Officials on Tuesday touted local efforts to fight COVID-19 and lauded Lancaster County's progress against the disease, even as they kept the local risk dial in the mid-yellow range for the ninth week in a row.
Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird pointed to data showing that among the five largest counties in Nebraska, Lancaster has the lowest per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases and the second-lowest per-case death rate.
Lancaster County reported 54 additional COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing its total to 30,251. Gaylor Baird pointed out that if the county's case rate was the same as the state's average, it would have about 5,000 more cases to date and if it was the same as Douglas County's rate, it would have had about 8,000 more cases.
"This data shows that we have made a difference by our individual and collective actions," she said, such as requiring masks earlier than any other county and having more-restrictive directed health measures.
Over the past 14 days, Sarpy County, which has only about 60% of Lancaster County's population, has had more COVID-19 cases. Douglas County, which has a population about 80% larger than Lancaster's, has seen nearly three times as many cases over the past two weeks.
Lancaster County also has excelled when it comes to people getting vaccinated.
Gaylor Baird said that as of Tuesday morning, 39.5% of the county's population 16 and older is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the best rate among the state's 19 health districts. More than 54% of eligible county residents have received at least one dose of vaccine.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services' COVID-19 dashboard as of Tuesday morning showed a slightly lower fully vaccinated total for Lancaster County of 35.2%, but that was still tops in the state.
With vaccines more widely available in the community, Gaylor Baird announced that anyone 18 and older is now eligible to get vaccinated in Lancaster County.
Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez that while she wouldn't necessarily say that vaccine is available to anyone who wants it, "we have an opportunity for anyone who wants to get vaccinated to reach out and get scheduled."
Lopez encouraged people who have not yet registered with either the state or county vaccination website to do so, and she also said people should take the opportunity to get vaccinated at the first opportunity available, whether that's at a health department clinic or at a retail pharmacy.
People 16 and older can get vaccinated at one of the pharmacies participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which in Lincoln now includes Costco, CVS, Hy-Vee, RelyCare Pharmacy, Walgreens and Walmart.
Lopez said the county has not yet opened up vaccine eligibility at its clinics to 16-year-olds because it is working with local high schools to set up clinics there where students can be vaccinated and officials wanted to get the word out to parents. She did not provide a timeline for when that might happen, but at Tuesday night's Lincoln Board of Education meeting, LPS Superintendent Steve Joel said work to coordinate the vaccinations is underway.
Getting students vaccinated, he said, is key to "starting next year in a more normal fashion."
Lopez also said the county is focusing on vaccinating college students, as well as young adults who may be in the workforce.
Despite the increased pace of vaccinations, local case rates have remained steady. Lancaster County recorded 346 COVID-19 cases last week, slightly fewer than the previous week. Since the week ending Feb. 12, the county has seen cases stay in a narrow range of between 320 and 360 weekly.
Lopez said the vast majority of cases are in younger age groups that have not yet had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, and she's optimistic that case rates will start to fall over the next few weeks.
The Health Department this week added the vaccination rate along with the death rate as two new components of its COVID-19 risk dial.
She said the risk dial would likely have to move into the green range and/or the community would have to hit its goal of 75% of people fully vaccinated before the health department considers rescinding the local mask mandate or eliminating directed health measures.
Those measures, the most restrictive in the state, limit gatherings to 75% of capacity, cap groups at eight people and mandate social distancing between groups. Local rules do not apply to religious gatherings.
The county vaccinated nearly 1,300 people Monday at a clinic at the Center for People in Need and has two more large-scale vaccination clinics scheduled Thursday and Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena. There are also two drive-thru vaccination clinics scheduled Wednesday and Saturday at the Test Nebraska site at Gateway Mall.
Those clinics were originally scheduled to give the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine but now will provide Moderna vaccines because the J&J vaccine's use has been paused.
Lopez said she does not believe the pause in use of the J&J vaccine will have a significant effect on the county's vaccine efforts.
Photos: The scene in Lincoln with much of city shut down
City Council distancing
Gameday empty Saturday
Thank you Bryan West
No fans allowed
Volleyball social distancing
Boo at the Zoo
Downtown mask art
Marching band competition
East Campus proposed budget cuts
No Football Saturday
UNL in-person class
Farmers Market influencers
Weeping Water vs. Fillmore Central/Exeter-Milligan
First day of middle school
First day of school
Pius X volleyball practice
City Council BLM protest
Rally and hearing
Lancaster County Super Fair
LPS board meeting
Meatpacking workers rally
Lincoln Northeast graduation
Gov. Ricketts address Legislature
Masked Archie the Mammoth
First Jury Trial in Four Months
Lincoln Community Playhouse
The Kindler Hotel
Garth Brooks Drive-In Concert
Urban Air Adventure Park
Gere Branch Library
Music on the Move
Bars Opening in Lincoln
LPS Teachers Retirement
Holmes Lake Manor Horse Visit
Lancaster County Courthouse
Church Social Distancing
Children of Smithfield
Parkview Christian Teacher Appreciation Day
Lincoln Christian 2020 Seniors
Test Nebraska site
Drive-Thru Career Fair
Center for People in Need food distribution
Masks For Truckers
Teacher and Staff Parade
Virtual City Council
Good Friday Music
Masks on a walk
Watch: A timelapse of the mural at Saro Cider
Watch: Hand sanitizer rolls off Innovation Campus assembly line
No fun here
Tower Square sign
WATCH: Celebrating a birthday with a parade
Simpsons in the windows
Drive-thru COVID-19 testing
UNL Beekeeping virtual class
Lincoln Lutheran Online Teaching
Blue for public health
Basketball without fans
Thanksgiving to go
Socially distant Santa
Christmas tree demand
Basketball fans reduced
Mike Hilgers at Legislature's First Day
Zoo Bar membership
New high school
Biking in snow
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On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.