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South Heartland District Health Department

Three more Adams County residents have died of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the South Heartland District Health Department reported Monday evening.

The victims were a man in his 80s, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 70s.

All three had been counted as positive COVID-19 cases in previous statistical updates by the health department. Deaths aren’t announced as being attributed to the disease until the cause is confirmed on the official death certificates from the state of Nebraska.

“We are saddened to report the loss of three more Adams County residents to COVID-19. We extend our sincere condolences to their families and friends,” said Michele Bever, health department executive director, in a news release.

To date, 58 deaths to COVID-19 have been recorded among residents of the health district, which encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

Meanwhile, the United States on Monday surpassed 500,000 deaths from the viral infection, which causes mild symptoms or no symptoms at all in many individuals but can lead to serious illness in others — especially the elderly and people with underlying health problems.

Bever also reported 17 new laboratory-confirmed cases of the viral infection for Friday through Monday in the health district, for an average of 4.25 new cases per day.

The new confirmed cases for the four-day period include 10 in Adams County, one in Clay County, two in Nuckolls County and four in Webster County.

The cumulative total of cases recorded among residents of the health district now stands at 4,439. By county, cumulative totals are 2,888 cases in Adams, 720 in Clay, 490 in Nuckolls, and 341 in Webster.

For the week of Feb. 14-20, the district’s COVID-19 positivity rate dropped to 3.9% from 5.5% for the previous week.

“I’d like to point out that when we look at positivity of testing by the general public, that means minus the long-term care facility testing, the weekly positivity was 11.2%, down from 13.2% the week before,” Bever stated in Monday’s news release. “This is good news! Our positivity hasn’t been this low since the end of July. However, the testing is way down, too, with only 664 tests last week compared to over 1,000 weekly tests four weeks ago. Testing is still very important to reduce the spread of the virus. We need to aim for low positivity, with high levels of testing.”

Bever repeated the favorable trends in new-case tallies and test positivity rates don’t mean prevention actions should be abandoned.

“We need to continue to use all of the tools we have to stop the spread of this coronavirus until the risk is low and sustained at those levels,” she said. “We are very concerned about the new variants of the virus that were detected first in other countries and now in the U.S. These new and highly transmissible (easily spread) variant strains of the virus could lead to additional local surges of COVID cases in the coming months, as is happening in some other states. These variant strains may not be as susceptible to the available treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies, and the vaccines we have now might not be as effective against the new variants.”

For many months, public health officials have been urging Nebraskans to avoid crowds, close contact with people they don’t live with, and confined spaces with poor ventilation. Other key precautionary measures include use of face coverings, physical distancing and frequent hand washing.

On Monday night, the Hastings City Council failed to extend the municipal mask mandate for indoor public spaces. As a result, the mandate will end at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

In vaccination news, after severe winter weather impeded progress in the South Heartland district and across Nebraska last week, this week is starting out with better prospects, Bever said.

Last week’s vaccine shipments finally arrived Monday, she said.

“The whole state was set back on vaccinations due to the winter weather event that disrupted shipments all over the country,” Bever said. “We got the vaccine out to our vaccination partners today, and appointments are being rescheduled throughout the district. In addition, we are expecting this week’s allotment of vaccine to arrive later in the week.”

South Heartland remains in Phase 1B under the state’s vaccination plan, focusing primarily on inoculating the general population of senior citizens, plus certain categories of essential workers.

“We are continuing to vaccinate individuals age 65+, with a reverse age approach,” Bever said. “Please register to get your vaccine using the state vaccine registration system, which may be accessed through SHDHD’s website homepage (www.southheartlandhealth.org). While you wait for your turn to get the vaccine, please continue wearing your mask and practicing the 3Cs: avoid crowded spaces, avoid close contact and avoid confined spaces.”

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