COVID-19 concerns, not snowfall, led to schools being closed throughout the Panhandle starting on Monday morning. Schools will remain closed until March 27, when superintendents and members of Unified Command will reassess the threat of COVID-19 in the Panhandle.

In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, schools throughout Nebraska’s Panhandle, including Alliance Public Schools, will be closed for two weeks.

Superintendents met with the COVID-19 Unified Command and determined this course of action to be the best one to decrease the risk of spreading the disease.

“The State of Nebraska has elevated the risk assessment, and Nebraskans, in general, maybe at the same risk as travelers from other areas in the nation and other parts of the world,” a letter sent out by COVID-19 Unified Command stated. “We ask that students and community members immediately begin engaging in social distancing.”

The schools will reevaluate their decision on March 27 to determine whether to reopen school. Students and families, in the letter, are asked not to gather at alternate locations, in order to limit the spread of the disease.

The Nebraska School Activities Association has suspended all activity practices until March 30, and competitions until April 2. The suspensions could be extended and will be evaluated as more information becomes available.

The decision comes a week after the NSAA announced limited spectatorship at the State Boys Basketball Tournament in Lincoln.

At a press conference in Lincoln last Wednesday morning, Nebraska Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt recommended, in collaboration with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, the NSAA to limit spectators of the State Boys Basketball Tournament to immediate family members only to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“The recommendation to proceed with the state basketball tournament is to recognize the fact that students have worked hard to be part of this. The reality to not include as many spectators, and to limit spectators to immediate family only is to try to protect public health and the spread of the Coronavirus across the state. Obviously, the importance for school districts to retain and maintain a sense of normalcy around operations is being challenged on a constant basis. I believe this is absolutely the right call, the right approach to take,” said Blomstedt.

The recommendation came after the revelation that a student from Crofton High School who was diagnosed with COVID-19 attended two games at the Girls State Basketball Tournament the previous week.

The City of Alliance is also taking action to limit the spread of COVID-19, by closing nonessential facilities indefinitely. The facilities include the Senior Center, the Alliance Public Library, SkyView Golf Course, Public Transit and the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center.

In a press release, city officials confirmed that Nutrition Site Meals will be delivered by volunteers and staff, but that no other services will take place at the Senior Center. Patrons are encouraged to contact Angie Flesner at 308-762-1293 to make delivery arrangements.

The city is limiting public transit to medical necessity transportation only. The City’s Utility Billing Office will also conduct only drive up business, with staff available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Patrons of the Alliance Public Library will still be allowed to check out items by calling 308-762-1387 and arranging for pickup. Items that are checked out can still be returned in the drop box on the east side of the library.

City officials also note in the press release that rentals of meeting rooms at city facilities will be postponed and rescheduled at a later date. They encourage all business conducted with the city to be done so telephonically, or via email.

In Hemingford, the Community Care Center will be keeping its doors locked 24 hours a day for the next two weeks. Lori Dannar, Interim Administrator, noted that staff members and delivery personnel will be checked for fever and other signs of illness before entering the facility. She requested no visitations to ensure safety of the residents and staff members.

On the college level, spring break at Western Nebraska Community College and Chadron State College has been extended until March 20, with classes to resume on March 23. Chadron State College announced classes will be taught remotely through the rest of the spring semester, and is canceling all events through April 14.

Nebraska Game and Parks has also taken action to close public walk-in access at facilities until May 31, including: Schramm Education Center near Gretna, the indoor Activity Center Building at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park near Ashland, Wildcat Hills Nature Center near Gering, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Outdoor Education Center in Lincoln. The park grounds, however, will remain open.

Panhandle Public Health District will continue to provide information about COVID-19 as it becomes available. As of press time, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Panhandle, and a total of 18 cases in the state of Nebraska.

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