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South Heartland risk dial reading dips for third straight week

An assessment of the danger of further local spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, has dropped for the third consecutive week in the South Heartland Health District.

On Wednesday evening, the district health department announced this week’s COVID-19 risk dial reading dropped to 2.1 from 2.2 the previous week and now is near the low end of the dial’s orange, or “elevated,” zone.

The dial reading is updated weekly, on Wednesdays, based on various local conditions related to spread of the virus and to testing, tracing and treatment capacities.

The readings for the three weeks prior to this one were 2.2, 2.4 and 2.6, respectively.

The risk dial has four zones: low risk (green), for readings of zero to 1; moderate (yellow), 1-2; elevated (orange), 2-3; and severe (red), 3-4.

In Wednesday’s news release, Michele Bever, South Heartland health department executive director, said daily tallies of new confirmed COVID-19 cases are trending in the right direction for the district, which includes Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

“We have been seeing fewer new daily positive tests — averaging 10 per day this past week,” Bever said. “Our 14-day average of new daily cases decreased to 26 per 100,000 for the week ending Feb. 6.”

As of Wednesday, this average had dropped further, to 24 per 100,000. Bever said the goal is to drop below eight per 100,000, which equates to an average of four new cases per day based on South Heartland’s population.

With fewer new cases turning up, Bever said, contact tracing effectiveness has increased, with staff able to trace 80% of contacts within 24 hours.

Bever said contact tracing and quarantine continue to be important tools for reducing spread of the virus.

As of Wednesday, 82% of the intensive care beds in district hospitals were available for new patients. Nineteen percent of the hospital in-patients — a total of eight — were positive for COVID-19, and none were using ventilators.

Amid the positive news, however, fears are growing concerning variants of the novel coronavirus now spreading around the world — some of which may be less susceptible to the vaccines now or soon to be available.

Bever encouraged vigilance in thwarting the spread of any version of the virus as vaccination efforts continue.

“All of these steps we are taking, all the tools we are using to block the spread of the coronavirus, are working to protect the health care system and to protect our most vulnerable,” she said. “We need to continue doing what’s working. We need to avoid the three Cs: avoid crowded places, avoid close contact, avoid confined spaces. We need to continue to wear masks that cover our noses and mouths, we need to stay home when we are sick, we need to disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, we need to wash our hands, and we need to get the COVID vaccine when it is our turn.

“All of these steps are even more important with the threat of new variants of the virus. These variants were detected first in other countries and have spread to the United States. I am concerned that we may experience increases in the number of infections in our district as a result of variants spreading to south central Nebraska.”

The health department and local health care partners currently are working through Phase 1B of the state of Nebraska’s vaccination plan, which is providing vaccines to the general population of senior citizens age 65 and up, plus younger adults with high-risk underlying health conditions and certain categories of essential workers.

Phase 1B is apt to take months to complete, and the health department is asking for the public’s patience as individuals wait for their injections.

Residents can register to get the vaccine on the South Heartland website (www.southheartlandhealth.org) where there is a link to Nebraska’s vaccine registration system.

Registered individuals will be notified when it is their turn to schedule an appointment.

“If you are in the current priority group of age 65+, it may still be many weeks before it is your turn,” Bever said. “We are getting the vaccine into arms as fast as it comes in — within one week of its arrival.”

Trump trial video shows vast scope, danger of Capitol riot
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — Prosecutors unveiled chilling new security video in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial on Wednesday, showing the mob of rioters breaking into the Capitol, smashing windows and doors and searching menacingly for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as overwhelmed police begged on their radios for help.

In the previously unreleased recordings, the House prosecutors displayed gripping scenes of how close the rioters were to the country’s leaders, roaming the halls chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” some equipped with combat gear. Outside, the mob had set up a makeshift gallows.

Videos of the siege have been circulating since the day of the riot, but the graphic compilation amounted to a more complete narrative, a moment-by-moment retelling of one of the nation’s most alarming days. In addition to the evident chaos and danger, it offered fresh details on the attackers, scenes of police heroism and cries of distress. And it showed just how close the country came to a potential breakdown in its seat of democracy as Congress was certifying Trump’s election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.

“They did it because Donald Trump sent them on this mission,” said House prosecutor Stacey Plaskett, the Democratic delegate representing the U.S. Virgin Islands. “His mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down.”

The stunning presentation opened the first full day of arguments in the trial as the prosecutors argued Trump was no “innocent bystander” but rather the “inciter in chief” of the deadly Capitol riot, a president who spent months spreading election lies and building a mob of supporters primed for his call to stop Biden’s victory.

Though most of the Senate jurors have already made up their minds on acquittal or conviction, they were riveted and sat silently. Screams from the audio and video filled the Senate chamber. Senators shook their heads, folded their arms and furrowed their brows. One Republican, James Lankford of Oklahoma, bent his head, a GOP colleague putting his hand on his arm in comfort.

“On Jan. 6, President Trump left everyone in this Capitol for dead,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a prosecutor.

Pence, who had been presiding over a session to certify Biden’s victory over Trump — thus earning Trump’s criticism — is shown being rushed to safety, sheltered in an office with his family just 100 feet from the rioters. Pelosi was evacuated from the complex before the mob prowls her suite of offices, her staff hiding quietly behind closed doors.

At one dramatic moment, the video shows police shooting into the crowd through a broken window, killing a San Diego woman, Ashli Babbitt. In another, a police officer is seen being crushed by the mob.

Police overwhelmed by the rioters frantically announce “we lost the line” and urge officers to safety. One officer later died.

Some senators acknowledged it was the first time they had grasped how perilously close the country came to serious danger.

“When you see all the pieces come together, just the total awareness of that, the enormity of this threat, not just to us as people, as lawmakers, but the threat to the institution and what Congress represents, it’s disturbing,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. “Greatly disturbing.”

Trump is the first president to face an impeachment trial after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached. He is charged with incitement of insurrection through fiery words his defense lawyers say are protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment and just figures of speech.

The House Democrats showed piles of evidence from the former president himself — hundreds of Trump tweets and comments that culminated in his Jan. 6 rally cry to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat. Trump then did nothing to stem the violence and watched with “glee,” they said, as the mob ransacked the iconic building.

“To us, it may have felt like chaos and madness, but there was method to the madness that day,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead prosecutor, who pointed to Trump as the instigator.

“And when his mob overran and occupied the Senate and attacked the House and assaulted law enforcement, he watched it on TV like a reality show. He reveled in it.”

In one scene, a Capitol Police officer redirects Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, down a hallway to avoid the mob. It was the same officer, Eugene Goodman, who has been praised as a hero for having lured rioters away from the Senate doors.

“It tears at your heart and brings tears to your eyes,” Romney said after watching the video. He said he didn’t realize how close he had been to danger.

The day’s proceedings unfolded after Tuesday’s emotional start that left the former president fuming when his attorneys delivered a meandering defense and failed to halt the trial on constitutional grounds. Some allies called for yet another shakeup to his legal team.

The prosecutors are arguing that Trump’s words were part of “the big lie” — his relentless efforts to sow doubts about the election results, revving up his followers to “stop the steal” even though there was no evidence of substantial fraud.

Trump knew very well what would happen when he took to the microphone at the outdoor White House rally that day as Congress gathered to certify Biden’s win, said Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo, another impeachment manager.

“This was not just a speech,” he said.

Security remained extremely tight Wednesday at the Capitol, fenced off and patrolled by National Guard troops.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said Biden would not be watching the trial.

The difficulty facing Trump’s defenders became apparent at the start as they leaned on the process of the trial rather than the substance of the case against him. They said the Constitution doesn’t allow impeachment at this late date, after he has left the White House.

Even though the Senate rejected that argument in Tuesday’s vote to proceed, the legal issue could resonate with Republicans eager to acquit Trump without being seen as condoning his behavior.

Defense lawyer Bruce Castor encouraged senators on Tuesday to be “cool headed” as they assessed the arguments.

A frustrated Trump revived his demands for his lawyers to focus on his unsupported claims of voter fraud, repeatedly calling former White House aide Peter Navarro, who told the AP in an interview that he agreed. He is calling on Trump to fire his legal team.

“If he doesn’t make a mid-course correction here, he’s going to lose this Super Bowl,” Navarro said, a reference to public opinion, not the unlikely possibility of conviction.

While six Republicans joined with Democrats to vote to proceed with the trial, the 56-44 vote was far from the two-thirds threshold of 67 votes that would be needed for conviction.

Minds did not seem to be changing, even after seeing the graphic video.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who was among those leading the effort to challenge the Electoral College tally, said, “The president’s rhetoric is at times overheated, but this is not a referendum on whether you agree with everything the president says or tweets.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., another leader of the election challenge, said, “Nothing new here for me at the end of the day.”

As the country numbs to the Trump era’s shattering of civic norms, the prosecutors sought to remind senators and the nation how extraordinary it was to have a sitting U.S. president working to discredit the election.

As far back as spring and summer, Trump was spreading false claims about the election and refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power once it was over, they said.

Trump’s second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency. The second trial could be over in half the time.

Two die in Webster County crash
  • Updated

WEBSTER COUNTY— Two people died in a head-on collision Monday in Webster County on Nebraska Highway 4 between Blue Hill and Red Cloud.

Webster County Attorney Patrick Calkins said the crash occurred about 12:15 p.m. just east of Road 1300 on Highway 4 when a vehicle driven westbound by Teddy Morrow, 74, of Cowles tried to pass a snowplow and collided with an eastbound vehicle, as reported by an eyewitness.

Morrow, the driver and sole occupant of the westbound vehicle, died at the scene.

Kimberly Mohlman, 29, of Red Cloud, was a passenger in the second vehicle. She was transported to a hospital in Lincoln where she died as a result of her injuries.

Mohlman’s husband, Willie, was the driver of the second vehicle. Willie also was taken to a hospital in Lincoln where he was in critical condition on Tuesday morning.

The couple’s 3-year-old daughter was in the vehicle, but had no serious injuries.

The Mohlmans’ two other children were not in the vehicle at the time.

Calkins said agencies involved in helping with the crash included the Webster County Sheriff’s Office, Nebraska State Patrol and Blue Hill Volunteer Fire Department.

Ashley Trausch of Roseland said she was heartbroken over hearing the news.

“When I heard who it was that was in the accident my heart sank,” Trausch said. “My sister-in-law actually drove up on the accident on her way home and said someone is hurt bad, and I’m going to say some prayers on my way home for them. When I heard that their daughter was in there as well, my heart broke. So I made sure when I went home that night, I hugged and kissed my son a little bit longer and made sure he knows I love him, as any parent should.”

Trausch has been friends with the couple for a decade. She’s known Willie for 14 years and Kim for 10 years.

In an effort to help any way she could, Trausch set up a fundraising page on Facebook to collect donations for the family, www.facebook.com/donate/823273038397914. She said there are efforts to start an account for the family at a bank in Red Cloud, as well.

Hometown Market in Red Cloud also is accepting donations for the family.

“Every little bit helps whether it be $10 or $1,000 as some have donated to the fundraiser fund,” Trausch said. “They are a young family whose world just got turned upside down, so anything helps them. It will be used to help bring Willie home and a family back together and a new angel above watching over her family as they start a new life.”

Trausch said she is encouraged by the amount of support shown to the family from the community and beyond. Multiple small rural towns around Red Cloud have stepped up and offered anything they can to help. A mutual friend of Trausch and the Mohlmans posted on Facebook asking people to leave their lights on for them. A trucker from Tennessee messaged Trausch to express support as well.

So far, more than $19,000 has been raised for the family. Trausch’s goal is to reach $25,000.

Trausch also asked people to avoid disturbing the family in this trying time. She is working to keep people updated on the Facebook fundraising site with any information she receives.

“They are great people, and they don’t deserve to have no support in this,” Trausch said. “Being a parent myself, I don’t wish for any family especially as young as they are to have to experience what they have had to in the last 48 hours. And I do feel bad for the other gentleman who has also passed away in the accident.”