March 29, 1 p.m.
DONIPHAN - The South Heartland District Health Department, a combined health district serving the residents of Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster Counties, posted a press release on Facebook Saturday, March 28, at 9 p.m. alerting locals to the potential spread of COVID-19 in Doniphan.
The statement read, “Potential Community Spread of COVID-19: South Heartland District Health Department has recently become aware of potential community spread of COVID-19 at a large birthday celebration held in Doniphan on Saturday, March 14, 2020. Individuals who attended this event have tested positive.”
The South Heartland District Health Department had not responded to the Doniphan Herald’s questions as of 1 p.m. Sunday to confirm the event where the potential community spread situation took place. The only large gathering in the Doniphan community that day was at the local event center.
Doniphan Event Center Coordinator Kim Finecy confirmed there was a large quinceañera - a celebration for a girl’s 15th birthday - at the Doniphan Area Event Center on West Pine Street in Doniphan on Saturday, March 14. Finecy said she would check on where the group was from once she returns to work Monday, but said they were not from Doniphan.
“They originally planned for 400 people at the event,” Finecy said. “They told us the security guards that night said a lot of extra people came that they hadn’t planned on for the party because one of the girls had put it on Facebook, so they had a lot more people than they planned for.
“To my knowledge, there weren’t any Doniphan people there,” she added. “And the chances of the people at the party going anywhere else in town that night are very slim.”
The group set up for the party the night before, the reception started around 4 p.m. Saturday and they were supposed to be out of the building by 1 a.m., Finecy said. Some in the group returned to the center the following day to pick up and clean.
The center has a capacity of 900 people, Finecy said. The March 14 party was held just as events were starting to be canceled nationwide, but there were no regulations for this area at that time limiting the number of people in groups. The D-T School District announced the closing of school the following day, Sunday, March 15.
Due to the urgent need of blood, the Red Cross Blood Drive scheduled in the event center was held on Thursday, March 19. Doniphan-Trumbull students organized the event, but were not present that day at the center to help. Finecy said the Red Cross took precautions in keeping people at least six feet apart and that there weren’t an abundance of donors that day. There have not been any other events in the center since and there will not be any moving forward until the event center reopens.
Finecy said Sunday she and fellow Event Center Coordinator Heather Keezer have yet to receive notification from the health department regarding the possible community spread of the virus in the center in which they work and manage. The first Finecy heard of the situation was from the South Heartland District Health Department’s Facebook post late last night.
Finecy said Keezer, whose job duties also include cleaning the building regularly and after events, took extra precautions and care while deep cleaning the building that Sunday following the quinceañera.
“Heather came in and did deep cleaning wearing gloves,” Finecy said. “She disinfected door knobs, light switches, scrubbed the floor. That’s when this whole thing began ramping up.”
The Doniphan Senior Center is also housed in the same building where the party took place. Party-goers were only in the main hall area, Finecy said, and not in the meeting rooms where seniors play cards and have their lunch. The senior center has been closed since early that same week. The event center closed to the public Monday, March 23.
Finecy said Sunday that she, Keezer and Doniphan Senior Center Director Joyce Schafer - the only three people still in the building now that it is closed to the public - are all doing well and have experienced no symptoms.
“We’re doing good,” Finecy said. “That was two weeks ago yesterday and we are doing well and not having any symptoms. We just want people to know we’re taking all the precautions we need to. We feel fine and very safe going into work.”
The Central District Health Department, serving Hall, Hamilton and Merrick Counties, issued a statement at noon Sunday confirming a total of six lab positive COVID-19 cases in its area. The department also addressed concerns regarding the March 14 event: "There has been community concern for a birthday party held on March 14, 2020 in our district. CDHD reported no positive cases of COVID-19 at that time and therefore no notice was provided to the public. We urge the community to focus on the fact that the virus is active in our community now and will likely continue to spread.”
The South Heartland District Health Department’s Saturday press release notified readers to continue to take precautions and be aware of possible symptoms, "In an effort to protect first responders, healthcare workers and all residents, we ask you to please practice social distancing (6 ft. apart and contact for less than 10 minutes) and monitor for respiratory symptoms related to COVID-19 including:
• Fever higher than 100.4 (38oC)
• Difficulty breathing
• Sore throat
If you develop symptoms, stay home. Do not go to work. 8 out of 10 people with COVID-19 have mild illness, and may not need medical attention. If your symptoms become severe and you need to seek medical attention, please call ahead and let the facility know you may have been exposed and you are ill."
As of 6 p.m. Saturday, March 28, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported a total of 108 Nebraskans testing positive for COVID-19 out of 2,080 tested.
*UPDATE 1:45 p.m. March 29: An earlier version of this article stated there have been no events in the Doniphan Area Event Center since the party March 14. This article has been updated with information regarding the Red Cross Blood Drive held there Thursday, March 19.