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South Heartland District Health Department

The risk of further spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in the South Heartland Health District is back to an “elevated level.”

That’s the indication for this week provided on the district’s risk dial, the district health department announced in a news release Wednesday evening.

The risk dial needle advanced from 2.0 for last week — a number straddling the moderate (yellow) and elevated (orange) risk zones — to 2.1 for this week, near the low end of the orange zone.

The risk dial features low risk (green), moderate (yellow), elevated (orange) and severe (red) zones, with the weekly reading based on a number of conditions on the ground in the health district in the week previous. New readings are announced weekly, generally on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

The risk reading had stood at 2.0 for two consecutive weeks. The reading has been in the orange zone only once before, in mid-August, when it reached 2.2 before dropping back into moderate territory, and has hovered for several weeks running in the high moderate to low elevated range.

In Wednesday’s news release, Michele Bever, South Heartland health department executive director, cited the increased number of new cases reported in the district last week, as well as the 14-day average of new cases being reported daily — a value expressed as a number per 100,000 population, which obviously is a mathematical derivation in a rural area like the South Heartland district.

South Heartland encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. The health department has offices in Hastings.

“The risk dial is one tool we use to communicate the risk of coronavirus spread in our district,” Bever said. “We encourage families, schools, worksites, event organizers and whole communities to continue to take actions to reduce the risk of spread of this coronavirus. We encourage residents to review the Risk Dial guidance for the ‘moderate’ and ‘elevated’ levels of risk and work to incorporate as much as you can into the things that you do and the places you go.”

The health department reported the 14-day average of new daily cases per 100,000 population was 10.3, up from 8.6 the week before.

“We are very concerned about the continuing upward trend in weekly case numbers in the past six weeks,” Bever said. “There were 53 positive results reported to us last week — which is a 61% increase over the previous week — and second only to the week ending May 2, when 85 positive tests were reported to the health department.”

The district’s positivity rate — that is, the number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed in a week as a percentage of the total number of test results received — increased last week to 10.1% from 9.2% the week before that.

Health care system capacity is another factor accounted for in the weekly risk dial readings. Bever said South Heartland area hospitals had 45% of their intensive care unit beds available for new patients as of Monday. Districtwide, six patients were hospitalized due to the viral infection, with one in critical care, and no ventilators were in use.

The health district’s pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade schools are seeing increased attendance impacts from the virus this week, Bever said.

As of Tuesday, a total of 98 students and staff members were absent throughout the district because of COVID-19. That total includes 77 students and 12 staff members in quarantine due to exposure and four students and five staff members in isolation after testing positive themselves.

Last week, the absentee number was just 41 — which was a steep drop from the week before that, when 109 were out because of COVID-19 exposure or diagnoses.

Bever used her news release Wednesday to warn district residents to take symptoms associated with COVID-19 seriously.

“When people experience any symptoms of COVID, they should stay home from work, school and other activities and get tested,” she said.

Symptoms include fever and/or new onset of cough, shortness of breath, and new loss of taste or smell. Other symptoms can include muscle aches, headache, chills, sore throat, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea, congestion and/or runny nose.

One bit of favorable news this week involves a reduction in the amount of time individuals who had been tested were waiting for their results.

“We were glad to see the testing turnaround time improve last week,” Bever said. “Seventy percent of the results were back within two days, which helps get people back to work and school, and improves the effectiveness of the contact tracing process.”

For more information on the South Heartland risk dial, associated guidance and COVID-19 statistics, visit www.southheartlandhealth.org.

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