OMAHA — Gov. Pete Ricketts warned Friday that he might order schools to close for six to eight weeks to try to keep the new coronavirus from spreading in Nebraska as officials confirmed three new cases, bringing the total to 14 so far.
Ricketts, who issued Friday evening an emergency declaration in response to the outbreak, said he would require schools to close in Omaha and Lincoln if state health officials identify one or more “community-spread” cases, where it’s not clear how an infected person contracted the virus and its origin can’t be traced.
“We do not have community spread (cases) right now,” he said.
Other states have taken similar measures, including some that acted preemptively. On Friday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice shuttered schools statewide even though his state hasn’t had a confirmed case.
“I don’t think any of us has experienced anything quite as disruptive as the coronavirus,” said Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt.
Meanwhile, Berkshire Hathaway chairman Warren Buffett told shareholders Friday that they won’t be allowed to physically attend the company’s May 2 annual meeting in Omaha.
Buffett said in a statement that he regrets having to take the step because the annual meeting has been a high point for decades for him and his business partner, Charlie Munger.
“It is now clear, however, that large gatherings can pose a health threat to the participants and the greater community,” he said.
By early Friday, state officials had reported that 13 Nebraska residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Friday evening, the Douglas County Health Department announced a new case, a child who is a member of a household where five earlier cases were reported this week. Those cases are connected to an infected woman who had traveled to California and Nevada.
Nebraska officials have not yet identified any “community-spread” cases whose origins can’t be traced, but that could quickly change, said Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer.
Also Friday, Mutual of Omaha reported that its Omaha headquarters was closed for the day because a worker had tested positive. Contractors are giving the building a deep cleaning and the goal is to reopen it Monday, said company spokesman Jim Nolan said. Exposed employees were advised to self-quarantine.
The city learned Thursday that the NCAA had canceled the College World Series, among other tournaments and competitions. Omaha has hosted the baseball championship every year since 1950.
The Berkshire meeting will be broadcast online by Yahoo Finance. Buffett also said the special events that occur each year have been canceled as well.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
According to the World Health Organization, people with mild case recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe cases may take three to six weeks to get better. The vast majority of people recover from the virus, which has infected more than 137,000 people worldwide and has killed more than 5,000.