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State epidemiologist joins meeting discussing increased COVID-19 cases in Nebraska

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COVID-19 cases are seeing another increase throughout Nebraska.

Availability of hospital intensive care units is as low as ever and local health officials are continuing to urge people to become vaccinated.

At a recent meeting hosted by the Nebraska Association of Local Health Directors (NALHD), Dr. Matt Donahue, Nebraska’s acting state epidemiologist, walked local health directors and the public through the increase being seen in the region.

“COVID-19 positivity has increased even further over the past month,” Donahue said. “Our previous Delta surge peak happened on September 20th and we saw some improvement from there, but now COVID-19 hospitalizations are climbing again in Nebraska. They have climbed past that previous Delta surge peak,” Donahue said.

Donahue talked about how this is affecting medical facilities.

“Hospitals are more full now,” Donahue said. “They are more full now than they were a year ago, despite having half the number of active COVID-19 hospitalizations. That’s because hospitals are taking care of patients with diseases other than COVID-19. That extra COVID-19 burden is filling them up to the point where ICU availability is now as low as it’s ever been,” Donahue said.

Donahue pointed out the discrepancy between hospitalizations by COVID-19 between vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals.

“As of late October, 20 out of every 100,000 unvaccinated people in Nebraska are being hospitalized with COVID-19 each week, whereas two out of every 100,000 fully vaccinated people are being hospitalized with COVID-19 each week,” Donohue said. “That’s a ratio of 10. So the rate of being hospitalized with COVID-19 in Nebraska is 10 times lower if you are vaccinated, and that’s the primary series only that’s not even talking about boosters yet. No vaccine is perfect. Some people who are vaccinated still get hospitalized, but this illustrates the huge protective ability of that primary series of vaccination.”

With cases on the rise throughout the region, Donahue acknowledged the tool in the fight.

“Fortunately, our oldest and wisest Nebraskans have chosen to get vaccinated at the highest rates,” Donohue said. “That high rate of immunity in our older age groups is very successfully protecting them, resulting in fewer active hospitalizations this time around. The only reason we can have more community transmission, but fewer active hospitalizations now than we did a year ago is because of vaccines. More than all else, vaccinations remain the greatest tool in this fight.”

He cited the number of vaccinated people in the state.

“There are nearly 1 million and 100 thousand Nebraskans fully vaccinated. These are individuals who have chosen to take the shot to protect themselves and their communities,” Donahue said.

Donahue pointed out the newest ways vaccines are being given to the population.

“The first is pediatric vaccinations,” Donohue said. “Five- to 11-year-old children are now eligible for Pfizer. Children are getting their first dose at a rate of approximately 1,400 doses per day.”

Donahue said boosters are the next way the vaccine is being used within the state and are available if individuals are older than 18.

“COVID-19 is still with us, but vaccines are the way out,” Donohue said. “Vaccines remain the sharpest tool we have through the way back to normal. Getting that primary series is the best way to protect ourselves and our communities.”

The meeting consisted of directors from multiple local health districts coming together not only to update about recent COVID numbers, but also for Public Health Thank You Day.

Attending were: Terra Uhing, director of Three Rivers Public Health Department; Jeremy Eschliman, director of Two Rivers Public Health Department; Gina Uhing, director of Elkhorn Logan Valley Public Health Department and multiple other directors of Nebraska’s local health departments.

One of the more prominent questions to the panel during the meeting is the response health districts will have to persuade unvaccinated Nebraskans to get the vaccine.

“The best approach we found is that this is a real disease,” Eschliman said. “Obviously an amount of misinformation is a significant challenge for us in public health. I know two people that I know have a 50/50 chance if they are going to live from COVID. They are on ventilators and are not doing well. So I think the more that we have people that are touched in some way that see this. That’s the starkest reality that you can really get that this is a real disease and people die from this every day.”

As flu season begins to make its rounds across the country, health directors have been also paying close attention to the rise in those cases and how it might affect COVID cases.

Uhing of Three Rivers stated that she has not seen any influenza spikes yet in the region. With some outbreaks happening across the country on college campuses, Uhing said that within the jurisdiction, nothing has been seen yet.

According to the Three Rivers Public Health, if you are homebound or require special accommodations and wish to receive a COVID-19 test or vaccine, please contact us at 402-704-2245.

If you or someone you know are in need of resources such as access to food, assistance with rent, or other needs, please reach out to our Community Health Worker, Evelyn, at 402-704-2255.

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