Nebraska continued its two-month downward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations last week.
Exactly how many cases the state recorded last week, however, isn’t entirely certain. The state reported a negative number of cases for the week to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State health officials said the negative number is a result of efforts to clean up 2021 data and remove duplicate tests. A recent review uncovered 181 duplicate cases out of a total of 477,083. But health officials confirmed that the state has recorded eight consecutive weeks of decline.
The state’s data dashboard indicated 330 cases for the week ending Sunday. That would be down from the 354 cases the state reported the week before. The Douglas, Lincoln-Lancaster and Sarpy/Cass Health Departments, which cover the state’s three most-populous counties, all recorded slight decreases in cases last week from the week before.
The average number of Nebraskans hospitalized with COVID last week was down 21% — to 109 — from the previous week. On Thursday, 93 Nebraskans were hospitalized with the virus, according to CDC, the first time the number had dropped below 100 since July 22. By Sunday, the number had dipped to 91.
The state reported six confirmed and probable deaths, the lowest in many weeks, bringing the pandemic total to 4,053.
Nationally, reports of new coronavirus cases also continued to decline, although the decline recently has slowed. Several states in the Northeast and South have seen cases increase over the past two weeks as the BA.2 subvariant has emerged.
For the nation as a whole, the subvariant made up an estimated 35% of samples genomically sequenced during the week ending March 19. However, the proportions of BA.2 varied from an estimated 55% in New England to 19% in the four-state region that includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. The subvariant is believed to be 30% to 50% more transmissible than omicron. It is not, however, thought to cause more severe illness.
Locally, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on Monday launched two new tools to track COVID-19 and its variants as well as other viruses that may arise in the future, using genomic surveillance and wastewater testing.
Scientists with a number of the laboratories already have been sequencing the genetic code of select positive test samples, which helps researchers better understand how the virus is evolving and assess threats to the public.
State health officials also are working with researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and UNMC’s public health college as well as wastewater utilities across the state to monitor the virus in wastewater.
People infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their feces. Researchers can measure virus concentrations in samples of wastewater collected from wastewater treatment plants before treatment. Because it doesn’t rely on people recognizing symptoms and going to get tested, wastewater surveillance data could serve as an early warning system for increases or decreases in COVID-19 cases in a community. In other parts of the country, such data has been used by public health officials to send resources such as extra testing to areas where concentrations are rising.
But the state’s report included wastewater-sampling data from two wastewater treatment plants each in Douglas and Lancaster Counties and from plants in Grand Island, Columbus, Fremont, Wayne, Kearney, Hastings, Scottsbluff, Chadron and Atkinson.
Health officials, meanwhile, have urged vaccination and boosters as the best way to protect against another surge in cases. Federal health officials are discussing a second booster shot, likely for those over age 50. People with compromised immune systems already are being urged to get a fourth shot.
But boosters overall have lagged. Just over half of Nebraska adults have received even a first booster. Of Nebraskans 18 and older, 62.9% received their initial vaccinations. Of those, 53% have received boosters.
That means only 39.4% of Nebraska adults have received all of their authorized shots. That’s slightly above the U.S. average of 36.3% and ranks 21st among states.
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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.
Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.