Current Lancaster County pandemic restrictions will remain in place for at least two more weeks, as key coronavirus indicators continue to concern the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.
Director Pat Lopez and Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announced the extension Tuesday, noting that the local COVID-19 risk dial remained in the red, or serious, zone.
Last month, before the Christmas holidays, the county relaxed restrictions on bars that had limited alcohol service. Those restrictions that remain, including an 11 p.m. closing time for in-house service at bars and restaurants, will now extend to Jan. 29.
However, Health Department staff fear that the reversing trends that allowed for easing of restrictions last month may be heading in a concerning direction again, the mayor said.
"Because we know that COVID blips can turn into COVID surges, like we are seeing in other parts of the country, I want to remind everyone how important it is to stay strong, stay smart and to stay safe," Gaylor Baird said.
The county's infection rate remains high, measuring nearly 28% this week, while the number of new cases, the rolling seven-day average in new cases and daily hospitalizations remain high and are trending up, Lopez said.
Lancaster County on Tuesday reported four more COVID-19 deaths and 281 new coronavirus cases, which represent cases reported Monday and Tuesday. Technical problems with the state's system delayed reporting of 95 cases from Monday.
Health Department officials identified the dead as three people in long-term care facilities — a man and woman in their 90s and a woman in her 80s — and a woman in her 60s who died at home.
Their deaths raised the local pandemic death count to 175.
Lincoln hospitals cared for 103 coronavirus patients Tuesday, including 69 from Lancaster County and nine people who were on ventilators, the Health Department said.
Coronavirus patients take up 23% of local hospital beds, a number Gaylor Baird said she wants to see come down.
The continued vaccination of health care workers and long-term care facility residents most vulnerable to the virus offers hope, the mayor said.
About 1,500 more area residents will receive the vaccine by the end of next week, Lopez said.
The county likely won't move to Phase 1B of vaccinations, including those ages 75 and older, until sometime in February, though the Health Department and its partners continue working to get vaccine doses administered as fast as they can.
Still, residents need to continue practicing social distancing and mask wearing, the mayor said.
"These are our best defenses until more people are vaccinated," Gaylor Baird said.
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