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Following COVID-19 guidelines could prevent tragedy

Curt Arens hospital sign
RURAL HEALTH CARE: Jeffery Gold, chancellor at UNMC, believes that social distancing guidelines and other restrictions being implemented now could flatten the curve and save lives later.
University of Nebraska Medical Center chancellor says restrictions now can flatten the curve and save lives.

Following directions is crucial. We may not always enjoy following directions or heeding guidelines, but in the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, it could mean the difference between life and death.

In a Facebook Live seminar on March 24 — hosted by Steve Nelson, Nebraska Farm Bureau president, and Jeffery Gold, chancellor, University of Nebraska Medical Center — Gold said that the actions taken now to slow the spread of the virus could help some rural communities stay clear of the damaging effects altogether.

While Gold acknowledged that COVID-19 guidelines on social distancing, limiting gatherings and advice on staying home if you are sick are being updated almost minute-by-minute, he believes that some rural communities are uniquely prepared right now to have zero cases if they follow the directions that are being asked of residents.

“If we can save one life,” Gold said, “if we can keep one critical access hospital from closing down (from lack of healthy personnel), all of this would be worth it.” He said that it is possible to stop the spread. Nebraskans, for the most part, are doing a good job following guidelines, Gold said.

Taking a normal two- to four-month cycle and turning that into a nine- to 12-month cycle —effectively flattening the curve — would reduce the strain on the health system and get to a point when a vaccine would be available. It would keep folks out of the intensive care units, hospitals and health clinics.

“We are guardedly optimistic that we have shortened the curve,” Gold explained. “We reach out to rural and urban communities to try to create awareness, because knowledge is power. If producers just stayed on the farm and ranch, their chance of exposure would be very low. But we all have to get groceries, parts and supplies. Farmers and ranchers are also volunteers for local emergency medical services teams and for hospitals.

"Even in the smallest communities, we can be exposed to someone who could potentially be a carrier. They might be looking and feeling well, with no knowledge that they are carrying the virus, because we believe people can carry the virus five to 14 days and be without symptoms and still be infecting other people.

"Younger people may think they have a cold. They go to work and go to school. All of a sudden, they are the vectors. They spend the weekend with Grandma and Grandpa, and they contract COVID-19 and are hospitalized. They are in the riskiest part of their lives because the mortality from the virus” for the older group is much higher than for the general population. 

Gold also noted that many farmers and ranchers are in the older-aged group, working with their children on the farm.

Gold believes that Nebraskans generally have taken current social distancing and other health restrictions to heart. “Traffic levels in Omaha are as low as I’ve seen them,” Gold said. “Gatherings are down, and people are generally honoring the restrictions.”

He acknowledged that there is mental stress in isolation and being homebound, particularly for older people, not being able to see grandchildren and have social interactions in person.

There is a possibility that warmer weather will bring some relief from the virus. “There are two factors that come into play with warm weather to decrease the spread, particularly for respiratory infections like influenza and COVID-19,” Gold explained. “People don’t cluster as much in their homes, so the spread is somewhat reduced.” Some viruses don’t last as long on surfaces such as doorknobs, hands and your face in warmer temperatures, he continued.

“But this coronavirus is genetically different from other coronaviruses, so we should hope for the best, but plan for the worst, and it will probably end up somewhere in between," Gold said.

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