KEARNEY — Contrary to popular myth, COVID-19 is not over. Far from it.
“Even though people pretend the pandemic is over in our state, it is not,” Dr. James Lawler, a member of the UNMC Global Center for Health Security leadership team, said this week. “We are in a tough situation. People should get vaccinated and wear masks in public.”
If that’s not enough, the flu is expected to return with a vengeance this winter after being dormant last year.
Susan Puckett, community health nurse at the Two Rivers Public Health Department, shared that sobering information from Lawler Friday at the Two Rivers’ weekly clinical call.
“In Nebraska, there is a fear in the medical community that with COVID and the normal flu season, health systems will have tremendous difficulty meeting the demand,” Puckett said.
“We have also had abundance of respiratory syncytial virus this fall, out of season. It’s slowing down a bit right now, but I don’t think we’ll be as lucky this year with the flu skipping us. It sounds like there’s going to be a lot of flu, and there will definitely be a lot of COVID, all going on at the same time,” she said.
New COVID cases in Nebraska are twice the national average and 14th highest in the country, and Lawler expects COVID cases in Nebraska to remain at a relatively high level “for a while,” she said.
As of Thursday afternoon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nebraska has had 300,348 cases of COVID since the pandemic began March 20, 2020, and 3,048 deaths, while the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services lists 297, 217 cases, she said.
Two Rivers reported 384 cases in its seven counties Nov. 10-16.
According to the New York Times, as of Friday, the seven Two Rivers counties had 352 new cases of COVID-19 Nov. 12-18:
— Buffalo: 196
— Dawson: 58
— Franklin: 3
— Gosper: 5
— Harlan: 6
— Kearney: 14
— Phelps: 70
These numbers are nearly identical to numbers from the CDC website.
As of Nov. 8, 149 people have died of COVID in seven-county Two Rivers area, but Puckett said that number will rise next week as additional COVID deaths are verified.
For the 10th week in a row, the Two Rivers weekly COVID-19 risk dial is in the red “pandemic” level.
“It moved up just a smudge this week,” she said. “People in their 80s and 70s are doing quite well. They are well-vaccinated. Young people are really struggling, especially people from their 20s to the 50s. We’re struggling with getting those people vaccinated.”
Testing positivity rates are soaring, too, ranging from 27.5% in Buffalo County last week, 30.7% in Dawson County, 29.8% in Phelps County and 27% in Kearney County, according to the CDC website. Percentages were not available on that site for Franklin, Gosper or Harlan counties.
As of Tuesday, Kearney Regional Medical Center had 10 COVID patients, including two on ventilators. No statistics were available from CHI Health Good Samaritan.
In a Facebook posting Thursday, the Gibbon Public Schools said the district had 16 students with COVID, incuding 11 in elementary school and five in high school.
Day care centers
Puckett said Two Rivers has received many calls reporting infected staff members and students at child care programs, and asking what to do. This is especially critical when staff is caring for infants and children under 2, who require physical contact.
“If you have a room of infants and the staff is picking them up, they cannot remain 3 feet apart. This is super-super close contact,” she said.
For that reason, staff members must be vaccinated, and wear masks at all times “so they are not carrying something from one room to another,” Puckett said. “We recommend universal indoor masking for everyone age 2 and over.”
Vaccines are not available to anyone under the age of 5.
She also discussed quarantine in schools, again based on CDC guidelines, to help school administrators determine who needs to be isolated or quarantined, and for how long. Preferably, she said, everyone would be masked. For CDC guidelines, visit www.CDC.gov.
“We also need to remind people that being quarantined means staying home. Do not run errands or go to social events. If you have to go out, be sure to wear a mask so you are not exposing anyone else,” she said. This is especially true of people quarantined because they have been exposed to someone with COVID, but whose test results have not yet come back.
“Vaccinations are a primary strategy that can help protect staff and kids at early childhood education centers,” she said.
She said vaccinations still are lagging.
“We have lots of people coming in for booster shots, but more are coming in for boosters than for first and second vaccines. People who are convinced vaccines are helpful are getting booster shots,” she said.
She said people who have recovered from COVID still need a vaccine. She said an executive summary from the CDC showed that people who had COVID retained some resistance to the virus for three to six months, but the immunity provided by a vaccine is higher than that.
She said the “current level of evidence” shows the protection is not the same for all COVID cases because its seven variants differ, “but a growing body of evidence indicates that a vaccine after infection significantly enhances immunity,” she said.
“Simply having COVID is not as good protection as vaccine,” she added.
As of Friday morning, 34 patients were hospitalized with COVID in Two Rivers’ seven counties — Buffalo, Dawson, Franklin, Gospher, Harlan, Kearney and Phelps — and 12 COVID patients were in the ICU.
Even if people test negative for COVID, they might have something else equally contagious, “so if you are symptomatic, stay home. If you don’t get better, seek medical care. Even if you don’t have COVID, you can be pretty sick,” Puckett said.