The pace of new cases of COVID-19 being confirmed in the South Heartland Health District continued to quicken last week and early this week — with 60% of those new cases in children and adults up to age 39.

By Tuesday, the South Heartland District Health Department had received 334 positive laboratory reports for the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, so far in September, including 167 (50%) for the week of Sept. 5-11 and 105 more by end of day Tuesday for the current week.

In a weekly news release updating area COVID-19 conditions Tuesday night, Michele Bever, the department’s executive director, reported that about 25% of September’s confirmed cases so far have been in individuals under age 20, 35% were 20-39, 24% were 40-59, and 15% were ages 60 and above.

The district overall logged 214 new cases (equating to 473.4 new cases per 100,000 people) in the seven-day period that ended Tuesday night. More than 100 new cases per 100K population in seven days is considered high community transmission. Low community transmission is fewer than 10 new cases per 100K in seven days.

South Heartland’s overall weekly test positivity rate was 17.4% (in the high-transmission zone) for the week ending Sept. 4. By county, positivity was 17.2% in Adams, 18.3% in Clay, 12.0% in Nuckolls and 25% in Webster.

The test positivity rate is the number of new cases of COVID-19 logged in a given week, divided by the total number of tests administered in that same time period. More than 10% positivity is considered high community transmission; below 5% positivity is considered low community transmission.

The overall test positivity rate factors in both the general population and residents and employees of long-term care facilities. The LTCs went many weeks, stretching back into late May, with zero positive cases being reported each week. That streak broke recently, however.

Bever said the number of COVID-19 tests conducted last week was 37% larger than for the prior week and 123% larger than two weeks ago. The health department maintains a list of locations offering COVID-19 testing in the South Heartland District. The list may be viewed at southheartlandhealth.org.

Meanwhile, hospitals in the district remain busy. Capacity metrics as of Tuesday showed 12.2% of hospital in-patients were COVID-19 positive and 18.2% of the staffed intensive care unit beds were available within the district’s three hospitals: Mary Lanning in Hastings, Brodstone Memorial in Superior, and Webster County Community Hospital in Red Cloud.

Vaccination coverage continues to improve a little each week. Bever said 42.9% of South Heartland residents now are fully vaccinated and 46.3% have received at least one dose. But young people and teenagers remain sparsely vaccinated.

“Vaccination coverage varies by age, with 84% of residents ages 65 and older fully vaccinated compared with 15% of residents ages 12-15, 21% of residents ages 16-19, and 34% of residents age 20-34,” Bever said. “The COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective at reducing severe COVID-19 illness and hospitalizations due to COVID.”

Bever said people who aren’t fully vaccinated and people who are age 65 or older, or who have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or immunosuppression, are most at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 infection. She said layers of prevention are important to use to protect those most at risk.

“We know these prevention layers work to limit the spread of the virus and more importantly to limit the severity of COVID-19 illness,” Bever said. “Vaccination is the best layer of prevention and the vaccine is widely available at no cost within our health district.”

The South Heartland vaccine webpage (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.

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

Families are encouraged to bring their children age 12 and above. Minor children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Others also are welcome to be vaccinated at the clinics. Enter at Allen’s west door; masks are required. Participants may register in advance at vaccinate.ne.gov.

Bever encourages residents to contact their personal doctor or the health department if they have questions about the vaccine. Contact South Heartland District Health Department at 402-462-6211 or 877-238-7595.

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