Nebraska hospitals plan for more increases in virus cases

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska continues to set records with the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus and health care providers expect that to continue because of the recent surge of cases in the state.

Cliff Robertson, CEO of CHI Health, said his group of 14 hospitals in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa is preparing for COVID-19 cases to keep increasing over the next three to four weeks. He said COVID-19 patients already account for about 25% of all the patients in his hospitals.

“We highly encourage folks to take this seriously because … this virus is rampant in our community right now. It is everywhere and is spreading quickly,” Robertson said.

The steady increase in cases raises the concern that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed, said Dr. James Lawler, an infectious diseases specialist at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha.

“In three weeks’ time, our hospitals will be overwhelmed and we will no longer be able to deliver optimal and effective care for COVID, and we will also no longer be able to deliver appropriate care for everyone who comes in with a heart attack or a stroke,” Lawler said this week.

New restrictions to limit the spread of the virus in the state took effect Wednesday. Those rules include requiring masks at businesses where employees have close contact with customers for more than 15 minutes, such as barber shops, and limiting large indoor gatherings to 25% of a building’s capacity. Bars and restaurants can continue operating as long as they maintain 6 feet of distance between tables.

Masks are required in the state’s largest communities of Omaha and Lincoln, but Gov. Pete Ricketts continues to reject imposing a statewide mask mandate.

The state said the number of virus hospitalizations jumped to 860 on Tuesday from the previous day’s 820. Nebraska also reported its second-highest one-day total of new cases at 2,182 to give the state a total of 87,733 illnesses since the pandemic began.

Twenty new deaths linked to the virus were also reported Tuesday to give the state 730 deaths, and the rate of new cases in the state ranked sixth-highest in the nation.

Over the past week, one out of every 141 people in Nebraska was diagnosed with COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The 7-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska also increased over the past two weeks from 811.71 new cases per day on Oct. 27 to 1,847.29 new cases per day on Tuesday.

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