Remember March 10? The Creighton Bluejays were preparing for the Big East tournament and Omaha was getting ready to host the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. No one was wearing a mask and no one here was “social distancing.” Nebraska reported its fourth and fifth cases of COVID-19, a term that still was new and strange — fewer than 1,000 cases had been recorded nationwide.
By week’s end, the NCAA would cancel its basketball tournament and spring sports, including the College World Series. Berkshire Hathaway said its annual shareholder meeting, coming up this weekend, would be held virtually. By St. Patrick’s Day, crowds in Omaha were limited to 10 people.
In the seven weeks since, Nebraska has topped 3,000 cases and 50 deaths. The nation is near 1 million cases and 60,000 deaths.
Truly, everything has changed. People have worked from home if they can — if they still have jobs. We’ve stopped going out, many of us have heeded advice to wear masks, we veer away from each other if we meet on a sidewalk.
On Monday, Nebraska joins a few other states in taking the first tiptoeing steps to re-emerging from our cocoons. Restaurants in parts of the state will be able to open at 50% capacity and distancing limits. People can get haircuts or dental care.
But it’s not over.
It is critical that we not relax. In fact, because of increased mixing, it’s important to be even more diligent with distancing, face coverings and hand washing.
Despite hot spots in Nebraska — where restrictions are not changing — the state and the Omaha area are better off than much of the country. Nebraska’s case rate is roughly 160 per 100,000 residents, and about 3 deaths per 100,000 Nebraskans, compared with U.S. numbers of 290 cases and 16.7 deaths per 100,000. Douglas County, whose rates are below the state, is in the lower quarter of all U.S. counties with populations of 500,000 or more.
We got to this point by heeding guidance.
Relaxing now risks blowing that success.
Nebraska’s plan, which is criticized both ways — some say Gov. Pete Ricketts should have issued a firm stay-at-home order; a small minority still refuses to believe this is a real threat — is based on medical advice from eminent epidemiologists at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
It is predicated, as Ricketts says repeatedly, on ensuring that the medical system is not overwhelmed. That reflects the cold reality that even if things continue to go relatively well, Nebraskans will continue to get sick and some will die.
Limiting social interactions flattened the curve, but prevented us from developing much immunity in the broader population.
It’s not over.
These last seven weeks bought us some time as professionals and individuals learned about the novel virus, which has killed more people in a matter of weeks than flu does in a full season even with the measures we’ve taken.
Nebraska now can ramp up testing, which will enable more informed decisions about the next steps in reopening our society.
We can all do our part.
Fill out the form at testnebraska.com to help better assess our situation and target testing.
Wear face coverings to protect others. Keep your distance.
Don’t expect too much of others; it’s been as stressful for them as it has been for you, perhaps more so. Let’s be courteous toward each other and patient about everything.
We’ll say this one more time: It’s a long way from over.