Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) today said the COVID-19 Risk Dial remains at elevated orange for a second week, indicating that the risk of the virus spreading in the community is high. 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.
"One of the most important steps we can take is to limit our interactions with those outside of our immediate household," said Mayor Gaylor Baird. "When we do interact with those outside our household, we need to be smart to stay safe. Follow the three W's - wear a mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance. Avoid the three C's - crowded places, confined spaces, and close contact."
"Our contact tracing is showing us that many of those who become positive for COVID-19 attended family gatherings or went to a party and hung out with their regular circle of friends, but they did not follow these precautions," said Health Director Pat Lopez. "These are the perfect environments for COVID-19 to spread. Of course we remain concerned about large gatherings, but these smaller gatherings of people who are not taking the necessary precautions are a big contributor to the continued spread of illnesses and the increased hospitalizations."
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. Lopez updated the five primary factors used to determine risk:
Number of new cases: So far this week, 457 new cases have been reported. Our weekly case counts have risen to a very concerning level. Since the beginning of September, about 3,700 people have tested positive for COVID-19 locally, almost one-half of the total cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic. Since September 27, 40.6 percent of all new cases have been between the ages of 30 and 59.
Hospitalizations: The average daily number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized increased from 18 in August to 40 in September. So far in October, the average is up to 60.
Positivity rate: So far this week, the average weekly positivity rate is 13.8 percent. The rate has been in the teens for the past seven weeks, indicating that the virus is widespread in the community and the risk of spread is high. The small decrease in the weekly positivity rate is mostly due to a requirement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that health care workers and residents at long-term care facilities complete multiple tests per week.
Testing capacity: More than 91,000 people have been tested in Lancaster County, and testing remains widely available in the community. So far this week about 3,300 tests have been completed.
Contact tracing capacity and testing turnaround time: While testing remains widely available in the community, the effectiveness of testing is highly dependent on how quickly the laboratory results are provided to LLCHD. Over the past two weeks, the average turnaround time has increased by almost two days. So far this week, the average turnaround time has been 3.9 days overall. The average for Test Nebraska is about 4.2 days. Overall, just 36 percent of tests were received in two days or less over the past week.
Due to the nearly four-day turnaround time, nurses have not been able to contact patients until five or six days after they were tested, and Lopez said that makes contact tracing much less effective in preventing the spread of illness in the community. It is also important that those who test positive do all they can to cooperate with our public health nurses.
For more information, visit COVID19.lincoln.ne.gov or call the Health Department hotline at 402-441-8006.