Although the number of new cases and the test positivity rate dropped for the second consecutive week, the South Heartland District Health Department has extended its COVID-19 Advisory for the district through at least Oct. 15.

In its weekly news release updating conditions related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the health department announced Tuesday evening that 151 new laboratory-confirmed cases of the viral infection were logged for the week ending Oct. 2. That number was down 9% from 166 the previous week, which in turn was down 28% from 231 in the week before that.

By Tuesday evening, 78 new cases had been logged for this week among residents of the health district, which encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. To date, a running total of 6,079 cases of the disease have been confirmed among residents since March 18, 2020.

The district’s test positivity rate also dropped last week — to 11.4%, down from 13.2% for the previous week and 19.5% for the week ending Sept. 18.

The test positivity rate is the number of confirmed positive cases recorded in a given week, divided by the total number of tests administered for that same time period.

In spite of the declining number of new cases and test positivity rate, community transmission in the health district remains high, said Michele Bever, health department executive director.

That is why the COCID-19 Advisory, which was issued Sept. 15 to be in place at least through the end of that month, now has been extended somewhat.

The COVID-19 Advisory is for public information and awareness purposes and is not a regulatory instrument.

Bever said the number of COVID-19 tests administered in the district last week — 1,072 — was up by more than 25% from the week before and was the largest number of tests performed on South Heartland residents in a single week since early January.

Last week’s community positivity rate, which excludes test results from long-term care facilities, was 23% for South Heartland. By county, the rate was 20.6% in Adams, 32.3% in Clay, 26.9% in Nuckolls and 30.4% in Webster. Positivity over 10% is considered high community transmission.

In the long-term care facilities, positivity was 1.9% last week. Bever said 11 long-term care facilities in the health district have experienced a COVID-19 outbreak among staff and/or residents since the beginning of September.

The health department also is seeing outbreaks associated with child care facilities and schools, Bever said.

Ten child care facilities have had positive cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of August. Likewise, cases of the viral infection have been confirmed among staff members and/or students in 12 school systems’ preschool through high school facilities since the start of the fall semester.

Meanwhile, the department also has been investigating outbreaks across the district associated with corrections, health care, manufacturing worksites, reunion and sports events, and bar/grill establishments.

“The takeaway is that the pandemic is not over and we need to continue practicing prevention,” Bever said. “The more layers you can use, the better.”

Since the health department’s last weekly report on Sept. 28, its hospital capacity dashboard has shown a high of 16 COVID-19 in-patients (44.4% of total in-patients) and a maximum of one ventilator in use on any day.

As of Tuesday, nine patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 (27.3% of all in-patients), no ventilators were in use, and 28.6% of staffed intensive care unit beds were available for new patients in South Heartland hospitals.

“I want to emphasize that the health care systems in our district and across Nebraska are continuing to experience significant strain with this current surge in the ongoing pandemic,” Bever said. “Hospital leaders statewide have reported they are experiencing staffing concerns, including staff shortages and stressed staff who are mentally and physically exhausted from the on-going demands of their jobs.

“The way to help our health systems and our communities get beyond this phase in the pandemic is to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The vaccines are very safe and highly effective in reducing risk of severe COVID illness that leads to hospitalization. Please get vaccinated.”

Bever said that while fewer vaccinations were given in the district last week, a total of 20,164 South Heartland residents — about 45% of the district’s total population — have completed their 1-dose or 2-dose vaccine series since the first COVID-19 vaccine became available in December 2020.

“It’s not too late to get your first and second shots,” Bever said. “South Heartland is encouraging people to take advantage of the widely available, no-cost vaccine to start or complete their vaccination steps and protect against COVID-19. Our vaccine webpage provides a list of locations offering vaccine in the South Heartland District and which vaccine products are offered at each site.”

Bever said the list of vaccine providers is updated frequently to include new times, dates, whether walk-ins are accepted and, if needed, how to make an appointment at each site. The webpage is part of South Heartland’s larger website, southheartlandhealth.org.

Bever said many health care providers in the district also are offering COVID-19 vaccine to their patients and that residents should consider getting their COVID-19 vaccine and flu shot at the same visit.

SHDHD is offering weekly walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinics with Pfizer vaccine on Wednesdays throughout October. The clinics run 5-7 p.m. at the west end of the Allen’s building in Hastings, 1115 W. Second St.

Families are encouraged to bring their children age 12 and above for vaccination. Minors must be accompanied by parent or guardian. Others are welcome to receive their shots at those clinics, as well. Participants should enter the west door of the Allen’s building.

Bever said people looking for COVID-19 testing may refer to the South Heartland website to find a list of testing sites, types of tests offered, and hours when testing is available.

The health department encourages anyone with questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, additional doses for immunocompromised individuals, booster doses, or COVID-19 testing to contact his or her personal health care provider or the health department office.

South Heartland may be reached at 402-462-6211 or 877-238-7595.

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