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South Heartland District Health Department

While 15 more residents of the South Heartland Health District were confirmed as positive cases of the novel coronavirus disease Friday through Monday, all the news reported out by the district health department on Monday night was not negative.

For the week that ended Saturday, the district’s so-called “positivity rate” — that is, the number of new confirmed positive cases of the viral infection known as COVID-19 — dropped to 5.1% from 7.5% for the previous week.

It must be noted, however, that the 7.5% rate for July 12-18 was up significantly from 3.9% the week before that. The district’s positivity rate hit its all-time low point the week of June 7-13, when it was just 0.7%.

Health district officials have been expressing concern recently about the rising positivity rate and the number of new COVID-19 cases being confirmed districtwide. The South Heartland district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

The district also recently unveiled a new “risk dial” assessing the danger of COVID-19 spread in the district based on several factors. The district’s risk reading rose from 1.7 as of July 11 to 1.9 as of July 18, moving to the high end of the “moderate” risk range on the dial. A new risk reading for the week that ended Saturday hadn’t been posted as of Monday evening.

The risk dial, weekly positivity rates and other statistical information are available on South Heartland’s Data Dashboard, which is posted to the district website, southheartlandhealth.org.

As restrictions on gatherings, restaurant and bar operations, and other social and economic activities have loosened in recent weeks, many Triblanders have been circulating more than they had in several months, attending church services, weddings and funerals, sports events, graduations and other events. Many don’t follow the health department’s recommendation to maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet from others in public and wear a face covering in public, especially in settings where physical distancing is difficult.

The new cases of COVID-19 confirmed Friday through Monday include 10 in Adams County and five in Clay County, with ages ranging from under 20 (three) to the 70s (one).

In a news release Monday night, Michele Bever, the South Heartland health department executive director, announced last week’s lower positivity rate and explained that her agency is beginning to track positivity rates by county to provide a clearer picture of public health conditions around the district.

“Adams County had a steady decline in positivity over the past three weeks, from 5.8% three weeks ago to 3.2% last week,” Bever wrote. “Nuckolls County went from 0% to 10.8% and back down to 3.1%. Webster County’s positivity was 6.3% last week, up from 4.4% two weeks ago and 0% three weeks ago. Clay County saw a large jump in positivity over the past three weeks, from 3.4% to 12.5%, then up to 16.9% last week.

“We want the positivity rate to be in the low single digits. This would tell us there is low spread of the virus in our communities.”

Clay County has seen a surge in new cases of the infection since mid-July, related in part to cluster outbreaks involving gatherings.

Bever also used Monday’s news release to explain the role isolation and quarantine can play in helping thwart the spread of the novel coronavirus after a person has been confirmed positive for the infection or has learned he or she might have been exposed.

“People who have COVID-19 symptoms and people who test positive for COVID-19 are instructed to isolate,” she said. “Isolation keeps an infected person away from healthy people in order to stop the spread of the virus.

“Isolation means staying at home and away from other people except to get medical care. Stay in a separate part of your home, in a specific ‘sick room,’ and use a separate bathroom, if available. Avoid sharing personal household items or utensils with anyone else, clean your hands often, and make sure all high-touch surfaces are disinfected every day.

“Quarantine is for people who are not sick, but who might get sick because they have been around someone who has coronavirus. If I am exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, I need to quarantine so that others are not infected during the period before I develop my own symptoms, which can take up to 14 days. This virus can be passed to others up to two days before we experience our own symptoms and it can also spread to others when we only have mild symptoms.”

“Quarantine” means staying at home for 14 days from the date of potential exposure and monitoring for development of any symptoms. If symptoms develop while someone is in quarantine, he or she should immediately isolate from others and call his or her health care provider and the health department, Bever said.

Of the 404 total cases of COVID-19 confirmed among South Heartland residents since March 18, 363 had been classified as resolved through recovery as of Monday evening.

A running total of 22 district residents have spent time in the hospital in connection with a COVID-19 diagnosis. That number ticked up by one on July 17, changing for the first time since May 29.

Eleven district residents have died in connection with a COVID-19 diagnosis. All 11 were Adams County residents.

Across Nebraska, a total of 281 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Monday, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported. For Saturday through Monday, a total of 860 new cases were confirmed statewide.

That three-day total was down from the total for the previous three days, Wednesday through Friday, when a total of 984 new cases were confirmed.

Statewide, 39% of all hospital beds, 40% of intensive care beds and 81% of ventilators were available for new patients who might need them.

In the Two Rivers Public Health District, which includes seven counties to the west of the Hastings area, a total of 28 new COVID-19 cases were reported Friday, Saturday and Sunday. All those cases were among residents of Buffalo and Dawson counties. That district’s risk dial reading stands right on the line between “moderate” and “elevated.”

On Saturday, the Two Rivers health department reported the death of a 10th district resident in connection with COVID-19. The victim was a Dawson County man in his 80s.

In the Central Health District, which includes Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties, a total of 23 new cases of the viral infection — 18 of them in Hall County — had been confirmed since Friday as of Monday afternoon. That district’s risk dial reading now stands at 1.9, at the high end of “moderate.”

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