The COVID-19 Community Risk Dial for the week of November16th is red, meaning residents of southwest Nebraska are at severerisk of contracting COVID-19. The risk level was raised due to high levels of community spread across several counties and the threat of the healthcare system becoming overwhelmed.The number of available hospital beds continues to decrease, and healthcare workers need relief across the state. In addition to the positive cases, there are likely many more individuals who are infected but are not getting tested. Those residents who do want to be tested may have to wait and/or travel to be tested for COVID-19.Moving to red,Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department (SWNPHD) recommends that residents of the health district stay at home when possible, except for essential errands. If you do leave home, wear a mask or face covering. High-risk and vulnerable individuals should limit their contact with those who work outside the home.All gatherings and events are strongly discouraged until the risk dial is no longer in the red.“This pandemic is a public health emergency, but luckily we know what to do to keep ourselves safe,” states Myra Stoney, Health Director at SWNPHD. “Just as we prepare for severe weather and follow our plans when severe weather occurs, now is the time to put our emergency plans into action. We want to limit the damage to our communities that other areas of the country have experienced during this pandemic.”“What we need most right now is to get people in their masks. There are those who argue the science behind masking, but we have interviewed hundreds of people and our data shows that masks work,”continues Stoney. SWNPHD case investigators have noted a difference when the positive person and their contacts were all wearing masks, versus when masks were not being worn. The number of close contacts that become positive after their exposure is much lower in situations where everyone is wearing a mask properly.SWNPHD had240new cases of COVID-19 reported November10thto November16that noon.A breakout by county includes: Chase –24; Dundy–2; Frontier –8; Furnas –32; Hitchcock–12; Keith –62; Perkins –17; Red Willow –83;and no cases reported this week in HayesCounty. Most of these cases are due to community spread, meaning the person was infected locally with no clear connection to another positive case.This brings the totals for the health district to 1371cases with 880cases recovered.One additional death due to COVID-19 was also reported.COVID-19 information is available at CDC.gov and swhealth.ne.gov.