One hundred seventeen residents of the South Heartland Health District have been confirmed positive for the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in the past week.
The tally of new cases was gleaned from daily COVID-19 statistical updates posted to the data dashboard on the South Heartland webpage, www.southheartlandhealth.org.
The South Heartland health district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. Health department offices are in Hastings.
While the health department’s Monday night news release didn’t include the district’s test positivity rate for Dec. 20-26, Michele Bever, the department’s executive director, commented on the continuing downward trend in numbers of new cases being recorded.
“There is good news to share — the downward trend in new daily cases is continuing,” Bever said. “We averaged about 17 new positive labs per day these past seven days, which is a welcome change from the peak of 83 positive labs reported to SHDHD on Dec. 1.”
The new confirmed cases for the seven-day period, which included the Christmas holiday, included 81 in Adams County, 19 in Clay County, 13 in Nuckolls County and four in Webster County. By county, the new cumulative totals are: 2,402 cases in Adams, 583 in Clay, 387 in Nuckolls, and 298 in Webster.
The new cases bring to 3,670 the running total of positive cases reported among South Heartland residents since March 18. Through Monday evening, 3,419 of those cases had been classified as recovered.
A total of 149 residents have spent time in a hospital for treatment of the viral infection. The district’s death toll related to COVID-19 stands at 46.
South Heartland normally reports tallies of new cases twice each week, on Monday and Thursday nights. The department didn’t issue a report last Thursday, which was Christmas Eve.
In the neighboring Two Rivers Public Health District, which borders South Heartland on the west, a total of 15 Franklin County residents, eight Kearney County residents and six Harlan County residents tested positive for the viral infection Dec. 21 through Sunday.
The Two Rivers district also includes Buffalo, Phelps, Gosper and Dawson counties outside the Hastings Tribune’s coverage area.
Back in the South Heartland district, Bever reported at least 250 more individuals received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the past week at Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior and Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings.
The Clay County Health Department and Webster County Community Hospital in Red Cloud also are administering vaccine to health care workers and emergency medical services personnel.
The first COVID-19 vaccine — from Pfizer — arrived in the health district on Dec. 15. Bever said the first several weeks of allotted vaccine are being directed to health care workers, according to Nebraska’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.
“The Phase 1A vaccination is for health care personnel who provide direct patient care and those who may be exposed to infectious materials,” Bever said. “This includes staff at hospitals, home health care, pharmacies, EMS, primary care, dental, optometrists, outpatient providers, mental health providers, and public health. It also includes long-term care facility residents and staff.”
The long-term care residents and workers will be vaccinated through a program that involves commercial pharmacies.
According to Nebraska’s plan, Phase 1A will continue until the district has received enough doses to vaccinate the 1A priority groups.
Bever said the vaccine allocations are determined by state-level planners, but weather and other factors also can influence when the district receive vaccines shipments.
“We were expecting additional vaccine to our district early this week, but the weather is delaying shipments,” she said.
After Phase 1A priority groups have been offered vaccine the health district would move to Phase 1B, which focuses on individuals 75 years of age or older and essential critical infrastructure workforce. This group includes first responders, education and school services personnel, people working in the utilities and transportation sectors, and food processing/agricultural workers in close contact.
The next priority groups, in Phase 1C, will include persons age 65-74 years and medically vulnerable individuals.
In Monday’s news release, Bever encouraged South Heartland constituents to keep up their efforts to thwart further spread of the virus person-to-person.
Such efforts include wearing face coverings and social distancing.
“Even with the numbers trending down, we will need to remain vigilant on COVID prevention over the holidays and beyond,” she said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends continuing to use all the tools we have, including the vaccine, to help stop the pandemic.”
Marcy Maley does more than just frame items, she’s also working to preserve memories.
Maley, owner of The Frame Lady, has been in the custom framing business in Hastings for 30 years.
“I just feel very fortunate to be a part of a community that is so supportive of our local businesses,” said Maley, who grew up in Hastings.
She got her start in 1990 at the Ben Franklin store in downtown Hastings. She managed the frame shop there for 14 years.
After that, Maley reopened the frame shop at Allen’s department store. She was there for two years.
From there, she moved on and worked for former Graham Gallery and Framing owner Angela Graham.
In July 2011, Maley bought the frame shop from Graham and has operated her business under the name The Frame Lady.
Now in her own shop, she works directly with customers to help make their projects special.
“I like to kind of get to know the project, who it belongs to, the history behind it and what it means to that customer,” Maley said.
When deciding on a frame, she tries to color-coordinate with where the picture is going to hang.
“I try to find out where they’re going to hang this and what the wall colors are,” Maley said. “When we start picking out frames and mattes to coordinate, it kind of allows it to be part of the photograph and artwork itself.”
She said that she takes the time to work closely with her customers because she realizes how important the memories are behind what’s in the picture.
In other words, the frame is just one part of the process of trying to satisfy a customer, she said.
“It took me some years in the business to realize that it’s not just about a great, quality, awesome-looking frame on the wall — it’s about preserving memories,” Maley said.
She knows that some of the projects she works on could be a memento that the customer brought back from a trip or it could be a family heirloom.
In some cases, a customer is trying to find a gift for someone they care about, or it’s something that is a special item from a loved one who is no longer with them.
Over the years, she has heard a lot of stories and learned some of the history about the people of Hastings.
“I have come to find out that almost every project that comes in has a history,” Maley said.
A huge U.S. study of another COVID-19 vaccine candidate got underway Monday as states continue to roll out scarce supplies of the first shots to a nation anxiously awaiting relief from the catastrophic outbreak.
Public health experts say more options in addition to the two vaccines now being dispensed — one made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, the other by Moderna — are critical to amassing enough shots for the country and the world.
The candidate made by Novavax Inc. is the fifth to reach final-stage testing in the United States. Some 30,000 volunteers are needed to prove if the shot — a different kind than its Pfizer and Moderna competitors — really works and is safe.
“If you want to have enough vaccine to vaccinate all the people in the U.S. who you’d like to vaccinate — up to 85% or more of the population — you’re going to need more than two companies,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, told The Associated Press on Monday.
The coronavirus is blamed for about 1.8 million deaths worldwide, including more than 330,000 in the U.S. This has been the deadliest month of the outbreak in the U.S. yet, with about 65,000 deaths in December so far, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The nation has repeatedly recorded more than 3,000 dead per day over the past few weeks.
And the U.S. could be facing a terrible winter: Despite warnings to stay home and avoid others over Christmastime, nearly 1.3 million people went through the nation’s airports on Sunday, the highest one-day total since the crisis took hold in the U.S. nine months ago.
The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed expects to have shipped 20 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to states by the beginning of January, fewer than originally estimated to the frustration of states and health officials trying to schedule the shots.
There is no real-time tracking of how quickly people are getting the first of the two required doses. As of Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reports of more than 2.1 million vaccinations out of 11.4 million doses shipped — but the agency knows that count is outdated. It can take days for reports from vaccine providers to trickle in and get added to the site.
“Just because a vaccine arrives doesn’t mean we can put an on-the-spot clinic up and running,” said Jenny Barta, a public health official in Carlton County, Minnesota.
But Tuesday, her agency aims to vaccinate 100 people in a drive-thru clinic for emergency medical workers that Barta hopes could become a model for larger attempts at mass vaccination. Nurses will wheel vaccine to cars lined up in a county-owned snowplow garage. Once the drivers get their shots, they will wait in parking spaces to be sure they don’t have an allergic reaction before heading home.
“Vaccinating one individual at a time is how we’re going to work our way out of this pandemic,” she said.
Yet another worry hanging over the vaccine scramble: Will shots block a new variant of the coronavirus that emerged in Britain and might spread more easily? Fauci said that data from Britain indicates the vaccines still will protect against the virus but that National Institutes of Health researchers will be “looking at it very intensively” to be sure.
A look at the frontrunners in the global vaccine race:
GENETIC CODE VACCINES
The U.S. based its emergency rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and a similar one made by Moderna and the NIH on studies suggesting they are both roughly 95% effective. Europe over the weekend began its first vaccinations with the Pfizer shot, and on Jan. 6 will decide whether to add Moderna’s.
These shots are made with a brand-new technology that injects a piece of genetic code for the spike protein that coats the coronavirus. That messenger RNA, or mRNA, induces the body to produce some harmless spike protein, enough to prime the immune system to react if it later encounters the real virus.
Both vaccines must be kept frozen, the Pfizer shot at ultra-low temperatures that complicate its delivery to poor or rural areas.
Additional companies are working toward their own mRNA candidates, including Germany’s CureVac, which has begun a large study in Europe.
The Novavax candidate is made differently, using what Fauci called a “more tried and true” technology that needs only ordinary refrigeration. The Maryland company grows harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein in the laboratory and mixes in an immune-boosting chemical.
Novavax already has enrolled 15,000 people in a late-stage study in Britain and 4,000 in South Africa. The newest and largest study, funded by the U.S. government, will recruit volunteers at more than 115 sites in the U.S. and Mexico and target high-risk older adults along with volunteers from Black and Hispanic communities, which have been hit hard by the virus.
“We’ve got to protect our community and our people,” said the Rev. Peter Johnson, 75, a prominent civil rights activist in Dallas who was among the first volunteers.
Two-thirds of participants will receive vaccine and the rest dummy shots, a twist from earlier vaccine studies that gave half their volunteers a placebo. That should help researchers recruit people who wonder whether it’s better to take part in a study or wait their turn for an existing shot, said Dr. Gregory Glenn, research chief at Novavax.
For many people, that would be a long wait: The Pfizer and Moderna shots are slated first for health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by people 75 and older and essential workers.
“If you wanted to hedge your bets, for most people who aren’t in those very high-risk groups, the shortest route to getting the vaccine would be to sign up for a trial,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins.
TROJAN HORSE VACCINES
The next big vaccine news may come from Johnson & Johnson, which is aiming for a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
Made in yet another way, it uses a harmless virus – a cold virus called an adenovirus — to carry the spike gene into the body. In mid-December, J&J finished enrolling about 45,000 volunteers in a final-stage study in the U.S. and a half-dozen other countries. Fauci expects early results sometime next month.
In Britain, regulators also are considering clearing a similar vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
Tests of the shots in Britain, South Africa and Brazil suggested they are safe and partially protective — about 70%. But questions remain about how well the vaccine works in people over 55 and how to interpret results from a small number of people given a different set of doses.
A U.S. study of the AstraZeneca shots is still recruiting volunteers; Fauci said researchers hope it will provide a more clear answer.
Companies in China and Russia also are producing adenovirus-based vaccines and began administering them before the results of final testing came in. Argentina is expected to soon use the Russian vaccine.
Spike-focused vaccines aren’t the only option. Making vaccines by growing a disease-causing virus and then killing it is a still older approach that gives the body a sneak peek at the germ itself rather than just that single spike protein.
China has three such “inactivated” COVID-19 vaccines in final testing in several countries and has allowed emergency use in some people ahead of results. An Indian company is testing its own inactivated candidate.
Chris Peterson, a veteran member of the Superior City Council, stepped up to the office of mayor following the resignation of Sonia Schmidt, whose term was to run through 202