COVID-19 surging again
COVID-19 continues to rear its ugly head in Southwest Nebraska and the state as a whole, along with many states in the U.S.
The Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department (SWNPHD) moved its community risk dial to “RED” on Monday.
Director Myra Stoney said the risk level was raised due to high levels of community spread across several counties and the threat of the healthcare system becoming overwhelmed.
From Nov. 10 to noon Monday, Perkins County reported 17 new COVID-19 cases. That compared to 62 in Keith County and 24 in Chase County.
Over the last week, Nebraska’s rate of new virus cases remained the sixth-highest in the nation.
Under red risk conditions, Stoney recommends people stay at home when possible, except for essential errands. If leaving home, wear a mask or face covering.
She said high-risk and vulnerable individuals should limit their contact with those who work outside the home. All gatherings and events are strongly discouraged until the risk dial is no longer in the red.
Last week, Governor Ricketts issued new directed health measures that tighten down on gatherings and extra-curricular school events as part of the efforts to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
During his press briefing Monday, Ricketts said the availability of hospital beds will be a determining factor in whether stricter restrictions will be declared.
In a week, hospitalizations of COVID patients in the state went from 200 to more than 930.
Neil Hilton, CEO at Perkins County Community Hospital, said Monday they have not been overwhelmed with COVID patients to this point. He said they can accommodate three to four COVID patients at one time and haven’t exceeded that thus far.
One of the concerns, Hilton said, is that hospitals where they transfer patients are filling up with COVID patients and limiting transfers. This includes hospitals in North Platte, Kearney and Scottsbluff.
He said they will do everything possible to handle COVID patients here versus transferring them.
He added they are somewhat understaffed due to hospital staff under quarantine, either by testing positive or being exposed to someone who tested positive.
School remains at orange
During Monday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Phillip Picquet said they will remain at Level Orange.
He said Stoney didn’t expect schools to go to their Level Red just because they moved their community risk dial to red.
She has noted schools are doing a great job of keeping kids in school, assisting with contact tracing and dealing with quarantine needs.
Picquet said he and his staff feel the best place for students is in school versus online learning, like last spring. That’s a last resort, he noted.
As long as they have enough teachers and substitutes, Picquet said they will keep kids in school.
They will continue to practice social distancing and mask wearing when social distancing isn’t possible.
Even with in-school learning, Picquet said they are seeing more students experiencing personal challenges from the stress that COVID has brought on.
City responding to surge
Edward Dunn, city superintendent, said the change in the risk dial has caused them to take more preventative measures.
As long as the dial remains in the red, Dunn said the City Hall, Hastings Memorial Library and offices at the Grant airport will be closed to the public.
He said city personnel will be available by appointment. The library will continue to offer curbside checkout.
The city park and playgrounds will remain open but still fall under directed health measures in terms of gatherings.