Positive COVID-19 testing in the South Heartland District Health Department for April 26 through May 2 was 14%.
Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, said during a Friday news conference with other local officials that the rate, which compares the total number of confirmed positive cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to the total number of tests administered, is down from the three previous weeks.
“These terms are really important because they help us know how well our social distancing and prevention measures are working,” she said. “They are one of the indicators the state reviews when they are considering lifting the directed health measure restrictions. So we are paying attention to those trends.”
As of Friday morning, South Heartland had reported 49 new cases since May 1 and two additional deaths. As of Friday night, South Heartland had reported 239 total cases including 220 in Adams County, 14 in Clay County, five in Webster County and zero in Nuckolls County.
There have been six COVID-19 deaths — all of them in Adams County.
Districtwide, 144 individuals have recovered from the disease.
South Heartland soon will receive a large shipment of personal protective equipment for front line workers that include health care workers, first responders, and long-term care workers.
Local agencies have been completing requests for PPE.
“We haven’t always been able to fill these requests due to the limited contents of the shipments that have been allotted to our district,” Bever said.
Bever said having enough PPE has been a problem across the state.
She thanked the South Heartland community for its continued support through the pandemic.
While it is still accessible for emergency needs, Bever said, the health department will begin standing down operations over the weekend.
Eric Barber, president and CEO of Mary Lanning Healthcare, also thanked the public for its support.
“This community has proven just how awesome it really is,” he said.
As Mary Lanning fights COVID-19, Barber said, the main focus is to increase in-house testing. Among platforms to be used to screen patients are before an elective surgery or before delivering a baby.
“That capacity’s a little bit limited right now, but we’re confident in the supply line that we ought to be able to expand our ability to test right here at the hospital,” he said.
Drive-through testing increased, which he attributed to starting elective procedures on on Monday.
“One of the requirements is that we do test everybody for COVID-19 before they come in for their elective procedure,” he said.
Mary Lanning currently has eight COVID-19-positive patients in the hospital, two of whom are on ventilators.
“As a trend, the number of patients who have been admitted to the hospital has leveled off or even started to trend downward,” Barber said. “It’s been a positive trend over the last two weeks. We sure hope that continues.”
He said Mary Lanning has an adequate supply of masks, gowns, face shields and other equipment.
“We’re not out of this yet, but we’re moving in a very positive direction,” he said. “I’m inspired by the way this community has handled this outbreak.”
Ron Pughes, Adams County Emergency Management director, said his department works on four principles: preparedness, prevention, response and recovery.
The community has shown great resolve in acting on those first three principles, including the creation of 3,000 face shields and 1,000 hand-sown masks.
“As we near the recovery phases, however, we’re not quite there yet,” he said.
He said while processing plants and long-term care facilities have been hot spots for positive COVID-19 cases, the virus doesn’t seek out those specific environments.
“The virus thrives on spreading through close contact, gatherings and unprotected individuals,” Pughes said. “So when you’re standing in line at the grocery store and you’re talking to the person who is standing directly behind you and you’re saying, ‘Boy, I’m glad I don’t work in a plant,’ what you’ve created is the same environment — close proximity, unprotected environment, not wearing a mask. You are just as susceptible as contracting the virus on a production line.”
He again encouraged people to not gather in large groups and to wear a mask when out in public.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Bever encouraged the public to reach out to friends.
“Please everyone consider how you might brighten someone’s day by connecting with them in these times of social distancing when they might be lonely or feel isolated,” she said.
School leaders speak out
Joining Bever, Barber, Pughes and Mayor Corey Stutte during Friday’s news conference were the Rev. Tom Brouillette, chief administrative officer of Hastings Catholic Schools; Shawn Scott, superintendent of Adams Central Public Schools; and Jeff Schneider, superintendent of Hastings Public Schools.
Brouillette spoke about safety on two fronts: returning school material and emotional safety for families
Bever has provided recommendations for returning materials, which will be communicated to families.
Schools are safe places, Brouillette said.
“Each of our three K-12 school systems have resources for people,” he said. “We just want people to know that and if we do not have those resources we can get people in contact with those that can provide emotional support and/or counseling.”
All three education leaders thanked the public for their support and patience, and thanked other community leaders for tremendous communication.
“Every district in our community has about two weeks left, and we’re doing the best we can to finish it up and get done what we can,” Scott said.
His message to AC staff has been to finish strong.
Summer activities depend on directed health measures.
“Those are yet to be seen for June, July and August,” he said. “We’re going to do our best to have activities and move forward once we are allowed to do so, but for right now we’re sort of in a holding pattern to see what we can do.”
All three local high schools will have commencement ceremonies on July 26.
“I think our community will be busy that day,” Scott said.
Schneider said this situation has brought to light different roles schools play besides just academics.
He said HPS has served more than 70,000 meals to youth since March 19. The meals are available to anyone 18 years and younger, not just HPS students.
Schneider said the district will continue to serve meals throughout the summer at Lincoln and Alcott elementary schools as well as Hastings High School.
Preparation of those meals wouldn’t be possible without dedicated staff members, he said.
“I want to commend our food service staff members and our custodians,” Schneider said. “They are working through these conditions. Our custodians have a detailed cleaning process to keep things safe for this continued delivery.”