A Hastings clergyman is spearheading an effort to keep those who are self-quarantined fed during the coming weeks as the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, threatens to affect the community.
The Rev. Andy Springer, director of spiritual ministries for the Good Samaritan Society-Hastings Village, is working with at least five area churches to provide meals to anyone who is self-quarantined or is particularly susceptible to the novel coronavirus, which most severely sickens elderly and immune-compromised individuals.
Participating churches to date locally include First Presbyterian, St. Mark’s Episcopal Pro-Cathedral, Faith Lutheran, First Christian and First Congregational United Church of Christ.
Meals such as casseroles already have been prepared by members of these congregations, with additional churches expected to join in the outreach effort at some point.
“What we’re wanting to respond to is people who are quarantined, sick, alone or unable to get out,” Springer said. “There are several churches in the area that already are doing this for their own members, but we wanted to ramp this up and make it communitywide.
“My heart is for those people who aren’t connected to a church. People who are part of Good Sam or a local church are going to be well taken care of, but that only makes up about 20-30% of our community. My hope is that neighbors and family members will be in contact with their neighbors and reach out to me if they have people they know who could benefit from meals being brought to them.”
Springer said the meals will be provided on an honor-system basis to anyone who requests them. Each meal is expected to provide about four days worth of food per individual, with additional meals available for the asking.
“We’re primarily for those elderly or with health conditions, although anyone who needs this, we’re certainly welcome to receiving their calls, as well,” he said.
Depending on the need, Springer said, he may be requesting meals from the community in the coming weeks to help supplement the casseroles, soups and other meals already available to those who need them.
For the time being, he will rely on the generosity of participating church members to prepare and deliver meals to meet the needs of the community as they arise.
“I have no doubt that Hastings residents will respond with exceeding grace,” he said. “I absolutely think the churches will step up. The church certainly has a history of coming through in times of crisis, especially sickness, and I expect no less from our churches now.”
Springer said that referrals may play a big role in determining how many people are served through the program, as many Nebraskans tend to shy away from asking for assistance in times of need.
“I think that when neighbors and family and friends look out for those who need it that we can help serve them,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to call for ourselves.”
To request a meal for a family or individual, call Springer at 402-460-3246.
Monday was day four of self-quarantine for Emily Dunbar.
It’s about as lonely as it sounds, although the mother of three is making the most of it.
Amidst the worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Dunbar recently chaperoned Hastings College students on a trip to France as part of their HC 2.0 new-look curriculum.
The trip was memorable and lasted its scheduled entirety. The group flew home safely and without hassle.
Throughout its duration, Dunbar said Hastings College personnel was in constant contact, discussing plans of action and assessing the fluid situation.
But while the group was abroad, and just as they landed stateside last Thursday, COVID-19 quickly reached its pandemic status.
And having come home from France, which is currently listed as a level 3 country on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s website, defined by the widespread and ongoing transmission rate of COVID-19 there, the CDC is advising 14 days of self-quarantine for travelers.
Although she is asymptomatic, Dunbar feels it’s her civic duty to participate.
“(It’s) active patriotism, really, to make sure that if there is a chance I would be carrying the virus that I don’t spread it to anybody,” said Dunbar, who is director of Studio 200 for academic support at Hastings College.
Dunbar has no reason to believe she or anyone the group came into contact with COVID-19, primarily because of the environments they experienced.
“Most of the activities we had planned were interactive, intimate, sort of private tours,” Dunbar said. “We visited a small, family-owned chocolate factory. We had a night of cooking with a French chef in a flat in Lyon. So it was just our group and three French chefs cooking. We did a walking city tour.
“Most of the things we had planned were already in keeping with what ended up being recommended (by the CDC).”
But upon returning home, Dunbar finds herself splitting time primarily between two rooms in her Hastings home and practicing social distancing with her loved ones.
“I have my bedroom and the room next to it, which is my home office and studio,” she said. “Those are my rooms, that’s where I live.”
The Dunbar family is doing its best to abide by all the CDC’s recommendations, just to be safe. That includes maintaining 6 feet of distance between each other as much as possible, especially mom.
There’s a stool outside of her home office where her family delivers coffee and meals and anything else she might need.
“I just keep hollering at them to bring me stuff, and they do,” Dunbar said with a laugh.
So far, she’s passed the time with some of her many hobbies. She’s learning to play guitar and piano. She’s practicing her stability on a balance board.
“There’s always books. And I’m not going to lie, I’ve watched a lot of Netflix. I try to not just do that,” Dunbar chuckled.
Technology has aided her in her social life and her work.
“I would be going out of my gourd without it,” Dunbar said.
She’s attended virtual meetings and posts her quarantine “shenanigans” on Facebook and Instagram. She’s FaceTimed her family at the dinner table to participate in conversation. And, of course, Netflix.
Over the weekend Dunbar maybe felt most distanced while she watched her kids through the window build a “snow tower about as tall as our house” in the yard.
“I do feel left out, but what are you going to do?” she said. “I kept opening the window and talking to them through the window, which was fun.”
Of her three kids, two are in college and one is a senior in high school. Soon enough, all three will be home and taking online classes with the closures of campuses.
“It’s weird because my kids aren’t usually home, so there are more people in the house than usual and I can’t hang out with them,” Dunbar said. “There’s a lot of ‘Sounds like you guys are watching a video. What are you watching?’ And they AirDrop it to me from the other room so I can also watch the YouTube video that everyone is laughing at in the other room.”
Monday was day four of quarantine.
“It’s going to be a long 14 days,” Dunbar said with a laugh.
Travel bans are in place now, but Dunbar looks forward to the next trip once things settle down. She said it’s valuable experience for the students and herself.
“This unfolded in an unfortunate way, but if nothing else, we really learned about global citizenship and all the ways that we are interconnected and I think there is great value in that.”
South Heartland District Health Department Executive Director Michele Bever said she expects the novel coronavirus most certainly will reach Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties before it runs its course.
That isn’t to say the virus or the infection it causes, known as COVID-19, needs to cause any fatalities or serious illnesses in its wake locally, however.
Bever said measures like self-quarentining, self-monitoring, hand sanitizing, and limiting exposure to others for more than 10 minutes within a 6-foot radius can greatly reduce the chances of spreading the virus locally.
“I think it will be basically some (cases) everywhere,” she said of COVID-19, which has become a pandemic affecting communities in many parts of the world. As of Monday afternoon, there were 18 confirmed cases in Nebraska, though none in the four-county area served by SHDHD.
“It’s inevitable that it will get here. This doesn’t mean (all cases) will be severe.”
There are several less deadly strains of coronaviruses that have been around for some time, but none as impactful as the COVID-19 strain, which is spreading exponentially in many areas. While the number of severe cases is believed to be about 12-13%, Bever said, the disease is fatal in about 3% of cases, with most fatalities involving senior citizens and individuals with compromised immune systems.
One recommended measure to combat the virus is self-quarantining for 14 days by those who travel outside the state. Those who have traveled to other countries and to high-risk U.S. states are being asked to contact their local health department to be monitored more closely for symptoms, which include coughing, fever and difficulty breathing. Areas identified as high risk within the U.S. include certain counties in California, Washington, New York, and most recently, Colorado.
Even those traveling outside of the identified states and counties still are asked to take the precautionary measure of self-monitoring their health.
Symptoms typically show within two to five days of exposure, though it may take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear, Bever said.
Situations to avoid at this time include being in close proximity to others for more than 10 minutes at a time.
Bever said that following the recommended protocol most likely will reduce the spread of the virus. Those exhibiting symptoms are encouraged to check in with their local health care provider or SHDHD for an evaluation of their condition to determine the likelihood that their symptoms are related to the virus.
Those self-monitoring or self-quarantining needn’t avoid family members as long as there are no symptoms present, she said. Once symptoms develop, however, it is recommended the person showing symptoms isolate themselves from all human contact and report their condition to their local health care provider or SHDHD for recommendations.
“If somebody has traveled (out of state), stay home, basically,” Bever said. “However, if somebody is quarantined and starts showing symptoms it is important they contact their local health care provider or SHDHD.”
Information on the virus, including the latest number of confirmed cases in Nebraska, is available online at SHDHD’s website, southheartlandhealth.org.
Bever said it is especially important for communities to protect those most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill as a result of contracting the virus. Steps such as self-monitoring, hand washing and self-quarantining are proactive ways to help the cause.
“This is a great thing to do as a community,” she said. “It’s a community service to all of us to do that. We want our older residents to be safe.
“If all of us practice these things and are careful about how we go about our work, it’ll make a difference in our community.”
Hastings Public Schools administrators are developing a plan to serve students, including meals for local youth, while school is closed to minimize the threat of the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.
Kandace Garwood, HPS director of student services, talked about that planning process during the superintendent’s report portion of the district Board of Education meeting on Monday.
HPS schools are closed this week, and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and state Education Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt are encouraging schools to also be closed next week but still offer alternative learning opportunities.
“We realize the challenges this creates for our families and our community,” Garwood said. “Safety is always our first priority.”
The district wants to provide services to its students who rely on them every day.
“We are working on an (Nebraska Department of Education) application to be able to provide meals to our students — actually, to anyone under the age of 18,” she said. “We could be ready, if our application is approved, as soon as this Monday. It is our understanding that the meals would be grab-and-go bags and would include both a lunch and a breakfast.”
HPS will work with other community agencies to assist meeting the community’s needs. A meeting is planned for Tuesday wherein several community agencies will be working together and brainstorming ways to support the needs of Hastings.
District office administrators have been working on a plan for academics in the event of a long-term closure. HPS principals will be joining other administrators Tuesday, and as a team district administrators will process how that will look.
“We know we will continue to provide developmental activities for all our students,” Garwood said.
As the district continues to work to answer questions and come up with plans, administrators are working closely with health officials, the Nebraska Department of Education, the other Tri-City schools and other educational entities.
“We promise we will do what we can to keep you informed,” she said. “Continue to watch for messages from the district on our website, in your email, on social media and in the news.
“Again, safety is our first priority. We know that if we work together we can make it through this virus and come out better and stronger in our Hastings community. We thank you all for your support during this time.”
Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, also provided an update on monitoring the virus.
New information is coming out rapidly, she said. In fact, some of the information in a news release Monday morning already was obsolete by Monday evening.
She advised anyone feeling sick to stay home.
If someone tested positive for the virus, nobody from that household should go to work or school and should be in close contact with health care providers.
More information is available at southheartlandhealth.org.
Board Member Becky Sullivan thanked Bever and her staff.
“They’ve been working nonstop for weeks, and they are doing a fantastic job putting out information and making sure we’re all on the same page,” Sullivan said.
Board President Jim Boeve commended Superintendent Jeff Schneider and his staff for their work.
“They have put in a lot of hours, and I think they’ve made the best decisions they could possibly make,” he said. “Kudos to Jeff and all of the people who are working with him on our administration.”
Schneider thanked district office staff and administrators for their diligence and dedication.
Board members also voted 8-0 to appoint Jodi Graves to fill a board vacancy.