'Lead by example'

Local officials urge mask wearing, small gatherings

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Several Blair and Washington County officials met via Zoom on Nov. 18 to discuss navigating the next wave of COVID-19. The event was organized by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

Washington County Sheriff Mike Robinson shared the impact of COVID-19 on his department and urged people to do their part.

"We share the responsibility to lead by example," he said. "We've had six employees test positive and 25 have been out over time due to possible exposure."

Robinson said there is a financial and budgetary impact with lost man hours and over $19,000 in overtime in two weeks. The office implemented masks a month ago, as well as when deputies interact with people. He also said they are disinfecting the office.

Terra Uhing, executive director of Three Rivers Public Health Department, shared data for an overview.

"We have had, to date, 4,396 within the three counties, 661 new cases in the past 7 days, 1,223 in the past 14 days," she said. "To date, there are 3,336 that have recovered. When you look at the ages 50-59 and 20-29 age range are the highest ranges in the health jurisdiction."

Uhing said there was an uptick Nov. 6 of 131 cases.

"Did the huge uptick have anything to do with Halloween? We can't prove that it did but we also can't say that it didn't," she said. "We had a significant day Nov. 14 and then (Nov. 17) with 113 cases. Our case rate per 100,000 is increasing drastically."

Uhing said they are continuing to test many more people, some people who are sick, some are curious to know if they have COVID-19 or have something else going on. She said Nov. 8 to Nov. 9 they were at 45 percent rate, which means that of the number of people that were tested on that day, a high majority of those were positive.

"When we talk specifically about Washington County, we've done 6,435 tests, had 913 positive cases, 186 in the last 7 days and 341 in the last two weeks," she said. "Washington County has a different demographic with the highest percentages in the 50-59, 40-49 and then the 20-29 age range."

Uhing said cases in children are starting to increase, as well.

Community spread is large, according to Uhing.

"(On Nov. 17), we were almost at 50 percent positivity rate," she said. "There were 37 negative and 35 positive tests."

Uhing said they have found that the schools are doing a tremendous job.

"The mitigation strategies and work they're doing to keep these kids safe, I have so much admiration for them," she said. "What we have found is the activities that are taking place outside of school, like going to each other's houses to hang out and eating in large groups at restaurants, are the activities that are tying to our kids with the positive cases."

Uhing said it is her wish and strategy to keep the kids in school as long as they possibly can.

"They are way safer in school and we've seen that evidence since they started back in August," she said. "I'm pleading with you during these next two months with the holidays: if you don't want to wear a mask because of a directed health measure, do it for loved one whose life can depend on whether you wear it."

She also said to stay away from large gatherings.

"I know we all have to live our lives and have things we need to do, but right now with our hospital capacity being what it is, now is not the time," Uhing said.

Keala Roy works in the emergency room at Memorial Community Hospital and Health System (MCH&HS) and described work as “a roller coaster.” She said the staff and first responders have been amazing, but they get at least one patient a day with COVID-19 and hospitals are filling up. She said nurses are reaching their breaking point.

"We don't want to get to a point where we can't offer the best care to everyone," she said.

Dr. Jeremy Lee, an ER doctor at MCH&HS, knows firsthand the effects of COVID-19 as he had it earlier this year. He said there's been an increase in hospitalizations and it's getting more difficult to transfer patients, with some needing to go as far as Grand Island. Lee described when people should go to the ER — shortness of breath, chest pain, turning blue. He encouraged people to wear two-layer masks and avoid the three Cs: crowded places, close contact and confined spaces.

State Sen. Ben Hansen called out the importance of communication during the pandemic. He said the next legislative session starts in January and that people were calling for a special session to deal with legislation but it isn't happening.

"We approved appropriations in June for Personal Protective Equipment, but I haven't heard anything on statutes to come," he said.

Hansen also addressed the assistance of natural health care in helping against COVID-19, including proper diet and supplements, vitamin D, Zinc, the effects of sleeplessness and stress, and said he appreciated hospitals and first responders.

Uhing urged people to lead by example and wear masks because they care. She also encouraged parents if they want to keep kids in school to keep them home if they are sick or have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.

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