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State officials optimistic virus numbers will keep improving

February 28, 2022 GMT

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases continue to plummet in Nebraska following last month’s peak, and state health officials are optimistic they will improve yet more going into the summer.

Nebraska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Anthone told The Associated Press Monday that the numbers are improving quicker than ever because 67% of the state’s residents over the age of five are vaccinated and others have developed natural immunity after being infected with omicron. The four- to six-month outlook is good, allowing Nebraskans “to think about getting back to normal,” he said.

“Everybody is really optimistic that hopefully we can get back to living with the virus rather than having to let the virus somewhat control us,” Anthone said.

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The improving numbers are a relief for the state’s hospitals that were pushed to the limit when hospitalizations rose as high as 767 on Jan. 28. That number has since fallen steadily, hitting 279 on Sunday.

“There was a big exhale when we saw the volume going down,” said Kevin Miller, who oversees CHI Health’s Lakeside and Midlands hospitals in the Omaha area.

But Nebraska Hospital Association President Jeremy Nordquist said during a news conference Monday that hospitals remain busy with non-COVID patients because so many delayed care due to the pandemic, and there is a backlog of surgical procedures that were postponed during last month’s surge. Hospitals are still dealing with staff shortages.

Nevertheless, Anthone believes hospitalizations will continue to fall.

“I am optimistic that we can reach that level that we saw back last June of 2021 when we were down to 27 patients statewide in the hospital,” Anthone said.

The state reported 968 cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week, down from 1,940 the week before, 4,868 before that and 10,435 the week before. The number of cases has plummeted since a record 29,141 cases were reported in the week beginning Jan. 16.

The state said only 5.5% of tests reported last week were positive; the rate hasn’t been that low since July.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska also fell over the past two weeks from 764.71 per day on Feb. 9 to 190.43 on Feb. 23. That number was regularly above 4,000 during the January peak of the omicron surge.

The state will continue to stress the effectiveness of vaccination. State health officials estimate that people who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot are 46 times less likely to be hospitalized than the unvaccinated.

The state has no plan to scale back its daily reporting of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, but Anthone said the online dashboard could be expanded to include data on influenza and other illnesses.

Conditions have improved enough that officials can think about tackling other public health priorities besides the pandemic, he said.