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Open Door Mission records first coronavirus cases as Nebraska tops 6,000

Open Door Mission records first coronavirus cases as Nebraska tops 6,000

open door mission

Staff members of the Open Door Mission work at a recent drive-through relief event for those seeking food and other essentials.

The Nebraska National Guard helps with a food drive at the Food Bank for the Heartland.

The coronavirus showed up for the first time in an Omaha homeless shelter and meatpacking communities continued to struggle as cases in Nebraska slipped past 6,000.

Six people associated with the Open Door Mission tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the head of the homeless shelter said Monday.

Also on Monday, an Omaha-area convenience store closed for cleaning after one of its employees tested positive.

Statewide, cases totaled 6,083 on Monday, up 424 from Sunday. Total deaths number 78.

Confirmed cases are rising rapidly as the state gains the ability to test more people likely to have been exposed to the virus.

Nationwide, the percentage of tests coming back positive is 18%. In Nebraska, about 17% of tests are coming back positive, and in Douglas County, the current rate is 21%.

Another 25 confirmed cases pushed Dakota County over the 1,000 mark to 1,015 on Monday. The small northeast Nebraska county is home to a giant Tyson meatpacking plant.

The Douglas County Health Department confirmed 98 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the county’s total to 963. So far, 16 people in Douglas County have died, and 63 are hospitalized.

The Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department confirmed another 92 new cases on Monday, for a total of 394.

Interim Health Director Pat Lopez said 31% of the county’s cases are related to the Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant in nearby Crete. Most, 71, are employees of the plant, but 35 are family members or close contacts of those employees, she said.

In the neighboring five-county public health district where the Smithfield plant is located, 101 employees of Smithfield have tested positive for the disease, said Kim Showalter, director of Public Health Solutions.

In the hard-hit Grand Island area, where a JBS meatpacking plant is located, cases in the three-county Central District Health Department rose by 150 over the weekend to 1,320.

While many companies don’t release news of employees testing positive, Kwik Shop announced that a worker at the Papillion store at 101 Cedardale Road tested positive for the coronavirus. The store was closed at 2:30 p.m. Monday so it could be cleaned and sanitized by an industrial cleaning crew. It will reopen in the next week.

The cases at Open Door Mission represent a mix of staff members and homeless people, according to a press release from Candace Gregory, president and CEO of Open Door. The six cases were confirmed Friday.

Over the weekend, a team of 30 National Guard members visited the shelter and tested 84% of guests and staff members, Gregory said. She credited the “swift action” of the County Health Department in getting that help.

The Open Door Mission is near Carter Lake in northeast Omaha.

Staff members are waiting on the results of the testing. In the meantime, additional isolation and quarantine rooms are being prepared, Gregory said.

The shelter has been following local and federal recommendations to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, Gregory said.

“Our challenges are BIG as we are spending valuable resources on sanitation supplies and preventive measures,” she said in the release. “We are being diligent, but also remaining calm through this situation.”

So far, Omaha’s other two homeless shelters, the Siena Francis House and Stephen Center, have not had any confirmed coronavirus cases. Both shelters are testing people with symptoms of COVID-19, but so far, none of those tests have come back positive, representatives said.

World-Herald reporting from late March demonstrated the challenges faced by Omaha’s biggest homeless shelters during a pandemic. At the time, Gregory said the organization was limiting how many people could sit at tables, cutting volunteers to reduce exposure and closing some outreach centers.

reece.ristau@owh.com, 402-444-1127

@reecereports

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Reece covers Omaha City Hall, including the City Council and Mayor's Office, and how decisions by local leaders affect Omaha residents. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL graduate. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127​

Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Email: nancy.gaarder@owh.com

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