As young people in Lincoln and Lancaster County get out more — to bars and large gatherings, often with no face coverings — they’re contracting COVID-19 at a significantly higher rate than older residents, local health officials said.
So far this month, 65% of the positive cases have been in people under 40, interim Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department Director Pat Lopez said Friday.
Previously, most of the positive cases were in older people, she said, but that’s switched to a younger population. Of the 452 new cases so far this month, 293 have been in people under 40. This week alone, 73% of the new cases are people under 40, and 25% are under 20 years of age.
Investigators say many of those infected reported going to bars, large social gatherings or campsites with lots of people and no masks, Lopez said, a concerning trend.
She said those who have been to bars or large gatherings should get tested, even if they’re asymptomatic.
Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird urged young people to take precautions — washing hands, wearing face coverings and maintaining social distance — to protect others in the community.
“Please keep in mind you are at risk of contracting the virus even if you are at much lower risk of dying from it,” she said. “And because at your age you are more likely to be an asymptomatic spreader of the disease, you may inadvertently and unintentionally spread the virus to others more at risk than you."
Lopez said the number of positive cases is trending downward this month, but the number of tests are also going down, a decline she’d like to see reversed.
Roughly 2,500 people were tested in each of the past three weeks, she said, but that’s gone down to about 1,900 this week.
“We are concerned the combined circumstance of more people becoming active in the community and fewer people getting tested in recent days means some potential clusters are not being identified, putting more people at risk,” Lopez said.
She said they’re closely monitoring an effort to avoid the kind of surges happening in other states such as Arizona and Texas, where the percentage of young people testing positive also is increasing dramatically.
Eleven lab-confirmed cases were reported in Lincoln on Friday, bringing the total number to 1,670. The number of deaths remained at 12.
The number of people who have recovered remains at 547; the overall positivity rate remained at 6.6%, lower than both the state (11.1%) and national (10.3%) rates.
Twenty-one people with the virus remained hospitalized in Lincoln — 12 from Lancaster County and nine from other communities.
The mayor also announced that StarTran would restore full service beginning July 23 and fares would remain free for the time being.
Faced with dramatically lower ridership in March, transportation officials reduced service hours and runs, with buses reaching stops hourly rather than every half-hour.
Lincoln Transportation and Utilities Department Director Liz Elliott said buses will be deep-cleaned, Plexiglas will be put around the drivers' stations, riders will be encouraged to wear masks and they’ll be able to board at both the front and back.
See the top stories on coronavirus in Lincoln and Nebraska since the pandemic first affected the area in March.
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