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South Heartland loses four more residents to COVID-19
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Four more residents of the South Heartland Health District have lost their battles with the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the district health department reported Monday.

All four victims were in their 90s: two women from Clay County, and one man and one woman from Adams County.

“We are saddened to report additional deaths of South Heartland residents and extend our condolences to the families,” said Michele Bever, health department executive director.

All four victims’ diagnoses with COVID-19 had been reflected in South Heartland case statistics previously, Bever said. The health department doesn’t report deaths as being related to the disease until the cause is confirmed on the official death certificate.

The fatalities bring to 46 the total number of district residents to date whose deaths have been related to the viral infection, which causes no symptoms in some patients but can lead to serious illness in others — particularly senior citizens and individuals with underlying health problems.

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

The health department on Monday also announced a total of 63 new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 being recorded among district residents for Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The new cases included 40 in Adams County, 15 in Clay, and four each in Nuckolls and Webster counties.

The new cases bring to 3,553 the total number of district residents diagnosed with the viral infection since March 18. They include 2,321 in Adams County, 564 in Clay, 374 in Nuckolls and 294 in Webster.

Of those 3,553 cases, a total of 3,047 had been classified as recovered by Saturday.

The South Heartland district’s test positivity rate for Dec. 13-19 dropped to 9.3% from 14.8% for the previous week. That was the first time the weekly positivity rate had been below 10% since the week ending Oct. 3.

The test positivity rate is the percentage of COVID-19 tests administered in a given week that come back positive. Rates below 5% are considered to indicate low community spread of the virus, whereas rates exceeding 15% indicate widespread community transmission.

In the neighboring Two Rivers Public Health District to the west, a total of nine new cases were diagnosed in Kearney County Friday through Sunday, along with three in Harlan County, the Two Rivers health department reported. No new cases were reported for Franklin County.

In the South Heartland district, more than 250 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine were administered last week, nearly all through Mary Lanning Healthcare, Bever said.

Between the district health department and Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior, the district is expecting to receive 600 doses of the newly released Moderna vaccine this week.

“The first two to three weeks of allotted vaccine are being directed to health care workers, beginning with those who have direct patient care, according to Nebraska’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan,” Bever said. “This Phase 1A vaccination includes hospital and primary care personnel, emergency medical services personnel, and long-term care facility staff and residents.”

Bever said other health care workers also will receive their shots as part of Phase 1A vaccination before the district moves on to Phase 1B, which focuses on critical infrastructure and includes first responders, utility workers, the food/agricultural sector, transportation sector and the education sector, and then on to Phase 1C, which will include individuals age 65 and older and other vulnerable individuals, according to Nebraska’s plan.

“Once the vaccine is more widely available, we will enter Phase 2 and vaccine will be offered to the general public through some health care providers, some pharmacies, and local health departments,” she said. Bever said vaccine information and updates will be provided on the South Heartland COVID-19 vaccine webpage.

Patients need to receive two doses of either the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to be protected effectively. In both cases, the two shots are administered a few weeks apart. Both shots must be of the same vaccine.

In a news release Monday evening, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported that as of Monday morning 8,985 state residents already had received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The first doses of the Pfizer product arrived in Nebraska on Dec. 14.

The first round of vaccines was targeted to hospital and health care workers providing direct patient care, as well as emergency medical technicians, paramedics and workers who will be administering vaccines to priority groups.

Nebraska should take delivery of an additional 11,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, the state agency said. All Pfizer vaccine received in the next four weeks will be reserved for use in long-term care facilities.

Nebraska will launch its Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program Dec. 28.

Superior nonprofit thankful for support of toy drive
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SUPERIOR — Brian Splater is no longer surprised by generosity within the Superior community, because people there step up and donate.

Ambassadors of Kindness, the Superior-based nonprofit organization Splater started with his family, donated new toys this year to children in foster care in the communities of Hastings and Lincoln.

The organization collected 1,242 items this year, turning them into 649 gifts. Multiple smaller items were combined into one gift.

Ambassadors of Kindness delivered 568 gifts on Nov. 23 to the Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Parent Association office in Lincoln, which then distributed them to children in foster homes in Hastings and Lincoln to foster children between the ages of zero and 18.

Ambassadors of Kindness also gave about 25 gifts to Superior-area children on Dec. 18. Another 15 or so gifts will be given to the winners of drawings planned for Tuesday, Wednesday and Christmas Eve.

Remaining presents are wrapped and will be given in 2021.

The number of gifts given this year is an increase from 388 gifts in 2019.

The total value of item donations this year — monetary plus gifts — was $4,459.82. Last year’s total value was $3,207.56.

Moving to Superior six years ago, Splater heard the community is generous, and that businesses and individuals always step up.

“So I’m surprised, but I’m also not surprised living here for several years,” he said of the response this year, in spite of COVID-19.

This is the second year for Ambassadors of Kindness’s toy drive. It started last year when his children Ellie and Jaxon, now 9 and 7, wanted to give away toys in 2019 they don’t use anymore.

Splater brought up the idea on social media.

“It just kind of blew up,” he said.

The Ambassadors of Kindness Facebook page has nearly 11,000 members.

With Ellie and Jaxon being the adoptive children of Splater and his husband, Austin Karnatz, Splater said it was important to do something for foster children.

In 2019, Splater and Karnatz had Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and the Grinch at their Victorian house in Superior. There, 67 local children received gifts.

This year there was curbside delivery to those who signed up in the Superior and Hardy area.

“Local kids, it doesn’t matter how rich you are, how poor you are, what your car looks like,” he said. “If you want a gift you just sign your kids up.”

About 85% of donors are from Superior. There are donors also in Hastings, Clay Center and Belleville, Kansas.

Ambassadors of Kindness also is taking foster children enrollees in the Books4Kids and Colors4Kids clubs.

In Books4Kids, children receive three or four books to read each month.

Currently, books are provided for children ages 5-10.

When the children are finished with books, they return them to Ambassadors of Kindness to be used for other enrollees.

In Colors4Kids, children receive coloring and activity books, which are the child’s to keep.

Every three months children will receive new crayons.

“It’s the simple things that matter,” Splater said. “There’s a lot of strain on foster parents. So even coloring books and activity books that keep their kids busy and continue reading and continue drawing — foster kids, that’s what they love to do is read, color and draw.”

Splater said his family and Ambassadors of Kindness have changed the atmosphere in Superior.

“The Catholic Church is a huge supporter,” he said. “Everywhere you go, somebody’s saying something about what we’re doing and what we’ve done.”

As a gay couple, he and Karnatz have experienced prejudice.

“That was also a reason why we wanted to do something like this — to say we’re just like you,” he said. “We support our community just like you.”

For more information contact Splater at splate24@yahoo.com or at 402-851-1160.

Feared 'dumb' idea an overnight success
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Talk about an overnight success.

Jacque Cranson thought her business idea was so lame that she hesitated to tell anybody about it at first. That way if her idea flopped, no one would know but her.

Turns out, it was a great idea.

In 2010, Cranson graduated from law school but had a hard time finding employment.

She moved in with a friend’s mother while she was looking for work.

It was during this time that she had the idea to begin selling T-shirts and headbands at sporting events.

“I remember telling someone my plan to finally be employable and thinking to myself this sounds kind of dumb. I’m just going to keep this idea to myself for a while as I figure this all out,” Cranson said.

It wasn’t until the first event she went to did well that she realized how quickly she could be successful.

“Oddly enough, it was an overnight success,” Cranson said. “The first tournament we walked into, people were digging out of boxes before we could even get set up.”

Based on that success, she hired more people to cover more tournaments and events all across Nebraska and beyond.

In just three years, she said she was able to pay off her debt for law school. In 2015, she and her husband, Matt, moved to Hastings.

As they got settled into Hastings, they realized that there were needs in town not being fully met, including clothes for kids.

“There wasn’t anywhere to shop for clothes in Hastings, so we kind of started from there,” Cranson said.

From there, her business called Small Town Famous has become a screen-printing business, boutique and whatever else may be hard to find or not found at all in Hastings.

Cranson said she has found multiple wholesale vendors all across Nebraska — whether that be a waffle-maker in Omaha, a candlemaker in Ashland or a sign maker in Wauneta

“Depending on who you’re looking for, you can pretty much find it at our store,” Cranson said.

They’re always trying to provide new and fun items that are made locally — or at least in the state.

“It’s just kind of finding where there’s a need in Hastings and filling it in our store,” Cranson said.

Cranson is a native of Grand Island and Matt grew up in Coloardo. Both like calling Hastings home.

“It’s a small community yet it’s big enough that there’s still things big enough to do,” Jacque said. “It’s just the perfect size to raise a family.”