An Adams County woman in her 90s has lost her life to the novel coronavirus disease, bringing the death toll for the four-county South Heartland Health District to 47.
The woman’s death was reported Wednesday night in a news release from the district health department, which serves Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties and has offices in Hastings.
“We are saddened to report another death of a South Heartland resident due to COVID-19, and we extend our sincere sympathies to the family,” said Michele Bever, health department executive director.
The victim had tested positive for the viral infection earlier, and that positive case already has been reflected in South Heartland case tallies. The health department doesn’t report deaths as being related to COVID-19 until the cause is confirmed on the official death certificate from the state of Nebraska.
In related news, Bever reported Wednesday that daily positive COVID-19 case tallies were continuing to decrease. The 14-day average number of new cases extrapolates to 41 per 100,000 population — down from a high of 118 per 100,000 on Nov. 20.
Bever said eight new cases per day per 100,000 population would indicate low community spread.
Meanwhile, however, the district’s test positivity rate for the week of Dec. 20-26 increased to 12.7% from 9.3% for the previous week.
“We also saw a decrease in testing last week, by about 200 tests, which is not surprising since it was a holiday week,” she said.
County-by-county positivity rates for last week were 15.6% in Adams, 10.1% in Clay, 8.2% in Nuckolls and 5.3% in Webster.
The test positivity rate is the percentage of COVID-19 tests administered in a given week that come back from the laboratory with a positive result. Rates above 15% indicate widespread community transmission of the virus, whereas rates below 5% indicate low spread.
Wednesday brought the weekly update of the district’s risk dial, which assesses dangers associated with further local spread of the virus. This week’s risk dial reading dropped from 2.6 to 2.5, in the middle of the orange (elevated risk) zone on the dial.
The risk dial has a green zone (low risk, zero to 1), a yellow zone (moderate, 1-2), orange, 2-3; and red (severe), 3-4.
Bever said this week’s slight drop in the risk dial reading was due in part to the drop in daily tallies of new cases, improved ability for timely completion of contact investigations, improved laboratory turnaround time for tests, improved hospital capacity, and the lowest numbers of hospital inpatients being treated for COVID-19 since mid-October.
“Vaccine availability is also a positive factor,” she said. “Our health district has logged 728 vaccinations since the first does of vaccine arrived in the health district on Dec. 15.”
The health department this week has launched a new COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard, which is posted to the department’s website, www.southheartlandhealth.org, and will be used to update the public on vaccination progress within the district.
Other vaccine information and updates, along with links to the Nebraska COVID-19 Vaccination Plan and vaccine priority recommendations, also are available on the district’s COVID-19 vaccine webpage.
“We are in week three since the first COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the health district, but the number of doses allotted here has been limited,” Bever said. “This means that even among groups prioritized to receive vaccine, further prioritization is needed.
“On a positive note, we are expecting about 900 more doses of vaccine to be available next week. Working with our hospitals, we will be able to offer vaccine to more health care providers and are hoping to make good progress in vaccinating more of the Phase 1A priority group.”
A separate program is beginning this week to vaccinate staff and residents of long-term care facilities.
“This is an important priority group to protect, and we are glad that vaccine is now available to them,” Bever said.
As 2020 comes to a close, one Hastings service club has been celebrating its 100th anniversary with acts of kindness.
Hastings Kiwanis was organized on Dec. 14, 1920. The club’s mission has always been to serve the children of Adams County, and this year is no exception.
Recently, Kiwanis gave each local school $100 in Chamber Bucks for use however it desired. Suggested uses included rewards for teachers, prizes for students, purchasing something for the school or helping students and families who need a little extra.
In addition to the schools, $100 in Chamber Bucks was sent to Head Start, CASA, SASA, YWCA of Adams County and Wellspring Pregnancy and Health Center for them to use as needed, and Kiwanis purchased $100 in “wish list” items for The Zone.
Hastings Kiwanis President Ashley Hajny said with the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, preventing group celebrations, the club had to be creative.
“Ultimately when I knew I’d be president during our 100th anniversary celebration, it was prior to COVID and I anticipated a big celebration, a big gathering,” she said. “And that just wasn’t an option. So we had to get creative and go back to our roots about what Kiwanis is about. It’s about helping others, especially youth.”
As part of this project, Kiwanians each will receive a supply of business cards they can leave behind as they complete their own acts of kindness.
“A hundred dollars may not seem like a ton, but when we spread it out like that, I feel like it can make a difference,” Hajny said.
She said those nonprofit organizations “were definitely, pleasantly surprised” by the unexpected gift.
“We thought it was so fun,” said Jo Springer, executive director at the SASA Crisis Center. “I just let the advocates of the office know they were available and to please give them out to people who might need a little extra Christmas cheer.”
She encouraged those Chamber Bucks, given in $10 denominations, to be used for something fun.
“People’s faces lit up when I gave it to them,” she said.
Springer mentioned a woman in the SASA support group working to get her son out of foster care. Using those Chamber Bucks, this woman was able to take her son out for ice cream.
“She has very limited funds, so being able to do something like that is a big treat,” Springer said. “She was so pleased to be able to do that for him.”
Laura Stutte, executive director of the YWCA of Adams County, said the gift of Chamber Bucks was an amazing gesture.
“I think that says a lot for their organization that they are willing to support other nonprofits,” she said.
She said those funds will be used for activities and supplies for The Zone, the after-school program at the YWCA.
Other acts of kindness by the club as a whole included providing 100 children’s books for Food4Thought to include in backpacks before Christmas. Kiwanis also gave Food4Thought 100 Matchbox cars donated by a member.
The 100th anniversary celebration began in August when Kiwanis volunteers installed eight musical playgrounds — one at every elementary school in the Hastings area.
Hajny said installing a musical playground at every local elementary school was anticipated to be a multiple-year project.
However, the club raised enough money in a few months — including being the largest recipient during Give Hastings Day — to pay for all the playgrounds.
“I think that was a great way to kick off our 100-year celebration,” she said. “We even have funding left over to add a miniature-sized playground to the preschool center that will be added to Morton once that’s finished.”
She said it warms her heart to be able to help families through these small gifts.
“We don’t always know the kids who need the most help,” she said. “When we spread the money among the other organizations, they are able to tell us these stories about how that $10 made a difference. It’s just very heartwarming and reminds us that we are making a difference.”
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all but shut the door Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s push for $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks, declaring Congress has provided enough pandemic aid as he blocked another attempt by Democrats to force a vote.
The GOP leader made clear he is unwilling to budge, despite political pressure from Trump and even some fellow Republican senators demanding action. Trump wants the recent $600 in aid increased threefold. But McConnell dismissed the idea of bigger “survival checks” approved by the House, saying the money would go to plenty of American households that just don’t need it.
McConnell’s refusal to act means the additional relief Trump wanted is all but dead.
“We just approved almost a trillion dollars in aid a few days ago,” McConnell said, referring to the year-end package Trump signed into law.
McConnell added, “if specific, struggling households still need more help,” the Senate will consider “smart targeted aid. Not another firehose of borrowed money.”
The showdown between the outgoing president and his own Republican Party over the $2,000 checks has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office.
It’s one last standoff, together with the override of Trump’s veto of a sweeping defense bill, that will punctuate the president’s final days and deepen the GOP’s divide between its new wing of Trump-styled populists and what had been mainstay conservative views against government spending.
Trump has been berating the GOP leaders, and tweeted, “$2000 ASAP!”
President-elect Joe Biden also supports the payments and wants to build on what he calls a “downpayment” on relief.
“In this moment of historic crisis and untold economic pain for countless American families, the President-elect supports $2,000 direct payments as passed by the House,” said Biden transition spokesman Andrew Bates.
The roadblock set by Senate Republicans appears insurmountable. Most GOP senators seemed to accept the inaction even as a growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, agree with Trump’s demand, some wary of bucking him.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the $600 checks would begin to go out Wednesday. Congress had settled on smaller payments in a compromise over the big, year-end COVID relief and government funding bill that Trump reluctantly signed into law. Before signing, though, Trump demanded more.
For a second day in a row, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tried to force a vote on the bill approved by the House meeting Trump’s demand for the $2,000 checks.
“What we’re seeing right now is Leader McConnell trying to kill the checks — the $2,000 checks desperately needed by so many American families,” Schumer said.
With the Georgia Senate runoff elections days away, leading Republicans warned that the GOP’s refusal to provide more aid as the virus worsens could jeopardize the outcome of those races.
Georgia’s GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to fend off Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in runoff elections that will determine which party has the Senate majority. The two Republicans announced support for Trump’s call for more generous checks.
“The Senate Republicans risk throwing away two seats and control of the Senate,” Newt Gingrich, the former congressional leader, said on Fox News.
McConnell has tried to shield his divided Republicans from a difficult vote. On Wednesday he suggested he had kept his word to start a “process” to address Trump’s demands, even if it means no votes will actually be taken.
“It’s no secret Republicans have a diversity of views,” he said.
Earlier, McConnell had unveiled a new bill loaded up with Trump’s other priorities as a possible off-ramp for the stalemate. It included the $2,000 checks more narrowly targeted to lower-income households as well as a complicated repeal of protections for tech companies like Facebook or Twitter under Section 230 of a communications law that the president complained is unfair to conservatives. It also tacked on the establishment of a bipartisan commission to review the 2020 presidential election Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden.
If McConnell sets a vote on his bill, it could revive Trump’s priorities. But because the approach contains the additional tech and elections provisions, Democrats and some Republicans will likely balk and it’s unlikely to have enough support in Congress to pass.
No additional votes on COVID aid have been scheduled at this point. For McConnell, the procedural moves allowed him to check the box over the commitments he made when Trump was defiantly refusing to sign off on the big year-end package last weekend. “That was a commitment, and that’s what happened,” he said.
Liberal senators, led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who support the relief boost are blocking action on a defense bill until a vote can be taken on Trump’s demand for $2,000 for most Americans.
Sanders thundered on the floor that McConnell should call his own constituents in the GOP leader’s home state of Kentucky “and find out how they feel about the need for immediate help in terms of a $2,000 check.”
Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida, among the party’s potential 2024 presidential hopefuls, also pushed in the president’s direction. Hawley is also leading Trump’s challenge Jan. 6 to the Electoral College result tally in Congress.
Other Republicans panned the bigger checks, arguing during a lively Senate debate that the nearly $400 billion price tag was too high, the relief is not targeted to those in need and Washington has already dispatched ample sums on COVID aid.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., tweeted that “blindly borrowing” billions “so we can send $2,000 checks to millions of people who haven’t lost any income is terrible policy.”
Considered a longshot, Trump’s demand gained momentum at the start of the week when dozens of House Republicans calculated it was better to link with most Democrats than defy the outgoing president. They helped pass a bill raising the payments with a robust two-thirds vote of approval.
As Trump’s push fizzles out, his attempt to amend the year-end package — $900 billion in COVID-19 aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September — will linger as potentially one last confrontation before the new Congress is sworn in Sunday.
The COVID-19 portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost — this time $300, through March 14 — as well as the popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.
Americans earning up to $75,000 will qualify for the direct $600 payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there’s an additional $600 payment per dependent child.
Hastings College, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center announced a new partnership for academics, giving HC students access to more technical and advanced course offerings.
Chief Ethanol Fuels had adapted equipment at its plant east of Hastings to add production of pharmaceutical-grade alcohol suitable for use in manufacturing hand sanitizer.
A new greenhouse was under construction at Adams Central High School for use in agriculture and FFA programs.
Winners were Rickie Crandell in the individual category, the Hastings Tribune in the business category and Hastings Fire and Rescue among nonprofit organizations.
Participants held battery-operated candles out their vehicle windows for the traditional singing of “Silent Night.”