Nebraska has 5th-highest rate of new virus infections in US

Published: Oct. 19, 2020 at 12:06 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2020 at 12:18 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A recent surge of coronavirus cases in Nebraska has led to record numbers of hospitalizations, and the state’s rate of new infections now ranks fifth-highest nationally.

The state said a record 343 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 after it reported 734 new cases of the virus Sunday to give Nebraska 58,068 cases since the pandemic began. There have also been 548 deaths linked to the virus.

The rate of new cases per 100,000 Nebraska residents over the past two weeks registered at 531.86 and ranked fifth-highest among all the states on Sunday, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

Gov. Pete Ricketts has reinstated some restrictions but has resisted imposing a statewide mask mandate. Starting this Wednesday, indoor gatherings will be limited to 50% of a building’s capacity instead of the current 75% and hospitals will have to reserve 10% of their intensive care beds for new COVID-19 patients.

Some public health officials want the state to do more. Jeremy Eschliman, director of the Two Rivers Health Department in Kearney, said requiring masks would be a good step. Currently, masks are required only in Nebraska’s two largest cities because local leaders in Omaha and Lincoln have approved mandates.

“Without additional restrictions at this point, it’s going to be challenging, quite honestly,” he said to the Omaha World-Herald.

Susan Bockrath, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors, said many health departments believe the state should focus more on preventing the spread of the virus. The association launched a campaign last week encouraging people to avoid close contact with others and crowded places.

Even with the high number of hospitalizations, the state said hospital capacity has improved. The state’s online virus tracker said 37% of Nebraska’s intensive care beds were available Monday. That number remained below 30% last week.

But the seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Nebraska jumped over the past two weeks from 13.49% on Oct. 4 to 18.03% on Sunday.

And the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska increased over the past two weeks to 778.14 on Sunday from 543.86 new cases per day on Oct. 4.

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