South Heartland District Health Department

The South Heartland Health District saw 17 more cases of the novel coronavirus disease confirmed among its residents last week than the week before, the district health department reported Monday night.

Meanwhile, vaccination progress continued around the district, which includes Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

For the week of May 2-8, a total of 41 new laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with the novel coronavirus or a variant were reported among district residents.

That’s up from 24 for the previous week and 30 per week for each of the two weeks before that.

The new confirmed cases include 32 in Adams County, six in Clay County, three in Webster County and zero in Nuckolls County.

By county, the updated case tallies to date are 3,150 cases in Adams, 772 in Clay, 548 in Nuckolls, and 415 in Webster.

Since March 18, 2020, a total of 4,885 district residents have tested positive for the infection that causes the disease known as COVID-19.

Michele Bever, the district health department’s executive director, also reported an increase in the district’s overall test positivity rate for the week — albeit against a backdrop of severe reduction in the number of tests administered.

In the health district for the week ending May 8, COVID-19 testing was down to just 411 tests, almost 200 fewer tests than the previous week.

“If we look only at community testing, the positivity is 14.8%, up slightly from 14.1% the previous week and significantly above our goal to maintain at or below 5% community positivity,” Bever said.

The test positivity rate is the number of positive tests recorded in a given week as a percentage of the number of tests performed. Community testing excludes the frequent testing done in long-term care facilities among residents and staff.

Long-term care testing for the week of May 2-8 yielded a test positivity rate of 3.5%. That rate had been zero or next to zero for many weeks.

By county, the community positivity for May 2-8 was 12.2% in Adams, down from 14.1% the week before; 33.3% in Clay, up from 23.3% the week before; 20% in Webster, up from 7.7% the week before; and maintaining at zero in Nuckolls County.

Bever also reported the 14-day average of daily new cases was 9.0 per 100,000, exceeding the district’s goal of 8 per 100,000. According to Bever, this 14-day average has hovered above the target for 24 of the last 30 days.

“The virus is still spreading in our communities, including the B.117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom,” she said in the news release. “So far, we’ve had a total of four confirmed COVID-19 cases in our district attributed to the B.117 variant. We are encouraging residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they have the opportunity because each additional person getting vaccinated brings our communities that much closer to having safer, more normal activities.”

The vaccination rate continues to grow. To date, 47% of South Heartland residents eligible for a vaccine (in Nebraska, those age 16 and over) have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and more than 41% of eligible residents have completed their one- or two-dose series and will be considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the final dose of the series. More than 76% of residents age 65 and over are fully vaccinated.

“These vaccines are safe and highly effective against severe illness, hospitalization and death caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Bever said. “In fact, only a very small number of residents have tested positive for COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, amounting to less than 0.1% of South Heartland’s fully vaccinated residents.”

South Heartland’s goal is for more than 70% of residents to be vaccinated.

“There is plenty of COVID-19 vaccine available for people ages 18+ in our four counties, and soon there will be vaccine available for anyone ages 12 years and older,” Bever said.

After months of working mainly with the Moderna and Janssen vaccine products, the health department and its vaccination partners are gearing up to begin handling the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That product already is approved for use in individuals age 16 and up (Moderna and Janssen are approved for 18 and up), and Pfizer now is seeking approval to extend its use to youths ages 12-15.

COVID-19 vaccine is available without charge through many local health care providers, at weekly community vaccine clinics, and at several pharmacies in the South Heartland district, including Bert’s Pharmacy, Walmart and Walgreens in Hastings, Superior Pharmacy in Superior and, beginning this Friday, at Russ’s Pharmacy in Hastings, Bever said.

For help finding the vaccine, call the health department at 402-462-6211.