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College students, prisoners drive record week of COVID cases; city offers more housing help
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College students, prisoners drive record week of COVID cases; city offers more housing help

From the Milestones in Nebraska's coronavirus fight series
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The county’s COVID-19 risk dial remained squarely at the center of the high-risk level after a second record-breaking week of coronavirus cases.

As of Friday afternoon, Lancaster County had recorded 498 new cases this week, up from last week’s high of 476.

And many of them can be attributed to college students and, more recently, prison inmates, Pat Lopez, director of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, said at an afternoon news conference.

Of Friday’s 153 new cases, Lopez said, the prisons system accounts for 66, or 43%. People between 18 and 22 years of age account for 51 cases, or 34%.

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The prisons system's Diagnostic and Evaluation Center in Lincoln is now under quarantine after 30 inmates tested positive, the Department of Correctional Services said.

The Nebraska State Penitentiary has prohibited visitors and required inmates to isolate or quarantine.

But young people have more freedom — and more risk.

They’re helping drive the county’s weekly rolling average of daily cases — from the low 20s in mid-August to 83 in September — and its average weekly positivity rate, which has nearly doubled, from 6.8% on Aug. 22 to 13.3% on Sept. 5, Lopez said.

“The increase is largely due to the increased testing of college students, who are at higher risk of contracting the virus due to their social activities and not wearing face masks or maintaining appropriate physical distance.”

But there are some bright spots. The county still hasn’t documented any cases caught inside a K-12 school or university classroom. Just one college-age student is hospitalized. And no K-12 student has ended up in the hospital.

“Our educators are doing an outstanding job of protecting students, teachers and staff and school.”

On Friday, Lincoln Public Schools reported eight new cases, in seven schools. Lincoln North Star had two cases and other schools with one case apiece were Mickle and Park middle schools, Lincoln Northeast and Southwest high schools, Hartley Elementary and the Nuernberger Education Center. The number of staff quarantining as of Wednesday was 54.

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Lopez encouraged students and families to follow measures that are working: Wear your face mask and keep your distance.

More housing funds available

Also Friday, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announced the city is receiving $728,000 in federal coronavirus aid funding to help people who are struggling to pay their rent, mortgage or utilities.

That’s on top of $975,000 in similar funding it received in July.

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The new funds came through a grant submitted by the Lincoln Community Foundation in collaboration with the city and the UNL Center on Children, Families and the Law. The Nebraska Children and Families Foundation contributed a $100,000 matching grant.

As of Friday, the funds had helped 83 households with $186,000 in rent, utility and mortgage assistance, said Dan Marvin, director of Urban Development.

For more information, go to the Resident Resources page at covid19.lincoln.ne.gov.

Milestones in state's coronavirus fight

Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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