- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 11, 2020

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - As health officials across the country increasingly issue bans on large public gatherings to try to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, Nebraska school officials announced Wednesday that the state boys basketball tournament will be played in a mostly empty arena.

That news came on the heels of reports late Tuesday of two new cases of COVID-19 in Nebraska.

On Wednesday, the Nebraska School Activities Association and state Education Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt announced at a news conference that they had accepted the recommendation of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department to limit spectators of the tournament to players’ immediate family members. The tournament begins Thursday in Lincoln at several sports venues, including high schools and the Devaney Sports Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The championship games are played Saturday at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.

The event normally draws thousands of people from around the state.

“It’s about public health,” Bloomsted said. “I believe this is absolutely the right call.”



Officials will likely define immediate family members as those who live in the same household as a player, NSAA Executive Director Jay Bellar said. Tournament officials were still working out the logistics of playing a state tournament without fans, Bellar said. Officials hope to be able to livestream the games.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

Tuesday evening, state health officials announced that a Douglas County woman in her 40s tested positive for COVID-19. She recently traveled to California and Nevada and is recovering at home. State officials were awaiting case confirmation from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The fifth case is a 16-year-old student at Crofton High School in northeast Nebraska who will be treated at the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit on the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus in Omaha, the state Health and Human Services Department said. The boy, who is reported to have an underlying health condition, attended the state girls basketball tournament in Lincoln on March 5.

The Crofton district announced that classes, events and activities would be canceled for the rest of the week to limit exposure.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. China, where the virus first exploded, has had more than 81,000 infections and more than 3,000 deaths.

An American who was exposed to the new coronavirus on a Japanese cruise ship and who was being monitored at an Omaha hospital was released from quarantine Tuesday.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center said the patient tested negative for COVID-19 three times. Seven others who were exposed to the virus on the Diamond Princess were released from quarantine in Omaha last week.

Seven other passengers from the ship have tested positive for COVID-19 and remain at the Omaha hospital. One was being treated in the hospital’s biocontainment unit and was in good condition Tuesday. The other six remain in the hospital’s National Quarantine Unit.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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This story has been corrected to show the Nebraska tournament is played in several Lincoln venues, with the championship games played at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

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