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Lancaster has lowest per-capita rate of COVID-19 among largest Nebraska counties, Lincoln mayor says
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Lancaster has lowest per-capita rate of COVID-19 among largest Nebraska counties, Lincoln mayor says

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COVID vaccine

Linda Ingalls, a nurse at CHI St. Mary's in Nebraska City, administers a COVID-19 vaccine shot on April 7 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

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.

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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