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Delta variant helping fuel rise in COVID cases in Nebraska
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Delta variant helping fuel rise in COVID cases in Nebraska

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Fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, COVID-19 cases continued to escalate in Nebraska last week, marking a sixth straight week of increases.

The state recorded 1,611 cases for the week ending Friday, up from 978 the previous week and more than double the 690 the week before that.

Cases in Nebraska increased at a faster rate than they did nationally, with Nebraska’s 65% growth in cases last week ranking 15th highest among states.

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The state’s per-capita case rate, however, remained well below the national average and ranks 30th nationally. The Southern states of Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi had the nation’s highest per-capita case rates. Several states in Nebraska’s region, however, were among those experiencing the most serious outbreaks, including Missouri at No. 6, Oklahoma at No. 7, Kansas at 11 and Wyoming at 18.

In Nebraska, hospitalizations also continued to rise, with the seven-day average of 126 up 25% from 101 the previous week. The state reported no new COVID deaths in the past seven days — the state’s pandemic death toll remained at 2,280.

Health systems report that nearly all of those now hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, with a few such patients having compromised immune systems or taking immune-suppressing medications.

Health professionals continue to urge Nebraskans who haven’t already done so to get the vaccine. In all, 67.5% of Nebraska adults have received at least one shot, ranking 24th among states. Some 62.5% of adults are fully vaccinated, including 86% of those 65 and older.

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Health officials stress that the shots are safe and effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death, even in the face of the delta variant.

Serious side effects from the vaccines occur with a frequency of less than 1/100,000 to 1/500,000, Drs. Maureen Tierney and Renuga Vivekanandan write in an opinion piece in Tuesday’s World-Herald. Tierney is assistant dean for public health and clinical research at Creighton University School of Medicine; Vivekanandan is an associate professor at Creighton University and chief of infectious diseases at Creighton and CHI Health.

The physicians also encouraged people to mask up in indoor public places and in crowds. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week recommended masking in such settings even for vaccinated people in areas with substantial or high spread, given new data indicating that vaccinated people infected with delta can in rare cases spread the virus.

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“With the continued rapid rise in cases, things will continue to get worse,” Tierney and Vivekanandan wrote. “We as public health officials are most worried about the continued and unnecessary loss of life, and the long-term health complications seen in approximately 10% of COVID survivors.”

In some hard-hit areas of the country, health officials have reported an uptick in vaccinations. In Nebraska, 22,500 new shots were injected over the past week, roughly the same number as the previous week.

Locally, the number of shots given at clinics run by the Douglas County Health Department began picking up late last week, said Phil Rooney, a Health Department spokesman. Staff at a number of the events gave 80 or more shots; previously, they had been giving a fraction of that number. Some 53.1% of all Douglas County residents are fully vaccinated.

Dr. Jasmine Marcelin, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and an infectious diseases physician with Nebraska Medicine, tweeted that health professionals vaccinated 80 members of the southeast Asian refugee and immigrant community at a clinic Saturday organized by Omaha Benson High School’s Thrive Club. The students also distributed free produce boxes and back-to-school gear.

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