Numbers of both new cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and vaccinations against the illness were up this week in the South Heartland Health District.
For the week that ended Aug. 21, the South Heartland health department logged 54 new laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among residents of the four-county district. That weekly tally was nearly 40% greater than for the previous week.
For the current calendar week, South Heartland already had received reports of 33 additional cases by end of day Tuesday.
The South Heartland district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. Health department headquarters are in Hastings.
Since March 18, 2020, the health department has logged a running total of 5,121 positive cases in district residents.
In its weekly Tuesday evening update on COVID-19 developments, the department also reported another death of a district resident as being attributable to the disease.
The positive case that led to the death had been reflected in district statistics previously. By policy, the health department doesn’t report any death as being attributable to COVID-19 until that information is corroborated by an official death certificate from the state of Nebraska.
To date, the deaths of 95 district residents have been officially attributed to COVID-19.
Michele Bever, health department executive director, used Tuesday evening’s news release to elaborate on the continuing rise in case numbers.
“Based on new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days (ending Aug. 24), our counties have substantial or high community transmission,” Bever said.
Overall, the district had 130.5 new cases per 100,000 in the past seven days. More than 100 new cases per 100,000 in seven days is considered high community transmission. Low community transmission means fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 in seven days.
The district’s overall weekly test positivity rate was 11.4%, in the range of high transmission. The rate was 16.7% in the general population and zero among residents and employees of long-term care facilities.
The long-term care positivity rate has been zero for 13 consecutive weeks.
Hospital capacity metrics as of Monday showed 10% of hospital in-patients in the district had tested positive for COVID-19 and 55% of staffed intensive care beds were available for new patients.
The district’s three hospitals are Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings, Brodstone Memorial Hospital in Superior, and Webster County Community Hospital in Red Cloud.
With the delta variant of the novel coronavirus now ascendant across the United States and case numbers climbing in most jurisdictions after a quiet early summer, vaccination activity has accelerated in South Heartland and elsewhere.
“The good news is that more people have been getting vaccinated each week over the past three weeks,” Bever said. “Nearly 45% have received at least one dose, and just over 40% are fully vaccinated. We obviously still have some ground to cover to reach a level that is protective in our communities, but we are encouraged to see the recent increase in demand for vaccine.”
Bever also used her weekly news release to urge that constituents employ multiple layers of protection to shield themselves and their loved ones and communities from COVID-19.
“Our cases continue to trend up. Everyone is safer and we can reduce spread of coronavirus if we aggressively use layers of prevention,” she said. “The more layers we can use, the better. We know these layers work to limit the spread of the virus and limit the severity of COVID-19 illness. So, please, stay home when you are ill or have had close contact with someone with COVID-19, practice good hygiene like washing hands and not touching your face, wear masks in public, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and avoid crowded spaces and confined indoor places.
“Most importantly, please get your COVID-19 shots so you are fully vaccinated. When used together with other layers of prevention in our schools, worksites, churches, and community settings, we are all better protected. The vaccines are our best defense against COVID-19, protecting us from severe illness and hospitalization due to infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
South Heartland is offering weekly walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinics with Pfizer vaccine on Wednesdays through the month of September in Hastings. Clinic hours are 5-7 p.m. at the west end of the Allen’s building, 1115 W. Second St.
Families are encouraged to bring their children age 12 and above for vaccination. Minor children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Individuals of all ages are welcome to come to the Wednesday vaccination clinics. Entry is at the west door of the building. Masks are required. Participants may register in advance at vaccinate.ne.gov.
As of Monday, the Pfizer vaccine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use in individuals age 12-15 and has full and final approval for use in people age 16 and up. The Moderna and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines are approved for emergency use in older youths and adults.
Bever encourages residents to contact their personal doctor or the health department if they have questions about the vaccine. Contact South Heartland at 402-462-6211 or 877-238-7595.
The health department’s webpage, www.southheartlandhealth.org, includes a list of locations offering vaccine in the South Heartland District and which vaccine products are offered at each site.
The list is updated frequently to include new times, dates, whether walk-ins are accepted, and, if needed, how to make an appointment at each site.
In addition, many health care providers in the district are offering COVID-19 vaccine to their patients.