It’s looking more and more like Lincoln and other parts of Nebraska may have reached a peak in COVID-19 omicron cases, but hospital leaders say it could be a week or two before hospital numbers max out.
As of Friday, the daily case average for Lancaster County for the week was 506, compared with 646 the previous week, which set a pandemic record.
Statewide, the number of cases in the seven-day period ending Friday was 14,609, a more than 45% decline from the previous week, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.
Some of that decline was because of a drop in the number of COVID-19 tests performed, but the statewide test positivity rate also showed a significant decline, to 21.1% last week, down from 26.4%.
“There does appear to be some evidence that cases maybe have peaked in Nebraska in the last handful of days or a week at the most,” said Brett Richmond, president and CEO of Methodist Fremont Health.
But Richmond pointed out that hospital numbers usually lag behind case numbers by a week or two, and he said officials are prepared to continue to see patient numbers stay steady or even climb over the next couple of weeks.
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“I think we’re yet to see the impact of what we hope has been a peak of cases throughout the state,” he said.
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Statewide COVID-19 hospital numbers dropped to 739 as of Sunday night, down from a 13-month high of 767 on Friday. Patient numbers have been above 700 daily since Jan. 18.
On Friday, Lancaster County recorded its highest total of COVID-19 patients in more than a year, and Douglas County last week set a pandemic record for the number of patients with the virus in its hospitals.
“Hospitalizations in Nebraska still remain at a very high level,” said Jeremy Nordquist, president of the Nebraska Hospital Association.
He said that in the weeks ahead, hospital leaders look forward to being able to talk about “turning the corner” when it comes to patient numbers related to the latest surge, “but we’re certainly not there yet.”
The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department on Monday announced six additional virus-related deaths from over the weekend, all men in their 60s or older. Four had not been vaccinated.
Some officials have noted that peaks in case numbers may occur at different times in different places across Nebraska.
Dr. James Lawler, co-executive director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Global Center for Health Security, said Sunday on Nebraska Public Media’s “Speaking of Nebraska” program that he believes cases have peaked in Omaha, Lincoln and most of eastern Nebraska, but there are other parts of the state that are yet to reach a peak.
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“Then the question will be how quickly will we come down and how far will we come down,” Lawler said.
As of Saturday, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. had declined 32% from a week earlier, although some states that had the earliest surges have seen much bigger declines. In New Jersey, for example, cases are down 70% over the past two weeks, according to the New York Times.
Bill Calhoun, CEO of Kearney Regional Medical Center, said he has seen anecdotal evidence of a slowdown in COVID-19 activity in his area. One sign is that the hospital is now off diversion status, meaning it’s able to take transfer patients. Another is a 20%-30% drop in volume at its respiratory clinics.
Those data points, Calhoun said, “would suggest that we’re seeing a reduction in the number of omicron cases.”
The omicron variant has hit children harder in terms of case numbers than previous variants, and Chanda Chacon, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, said the Omaha hospital in recent weeks has seen no sign of a letup, with record numbers of COVID-19 patients.
The hospital had 18 COVID-19 patients Friday, a number that had fallen to 13 on Monday, but Chacon said Children’s has been averaging double-digit numbers of patients daily for the past two months, which is 3-4 times more than the number of patients it had before the latest surge.
She said positivity rates from COVID-19 tests at the hospital and its clinics have ranged from 35%-44% over the past four weeks, “which is also the highest we have seen since the beginning of the pandemic.”
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