As numbers of new cases in its jurisdiction continue to grow, the South Heartland District Health Department is putting residents on notice that the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is circulating widely in the district.

The health department announced a COVID-19 advisory for the four-county district in a news release Wednesday afternoon.

South Heartland encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. Department headquarters are in Hastings.

After low-spread conditions earlier in the summer, COVID-19 case numbers in the general public now have been climbing again for several weeks. And after more than three months without a single reported new case among residents and employees of long-term care facilities, the disease is beginning to show up in those settings.

“The number of new confirmed cases reported for our counties continues to climb each week,” said Michele Bever, the health department’s executive director, in Wednesday’s news release. “Positivity (percent positive tests) remains well above the 10% threshold for the district overall, as well as for each of the four counties individually. This indicates we have high community transmission.

“The advisory serves as a way to notify the public about the high community transmission and the risk of COVID-19 exposure within the health district. This advisory will be in effect through the end of September and may be extended, if transmission remains high.”

The test positivity rate is the number of new laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 logged among district residents for a given week, divided by the number of COVID-19 tests administered in that same time period.

In the health department’s weekly Tuesday evening COVID-19 update, Bever reported the district’s overall weekly positivity rate was 17.4% for the week ending Sept. 11. By county, positivity was 17.2% in Adams, 18.3% in Clay, 12.0% in Nuckolls and 25% in Webster.

More than 10% positivity is considered high community transmission. Positivity values below 5% are considered low community transmission.

The district, overall, had logged 214 new cases in the seven-day period ending Tuesday night. Given the district’s population of about 45,000, that number equates to 473.4 cases per 100,000 people.

More than 100 new cases per 100,000 population in seven days is considered high community transmission; low community transmission is fewer than 10 new cases per 100K in seven days.

The reappearance of COVID-19 cases in long-term care settings also is a concern, Bever said.

“In addition to seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases in the general public, we have started to see cases being reported in staff and residents of long-term care facilities in our district. We had a span of about 15 weeks where the positivity was zero in our nursing homes and assisted living facilities. We are seeing that the high community transmission is beginning to impact health and safety in these facilities. As of today, we are aware of at least six facilities that have staff or residents who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

The health department is recommending using layers of prevention, including masks and physical distancing as well as vaccination, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

“We know what we can do to stay healthy — we need to use as many layers of prevention as we can, in as many places as we can,” Bever said. “Those layers of prevention that should be considered include: avoiding crowded places, avoiding confined indoor spaces, staying home when you have symptoms, wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, keeping 6 feet distance from others, and getting fully vaccinated.”

The health department maintains lists of locations offering COVID-19 testing and vaccinations in the district. The lists may be viewed at: southheartlandhealth.org.

In addition, many health care providers are offering COVID-19 vaccine to their patients. 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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