The Superior Express -

SHDHD investigating large cluster of COVID-19 cases


South Heartland District Health Department (SHDHD) officials are investigating a large cluster of COVID cases and exposures associated with multiple events. Some of the cases were reported by SHDHD earlier and some are newly identified.

The cases in this cluster attended one or more of several events, including a large gathering at Lovewell Lake on July 11 through 12, a private party near Exeter on July 15, and Sutton High School graduation and related private graduation parties on the weekend of July 18.

The positive cases included in this cluster so far are nine Clay County residents, one Adams County resident, two who reside in other health districts and one individual from another state.

Michelle Bever, SHDHD executive director, said that more than 40 close contacts have been identified so far and these individuals were instructed to self-quarantine and monitor for symptoms. Some have tests pending. “This investigation is ongoing,” Bever said. “Unfortunately, because not all individuals were physically distanced at these events and activities, and mask use was not widespread, we do not know how many others may have been exposed.”

“This cluster underscores the ease with which the COVID-19 virus can spread from person to person, even when people only have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all,” Bever said. “The risk of bringing the virus back to members of your family, to your co-workers, or to others you may interact with, increases significantly when prevention is not in place.

Bever noted gatherings are still restricted according to the state-directed health measures in effect in Nebraska at least through July 31. A gathering is any event or convening that brings together more than 10 individuals in a single room or single indoor or outdoor space at the same time. “There are overall capacity restrictions and limitations of eight people per any one party at gatherings,” Bever said.

Monday SHDHD reported 15 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past four days, bringing the total number of cases in the 4-county health district to 404. By county, the new totals were 335 in Adams, 51 in Clay, 11 in Webster, and seven in Nuckolls.

New cases in Adams County: five males (three in their 20s, two in their 50s); five females (one under 20, one in her 20s, one in her 50s, one in her 60s and one in her 70s)

New cases in Clay County: one male under 20; four females (one under 20, two in their 40s, one in her 60s)

Bever reported South Hearland’s positive test rate or positivity (number of positve lab reports divided by the total number of lab reports) for the week of July 19 through 25 was 5.1 percent, down from 7.5 percent the previous week. She said the health department is beginning to track positivity by county to have a better picture of the COVID-19 status in each county.

Adams County had a steady decline in positivity over the past three weeks, from 5.8 percent three weeks ago to 3.2 percent last week. Nuckolls County went from 0 percent to 10.8 percent and back down to 3.1 percent. Webster County’s positivity was 6.3 percent last week, up from 4.4 percent two weeks ago and 0 percent three weeks ago. Clay County saw a large jump in positivity over the past three weeks, from 3.4 percent to 12. 5 percent, then up to 16.9 percent last week.

“Our best chance of keeping the number of new cases low, is to encourage people to protect themselves from being exposed to the virus in the first place,” Bever said.

Key prevention actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 include: staying at home if we have any symptoms, even mild symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19; keeping six feet between ourselves and others; wearing a face covering as a barrier to keep our germs from spreading to others, especially when we are unable to be physically distanced; washing our hands frequently with soap and water; and cleaning and disinfecting any frequently-touched surfaces.

“All of us - all ages - should practice these prevention actions everywhere we go: at work, at the store, at graduations and sports events, at weddings and receptions, at church and at the fair,” she said. “If people are not staying six feet apart, these are the settings where we see new close contacts and, from that, new cases.”

SHDHD officials reported 353 South Heartland residents, which is 91 percent of the reported cases, have recovered from COVID-19 since the beginning of the outbreak in March. Bever said the breakdown of recovered cases by county is 93 percent of Adams County cases, 80 percent of Clay County cases, 86 percent of Nuckolls County cases and 82 percent of Webster County cases.


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