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Six omicron cases of COVID-19 found in PHS health district
  • Updated

Six cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, arising from the new omicron variant of the virus have been detected in one of Tribland’s public health districts.

The six cases were identified through testing at the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory, the Public Health Solutions District Health Department said in a news release Friday morning.

The PHS district, headquartered in Crete, serves Fillmore, Thayer, Jefferson, Saline and Gage counties.

According to the news release, the first case likely resulted from the individual’s exposure during international travel to Nigeria. The individual returned on Nov. 23 and became symptomatic on Nov. 24. The individual sought testing and alerted the health department, self-identifying his or her travel history.

The other five cases likely were exposed through household contact with the first case.

Five of the six infected individuals were unvaccinated.

None have required hospitalization. Case investigations and contact tracing are ongoing.

Because of the first individual’s travel to Nigeria, a team from Public Health Solutions promptly investigated and arranged for testing and sequencing to identify a variant.

Sequencing was completed rapidly. Drs. Peter Iwen and Baha Abdalhamid at the state laboratory identified the omicron variant using the Clear Labs next-generation whole genome sequencer.

When it was determined the omicron variant had caused the individuals’ infections, that information was disclosed to PHS immediately for public health response purposes.

Dr. Matthew Donahue, acting state epidemiologist for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said omicron’s known presence in Nebraska “reinforces the urgency for Nebraskans to get vaccinated.”

“The more Nebraskans are vaccinated, the less opportunity new SARS-CoV-2 variants will have to take hold in the state. With delta, which is the current predominant variant, unvaccinated Nebraskans are filling hospitals at a rate 10 times higher than vaccinated Nebraskans. We are doing our part to find new variants when they emerge and arrive in the Nebraska; older Nebraskans have done their part in getting vaccinated at high rates; we need younger Nebraskans to keep stepping up to protect themselves and each other by choosing to get vaccinated.”

For more information on vaccination providers in the PHS district, visit or call the health department at 402-826-3880.

Kimle named Nebraska Middle School Counselor of the Year
  • Updated

M ichele Kimle says collaboration with her fellow counselors and support from the administration are keys to her success, highlighted in November as the Nebraska School Counselor Association named Kimle the Nebraska Middle School Counselor of the Year.

Kimle, in her 15th year at Hastings Middle School, said she wasn’t really telling anybody about the nomination because she tends to shy away from being the subject of attention. She didn’t want people to focus on her over the other middle school counselors, Jill Hoppe and Stephanie Jacobson.

“They’re amazing, too,” Kimle said. “I feel it’s really a team effort. We’re a good team.”

She said each of the trio concentrates on one grade level and sticks with that class through their time at the middle school. Kimle said the approach provides consistency for the students and fosters a deeper relationship.

“At the end of three years, I feel like we know those kids really well,” Kimle said.

About once a month, the counselors take a day to teach students. She said it helps students work on social/emotional development and allows counselors to develop relationships with students so they are more comfortable seeking them out if issues arise. The sessions also give teachers a break from the classroom to work on grading papers or prepare lessons.

The backing of the school’s administration also is a crucial factor to the success of the middle school counselors, she said.

In other areas of Nebraska and across the United States, counselors are being cut, Kimle said — but Hastings has made a commitment to supporting students.

“I feel our administration has really fought for three full-time counselors for us,” she said.

Kimle said she felt drawn to the education field many years ago.

“I always knew I wanted to work with kids,” she said. “I think middle school is a really interesting age of kiddo. You can joke with them but can have some pretty serious conversations with them, too.”

Kimle originally was a teacher in Kearney. She became interested in the subject of counseling after an experience with a student who made a possibly suicidal comment and Kimle wasn’t sure how to respond. After that, she started taking extra classes to learn better ways to help students.

When a counselor position opened up in Hastings Public Schools, she applied on a whim. The Kimle family farm south of Kenesaw is closer to Hastings than Kearney.

“It was a very, very good move,” she said. “Hastings is a great place.”

Kimle received the award Nov. 4 at the NSCA luncheon, but she hadn’t prepared a speech. She knew she was a semi-finalist for the award, but wasn’t sure whether she would be chosen.

“I was very humbled. I don’t deserve it any more than they do,” she said of the other candidates.

Angie Kruse, NSCA Professional Recognition Chair, said the award is about finding the school counselors who go above and beyond. One factor is school counselors who are following the American School Counselor Association National Model.

Kruse said they had nearly 40 nominations from across the state. The committee narrowed the field to six semi-finalists, each of whom completed an application that included two recommendations, a resume, and evidence of how they implement the American School Counselor Association National Model. The committee then chose one winner at each level.

“She (Kimle) has shown various ways of collaborating with the other professionals in the building and will refer on for additional family support when needed,” Kruse said. “A few of the consistent attributes that popped up in the letters of recommendation is how Michele Kimle continues to be there for students beyond middle school. She very much cares about her students and families.”

Other semi-finalists honored at the Nebraska School Counselor Association Luncheon in November included:

  • Elementary runner-up Kirk Ramsey with Blue Hill Elementary
  • Elementary Counselor of the Year Stefanie McAlpin with Anchor Pointe Elementary in Bennington
  • Middle School runner-up Lisa Bade with Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School in Omaha
  • High School runner-up Noelle Baker with Seward High School
  • High School Counselor of the Year Marilynn Peaslee with Lincoln Northeast High School

Fire displaces Good Sam apartment residents
  • Updated

Fire displaced around 20 residents of an apartment complex at Good Samaritan Society-Hastings Village on Friday evening.

Hastings Fire and Rescue put out a fire that appeared to originate in the entryway at Village Terrace, 315 S. First Ave., with assistance from the Hastings Rural Fire Department.

Amanda Scott, public information manager for the city of Hastings, said the fire appeared to be contained to the entryway, but smoke penetrated through the building, necessitating the evacuation of more than 20 residents.

Given the outside temperatures in the 40s, authorities had to find ways to keep the displaced residents warm. Some were placed in the Adams County Emergency Management mobile command center. Others were placed on a bus that could accommodate wheelchair use.

Scott said Hastings Utilities also was called to the scene to shut off electricity to the building due to electrical sparking in the building.

The Salvation Army and American Red Cross provided assistance, as well. It was unknown whether the residents would be able to return to the building on Friday.

Kenesaw schools looking to be proactive about energy efficiency
  • Updated

KENESAW — Kenesaw Public Schools is taking a proactive approach to the school’s HVAC system as well as other ways to boost energy efficiency including new windows and lighting.

Superintendent Rick Masters said the building is composed of a hodgepodge of heating, ventilation and air conditioning brands and equipment.

“Sometimes those things don’t always work together,” he said. “We’re getting toward the end of the useful life of a lot of our HVAC stuff.”

A great deal of that HVAC equipment is at least 20 years old.

The district’s facilities committee, which includes three board members, began looking at energy efficiency improvements around the beginning of the school year.

The entire board wanted to be involved in the discussion and had a special work session on Dec. 1 to help evaluate priorities.

KPS is working with Ameresco, which has facilitated energy efficiency projects for neighboring school districts.

KPS had some remodeling done in the last five years.

That project included replacing some of the lighting with LED lights.

A lot of the high school still has older lighting that isn’t efficient.

“They don’t provide good lighting,” Masters said. “We’re looking at that, as well.”

The district has a service agreement with Trane, which provided a listing of age of HVAC equipment and the expected lifespan of the equipment.

“Most of our HVAC equipment is at the end of that expected life, or past it,” Masters said. “Some of it still has a little bit of time left, but we’re getting to the point we need to be a little more proactive than waiting until something fails and replace it.”

Masters said board members may take action at their regular meeting on Dec. 13 to pursue energy efficiency projects.