HASTINGS – South Heartland District Health Department (SHDHD) officials reported 11 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past four days (March 19 – March 22), averaging 2.75 new cases per day and bringing the cumulative number of cases in the four-county health district to 4,561. Last week the department reported an average of four new cases per day for the equivalent four-day period. The new confirmed cases for the four-day period were eight in Adams County, one in Clay County, and one in Nuckolls County and one in Webster County. By county, the new cumulative totals are: 2,965 cases in Adams, 746 cases in Clay, 502 cases in Nuckolls, and 348 cases in Webster.
SHDHD executive director Michele Bever reported the 14-day rolling average of new daily cases decreased to 9.3 per 100,000 (100K) on March 21, from 10.4 per 100K reported the previous Monday. “The rolling average of new cases has been fairly steady over the past couple of weeks, remaining under 11 per 100K, but not dropping below 9 per 100K,” Bever said. South Heartland’s goal is to reach and maintain fewer than 8 new cases per 100K per day.
Overall positivity (number of positive tests divided by the number of tests conducted) in the health district for the week ending March 20, dropped to 2.2% compared to 5.9% the week before. Bever said about seventy percent of the last week’s COVID tests were conducted in long-term care facilities. “We have another week of good news in our long-term care facilities, where staff and resident testing logged zero percent positivity for the fifth week in a row,” she said.
“The other thirty percent of tests were general community members, with a positivity of 7.6%, a drop from last week, but still above the 5% target for low spread in the community.” Bever noted the health department only received 596 COVID-19 test results last week, the lowest testing since the first week in October. “Testing is critical for determining meaningful positivity, so we are continuing to encourage residents to get tested if they experience any symptoms consistent with COVID-19.”
“These trends are in the right direction,” Bever said. “But getting ‘back to normal’ is going to require that we stay the course and continue to use all of our tools to keep virus spread low: washing our hands often, staying six feet from others and avoiding crowds, wearing a mask, and getting vaccinated. Vaccination is an important tool to reduce the severity of COVID illness caused by any of the virus strains.”
Bever said area COVID-19 vaccine providers are vaccinating residents age 50 and older, with a reverse age approach. In addition, the health district is continuing to vaccinate prioritized essential workers. “We are glad there are so many South Heartland residents wanting the vaccine and we know the waiting has been frustrating for many. All of the vaccine providers in our health district are working through lists of individuals who registered for the vaccine, making calls to schedule people for their COVID shots and trying to follow Nebraska’s phased priorities. These partners have taken on an extra work to help get their patients vaccinated, and we are grateful to them for their assistance.”
Bever said SHDHD is working with Nebraska DHHS to adopt additional functions of the state’s vaccine registration and administration system, VRAS, which will allow local vaccine providers to replace the manual scheduling process they are using now. In the meantime, anyone who is eligible and wants to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but who has not yet received a call or email to schedule an appointment, should contact the health department at 402-462-6211 and SHDHD will help connect people with an approved COVID-vaccine provider.