Rural communities at the center of Nebraska’s COVID-19 case increase

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Rural communities at the center of Nebraska’s COVID-19 case increase

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – As cases continue to rise throughout Nebraska, UNMC expects rural communities to be the ‘epicenter’ for increasing COVID-19 cases. UNMC associate professor Angela Hewlett said people in rural communities live socially distant, but work in crowded environments.

UNMC expects rural communities to be at the epicenter of COVID-19 increased cases throughout Nebraska.

“These communities are often fed by large industries,” Hewlett said, “Like meatpacking industries or other food processing industries.”

This includes places like JBS food processing located in Grand Island.

Gov. Ricketts said these places will not close because they are considered essential. Nebraska Farm Bureau senior economist Jay Rempe said keeping these places open is essential to farmers.

“They need to continue to have those supply lines running,” Rempe said.

Hewlett said rural communities are low on staff and ill-equipped to take on large numbers of patients.

“In these small communities, it’s very difficult to obtain a test and the turn around time is very long,” Hewlett said.

UNMC said most rural communities have critical access hospitals, which usually have 30 beds total and maybe one ventilator. Regional hospitals will usually have 10 to 15 ICU beds and near the same number of ventilators.

“In these counties that are several impacted in Nebraska,” Hewlett said, “Their ICU’s are full of patients on ventilators.” Rural communities are typically lower on staff and UNMC said rural hospitals don’t have the resources for a pandemic.

“You essentially have two infectious disease physicians in the rest of the state,” Hewlett said.

Officials said Nebraska isn’t expected to hit its peak cases for another few weeks.

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