Wheeler County defies odds holding COVID-19 back amid statewide surge

A few hours west of Omaha, a tight-knit community perhaps offers hope in the battle against coronavirus.
Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 6:29 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - As cases of COVID-19 continue to soar across Nebraska there’s a county a few hours west of Omaha managing to keep the virus largely at bay; the latest numbers showing only three reported cases of COVID-19.

“I’ve got mine here,” said Derald Ober, better known as “Cork”, as he pointed to a face mask folded neatly into the pocket of his overalls.

Cork eats lunch at Bibs and Boots Cafe in the village of Bartlett almost every day. “If I go to O’Neill, or Albion, or someplace,” said Cork. “The farm store or something like that, I put it on,” noting people in Wheeler County aren’t messing around when it comes to safety precautions

“Most of the people I know of don’t participate in gatherings, they shy away from that,” said Cork. "When they go to town or go to the store why they put their mask on and do what they’re supposed to do. "

Just over 800 people live in Wheeler County and while that smaller population plays in their favor it’s not the whole story. There are smaller counties with more cases of COVID-19.

“We probably take it a little more seriously than they do in a lot of other places,” said Cork. When asked why he thinks his response was simple: We want to live longer, he said with a laugh, noting people are doing what’s best for themselves and others around them.

“Well it’s a choice you know,” said Cork. “You can take a chance on dying, or you can try to protect yourself that’s the way I look at it. And you sure don’t want to get anyone else sick.”

That community-minded approach seems to be working. In many ways, Wheeler County has become its own bubble. They’re doing a lot of shopping online and avoiding bigger towns, especially nearby hotspots.

“When Grand Island was really hit hard we shopped locally in O’Neil, Nurwell.” said Nicole Drueke, a waitress at Bib and Boots Cafe.

“If we do travel to local grocery stores we all mask up, wash our hands a lot, you the hand-sanitizer. we’re just pretty self-contained here,” added Marilyn Mignery, while waiting for her lunch.

6 News asked the people in the village of Bartlett if they’re concerned about the surging cases of COVID-19 across the state. And while they said it does worry them, they’re ready to buckle down on restrictions again if they have to.

“I think we’re saying ‘okay’ maybe we need to tighten up just a bit more,” said Mignery. “l think just maybe wearing our masks more like when we come in here which we don’t do.”

Drueke noted the spike in cases throughout the state is concerning.

“It’s worrisome,” she said. “And all you can do is all you can do. I mean we try to wash our hands more, and when going out in public I wear the face mask and so does my daughter.”

As for Cork, COVID-19 worries him too.

“Yes it does, yep,” he said. “There’d be something wrong with you if you weren’t afraid of it, really.”

That healthy fear perhaps another key to the county’s success in holding back the virus.

Wheeler County is one of only two counties in the state that hasn’t reported a single case of covid-19 in the past two weeks, according to the states COVID-19 dashboard. Blaine County is the other, which is another hour west of Wheeler County.

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