Nebraska and Douglas County continued to see a decline in COVID-19 cases during the latest seven-day period.

It hasn’t been a swift decline in either case, but it has been steady. The state added 931 cases during the seven days that ended Thursday, according to a state dashboard, an average of 133 cases a day. That was down from about 157 a day during the preceding seven-day period and 170 a day during the seven days before that. The state recorded a peak of 677 cases in one day on May 7. Totals on Friday stood at 18,524 cases, with 22 new deaths reported since last Friday, bringing the number of deaths to 266.

Douglas County added 524 cases during the seven-day period ending Friday, an average of 75 new cases a day. That was down from an average of 93 during the preceding seven days. The county’s weekly tallies have been declining since a peak of 1,112 during the week ending May 30, according to the county’s data dashboard. Totals on Friday stood at 6,764 cases and 86 deaths related to COVID-19, with 10 of those reported within the past week.

But health officials continued to warn that the virus is not gone. Nebraska’s numbers remain higher than a threshold at which they would consider them contained. Meanwhile, cases have surged at alarming rates this week in states such as Texas, Florida and California.

Gov. Pete Ricketts cautioned Nebraskans on Thursday that while the state is in a good position, with hospitalizations statewide down from a high in late April, it’s not time to get cocky. “We’ve got to continue to manage this,” he said at a press conference.

Dr. Cliff Robertson, the chief executive of CHI Health, noted the downtrend in hospitalizations at a press conference Wednesday.

On that day, the health system had 61 COVID-19 patients across its 14 hospitals in Nebraska and Iowa, he said. That’s down from a peak of 167 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 on April 28. As of June 10, the health system had cared for 621 COVID-19 patients in Nebraska and southwest Iowa.

On Friday, 100 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the metro area. Last week, there were 104.

Some states with surges of cases are seeing more cases among younger people. In Nebraska, 20- to 34-year-olds make up the largest proportion of positive cases since the pandemic began at 29.5%.

Phil Rooney, a spokesman for the Douglas County Health Department, said the county has seen a few more cases among younger people in the past week and a half but no major shifts.

Thirty-one percent of the county’s cases since the pandemic began have been among 20- to 34-year-olds and 11% among those under 20.

Dr. Doug Moore, director of critical care at CHI Health, said the health system has seen some downtrend in ages. But one surprise has been the impact of diabetes and obesity among younger patients who become ill.

Officials with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday noted that younger people are not immune to the virus and that risk rises with age, rather than being confined primarily to those over 65. The agency also broadened its warning about who is at risk of developing severe disease, noting that people of any age with conditions such as chronic kidney disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes are at increased risk.

Robertson said CHI Health is using the lessons it learned during the first months of the pandemic to prepare for fall and winter. The large health system was able to avoid shortages of staff and supplies because it was able to move resources among its facilities and those of its parent, CommonSpirit Health.

To ensure an adequate supply of protective gear in the future, CommonSpirit has joined other health systems in investing in a domestic manufacturer in Texas.

To prepare for continued demand for testing and a possible second wave of the virus, CHI Health’s core laboratory at Creighton University Medical Center-Bergan Mercy plans to double its testing capacity by August, bumping daily capacity to 1,000 tests a day.

Dr. Stephen Cavalieri, a professor of pathology at Creighton University School of Medicine, said the health system’s clinics want to do more testing, and it’s also had requests from schools and nursing homes.

CHI Health, Creighton’s clinical partner, began conducting its own testing on two existing testing platforms in late March.

By Wednesday, the health system had conducted 20,000 tests, with some additional testing at hospitals in Grand Island, Lincoln and Kearney. That’s separate from a testing lab at St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln that continues to perform for TestNebraska, the state-run program.

The core lab was validating a third existing testing system this week and is also pooling samples, which conserves testing materials. Later this summer, Cavalieri said, the lab will add a new, automated, high-volume system. Lab staff have also validated an antibody test and are exploring the best way to use it.

But CHI officials also stressed the need for Nebraskans to continue to take precautions to avoid infection by keeping their distance and avoiding large groups, wearing masks when they’re in public and can’t maintain the proper distance, and practicing proper hand hygiene.

“We’ve done pretty well so far,” said Dr. David Quimby, an infectious diseases physician with the system. “We’re doing pretty well now, virus-wise. But it’s not gone from our communities. We need to do what we can so that it stays controllable.”

Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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