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Nebraska's COVID cases flat but higher than past school openers

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As Nebraskans prepare to start a new school year, new COVID-19 cases are running at almost double the rate they have been the past two years.

Nebraska recorded 3,726 new cases last week, down slightly from 4,120 the previous week and roughly flat compared to two weeks ago, according to federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data for the week ending Friday. Cases in the state have generally been running between 3,000 and 4,000 cases for the past nine weeks.

However, as the state prepares to open schools for the third time since the start of the pandemic, cases are well above where they were each of the past two years. Nebraska recorded roughly 2,000 cases per week during the first week of August in both 2020 and 2021.

In both of those years, cases rose rapidly after classes resumed.

Students in Lincoln Public Schools return to class on Monday or Tuesday, depending on their grade level.

According to the CDC, everyone 5 years and older is eligible for one booster in addition to their primary series of vaccines. Those 50 and older and people with compromised immune systems are eligible for two boosters.

In the U.S., only 60% of the 12-17 population is vaccinated and only 30% of 5- to 11-year-olds have gotten their shots.

Nebraska ranks below average in child vaccinations against COVID, with 56% of those ages 12-17 and 29% of those 5-11 fully vaccinated. 

The best states for child vaccinations — Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts — each is above 50% for younger children and above 80% for older children.

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said last month that local school officials should be prepared for some kind of COVID wave this fall.

The protocols and procedures that schools should follow, he said, consist primarily of nonpharmaceutical measures, such as washing hands and staying home when sick.

He said he does not anticipate a return to mask mandates, although individual school districts may ask people to exercise additional precautions, depending on local spread of the virus.

Nationally, cases are falling, down 19% from last week. Only 12 states recorded rising numbers in the past week, among them Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Hospitalization numbers also are flattening in Nebraska. The daily average of 206 Nebraskans hospitalized for COVID-19 last week was unchanged from the prior week.

Nebraska recorded four more COVID deaths last week, bringing the total for the pandemic to 3,493. Nearly 520,000 COVID cases have been recorded in the state since the pandemic began.

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