OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across Nebraska has significantly increased in recent weeks as the highly contagious delta variant spreads.
Dr. James Lawler, who is one of the leaders of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, said Nebraska is following the pattern of states like Florida, Louisiana and Texas, where relatively low vaccination rates have allowed cases to surge. Lawler said Nebraska is about three or four weeks behind those other states.
“Unless something changes, we’ll probably follow directly on that path,” Lawler said.
A little over half of Nebraska’s population is fully vaccinated — in line with the national rate — but the percentages are believed to be much lower in rural areas.
Nebraska said Wednesday that 2,575 new virus cases were reported in the past week, which is up from 1,976 the week before and more than 10 times higher than the 253 cases a week the state was reporting in late June when officials lifted the last of Nebraska’s remaining virus-related restrictions.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has more than quadrupled over the past two weeks from 76 new cases per day on July 26 to 353.29 new cases per day on Monday.
When Gov. Pete Ricketts allowed Nebraska’s state of emergency related to the virus to end on June 30, a total of 28 people were hospitalized with the virus. The state said Wednesday that 217 people were now hospitalized with the virus, up from 158 the week before.
The number of hospitalizations in the state declined steadily throughout the spring, but it has been increasing since late June. It is now more than 20% of the peak of 987 hospitalizations the state saw last November. Lawler said that in the Omaha area, the number of hospitalizations doubled over the past two weeks, and he expects that trend to continue.
“I’m not sure where we are going to put all these patients because our hospitals are all full,” Lawler said.
Over the past year, Ricketts relied on the number of hospitalizations to determine when to impose more restrictions to limit the virus’ spread, but he hasn’t said whether he will consider reinstating some of the social distancing restrictions he imposed last year to limit the spread of the virus.
Ricketts’ spokesman Taylor Gage said the state remains focused on ensuring there is adequate hospital capacity available in Nebraska.
Ricketts has repeatedly encouraged Nebraskans to get vaccinated against the virus, but he has said he believes everyone needs to take personal responsibility for their own health and government shouldn’t be telling people how to live their lives. So he doesn’t expect the state to impose mask or vaccination requirements.
Also Wednesday, the state released new details about the number of virus cases among people who were fully vaccinated. State health officials said 17 people who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have died since January. The number of breakthrough deaths and cases remains a relatively small number of the total cases that have been reported in the state.
Nebraska health officials didn’t immediately provide many additional details about the 1,616 virus cases among people who had been vaccinated. Health officials said 79 people who had been fully vaccinated against the virus had been hospitalized between the start of the year and the end of July.
COVID-19 vaccines greatly reduce the chance of severe illness and death and remain effective against the variants, including the delta variant. Like many other vaccines, they are less effective in people with weakened immune systems and frail elderly.
Lawler said he thinks the number of breakthrough virus cases in Nebraska is similar to what has been reported elsewhere.