Panhandle COVID-19 risk level increases slightly

The risk level for spread of the coronavirus went up slightly within the last week, Panhandle health officials said Tuesday.

Each week, Panhandle Public Health District and the unified command release its regional risk dial, as well as risk information on the community and county level.

Though the Panhandle’s level went up slightly, it remains at the “moderate” level.” However, risk level of some communities and counties did see a change compared to last week. Only Grant County remains in the low risk level, with Garden County moving to the moderate risk level. Currently, ICU bed availability is at 42% and the cumulative positivity rate is at 5.6%. Ventilator availability is at 89%. There are four hospitalizations. The Panhandle has seen 41 total hospitalizations during this time and six deaths, all among elderly persons.

Tabi Prochazka, deputy director of health promotions and preparedness for PPHD, said Garden County saw its risk level increase due to factors on the regional level — ICU bed availability and the cumulative positivity rate in the Panhandle. County and community levels will see changes in their levels as nine different factors are assessed and regional levels are impacted.

The tools are meant to illustrate the risk level of coronavirus, and additional guidance for precautions is available on PPHD’s website. Schools are also using the tools for implementing their own plans, according to information being released as schools announce plans for the fall.

Paulette Schnell, Scotts Bluff County Health director, reported on Monday that the Panhandle was awaiting test results on 100 tests. On Tuesday, she said, the Panhandle had received 60 of those tests, and there were no positive tests to report. The Panhandle has seen a total of 349 people recover. There are currently 60 active cases in the Panhandle.

During its call, officials said that the way that data is reported will become more generalized on Aug. 3 during its briefings. Only the number of cases and age grouping, such as children under the age of 19 and adults over the age of 19, will be reported. PPHD will continue to have its dashboard available on its website, but won’t break out specific demographics, such as a specific age group or the gender of a case, during the daily briefing. The county where a case is, whether a case is community spread or close contact or other, will be reported. Officials didn’t elaborate on the reason for the change, but did say the same information that is graphed on the community dashboard at will continue to be available.

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