South Heartland Health sees a rise in COVID-19 cases

HASTINGS, Neb. (Nebraska) – South Heartland District Health Department (SHDHD) Executive Director Michele Bever reported an increase in COVID-19 cases in staff and residents of long-term care facilities, virus levels in local wastewater and the identification of variant XBB.1.5 among local cases.

Bever said four long-term care facilities have reported new cases of COVID-19, for a total of seven staff members and 10 residents who have tested positive in the past two weeks.

“We are also monitoring levels of the virus in the community through wastewater surveillance, which shows that the virus continues to circulate in the community and the number of infections in the area is significant,” Bever said. The most recent wastewater surveillance report for Hastings shows trending levels of the virus that causes COVID-19. Results from samples collected on Feb. 7 show virus levels classified as very high.

Bever reported that the XBB.1.5 variant (sometimes referred to as the “Kraken” variant) is now the predominant variant in Nebraska and has been identified in the South Heartland Health District. Preliminary data from the Nebraska Genomic Surveillance Report shows that the XBB.1.5 variant is responsible for 44% of Nebraska’s COVID-19 cases, while the proportion of cases caused by other variants has decreased: BQ.1.1 (13%), BQ.1 (11 percent), BA.5 (11 percent), and BA.2.75 (9 percent).

Bever said ongoing mutations and recombinations of the virus leading to new variants mean it continues to be important to stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines. “We are lucky to have vaccines that offer strong protection against COVID-19, even against new variants. According to a recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people vaccinated with the bivalent booster were 14 times less likely to die from COVID-19 than people who were not vaccinated, and three times less likely to die from COVID-19. 19 compared to people who only received the original COVID-19 vaccines.”

Janis Johnson, a registered nurse and South Heartland’s immunization manager, said it continues to be important to stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines, which are effective against known variants and have been shown to be safe. “You are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines when you complete a primary series of COVID-19 vaccines and receive a bivalent booster dose. Being up to date helps protect you from becoming seriously ill if you get infected,” she said. “Our local data shows that most people who need hospital treatment for COVID-19 disease aren’t vaccinated or aren’t able to rule with vaccinations “.

SHDHD offers direct access to free primary series of the COVID-19 vaccine and free dual boosters from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of February and March (February 22, March 8, and March 22).

For other locations offering the COVID-19 vaccine in Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster counties, refer to the SHDHD website,, or call the Department of Health office, 1-877-238-7595 .

“Prevention is still our best way to reduce the risk of getting infected and becoming seriously ill or needing hospitalization,” Bever said. “Help protect yourself and your family by practicing good hygiene and staying home when you’re sick to reduce the spread of any respiratory illnesses. Above all, stay up to date on all your vaccinations to reduce the spread of preventable diseases,” she said.

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