COVID risk dial

Burt County’s risk dial reached a new high of 3.43 last week, it’s highest point since the dial started being used.

Burt County goes red. And we don’t mean the election.

Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department on Wednesday pushed the county’s risk dial to a new high of 3.43 on the 4.0 scale, well into the High range. The increase marks the highest level to date and marks the second consecutive week of large increases. The dial stood at 2.75 on Oct. 26 and 1.81 the week before that.

Figures from Nov. 1 show an increase of 18 active cases since Oct. 29, pushing the count to 78. The county has seen 167 positive tests since the pandemic began. As of the 29th, 88 patients had recovered and the county had experienced one COVID-related death.

Madison County has 822 of the health department’s 1,132 active cases as of Nov. 1. Cuming County had 152 while Stanton County had 79.

Health department officials said that as the numbers increase, some cases may be handed over to contracted Department of Health and Human Services contact tracers. The goal of contact tracing is quick and efficient follow-up so that all close contacts can be identified and quarantined to slow the spread of COVID-19.

A department spokesman said that if you have tested positive for COVID-19, it is important to answer the phone if a number is calling you that you may not recognize. The person calling may likely be a contact tracer who will perform a brief interview with you to identify others who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

Dials are not based only on case counts, other factors also are considered. They include: hospital bed availability, the direction and quantity of change in cases per week, ventilators available in the district, availability of testing, community spread of cases (can the department track a case back to a particular person?) and the ability to contact trace all affected individuals of a positive person within 48 hours of notification of the case to the local health department.

Under the department’s guidelines for the High range, public contact with other people should be as limited as possible and the use of cloth face coverings in public is strongly encouraged. They suggest working from home whenever possible. Those ill with flu-like or COVID-like symptoms should stay home, even if they are considered essential personnel. Contact with symptomatic people should be minimized and people at work should have their temperatures checked daily.

At home, physical distancing and face coverings are not necessary for people without symptoms, unless they are under quarantine as a result of being exposed to someone who is infected.

People over the age of 65, those with underlying health conditions and others at a heightened risk should stay home as much as possible.

More information on the health department’s recommendations can be found at its Web site: elvphd.org.

Tekamah-Herman Superintendent Dan Gross said on Wednesday that the local district, and the others in Educational Service Unit No. 2, are working with the twohealth departments in the area on revamping operating plans.

Gross said the school is not going to any form of remote learning at this point.

He said students are being diagnosed with the virus, but he declined to say how many, citing privacy concerns as well as the desire to provide accurate information on a situation that changes rapidly.

He echoed the statements of health department officials, saying the spread the district is experiencing generally isn’t coming from inside the school.

“I don’t want to say there isn’t any, but we are following protocols inside the building, like wearing masks,” he said. “Mostly the cases we’re seeing are being picked up somewhere else, places that may not be as strict.”

He called schools a microcosm of their communities, saying that since the virus is in the community it will show up inside the school.

He added that a transition to remote learning would likely remove many of the protections students and staff now enjoy.

“I won’t say we’d never go,” he added. “It may become a staffing issue at some point.”

Gross also said input from the health department will be crucial in determining if a change should be made.

“We track absences and symptoms among students and staff and work with the health department to determine trends,” he said. “If they tell us we shouldn’t have school, we won’t have school. It’s that simple.

“Right now, we think school is the safest place to be.”

In a press release issued late Wednesday afternoon, an ESU spokesman said ESU 2 schools had plans to transition away from in-class learning once risk dials reached Elevated or High levels. The schools on Wednesday said they now plan to keep students in class as much and as long as possible.

Representatives of both Elkhorn Logan Valley and Three Rivers health departments said much has been learned over the last three months since the school plans initially were developed.

ESU 2 has held weekly meetings with public and private school superintendents. Health department officials hold a standing position on the agendas and provide updates as well as current guidance to local school officials.

“Early on we sought opportunities to serve our school districts and decided providing support in the area of sourcing (personal protective equipment) and serving as a conduit for information was something we could do,” said Dr. Ted DeTurk, ESU 2 administrator. “I’ve been impressed with the collaborative effort of all involved during these trying times.”