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County business officials meet to discuss pandemic
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County business officials meet to discuss pandemic

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WAHOO – Representatives from the Wahoo Chamber of Commerce, the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce, the Saunders County Board of Supervisors, Saunders Medical Center and Three Rivers Public Health Department met last week to discuss the rapidly evolving state of the COVID-19 pandemic in the county.

“The pandemic is reaching a new level here in Saunders County,” said Theresa Klein, executive director for the Wahoo Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Wahoo Development Foundation as the Zoom meeting opened on Nov. 12.

Terra Uhing, executive director for Three Rivers Public Health Department, said there were 608 new cases of COVID-19 reported for the prior week in the department’s three county jurisdiction, which includes Saunders, Dodge and Washington counties. There were more than 400 reported the week before.

In Saunders County, 153 new cases were reported the week before the meeting. The rolling seven day average in October climbed dramatically, from 14 cases on Oct. 12 to 68 on Oct. 23 and 95 on Oct. 30, Uhing said. On certain days, the positive rate was up to 45%. But the trajectory began ramping up in November, she added, when Three Rivers saw 131 new cases on Nov. 6, including 21 in Saunders County.

“It’s all across the board with the number of cases we’re seeing,” she said.

Uhing stressed that precautions need to be taken in the county to keep the virus from spreading, by wearing masks, avoiding crowds and staying home if you are sick.

“Please help us keep our communities as healthy and as safe as we can,” she said.

Local hospital systems could be overwhelmed in the next few weeks if the trend continues, Uhing said.

“I’m watching the trajectory of where we started and where we are and I will tell you we are at an all time high with the hospital systems,” she said.

Julie Rezac, CEO of Saunders Medical Center, said they are seeing four to five potential COVID patients in the emergency room per day, along with two to three mental health patients, some who are having suicidal thoughts relating to the stress of the pandemic.

There are beds available at SMC, Rezac said, and they have taken measures to make sure it is safe for patients to come to the hospital or the clinic.

Stacie Sabatka, clinic director of SMC’s Family Care Clinic, said they have administered 2,700 tests since May, with 228 positive results.

“Our main goal is to keep the community safe and healthy in any way we can,” she said.

In SMC’s long term care facility, four staff members tested positive in September, but there were none in October, Sabatka said. Staff members there are tested twice a week because of the high positive rate in the county, she added.

No staff members at SMC have contracted COVID-19, according to Rezac.

“Our big concern is staff,” she said.

Staff is cross-trained to cover for anyone who is sick or quarantined, Sabatka said.

“We’re prepared for the surge,” she added.

Dr. Hank Newburn said the surge is coming soon.

“This one looks like a real big tsunami headed our way,” he said.

Newburn has been posting videos for SMC to promote wearing masks and other safety measures to curb the viruses spread.

“This is really quite simple. Stay away. Keep your distance. Wear a mask,” he said.

Masks are the critical piece to the puzzle, according to Newburn.

“One thing that hasn’t changed and that’s wearing a mask,” he said.

Local Chamber leaders said they are seeing “COVID fatigue” among their business owners, but now is not the time to let down our guard.

“Everyone needs to personally step up and take this into heart,” said Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce President Bradley Pfeiffer. “We’re protecting our families, we’re protecting our friends, we’re protecting our businesses over all of Saunders County.”

Klein suggested businesses create a plan to respond to the pandemic. That plan could include testing, redundancy, closing and reopening and communication with customers.

“It’s important to communicate with each other,” she added.

A business owner asked how they could enforce mask wearing in their store.

“From a business perspective, it’s your business,” said Uhing.

Uhing said she visited Saunders County recently and saw very few people wearing masks out in public.

“You guys, masking is basically non-existent,” she said.

However, she did commend local schools for their efforts to promote mask-wearing, noting that most of the cases in schools are tied to activities that occurred outside of the school day.

Uhing emphasized that there is a way to fight COVID-19, but it takes effort by everyone.

“We can get through this,” said Uhing. “We can do it together, it just takes all of us doing our part.”

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