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Nebraska records largest percentage increase of COVID cases in nation
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COVID-19 cases

Nebraska records largest percentage increase of COVID cases in nation

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Not quite a week after Nebraska ended its COVID-19 state of emergency, the state last week recorded the largest increase in cases by percentage in the nation.

On the heels of ending its COVID-19 state of emergency, Nebraska last week recorded the nation’s largest percentage increase in COVID cases.

The state tallied 456 cases for the week ending Thursday, up from 253 cases the previous week and 181 the week before that, according to state data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nebraska’s one-week 80% increase in cases was the highest in the nation, as was the two-week increase of 152%, according to a World-Herald analysis of the CDC data.

But because Nebraska came into the increase with one of the five lowest case rates in the U.S., the state still ranks only 23rd among states in weekly cases per capita, with a rate that remains slightly below the national average.

The World-Herald used cases for the week ending Thursday to compile the weekly snapshot because of delays in state case reporting due to the July 4 holiday. The State of Nebraska discontinued its COVID-19 dashboard last Wednesday as it concluded the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The dashboard for months had provided at-a-glance data on cases, hospitalizations and deaths as well as on vaccination numbers and demographics.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced the end of the COVID-19 emergency June 28. He stressed the need to get back to normal and urged Nebraskans to keep the risk posed by the coronavirus in perspective. As he has since the first shipments of vaccines arrived in late December, Ricketts encouraged Nebraskans to get vaccinated, emphasizing that the shots work.

Indeed, case counts in Nebraska have come down markedly since the first week of January. That’s due in significant part to the rollout of the highly effective vaccines across the state, beginning with health care workers, vulnerable nursing home residents and those older than 65.

In fact, it appears that the recent increase in cases has not yet resulted in any notable increases in hospitalizations and deaths. Hospitalizations remain low, and the state has added only four COVID deaths in the past three weeks.

But the uptick in cases in Nebraska comes as cases are on the rise in a number of Midwestern states, with Kansas No. 2 nationally in growth last week and Iowa cases up 8%. Cases in the country as a whole were up 12%, ending a recent national run of declining case numbers. Nebraska two weeks ago broke an eight-week streak of declining cases.

In addition, case rates in several states surrounding Nebraska continued to rank high over the past week, with Missouri at No. 2, Wyoming at No. 4 and Colorado at No. 9. All of those states have reported increases in the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus in pockets with low vaccination rates among residents.

Erik Frederick, chief administrative officer at Mercy Hospital Springfield in southwest Missouri, tweeted Monday that the hospital had 115 COVID-19 patients and was expanding to a second COVID-19 intensive care unit and a second step-down unit for less-ill patients. To relieve weary staff, the hospital also was anticipating the arrival of traveling nurses this week and arranging physician support.

In an interview Saturday with NPR’s Laila Fadel, Frederick said many of the hospital’s COVID patients now are younger and healthier than the ones treated during the preceding surge.

Dr. James Lawler, an executive director at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security, said Nebraska’s increase in cases is not a surprise.

He predicted a dramatic increase to come because of the delta variant and a significant increase in hospitalizations and deaths, primarily in middle-aged and young adults who are not vaccinated.

“Clearly, if we could get more people vaccinated, we would be in a different situation, as all of these hospitalizations, all of these deaths, are now preventable,” Lawler said.

The nation could be done with the pandemic, he said, if everyone who was eligible — those 12 and older — got their shots.

Lawler said the timing of the College World Series, which wrapped up an 11-day run Wednesday, probably wasn’t ideal. But he said it was too early to detect a jump from that event.

The CWS brought to Omaha thousands of fans from states with lower vaccination rates than Nebraska’s. Mississippi has the nation’s lowest vaccination rate at 46.3%. Tennessee, home of Vanderbilt University, is sixth-lowest at 52.8%.

But Lawler said the delta variant already is here and will gain ground among the unvaccinated.

According to the CDC data and estimates, the delta variant in mid-June made up an estimated 72% of the coronavirus lineages in Health and Human Services Region 7, which is made up of Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

Five North Carolina State baseball players who tested positive for COVID-19 during the CWS were found to be infected with the delta variant, an NC State athletics official confirmed in an email last week.

A Raleigh television station had reported that a total of eight players had tested positive for COVID-19. In the email, the official said that samples from other players were not analyzed for the variant but that officials were working under the assumption that all of the COVID-positive players were infected with the delta variant. The NCAA removed NC State from the tournament early June 26.

On the vaccination front, Nebraska fell short of President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of the states’ 18-plus population with at least one dose by July 4.

Twenty-one states hit the target, including neighboring Colorado. Nebraska, at 65.3%, had the 23rd-highest rate in the country, while Iowa was 27th at 64%.

Douglas County came close to Biden’s mark, with 68% of residents 18 and older with at least one shot as of Friday and 50.7% of all residents fully vaccinated. The Sarpy/Cass Health Department reported that 46.8% of its residents were fully vaccinated.

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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.

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