A total of 132 new cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, have been recorded in the four-county South Heartland Health District since Sunday, the district health department reported Wednesday evening.
The new cases in Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties include nine reported on Sunday, 34 reported Monday, 44 reported Tuesday and 45 reported Wednesday.
Meanwhile, as of Wednesday morning 12 patients were being treated for the disease at hospitals in the health district. Five of those 12 were in critical care, and three were on ventilators.
Fourteen South Heartland residents have died of COVID-19 since March.
The novel coronavirus, which causes no symptoms in some infected individuals and mild to serious illness in others, is affecting South Heartland residents of all ages at this time.
According to South Heartland, 13 school systems serving students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the health district were being affected by COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning, with a combined total of 238 students and staff members absent for reasons related to the virus.
That total includes 162 students and 17 staff members in quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, plus 33 students and 24 staff members in isolation after testing positive for the disease themselves.
Michele Bever, district health department executive director, said disruptions related to COVID-19 have pushed two of the 13 affected school systems to either close temporarily or pivot toward remote learning.
At the same time, residents and workers at senior living facilities are enduring hardship as a result of the virus, either because they have tested positive themselves or are in varying levels of quarantine because of potential or actual exposure to the virus or the threat of exposure.
“There are currently six long-term care facilities in our district with either residents or staff or both who have tested positive in the past two weeks, including 17 staff and 10 residents who tested positive for COVID-19,” Bever said.
In Wednesday evening’s news release, Bever announced that the health district’s risk dial reading for this week increased to 2.5 from 2.4 last week. The new reading remains in the orange, or “elevated,” zone on the dial, which has zones for low (green), moderate (yellow), elevated (orange) and severe (red) risk of additional spread of the virus in the South Heartland jurisdiction.
The district recorded 151 new cases of COVID-19 for the week of Oct. 4-10 and had a test positivity rate of 14.9%. The test positivity rate is the number of new positive cases recorded in the district divided by the number of sample specimens collected in the same time period.
Various factors are taken into account when determining the risk dial reading for a given week. Bever told the Tribune this week that even though South Heartland posts its running tally of COVID-19 recoveries on its website along with other virus-related statistics, the recovery number is not one of the factors taken into account on the risk dial.
The district’s recovery tally hasn’t been updated recently, even as new case numbers are continuing to climb. Bever told the Tribune she hopes to update the recovery number soon, but that she and her staff are falling behind on some of their duties as their workload related to new cases continues to grow.
Among many other duties, the South Heartland staff investigates new positive cases of COVID-19 to identify and notify the individuals’ close contacts.
In Wednesday’s news release, Bever asked for district residents’ cooperation in helping to thwart the further spread of the virus.
“The capacity of our small department is being pushed to the limits,” she said. “We are not able to be as responsive and there will be delays as we work through the queue and investigate cases. Residents can help by being attentive to minor allergy-like symptoms, getting tested, and isolating while their tests are pending. If you have been told or think you have been exposed to a positive case, self-quarantine for 14 days from your last exposure.”
Bever has said the increase in transmission of the virus is being driven by district residents’ social interactions, in some cases without adequate health precautions, following several months of curtailment.
“This is how it spreads,” she said.
While some people have moderate symptoms and feel ill for a couple of weeks, and others have severe symptoms and require hospitalization, Bever said, many infected individuals can have very mild, allergy-like symptoms, or no symptoms at all, and are able to spread the virus to others unknowingly and unintentionally.
“The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is circulating in our district at higher and higher levels,” she said. “Mask up and keep 6 feet distance from people you don’t live with. Please take steps to protect others and yourselves, everywhere you go, in everything you do.”
For more information and statistics, visit the South Heartland website at www.southheartlandhealth.org.