If you’ve been out and about in Tribland over the last two weeks and attended a large gathering at Lovewell State Park, a party near Exeter or graduation festivities in Sutton, you may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and should take precautions.
That was the word late Saturday evening from the South Heartland District Health Department, which follows up on newly confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, among residents of Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties to determine who else may have contracted the viral infection.
In a news release, health department officials announced they were investigating a “large cluster” of cases and exposures associated with multiple events. Some of the related cases had been confirmed earlier in the week, while others were confirmed Friday or Saturday.
Patients in the cluster of cases had attended one or more of the following events: a large gathering at Lovewell in Jewell County, Kansas, on July 11-12; a private party near Exeter in Fillmore County on July 15; and the Sutton High School graduation ceremony and related private parties the weekend of July 18.
As of Saturday, the positive cases that are part of the cluster included nine Clay County residents, one Adams County resident, two residents of other health districts, and one resident of another state.
By Saturday evening, more than 40 “close contacts” of the infected patients had been identified, and those individuals had been instructed to self-quarantine and monitor themselves for symptoms associated with COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, because not all individuals were physically distanced at these events and activities, and mask use was not widespread, we do not know how many others may have been exposed,” said Michele Bever, South Heartland health department executive director. “Therefore, anyone who attended these activities and thinks they may have been exposed should contact the health department. If symptoms appear, you should self-isolate and contact a health care provider and the health department to determine next steps. This is crucial in order to stop the spread and protect the most vulnerable in our families and in our communities.”
Over the last several weeks, with earlier restrictions in Nebraska’s directed health measures having been loosened, more and more area residents have resumed their social lives to some extent, circulating at events ranging from golf tournaments, ballgames and rodeos to weddings, funerals and graduation activities.
In many cases, participants at such events are forgetting or just choosing not to spread out, cover their faces when in proximity to others, and take other precautions aimed at thwarting the spread of germs.
Cluster outbreaks of the novel coronavirus disease can be the unintended consequence of such situations.
“This cluster underscores the ease with which the COVID-19 virus can spread from person to person, even when people only have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all,” Bever said. “The risk of bringing the virus back to members of your family, to your co-workers, or to others you may interact with, increases significantly when prevention is not in place.”
In the news release, Bever noted that gatherings remain restricted according to the state-directed health measures in effect in Nebraska at least through this Friday, July 31. A gathering is any event or convening that brings together more than 10 individuals in a single room or single indoor or outdoor space at the same time.
“There are overall capacity restrictions and limitations of eight people per any one party at gatherings,” she said.
Key prevention actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 include staying at home for those who have even mild symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19; keeping 6 feet of distance from others; wearing a face covering to prevent spreading germs to others, especially when physical distancing is difficult; washing hands frequently with soap and water; and cleaning and disinfecting any frequently touched surfaces.
“All of us — ALL ages — should practice these prevention actions everywhere we go: at work, at the store, at graduations and sports events, at weddings and receptions, at church and at the fair,” Bever said. “If people are not staying 6 feet apart, these are the settings where we see new close contacts and, from that, new cases.”
A total of 444 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed across the state of Nebraska on Saturday and Sunday, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported.
South Heartland district case counts and trends can be found on the health department’s Data Dashboard of statistics found at www.southheartlandhealth.org.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services provides daily updates to Nebraska’s coronavirus COVID-19 cases on its Data Dashboard at http://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Coronavirus.
As high school events were continually canceled this spring, Hastings Public Schools administrators and school board members faced a particular question almost daily: “What about commencement?”
In his welcome to the more than 1,000 people present for the Hastings High School 2020 commencement ceremony Sunday afternoon, Board of Education President Jim Boeve — whose son, Mike, was part of the graduating class — said he originally favored a virtual ceremony to be conducted on the day graduation had been scheduled in May.
Then, the majority of HHS seniors who responded to a survey of what to do for commencement expressed support for an in-person ceremony.
“As April turned to May turned to June, I started to feel that way, as well,” Boeve said. “As I see our graduating class, the largest gathering event since March 12 and all of you here to support them, I support and understand the result of that vote.”
Boeve and other school board members, as well as Superintendent Jeff Schneider, who were present to hand diplomas to graduates, all social distanced from one another.
Principal Tom Szlanda, who introduced each speaker and presented the class of 2020, sat on the other side of the dais, away from other district officials.
In a class of about 270, the graduates themselves were spaced out across the gymnasium floor.
Public attendance was limited to four tickets for each graduate. Everyone at the ceremony was required to wear a mask.
Families could take photos on the football field outside of the gymnasium.
Student Council President Jack Coil also provided a welcome.
He said the quarantine taught class members more about the world and each other than they could ever imagine going into this year.
“Four years ago, this is probably not how you expected this to happen — but it sure will be a great story to tell in the future,” he said.
Hastings High’s class of 2020 contributed to the accomplishment of many special things, he said.
Among those accomplishments are the school’s first state wrestling title since 1988, as well as the duals title.
The boys basketball team qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2004.
The volleyball team qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2008.
Two class members were national speech debate qualifiers, and two earned perfect ACT scores.
The school’s six valedictorians each offered an address, focusing on different lessons to be learned from their high school experiences — especially this unusual conclusion to their final year.
Benjamin Brockmann said everyone graduating from Hastings High School has supported him.
“It is for that reason I am extremely confident in all of our futures,” he said. “We understand that no one here has to stand alone — that we’ll always have each other to lean on. As long as we take that with us into our future, nothing can stop us.”
Christine Jonglertham said she is proud of all of her classmates’ accomplishments.
“When I see you all do great things, it makes me want to do the same,” she said.
Nathan Nordby-Bryson said the most important things he learned in high school weren’t the ones he learned in textbooks. They included such lessons as how to work with people he wasn’t used to working with and how to balance obligations.
“I’ve really enjoyed the last four years of my life and it’s all due to you guys,” he said. “We have so many good memories and I’ll always appreciate that.”
Kevin Pham said by playing things safe in high school, he didn’t experience as much he would’ve liked.
He spoke about crashing his car into a ditch a year ago because he was concentrating so hard on driving safely he nearly missed a left turn and wound up in an accident.
“If I had to pick a lesson I learned in high school it would be that playing things safe can just as easily bring about what you’re trying to avoid, so you might as well enjoy the ride,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, doing well in school or in a job is very important — but solely focusing on not being bad in these things is bound to trip you up.”
Landon Power said he learned about the importance of community.
“Life isn’t easy, but it’s a race that isn’t meant to be run alone,” he said.
He said he finds no stronger community than in the unity of Jesus Christ.
“The beauty of the body of Christ is not that I am working for my own success,” he said. “I am not working for my own promotion, glorification or even my own salvation.”
He said he is working as a servant of Jesus Christ to bring glory to God.
Jillian Smith said as teenagers, she and her classmates have always been looking forward to the next big thing.
“Moving forward, I challenge you all to enjoy each little moment of your life,” she said. “Yes, it’s OK to be excited for your future, but sometimes we get so wrapped up in what is to come we forget to enjoy the moment we are in. You never know when something you take for granted could be ripped away from you before you even realize the significance it had on your life.”
Preparing to go their separate ways at a strange time in history, seniors graduating from St. Cecilia High School on Sunday took time to remember the ways they have learned to know, love and serve Jesus Christ and one another in their first 18 years of life.
In a 25-minute ceremony in St. Cecilia Catholic Church next door to the school, the St. Cecilia Class of 2020 gathered with family and friends to close out a tumultuous but unforgettable senior year that saw in-person instruction end in mid-March due to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.
Commencement itself was postponed from mid-May to Sunday and was moved into the church since the high school gymnasium isn’t air-conditioned.
On Sunday, 30 of the 32 members of the class were able to be present. Each graduate was allowed to invite five guests, who were seated throughout the nave of the church according to a social distancing plan.
“Although we anticipated to be here two months ago, today is still the perfect opportunity to pause and celebrate our years at Hastings Catholic Schools before we begin with the next chapter of our lives,” said graduate Tori Thomas, who spoke at the commencement ceremony as the winner of the school’s Cecilian Award.
The Cecilian Award, named in honor of the third-century Roman martyr who is the school’s patron saint, recognizes the efforts of a student who exemplifies the school’s three-part mission: To encounter Christ, grow in knowledge, and become Christian witnesses.
Thomas, who moved to Hastings with her family at age 8, thanked her parents for enrolling her in Hastings Catholic Schools, which she entered as a third-grader.
She also thanked the administration and faculty of the schools for their efforts to help her and her classmates grow in faith, become well-rounded individuals and prepare for all that lies ahead.
“One of the traditions I will miss the most at St. Cecilia is the Eucharistic procession through our school hallways on the last day of Catholic Schools Week,” Thomas said. “The beauty of watching Christ pass through our hallways always stood out to me and reminded me why we place Christ in the center of all we do.”
Teachers and coaches helped the students learn to love learning and push themselves to new levels of achievement, Thomas said.
Now, some classmates will head across the country to pursue their dreams while others will remain close to home in Hastings. But, wherever they are headed and whatever they will do, the Class of 2020 should be well prepared, Thomas said.
“I’m confident we’ve been provided the tools necessary to succeed in work, college or wherever we may go next in our lives,” she said.
She’s especially grateful for the grounding in faith she has received in Catholic schools and sees the importance of carrying that faith with her wherever she goes.
“We’re about to enter a world in which our Catholic faith will be constantly tested,” she said.
Sunday’s ceremony was the 85th commencement for St. Cecilia High School, said Sandy VanCura, who has stepped down as St. Cecilia principal this summer but will continue to serve the school in other capacities.
Altogether, the Class of 2020 counts among its number a National Merit Scholar and six University of Nebraska Regents Scholars and has amassed more than 7,500 community service hours and earned nearly $3 million in scholarships, VanCura said.
She paid tribute to the graduates for their resilience in the face of adversity over the past several months.
“Their tenacity is something to be remembered, and an outstanding example of what being a Bluehawk really means,” VanCura said.
Graduates marched into church Sunday to a recorded version of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Diplomas were distributed by the Rev. Thomas Brouillette, chief administrative officer of Hastings Catholic Schools.
Brouillette praised the graduates for their commitment to one another through the years. He charged them to use all they have gained through their schooling for the glory of God.
“Graduates, you were in third grade when I first came to Hastings Catholic Schools,” said Brouillette, who grew up in Hastings and is a St. Cecilia alumnus himself, but after a number of years away was assigned by his bishop to return to his hometown and work in school administration.
“You’ve changed a lot. But the parishes and school community have been blessed for our opportunity to be witnesses for you of Christ, and to share with you the opportunity to meet him in multiple ways, of course to grow in knowledge, and then become witnesses yourself in service of the truth of the Gospel. It’s now your turn to begin this work.”
Other participants in Sunday’s ceremony included Rich Clark, representing the Hastings Catholic Schools Unity Board; the Very Rev. Jeremy Hazuka, pastor of St. Michael’s Parish in Hastings, who offered the opening prayer; and the Rev. Christopher Kubat, pastor of St. Cecilia’s Parish, who led the closing prayer and a blessing for everyone present by all the priests.
“This is the quickest graduation I’ve ever been at, but the best,” Kubat said with a smile. “I’m so proud of all of you.”
Although their final year was disrupted by a global pandemic, members of the Class of 2020 accomplished much in their time in high school, salutatorian Micah Gengenbach said during his address at a graduation ceremony Sunday at Adams Central Junior/Senior High School.
After schools across Nebraska were closed in March, Adams Central transitioned to online classes for the remainder of the academic year. Adams Central’s graduation originally was scheduled for May 10, but was postponed due to directed health measures that had been implemented in the area at the time.
“The two-and-a-half months of online learning does not take away from the times we shared here,” Gengenbach said. “I truly enjoyed my high school experience.”
Along with the achievements his classmates had in various sports and music, he said the class found academic success highlighted by Drake Vorderstrasse becoming the state president and then national vice president for the Future Business Leaders of America.
He thanked the teachers, staff and parents for providing assistance and support through the years.
“We may be leaving you, but you helped shape us into the young adults we’ve become,” he said. “For that, we thank you.”
Valedictorian Morgan Baker said the unusual circumstances surrounding their final year will make it unforgettable.
“We were unable to enjoy the last of high school because we didn’t even realize it was over,” she said. “Honestly, everything happened so fast that we weren’t even able to process it. No one expected senior year to look like this.”
While some may attribute the class’ achievements to raw talent, Baker said it takes more than talent to be successful. More than half the class graduated with a 4.0 grade point average. She listed characteristics that helped the class including work ethic, determination, passion, perseverance and resilience.
Baker said her fellow classmates didn’t shy away from hard work.
“For this senior class, working hard has almost become automatic,” she said. “Once a goal is set, it becomes a priority and these students are committed to achieve each and every one of their goals.”
She said students had to be determined to find the time to tackle the various extracurricular activities many students in the class pursued. Passion fueled this determination. Perseverance meant never giving up even when obstacles seemed too large to overcome.
She added resilience to the list after the students ended up facing a pandemic to cap their senior year.
“We’ve adapted to the change and at times embraced it,” she said. “I encourage all of you to continue to show work ethic, determination, passion, perseverance and now resilience in whatever you choose to pursue.”
Eighty-three seniors graduated at Adams Central this year. The rescheduled ceremony saw some changes to adapt to the limitations of current directed health measures. The processional and recessional music was pre-recorded. Vocal selections were shown by video with choir students arranged in nine individual blocks in the video.
Superintendent Shawn Scott told the seniors that after the ceremony, they no longer would be seniors. They would be Adams Central alumni.
“The alumni of Adams Central are some of the best people you will ever meet,” he said.