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3 out of every 4 cases in state are likely omicron, official says
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3 out of every 4 cases in state are likely omicron, official says

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Bagel Bin masks

Bagel Bin employee Pat Aydelott (right) fills a customer's order Wednesday morning. Customers at the Omaha store, near 120th and Pacific streets, appeared to largely be following the city's mask mandate that took effect Wednesday.

The omicron variant now likely accounts for at least 3 of every 4 COVID-19 cases in Nebraska.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Donahue said 73% of positive tests that have been sequenced in the state over the past two weeks have been omicron. That's up from 52% a week ago.

"It is the predominant variant in Nebraska," Donahue said.

'Now is not the time to become complacent' on COVID-19, Lincoln health director says

The surge of omicron cases, which has led to record case numbers both in Lancaster County and statewide, has also led to an increase in hospitalizations.

Statewide, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients hit 649 on Wednesday. That's up 200 patients since Christmas and is the highest daily total since December 2020.

Hospitalizations in Lincoln hit 142 on Tuesday, which also was the highest number since December 2020, but that number declined to 132 on Wednesday.

Lancaster County reported one death Wednesday, a man in his 90s who was not vaccinated.

Dr. Gary Anthone, Nebraska's chief medical officer, said an average of 62 new COVID-19 patients are being hospitalized daily in the state, which is up from 52 last week and 42 the week before that.

But hospital numbers are not going up nearly as fast as case numbers are, likely due to the fact that omicron causes milder disease in most people, especially those who are vaccinated or who have immunity from a prior infection.

Wait times for COVID-19 test results growing in Lincoln

While omicron is causing lots of mild breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, even those who have been boosted, the vaccines are still providing strong protection against serious illness.

Donahue said fully vaccinated Nebraskans are 11 times less likely to be hospitalized than unvaccinated people, while those who have had a booster shot are 46 times less likely to wind up in the hospital.

Donahue also said modeling done by the state estimated that COVID-19 vaccines prevented 3,200 hospitalizations and 700 deaths just in December.

Despite that, COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Wednesday made up 15% of all hospitalizations in the state. That is a threshold that could trigger additional restrictions on elective surgeries if it continues over the next week, Anthone said.

Another issue with omicron is the huge demand it has created for testing, which has led to long lines, delays in getting results and shortages of testing supplies.

Bryan Health said Wednesday on Twitter that it was temporarily suspending testing at its on-demand testing center for people who do not have symptoms.

CHI Health also weighed in Wednesday, saying in an email that rapid COVID-19 tests and at-home tests produce reliable results and that employers should accept the results from their employees.

Omicron wave could overwhelm hospitals, Nebraska leaders say

"This will help limit people who are infected with COVID-19 from leaving their homes or breaking isolation to get a lab-based PCR test," the health system said in a statement. "It will also alleviate some strain on testing sites and clinics."

Lancaster County nears weekly case record as CHI moves to require double masking for health workers

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.

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Business reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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