Tracking COVID-19 in Nebraska: Which numbers matter most

Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 7:47 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Throughout the pandemic - you’ve heard a lot of different numbers and every day those numbers fluctuate for several reasons.

During holidays million more people travel and gather, increasing the probability that the virus will be transmitted.

Travelers also get tested more frequently depending on the restrictions in place for the cities they’re visiting.

Testing fluctuates also as we’ve seen recently in Omaha, with some of the most trafficked sites being forced to shut down due to inclement weather. That in turn affects the number of cases reported the following day, potentially misleading people to believe the presence of COVID in less than what it truly is across the community.

For that reason, medical experts, including Dr. Mark Rupp, Head of Infectious Disease at Nebraska Medicine, have been saying for months “looking at just the daily number of cases can be misleading.”

Two weeks ago Douglas County reported its highest single-day spike yet, with nearly 1,900 cases.

Just weeks before that on January 3rd, the county recorded 249 in a single day. It remains the lowest daily total of the month.

Still, throughout the entirety of January, the omicron variant has run rampant, further proving that using the seven-day rolling average gives a much better idea of how the community is faring.

But now, even that is less effective at tracking the presence of COVID with the emergence of home testing kits.

The Douglas County Health Department lets you report your at-home results and encourages the community to do so, but they say there’s no way to confirm the results. Therefore, the numbers aren’t factored into the rolling average.

“Quite clearly the number of cases that we are defining is way way lower than what is in the community,” said Dr. Rupp which he added, further stamps the need for masking, good hygiene, and vaccinations.

Instead of relying on averages and case counts, Rupp pointed to the percent of positivity for the tests that are reported and the number of hospitalizations. He said both numbers are too high right now which lets us know there’s a lot of work to be done, but he also shared “guarded optimism” that Nebraska is inching closer to its peak.

According to Rupp’s analysis, other states and cities to the east that experienced a surge a few weeks before Nebraska, are finally reaching their peak after about four weeks.

He says Nebraska is just beyond that threshold and the next few weeks should give us a better idea if we’ll have a similar outcome, though many of the areas peaking did have higher vaccination rates.

In terms of the comprehensive data offered by the health department, Nebraska DHHS, and CDC, Rupp says it’s relevant and important; “We do have to look at overall trends and the average and see what the cases are doing.”

He says what’s most helpful though is if people understand how to interact with the data so they can be better equipped to make informed health decisions.

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