COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continued to climb in Nebraska last week as the state’s summer surge pushes toward fall.
The state recorded 5,649 new cases for the week ending Thursday, up from 4,916 the previous week and 3,464 the week before that. It was the 11th straight week of rising cases in Nebraska.
Nebraska’s two-week case growth rate of 63% was down somewhat from last week’s but still ranked eighth highest in the nation.
That recent growth in cases now is translating into additional deaths. The 48 deaths recorded in the past two weeks are the most recorded in five months.
Hospitalizations, too, continue to rise. The state’s seven-day average of 337 as of Thursday was up from 309 the previous week.
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts last week announced that the state is bringing back a statewide transfer center to help overstretched Nebraska hospitals find places to send patients.
The move is aimed at helping hospitals cope with a new wave of COVID patients, driven by the spread of the delta variant. The center will help relieve some of the stress on hospital staff by taking over the job of making call after call for an available bed. Hospitals now are dealing with an increase in the number of patients with ailments other than COVID-19 in addition to the influx of COVID patients.
Two weeks ago, Ricketts declared a hospital staffing emergency, waiving some state licensing laws and regulations and issuing a directed health measure limiting some elective surgeries.
Metro-area hospitals are among those facing increases in COVID-19 and other patients. A total of 191 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Douglas County on Sunday. That number is about a month ahead of last fall’s surge, which pushed on to a pandemic high in late November.
Nationally, daily coronavirus cases are four time higher than they were following Labor Day weekend last year, according to the New York Daily News. Hospitalization rates also are up 157%, compared with Labor Day weekend 2020. Health officials attribute the 316% increase in daily infections to the highly contagious delta variant and to the large number of Americans who still are unvaccinated.
Last year, coronavirus cases spiked across 31 states two weeks after the Labor Day holiday. The 2020 figures prompted the CDC last week to warn unvaccinated Americans against traveling for this year’s holiday weekend.
Nebraska’s per-capita cases last week remained below the national average, largely due to very high levels in Southern states. South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi now lead the nation in case rates. Neighboring Wyoming ranks fourth.
Locally, health officials have called for additional precautions to head off more cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
The Nebraska Infectious Diseases Society recently sent a letter asking Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, to reconsider his denial of the Douglas County health director’s request to issue an indoor mask mandate for the county.
State law allows the local health department to enact rules and regulations for the protection of public health and the prevention of communicable diseases, but they are “subject to the review and approval” of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The society represents the majority of infectious diseases specialists in hospitals and clinics across the state. In a letter to Anthone, the infectious disease experts noted that only 55% of the county’s residents are fully vaccinated, hospitals are at or over capacity and transmission of the virus in the area is higher than it was in August 2020 when the Omaha City Council adopted its first mask requirement.
“Your decision to deny this request is not based on the best and scientifically proven methods to stem the very real public health crisis occurring in this community,” they wrote.
They also wrote that the lack of a full state COVID-19 data dashboard “significantly impairs rapid dissemination of information and inhibits the ability to reduce transmission in affected areas.”
Taylor Gage, Ricketts’ spokesman, said last week that the state’s position on the Douglas County mask request has not changed.
Nebraska administered roughly 33,000 vaccinations during the week, about the same number as in recent weeks. There is no indication that full federal approval for the Pfizer vaccine has led to a sizable uptick in reluctant people getting vaccinated.
So far, 71.4% of Nebraska adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, ranking 24th among states.