COVID-19 levels in both Nebraska and the United States continue to fall to their lowest levels in months, enough to prompt President Joe Biden to suggest the pandemic is over.
But health officials say the current trends should not cause people to let down their guard on vaccinations.
In fact, they say getting the latest vaccination booster between now and Halloween could be the best way for people to protect themselves and their families over the upcoming holidays.
“We want people to get together with Grandma and do it safely,” said Dr. Bob Rauner, president of Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln. “Sufficient vaccination is our biggest challenge right now.”
Nebraska posted 1,424 new COVID cases last week, down from 1,772 the previous week, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New cases are down by more than half over the past three weeks, falling to their lowest level since the first week of May.
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Hospitalizations also are falling, with last week’s daily average of 172 down from 183 the previous week.
The state added 17 deaths last week, putting the total number of confirmed or probable deaths for the pandemic at 4,507. Nationally, COVID still is claiming 400 lives a day.
It’s still difficult to say where the unpredictable pandemic will go next as cases surged during the winter months in both 2020 and 2021. Some experts are projecting it will happen again.
“We are not (yet) in a stable pattern,” Rauner said. “I don’t think you can act as if COVID doesn’t exist.”
Rauner said Biden’s statement last week about the pandemic being over has caused a lot of confusion and raised questions about what, if anything, people should be doing to protect their health.
Rauner said the advice he has been giving people is simple and twofold.
First, he said, stay current on your vaccination boosters.
Vaccines have proven highly effective at reducing the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19, often turning the infection into little more than a mild cold. More than three-quarters of the deaths being seen would have been prevented with vaccinations, Rauner said.
Second, Rauner said, if you are feeling sick, wear a mask. Whether it turns out that you have COVID or just a common cold bug, either way you will be protecting the health of others around you.
By taking those two steps, Rauner thinks most people can get back to normal lives.
Unfortunately, vaccination levels both in Nebraska and nationally remain relatively low. Lancaster and Douglas Counties are the only counties in Nebraska where more than 50% of the 65-and-over population — the most vulnerable to COVID — has received the recommended two booster shots.
With the new updated bivalent shot, which targets both the dominant omicron variants as well as the original COVID-19 strain, there’s another chance for people to get current on shots. The FDA authorization states that individuals are eligible for a bivalent booster if it has been at least two months since they completed primary vaccination or received the most recent booster.
Rauner said he likes the recent advice of Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, who suggested that people get the latest shot no later than Halloween. That would give them several weeks for immunity to build up and assure that they have maximum protection in time for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
“Get your bivalent booster by late October and wear a mask when you’re sick and we shouldn’t have to worry much this holiday,” Rauner said. “It would be nice if our hospitals weren’t swamped this winter for a change.”