Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) today announced that the COVID-19 Risk Dial at COVID19.lincoln.ne.gov has moved from low-orange to mid-orange, indicating that the risk of the virus spreading in the community is high and has increased. On the color-coded dial, red represents "severe," the highest risk of COVID-19 spread, and green represents the lowest risk. The dial is updated every Friday.
So far this week, 430 new cases have been reported, a new high for weekly cases. The previous high was 360 cases for the week ending July 25. Over the last two weeks, about 50 percent of all cases were associated with UNL. Forty cases have also been identified as individuals associated with Nebraska Wesleyan University. For the week ending August 29, 31 percent of the new cases were among individuals 18 and 19 years old, and LLCHD said many of them were first-year college students. Before college classes began, the 18 to 19 age group made up only 5 percent of new cases.
Scott Holmes, Manager of the Environmental Public Health Division at LLCHD said the main concern is that COVID-19 cases among college students could impact a greater proportion of older adults in Lincoln who are more likely to have more severe illness.
"We know that college students don't just stay within their campus communities," Holmes said. "In fact, the majority of college students don't live on campus. They are a welcomed part of Lincoln's community where they live, work, and play as we do. The increase in new cases is not only a college campus concern, it is our entire community's concern. To effectively address this, we all must take care of ourselves and each other."
Holmes said there has been no confirmed transmission of the virus in any school or classroom setting at any level of educational institutions in Lancaster County. He said the new cases are due to the increased social activities outside of the school setting.
The number of new cases is one of the five primary factors used to determine the risk of COVID-19 spread. The position of the Risk Dial is based on multiple local indicators and information from the previous three weeks. More information on the metrics used by LLCHD is posted online just below the Dial. Holmes updated the other four primary factors used to determine risk:
Positivity rate: The average weekly positivity rate has also gone up from 6.8 percent the week ending August 22 to 10.5 percent the week ending August 29. The increase is largely due to the increased testing of college students who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus due to their social activities. The weekly positivity rate so far this week is 13.4 percent.
Testing capacity: As of today, nearly 61,000 people have been tested in Lancaster County, and testing remains widely available in the community
Contact tracing capacity: This past week ending August 29, 93 percent of the investigations were completed within 24 hours of LLCHD receiving the lab report.
The turnaround time for receiving test results has averaged just over three days this week. Holmes aid the ideal test result turnaround time is within 24 hours, as this helps prevent the spread of the virus.
Hospital capacity: The number of COVID patients in Lincoln hospitals today is 32. This is the first time since June 6 that more than 30 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized locally. Holmes also said that over the past weekend, Lincoln's ICU bed capacity dipped just below 30 percent.
"If the overall number of hospital patients is high and additional COVID-19 patients require hospitalization in the coming weeks, we could begin to see a strain on our local hospital systems," Holmes said.
For more information, visit COVID19.lincoln.ne.gov or call the Health Department hotline at 402-441-8006.