PPHD risk dial no more, case reporting changes

Panhandle residents wishing to stay informed on COVID-19 cases in the region may have hit an obstacle. 

Panhandle Public Health District (PPHD) officials said Monday they can only provide county-specific data for counties with a population of 20,000 or more. This means data will be provided for Scotts Bluff County, but the case numbers for the rest of the panhandle's counties will be given as one group. 

In addition, PPHD says they will no longer maintain a risk dial. PPHD director Kim Engel says the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is looking into other ways to inform risk. 

“We understand that this is frustrating and disappointing and we are working at alternative ways to inform the public," Engel said. "We also understand that many sectors of our communities rely heavily on the risk dial to determine which preventive steps should be taken. Our hope is that plans can still be developed with the new solution."

From Monday, July 26, to Monday, August 2, there were 55 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the panhandle. Scotts Bluff County accounted for 24 of those while the rest of the panhandle saw 31. The number of people hospitalized with the virus grew from four last week to seven this week. About 33 percent of the panhandle's population is vaccinated, according to PPHD data.

The CDC continues to track community transmission in every county. Deuel, Garden, Kimball, Banner and Sioux counties are listed as having low levels of community transmission. Morrill County is listed as substantial while Cheyenne, Scotts Bluff, Box Butte, Dawes and Sheridan counties are categorized as high. 

According to Engel, the panhandle has the highest case rate per 100,000 people over the past 14 days compared to the other public health districts in Nebraska.