Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird today said a decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases in Lancaster County is one indicator that the local mask mandate has been effective in controlling the spread of the virus. The face covering requirement was included in the latest Directed Health Measure (DHM) issued by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) that went into effect July 20.
The number of new cases went from a high of 360 the week ending July 25 to 207 cases for the week ending August 8, a 43 percent decline. Just 131 new cases have been reported so far for this week, which ends August 15. The seven-day rolling average of new cases has also declined from an average of 55 on July 24 to less than 30 during the current week.
"Thank you to everyone who is wearing a mask in our community. After three weeks of a mask requirement, we can now say, with evidence, that it’s working," said Mayor Gaylor Baird. "Our COVID-19 case numbers have significantly declined week over week since our community began to follow the mask requirement on July 20."
The number of new cases is one of the five key indicators used to determine the position of the COVID-19 Risk Dial at COVID19.lincoln.ne.gov. For the third consecutive week, the Dial will remain at low-orange, indicating a high risk for spread of the virus in Lincoln. On the color-coded dial, red represents "severe," the highest risk of COVID-19 spread, and green represents the lowest risk. The dial is usually updated every Friday.
Although the risk of the virus spreading in Lincoln remains high, Health Director Pat Lopez said key indicators continue to head in the right direction:
Positivity rate. The average weekly positivity rate has been trending down and is now beginning to level off. The rate went from a high of 8.3 percent the week ending July 25 down to 6 percent the week ending August 8.
Contact tracing capacity. Health Director Pat Lopez said that over the past three weeks, over 90 percent of all positive test investigations were completed within 24 hours. She said 76 percent of testing results are now being received within 3 days or less. However, Quest Labs that does tests for CVS and others is averaging from 8 to 10 days and as long as two weeks to get Lincoln results. Lopez said that is an unacceptable turnaround time.
"This can lead to people spreading the virus because they don't know the results," Lopez said. "As we've noted before, delays in receiving lab results does impact how soon we can follow up those who have tested positive and begin the contact tracing."
Hospital capacity. Lopez said the use of ICU beds and ventilators has been fairly steady. But local hospitals have reported an increase in the overall number of beds used in the past three weeks. Again, this is the overall number, not just the number of COVID-19 related patients. Local hospitals are also seeing an increase in patients who are suspected of having COVID-19 and have been tested but are awaiting test results. Lopez said this is due to the limited availability of rapid testing.
Testing capacity. About 51,000 Lancaster County residents have been tested for COVID-19. The number of tests has averaged about 4,000 tests a week, but that was down to 3,500 last week. So far this week, about 2,000 people have been tested locally. Lopez said the decreased testing could also be linked to the mask mandate. She said contact tracers are seeing fewer people being considered close contacts because they are wearing face coverings. That means fewer people are being recommended for testing.
Testing continues to be widely available locally. To start the process, visit BryanHealth.com, CHIHealth.com or TestNebraska.com. To be tested, you must have an appointment. Test Nebraska has expanded testing to six days a week, and this testing is free, with no billing to insurance.
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 now posted online just below the Dial.
For more information, visit COVID19.lincoln.ne.gov or call the Health Department hotline at 402-441-8006.