County hears another COVID-19 update

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Phase three of reopening should come soon

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As the counties in the Central District Health Department have officially transitioned to the second phase of reopening in Nebraska, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners thought it timely to invite Hamilton County Emergency Manager Kirt Smith to Monday’s meeting to provide an update.

Despite now being in Phase 2 protocol, Smith reported that total positive cases were still on the rise -- though minimally.

“Just for kind of where we sit in our health district, last week we ended with 1,695 cases in the district and 57 deaths,” he said. “Of those, 64 (positive cases) are in Hamilton County and (there are) 13 deaths in Hamilton County. In a little over a week, Hamilton County has gone up three positive cases. In the district we’ve been pretty low.”

During Smith’s most recent meeting with the CDHD last week it was discussed that of the 10 new cases in that week five came from Hall County and Merrick County’s case total grew by two.

In relation, Smith continued, this means that the county is on a good path percent-wise compared to other counties. The CDHD is working to push the district along through phases, with those being determined ultimately by the governor.

“As you guys know we went into Phase 2 last week,” Smith reported. “It looks like, from what the health department is telling us, we will spend two to three weeks in this phase -- which would put us at about the 13th of July where we would maybe, or hopefully, go into Phase 3 if everything stays good.”

It was later released, after the conclusion of the commissioner’s meeting, that the Central District will be moving into Phase 3 of reopening effective July 6. This will bring all of Nebraska’s counties into Phase 3.

“We were underneath a 4 percent positivity rate this last week, which if you remember back when this all started our district was in the 45 percent positivity rate so we’re going down,” Smith reported. “How they explain that is the things that are happening now are basically from things that we did two to three weeks ago.”

When businesses started closing, people were social distancing, staying home and wearing masks -- this lowered rate is the result of those actions, he clarified.

“So hopefully we can keep it that way,” he said. “And that’s why we’re opening slowly, so we don’t have a big rush.”

The National Guard, previously deployed across the state to help with coronavirus testing, will be sent home as its contracted time is up and additional testing sites in Aurora or Grand Island are still in the works, Smith added. Also, despite nationwide and state media coverage depicting cases on the rise, area hospitals are presently not struggling with capacity.

“And I know in our district,” Smith noted, “as of our meeting last Wednesday there were no COVID patients on vents in our district, which is really good. And we’re down to the single digits as far as hospitalizations.”

Commissioner Becky Richter posed an additional question of Smith, asking how best the county could continue to encourage its residents to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing.

“I’m concerned that people are thinking it’s not here anymore,” Richter said.

“That is a tough thing, because people are tired (of it) and I understand that,” Smith answered. “But I think by setting good examples, you know, we need to make sure we’re wearing our masks in public, or we need to have those promotions out there and put it out on the website or on your social media accounts to remind people we still need to follow those rules. They are there for a reason.”

Like the governor said, if you want Nebraska football this year, wear a mask and follow the rules, he added with a laugh.

“If we want to kind of have a more normal life we need to follow these until we get that vaccine,” Smith explained. “I think it’s important for us as employees and leaders to set that example so people see us doing it and they say ‘Oh, okay.’ Hopefully, if I’m doing it, somebody else is going to do it too.”

Keep signs up and keep reminding people, he added.

“The mask isn’t for me, it’s for you,” Smith noted. “That is what you keep having to remind people of. I’m not wearing it for myself, I am wearing it to protect you. You’re being courteous to other people if you’re wearing that mask. That’s what it’s about.”

Hamilton County Administrative Manager Scott Stuhr continued the COVID conversation, providing commissioners an update on procedures and such in the courthouse now that it is reopened to the public.

Constant sanitation continues, he voiced, and the provided masks at the entrances can be taken -- with the courthouse going through 50-100 a day -- which is both a good and bad thing. The courthouse has also received its electrostatic sanitizer, which should help speed up the sanitizing process.

The next county board meeting will be held in person Monday, July 6 at 8:30 a.m. in the DMV room at the courthouse.

In other items, the board:

* approved Art Walk Aurora to use the courthouse yard electricity and display a sign for the annual Art Walk, Sept. 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in conjunction with the Market on the Square;

* approved yard signs to be placed in the courthouse yard to Go Big Give, until July 7, via Tammy Morris with the Hamilton Community Foundation;

* reviewed NACO Nebraska Benefit Services health plan with Dennis Maggart;

* approved a $25 fee per event for special designated liquor license applications;

* approved liquor license for Grandview Café & Lounge on Aug. 8, from 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at the Farr Building for a wedding;

* approved of pledge release for Cornerstone Bank;

* approved surplus property disposal requests from the Extension Office, Jail, Sheriff and Clerk;

* approved the ROD April 2020 fee sheet amounting $62,000;

* heard budget discussion from the county court, treasurer and highway department;

* went into executive session. No action was taken.

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