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COVID-19: Timeline of the pandemic in Nebraska

COVID-19: Timeline of the pandemic in Nebraska

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Here's a timeline of COVID-19 in Nebraska: 

Dec. 31, 2019

» 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 vendors in the Huanan Seafood market.

Jan. 11, 2020

» China reports its first death.

Jan. 21 

» A man in his 30s becomes the United States’ first coronavirus case when he tests positive after returning to Washington state from Wuhan.

» Local doctors say Nebraskans should be more concerned about the flu.

Dr. Jeffrey Gold-quarantine

Dr. Jeffrey Gold, UNMC’s chancellor, said the travelers coming back to the country from China most likely would be U.S. government workers or privately employed Americans who have been in Wuhan. Gold said at the time that the Americans could end up in Nebraska.

Jan. 30

» The World Health Organization declares a global health emergency as the death toll tops 200 and nearly 10,000 are infected.

Jan. 31

» The U.S. 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 says they could end up in Nebraska.

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.

Feb. 17

» Thirteen Americans who tested positive for or were exposed to the coronavirus are taken to the UNMC campus after landing at Eppley Airfield. 

Feb. 25

» UNMC begins the first clinical trial in the United States of an experimental treatment for the novel coronavirus.

March 6

» Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and health officials announce that a 36-year-old Omaha woman is the state’s first confirmed case of a person with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

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A 36-year-old woman who has Nebraska's first local case of the coronavirus disease is brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus. She was transferred from Omaha's Methodist Hospital in an isolation pod inside an ambulance.

March 7

» Possible coronavirus exposure at a Special Olympics event in Fremont, attended by the first Nebraska patient, prompts calls for self-quarantine.

March 9

» Ricketts says Nebraska could be dealing with the coronavirus for the next nine to 12 months. 

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.

» The WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

» President Donald Trump announces that most travel from European countries other than the United Kingdom will be halted for 30 days.

CWS (copy) (copy)

The 2020 College World Series was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

March 12 

» The NCAA men’s basketball tournament — with Omaha scheduled to host games in the first two rounds — is canceled.

» The College World Series in Omaha is canceled.

March 13

» CEO Warren Buffett announces that Berkshire Hathaway shareholders won’t be able to attend the May 2 annual meeting in Omaha. 

» Trump officially declares a national emergency.

March 14

» Nebraska has its first case of community spread. Limits are placed on public gatherings.

» UNO and UNL students pack up and head home, weeks earlier than planned.

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Pastor Olaf Roynesdal makes opening remarks to a mostly empty Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church on Sunday, March 22, in Omaha. Though the church already streamed some services online before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the camera became even more important because of crowd limits imposed to prevent the spread of the virus.

March 16

» Ricketts announces that no more than 10 people should gather at once at restaurants, taverns, church services and day care centers.

» Omaha Archdiocese and Lincoln Diocese cancel public Masses and communal celebrations.

» Offutt Air Force Base cancels military travel and leave.

March 17

» Omaha-area schools close indefinitely.

» New coronavirus cases are reported in Sarpy County and northeast Nebraska; the state’s total reaches 23.

» The City of Lincoln declares a state of emergency.

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’s chief says Omaha-area hospitals are not yet near capacity. He credits people staying home.

» Public gatherings in Douglas County with more than 10 people are prohibited.

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The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium had announced originally that it would be closed through March but said on the 19th that it was extending its closure through the end of April. The zoo eventually reopened June 1, with significant restrictions.

March 19

» Local hospitals postpone nonessential surgeries for 90 days to prepare for a surge in coronavirus cases.

» The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium extends its closure through the end of April.

» Legal groups request a moratorium on eviction and debt collection cases in Nebraska.

March 20

» Creighton University cancels its May commencement ceremonies.

March 21

» Buffalo and Lancaster Counties report their first cases.

» The Omaha Housing Authority temporarily halts evictions.

March 23

» Omaha police precincts close to the public. A call center opens to handle low-priority incidents.

» The state’s case total rises to 62.

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Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and the Douglas County Board chairman urged local rental property owners not to evict people who are unable to pay rent during the pandemic.

March 24

» 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.

» 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.

March 25

» Nebraska unemployment claims rise as more workers are laid off due to the coronavirus.

» Saunders and Lancaster Counties see their first cases of community spread.

» The Nebraska Legislature approves and Ricketts signs into law an $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.

» 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.

» 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.

March 28

» Ten more coronavirus cases are reported in Douglas County as Nebraska’s total tops 100.

» Methodist Health System puts in place visitor restrictions to protect patients, staff and the community.

Pete Ricketts teaser (copy)

Gov. Pete Ricketts appeared on Jake Tapper's Sunday show on CNN on March 29.

March 29

» Ricketts, speaking on Jake Tapper’s Sunday show on CNN, says Nebraska will follow its own plans and guidelines on when to open local schools and businesses.

» Omaha’s mayor and Douglas County’s health director admonish Omahans for not doing enough social distancing, especially at large retailers.

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.

» Ricketts announces that the limits on public gatherings, restaurants and bars are likely to continue past April 30.

» White House officials project between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the U.S. and the virus’s peak in mid-April.

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Ron Gerard, a former Omaha TV meteorologist, was also  communications director for Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle. Here's Gerard in 2009. He was accused April 1 of threatening Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour.  

April 1

» The Nebraska Fraternal Order of Police says it wants Nebraska officers to be told when going to the homes of people with COVID-19.

» A former Omaha TV meteorologist is arrested and accused of threatening the Douglas County health director over the county’s coronavirus response. (In September, the former TV personality, Ronald G. Penzkowski, takes a plea deal and is found guilty by a judge. Sentencing is set for October.) 

» Ricketts says Nebraska is “months” away from having widespread coronavirus testing available.

» A UNMC study suggests the coronavirus has airborne transmission potential, but it also says more study is necessary.

April 2

» Global cases top 1 million and at least 51,000 people have died.

April 3

» High schools in the Omaha Public Schools announce they won’t hold traditional graduation ceremonies in May and instead will host virtual celebrations.

» The Douglas County Courthouse closes for at least two weeks, with limited access to the general public.

Creighton teaser (copy)

On April 5, Creighton University closed its campus to most people. 

April 5

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

April 6

» Ricketts pledges state support, including more testing, to Grand Island. The city is a hot spot for the coronavirus.

April 7

» The Douglas County Health Department says people should wear masks in public.

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.

» The Omaha Summer Arts Festival is canceled.

Summer Arts Festival (copy)

The Omaha Summer Arts Festival wasn't held in person this year. Instead, the public was able to browse the works of 120 participating artists online.

April 9

» Douglas County reports its sixth death related to COVID-19.

» Ricketts issues an executive order to give COVID-19 patients’ addresses to first responders.

April 13

» The number of Nebraskans known to be infected by the coronavirus rises to 871.

» Trump states that he will stop funding the WHO.

April 15

» Grand Island becomes the area with the highest number of coronavirus cases in Nebraska.

April 21

» Ricketts unveils a program called TestNebraska that aims to dramatically increase coronavirus testing in the state as part of a push to get Nebraskans back to work.

Testing (copy)

On April 21, Gov. Pete Ricketts introduced TestNebraska. The program began with Nebraskans taking an assessment for coronavirus at testnebraska.com.

April 23

» Ricketts says meatpacking plants need to stay open despite coronavirus cases.

» Cases in Nebraska exceed 2,000, with 47 deaths reported.

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 reopen April 25.

April 27

» Health officials ask Grand Island-area residents to avoid group gatherings until the number of positive cases there begins to drop.

April 28

» The U.S. becomes the first country to surpass 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases.

» Nebraska and Iowa tell workers to return to their jobs if called or lose unemployment benefits.

Antonio Vargas (copy)

State Sen. Tony Vargas, second from right, with parents Lidia and Antonio Vargas and wife Lauren, left. Both parents tested positive for COVID-19. On April 30, the lawmaker announced the death of his dad from the virus.

April 30

» State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha announces the death of his father from COVID-19.

May 1

» Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour lifts some restrictions in Douglas County, which include allowing faith communities to have services, and restaurants and many previously closed businesses to reopen with social distancing requirements still in place.

May 6

» Douglas County reports its 17th coronavirus death as statewide cases near 6,800.

May 8

» Coronavirus cases surge in Dakota County in the wake of testing at a Tyson meatpacking plant. The county leads the state in confirmed cases.

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The Tyson Foods beef plant in Dakota City, Nebraska. Coronavirus cases surged in Dakota County after testing took place at the Tyson plant. 

May 11

» Nebraska's coronavirus death toll reaches 100. 

May 12

» An inmate at Omaha’s Community Corrections Center becomes the first in the Nebraska prison system to test positive for COVID-19.

May 15

» Life Care Center of Elkhorn reports 68 cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff.

May 29

» A 10th resident at Life Care Center of Elkhorn dies. 

20200521_new_lifecare_pic_cm001 (copy) (copy) (copy)

Life Care Center of Elkhorn reported a coronavirus outbreak in May. On the 15th, it reported 68 cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff at the nursing home. On the 29th, it reported that a 10th resident had died. 

June 1

» The Omaha zoo reopens with regulations.

» Bars reopen, and certain low- and intermediate-contact sports are allowed.

» Statewide, 14,345 cases and 178 deaths are reported.

June 8

» Health officials confirm Nebraska’s first and second cases of a rare but potentially deadly inflammatory condition in children that may be associated with COVID-19.

June 18

» Ricketts tells local governments they won't get federal COVID-19 money if they require masks.

June 22

» Bars and restaurants in Omaha can open dining rooms to 100% of their capacity, up from the previous 50%. Patrons are allowed to sit at the bar, and maintaining a 6-foot distance between tables becomes a recommendation rather than a rule.

June 24

» Douglas County Board votes to allocate up to $6.2 million in federal funds for a mass vaccination program.

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Trevis Sallis, director of transportation for the Omaha Public Schools, spoke about school bus routes and procedures during the summer. At the time, OPS had a fall reopening plan that divided students into two groups who would each attend school in-person part of the week. 

June 26

» Omaha Public Schools officials unveil a fall reopening plan that would divide students into two groups who would each attend school in-person part of the week.

June 30

» Millard and Elkhorn school districts inform families they will open for all students in August.

July 1

» Douglas County allocates $4 million for utilities assistance as OPPD and MUD resume shut-offs.

July 4

» Nebraska COVID-19 case counts are stable as numbers rise in much of the nation.

July 7

» A new COVID-19 testing site opens near the former Sears store at Crossroads Mall.

July 8

» The pandemic claims its 100th victim in Douglas County.

Bill Moos (copy)

“Right now, we have a plan and we’re all united in it. We’ll see where we are a week from now and two weeks from now,” NU Athletic Director Bill Moos said after the Big Ten's conference-only announcement for fall sports.

July 9

» Millard Public Schools announces that students and staff will be required to wear masks when they return in August.

» The Big Ten announces it is moving to a conference-only schedule for all fall sports, including football, becoming the first power conference to drastically change its season due to the coronavirus outbreak.

» Increased coronavirus cases among 20-somethings cause a surge in Lincoln, and health officials draw up a plan to clamp down on the spread — before UNL opens.

July 17

» The Omaha teachers union asks Omaha Public Schools to switch to remote learning.

July 18

» Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announces that anyone visiting public places in Lancaster County will be required to wear face masks. Gov. Rickett's team reviews legal options to stop the mandate.

July 19

» Of the nation’s 3,000 counties, northeast Nebraska's Dakota County has the nation’s 23rd-highest per-capita death rate.

» To date, COVID-19 has killed 301 Nebraskans and more than 140,000 people nationwide.

Millard Public Schools teaser (copy) (copy)

On July 21, the Millard schools joined other districts in giving parents the choice of fully remote learning.

July 20

» The Nebraska School Activities Association announces it intends to go ahead with fall sports.

July 21

» Millard schools join other districts in giving parents the choice of fully remote learning.

July 25

» Nebraska sees a surge in COVID cases. Douglas County’s weekly positivity rate passes 9% for the first time since mid-June. Lancaster County’s rate jumps to 9.4% — a weekly figure the community hadn’t seen since early May.

» Two Lincoln bars and the Railyard commons are closed for violations of the city’s directed health measure.

July 27

» The Omaha Public Schools suspend school-sponsored workouts and cancel in-person graduation ceremonies.

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Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour backed off a mask mandate for Omaha after the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office challenged her on it. 

July 31

» Douglas County’s health director backs off a mask mandate for Omaha after the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office challenged her ability to implement one.

Aug. 4

» Ricketts says the state would sue if Pour required masks in Douglas County.

Aug. 7

» Nebraska meatpacking workers implore the Legislature to require plants to adopt more coronavirus safeguards.

Aug. 11

» The Omaha City Council votes 7-0 to implement a mask mandate.

» The Big Ten officially decides to postpone all fall sports, including football, with hopes of playing in the spring.

Aug. 12

» The Big East joins the growing list of conferences not playing sports in the fall.

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The final day of the 106th Legislature at the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln on Thursday, August 13, 2020. 

Aug. 14

» State legislators close out a unique, coronavirus-interrupted session by passing a modest property tax relief bill and adopting a ban on an abortion method.

Aug. 18

» OPS begins the 2020-21 school year. The district, unlike most other districts in the metro area, starts the year remotely.

Aug. 28

» The Nebraska State Fair begins, but with no carnival and fewer food stands.

Aug. 30

» All housing units at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln go under quarantine after mass testing found 29 inmates with COVID-19.

UNL campus teaser (copy) (copy)

Four sororities and one fraternity at UNL were in quarantine on Aug. 31 because of the coronavirus.

Aug. 31

» Four sororities and one fraternity at UNL are in quarantine because of the coronavirus.

Sept. 3

» UNL proposes cutting $18.9 million in faculty and staff positions over three years.

Sept. 8

» UNL suspends six Greek chapters after large gatherings at some Greek houses violate local health directives and university policy.

Sept. 10

» Gov. Pete Ricketts announced steps Wednesday that should allow a return to near normal across most of Nebraska.

Sept. 11

» Statewide, 37,841 cases and 434 deaths have been reported. Douglas County has the highest number of positive cases at 1,146.


Videos: Life in Nebraska amid the pandemic

Nebraskans have shown a wealth of emotions while facing the coronavirus pandemic. We have unleashed a wave of creativity to adapt in the world of social distancing. 

Watch a few bright moments our staff has collected while telling the story of this unprecedented period in history. 

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Kyle and Jess McMindes experience a social distancing wedding on Saturday, April 25, 2020. About 75 cars full of family and friends surprised …

jwade@owh.com, 402-444-1067

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