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COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations surge in Lancaster County
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Local officials are pleading with residents to get a COVID-19 vaccination if they haven't already, as cases and hospitalizations have risen sharply over the past few weeks.

More than 67% of Lancaster County residents 16 and older are now fully vaccinated, which is among the highest rates of any county in the state, but it has not been enough to prevent a surge in cases due largely to the delta variant of the disease.

The county documented 115 COVID-19 cases last week, the highest total in more than two months. The seven-day average of daily cases stood at 21 Monday, more than triple where it was a month ago.

"We are clearly going in the wrong direction," said Kevin Reichmuth, a Lincoln pulmonologist who cares for many of the hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Local numbers mirror those from the state and nation, where case numbers have also tripled over the past few weeks.

Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez said the delta variant "appears to be a contributing factor" in the resurgence of the disease locally.

She highlighted one instance recently where an out-of-state resident, who was diagnosed with a COVID-19 case caused by the delta variant, infected family members in Lincoln, leading to a cluster of 17 cases.

Another cluster involved kids who got sick while at a summer camp. That cluster eventually reached 15 cases, including one in an unvaccinated man in his 50s who died.

Lopez said she did not have specific data on how many fully vaccinated people are among those diagnosed with COVID-19 recently, but she said that all cases in vaccinated people that underwent genetic sequencing were caused by the delta variant.

While vaccination will not guarantee you don't get an infection, it almost certainly means you will not get severely ill, she said.

To illustrate that point, Lopez pointed out that 93% of people hospitalized in Lincoln with COVID-19 over the past month have been unvaccinated.

Reichmuth said every person currently in intensive care that he's seen in local hospitals is unvaccinated.

The number of people hospitalized locally stood at 40 Tuesday, with eight of them on ventilators, which Lopez said is the highest number since February. It's also higher than the number of current hospitalizations in Douglas County, which stood at 33 Tuesday.

Hospitalized patients continue to skew younger than they were before vaccinations became widely available, with Reichmuth estimating that 30%-40% of current patients are younger than 50.

Despite the increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations recently, Lopez said there are no plans to reinstitute any mitigation measures such as mask wearing or capacity limits.

"We're not discussing restrictions at this point," Lopez said.

The Health Department's risk dial remains in green, which is the lowest category of risk, but Lopez said "we're on the cusp of going to yellow right now."

She said health officials will continue to watch the data and make adjustments as needed.

While vaccinations have slowed down considerably, the numbers did tick up last week, with 1,300 people locally getting a first shot, the highest weekly number in a month.

Reichmuth said it's clear that not enough people have gotten vaccinated yet, and he encouraged people to get vaccinated if they have not yet done so and for already vaccinated people to encourage unvaccinated family and friends to get shots.

He said he has "absolute confidence" in the safety of the vaccines and that serious side effects are very rare.

If the virus is allowed to continue to circulate in unvaccinated people, it will continue to mutate and create new variants, one of which could eventually evade the immunity provided by vaccines.

"We'll get down to zeta (the last Greek letter for variants) if we don't absolutely crush this by getting people immune," he said.

editor's pick topical alert featured
'The campground's the town of York' — A look inside the massive campsite at the Lancaster Event Center
  • Updated

After a bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma left the 220-pound man weighing in at 110, Tim Hicks' outlook on life changed. 

The Nashville native and his wife, Jamie, were suddenly less interested in their "forever home," which they built themselves only four years ago.

Instead, in December, they sold the house in Tennessee and set out on a road trip that this week led to Lincoln, where Tim and Jamie are camp stewards at the National High School Finals Rodeo, watching over a pseudo city of thousands at the Lancaster Event Center. 

"My wife worked 27 hours straight," Tim Hicks said, describing the process of checking in 1,188 RVs and trailers and guiding contestants and families who had driven from every corner of the country to their new neighborhood last weekend.

"I worked 20," Hicks, 56, added. "She's a trooper. She's got me beat."

The endless rows of elaborate RVs and modest trailers are divided into three campgrounds surrounding the arena where rodeo performances take place twice daily. The largest campground, bordering Stevens Creek, was built specifically for the national event — an addition of 900 camping spots needed to house the rodeo's 1,592 competitors from 42 states, as well as Canada, Mexico and Australia. 

EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star 

Clancy White cooks food after the last National High School Finals Rodeo events concluded on Monday. 

At times, the check-in process was a "headache for campers and a headache for us," said Erin Witte, an intern at the event center who since March has helped to manage campground logistics. 

Witte, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student studying hospitality, worked to coordinate campground assignments by state, voltage requirements and neighbor preferences.

In the end, she handled what amounts to urban planning for a small city. 

"The campground's the town of York," she said. 

In this pseudo city, however, room to roam is scant and the day starts early for most residents.

Layla Overly, a Florida cowgirl competing in pole bending, got out of bed at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday to be at the horse stalls by 5. Between competing, supporting teammates and taking care of horses, downtime, she said, is not on the schedule this week. 

By 8 a.m. she was back at her family's RV in the eastern portion of the campground, frying bacon for breakfast that offered a temporary respite from lingering scents. Country music blared from the rodeo's grandstand hundreds of yards away. 

Most campers seem to keep to themselves, socializing with their own families and those like them who traveled from faraway places. Overly hangs out with others Floridians. Isabelle Wright and Margaret Rogers, competitors from Kentucky, attend nightly potlucks with other contestants and families from the Bluegrass State. 

EAKIN HOWARD, Journal Star 

Georgia qualifier Teigan Orr sits outside his family's camper at the National High School Finals Rodeo on Monday. 

The camp stewards serve as a "catch-all," Tim Hicks said, working as greeters, ice salesmen and a concierge service. But when they turn in for the night, alert only to knocks on the door, undoubtedly some horseplay ensues. 

Wright, competing this week in goat tying, said she's seen the storied golf cart races that occasionally take place after dark.

It's this kind of high jinks that Tim and Jamie Hicks have to battle against, correcting competitors who already know better, playing the role of town cop. 

"Kids will want to ride 14 people on a four-person golf cart," Tim Hicks said. "'Don't do that.' Please keep all four tires of the golf cart on the ground." 

'Oof!" releases newest words
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The relentless coronavirus pandemic, the nation’s ongoing reckoning with race and identity, and the ever-changing world of technology continue to shape the English language — including slang.

The latest additions to include a series of race- and virus-related terms, such as “Black Code” and “long hauler,” as well as increasingly common expressions like “yeet” and “oof,” the online lexicon revealed last week.

“The latest update to our dictionary continues to mirror the world around us,” said John Kelly, the website’s managing editor. “Long COVID, minoritize, 5G, content warning, domestic terrorism — it’s a complicated and challenging society we live in, and language changes to help us grapple with it.” defines “long COVID” as a condition characterized by symptoms or health problems that linger or appear after recovering from the virus. “Long hauler” has a similar use, relating to the long-term effects of an acute illness or infection.

“Minoritize” was updated to define the action of making a person or group subordinate in status to a more dominant group or its members — one of multiple updates showing how the ongoing debate on race has changed the English language. “Black Code,” for instance, is now defined as any code of law that limited the rights of formerly enslaved African-Americans following the Civil War.

The website also updated its entry for “Aunt Jemima,” which is now defined as a disparaging and offensive term used to refer to a Black woman considered by other Black people to be subservient to or to curry favor with white people.

“DEI” — which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion — was also added to describe a conceptual framework promoting the fair treatment and full participation of all people, including those who have historically been underrepresented or subject to discrimination, especially in the workplace.

But the English language sometimes changes “just for fun,” Kelly said.

“Yes, yeet is now in the dictionary, which may prompt some of us to use one other of our new entries: oof!” he said.

The increasingly popular exclamation “yeet” is used to show enthusiasm, approval, triumph, pleasure and joy, according to “Oof,” on the other hand, is an exclamation to sympathize with someone else’s pain or dismay, or to express one’s own.

“Perhaps these lighter slang and pop culture newcomers to our dictionary reflect another important aspect of our time — a cautious optimism and a brighter mood about the future ahead after a trying 2020,” Kelly said in a statement.

Other interesting additions include:

* 5G: fifth-generation: being or relating to communications technology or a mobile device that supports much faster data-transfer speeds with significantly lower latency than previous versions.

* blamestorm: the process of assigning blame for a negative outcome or situation.
* cultural appropriation: the adoption, usually without acknowledgment, of cultural identity markers from subcultures or minority communities into mainstream culture by people with a relatively privileged status.
* deplatform: to prohibit (a person or people) from sharing their views in a public forum, especially by banning a user from posting on a social media website or application.
* lemming: a person who follows the will of others, especially in a mass movement, and heads straight into a situation or circumstance that is dangerous, stupid or destructive.

* misper: a missing person.

* one-drop rule: a social classification, codified in law in some states during the 20th century, that identifies biracial or multiracial individuals as Black if they have any known Black African ancestry, even from a Black ancestor many generations removed.

* snack: a sexy and physically attractive person; hottie.
* trap house: a place where illicit drugs are bought, sold or used.
*zaddy: an attractive man who is also stylish, charming and self-confident.

Wally Funk describes their flight experience as Mark Bezos (left) and Jeff Bezos (center), founder of Amazon and space tourism company Blue Origin, applaud from the spaceport Tuesday near Van Horn, Texas.