The risk dial value assessing danger from further local spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in the South Heartland Health District now straddles the line between the dial’s “moderate” and “elevated” zones.
That’s the word from the district health department, which updated the risk dial reading for this week on Wednesday.
The reading now stands at 2.0, directly on the line between the yellow (moderate) and orange (elevated) zones. It’s down from 2.1 for last week and now stands at the lowest point seen in several months.
The risk dial reading is based on various metrics related to local spread of the virus; testing, tracing and treatment capacities; and vaccination progress.
South Heartland, which encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties, has seen numbers of new cases dropping recently.
“The number of positive tests reported each day continues to drop — averaging just 6.4 per day this past week,” said Michele Bever, health department executive director, in a news release. “Our 14-day average of new daily cases decreased to 18 per 100,000 for the week ending Feb. 13.”
As of Wednesday, this average had dropped further to 16 per 100,000. Bever said the district’s goal is to drop below 8 per 100,000, which equals four new cases per day based on the South Heartland district’s population — around 45,000.
While new case tallies were down, Bever said, hospital metrics were not quite as good as last week. As of Wednesday, 27% of the health district’s intensive care hospital beds were available for new patients and 10 in-patients — 30% of all in-patients — were positive for COVID-19. None were in need of ventilators.
In addition to the decline in new case numbers, progress on vaccination helped the risk dial reading this week, she said.
According to South Heartland, 6,115 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered by vaccine providers in the district. These providers include South Heartland itself, the Clay County Health Department, Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior, Webster County Community Hospital in Red Cloud, Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings, and eight partner primary-care clinics and pharmacies.
“We and our partners have administered 4,385 first doses,” Bever said. “If we add to these the more than 600 doses of vaccine that the federal pharmacy contractors provided to residents and more than 250 doses they administered to staff in long-term care facilities in our district, we have at least 11.5% of the district population completing first dose. Our goal is for 70% of our district population to be fully vaccinated, meaning they received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
To this point, two vaccine products are available to the public. Both products — one manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, the other by Moderna — require two doses, administered at 21- and 28-day intervals, respectively.
Across a broad swath of the United States, snow and extreme cold weather have wreaked havoc with vaccine delivery logistics in recent days. Nebraska hasn’t been immune to the disruption.
“Unfortunately, we have a slight setback in vaccination progress this week,” Bever said. “Vaccine shipments are being delayed across the country due to the weather, and we have lost hope that we will receive our allotment in time for some ‘first dose’ clinics this week. We will be rescheduling appointments to next week.”
She urged all district residents to keep up their efforts to thwart the spread of the virus through means such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
“All of the steps our residents are taking, all the tools we are using to block the spread of the coronavirus, are working to protect the health care system and to protect our most vulnerable,” Bever said. “We need to continue doing what’s working. We need to avoid the three Cs: avoid crowded places, avoid close contact, avoid confined spaces. We need to continue to wear masks that cover our noses and mouths, we need to stay home when we are sick, we need to disinfect frequently-touched surfaces and objects, we need to wash our hands, and we need to get the COVID vaccine when it is our turn.”
South Heartland remains in Phase 1B under the state of Nebraska’s vaccination plan, working to inoculate the general population of senior citizens age 65 and up, plus other adults at high risk of serious illness due to underlying health conditions, and certain categories of essential workers.
Residents can register to get the vaccine on the health department website (www.southheartlandhealth.org) where there is a link to Nebraska’s vaccine registration system. Individuals will be notified when it is their turn to schedule an appointment.