The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) announced today 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 Lincoln remains high and is trending higher. 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.
Lopez said the increase in cases among younger adults continues. Since the beginning of July, 77 percent of new cases have been under age 40. While individuals age 20 to 29 make up only about 18.5 percent of our population, 53 percent of these new cases reported since July have been in that age group. She said several downtown bars continue to be identified as possible places of exposure.
"I urge young adults to consider the risks before you go out. If you do go out, wear face coverings," Lopez said. "The behavior of some young people continues to be part of the problem in moving us the wrong direction, and we need them to be part of the solution instead."
Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said the public reaction to the mask mandate that went into effect Monday has been predominantly positive. LLCHD has received about 40 calls per day from businesses inquiring about the mask measure. The department has received about 35 complaints, and the Mayor said the city is focusing on education and support as the primary means of enforcement.
The city advises those who observe someone not wearing a mask in public to stay six feet away from the individual and not to call law enforcement emergency or non-emergency numbers. The public can make complaints regarding compliance through the UPLNK phone app or the city website, UPLNK.lincoln.ne.gov. Businesses with specific questions about the face covering requirement can call the Health Department at 402-441-6280.
"We wish to remind everyone that the choices we make today, this weekend and next week are what will make a difference in preventing exposures and potential new cases in the coming weeks," Mayor Gaylor Baird said. "Please do your part and take action to prevent future exposures. The actions we ask you to take are common sense precautions - small steps that make a big difference. They are simply the three W's - wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance - staying at least six feet from others."
The position of the Risk Dial is based on multiple local indicators and information from the previous three weeks. Lopez updated five of the key factors they consider:
Case numbers. The trend continues to show an increase in case numbers. The seven-day rolling average has increased from 17 cases a day on June 27 to 47 on July 17. The number of weekly cases went from 85 the week ending June 27 to 331 for the week ending July 18. From Sunday, July 19, through today, 300 new cases have been reported.
Positivity rate. The average weekly positivity rate for the last three weeks in June was 4.4 percent. However, in the month of July, the average weekly rate is now 6.9 percent, an increase of 57 percent. So far this week, the rate is 9.4 percent. The overall positivity rate has increased from 6.4 percent July 3 to 6.8 percent today.
Contact tracing capacity. LLCHD currently has 34 contact tracers available to conduct case investigations. With a full case load, this would be enough to investigate up to 120 new cases within 24 hours. This capacity is more than sufficient at this time and has kept pace with demand. However, Lopez said now that hotpots around the country are doing more testing, it is causing delays in receiving lab results locally. Lopez said the delay in getting results delays the start of the investigative process and impacts the department's ability to prevent the development of case clusters or outbreaks.
Hospital capacity. Lincoln hospitals have about 55 percent of their ICU beds available and about 90 percent of their ventilators available. The number of COVID-19 patients in our local hospitals today is down to 15 individuals. Lopez said that with an increase in the number of overall cases, however, officials expect to see an increase in the number of patients needing hospitalization in two to three weeks.
Testing capacity. Since the beginning of this pandemic, 39,974 individuals have now been tested for COVID-19 in Lancaster County. (Each individual counts as one, no matter how many times they are tested.) About 5,000 tests were completed last week, an all-time high.
For more information, visit COVID19.lincoln.ne.gov or call the Health Department hotline at 402-441-8006.