Lincoln's COVID-19 risk dial has moved closer to the green category.
Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird on Tuesday announced that conditions have improved enough for the dial to move into the low-yellow range from mid-yellow, where it had been parked for more than two months.
Gaylor Baird said that's the first time the dial has been this low since it was created nearly a year ago.
Because of the improvement in the dial, the city is issuing a new directed health measure effective Friday that relaxes many of the current pandemic-related restrictions. Among the changes are the elimination of restrictions on youth sports attendance beyond the communitywide 75% capacity rule and dropping the requirement that people wear masks in buildings that aren't open to the public, such as private workplaces, as long as workers are vaccinated. The new DHM also will no longer require that group sizes be limited and that people stay 6 feet apart in restaurants, bars and other establishments.
However, the overall mask mandate that requires face coverings in public buildings such as restaurants, bars, theaters and arenas, remains in effect.
The lowering of the risk dial and reduction in restrictions comes after the county had one of its best weekly improvements in COVID-19 cases in months. There were 264 confirmed cases last week, down from 348 the week before. It was the lowest weekly case count since the week ending Aug. 21.
The county also continues to lead the state in vaccinations, with about 44% of residents 16 and older fully vaccinated and more than 63% partially vaccinated.
Statewide, almost 774,000 Nebraskans had gotten at least one shot as of Sunday, according to an Omaha World-Herald analysis of federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. That works out to 53% of the state’s 18-and-older population and puts the state 18th-best in that category, up two spots from last week.
In addition, more than half a million Nebraskans — some 531,000 — now are fully vaccinated. That figure, a little more than 36% of the state’s adults, puts Nebraska No. 14 among states.
In the bigger picture, Nebraska’s rollout is on par with or slightly ahead of the nation at large, with half of all American adults also having received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the CDC.
Despite the high local rate of vaccination, Gaylor Baird pointed out that more than half the population still is not fully vaccinated, so she urged people to "continue to take commonsense precautions to slow the spread and prevent further illness."
The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department has ramped up its vaccination efforts, as everyone 16 and older has now become eligible to be vaccinated.
Health Director Pat Lopez said the department vaccinated about 70 homeless people Monday, and it held a large clinic Tuesday for college students at the NU Coliseum on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.
A drive-thru clinic is scheduled Wednesday at Gateway Mall, and clinics also are set for Friday and Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
In addition, Lopez said the department will start doing on-site clinics for high schools this week, with clinics set for Norris and Waverly, as well as local parochial high schools. She said clinics will be held next week at Lincoln's public high schools.
Superintendent Cory Worrell said a clinic scheduled at Waverly High School on Thursday for students and family members "has been a long time coming" after staff were vaccinated earlier this year.
"We're excited about that," he said.
Lopez also said there are plans in the works to hold "neighborhood" clinics in the future, although she did not give further details.
She said getting 75% of people 16 and older vaccinated is one of the main things that needs to happen for the risk dial to be able to move into the green, which would allow remaining pandemic restrictions, including the local mask mandate, to go away.
"That is how we are going to win this battle with COVID-19 and end the epidemic for our community," Lopez said.
Lopez said the 75% goal does not include those who may have natural immunity from a recent COVID-19 infection, largely because it's unknown how long that immunity lasts.
Despite all of the progress that has been made, there continue to be some concerning signs. Hospitalizations continue to rise, with 44 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals Tuesday, the most since late January. Of those, 28 are Lancaster County residents, the most since early March.
The people being hospitalized continue to trend younger, with an average age below 60. The good news with that, Lopez said, is that they are being "primarily successfully treated and cared for" and tend to have better outcomes.
That has led to a drop in deaths, as only 10 county residents have died since the beginning of March, compared with 45 in January and 23 in February.
Another concern is variant cases of the disease. On Tuesday, Lancaster County reported its second case of the South African variant, as well as another case of the U.K. variant. There are now 33 confirmed variant cases in the county overall.
The cost of COVID: Remembering lives lost in Southeast Nebraska
They were teachers and farmers and factory workers and homemakers. They played the piano, fixed old cars, danced to the Beach Boys, cuddled their grandchildren.
They loved to ice fish, gab with friends, read, run marathons, bowl, wander antique stores.
They were our co-workers and neighbors and friends. Our parents. Our spouses.
They all have one thing in common. They died from COVID-19, a virus that arrived in Nebraska in March 2020, claiming its first life in Lancaster County a month later.
These stories represent a fraction of the lives lost in Southeast Nebraska, but they are our way of paying respect to each and every one.
We'd like to share the stories of others from Southeast Nebraska who have lost their lives to COVID-19. If you would like to have your loved one added to our online tribute, please email your contact information to: email@example.com
Jack Fields, 87, died of COVID-19 on Dec. 8. He spent his career fixing copy machines and making friends and creating memories for his children and grandchildren.
Phyllis "Phyl" Maly, 87, died of COVID-19 on Jan. 14. She was an artist, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and a woman at home in her own skin.
Beth Smith, 64, died of complications of COVID-19 on Jan. 20. The redheaded woman loved music and parties and adventure and was a loyal friend, sister, aunt and partner.
Lillian "Lil" Gibson, 61, died of COVID-19 on Nov. 2. The dialysis nurse and marathon runner was small but mighty with a big smile and warm personality.
Julie Koch: She taught us kids to be independent, strong, courteous, respectful and kind. Her pragmatic outlook on life earned her many friends wherever she was living or working. She rarely showed a temper, seeming to always take life in stride.
Wanda Darlene Hedges was a strong woman who raised her family on a farm near Bennet. Sometimes she worked at a nearby grocery store, but she was mostly a full-time mother.
Anna Sales, 69, died of COVID-19 on Nov. 6; four days later her husband Chuck Sales, 88, also died of the virus. The couple loved to bowl, travel, serve their church and listen to Elvis music.
Orva Samuelson, 95, died of COVID-19 on May 22. She and her late husband loved to dance and play cards and after she raised her daughter she became an Avon lady and turned customers into friends.
Tam Mai, 80, died of COVID-19 last May. The man from Vietnam was a protective big brother and a devoted son and grandfather who taught his grandchildren to study hard and be respectful.
Nadene Stull, 94, died Dec. 12 from complications of COVID-19. She lived a full life as a bookkeeper and mother of three sons who later went on to become a lay minister in the Methodist church.
Janet Ann Jodais, a caring mother known for her love of reading, crafting and church life, died Oct. 8 of COVID-19 in Lincoln at age 83.
This spring, the Journal Star set out to honor the lives of those lost to COVID-19. The families were eager to share the stories of those they loved.
Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.