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State declines new virus rules despite high hospitalizations

January 27, 2022 GMT
FILE - A woman who tested positive with COVID-19 is brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, March 6, 2020. The number of virus hospitalizations in Nebraska exceeds the level that was supposed to trigger new restrictions from the state, but Gov. Pete Ricketts said those aren't needed because hospitals are already limiting surgeries to preserve capacity. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
FILE - A woman who tested positive with COVID-19 is brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, March 6, 2020. The number of virus hospitalizations in Nebraska exceeds the level that was supposed to trigger new restrictions from the state, but Gov. Pete Ricketts said those aren't needed because hospitals are already limiting surgeries to preserve capacity. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
FILE - A woman who tested positive with COVID-19 is brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, March 6, 2020. The number of virus hospitalizations in Nebraska exceeds the level that was supposed to trigger new restrictions from the state, but Gov. Pete Ricketts said those aren't needed because hospitals are already limiting surgeries to preserve capacity. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
FILE - A woman who tested positive with COVID-19 is brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, March 6, 2020. The number of virus hospitalizations in Nebraska exceeds the level that was supposed to trigger new restrictions from the state, but Gov. Pete Ricketts said those aren't needed because hospitals are already limiting surgeries to preserve capacity. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)
FILE - A woman who tested positive with COVID-19 is brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, March 6, 2020. The number of virus hospitalizations in Nebraska exceeds the level that was supposed to trigger new restrictions from the state, but Gov. Pete Ricketts said those aren't needed because hospitals are already limiting surgeries to preserve capacity. (Chris Machian/Omaha World-Herald via AP)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The number of virus hospitalizations in Nebraska exceeds the level that was supposed to trigger new restrictions from the state, but Gov. Pete Ricketts said those aren’t needed now because hospitals are already limiting surgeries to preserve capacity.

State health officials had said they would issue new Directed Health Measures restricting surgeries when COVID-19 cases filled more that 15% of Nebraska’s hospital beds on average. At the start of this week, that seven-day average stood at 17.3%.

“What we are hearing from nearly all of our hospitals is that they are already postponing non-urgent elective procedures voluntarily, and therefore initiating DHMs at this time is not necessary,” Ricketts said. “However, my administration stands ready to issue DHMs on a case-by-case basis to aid hospitals should they need it.”

The state did issue an order earlier this month ordering the Nebraska Medical Center to restrict surgeries because that hospital started using its crisis plan to ration care after the large number of staff illnesses made it difficult to deal with the surge in hospitalizations. But that is the only place where Ricketts has formally restricted surgeries.

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State health officials said 741 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 Wednesday. That is up significantly since late December when 445 people were hospitalized.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has risen over the past two weeks from 3,161.57 new cases per day on Jan. 11 to 3,780 new cases per day on Tuesday. But that figure had been over 4,000 per day since mid-January, so it has declined slightly this week.

Officials at CHI Health said even though cases remain high there are some encouraging signs in national and state data that suggest the current surge driven by the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus may be near its peak.

“Our predictive models are looking good. This morning I was looking at some more models and we do believe that over the next couple weeks we’re going to be near or perhaps even past our peak,” CHI President and CEO E.J. Kuiper said Thursday.

One positive sign is that the number of staff illnesses across CHI Health’s 14 hospitals in Nebraska and western Iowa fell to 88 Thursday from a peak of well over 400 just over a week ago. The chain has roughly 11,000 employees. Kuiper said it helped that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened its recommendation for how long people must quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.

Getting vaccinated remains important to limiting the spread and severity of COVID-19. The vast majority of the 233 virus patients at CHI’s hospitals are unvaccinated.

“We do see a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, but that does not mean we should take our foot off the gas with vaccinating and masking and doing all the prudent things that we need to do to continue to control the variant,” said Kevin Miller, who leads two of CHI’s hospitals in Omaha.