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Nebraska’s largest health care companies to require vaccines

August 12, 2021 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska’s biggest health care systems announced Thursday that they will require all their employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as they continue to deal with the current surge of virus cases in the state.

The companies involved issued a joint statement that included CHI Health, Nebraska Medicine, Methodist Health System, Bryan Health, Children’s Hospital and several other large health care employers. Most of those companies will require all employees to be vaccinated by Nov. 1 unless they receive an exemption for religious or medical reasons.

CHI Health’s chief medical officer Dr. Cary Ward said it made sense to require the vaccinations now to protect patients and employees because the shots have been proven to be safe.

“The science is clear. Nobody is going to question the science of how effective and how safe these vaccinations are,” Ward said.

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Top medical officials with the health care companies said they believe their hospitals will be able to handle the growing number of virus hospitalizations, but they are concerned about capacity because they have been busy with non-COVID patients.

“Our system — as I believe all the others — have remained quite full and at or near capacity for many, many months now. We are having to retool our operational plans in response to the most-recent surge related to the delta variant,” said Dr. Harris Frankel, Nebraska Medicine’s chief medical officer.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus in Nebraska grew to 217 this week, up from 158 last week. That remains well below last fall’s peak of 987, but it has increased quickly since June 30 when 28 people were hospitalized and the state lifted its last remaining virus restrictions.

“I think we are approaching a public health crisis with all of this,” Bryan Health’s chief medical officer Dr. John Trapp said. “We have seen what has happened in the southern states. We have seen how rising numbers of the delta variant for the coronavirus has increased hospitalizations, increased the strain on hospitals and also we have seen those parallels starting in Nebraska.”

The move from these large employers may provide a boost to the state’s vaccination campaign although the health care companies said at least roughly 80% of their employees have already been vaccinated. State health officials said Wednesday that 50.7% of all Nebraskans have been fully vaccinated, but the pace of vaccinations has slowed significantly since the spring.

In its most recent weekly update, the state said Wednesday that 2,575 new virus cases were reported in the previous week, which was up from 1,976 the week before. That is up more than tenfold since late June when the state reported 253 cases a week.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska jumped over the past two weeks from 200.86 new cases per day on July 27 to 367.86 new cases per day on Tuesday.