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Nebraska's COVID numbers flatten, but hospitalizations tick up again

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COVID-19 cases in Nebraska appear to be flattening amid a summer surge fueled by the latest variant.

COVID-19 cases in Nebraska appear to be flattening, at least according to the latest reported numbers.

Nebraska reported 3,599 new cases for the week ending Friday, down 11% from 4,030 the previous week, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Changes in case numbers lately have been modest, and cases in the state may be plateauing. They have generally ranged between 3,500 and 4,000 for the past four weeks.

Nebraska’s case numbers also remain at relatively low levels compared to the nation, about 25% below the U.S. rate. Nationally, COVID cases were down roughly 5% last week with almost two-thirds of states reporting declines. Iowa was one of the exceptions, with cases rising there more than 30%, though Iowa’s current per-capita case rate is well below the nation’s and slightly below Nebraska’s.

The official tallies are considered undercounts, with many infected people either not testing or using at-home tests that aren’t reported to public health agencies or included in official counts.

All of that has made it challenging to determine how the pandemic will trend next. Case counts currently are higher than they were at this time during each of the past two summers.

Dr. James Lawler, a co-executive director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security, said COVID case growth has slowed a bit in Nebraska and in some parts of the country.

“The reality is we’re in kind of this weird time of year when you have lots of forces that act against one another,” he said. “(Summer) has typically been our period of lowest COVID activity.”

It’s possible that Nebraska may see a dip in case counts before fall, but Lawler said, “If I had to guess, we’re probably not going to see a huge drop in case counts and disease activity in the next couple weeks.”

Lawler said the start of school next month is likely to push cases up by September. Overall, the pattern is similar to that of last year, indicating a rough fall and winter ahead.

And while Nebraska cases were down last week, hospitalizations still were trending slightly higher. An average of 185 Nebraskans were hospitalized per day, up 5% from 177 the previous week. Hospitalizations, which typically lag cases by several weeks, also were trending higher nationally.

Hospitalizations also have been trending upward in the Omaha metro area, which includes some hospitals in western Iowa. As of Monday, 145 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including five children. However, intensive care use has remained relatively low.

For the two-year pandemic, Nebraska has registered 512,000 cases and nearly 4,400 confirmed or suspected deaths.

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