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Nebraska's COVID cases, hospitalizations up again

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Both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were up in Nebraska last week, with the number of Nebraskans hospitalized with the virus hitting a five-month high.

Nebraska recorded 4,120 new virus cases for the week ending Friday, up about 14% from 3,599 the previous week, according to an analysis of data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The increased case count continued the pattern the state has seen since early June, with cases yo-yoing between roughly 3,000 and 4,000 cases a week. But some of those ups and downs could be due to inconsistencies in testing and reporting, because hospitalizations have been consistently trending up since April.

Not all COVID cases are being counted because some ill people are not getting tested and many are using at-home tests that aren’t added to official tallies.

Locally, Douglas County has moved into the “high” community level based on a CDC formula that determines the impact of the virus on communities. A handful of counties in northeast, south-central and west-central Nebraska also are considered to be at the “high” level.

Lancaster County has dropped back to the "medium" community level, based on the formula factoring new cases, the number of people hospitalized with the virus in an area and overall hospital capacity. 

Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department officials held firm the local risk dial in the low-orange range, signifying a high risk of virus spread in the community.

Local indicators, however, trended in a positive direction, with the 618 cases last week a decrease from 633 the prior week. Wastewater testing also showed a decline in virus particles over the last week.

The rolling daily average of hospitalizations in Lincoln decreased from 42 last week to 34 on Tuesday.

Statewide, an average of 206 Nebraskans were in hospitals with COVID in the past week, up 10% over the previous week. Hospitalizations last were that high in early March.

The good news is that hospitalized patients now are much less likely to die than they were in previous COVID surges. The mortality rate for hospitalized patients nationally has fallen in the past year from more than 12% to roughly 3%.

That’s because the vaccines, while not protecting against every infection caused by wilier new variants, still do a great job of protecting against the worst outcomes of the disease — hospitalization and death.

To maintain that protection, health officials stress the need for people to get booster shots when they become eligible.

Those over 50 and some immunocompromised people 12 and older currently are eligible for two boosters in addition to their original shots. Healthy people between 5 and 50 are eligible for one booster in addition to their original series. A CDC tool helps people determine when they can get boosters.

Some health officials have called for making booster shots available for otherwise healthy people under 50. But federal health officials instead have focused on making new shots geared toward the new omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 available this fall, reportedly as early as September. Those who already have gotten a fourth shot still will be eligible for the reformulated boosters.

Nebraska recorded three more COVID deaths in the past week, bringing its death toll for the pandemic to 4,366.

The state has recorded more than half a million confirmed COVID cases.

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