Michele Bever

Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, speaks during a news conference Feb. 27 about area novel coronavirus planning and prevention. Bever announced April 18 that a woman in her 80s was the first death related to COVID-19 in Adams County.

If you’ve been out and about in Tribland over the last two weeks and attended a large gathering at Lovewell State Park, a party near Exeter or graduation festivities in Sutton, you may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and should take precautions.

That was the word late Saturday evening from the South Heartland District Health Department, which follows up on newly confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, among residents of Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties to determine who else may have contracted the viral infection.

In a news release, health department officials announced they were investigating a “large cluster” of cases and exposures associated with multiple events. Some of the related cases had been confirmed earlier in the week, while others were confirmed Friday or Saturday.

Patients in the cluster of cases had attended one or more of the following events: a large gathering at Lovewell in Jewell County, Kansas, on July 11-12; a private party near Exeter in Fillmore County on July 15; and the Sutton High School graduation ceremony and related private parties the weekend of July 18.

As of Saturday, the positive cases that are part of the cluster included nine Clay County residents, one Adams County resident, two residents of other health districts, and one resident of another state.

By Saturday evening, more than 40 “close contacts” of the infected patients had been identified, and those individuals had been instructed to self-quarantine and monitor themselves for symptoms associated with COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, because not all individuals were physically distanced at these events and activities, and mask use was not widespread, we do not know how many others may have been exposed,” said Michele Bever, South Heartland health department executive director. “Therefore, anyone who attended these activities and thinks they may have been exposed should contact the health department. If symptoms appear, you should self-isolate and contact a health care provider and the health department to determine next steps. This is crucial in order to stop the spread and protect the most vulnerable in our families and in our communities.”

Over the last several weeks, with earlier restrictions in Nebraska’s directed health measures having been loosened, more and more area residents have resumed their social lives to some extent, circulating at events ranging from golf tournaments, ballgames and rodeos to weddings, funerals and graduation activities.

In many cases, participants at such events are forgetting or just choosing not to spread out, cover their faces when in proximity to others, and take other precautions aimed at thwarting the spread of germs.

Cluster outbreaks of the novel coronavirus disease can be the unintended consequence of such situations.

“This cluster underscores the ease with which the COVID-19 virus can spread from person to person, even when people only have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all,” Bever said. “The risk of bringing the virus back to members of your family, to your co-workers, or to others you may interact with, increases significantly when prevention is not in place.”

In the news release, Bever noted that gatherings remain restricted according to the state-directed health measures in effect in Nebraska at least through this Friday, July 31. A gathering is any event or convening that brings together more than 10 individuals in a single room or single indoor or outdoor space at the same time.

“There are overall capacity restrictions and limitations of eight people per any one party at gatherings,” she said.

Key prevention actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 include staying at home for those who have even mild symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19; keeping 6 feet of distance from others; wearing a face covering to prevent spreading germs to others, especially when physical distancing is difficult; washing hands frequently with soap and water; and cleaning and disinfecting any frequently touched surfaces.

“All of us — ALL ages — should practice these prevention actions everywhere we go: at work, at the store, at graduations and sports events, at weddings and receptions, at church and at the fair,” Bever said. “If people are not staying 6 feet apart, these are the settings where we see new close contacts and, from that, new cases.”

A total of 444 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed across the state of Nebraska on Saturday and Sunday, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported.

South Heartland district case counts and trends can be found on the health department’s Data Dashboard of statistics found at www.southheartlandhealth.org.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services provides daily updates to Nebraska’s coronavirus COVID-19 cases on its Data Dashboard at http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Coronavirus.

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