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Risk dial moves to elevated-yellow as COVID-19 cases rise sharply in Lincoln

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Local COVID-19 cases shot up last week, with numbers reaching their highest level in three months.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department reported 458 positive tests last week, a more than 60% increase over the previous week and the highest weekly total since the week ending Sept. 3.

Hospital numbers also rose, with the daily average of patients reaching 54, compared with 49 the previous week.

The number of virus particles detected in wastewater samples also increased, and the test positivity rate increased slightly.

The increase in cases and hospitalizations caused the Health Department to move its COVID-19 risk dial from mid-yellow to elevated-yellow.

“We expected to see a bump in some of our key indicators after Thanksgiving, but what we don’t want to see is our numbers continue to go up,” Health Director Pat Lopez said in a news release. “There’s still time to get an updated booster and have the benefit of added protection as we spend time with others for the holidays and into the New Year.”

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About 20% of adults in Lancaster County have received the latest booster, which sounds like a low number, but it's actually among the best in the state.

The rates are 19% in Douglas County and 18% in Sarpy County, but in most rural areas of the state, less than 10% of the adult population has received the latest booster. The state’s lowest rate is in Kimball County in the Panhandle, at less than 3%.

While local cases were up sharply, cases statewide were steady.

There were 1,997 COVID-19 cases in Nebraska last week, virtually the same number as the week before, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Virus cases in Nebraska have now been in a holding pattern for five weeks, ranging between 1,800 and 2,000 cases during that time. Cases also are a fraction of where they were at the same time during the first two years of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations did rise statewide last week, to an average of 214 a day from 181 the week before, but that number remains well below where hospital numbers were at this time in 2020 and 2021.

However, there is pressure on hospitals from other respiratory illnesses. For example, the number of people hospitalized across the state for influenza-like illness was 323 last week, up sharply from 175 the previous week.

Nebraska added 10 new COVID-related deaths last week, bringing the total for the pandemic to 4,663. There were no COVID-19 deaths in Lancaster County.

The Omaha World-Herald contributed to this story.

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Stories: Health Matters in the Heartland

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Kayla Northup's family is pretty healthy, but when her kids do get sick, it's often at an inconvenient time, such as on a vacation.

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Jeremy Nordquist, president of the Nebraska Hospital Association, said hospitals still are seeing a staff vacancy rate of somewhere between 10% and 15%, with some as high as 20%.

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Just before the COVID pandemic broke out, the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Global Center for Health Security received a grant from the federal CDC to strengthen infection control training, education and tools.

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The pandemic forced medical professionals, including Nebraska-based researchers and physicians, to innovate. Some innovations likely will be around for good.

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The COVID pandemic has brought extra attention to the health care world. To help readers learn about how health care is evolving, we offer Health Matters in the Heartland.

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The pandemic accelerated a shift to more outpatient or same-day surgeries and sped the expansion of telehealth, among other changes, Nebraska health care leaders say.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or

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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