An average of five new cases per day of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, were recorded in the South Heartland Health District Friday through Monday.
The 20 new cases included 12 in Adams County, three in Clay County, five in Nuckolls County and zero in Webster County, the district health department said in a news release.
The department serves the four-county area from headquarters in Hastings.
Last week, the district’s test positivity rate dropped to 5.5% from 6.3% the week before that. Positivity rates of less than 5% correlate to low community spread of the virus.
Michele Bever, health department executive director, said the dropping rate is due in part to low spread in long-term care facilities, where the entire population is tested regularly and where residents and many employees already have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Please note, when we subtract out the results from required testing in long-term care facilities and we look only at the test results from the general population, the positivity is higher, at 13.2% for the health district,” Bever said. “We are very glad to see the positivity rate from testing in long-term care facilities at 0.2%, which is very low. The large number of negative tests from long-term care facility staff and residents pulls the overall positivity down, which is why we continue to post both of these metrics on our dashboard. The public can see both metrics for the district and for each county.”
Bever is urging South Heartland residents to continue with health and safety precautions that are helping suppress the numbers of new COVID-19 cases while many individuals continue to await their turn for vaccination.
This is all the more important now that variants of the novel coronavirus are spreading in the United States.
“The decreasing positivity is an important indicator that the steps we are taking to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are working in our communities,” Bever said. “We can’t let up now — we are coming closer to low community spread, and we need to get there and maintain this trend. We will need to continue to use all of the tools we have to stop the spread of this coronavirus until the risk is low. We are monitoring the spread of the new variants of the virus that were detected first in other countries and are now in the U.S. The B.1.1.7. variant has spread to 40 states, up from 33 last week. Another variant has been detected in eight states, up from four last week.”
Bever said she is concerned about the variants because there is evidence that they are able to spread more quickly in people and they may not be as susceptible to the available treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies.
“If these variants spread to Nebraska, they could increase the number of infections we see,” she said. “The variants could decrease our ability to combat the infections with treatments developed specifically to fight illness caused by the current version of SARS-CoV-2. In addition, the vaccines we have now might not be as effective against the new variants. We need to keep virus spread very low so there is less chance the variants can spread to, or take hold in, our communities.”
The health department continues to work with partnering health care providers to work through Phase 1B under the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan. Phase 1B includes the general population of senior citizens age 65 and up, plus other adults at high risk due to underlying health conditions, and certain defined categories of essential workers.
Bever encouraged residents age 65 and up to sign up in the state vaccine registration system, called VRAS. The registration tool can be accessed through SHDHD’s website, www.southheartlandhealth.org.
“Just click on the red ribbon at the top of the homepage to get to the vaccine information page, then click on the picture of the vaccine to start the registration process,” she said.
Individuals needing assistance with registration may contact the Nebraska State Vaccine hotline at 833-998-2275. Those age 60 and over may contact the Midland Area Agency on Aging for assistance at 402-463-4565, ext. 499.
“Registered individuals will be notified when it is their turn to schedule an appointment,” she said.