More than 4,000 residents of the South Heartland Health District have tested positive for infection with the novel coronavirus disease to date.
The district health department reported the districtwide case count stood at 4,024 as of Wednesday evening.
The health district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. The first positive case in a district resident was reported on March 18, 2020.
Michele Bever, health department executive director, also reported in a news release Wednesday evening that the district’s risk dial reading for this week remains at 2.4 for the second consecutive week.
That reading is near the middle of the orange, or “elevated,” zone on the risk dial, which assesses the danger associated with continuing local community spread of the virus based on various metrics.
The risk dial has four zones: green (zero to 1), signifying low risk; yellow (1-2), moderate; orange (2-3), elevated; and red (3-4), severe. The reading, which is updated for the week each Wednesday, takes into account various factors related to spread of the virus and capacities for testing, tracing and treatment.
One key metric is the test positivity rate, which dropped to 14% for the week of Jan. 3-9 — down from 15% for the prior week. The test positivity rate is the percentage of COVID-19 tests administered in a given week that come back from the laboratory with a positive result.
The tally of new cases also is a key factor. Bever reported Wednesday that the 14-day rolling average of new daily cases had edged up to 50 per 100,000 population (an extrapolated number) from the low 40s per 100,000 in previous weeks.
Hospital capacity indicators also have worsened slightly, Bever said, with fewer intensive care beds available in the district for new patients (36%, compared to 73% the previous week) and an increased census of in-patients who are positive for COVID-19 (11 on Wednesday, compared to three on Jan. 3).
Meanwhile, however, vaccination efforts continue in the district, just less than a month since the first doses were received on Dec. 15, 2020.
“Vaccine availability, while still limited in amount, continues to be an important positive factor,” Bever said. “SHDHD and partners in the health district have administered 1,831 doses of COVID-19 vaccine since the first doses arrived here in mid-December, including 243 second doses.”
Bever said South Heartland is wrapping up the first priority group (1A) this week and next, and officials are hoping to move into Phase 1B in the next week or two.
“Next week, the majority of vaccine being allotted to us is coming as ‘second doses’ and must be used as such,” Bever said.
Phase 1A includes frontline health care workers as well as long-term care center residents and employees. Phase 1B begins with senior citizens in the general population and then continues with various categories of workers in critical industries who are unable to work remotely.
Bever said South Heartland and local health care providers have been experiencing “huge” call volumes from people wanting to know when they can get vaccinated. She asked residents to watch the local news media, health department website and South Heartland Facebook page for updated information about the status and timeline of the vaccine distribution process.
“We are putting out notifications to let people know whose turn it is and how to schedule your vaccine,” she said. “We encourage patience for those anxious to get the vaccine. Everyone in each phase can be vaccinated as soon as there are enough vaccines available.”
The neighboring Two Rivers Public Health Department, Public Health Solutions District Health Department and Central District Health Department also are inviting senior citizens to register their names and contact information on their department websites so they can be contacted when vaccine is available for them.
The Central health department, which serves Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties, announced its procedures to prepare for Phase 1B on Wednesday.
“We will begin vaccinating those in Phase 1B as soon as we have vaccine available,” CHD said on its website. “If you live in Hamilton, Hall or Merrick County you may register on our website, cdhd.ne.gov, or call us at 308-385-5175 and leave your name, birthdate and phone number.
“Because of limited vaccine, we plan to start with those age 90 and over, and then gradually expand to others age groups as vaccine becomes available. We will contact you by phone when we have vaccine for you. Please be patient as this will take time.”
In a weekly COVID-19 news update on Wednesday, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced that, in accordance with revised recommendations from the federal government, senior citizens prioritized for vaccination in Phase 1B now will include those age 65 and older, as opposed to 75 and older as had been announced earlier.
Individuals who are at high risk for serious illness with COVID-19 also will be prioritized in Phase 1B. The high-risk group will include people with certain medical conditions identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.