Risk Dial Nov. 19

The South Heartland Health District saw its COVID-19 risk reading move up within the red zone for this week as conditions related to the pandemic continue to deteriorate locally.

The district health department announced Wednesday evening that the risk dial reading for this week increased to 3.3 from 3.0 for the previous week.

The risk dial reading takes into account various factors related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, how the virus is spreading locally and how the health care infrastructure is responding. Readings from 3.0 to 4.0 are in the red zone, which is labeled as “severe.”

Other zones on the dial are green (low), 0-1; yellow (moderate), 1-2; and orange (elevated), 2-3.

In Wednesday evening’s news release, Michele Bever, health department executive director, laid out various problems being experienced across the four-county district in connection with the virus.

As of Wednesday, for example, a combined total of nearly 300 students and staff members were absent from 13 school systems across the district for reasons related to the novel coronavirus. That number included 28 students and 13 staff members who were in isolation after testing positive for the virus themselves.

In addition, nine child care services or centers in the district have had staff, children or both test positive for the virus in the past two weeks. Those positive tests have resulted in quarantines or temporary closures.

“It is a huge hardship on parents when schools and child care services are unavailable. We continue to urge staff, families and community members to follow best practices to prevent COVID spread so that schools and childcare services may remain open,” Bever said.

The South Heartland district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. Headquarters are in Hastings.

At one point this week, the health district no longer had any intensive care unit beds available for patients since all were occupied, the health department reported. As of Wednesday, 8% of staffed ICU beds were available.

The district’s three hospitals are Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings, Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior and Webster County Community in Red Cloud.

As of Wednesday, 23 patients were being cared for in the South Heartland district hospitals. Eight of those were in intensive care, and two were on ventilators. Overall, 62% of all inpatients in the hospitals had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Fourteen long-term care facilities across the district have had residents, staff members or both test positive for the virus in the last 14 days.

COVID-19 also is affecting emergency services in South Heartland counties. Bever cited Brad Startling, chief of Hastings Fire and Rescue, as reporting that the increase in COVID-19 cases is increasing the department’s call volume, while at the same time decreasing the number of personnel available to respond to calls.

“Combined, these factors impact HFR’s ability to provide a timely response in our home jurisdiction and our ability to provide assistance to our neighboring communities,” Starling reported.

Bever said some rural volunteer emergency medical services in the four-county area also were reporting staff shortages due to ill or exposed personnel.

South Heartland received 393 positive COVID-19 tests for the week ending Nov. 14 — a 47% net increase over the previous week and an average of 56 positive tests per day.

The district’s test positivity rate for Nov. 8-14 was 17.5%, up from 15.5% the previous week.

The positivity rate is the percentage of the number of tests administered in a given week that come back positive. Rates above 15% are considered to indicate widespread community transmission.

“This is considered severe community spread,” Bever said. “Please help protect the community health and safety services, schools, child care and long-term care facilities by taking steps to reduce the spread of this virus, everywhere you go.”

In other COVID-19 news from health districts including portions of Tribland, the Two Rivers Public Health Department on Wednesday reported seven additional deaths related to the viral infection. The victims included three Buffalo County residents, three Dawson County residents and one individual from Phelps County. All were in their 70s, 80s or 90s.

All four health districts whose jurisdictions include portions of the Tribune news coverage area now have risk dial readings in the red zone.

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