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South Heartland case count grows by seven over long weekend

The South Heartland District Health Department recorded seven new positive cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in its four-county service area Friday through Monday.

The new cases were confirmed through laboratory testing among residents of the South Heartland health district, which encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

Six of the new patients are Adams County residents, and the other one lives in Clay County. They include two females under 20, one woman in her 20s, one man in his 30s, one man and one woman in their 40s, and one man in his 50s.

The six new cases bring to 340 the running tally of positive cases recorded in the health district since March 18. Of those, 274 resided in Adams County, 28 in Clay County, seven in Webster County and one in Nuckolls County.

Of the 340 total, 308, or 91%, had recovered as of Monday. The district’s death toll stands at 11.

The South Heartland district’s “positivity rate” — that is, the number of confirmed positive cases as a percentage of the total numbers of COVID-19 tests administered — for the week of June 28 through July 4 was 3.3%. That was up from 2.7% from the previous week but equal to the rate for the week before that.

Prior to that time period, the rate had dipped to 0.7% for a week after hovering around 2% for two consecutive weeks in late May and into early June.

A total of 21 hospitalizations related to the viral infection have been recorded for the health district since March. No new hospitalizations have been recorded since May 29, however.

In a news release Monday night, Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland health department, said the 33 active COVID-19 cases now in the district have been investigated to identify “close contacts” — a step that is taken so people who may have been exposed to the virus can take appropriate precautions.

Altogether, more than 200 close contacts were identified in connection with the 33 patients, and all those individuals now are in quarantine and monitoring for symptoms, Bever said.

“The health department’s case investigations are finding that close contacts are often associated with exposures at gatherings where people are not consistently practicing social distancing or wearing masks,” Bever said. “So, the virus is continuing to spread in our communities by these associations.”

She warned that the threat of additional spread of the virus is growing as larger gatherings are allowed to occur within the health district as part of the phased “reopening” now taking place all across Nebraska.

“As the restrictions on gatherings have been lifted and larger gatherings allowed by the state-directed health measures, the potential for large numbers of close contacts increases,” Bever said. “This is a growing issue if people are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing at these larger gatherings. The actions people are (or are not) taking now will impact whether restrictions will need to continue to be in place later. Let’s learn from other states and keep the curve flat here in South Heartland’s counties.”

Across Nebraska, the running tally of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases broke the 20,000 mark on Monday, with 117 new cases reported.

According to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the statewide running tally stood at 20,046 as of Monday evening, with 283 deaths. The number of new cases recorded Friday through Monday totaled 594.

NDHHS statistics as of Monday showed 42% of the state’s total number of hospital beds, 49% of its intensive care beds and 81% of its ventilators were available should patients need them.

South Heartland district case counts and trends can be found on SHDHD’s dashboard of local COVID-19 case statistics. This dashboard, along with updates, guidance, news releases and other COVID-19 information and links can be found on the health department’s website:

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services provides daily updates to Nebraska’s coronavirus COVID-19 cases on its Data Dashboard at

Library reopens to public, but programming remains online

When the Hastings Public Library opened to the public on Monday for the first time in more three months, it was rekindling a community.

“The library is so much a social part of people’s lives that for some people, we might be the only interaction they have during the day,” Library Director Amy Hafer said.

She said those interactions are similar to those at the grocery store or a card club.

“This is a place to get community interaction and have a conversation about what you are reading or about what you are doing in your life,” she said. “We talk with people about what’s going on in their families and what’s going on in the community.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Twelve-year-old Natalee Skalka reads Monday afternoon at Hastings Public Library.

So much has been learned from the COVID-19 pandemic about the importance of social interaction, she said.

“If the library’s where you get your social interaction it’s something people have really missed,” Hafer said.

Count Leonard Haba of Hastings among regular library patrons who are glad to be back.

He takes advantage of the library’s resources, reading five newspapers each day: Lincoln Journal-Star, Omaha World-Herald, Hastings Tribune, USA Today and Wall Street Journal.

“That’s my love, is reading the newspaper, getting different perspectives of the world over, regional and local, just anything and everything,” he said. “It’s a great time when the library can open again.”

For Haba, with the library reopening a hole in his schedule — and his life — was filled. He didn’t fill that hole otherwise during the pandemic.

“I didn’t really,” he said. “There wasn’t much to do really.”

With most of his other haunts closed as well, Haba basically just stayed home.

“It was kind of a boring time,” he said.

Working in the second-floor children’s area Monday afternoon, librarian Kristy Hruska said it has been exciting seeing people in the building again, getting to work with families.

“We’ve had families come in to check out materials,” she said. “We’ve also been helping people with the summer reading program. We had a family come in and the whole family picked up all their prizes. It is just fun and exciting to be open and get to work with the public again.”

Staff wore masks and made masks available to visitors.

Plexiglas surrounded stations where staff members interact with the public. Plexiglas came from the Hastings Museum. Letters on the Plexiglas were made by the library’s Cricut machine.

Many of the more comfortable pieces of furniture have been removed from public spaces in the library. The furniture that is left is easier to clean.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Morgan Karel talks about changes made at Hastings Public Library allowing the building’s reopening on Monday. One major change included temporarily removing upholstered furniture.

Library staff will follow the guidance of city officials as to when it might be safe to bring the furniture that was removed back into circulation.

Gone also are the bathtub and Legos from the second floor.

The library’s Makerspace currently is available through appointment only.

To promote social distancing, only two computers are turned on, and two chairs are present, at each of the circular tables.

In addition to the overnight cleaning that has always taken place, library staff members also are cleaning common touch areas periodically throughout the day.

Library programming such as story times, which have been online since the library closed to the public in March, will remain online for July and August.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Stickers mark the floor on the second story of Hastings Public Library helping visitors to socially distance as the building reopened Monday.

Hafer said the library will watch local school districts to see how they handle reopening.

“Thankfully our programs are really popular, so we want to make sure we pace ourselves and not overwhelm ourselves with big numbers and big groups,” she said. “We’re going to have to take that day by day and evaluate. Right now our programs are very popular online and we’re glad we were able to bring things to people that way.”

Patrons can continue to reserve materials online and through the outdoor locker system.

Library assistant Dana Still was stationed at the building’s entrance early Monday afternoon providing hand sanitizer and masks to library patrons who need it.

She also was tracking how many patrons were in the building at one time.

As part of its plan to reopen, the library is capping attendance at 100 people.

Still said, for the first few hours at least, the library averaged 15 people.

“It’s day one; some people are still a little leery,” Still said.

For now, no one under the age of 14 is allowed unaccompanied in the library.

Still said some of the families who visited the library cheered when they entered.

“It’s wonderful to see them again,” she said.

From 9-10 a.m. the library was open only to individuals with special needs and older adults.

“They were some of our special patrons and those that we knew by name,” Hafer said. “It was just really exciting to have them back in the library. Some of them have been counting the days. It was really heartwarming for them to be able to come in and just browse the shelves and be able to pick out what they wanted.”

Kenesaw woman goes to hospital after Harlan watercraft mishap

REPUBLICAN CITY — A collision of two personal watercraft on the Harlan County Reservoir near here on Saturday sent a Kenesaw woman to the hospital with injuries, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reported.

The 60-year-old woman was taken to the Phelps County Memorial Health Center in Holdrege with unspecified injuries. Her name wasn’t released.

According to a news release Monday from the Game and Parks Commission, the woman and a 33-year-old male relative from Kearney each were operating personal watercraft about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, the Fourth of July.

As they accelerated to leave Patterson Harbor on the lake’s south shore, the male operator’s watercraft struck the woman’s watercraft from behind, and she was thrown into the water.

The male operator was uninjured. He was cited for No Boater Safety Education, the commission said.

Boater education is required of all boat operators, including those of personal watercraft, born after Dec. 31, 1985.

Commission conservation officers are investigating the crash. Alcohol isn’t suspected to be a contributing factor.

As part of the news release reporting Saturday’s crash, Game and Parks included the following safety reminders for boaters:

  • Be aware of the presence of other boats, swimmers, skiers and tubers, as they could be coming from any direction.
  • Maintain a safe distance between your vessel and other vessels and operate only at safe speeds for the conditions.
  • All vessels must operate at a maximum of 5 mph with no wake within 30 yards of any other vessel, harbor, landing pier, marina, fishing pier, anchorage or bathing beach.
  • Make sure that your vessel has all of the required safety equipment. Personal flotation devices are required for every passenger and must be worn at all times by personal watercraft operators and any youth under the age of 13. Have the proper equipment necessary to towing skiers and tubers.
  • Know the rules on the water body you are boating.
  • Avoid alcohol when boating.
  • Keep an eye on the weather.

For more information on boating in Nebraska, visit