Finally, a bit of good news on the local COVID-19 front.
Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez on Tuesday announced that the COVID-19 risk dial will stay in the mid-orange range for another week, the first time since mid-July it has not bumped up.
Also, she said local case rates are starting to stabilize.
There were 859 COVID-19 cases reported locally last week, 9% more than the 786 cases the previous week, which was a 13% increase over the week prior. As of Saturday, the seven-day daily average of new cases was 123, lower than it was a week ago. The test positivity rate also dropped from 13% to 10% last week.
Lopez called the recent trend "encouraging," but she said it's too early to tell whether it's the start of something larger.
"These next couple of weeks are going to be very important," she said.
As an illustration of that point, the county reported 210 cases Tuesday, well above the recent daily average.
Lancaster County's COVID-19 case trend is in stark contrast to statewide numbers, however.
Nebraska posted 5,006 new cases for the week ending Friday, up from 3,755 the previous week and 2,668 the week before, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state’s increase in COVID cases over that time ranks fifth-highest in the nation, the Omaha World-Herald reported, and not only are cases above levels seen in Nebraska’s spring 2020 surge, the case growth rate now resembles the growth curve the state mounted last fall and winter.
While the state has stopped publicly releasing county-level case data, figures for Lancaster and Douglas counties suggest the per-capita case rate is higher in the state’s less-populated areas. Lancaster and Douglas counties are home to 46% of the state’s population but accounted for only 39% of its COVID cases last week.
The dramatic rise in cases over the last month is showing up in hospitalizations.
The daily average of COVID patients hospitalized in Lincoln hit 84.5 as of Saturday, nearly double what it was at the start of August, which Lopez called "a disturbing trend."
Also, 27 COVID-19 patients have died in Lancaster County this month, the most in one month since February. Of those, 22, or 82%, were unvaccinated. Lopez said of the five vaccinated patients who died, several were elderly or had serious underlying health conditions.
Nearly one-fourth of those deaths were in people under age 50, continuing the trend of the delta variant of the disease hitting young people, especially unvaccinated ones, hardest.
Bryan Health on Monday reported that it had five patients younger than 40 on ventilators.
Dr. Erin Schmitz, with Lincoln Pediatric, said a disturbing trend she's seeing is young children getting COVID and then passing it on to unvaccinated parents or other family members.
The health care practice has diagnosed 53 kids with COVID this month, compared with only 11 combined in June and July.
"We're hearing about parents from unvaccinated families that are getting sick enough to be in the hospital and causing some devastating outcomes," Schmitz said.
She encouraged everyone 12 and older to consider getting vaccinated if they haven't already, noting that the clinic is giving about 100 vaccinations a week on average to older children.
Lopez said vaccinations locally have continued to increase, with nearly 21,000 doses given out over the past five weeks. About 60% were first-time doses. Lancaster County is now at almost 71% of residents 16 and older fully vaccinated.
She said the Health Department worked with Bryan and CHI Health to give third vaccine doses at clinics Saturday and Tuesday to people who are immunocompromised. She also said the department is working on plans to provide booster doses to the public once the federal government approves them.
The county instituted a mask mandate Thursday that's in effect until at least Sept. 30, and Lopez said she wanted to thank residents, businesses and schools for "understanding that the reinstatement of the mask requirement last week was a necessary and immediate step we needed to take to protect our community and get us through this surge."
World-Herald reporters Julie Anderson and Henry J. Cordes contributed to this report.
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