The recent deaths of three Adams County residents have become the latest to be confirmed as related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in the South Heartland Health District.
The three victims were a woman in her 60s, a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s, the district health department announced in a news release Wednesday evening.
The man had been hospitalized, and both women had underlying health conditions, said Michele Bever, the South Heartland executive director.
Their recent deaths bring to 33 the number of confirmed COVID-19 fatalities in the health district, which encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.
The laboratory confirmation of all three victims’ infection with the virus had been reflected in South Heartland statistics previously. The health department doesn’t report fatalities as being related to COVID-19 until it has received official death certificates from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services listing the cause of the individuals’ demise.
In addition to the three Adams County residents, a Franklin County man in his 50s died recently from COVID-19, the Two Rivers Public Health Department reported Tuesday.
The Franklin County death was among five reported by Two Rivers on Tuesday, with two of the others in Buffalo County and the other two in Dawson County.
“Words cannot even begin to express our sorrow,” said Susan Puckett, community health nurse for the Two Rivers health department, in that district’s news release.
The South Heartland health department on Wednesday updated its “risk dial” assessing the dangers posed by further spread of the novel coronavirus within its jurisdiction.
The risk dial needle, which is updated weekly on Wednesdays, remains in the red zone but dropped from 3.3 a week ago to 3.0, which is on the line between the orange (elevated) and red (severe) zones.
The dial has a green zone signifying low risk (values of zero to 1), a yellow zone to represent moderate risk (1-2), and the orange (2-3) and red (3-4) zones.
Risk dial readings take into account several criteria related to numbers of new cases, test positivity rates, and public health and health care system capacities.
Overall numbers of hospitalized patients, intensive care patients and ventilators in use are key measures of health are system capacity.
“While the number of COVID hospitalized patients remains high in our district, the percentage decreased from the previous week and ICU bed availability in the district improved over the course of last week,” Bever said in Wednesday’s news release.
As of Wednesday, the district’s hospitals were caring for a combined total of 21 patients with COVID-19. Overall, 58% of inpatients were positive for COVID-19, and 18% of the staffed intensive care unit beds were available.
The districtwide high mark for virus-related hospitalizations so far came on Nov. 27, when 29 patients were being treated. On Nov. 17, zero intensive care beds were available for new patients.
In the past two weeks, nine long-term care facilities in the South Heartland district have had staff and/or residents who have tested positive for the virus. Facilities experiencing outbreaks work directly with a team from the Nebraska Infection Control Assessment and Promotion Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to manage the situation.
As of Wednesday, 13 school systems in the four-county area were experiencing a combined total of more than 175 student and/or staff absences related to the virus. That number included 22 students and six adults who were isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 themselves.
Bever said due to high demand for COVID-19 testing in the district, TestNebraska options are expanding in South Heartland’s counties.
Hastings Convenient Care has lengthened testing hours on Saturdays and has added Sunday hours and some weekday afternoon hours. Testing now is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 8:45-10:45 a.m.
Mary Lanning Healthcare continues to provide TestNebraska testing from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior offers testing Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9-10 a.m.
Webster County Community Hospital in Red Cloud is launching a TestNebraska site beginning the middle of December.
For current testing site schedules, or to be assessed for testing eligibility, visit the TestNebraska website, testnebraska.com.
TestNebraska is a partnership involving state government, vendors from the private sector and local health care organizations around the state. Testing is free through TestNebraska.