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Lincoln mayor urges caution for holiday weekend as cases continue to spike
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Lincoln mayor urges caution for holiday weekend as cases continue to spike

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As Lancaster County rocketed past its previous weekly high for COVID-19 cases, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird urged caution Friday with Labor Day approaching.

Previous holiday weekends have led to spikes in case numbers two to three weeks later, she said, noting that three weeks after the Fourth of July, the number of local cases more than doubled.

"In short, we are worried that this holiday weekend could lead to an additional spike in cases," Gaylor Baird said.

The city has already seen a tremendous surge in cases over the past few weeks as university students have returned to classes.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department on Friday reported 89 more COVID-19 cases, bringing this week's total to 430 with one more day to go.

That's already 90 more cases than last week and 60 more than the previous high from the week ending July 25.

Because of the large rise in cases, the city again moved its COVID-19 risk dial higher, going from low-orange to mid-orange.

COVID-19 numbers continue to surge in Lincoln

"It is very concerning to us to see the current data moving in the wrong direction," said Scott Holmes, environmental public health division manager with the health department.

Holmes reiterated that the increase in new cases over the past few weeks is due largely to college students returning to campus. He said that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has accounted for about 50% of the COVID-19 cases in the county over the past two weeks, with about 30% of all positive test results coming from 18- and 19-year-olds.

Before students returned to UNL and other universities, those ages accounted for about 5% of all cases, Holmes said.

UNL on Friday reported 40 new cases. For the week beginning Sunday, it has now reported 157 cases. A significant number of those cases has come from clusters at sororities and fraternities.

Holmes said other local colleges also are seeing increasing case numbers. He said Nebraska Wesleyan University has had 53 cases since students returned.

LPS spent $2.6 million on coronavirus response in 2019-20 fiscal year

Lincoln Public Schools reported five positive cases Friday, one case each at East High, The Career Academy, Lincoln High School, Lefler Middle School, and Randolph Elementary School. That brings to 41 the number positive cases of students, staff or visitors in the schools. As of Wednesday, 59 staff members were self-quarantining.

The increase in cases in the county has pushed Lincoln's daily rolling average of new cases from the low 20s in mid-August to 71 this week, and Holmes said he expects that number to keep growing.

The positivity rate on COVID-19 tests also has skyrocketed, rising to 13.4% this week. That's the second-highest rate during the pandemic. Two weeks ago, the rate was 6.8%.

Holmes also said that there has been a concerning rise in hospitalizations locally, with 32 patients in Lincoln's two hospital systems as of Friday, the first time since June 6 that number has been above 30.

The good news is that only eight of those patients are from Lancaster County, and only one is on a ventilator.

Holmes said he did not have any information on numbers of college-aged students requiring hospitalization.

Data that Bryan Health released earlier this week showed the average age of its hospitalized patients is getting older, averaging 59 in August, up from about 55 in July.

Though students do not seem to be getting seriously ill, Holmes said there's concern that cases on campus will eventually spread to the community.

What the city has not seen so far is spread in classrooms, either at universities or at Lincoln Public Schools, which reported Thursday that it had had 20 cases over the past seven days.

Gaylor Baird called it "good news" and proof that the preventative measures that have been put in place are working.

Chancellor tells UNL's Greeks 'no negativity' associated with quarantining houses

She also pointed out that numbers of cases in the community not associated with UNL or other colleges have not increased much from where they were a few weeks ago.

Statewide, there were 35,661 cases and 404 deaths linked to the disease as of Friday evening.

Photos: Lincoln during the pandemic

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.

Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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