The head of the Central District Health Department expects the number of positive COVID-19 tests to increase during the next two months, possibly bringing back the large number of coronarvirus cases the area experienced in April and May.
In a COVID-19 community update on Tuesday from City Hall, Teresa Anderson, health director of Central District Health Department, looked back on the numbers in April and May, when the positivity rate was “very, very high.” In the week ending April 25, the Health Department recorded 447 positive tests.
The number of positive tests had dropped by June, when the weekly totals ranged between 11 and 20.
By the end of July, the weekly total hit 49. “And right now we’re looking at 43 to 51,” Anderson said.
“A couple of factors contribute to this increase,” she said. “First of all, I think all of us will admit we’re getting a little COVID-weary. We want to get back to life as we knew it” and not have to worry about the coronavirus anymore.
“So when we get complacent about COVID, the virus takes advantage of the situation,” Anderson said.
“When we’re lax in wearing our mask, when we’re around others, we risk spreading the virus to others.”
When people assemble in large groups, either indoors or outdoors, it can contribute to the spread of the virus, she said.
Twice a week, Central District Health participates in a call with the University of Nebraska Medical Center for Global Studies.
“These are scientists and specialists who study COVID very closely,” Anderson said.
“What they’re telling us now is that we’re in for a rough fall. We’re going to see our positive numbers go up week by week.”
Generally, those cases will involve younger people.
“By the middle of October, we’ll start to see hospitalization rates go up and death rates go up. And that is due in large part to the spread from the younger population to our older population,” Anderson said.
The way to stop it is to work together.
“As a community, we were able to contain the spread over most of the summer months,” she said.
People wore masks, practiced social distancing, stayed home when ill and washed their hands frequently.
“These are our core tools that will prevent the COVID from being as bad again as it was in the spring,” Anderson said. “But the effort has to be communitywide. We want each of you to engage in these activities to help us have a healthy fall. And if we don’t, we will pay the price.”
Those with underlying health conditions are most at risk for having serious complications from COVID. “And we need to do everything we can to protect those individuals. The virus is tricky, and we know that if we wear a mask, we can contain the virus, even if we’re asymptomatic but we have the virus.”
The directed health measure was revised during the weekend, she said. The changes “would reflect a different type of situation for our school-age children.”
The directed health measure deviates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s best practice, Anderson said. It allows children who’ve been exposed to the virus as close contacts to return to school if they wear a mask.
“This is specific to extracurricular activity exposure, and not to in-classroom exposure. We are concerned that this change in the directed health measure will result in an increased number of our youth being at risk, and it will also hasten the spread of the virus throughout our community,” she said.
“We have cautioned our schools on this. Some schools are going to stick with their existing policies. Others are going to advance to the new directed health measure. Regardless of the decisions the schools make and which policy they’re going to implement, we will be there to support them. We will do everything in our power to keep people, especially our young people, safe.”
Anderson also referred to a CDC recommendation made during the weekend that encourages people to get tested regardless of whether they have symptoms. The CDC recommends testing for anyone who has had close contact with a person who has tested positive.
“And people will ask what’s the use of getting tested if I’ve been exposed?” she said. “We know that the incubation period, or the time from exposure to development of symptoms, can be two to 14 days. Therefore, our quarantine period is 14 days.”
Through the additional testing, health officials are “hoping to catch some folks who may be asymptomatic carriers,” Anderson said.
She encouraged people to get tested either through TestNebraska or at the Central District Health sites in Grand Island and Aurora.
“There are no criteria for testing, and there is no charge for TestNebraska,” she said.
In a bit of good news, Anderson reported that TestNebraska last week had a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time in test results.
“And we’re very pleased to know that that turnaround time is about what we would expect in a good situation,” she said.
“So if a person has symptoms and gets tested on Monday, we would hope to have the results by Wednesday afternoon.” That would allow a person to stay home until he or she gets results and permit health officials “to do a complete case investigation.”
During the fall, Anderson expects the hours of testing availability to increase.
We are all eager to get back to a normal way of life, she said. But “this is not the time to relax our measures that we’re taking in our fight against COVID. It seems like a very long time since we asked for you to wear a mask and to social distance. Indeed, it has been a very long time since we first started down this road in March.”