Panhandle Public Health officials say the risk level for increased spread of COVID-19 in the area jumped higher this week and remains in the yellow, or moderate, category, but is much closer to the orange level than it has been since the indicator was created.
During Monday’s COVID update, Tabi Prochaska with PPHD said several factors led to the higher indicator on the risk dial, including 159 new cases over the last three weeks, a weekly positivity rate rising from under five percent three weeks ago to 15 percent this past week, and ICU availability dropping below 30% over the same time frame.
Director Kim Engel said as we saw with trends at the beginning of the pandemic, the Panhandle is trailing the eastern part of the state in seeing an uptick in the trend for new cases.
She says that means practicing those measures such as hand-washing and wearing a mask when you can’t socially-distance from others are all-the-more important to limiting the spread of the disease and keeping the risk dial out of the high-risk spread category.
School has now been in session for up to six weeks in many Panhandle communities. Several area schools, administration, and boards have worked hard to implement increased precautions during the COVID pandemic to keep children and staff safe. These include things like:
- Spacing students out in the classroom and at lunch to allow for effective distancing.
- Mask wearing in accordance with the Panhandle risk dial.
- Staggered passing times to decrease the number of people in the hallways and staggered recesses.
- Increased handwashing and sanitizing points throughout the school.
- Staying home when a student or staff member is experiencing even minor signs of illness.
“These are all key to slowing the disease spread,” said Kim Engel, Panhandle Public Health District Director. She added, “When these increased precautions are being implemented, it significantly reduces the amount of students that are required to quarantine due to close contact resulting in kids staying in school.”
In some situations, the health district has seen one confirmed COVID positive student or staff member and upwards of 38 others that are then required to quarantine, as required by the Governor’s Directed Health Measure, when contact tracing has been conducted. Factors that are considered in the disease investigation:
- Close contact is considered less than six feet for a total of 15 minutes or more.
- Were masks worn by the positive individual and the close contacts?
- In a classroom where everyone is masked, including the initial positive case, the initial positive case will isolate at home, and the remainder of the school-aged individuals will self-monitor for symptoms.
- In a classroom where the initial positive case is not masked, the initial positive case will be isolated at home, and any school-aged individual who had close contact will quarantine at home.
- In a classroom where the initial positive case is masked but others are not, the initial positive case will isolate at home, those school-aged individuals without masks and had close contact with initial positive case who are exposed will quarantine at home, and the remainder of the classroom will self-monitor for symptoms.
- In a classroom where no school-aged individual were masked, the initial positive case will be isolated at home, and any school-aged individual who had close contact with initial positive case will quarantine at home.
- Seating charts for the classroom, lunch room, and transportation
- marking where each student sat and if they wore a mask
- distance between desk
- attendance for the date(s) in question
- If a school-aged individual has close contact during an outdoor extracurricular event or in an indoor space where all individuals are spaced six feet apart, the school-aged individual(s) may self-monitor in lieu of quarantine.
Gordon-Rushville Public Schools Administration and School Board has implemented every recommended increased precaution and it has proven to uphold their goal of continuity. Because they have worked so hard on prevention, they have had no quarantines when a school student or staff tested positive.
“When I walk through the halls and see children in classrooms and in their seats learning, I know this is why we have all worked so hard on these reopening plans. Continuity is the ultimate goal while keeping kids, families, and our community safe,” said Lori Liggett, Gordon-Rushville Public Schools Superintendent.
Sidney and Gering strengthened their policies to include mandatory mask wearing to avoid another situation of a large number of quarantined students missing school. We urge all schools to implement precautions to keep school age students, staff and the community safe. Our goal is to keep kids in school. Local public health departments are obligated to quarantine close contacts according the Governor’s Directed Health Measure. This can be found here: http://dhhs.ne.gov/Documents/PPHD-DHM-September21.pdf.
We also urge that students and parents show kindness and grace to those confirmed positive with COVID and who are in quarantine. We are in a pandemic, to blame an individual for the consequences of quarantine, or missing events, is a form of bullying and only adds to the despair of the situation.
Unified Command confirms 24 more cases of COVID in the Panhandle since last reporting on Thursday, September 24. The investigations are underway, all close contacts will be quarantined and actively monitored for symptoms by public health officials.
|Children 19 and under: 5|
|Box Butte||2||Community Spread|
|Scotts Bluff||1||Close Contact|
|Box Butte||1||Close Contact|
|Box Butte||3||Community Spread|
|Scotts Bluff||2||Close Contact|
|Scotts Bluff||3||Community Spread|
Unified Command confirms 26 more recoveries in the Panhandle: