Nebraska’s COVID-19 statistics are starting to sound like a broken record.
The state remains in the holding pattern it has been in since late August, with cases having plateaued around 5,000 a week.
The state recorded 4,534 cases for the week ending Friday, according to a World-Herald analysis of data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was down 5% from 4,775 the previous week.
The good news is that Nebraska’s case rates remain below those of northern states now experiencing surges, including Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. To the east, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan also are seeing higher case counts.
The bad news is the state’s case rate hasn’t dropped off as much as those of states to the south, including Missouri. The number of Nebraskans hospitalized with COVID-19 also remains elevated, averaging more than 400 a day last week. New daily admissions were down slightly, from 48 to 46.
Locally, COVID hospitalizations in the Omaha metro area topped 200 several days last week before slipping to 198 on Thursday. Last week marked the first time COVID-related hospitalizations had topped 200 in the metro area since January.
Health officials have said the elevated number of COVID patients, coming at a time when hospitals already are busy, has strained hospitals and added to the stress on health care workers.
The state has reported 271,550 cases of COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic.
Nebraska tallied 15 additional deaths last week, bringing to 2,845 the number of confirmed or probable deaths since the pandemic began.
Nationally, the seven-day average of new cases has dropped below 100,000 for the first time since early August. Hospitalizations and deaths also are declining.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, cautioned on CNN on Sunday that the nation must be careful not to prematurely declare victory over COVID, noting that the virus still could resurge among unvaccinated Americans.
Indeed, areas with low vaccination rates continue to pose a concern in Nebraska. The current case rates in rural Nebraska, where vaccination rates are much lower, are almost double those in the state’s biggest cities. A World-Herald analysis in June found that Nebraska had the nation’s widest gap between urban and rural vaccination rates.
In the past month, Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster Counties have had 101 new cases per 10,000 population compared to 180 in the state’s other 90 counties.
Douglas County recorded 776 new cases last week, down from 1,119 the week before. While the county’s case count had been somewhat up and down in recent weeks, it has generally trended downward since early September. Lancaster and Sarpy Counties also have been on the decline.
The COVID patient count at Lincoln’s Bryan Health, which had generally been in the 70s before dipping into the 60s late last week, shifted in mid-September from having a majority of patients from Lancaster County to having the larger share coming from outside the county. By Thursday, 39% of Bryan’s COVID patients were from Lancaster County and 61% were from greater Nebraska and beyond.
The CDC’s community profile report posted Thursday also indicates increased COVID hospital admissions in some rural spots in the state. However, such patterns are difficult to interpret given some COVID patients may be transferred outside of their communities for care.
Some 55.2% of Nebraska’s population is fully vaccinated, slightly below the U.S. rate of 56.4% and ranking 24th among states. The state’s rate trails the national number largely because of its low vaccination rate in rural areas.
Nebraska administered 42,000 new shots last week, up from 27,000 the previous week and the most in a week since late June. Data was not readily available indicating how many of those shots were third vaccines or boosters.
Boosters now are available for people who completed their initial Pfizer vaccine series at least six months ago and are 65 and older. Such shots also are available for those 18 and older who live in long-term care, people who have certain underlying medical conditions and those who live or work in high-risk settings.