KEARNEY — COVID-19 is on the rise in the area.
On Friday morning, the Two Rivers Public Health Department reported 35 new cases of COVID-19 in its seven counties for the week of July 16-21. That figure is 13 more cases than the 22 reported for July 9-16. Buffalo County accounted for 26 of those, or nearly 75%.
New cases included:
- Buffalo County – 26
- Kearney County - 4
- Dawson County – 2
- Phelps County - 2
- Gosper County – 1
No new cases were reported in Harlan or Franklin counties. The figures raise the total number of cases to 10,709 in Two Rivers since March 20, 2020.
COVID vaccinations rose 15.8% this week, with 624 doses given July 13-19 compared with 539 shots the week of July 6-12. This marks the first time in more than a month that more doses were given in one week than the week before. From May 31 to July 9, weekly vaccination rates across Two Rivers fell almost 50% compared with the previous six-week period (April 15-May 30.).
Erik Hamik, owner/pharmacist at U-Save Pharmacy at 3611 Second Ave., said more people came in to get vaccinated this week, compared with recent weeks.
“It really picked up in the last week,” he said. “They can just walk in, although it’s quicker if they call.”
The biggest age group showing an increase in vaccinations last week was ages 0-17, with a 27.7% increase in doses compared with the previous week. Two Rivers said 4.7% of people aged 0-17 in its seven-county region are now vaccinated, but that is a bit misleading since vaccines are not yet available for people younger than age 12.
Still, vaccinations remain sluggish. As of Friday morning, less than half — just 49.5% of eligible people older than 12 — in Two Rivers had been fully vaccinated. Two Rivers has a population of 97,132, with 81,216 people age 12 and older.
Fewer younger people are getting vaccinated, Two Rivers statistics show.
As of Friday, just 26.1% of people aged 18-29 in Two Rivers are fully vaccinated. That climbs to 40.5% of people aged 30-49, then to 54.4% of people aged 50-64. A robust 83.1% of people older than 65 are vaccinated. For them, COVID-19 poses a greater threat of severe illness and death.
Two Rivers epidemiologist Aravind Menon finds the statistics sobering, and similar to the slow but steady rise in cases in August 2020. Cases began rising late last summer and peaked in November, when Two Rivers experienced the most cases of the entire pandemic, which began in March 2020.
Menon also said vaccination rates by themselves can be misleading.
In smaller, rural counties, “there is a large percentage of older people who have been vaccinated. Once you take that group out, the vaccination rate for the rest of the population is very low, in the 20s,” he said.
He also noted that many unvaccinated people are in the same social circle and “cluster together,” which could spread the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 even faster. “Those people have a resistance to vaccinations,” he said.
He is worried that not all cases are being documented. He noted that TestNebraska test sites have closed due to lack of participation, and testing is now being done only at doctors’ offices, and only at the request of people who may be symptomatic. Many asymptomatic people are not being tested, so the actual case numbers could be much higher.
Jeremy Eschliman, health director at Two Rivers, said the district has seen a “nearly doubling” of COVID cases in recent weeks, along with an “unusual” rise in respiratory illnesses.
He attributes this to increased social interactions and people taking increased risks “through behaviors that do not conform to CDC guidelines that address transmission of COVID-19.”
“It is critical that unvaccinated individuals take appropriate steps to protect themselves and others, such as getting vaccinated, wearing a face mask and limited social interactions,” he said.
He urged people to consult with their physicians or visit trphd.org to schedule an appointment for a vaccination. Two Rivers will have free vaccine clinics Wednesday in Kearney and Amherst, and Friday in Shelton. Free vaccinations are available at all area pharmacies.
Menon urged people to get two doses of the vaccine. He said there is “fairly robust evidence” that a single dose may not fully protect people from the new delta variant of COVID, as well as the less prevalent gamma variant.
As it has for many weeks, Kearney County has the highest number of eligible residents vaccinated, at 52%. As of Friday, it was followed by Buffalo County 51%, Dawson County 48.4%, Franklin County 47.4%, Gosper County 46.3%, Phelps County 45.1% and Harlan County 44.6%.