An uptick in COVID-19 deaths this week stems from Lancaster County's surging coronavirus community spread and elevated number of hospitalizations, Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department Director Pat Lopez said.
Lancaster County reported three new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, pushing the coronavirus death toll to 30 since the pandemic began.
The three new deaths were all men. One man was in his 70s and had been hospitalized, another was in his 60s at a long-term care facility and the third was in his 50s and hospitalized but didn't have an underlying health condition, Lopez said.
"Each one of these individuals was an important member of our community, and we express our condolences to their friends, families and loved ones," Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said.
One of the six COVID-19 deaths reported this week was a 76-year-old man who was a member of the Lincoln Eagles Club, but Lopez said she did not have information linking that death to an outbreak at the Eagles Club last month.
That outbreak infected 18 people who were among the 75 attendees of a 9/11 memorial concert event on Sept. 11, according to the Health Department.
Largely, the county has avoided outbreaks in nursing homes that have led to clusters of deaths among medically fragile residents elsewhere in Nebraska.
Entering Wednesday, Lancaster County had the fifth-most COVID-19 deaths in the state at 27, behind Douglas, Hall, Dakota and Sarpy counties. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported 639 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 49,396. The COVID-19-related death count is now at 507.
Lopez said she believes planning and coordination early on in the pandemic between the Health Department and long-term care facilities in the county, along with public compliance with health restrictions such as the mask mandate, have mitigated community spread and kept the community's death toll lower.
While many of the 30 COVID-19 deaths have involved Lancaster County residents with underlying health conditions, Lopez said some deaths, like that of a 46-year-old man, involved people who were otherwise healthy.
Nearly half of the deaths, 13, have involved residents between the ages 40 and 69, Lopez said.
Typically, the county residents who have died from COVID-19 were hospitalized for two weeks, Lopez said.
Gaylor Baird and Lopez called a news conference not previously scheduled Wednesday to detail the heartbreaking news and urge people gathering in small groups with family and friends to take more caution.
Following weeks of concern about spread among adults in their 20s, health officials have noticed rising coronavirus cases among older adults.
Health Department staff Wednesday confirmed 71 cases, raising the local pandemic total to 7,075. Ten new cases at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln brought the campus total to 840 since Aug. 12.
Lincoln Public Schools reported six positive cases Wednesday at East High, Lincoln High, Park Middle School and Hill, Maxey and West Lincoln elementary schools.
Wednesday, hospitals in Lincoln were caring for 63 patients, including 36 from Lancaster County, and 11 that needed ventilators, Lopez said.
John Woodrich of Bryan Health said 47 coronavirus patients received care at Bryan's hospitals, and Tim Plante of CHI Health St. Elizabeth said the hospital had 16 patients in its care.
Despite the elevated level of COVID-19 patients, each hospital continued to have the capacity to care for new coronavirus patients, the men said.
But Woodrich added that being seven months into the pandemic has taxed the energy levels of health care staff at Bryan and prompted the organization to bring in additional staff to support them.
"We will continue to serve this community and this region to the best of our ability," he said.
To address the surge in cases, Lopez called on county residents to remain vigilant about social distancing, proper hand hygiene and mask wearing and also commit to getting vaccinated for influenza before Halloween.
Recently contact tracers have identified clusters of cases among families and small groups of 10 or less where those gathered were too casual with coronavirus precautions, Lopez and Gaylor Baird said.
The pandemic doesn't require everyone to halt all activities, but people can't let their guard down, the mayor said.
"Don’t get too comfortable," Gaylor Baird said. "We need to stay smart to stay safe."
Snapshots of Lincoln in the coronavirus era
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