A Nuckolls County man in his 50s has gained the unwelcome distinction of being announced as his county’s first laboratory-confirmed positive case of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
Until Wednesday, Nuckolls County had remained without a single confirmed case of COVID-19, and was the only one of the four counties in the South Heartland public health district to have zero cases to date.
As of Thursday night, the district has recorded a running total of 264 confirmed cases since it first was announced on March 18.
The Nuckolls County man was among 14 newly confirmed positive COVID-19 cases announced Wednesday by the South Heartland District Health Department.
Eight of the new cases on Wednesday were in Adams County, and another five were in Clay County, which to date have recorded 239 positive cases and 19 positive cases, respectively. Webster County has recorded five cases.
(The Clay County numbers have been corrected from Wednesday, when a reporting error caused three extra cases to be incorrectly added to the total there.)
The new Adams County patients on Wednesday included four males and four females. The males include one under 20, two in their 20s, and one in his 50s. The women include one in her 30s and three in their 40s.
All of the news Clay County patients were males.
On Thursday night, the district announced an additional four positive cases, all in Adams County — one man in his 20s, one man in his 30s, one man in his 50s, and one woman in her 20s.
Of the total number of South Heartland residents who have tested positive to date, at least 174 already have recovered, South Heartland said in a news release Thursday night. Seven patients — all Adams County residents — have died.
The health department continues to conduct contact investigations in connection with COVID-19 patients who live in the four-county district.
The South Heartland district, along with local health districts throughout Nebraska, has been working under directed health measures issued by the state to help thwart community spread of the coronavirus infection, which can be dangerous and even deadly for some patients. Some restrictions imposed by the health measures now are being relaxed in the South Heartland district and the neighboring Two Rivers Public Health District and Public Health Solutions Health District.
Meanwhile, residents of south central Nebraska are seeing increased availability of COVID-19 testing.
In the South Heartland news release Wednesday, Bever said the health department had expected additional cases to be confirmed this week following a Nebraska National Guard testing event in Hastings on Monday and Tuesday. The event was made possible by the state Department of Health and Human Services.
“We have been encouraging testing of health care workers, first responders, people who work in critical infrastructure businesses, as well as anyone experiencing symptoms or who had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19,” Bever said Wednesday. “The National Guard conducted 342 tests over the past two days, which will help us understand the level of the virus in our communities.”
On Thursday night, South Heartland officials updated the situation by saying they still are waiting for results of some of the tests conducted by the National Guard.
“In some instances, we are experiencing a longer wait time than we had hoped. So, we appreciate your patience as we are working diligently to get results as quickly as possible to our residents. Participants will receive a call from the health department with their test result as soon as we receive them,” Bever said. “If you live outside of our health district, your test result will be reported to the health district where you live.”
“Our goal is to begin contact investigations as quickly as possible to identify others who have been exposed and to have them self-quarantine,” said Jessica Warner, SHDHD’s disease surveillance coordinator.
“Delays in the start of a contact investigation increase the likelihood of disease spread as people continue with their day-to-day activities,” said Dorrann Hultman, community health services coordinator and one of SHDHD’s lead contact tracers. “A person is contagious when having symptoms, but can also be very contagious in the days before symptoms develop, prior to feeling ill.”
South Heartland is asking all residents being tested to take the following actions while awaiting results:
1. Self-quarantine/isolate yourself at home until you have your test results back.
2. Identify all of your contacts going back two days before your symptoms started and up through the time that you isolated yourself at home.
3. Notify those contacts that you are having symptoms and are being tested and ask that they self-quarantine until your results are available.
Hultman said essential-services employees who aren’t exhibiting symptoms may return to work while they await their test results, but they must wear a mask and self-monitor their temperature and symptoms twice daily. If their test is positive and/or if they develop symptoms, they must isolate at home immediately.
On Wednesday, Bever had reported that South Heartland also recently began receiving test results for district residents taking advantage of the TestNebraska COVID-19 testing program.
TestNebraska currently is operating four testing sites across the state, including one in Grand Island.
“Individuals may go to the TestNebraska.com website to take a survey that determines their risk,” Bever said. “Those at higher risk are invited to make an appointment for a free COVID-19 test at one of the drive-through testing sites.”
As of Thursday evening, the state Department of Health and Human Services had recorded a total of 9,416 positive cases of COVID-19 across Nebraska, with 113 fatalities. The death toll increased by six from 107 a day earlier.
As of Wednesday, neighboring Kansas had recorded 7,468 positive cases, with a death toll of 164, the state Department of Health and Environment there reported.