Nebraska has reached a plateau in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, with both numbers mostly unchanged over recent weeks.
One notable change: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week added 399 COVID-related deaths that it apparently had not previously counted in Nebraska’s tally. That pushed the federal agency’s death toll for the state to 2,840 for the pandemic, while the state’s count remained at 2,427.
Overall, however, Nebraska continued a monthlong flattening of its summer delta surge.
The state added 4,775 new cases for the week ending Friday. That was slightly above the 4,676 tallied during the previous week but about 10% below the roughly 5,300 the state counted during each of the three prior weeks.
More notable decreases in new cases continued in the state’s most populous counties. Douglas County’s cases have been on a slow decline for the past three weeks. For the week ending Saturday, the county tallied 836 cases, down from 1,004 the week before.
Cases within the Sarpy/Cass Health Department have trended downward from 639 in the last week of August to 265 last week. And the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, which reinstated an indoor mask mandate Aug. 26, dropped from 1,021 cases the week ending Sept. 3 to 508 cases for the week ending Friday.
Case rates remain higher in some rural counties, including some in which vaccination rates remain lower than in more heavily populated counties.
COVID hospitalizations in the state also have flattened but remain elevated. An average of 415 patients a day were hospitalized with COVID-19 last week, down slightly from 421 the previous week. New daily admissions also were down slightly to 49 last week from 53 the week before.
In early June, the state was seeing just a few hundred cases a week. At that time, many adults were finishing their vaccination regimens and it appeared the pandemic might be nearing its end.
But after the delta variant began surging, particularly among the unvaccinated, Nebraska’s weekly cases climbed over 5,000 and remained stuck there for about a month. While cases now are roughly a third of where they were during the massive surge last fall and winter, they remain far below safe transmission levels.
As of Sunday, the state had tallied 268,381 cases during the pandemic.
With cases falling nationally — down by about a third in the past two months — Nebraska’s weekly per-capita case rate now is slightly above the U.S. average. Cases are falling across nearly three-fourths of states.
Nationally, deaths have topped 700,000, with some 100,000 of those deaths coming since vaccines were authorized for people ages 12 and older.
Why Nebraska’s CDC-tallied deaths increased so sharply, however, wasn’t immediately clear Monday.
Taylor Gage, a spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts, said in an email that it is likely that the federal agency added what are classified as “probable deaths” to its count for Nebraska.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services notes in its “About the Data” section that the CDC recommends defining “confirmed” and “probable” deaths. Confirmed deaths, according to the state, are those for which COVID-19 is listed as a cause of death on a death certificate and for which there was a positive PCR test, the gold standard for COVID tests. “Only confirmed COVID deaths are counted in Nebraska statewide totals,” according to the state.
“Probable” COVID-19 deaths, the state website indicates, are those for which COVID is listed as a cause of death and for which a positive antigen test is available. Cases with COVID-19 as a cause of death but no positive test also are listed as “probable.”
In a statement, state health department officials said the information is sent in separate fields to the CDC.
Nebraska has continued to send state COVID data in a variety of ways to the CDC, officials said. The state agency, they said, has “been challenged at times by how this data is not always reported accurately by our federal partner.”
A comment from the CDC was not immediately forthcoming Monday.
The Douglas County Health Department counts COVID-related deaths as those for which the virus is listed as a cause of death and for which there is either a positive antigen or PCR test, said Phil Rooney, a Health Department spokesman.
Vaccinations, meanwhile, are ticking up slightly in Nebraska, most likely due to the addition of booster shots. Some 27,500 shots were administered in the state last week, up slightly from the 24,000 the state had given in recent weeks.