TIME

The next wave

IT’S CATTLE-BRANDING SEASON IN THE panhandle of Nebraska, but this spring, things look different. Usually one of the biggest social events of the year in a state where livestock makes up two-thirds of farm revenue, brandings have been cut down to the essentials: no children; no older crew members; and bag lunches instead of community gatherings. “This is not the year to have your daughter’s friend from the city out to experience a branding,” a local news article warned. “Not taking precautions can mean the difference between life and death for some loved ones.”

COVID-19 is not yet widely visible across the roughly 15,000-sq.-mile region, which has only 75 confirmed cases as of May 12, but the danger of the pandemic is very real, says Kim Engel, the director of the Panhandle Public Health District. There are only 31 ventilators for 87,000 people here, so even a small spike could quickly overwhelm the local health system. “We’re still waiting for our peak,” Engel says, emphasizing that it won’t look like the urban outbreaks that have dominated national headlines. “We’re afraid we are really just starting on that upward curve.”

In mid-April, President Donald Trump

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