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Nebraska Sees A New Spike In Coronavirus Cases


After falling from a spring peak, coronavirus cases are now higher than they've ever been in Nebraska. Hospital leaders are warning that intensive care beds are getting scarce. Brandon McDermott with member station NET Nebraska reports.

BRANDON MCDERMOTT, BYLINE: Daniel Johnson, the chief of critical care at Nebraska Medicine, says the state's second surge still hasn't peaked yet. With flu season ahead and some hospitals already near capacity, Johnson calls it a perfect storm.

DANIEL JOHNSON: The assumption that you can get sick, that we're going to have a hospital bed for you is a false assumption. We can fill. Lincoln can fill. Omaha can fill. Grand Island can fill. All of our hospitals can fill up.

MCDERMOTT: Johnson says statewide, Nebraska hospitals have hit nearly 90% capacity for regular and ICU beds. And he says Nebraskans need to take responsibility for slowing the spread of the pandemic.

JOHNSON: Individual people - we all have the power to slow this down. But if people do not change the way we are currently behaving, we are not going to have capacity.

MCDERMOTT: In most of Nebraska, restrictions on occupancy at bars and restaurants ended more than a month ago. So did prohibitions on large gatherings and in-person classes. And there's never been a statewide mask mandate here.


JOHN LOWE: We built a solid structure of community protection much like the game of Jenga, but we have steadily removed one block after one block of that tower.

MCDERMOTT: Dr. John Lowe is one of the group of doctors from the University of Nebraska Medical Center that called a press conference to say they're worried about the recent upward trend.


LOWE: Removing that block and the entire system may collapse.

MCDERMOTT: Laura Hohel, who's in real estate in Lincoln, says she understands Nebraskans tend to be individualistic and independent, even stubborn. But she's taken aback by the number of people wearing masks improperly or not at all in public.

LAURA HOHEL: Am I supposed to, you know, be a Karen and report that? - or obviously they don't care enough to just wear it while they're in the store.

MCDERMOTT: The pandemic has led to lockdowns, furloughs and lost jobs. And now she says it could have a deeper impact on her family.

HOHEL: I'm seriously concerned about the holidays this year because I don't think we can have a big get-together for Thanksgiving and Christmas 'cause it's just not safe.

MCDERMOTT: She's concerned some communities in Nebraska are considering rolling back mask mandates, although the Omaha area last week extended its mandate to late next month. Thirty-year-old Maya Wittmaack from outside of Omaha put herself in quarantine after testing positive for coronavirus about a week ago. She thinks she caught it at an out-of-town baby shower. Now she understands the toll that COVID-related quarantines can have on people.

MAYA WITTMAACK: You really have to be mentally strong to do this quarantine. This year has been very hard on the mental health, and I can see why.

MCDERMOTT: Wittmaack knows a thing or two about quarantine. Last year, she had breast cancer and, after chemo, had to isolate. And now her dad has lung cancer, and he just tested positive for COVID-19, too.

WITTMAACK: And he's not out of the woods. He could get worse. It's weighing heavily on me because, again, I feel like it's my fault.

MCDERMOTT: Last week, Nebraska hit 500 total deaths related to COVID-19, surpassing an initial projection. A new projection predicts 1,300 deaths in the state by the end of the year.

For NPR News in Lincoln, Neb., I'm Brandon McDermott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brandon McDermott (NET)