Increase in COVID Cases for LBPHD; Director Cone Says it Has Been Manageable

BURWELL—Between Friday, August 7 and Tuesday, August 11 the Loup Basin Public Health Department (LBPHD) reported seven new COVID-19 cases in the district. The new cases are in Custer (4), Sherman (1) and Garfield (2) counties.

The LBPHD said two of the Custer County cases are determined to be from direct contact with a positive case, two were deemed community spread, according to the LBPHD Facebook page. The Sherman and Garfield county cases were also determined to be from direct contact with a positive case. All close contacts have been identified and asked to quarantine.

Director of the Loup Basin Public Health Department Charles “Chuck” Cone spoke with KCNI/KBBN and confirmed the Garfield County cases were in Burwell. He said the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Burwell has been outspoken regarding the exposure to the coronavirus and therefore Cone could confirm the information. (Cone said ordinarily those specific details are often restricted due to HIPAA laws.)

According to a Facebook post and confirmed by Father Scott Harter, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Burwell has suspended all services until at least August 26 after a child and parent, who were in attendance at the First Communion Mass at 8:30 a.m. on August 9 tested positive for COVID-19.

LBPHD is recommending that anyone who was in attendance during the First Communion Mass begin a 14-day self-quarantine immediately.

Father Harter also serves Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Ord which will not have weekday mass, but will have weekend mass which will be covered by a visiting priest. LBPHD Director Cone told KCNI/KBBN due to the three-to-five-day incubation period for COVID-19, Father Harter would not have been contagious on August 9 and parishioners in Ord do not have to worry about being exposed in this particular instance.

“Those people are not in any danger but after 3-14 days then he (Father Harter) could be contagious but not at that time so there’s nothing for those people (in Ord) to worry about at this time due to that,” Cone told KCNI/KBBN.

Regarding state Directed Health Measures (DHMs) for COVID-19, Chuck Cone said the Loup Basin district has been the first within the state to move forward to each new phase. He said the purpose of the DHMs was to not overwhelm the health care systems and Cone said he has felt comfortable moving forward into each subsequent stage.

“We were the first health department district in Nebraska that did move to Phase 4 and one of the reasons is because we don’t have that many cases here. We have a few but really, relatively speaking, we don’t have that many. If we’re going to wait for the number of COVID cases to get down to zero that could be a very long time. You have to take a calculated risk at some time. We felt that it was worth it. We didn’t have that many cases, it’s manageable–that’s the main thing,” Cone told KCNI/KBBN.

LBPHD Director Chuck Cone continued, “But the number one reason we went into the Directed Health Measures to begin with was so we didn’t overwhelm the health care systems and the intubators and all that is in fine shape. In fact, it’s as good as shape now in the state of Nebraska as it was when the whole thing started. And so we’ve kind of shifted our eye a little bit away from the original reason and we’ve been staying in these phases just to try to help keep the numbers of COVID-19 down but as long as COVID-19 cases aren’t causing a problem with the hospitals, I see no reason not to move forward into the next stage and lighten up the directed health measures.”

Cone also said he will be traveling to Lincoln on Friday at the request of Governor Pete Ricketts to represent Nebraska’s local health departments during a Midwest tour with White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah L. Birx, M.D.