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(March 11, 2020)

Mayor Jean Stothert and Douglas County Board Chairman Clare Duda outlined city and county plans Wednesday to maintain government operations if COVID-19 becomes more widespread and requires extraordinary actions.

“We are diligently working with Douglas County and our health care partners to protect public health and safety,” said Mayor Stothert. “We are working together to lower the risk and reduce the impact to our community.”

Mayor Stothert signed an Executive Order May 6 that requires all City departments to update  existing Continuity of Operations plans to  protect the city’s workforce and help avoid interruptions to services in the event of widespread illness.

Directors have identified  critical services and personnel needed to maintain operations in each department.  The City has procedures and the network capacity so all city employees could work from home if that becomes necessary.

“We are prepared so city government can continue,” said Mayor Stothert.

Police Chief Todd Schmaderer has suspended all travel and outside training. The OPD volunteer program is also temporarily suspended. Many volunteers are elderly and most susceptible to the virus.

Additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer for precincts, disinfectant wipes and sprays are ordered.

Each Deputy Chief has identified personnel that can work from home if necessary. No OPD employees are authorized to work from home at this time. 

There has been no change in police response to emergency calls but if the threat becomes more widespread in Omaha, lower priority calls for police service (Priority 3 and 4 calls) could be handled in a different manner.

At this time, the Omaha Fire Department’s response protocol has also not changed.

“Our training, experience and policies and protocols put us in a very good position to keep our members safe and well, while also allowing us to serve our community appropriately,” said Fire Chief Dan Olsen.

Firefighters and medics will wear personal protective equipment depending on the nature of the emergency call.  To care for low-risk patients, OFD will use CDC-recommended gloves, goggles and masks. If a patient is high risk, medics will also wear gowns.

If a firefighter experiences signs or symptoms and has transported a positive COVID-19, or suspected COVID-19 patient, the following steps will be taken:

  • The OFD Medical Director speaks directly with the Firefighter
  • The Medical Director will communicate with doctors at the Biocontainment Unit
  • Together, the doctors will decide if the firefighter should be tested based on the risk of exposure, and the severity of the symptoms

If COVID-19 becomes more widespread in the community, that plan will be re-evaluated.

“When we wear the appropriate level of protective gear, our firefighters are safe,” said Chief Olsen.

Commissioner Duda described the situation as fluid, requiring 24/7 evaluation. “Each of our departments and elected offices maintains a Continuity of Operations plan,” said Duda. “We are confident our departments and offices will be able to properly respond to such an outbreak should it occur.”

Duda announced Douglas County has suspended visits at the Douglas County Health Center, and implemented visitor screening procedures at the Douglas County Youth Center, the Community Mental Health Center and General Assistance.  

This week, Douglas County Emergency Management formed a Unified Command-a group of public agency partners that will work together to develop a coordinated community response. Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour will lead the Unified Command.  Members include law enforcement, Omaha and suburban Douglas County fire departments, Public Information Officers, emergency managers, city and county legal staff and Eppley Airfield police and fire.

The Health Department reported at 10:30am Wednesday that 298 people in Douglas County are self-quarantined, 44 are being actively monitored for symptoms. There are no mandatory quarantine or isolation orders in place.

“We want to use the least restrictive method to stay safe.  People are more than willing to cooperate,” said Douglas County Division Chief Carol Allensworth.

Nearly 400 calls have been made to the Health Department’s information line since Monday.

Metro hospitals have also formed a Unified Command.

“We are well-prepared,” said Mayor Stothert. “People should be responsible but not panic.”