Mary Lanning

With COVID-19 cases on the rise and hospital capacity in demand in Hastings and across Nebraska, local officials stressed during a Friday morning news conference the need to stay vigilant.

The online news conference, which was a weekly staple in the spring, was the first of its kind since June.

Eric Barber, president and CEO of Mary Lanning Healthcare, said the hospital currently is about 90% full.

As of Friday morning, Mary Lanning had 10 patients being treated for the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and one free intensive care unit bed. Barber said there is a separate room equipped for a COVID-19 patient.

He said the COVID-19 patients range in age from their mid-40s to 90s and typically have at least two chronic conditions or diseases leading to the hospitalization.

Just three of the patients now in the hospital are on ventilators.

At this point, Barber said, Mary Lanning is experienced in dealing with COVID-19 and has stockpiled enough personal protective equipment.

“While we are seeing an uptick and we’re seeing an increase in the number of patients here in the hospital, we’re doing everything we can to remain calm and understand we’ve been through this before and we’re educated and prepared for this,” he said.

Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, said the community needs to be more vigilant.

“As those restrictions were fewer, people started having more contact with each other and some stopped following prevention measures,” she said.

The city of Hastings announced Friday afternoon that following the latest guidelines from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the district health department, the city is temporarily closing certain city buildings to the public starting Monday in an effort to avoid potential exposures of COVID-19.

In most cases, city services will be available via telephone, online or at a drive-through window.

The number of virus cases began to increase with more activities occurring, formal and informal.

The district recorded 150 new cases of COVID-19 for the week of Oct. 4-10 and had a test positivity rate of 14.9%.

The district’s goal is to reach positivity in the low single digits, 5% or lower.

Each week for the last nine weeks, the number of cases has increased.

“We know how we got there,” Bever said. “We can control this. It’s up to each of us to slow the spread. I encourage you to join with other people in your community and in our district because we can make this happen. We can get back down there and keep our community safe.”

She encouraged continuing prevention methods such as social distancing and mask wearing.

Jeff Schneider, superintendent of Hastings Public Schools, said the district has had 21 confirmed cases, 17 of which have been adults and four in students. However, two-thirds of those cases occurred in October.

“We are just like the rest of our community, seeing more cases of it,” he said.

HPS hasn’t seen spread within the schools. For instance, the district hasn’t had a teacher test positive and then some of those teacher’s students test positive.

“We have had a tremendous support from our students and our parents for wearing masks,” he said. “Our students have been awesome.”

Paul Hamelink, Hastings City Council president, led Friday’s conference in the absence of Mayor Corey Stutte, who continues to recover from COVID-19.

“I anticipate he’ll be back fully fulfilling his role as mayor shortly, within days, and I know he’s anxious to do so,” Hamelink said. “He has not taken any time away, frankly, in the last four years. I’m glad he’s able to have time with his family. I wish it had been under better circumstances than having to deal with COVID.”

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