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Coronavirus timeline: How the pandemic unfolded in Omaha

Coronavirus timeline: How the pandemic unfolded in Omaha


Emily McCutchen holds an example of a testing cartridge that is used in extractors at the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory. The clips are in short supply in the United States, making the coronavirus testing process longer.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, daily life in Omaha has been impacted in a massive way.

Many businesses are closed or have changed their usual operations. Some people are working from home. Traffic on the streets is light. Church services are canceled. 

This is a look at how the coronavirus outbreak developed across the world and how it has unfolded in Omaha. 

Dec. 31

  • Dozens of people are being treated for pneumonia of an unknown cause in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province, China. According to the authorities, some patients were operating dealers or vendors in the Huanan Seafood market.
  • The World Health Organization begins monitoring the situation. 

Jan. 11

  • China reports its first death, a 61-year-old man who was a regular customer at the seafood market. 

Jan. 21

  • A man in his 30s becomes the United States' first case of coronavirus when he tested positive after returning to Washington State from Wuhan. 
  • Local doctors said that Nebraskans should be more concerned about the flu. 

Jan. 22

  • In an interview on CNBC, President Trump says, "We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Jan. 30

  • The WHO declares a global health emergency as the death toll tops 200 and nearly 10,000 are infected.

Jan. 31

  • The Trump administration restricts travel from China. 
  • The federal Department of Health and Human Services begins working on a plan to bring Americans back to the United States. University of Nebraska Medical Center Chancellor Jeffrey Gold said they could end up is Nebraska.

Feb. 2

  • In an interview with Sean Hannity, President Donald Trump says, “Well, we pretty much shut it down coming in from China."

Feb. 7

  • A Chinese doctor who was silenced by police for trying to share news about the coronavirus dies from the disease. 
  • Fifty-seven Americans who were in Wuhan land in Omaha and are shuttled to the Nebraska National Guard’s Camp Ashland, 30 miles southwest of Omaha.

Feb. 17

  • Thirteen Americans who tested positive for or were exposed to coronavirus are taken to the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus after landing at Eppley Airfield. The 13 were among more than 300 Americans evacuated from a cruise ship docked off the coast of Japan. As of Feb. 17, a total of 454 cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed on the ship by the Japanese Health Ministry, the New York Times reported.

Feb. 20

Feb. 24

  • The Dow Jones industrial average sinks by 3.5%, or more than 1,000 points.

Feb. 25

March 1

  • Cases surge in Italy. The virus has spread to more than 60 countries, and more than 3,000 people have died.

March 5

  • The United Nations health agency urges the world to “push this virus back,” a call to action reinforced by dramatic surges in new cases. The virus has infected 98,000 people and killed more than 3,300.
  • Many Nebraska colleges and universities suspend university-sponsored student travel outside the United States through the spring semester.

March 6

  • Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and health officials announce that a 36-year-old Omaha woman was the state’s first confirmed case of a person with the COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
  • While touring a Centers for Disease Control facility, Trump, who in February likened coronavirus to the flu, says, "Anybody that wants a test can get a test,” which remains inaccurate.

March 7

March 8

  • Two family members of the first Nebraskan with COVID-19 test positive for the disease.
  • Health officials work to notify people who may have had contact with the family members. Elkhorn Public Schools officials work to notify parents of students who may have been in secondary contact — contact with those who had direct contact with an ill person.

March 9

  • Iowa’s governor declares a state of emergency after eight confirmed cases are reported.
  • Ricketts said Nebraska could be dealing with the coronavirus for the next nine to 12 months.
  • In an interview and in an essay shared with The World-Herald, the father of Nebraska's first coronavirus patient expressed anguish about his daughter.

March 10

  • Nebraska health officials confirm the state’s fourth and fifth cases of coronavirus.
  • Some nursing homes and assisted living communities begin to limit or bar family members and other visitors.

March 11

  • The Nebraska School Activities Association restricts attendance at the Nebraska high school boys basketball tournament to only immediate family members of the players and coaches on official rosters.
  • Five more cases of the coronavirus disease are reported in Nebraska, bringing to 10 the total number in the state.
  • The WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
  • In an Oval Office address, President Trump announces most travel from European countries other than the United Kingdom would be halted for 30 days. 

March 12

March 13

  • Another case of COVID-19 is identified in a child in Douglas County, bringing the state’s total to 14.
  • The announcement is made that Berkshire Hathaway shareholders won't be able to attend the May 2 annual meeting this year because of the coronavirus threat.
  • The Mutual of Omaha headquarters at 33rd and Dodge Streets closes temporarily after a worker there tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Many Omaha-area museums close. 
  • Trump officially declares a national emergency and shifts his tone. "The next eight weeks are critical," he said. "Some of the doctors say it will wash through, it will flow through."

March 14

March 15

  • Hospitals in Nebraska and western Iowa begin restricting visitors’ access.

March 16

March 17

  • Omaha-area schools close indefinitely.
  • New coronavirus cases are reported in Sarpy County and northeast Nebraska; state's total reaches 23.
  • The City of Lincoln declares a state of emergency. 
  • Omaha-area movie theaters shut down.
  • During a press briefing at the White House, Trump says, "We are taking aggressive action now as one nation and one family so that America can rebound stronger."

March 18

  • Schools close for six to eight weeks and bars shut down after a second community spread case is reported in Douglas County.
  • UNMC suspends medical students from clinical work due to coronavirus concerns.
  • Gas prices fall under $1.90 in the Omaha area.
  • UNMC's chief says Omaha-area hospitals are not yet near capacity. He credits people staying home.
  • The Blackstone District starts an fund to aid the neighborhood's bar and restaurant servers.
  • Public gatherings in Douglas County with more than 10 people are prohibited.

March 19

  • Local hospitals postpone nonessential surgeries for 90 days to prepare for a surge in coronavirus cases.
  • StratCom staggers Offutt staffers' shifts to keep COVID-19 at bay.
  • Douglas County couples are asked to make appointments for marriage licenses to avoid crowding the clerk's office.
  • The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium extends its closing through end of April.
  • Coronavirus fears cause a surge in gun purchases in Douglas County.
  • All jury trials in Douglas County are postponed through May 1.
  • Legal groups request a moratorium on eviction and debt collection cases in Nebraska.

March 20

  • Four new coronavirus cases are reported including the first one in Nemaha County. The state total rises to 33.
  • University of Nebraska employees who can work from home are told to do so.
  • To reduce interactions with the public and potentially stop any spread of the novel coronavirus, Omaha police officers no longer respond to minor vehicle collisions.
  • Douglas County Court allows parties to appear by video conference.
  • Creighton University cancels its May commencement ceremonies.

March 21

  • Buffalo and Lancaster Counties report their first COVID-19 cases. More cases are reported in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. The state's total rises to 39.
  • The Omaha Housing Authority temporarily halts evictions.
  • Officials say that two active-duty service members at Offutt Air Force Base have self-reported symptoms associated with COVID-19. 

March 22

March 23

  • Metro transit reduces express bus service as ridership drops.
  • Omaha police precincts close to the public. A call center opens to handle low-priority incidents.
  • Eleven new cases of COVID-19 are reported in Nebraska, including firsts for Washington and Madison Counties. The state's total rises to 62.

March 24

  • "The Lion King" becomes the latest show to be canceled in Omaha.
  • The Omaha mayor and Douglas County Board chairman send a letter to local rental property owners asking them not to evict people who are unable to pay rent during the pandemic.
  • Gov. Ricketts calls for Nebraskans to self-quarantine after travel to Denver, Kansas City or Chicago.
  • Beauty salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors, massage parlors and similar businesses in the beauty service industry are asked by health officials to stop operations.
  • Douglas County postpones criminal and traffic arraignments. 
  • In an interview, Trump says, "People die from the flu... But we’ve never closed down the country from the flu.”

March 25

  • Nebraska unemployment claims rise as more workers are laid off due to coronavirus.
  • Four new cases are reported, bringing the state’s total to 66. Douglas County announces that another case of community spread has been found in the county. 
  • Saunders and Lancaster Counties see first cases of community spread.
  • A health care provider who was working at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha over the weekend tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Nebraska Legislature approves and Ricketts signs into law a $83.6 million measure for the coronavirus fight.

March 26

  • Nebraska's first coronavirus patient is removed from a ventilator and able to talk to her family.
  • An Omaha police officer and firefighter test positive for coronavirus.
  • Gov. Ricketts allows takeout sales of alcoholic drinks with lids. 
  • The number of cases in Nebraska rises to 81. 
  • The United States becomes the country with the world's most confirmed coronavirus cases with more than 81,000 confirmed infections and more than, 1,000 deaths. 

March 27

  • Nebraska records its first two COVID-19 deaths, a 59-year-old Omaha man and a Hall County woman in her 60s.
  • Offutt Air Force Base chief declares a public health emergency while waiting on "numerous" coronavirus test results.
  • More COVID-19 cases are confirmed in Papillion, Bellevue and Douglas, Dodge and Lancaster Counties.
  • The state's total rises to 92.
  • After it is passed by Congress, Trump signs a $2 trillion stimulus bill that includes cash for regular Americans as well as assistance for small businesses and industries grappling with the economic disruption caused by coronavirus.

March 28

  • Ten more coronavirus cases are reported in Douglas County as Nebraska's total tops 100.
  • Methodist Health System has put in place visitor restrictions to protect patients, staff and the community.

March 29

  • Gov. Ricketts, speaking on Jake Tapper’s Sunday show on CNN, said Nebraska will follow its own plans and guidelines on when to open local schools and businesses.
  • Omaha small businesses and laid-off workers are optimistic about a recently passed $2.2 trillion stimulus bill.
  • Omaha’s mayor and Douglas County’s health director admonished Omahans on for not doing enough social distancing, especially at large retailers.

March 30

  • Nebraska records its third coronavirus death, a Lincoln County man in his 90s.
  • The number of coronavirus cases in Nebraska jumps to 153; Douglas County cases reach 82. A third death is recorded. 
  • A temporary surge tent is set up at Nebraska Medical Center, just one of the ways hospitals prepare for the virus.
  • An Omaha prosecutor who had contact with many courthouse regulars tests positive for COVID-19.
  • Like similar outbreaks in other states, the Carter House cluster in Blair shows how quickly and stealthily the coronavirus can move among residents and their caretakers at nursing homes and other care facilities.

March 31

  • Nebraska records its fourth COVID-19 death as cases rise to 177. The Douglas County total reaches 90.
  • UNL, UNO, UNMC and UNK announce they won't hold traditional graduation ceremonies in May
  • A University of Washington study projects 442 Nebraska deaths inthe first wave of coronavirus pandemic.
  • Ricketts announces the limits on public gatherings, restaurants and bars likely to continue past April 30.
  • Trump says, "This could be a hell of a bad two weeks. This is going to be a very bad two, and maybe three weeks. This is going to be three weeks like we’ve never seen before." White House officials project between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the U.S. and the virus' peak will come in mid-April. 

April 1

  • The Nebraska Fraternal Order of Police says it wants Nebraska officers to be told when going to homes of people with COVID-19.
  • A Madison County woman is Nebraska's fifth death; Nebraska's cases total 214.
  • A former Omaha TV meteorologist was arrested and accused of threatening the Douglas County health director over the county's coronavirus response.
  • Ricketts says Nebraska is 'months' away from having widespread coronavirus testing available.
  • UNMC study suggests coronavirus has airborne transmission potential, but it also says more study is necessary. 
  • Trump changes his tone on comparing coronavirus to the flu. In a press briefing, he says "a lot of people" previously compared it to the flu. "But it's not the flu. It is vicious."

April 2

  • Global cases top 1 million and at least 51,000 people have died.
  • Nebraska reports 255 coronavirus cases; Douglas County cases increase to 119.
  • The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission announces that it will prohibit overnight camping at state parks, state recreation areas and wildlife management areas through May 8.
  • A west Omaha bar becomes the first to be cited by Omaha police on suspicion of violating a Douglas County health order that requires bars and restaurants to offer only sales to go.
  • A staff member at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center-Kearney tests positive for COVID-19.

April 3

  • Confirmed coronavirus cases rise to 285 in Nebraska, 129 in Douglas County.
  • High schools in the Omaha Public Schools district announce that they won’t hold traditional graduation ceremonies in May and instead will host virtual celebrations.
  • The Douglas County Courthouse closes for at least the two weeks, with limited access to the general public.

April 4

  • Two more COVID-19 deaths reported in Douglas County, bring Nebraska's total to eight.
  • The owner of an Omaha adult entertainment club was cited by Omaha police on suspicion of violating a Douglas County health order that requires 6-foot social distancing between customers and dancers.

April 5

  • Creighton University closes its campus to all but a select few.

April 6

  • Gov. Ricketts pledged state support, including more testing, to Grand Island, Nebraska. The city is a hot spot for coronavirus.
  • The number of reported cases grow to 412 in Nebraska and 946 in Iowa. Another death is reported in Douglas County.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is advising President Donald Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, said that Nebraska and Iowa are doing the functional equivalent of stay-at-home orders and that their measures incorporate “a lot of things” that other states are doing.

April 7

  • Four more people die in Nebraska, one in Iowa; Nebraska deaths climb to 12, Iowa's to 26.
  • The Douglas County Health Department said that people should wear masks in public.
  • Applications for food assistance surge as Nebraska's economy falters under coronavirus.

April 8

  • Nebraska hits 523 coronavirus cases and 14 deaths.
  • Omaha closes all city parks through April 30 in an effort to slow the spread.
  • Omaha Summer Arts Festival is canceled.

April 9

  • Douglas County reports its sixth death related to COVID-19; Nebraska cases rise to 586.
  • Ricketts issues an executive order to give COVID patients' addresses to first responders.

April 10

  • The ACLU of Nebraska takes legal steps to force the state to turn over its plan for protecting prison inmates from the novel coronavirus.
  • Two more Nebraskans die from COVID-19, raising the state's total to 17.

April 11

  • Nebraska reports 700 COVID-19 cases; Iowa reports 3 more disease-related deaths.
  • Four patients and two staff members of the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. One local veteran has died.

April 12

  • Nebraska's coronavirus cases jump to 814; deaths remain at 17.

April 13

  • The number of people in Nebraska known to be infected by the coronavirus rises to 871. One new death is reported, bringing that total to 18.
  • Trump states that he will stop funding the WHO “to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

April 14

  • The health director overseeing the response to the coronavirus outbreak in Grand Island said she fears that the local health care system could be overwhelmed in the coming weeks.
  • The owner of Nebraska Crossing Outlets announces that the mall will reopen to the public before the projected peak of coronavirus cases in Nebraska.
  • Four more deaths related to the coronavirus are reported in Nebraska, bringing the total who have died to 22.
  • Trump announces he is cutting off the nation’s contributions to the World Health Organization, criticizing the agency for mismanaging the response.

April 15

  • State workers demand the option to work at home; Ricketts says all workers who can already are.
  • Grand Island becomes the area with the highest number of coronavirus cases in Nebraska.

April 16

  • Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt advises local district leaders to draw up contingency plans in case the coronavirus crisis lingers on.
  • The Trump administration releases guidelines for “Reopening America Again,” advising states on phases to begin lifting social distancing restrictions.

April 17

  • Ricketts rejects Sen. Steve Lathrop's call to prevent Nebraska Crossing from reopening.
  • New modeling by the University of Nebraska Medical Center indicates that social distancing is making a difference with COVID-19 but that Nebraska can still expect between 50 and 180 deaths.
  • Nebraska officials report that 1,138 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the state.

April 18

  • Hall County health officials Saturday reported two deaths, and Adams County reported its first death related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

April 19

  • Nebraska records 1,474 cases of COVID-19. That’s an increase of 187 from the day before. So far, 28 deaths have been reported in Nebraska.

April 20

  • Five more Nebraskans die of coronavirus. Central District Health Department Director Teresa Anderson warns of a "very dark" period ahead in Grand Island.
  • Ricketts says on a Fox News talk show that by May or June, he will consider loosening social distancing guidelines in Nebraska.

April 21

  • Ricketts announces that a consortium of companies will begin setting up testing tents across Nebraska, first testing those deemed most susceptible to the virus, such as front-line medical workers and caregivers.
  • Cases continue to rise at meatpacking plants.
  • Nine new deaths from COVID-19 are reported, bringing the statewide total to 41.

April 22

  • Four more deaths from COVID-19 are reported in the Grand Island area, bringing total deaths there to 18.

April 23

  • Ricketts defends meatpacking plants, says they need to stay open despite coronavirus cases.
  • Cases in Nebraska exceed 2,000 with 47 deaths reported.
  • Nebraska Crossing Outlets walks back its "soft opening" plan.

April 24

  • Ricketts announces that restaurants in several areas of Nebraska will be open to dine-in customers again starting May 4, with limitations. And statewide religious services, prayer gatherings, weddings and funerals will be held again.
  • Mayor Jean Stothert announces that Omaha parks will open April 25.
  • Three new deaths are reported as the number of reported cases in the state rises to 2,421.

April 25

  • Six new coronavirus deaths are reported in Nebraska.

April 26

  • Coronavirus cases top 3,000 in Nebraska. 

April 27

  • Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday that the state is trying to find the right mix of risk and benefit when relaxing restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Health officials ask Grand Island-area residents to avoid group gatherings, including church and other religious services, until the number of positive cases there begins to drop.
  • 330 more coronavirus cases are reported in Nebraska, its biggest one-day jump.

April 28

  • The US becomes the first country to surpass 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases.
  • Shootings rise in Omaha.
  • Nebraska and Iowa tell workers to return to their jobs if called or lose unemployment benefits., 402-444-1067

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Jessica Wade covers breaking news, crime and the Omaha zoo. Follow her on Twitter @Jess_Wade_OWH. Phone: 402-444-1067

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