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Mask mandate extended in Lancaster County as COVID cases continue to rise
LANCASTER COUNTY

Mask mandate extended in Lancaster County as COVID cases continue to rise

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Public health directors in the state are urging residents to get vaccinated against COVID — and if vaccinated, boosted — to help combat the region's ongoing delta variant surge.

LINCOLN — With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise and local hospitals near capacity, officials see little choice but to extend Lancaster County’s mask mandate.

Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez announced Tuesday that the mandate, which requires masks in most indoor settings, will continue until Dec. 23. It had been scheduled to expire Wednesday.

The mandate, which was reinstated Aug. 26, has now been extended three times.

But Lopez also said it’s the department’s intention that this will be the last extension unless conditions get drastically worse, such as if hospitals go into “crisis standards of care.”

The latest extension comes as the county is experiencing a COVID-19 surge that has case numbers near their highest levels in 10 months.

There were 957 cases reported in Lancaster County last week, a nearly 19% increase from the previous week, and the second-highest weekly total since late January. Over the past month, cases have risen nearly 90%.

The only week in the past 10 months during which the county saw higher case totals was the week that ended right before Labor Day, which saw more than 1,000 cases after local school and university students went back to class.

Despite the big jump in cases last week, the county’s COVID-19 risk dial remained in the mid-orange range.

Lancaster County is not alone in seeing COVID-19 cases surge. Statewide, there were 6,103 cases for the week that ended Friday, according to case numbers reported on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. That was up only slightly compared with the previous week, but it was up 10% from two weeks ago.

The World-Herald, citing numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported 6,461 cases last week, up from 6,137 the previous week. That’s the highest weekly total since January.

Hospitalizations are also reaching levels not seen since January. On Monday, the state reported 513 active COVID-19 hospitalizations, the highest total since Jan. 5. Over the past month, the number of people hospitalized has increased about 43%.

The vast majority of those, 505, are adults, which accounts for 11% of all adult hospital beds in the state. However, 157 of those patients are in intensive care, and they are occupying 32% of all the ICU beds in the state.

The South Heartland District Health Department said in a press release Tuesday that more than half of the patients hospitalized in its four-county district (Adams, Clay, Nuckolls and Webster Counties) are COVID-19 patients.

Lincoln hospitals have not seen a similar recent increase, but levels have remained high, averaging between 90 and 100 per day since Oct. 20. On Tuesday, there were 100 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals, 68 of them Lancaster County residents.

Lopez said local hospitals continue to be extremely full and patients are often forced to wait in the emergency department until beds open up.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said most of the hospitalizations are preventable and they “could and should be declining,” if more people would get vaccinated.

Lancaster County is at about 61.5% of its total population fully vaccinated.

About 21% of children ages 5-11 have gotten their first dose, and Lopez said the Health Department will start giving second doses to some of those children after Thanksgiving.

She said the goal is to get as many people vaccinated over the next four weeks as possible. That includes first and second doses for kids and adults and booster shots for anyone over age 18 who is eligible.

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