Two major outbreaks stemming from parties and celebrations have been responsible for Seward County's recent surge in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.
At an Aug. 6 briefing, Four Corners Health District personnel and various institutions throughout Seward County recapped the last two weeks in public health. During that two weeks, 66 new confirmed cases of coronavirus emerged in Seward County, a number that surpassed the county's total since the pandemic began over three months ago.
In the last full week of data (July 27-Aug. 1), Seward County saw a 8.41% positivity rate, nearly doubling the 4.83% rate from the week before and well over the average of 3.98%.
Four Corners Health Department Executive Director Laura McDougall also explained that, as of data available on Aug. 6, 46 people were still sick with coronavirus in Seward County. That surpassed the other counties in the health district (York 18, Butler 7, Polk 6). As of the briefing, six people in the district were hospitalized with complications due to COVID-19. McDougall said Seward County had two of those hospitalizations, one person in their 40s and another she described as only in their 30s.
McDougall then confirmed the two recent outbreaks in Seward County, including one that had resulted in 14 cases in one day (and eight the following day for a two-day total of 22), came from a celebration that involved someone in their 20s and their family members. McDougall also said one of the recent confirmed cases out of York County included “school-aged kids,” so the health department has informed area schools that could be impacted by current confirmed cases.
“We expect that number will go up once school reopens,” McDougall said.
Because of those recent outbreaks and the rising number of cases inside Seward County, Four Corners Health District officials moved its risk gauge up to 1.75, which is the highest it has been but still shy of the threshold into orange (2.00). McDougall stated in the briefing that, considering the latest data she received that morning, she expected the dial to drift near orange.
Four Corners Health District received a new shipment of personal protective equipment for hospitals, primary care facilities and elder care facilities among others, but not for schools. The State of Nebraska restricted PPE to schools, as well as non-profits, at least for the time being.
Memorial Health Care Systems Chairman Roger Reamers announced that the hospital would emphasize in-house rapid testing, offering quicker test results than alternative outlets. He stressed the importance of quick results.
“We want to make sure we're ready to help in the next few weeks,” Reamers said.
Tests can also be conducted in the two-hour window Test Nebraska makes available every Friday.
Graduation ceremonies held in Seward Aug. 1 passed with no noticeable disruptions. Dr. Josh Fields, Seward Public Schools superintendent, said the latest plans for Seward Public Schools were shared with parents on Aug. 5. Concordia University interim President Dr. Russell Sommerfeld said Concordia's plan to reopen now requires face coverings indoors and outdoors where maintaining a six-foot distance is impossible.
Seward City Administrator Greg Butcher and Utica Board of Trustees member Sharon Powell joined the conference to compliment their respective pool staffs, which both drew their seasons to a close without outbreak or incidents. Senior care facilities at both towns remain closed.
In the business sector, Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership President Jonathan Jank brought up the recent status in unemployment. As of mid-July, federal law required those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 to seek employment in order to obtain unemployment insurance. Jank invited Bryan Seck of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce to speak about Seward County's rise in unemployment, which stands at 6.5% – double its total this time last year.
Seck listed one person he works with in Lincoln as a single mother of three. During full employment pre-coronavirus she made $1,664 per month, which left $4 for savings after expenditures, according to Seck's presentation. While receiving unemployment insurance during the coronavirus, she received $3,232 per month and saw more of her children. Since those benefits no longer applied to her she's received $832 per month, which has pushed her and her children to the point of eviction, Seck said.
Jank said he wanted to share stories of real people in order to best convey the importance of being progressive and urgent when dealing with unemployment.