration has announced businesses and individual filers now have an extra 90 days to pay their taxes. Is Nebraska following that schedule, too?

The Governor said at a recent press conference that the April 15th tax deadline will be moved to July 15th, per the federal recommendation. “If everybody who normally files April 15th were to file July 15th, we would see $385 million, our estimate, move from this fiscal year to the next fiscal year which begins July 1st,” Ricketts said. “Now we have analyzed this, and we at the State of Nebraska can manage that with our cash flow, we will be able to manage that."

But the Governor added that anybody who can file by April 15th is strongly encouraged to do so. Updated: 03/23/20

 

Are there any travel bans in the state of Nebraska right now?

Nope. And according to Vicky Kramer at Nebraska's Department of Transportation, there aren't any conversations happening at this time about blocking off certain communities or closing highways. Updated: 04/01/20


What can I do to help others in my community?

There are plenty of ways to help your community right now, like supporting a food bank, or donating gloves and supplies to health care workers.

But Leia Noel, who runs the FoodNet Inc food bank, recommends checking in with your elderly neighbors by phone. She said older people are not only at risk for serious illness during this time, but also increased isolation and food insecurity. “I just hope it's an opportunity for people to get to know your neighbor a little bit, and to care for them,” she said. Times are tough right now, but she thinks one conversation could go a long way--for both of you. Updated: 03/23/20

 

I want to donate blood, but I recently had COVID-19. Can I still do that?

You sure can, but you'll need to wait until you've been symptom free for at least 14 days, per FDA recommendations. 

But some banks might ask you to wait longer, like 28. You’ll be screened over the phone for COVID-19 when you make your appointment. Let them know about your history, and staff will decide if it's safe for you to come in. And for anybody curious about donating their plasma for experimental COVID-19 treatments, those collection efforts haven’t reached Nebraska yet. We’ll let you know if that changes. Updated: 04/01/20
 

Should people with office jobs be worried about getting COVID-19 through their building's ventilation system?

We can't fully answer this one for you, as different buildings have different HVAC systems. But we can confirm closed-air systems can spread viruses by recycling airborne particles throughout a building. That’s according to Dr. Joseph G. Allen at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. If you’re concerned about it, one thing you can do to decrease risk is open the windows. A little fresh air goes a long way. Updated: 04/02/20
 

My neighbors are clearly violating our county's Directed Health Measure that bans parties of over ten people. Can I report that?

We called several police stations across the state: most said you can call your local station's non-emergency phone number to make a complaint, but don't call 911. Depending on where you live, they may direct you to the Department of Health or your local health department first. If you live in Lincoln, the Department of Health and Human Services has asked you contact them first. Updated: 04/02/20


I'm a small business owner. I'd like to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program through the SBA. Do I need to rehire workers I've laid off to qualify?


The Paycheck Protection Program is designed to help keep workers employed, while subsidizing workforce expenses for businesses. Mike Marsh at the Nebraska Small Business Administration says yes. “In order to get the forgiveness portion of the paycheck detection known, you actually have to spend the money in the way that you said on your application. And your application is based on what's your average monthly payroll.”

Once you pay off those eligible expenses, the loan should turn into a grant and be forgiven.
The loan can also be used for vacation, sick time, or any other kind of benefits for employees. Updated: 04/06/20
 

I've heard lots about antibody tests becoming available soon. Can we just test everybody and allow anybody who already had COVID-19 stop social distancing?

This one is complicated, so we called an expert: Dr. Mark Rupp is Professor-in-Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

He said a certain amount of people need to have immunity to slow transmission down, and testing can show us how much that’s already happened. But knowing who's already had COVID-19 doesn’t answer larger questions about how many need to be immune for society to be safe from a repeat outbreak.

“We don't really know what that threshold is, whether it's 30% or 50%, or 80%," he said. "That kind of depends upon how contagious the virus is. But there isn't a clear threshold that once you get to a certain level, everything is going to be fine.”

We can’t know that until larger studies have been run in communities with outbreaks, which will take time. Plus, antibody tests aren’t always a reliable indicator of a person’s immunity: we don’t know whether passing an antibody test means you can’t get COVID-19 again or spread it.

“A lot of people don't understand that even for diseases that we've known about for a long time--that we have vaccines for--we still don't really know what is the threshold at which protection is offered,” Rupp said. Developing treatments, possible vaccines, and antibody testing will all play a role in combatting COVID-19.

"When we can detect cases quickly, when we have some medications that we've been able to give people, then we will be able to open things up with a much greater degree of safety and security, even if we don't have a vaccine and widespread herd immunity.”

So far, there is no timeline for when we will be able to properly develop those defense systems. Updated: 04/16/2020