HASTINGS – On Tuesday evening, South Heartland District Health Department (SHDHD) executive director Michele Bever provided COVID-19 updates for the four-county health district which serves Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties.
The health district surpassed 6,000 cases at the end of last week, logging 151 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases last week and receiving another 78 so far in the current week. The cumulative total since the beginning of the pandemic is 6,079 in the four-county district, with county totals of 3,980 in Adams, 944 in Clay, 654 in Nuckolls and 501 in Webster. The health department also received more sequencing results from fourteen previously reported cases, all of which were identified as the Delta variant lineage.
Bever reported last week’s case numbers were down by 9% compared to the previous week. She said while overall positivity dropped slightly to 11.4%, confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days has plateaued in the 310-370/100K range since September 24. These values for case rate and positivity continue to indicate high (red level) community transmission. Bever said South Heartland’s COVID-19 Advisory is extended at least through October 15.
Bever said people looking for COVID-19 testing may refer to the SHDHD website, southheartlandhealth.org, to find a list of testing sites, types of tests offered, and hours when testing is available. She also reported the amount of COVID-19 testing last week increased significantly over the previous week, up by over 25% to 1072 tests, the highest volume of weekly tests in South Heartland residents since early January this year.
The community positivity (which excludes test results from long-term care facilities) was 23% for South Heartland. By county, the community positivity was 20.6% in Adams, 32.3% in Clay, 26.9% in Nuckolls and 30.4% in Webster. Positivity over 10% is considered high community transmission. In long term care facilities, positivity was 1.9% last week. Bever said eleven long term care facilities in the health district had experienced a COVID-19 outbreak since the beginning of September 2021, meaning that staff or residents or both had tested positive.
According to Bever, the department is also seeing outbreaks associated with child care facilities (ten facilities since the beginning of August) as well as COVID cases in staff and/or students in preK-12 school facilities (twelve school districts since school began). The department has been investigating outbreaks across the district associated with corrections, health care, manufacturing worksites, reunion and sports events, and bar/grill establishments. “The take-away is that the pandemic is not over and we need to continue practicing prevention. The more layers you can use, the better.” she said.
Since last Tuesday’s report, the hospital capacity dashboard showed a high of sixteen COVID inpatients (44.4% of total inpatients) and a maximum of one ventilator in use on any day. As of October 5, there were nine patients hospitalized with COVID (27.3% of all inpatients), no ventilators in use that day, and only 28.6% of staffed intensive care unit beds available in South Heartland hospitals.
“I want to emphasize that the healthcare systems in our district and across Nebraska are continuing to experience significant strain with this current surge in the ongoing pandemic. Hospital leaders statewide have reported they are experiencing staffing concerns, including staff shortages and stressed staff who are mentally and physically exhausted from the on-going demands of their jobs,” Bever said.
“The way to help our health systems and our communities get beyond this phase in the pandemic is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccines are very safe and highly effective in reducing risk of severe COVID illness that leads to hospitalization. Please get vaccinated.”
Bever said while fewer vaccinations were given last week, a total of 20,164 South Heartland residents (about 45% of all South Heartland residents) have completed their 1-dose or 2-dose vaccine series since the COVID-19 vaccine first became available in December 2020.
“It’s not too late to get your first and second shots,” Bever said. “South Heartland is encouraging people to take advantage of the widely available, no-cost vaccine to start or complete their vaccination steps and protect against COVID-19. Our vaccine webpage, southheartlandhealth.org, provides a list of locations offering vaccine in the South Heartland District and which vaccine products are offered at each site,” she said.
Bever said the list of vaccine providers is updated frequently to include new times, dates, whether walk-ins are accepted and, if needed, how to make an appointment at each site. She said many health care providers in the district are also offering COVID-19 vaccine to their patients and that residents should consider getting their COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot at the same visit.
SHDHD is holding weekly walk-in COVID vaccination clinics with Pfizer vaccine on Wednesdays through the month of October, 5-7 pm, at the west end of the Allen’s building, 1115 W. 2nd Street in Hastings. Families are encouraged to bring their children age 12 and above (minor children must be accompanied by parent or guardian). Others are also welcome. Enter at Allen’s west door; masks are required. Participants may register in advance at vaccinate.ne.gov.
Bever encourages residents to contact their personal doctor or the health department if they have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, additional doses for immunocompromised individuals, booster doses, or COVID-19 testing. Contact South Heartland District Health Department at 402-462-6211 or 877-238-7595.