Nebraska recorded the nation’s fifth-highest percentage increase in COVID-19 cases last week, part of a surge of infections occurring in the upper Great Plains.
For the week ending Wednesday, the state recorded 5,104 new cases, up from 4,177 the previous week, according to a World-Herald analysis of federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
That tally marked the second straight week of increased cases for the state, following weeks of flat and slightly falling cases.
Also last week, families began lining up for the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, days after it cleared the last federal regulatory hurdle for emergency use on Tuesday.
Adding the nation’s 28 million children — including 186,000 in Nebraska — to the list of those eligible to get the shots has been hailed by medical experts as another way of slowing the pandemic.
Nebraska’s case growth over the past week and the past two weeks both rank fifth-highest in the country. Minnesota ranks second for both of those time periods; Iowa is 10th. All of the states in the upper Great Plains, including the Dakotas, now rank in the top 20 nationally in weekly per-capita cases. Per-capita cases in Nebraska are running about 65% higher than the U.S. average.
Nationally, cases were up 5% last week — the first weekly increase in the United States after two months of falling cases. Increases in the upper Great Plains and some Western states, including Colorado, California and New Mexico, appear to be offsetting ongoing declines in some Southern states hit hard by the delta variant over the summer.
Another sign that the pandemic has not yet been brought to heel: An average of 400 Nebraskans were hospitalized with COVID-19 during the past week, up from 386 the previous week.
That is at or close to 10% of the state’s staffed beds — a number the state has used as a trigger for how much data it releases on its public dashboard and how often.
Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday announced that the state would reinstitute daily updates of the state’s hospital capacity dashboard. Ricketts said the state would not, however, place any limits on elective surgeries, as it did earlier in the fall when hospitalizations topped the 10% threshold.
Nebraska Medicine, Methodist Health System and Lincoln’s Bryan Health continue to limit elective surgeries, as they have throughout much of the fall. Bryan staff is performing only those elective surgeries that require an overnight stay or less and those that do not require an ICU stay.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been stuck above 370 a day since early September, with a peak so far this fall of 448 on Sept. 20, according to the state dashboard. That persistently high number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, coming on top of regular care and a backlog of pandemic-delayed treatments, have continued to strain the state’s hospitals.
According to data the state supplied to health care officials last week, Nebraska on Wednesday had 136 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units statewide. That was the highest number so far this year. The majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
Meanwhile, the percentage of Nebraskans who are fully vaccinated continues to slowly climb. Nebraska administered nearly 53,000 vaccinations last week, including 40,000 booster doses.
Some 56.5% of all Nebraskans now are fully vaccinated, up from 56.2% a week ago. However, that’s still below the 58.4% national rate and ranks 24th among states.
Nebraska does rank well above average in delivery of boosters. Some 16% of Nebraskans have received the additional shots, which ranks 13th among states. In addition, 36% of the vulnerable 65 and older population have received boosters, ranking 16th.
The state reported 26 additional deaths last week, down from 37 the week before. That brings the state’s total to 3,001, according to CDC data. The state, according to its dashboard, has recorded 290,794 cases of COVID-19 during the course of the pandemic.
World-Herald Staff Writer Sara Gentzler contributed to this report.