South Heartland District Health Department

The South Heartland Health District remains in the moderate zone on a risk dial developed to assess danger related to spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

This week’s risk dial update, which was made on Wednesday, raised the reading needle to 1.7 from last week’s value of 1.5. Both readings are in the middle range within the risk dial’s moderate zone, color-coded yellow.

The dial has zones for low risk (green, readings of zero to 1); moderate risk (yellow, 1-2); elevated risk (orange, 2-3), and severe risk (3-4).

Over the past 13 months, dial readings have been as high as near the top of the red zone. Readings now have bounced in the yellow zone for several weeks running.

Risk dial readings are based upon current conditions in the four-county health district related to local spread of the virus and local capacities for testing, contact tracing and treatment. Availability of vaccine is a helpful factor.

The health district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. District health department offices are in Hastings.

In a news release Wednesday evening, Michele Bever, the health department’s executive director, said the increased risk score was attributable to several factors, including slight increases in the average number of daily cases and positivity.

The average number of new cases per day for the week of April 4-10 was 3.4, up from 3.3 for the previous week.

Also for the week of April 4-10, the district’s overall test positivity rate increased from 2.9% to 3.1%. The overall rate includes both the positivity rate in the general population, which rose to 9.35% from 7.25%; and the rate for long-term care facility residents and employees, which stands at .21% after seven straight weeks at zero.

The test positivity rate is the percentage of the number of COVID-19 tests administered in a given week that come back from the laboratory with a positive result.

Despite continuing progress with vaccination efforts, the ascendancy of variants of the novel coronavirus is raising concerns for the possibility of increasing case numbers.

“With identification of the B.1.1.7 variant in our district, we know the risk of spread is higher,” Bever said. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the B.1.1.7 variant is able to spread more easily, approximately 50% higher transmission, it leads to more severe COVID-19 illness, and some of the current treatments and vaccines are less effective with this variant.”

Emphasizing that the health district remains in moderate risk for spread of COVID-19, Bever is encouraging South Heartland residents in the eligible age groups (18 years old and up) to register for a COVID-19 vaccine on the state vaccine registration and administration system,

The site also can be reached by clicking on the red ribbon at the top of the South Heartland website home page at, and clicking on the picture of the vaccine to start the vaccine registration process in the Nebraska vaccine registration portal.

Residents need to be registered in order to schedule an appointment for the vaccine.

Those needing assistance with registration should contact the Nebraska State Vaccine hotline at 833-998-2275. Individuals 60 and over can contact Midland Area Agency on Aging for assistance with vaccine registration at 402-463-4565, ext. 499.

According to the health department’s vaccine dashboard, South Heartland and vaccine provider partners have administered nearly 20,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

To date, 34% of South Heartland residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 23% of residents have completed their one- or two-dose series. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the final dose of the series.

“Getting vaccinated and staying the course on prevention are both important for keeping the spread of the virus low,” Bever said. “Our goal is for more than 70% of our residents to be vaccinated. The vaccines with emergency use authorization in the United States are shown to be effective against severe COVID-19 illness, hospitalization and death caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including the CDC-designated variants of concern. Help us ‘finish strong’ in South Heartland by practicing prevention and getting your COVID-19 vaccine.”

On Tuesday, South Heartland and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services followed federal guidance in pausing administration of the single-shot Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine.

The pause, which is meant to be temporary, is to allow further investigation of a handful of severe blood-clotting incidents reported in individuals who recently had received the Janssen vaccine.