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Covid-19
Mayor announces he had COVID-19, no longer contagious
  • Updated

In an email sent Wednesday afternoon to city staff, as well as local media, Mayor Corey Stutte confirmed he contracted COVID-19, but stated he is no longer contagious.

He wrote that he has been out of quarantine since Sept. 29.

“My family had COVID-19,” he wrote. “It started with what I thought was my usual fall ragweed voice change, headaches and minor fatigue, which I just thought was stress related. Then a fog set in. Two and a half weeks ago the really bad symptoms started and we went into quarantine. We weren’t sure if it was the flu or COVID, but discovered it was COVID.”

lbeahm / LAURA BEAHM/Tribune/  

Mayor Corey Stutte speaks March 19 at the City Building during a news conference addressing the first case of COVID-19 in Adams County.

Stutte experienced that fog while presiding over the Sept. 14 Hastings City Council meeting, making concentration difficult.

He wrote in a follow-up email to the Tribune that his wife, Laura, experienced the same symptoms.

He was in quarantine during the council’s Sept. 28 meeting, which Council President Paul Hamelink led.

“Luckily, our fevers broke and we were able to come out of quarantine after consulting with the health department — again, we are not contagious,” Stutte wrote. “We’ve been told that we will experience shortness of breath, fatigue and fogginess for a while and I’m here to reiterate that this virus should not be taken lightly.”

He wrote that, to his knowledge, no other city officials have tested positive.

He stated it has been 203 days since the first case of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease, was announced in the Hastings community.

“Over the past 29 weeks, we’ve been through a lot,” he wrote. “We’ve been through a first wave of COVID-19 with changes to operations and we’ve seen somewhat of a return to normal. Unfortunately, it appears we are in a second wave and I want to reiterate that we are in a battle.”

From his firsthand experience, Stutte wrote, he knows the viral infection is nothing to take lightly.

“The reason I want to share this with you is that as we head into this second wave, it is important that everyone carefully monitors their symptoms and continues to practice social distancing, wear masks when in public and wash their hands,” he wrote. “I don’t want you to experience the symptoms that my family suffered through and the lingering issues we continue to deal with.”

Stutte wrote that he is encouraged by the great things people in Hastings are doing to serve the community.

“Thanks for all you do for our community and please stay safe and alert as we continue to fight COVID-19,” he wrote.


Agriculture
AP
Pence, Harris spar over COVID-19 in vice presidential debate
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Trading barbs through plexiglass shields, Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris turned the only vice presidential debate of 2020 into a dissection of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with Harris labeling it “the greatest failure of any presidential administration.”

Pence, who leads the president’s coronavirus task force, acknowledged that “our nation’s gone through a very challenging time this year,” yet vigorously defended the administration’s overall response to a pandemic that has killed 210,000 Americans.

The meeting, which was far more civil than last week’s chaotic faceoff between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, unfolded against an outbreak of coronavirus now hitting the highest levels of the U.S. government. Trump spent three days at the hospital before returning to the White House on Monday, and more than a dozen White House and Pentagon officials are also infected, forcing even more into quarantine.

With less than four weeks before Election Day, the debate was one of the final opportunities for Trump and Pence to reset a contest that could be slipping away. They're hoping to move the campaign's focus away from the virus, but the president's infection — and his downplaying of the consequences — are making that challenging.

Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate again on Oct. 15, though the status of that meeting is unclear. The president has said he wants to attend, but Biden says it shouldn't move forward if Trump still has coronavirus.

Republicans desperately want to cast the race as a choice between two candidates fighting to move the country in vastly different directions. Biden and Harris, they say, would pursue a far-left agenda bordering on socialism; the Democrats say Trump's administration will stoke racial and other divides, torpedo health care for people who aren't wealthy and otherwise undercut national strength.

Harris, 55, made history by becoming the first Black woman to stand on a vice presidential debate stage. She condemned the police killings of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota and spoke about the protests against racial injustice in policing that followed, which Trump has portrayed as “riots” as he calls for law-and-order.

“We are never going to condone violence but we must always fight for the values that we hold dear,” Harris said. “I’m a former career prosecutor. I know what I’m talking about. Bad cops are bad for good cops.”

Pence, 61, said his heart breaks for Taylor’s family but he trusts the U.S. justice system. He called it “remarkable” that Harris, as a former attorney general and prosecutor, would question the grand jury’s decision in the case not to charge an officer with killing her.

He also pushed back against the existence of systemic racism in police departments and rejected the idea that law enforcement officers have a bias against minorities.

“I want everyone to know who puts on the uniform of law enforcement every day, President Trump and I stand with you,” Pence said. “We don’t have to choose between supporting law enforcement, proving public safety and supporting our African American neighbors.”

The candidates also clashed on taxes -- or specifically, Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns four years after repeatedly promising to do so. The New York Times reported last month that the president pays very little personal income tax but owes hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

“It’d be really good to know who the president owes money to,” Harris said.

“The one thing we know about Joe, he puts it all out there. He is honest, he is forthright,” she added. “Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been about covering up everything.”

Pence defended Trump as a job creator who has paid more than his fair share of taxes and shifted toward Biden: “On Day One, Joe Biden’s going to raise your taxes.”

Both candidates sidestepped difficult questions at times.

Pence refused to say whether climate change was an existential threat or whether Trump would accept the election results should he lose, while Harris declined to say whether Biden would push to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court.

But so long as the coronavirus is ravaging the White House and killing several hundred Americans each day, the campaign will almost certainly be a referendum on the Trump administration’s inability to control the pandemic, which Republicans have sought to downplay or ignore altogether for several months.

Pence’s effort to focus on other topics was undercut by the mere fact that the candidates and moderator were separated by plexiglass shields, seated more than 12 feet apart and facing a crowd of masked audience members who faced expulsion if they removed their face coverings. The candidates on stage revealed test results earlier in the day proving they were not infected.

While the audience was forced to wear face masks throughout, second lady Karen Pence removed her mask as she joined her husband on stage at the end of the debate.

Though the night was about Pence and Harris, the men at the top of the ticket also made their presence known.

Trump released a video just three hours before the debate calling his diagnosis “a blessing in disguise” because it shed light on an experimental antibody combination that he credited for his improved condition — though neither he nor his doctors have a way of knowing whether the drug had that effect.

He tweeted several times during the debate, offering this assessment at one point: “Mike Pence is doing GREAT! She is a gaffe machine.”

Biden too kept a stream of tweets going; he posted his plans for confronting the virus, shared clips from the debate exchanges and praised Harris, who he said “is showing the American people why I chose her as my running mate.”

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Peoples reported from New York. Colvin reported from Washington.


Covid-19
Two more Adams County residents dead from COVID-19
  • Updated

Two more residents of the four-county South Heartland Health District have lost their battle with the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

In a news release Wednesday night, the district health department reported the deaths of a man in his 70s and a man in his 60s. Both men lived in Adams County.

The man in his 70s had underlying medical conditions and no known exposure to a positive case of the viral infection.

The man in his 60s had underlying medical conditions and was hospitalized.

To date, 14 South Heartland residents — all from Adams County — have succumbed to the novel coronavirus disease.

South Heartland encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

“We extend our sincere condolences to the families of both individuals for the loss of their family members to COVID-19,” said Michele Bever, health department executive director, in Wednesday’s news release.

Both of the men had been reported previously as positive cases in South Heartland statistics. The health department doesn’t report COVID-19 deaths as such until it has confirmed the cause of death as listed on an individual’s death certificate.

Based on current conditions and statistics from last week in the health district, the needle on the South Heartland risk dial, which assesses the likelihood of further virus spread in the health district, has increased for this week from 2.3 to 2.4.

This week’s reading remains in the middle of the “elevated” zone on the dial, which is color-coded orange.

The risk dial also includes zones for low risk (green), moderate risk (yellow) and severe risk (red).

As of Monday, an average of 46% of the intensive care beds in South Heartland district hospitals were available for new patients. As of Wednesday morning, seven district residents were hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19; three were requiring critical care, and one was on a ventilator.

Schools across the health district serving students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade reported a combined total of 101 student and staff absences related to COVID-19 on Tuesday. Of that number, 81 students and nine staff members were in quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19, while five students and six staff members were in isolation after testing positive for the presence of the virus in their bodies.

Last week, Sept. 27 through Oct. 3, brought another influx of new cases to the four-county district.

“Of note, we had a 50% net increase in positive cases last week compared to the week before, the eighth week in a row with more cases than the previous week,” Bever said.

She warned district residents that the virus remains on the move throughout the area and precautions must be taken.

“COVID-19 can be a severe disease, and I urge residents to take it seriously,” Bever said. “Please take steps to protect others and yourselves, everywhere you go, in everything you do. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is circulating in our district at increasingly higher levels.

“The virus takes advantage of our social interactions — this is how it spreads. In fact, while some people have moderate symptoms and feel ill for a couple of weeks, and others have severe symptoms and require hospitalization, many people can have very mild, allergy-like symptoms, or no symptoms at all (asymptomatic), and are able to spread the virus to others unknowingly and unintentionally.

“The virus will have the upper hand if we let it and, unfortunately, we are trending in that direction.”

For more information and local COVID-19 statistics, visit www.southheartlandhealth.org.


Webster County attorney resigns
  • Updated

RED CLOUD — Webster County is looking for a new county attorney following the resignation of Sara Bockstadter.

Webster County Clerk Liz Petsch said the county’s Board of Commissioners accepted Bockstadter’s resignation on Tuesday during the group’s meeting.

Petsch said the commissioners regretted the decision, but accepted it. Bockstadter didn’t provide a reason for the departure.

Webster County District Judge Stephen Illingworth appointed Franklin County Attorney Henry Schenker to act as interim county attorney until the board can find a replacement.

Schenker also has a private law practice with offices in Franklin, Hildreth, Alma and Oxford.

Petsch said the board will publish advertising for the position for two weeks and accept applications through Nov. 1. She said the board might be able to approve a new attorney for the position at its Nov. 3 meeting.

Bockstadter was hired as Webster County Attorney in July 2012 to replace Jerry McDole, who retired. She was elected to the position in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018.

She also served as Nuckolls County Attorney from 2015-18.

Bockstadter maintains a private law practice in Hastings.