The hallways of Pender Public Schools will be empty of students until at least April 3. The final bell before taking an extended break to slow the spread of COVID-19 was Tuesday. Students were sent home with computers to complete at least some coursework.
The hallways of Pender Public Schools will be empty of students until at least April 3. The final bell before taking an extended break to slow the spread of COVID-19 was Tuesday. Students were sent home with computers to complete at least some coursework.

The threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has reached into every corner of American life over the past week, shutting down schools, canceling church services and events and wreaking havoc on small businesses that are trying to serve the public in ways that do not threaten the spread of the potentially deadly disease but can hopefully keep their doors open.

And there’s really no end in sight.

Pender Public Schools held its last classes of the 2019-20 school year through at least April 3 on Tuesday when it sent students home with their Chromebook laptops.

The Nebraska School Activities Association — which limped its way through the boys state basketball tournament in Lincoln with minimal crowd sizes — had already instituted a long moratorium on spring sports.

Pender superintendent Dr. Jason Dolliver admitted Tuesday that there’s no certainty school will resume at all the rest of the year, though he is hopeful it will.

“Everything changes quickly. We’ve had a flood of information,” Dolliver said. “We decided we needed to prepare for the possibility we’d need to close. We wanted to stay open until either we were told we had to close — or it until it just didn’t make sense anymore to stay open.”

Dolliver said that, through technology, teachers will continue to teach while they are not in session. While not ideal, there is a lot of “educational enrichment” that can be achieved if students utilize the district’s technology and make an effort to learn. He said those things can be impacted negatively, however, on inequities at various homes that might have anything from great to non-existent Internet service.

So much of small town rural Nebraska life centers on the school calendar and its myriad activities. But other parts of the community’s upcoming itinerary has been gutted by the effort to put space between people and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, as directed by Gov. Pete Ricketts earlier in the week.

A home and garden show at Pender Community Center has been taken off the calendar for this month, and the Pender-Thurston Summer Rec’s 3rd Annual Dodge, Dine & Dance has been indefinitely postponed from early April. The Pender Booster Club’s annual March Blowout youth basketball tournament will not be held.

Families are not allowed to visit residents at Legacy Garden Rehabilitation and Living Center or at Prairie Breeze Assisted Living in Pender. The Thurston County Law Enforcement Center is not allowing visitors for those spending time behind bars.

Restaurants in Pender have largely closed up their dining areas, though in some cases they can still accommodate a few people until it reaches 10. Those wishing to purchase ready-made food from those local businesses can buy carry-out dinners from all of the community’s restaurants.

Social distancing is vital, though, to keeping everyone safe.

“It’s very serious,” said Dr. Matt Felber, one of four full-time medical doctors on staff at Pender Community Hospital.

The hope is that these changes to everyday life that include self-imposed isolation will slow the spread of the virus and allow the healthcare system to take on the most seriously affected patients gradually enough so as not to overwhelm medical staffs, available beds and vital equipment.

Elective procedures and tests are being postponed to keep healthy people out of the clinics and hospital, which extends to most outpatient appointments at PCH. Those who are not feeling well are strongly encouraged to call ahead to the clinic in Pender to discuss their symptoms so they can be directed to the right entrance into the medical campus.

All of this is being done in an effort to “flatten the curve” of infected people to spread out visits to hospitals and clinics.

Italy is struggling with that curve now, forcing doctors and nurses into difficult decisions and poorer outcomes than might

otherwise be possible. Dr. Felber noted that the United States hasn’t yet moved the needle enough on that effort and it does concern him and should serve as a motivator to people here.

“Right now the United States is on the same curve as Italy,” Dr. Felber said. “We have not flattened this thing yet.”

Dr. Matthew Timm noted he and his family would be patronizing local businesses — such as for takeout food — and encouraged people to do so wisely by supporting their local economy but not putting themselves or others at risk. In general, the best way for the local community to remain healthy is to follow the common guidelines:

• Wash hands frequently and for 20 seconds.

• Avoid touching other people, keeping at least six feet of distance.

• Avoid touching your face.

• Refrain from larger gatherings — and when possible do not mix with people outside of your normal group of people you already are in regular contact with.

Dr. Timm took it a step further, though, and noted that our mental health is also very important as we go through a period of isolation and many of the entertainment aspects of our lives are on the back burner.

Dr. Timm recommends using technology to stay in touch with people — such as grandparents — and to create a routine that involves waking early, showering and putting on normal clothing.

“Keep a good routine. Get up, don’t sleep until noon. Get out of your pajamas.  Set a schedule. Exercise. Don’t let kids hole up in their rooms all day playing video games. Spend some time together as a family,” Dr. Timm said.