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10 workers at Nebraska beef plant test positive for COVID-19

April 3, 2020 GMT
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Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at a news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, April 2, 2020. Gov. Ricketts defended his refusal to issue a stay-at-home order for residents, arguing that it is not necessary for Nebraska even though 40 other governors have done so to try to keep the new coronavirus from spreading. Ricketts said he does not plan to deviate from his current approach, which includes a statewide, non-enforceable recommendation that residents avoid gatherings with more than 10 people. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks at a news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, April 2, 2020. Gov. Ricketts defended his refusal to issue a stay-at-home order for residents, arguing that it is not necessary for Nebraska even though 40 other governors have done so to try to keep the new coronavirus from spreading. Ricketts said he does not plan to deviate from his current approach, which includes a statewide, non-enforceable recommendation that residents avoid gatherings with more than 10 people. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Ten workers at a central Nebraska beef plant have tested positive for the new coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, public health officials announced Friday.

The cases were confirmed at the JBS beef plant in Grand Island, according to the Central District Health Department. The plant will not be shut down, however, because the federal government considers food and agricultural production and processing facilities essential infrastructure.

Hall County, which includes Grand Island, has the state’s second-highest number of confirmed positive cases, with 26 as of Friday afternoon, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The most confirmed cases are in Douglas County, encompassing Omaha, where officials have logged 124 so far.

“Our numbers are ever-increasing,” said Teresa Anderson, director of the Central District Health Department, which covers Hall, Merrick and Hamilton counties. “This is not good, but it is not unexpected.”

Statewide, Nebraska had 279 confirmed cases as of Friday afternoon, and six have died. Nearly 4,500 have tested negative.

Among those with the virus are seven new cases at the Douglas County Health Center, a long-term care facility in Omaha. Local health officials said Friday that five residents and two employees at the center were the latest to test positive for COVID-19. All five residents are being isolated in their rooms, and the two employees are in isolation at home. All are in stable condition. Those cases were among 10 new cases reported Friday in the Omaha area.

Since Sunday, the center has seen 18 positive COVID-19 cases — 13 residents and five employees.

The news came as health experts who are advising Gov. Pete Ricketts warned that Nebraska is only in “the second inning” of its struggle against the outbreak, and more deaths are expected.

“We really won’t be able to return to a complete normal until we have a vaccine,” said Dr. James Lawler, a University of Nebraska Medical Center physician. “But what we can do is keep the epidemic curve in our community at a level that’s low enough that we preserve the health care system.”

Lawler said Nebraska’s move to close schools early likely helped, because schools are among the most densely populated areas of the state.

State officials also announced that a Gage County woman is the sixth known person in Nebraska to die from COVID-19.

The woman was in her 90s and had underlying health conditions, the Nebraska Health and Human Services Department said in a news release.

For most people, COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illnesses.

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Earlier Thursday, Ricketts said he doesn’t plan to deviate from his regional approach for stay-at-home orders rather than issue a statewide order, as other governors have done to fight the pandemic’s spread.

Ricketts has urged Nebraskans to practice social distancing and avoid mass gatherings, and he has issued enforceable orders for 56 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, barring gatherings of more than 10 people and forcing restaurants to close their dining rooms in areas where confirmed cases of the virus can’t be traced.

Ricketts said some of Nebraska’s rules are stricter than other states that have full shelter-in-place orders. He cited Florida’s statewide order, announced Wednesday, which exempts religious services. Nebraska’s 10-person limit doesn’t include such an exemption, he said.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak