Big and small clusters of people — from a Zumba exercise class to local meatpacking plants — have driven the spread of the coronavirus, the Douglas County health director said Thursday.

Nearly half of Douglas County’s 1,205 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday resulted from clusters of two or more people, Dr. Adi Pour said during a press conference.

Seventy percent of those cluster cases can be attributed to the metro area’s nine meatpacking plants, but clusters also have been identified at manufacturing businesses, assisted living residences, a funeral and a small bakery, Pour said.

The novel coronavirus can most easily spread in close gatherings, she said.

“From a public health standpoint, I’m concerned that we are not having our infection under control,” Pour said, adding that people gathering together is not acceptable. “If we are continuing to do that, our infection rate is going to stay with us.”

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Adi Pour, Douglas County health director, with Mayor Jean Stothert. Omahans need to be vigilant, Stothert said, to stave off a virus resurgence.

She and Mayor Jean Stothert again stressed that despite the loosened restrictions, people should wear a mask while out in public, stay 6 feet away from others and not congregate in groups of more than 10.

In Douglas County, 392 workers in meatpacking plants have tested positive for the virus, Pour said. She said medical professionals are making recommendations to the plants, including for additional testing and housing workers in hotels so they don’t infect their families.

Each day, Douglas County records about 100 new confirmed positive cases of coronavirus, she said.

The county’s minority population has been disproportionately affected by the virus, probably because they often are in front-line jobs or working in factories where they are close together, Pour said.

As of Thursday, 69% of the confirmed positive cases affected people of color, Pour said. A month ago, that number was 26%.

Among minority groups, Latinos in Douglas County represent the biggest percentage of coronavirus cases. Despite making up about 13% of the county, Latinos represent about 39% of cases, Pour said.

Stothert on Thursday stressed that she does not want youth athletic teams to become new clusters to spread the virus and emphasized that teams should not practice or play until the end of May, per Gov. Pete Ricketts’ directed health measure.

She said she has heard from coaches and parents — some who claimed they’ve gotten special permission from Ricketts. But the mayor said no teams are allowed to congregate, whether in public or private spaces.

She acknowledged that people are getting tired of the restrictions but said it’s vital to not let up. She referenced the 1918 flu pandemic, which had a second surge of cases after restrictions were lifted.

“We don’t want people to lighten up and to stop doing all of these good habits that we have been encouraging all along,” Stothert said. “We don’t want a resurgence and that could happen.”

Stothert also said Thursday that about 5,000 households, most of them in west Omaha, did not have their trash picked up on Wednesday. Waste Management, the city-contracted company that handles solid waste collection, has experienced some disruptions because of the coronavirus, the mayor said.

Some of its employees have fallen ill or are taking care of family members, she said.

Those whose homes were missed were to have their trash collected on Thursday. Employees also will be working Saturday, Stothert said. Recyclables will not be collected on Friday, so anyone whose pickup is that day is asked to keep those items until next week.

» The mayor also announced that every firefighter in Omaha is being offered a nasal swab test for the coronavirus, as well as a blood draw to test for antibodies.

The testing initiative is part of a University of Nebraska Medical Center study with the goal of understanding more about antibodies — proteins that the immune system makes to fight off infection. Tests for antibodies, called serology tests, may give researchers a better idea of how widely the virus has spread.

Taylor Wilson, a UNMC spokesman, said officials are interested in learning how many front-line workers have developed the proteins. Long term, he said, medical officials want to know whether antibodies protect someone from contracting COVID-19. UNMC partnered with a private company to conduct the testing.

The voluntary testing began Wednesday and will continue through Friday. As of midday Thursday, 339 of the city’s 650 firefighters had been tested for antibodies, and 223 had been tested for the virus, the mayor said.

Stothert called firefighters the “perfect group” to examine because they frequently are out in the community, but then they eat, sleep and hang out in the station before going home to their families.

She said officials hope to get 100% participation.

Alia Conley covers breaking news, crime, crime trends, the Omaha Police Department and initial court hearings. Follow her on Twitter @aliaconleyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1068.

Reece covers Sarpy County for The World-Herald. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL grad who spent time in Oklahoma and Virginia before returning home. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127

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