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Hastings city and health leaders look back on 2020 pandemic

Published: Dec. 31, 2020 at 6:25 PM CST
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HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - It has been 288 days since the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Hastings. Since then there have been directed health measures, school closures, hospitals have filled up, and people have joined together. Hastings city and health leaders took a look back on how the pandemic has shaped the year.

“We need for people to start taking this pandemic seriously. It’s time to go on the offensive and win the war,” Mayor Corey Stutte said on March 18.

Mayor Stutte addressed the public after the first case of COVID-19 was found in Hastings. He talked about the virus being a long war the community needed to work together to fight.

“I would say at the beginning of March we really understood that there was something that was coming our way,” Mayor Stutte said. “We just didn’t know when exactly it would hit and when things would change for our community. I remember on a Friday afternoon the school district saying that we would be open the following Monday and by Sunday night they decided to close down so that kind of changed everything for our community.”

As positive cases grew across the state, directed health measures limited local businesses, gatherings, and schools closed their doors. People rallied around the small businesses by ordering take out, buying gift cards, and showing their local support. Hastings residents pitched in by sewing masks and making face shields as PPE was scarce for healthcare workers. The South Heartland District Health Department worked hard to contact trace.

“It actually ended up being much more sustained, more taxing, more extensive than we could plan for probably. But we had in place the framework for what we needed to do,” Executive Director Michele Bever said.

Now thousands of Nebraskans have been tested for COVID. Test Nebraska has made testing more available for people all over the state, which was one of the many challenges in the start of the pandemic especially for residents in rural areas.

A major effort to flatten the curve was successful through the summer with low numbers leading to lessened restrictions. Schools put extensive plans together in order to have kids back in the building in the fall. Soon wearing a mask and social distancing became old hat. Even as cases began to rise in the fall, schools were deemed one of the safest places in the community.

When asked when the most concerning time of the pandemic was, Dr. Adam Horn, the Vice President of Medical Affairs at Mary Lanning Healthcare, said the surge in November tested the healthcare system.

“There was very real concern across the state that we would exceed our ability to provide adequate care to everyone,” Dr. Horn said. “That’s not to say we are out of the woods, we have seen several peaks and valleys over the course of this pandemic, we know people are tired, but we have to continue responsible behavior for a while longer or we very well could see another surge.”

Mary Lanning Healthcare was at full capacity at times in November causing a big push to wear masks and stop the spread. Hastings, Grand Island, and Kearney city councils all agreed to implement a mask policy for indoor spaces into the new year. Governor Pete Ricketts warned if the trends didn’t turn around the state would enforce strict health measures once again.

Around Thanksgiving the hospitalizations and new cases began to trend down. December 14 marked the day the first COVID vaccines arrived in Nebraska.

“I have worked in the COVID unit the last 8 months, I think this is going to be a huge step forward,” Chief Medical Officer Abel Luksan said.

Some see this moment as a turning point after months of just treating the sick. Now there is hope to prevent people from catching the virus at all.

“We still need to practice all the prevention practices. The virus is still here and it can continue to spread. The vaccine is now here and we are excited about that,” Bever said.

Going into 2021 the vaccinations will continue, but many say there is still a long road ahead. In a statement the Adams County Emergency Manager shared his pride in the community and hopes for the new year.

“While this was a very trying year, we did gain some important outcomes and planning strategies that we can implement in the future,” Ron Pughes said. “Plans, continuity plans, work from home, and the procurement of PPE...that our responder community so desperately needed. It was great to see our local businesses stand up to the plate and not only encourage, but follow the health measures to help protect us all.”

Mayor Stutte said he will always remember how the Hastings community came together in a way they never had before.

“Having silos built up around the organizations and not talking to each other is not helpful regardless of what’s going on in the community,” Mayor Stutte said. “So knowing that we are able to talk about issues and have open communication I think is really important.”

The year 2020 has brought isolation, sickness, and change. But on the brighter side, it has created new ways to connect, a focus on shopping local, and reinforced the meaning of Nebraska strong.

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