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EXCLUSIVE: 'Things are getting worse': Health officials warn pandemic could get much worse in NE

UNMC experts and Dr. Adi Pour give warning
Posted at 6:17 PM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-30 22:25:03-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — On Wednesday, local medical professionals shared dire warnings about the rising COVID-19-related deaths, cases and hospitalizations in Nebraska that are rising to near-record levels once again.

3 News Now reporter Ruta Ulcinaite spoke exclusively with leading infectious disease experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour.

They all say we could be headed towards a very bad fall and winter.

UNMC experts say it's time to reassess what Nebraska has been doing the last month to fight the spread of COVID-19.

In Douglas County, which had been doing well for a while, numbers have seen a jump.

"In the last three weeks, for Nebraska and Douglas County, we've seen almost a doubling in the number of cases that are being diagnosed on a daily basis," said Dr. John-Martin Lowe of UNMC.

That statistic is startling when you take into account the cold, autumn months ahead and individuals spending more time indoors.

RELATED: Dr. Pour questioned on COVID-19 data as mask debate continues within Omaha City Council

"It could be a really scary fall if we allow this to continue to trend the way it's going,” said, Dr. James Lawler of UNMC. “To be honest, instead of applying the brakes to really try and put additional measures on... we're hitting the gas pedal and that is exactly the wrong action to be taking right now."

Nebraska’s daily new case rates are nearly back at peak levels from the spring. The same is true for death rates and hospitalizations, which worry Lowe, Lawler, and Pour.

"It does concern me very much,” said Pour. “I am always looking at the hospital data. That's the most worrisome."

Right now, Douglas County has around an 80 percent hospital occupancy rate and because of economic reasons, hospitals like Nebraska Medicine cannot cancel elective surgeries as they did at the beginning of the pandemic. Occupancy is therefore limited.

"We're very close to our highest levels of cases and hospitalizations right now so I would definitely anticipate that we're going to see our highest levels of cases and hospitalizations in the months to come," said Lowe.

The answer as to what needs to happen to get trends back down isn't one-fold. Just wearing masks isn't going to fix everything and neither is just avoiding large crowds. It's all those things together, happening simultaneously that's going to help us avoid major effects.

"To control spread in a community you don't need to shut down everything and you don't need to have everybody locked up at home,” said Lawler. “There seems to be this view that we either need to be completely open or completely shut down. The reality is you can maintain low levels of community transmission if you follow common sense guidelines."

As the experts continue to watch the trends, they say action needs to happen at the individual, local and state levels to keep case numbers down.

"My hope will be that we actually prove every expert wrong and we don't see increases in fall," said Pour.

We reached out to Governor Ricketts to get his response to the warnings from the medical community but have not yet heard back.

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