By Chris Bowling
Editors note: This is a weekly column breaking down COVID-19 data as well as the latest news for Nebraska.
The big stories around COVID-19 have focused on schools, schools and more schools.
At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln an entire sorority is under quarantine following the report of a small cluster of cases in the chapter’s house. Public schools in Omaha continue reporting COVID-19 cases among staff and students which has led to modifying the already modified back-to-school plans.
Meanwhile, Omaha Public Schools, the largest district in the state, had its first foray into starting a school year with totally virtual learning. For some it’s going well. Others, like special needs students, those who struggle with reliable internet access or kids whose parents rely on school meals to feed their children, the school year is far from smooth.
What’s more, a lead epidemiologist with the Douglas County Health Department confirmed the elephant in the room—when it comes to COVID-19 transmission, schools are a ticking time bomb inside a black box.
With hundreds of kids mingling in the halls, going in and out of classrooms and sharing desks, supplies and space around their lockers, it’s nearly impossible to contact trace inside schools. The question then is who do you quarantine when transmission does occur in school? Should you put everyone that kid had contact with in a 14-day lockdown?
Justin Frederickson told Fox 42 that the Douglas County Health Department puts its trust in schools to make those decisions.
It’s also important to note the graphic I keep for The Reader about whether schools should reopen has only gotten worse. The graphic uses the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s metric that a community should have less than 50 new COVID-19 cases per day per 1 million residents before reopening.
When organized by population, you have to get to Box Butte County (pop. 10,783) before one gets the green light to reopen. That’s more than 80% of the state’s population.
Outside of schools, the hardest-hit zip code in Omaha got a new testing site after it lost its closest one without any plans to replace it. State senators, city council members and local activists banded together to both raise awareness and find a solution to get testing up and running.
Speaking of testing, the state’s testing has been trending downward. In the last 10 days, the 7-day average of daily testing amounts it’s dropped by nearly 300. Daily cases have also trended downward while the positivity rate has dropped slightly.
Douglas County in particular has seen a sharp drop. Since Aug. 15, the county’s 7-day average dropped about 40 cases. Douglas County and—let’s be honest—Omaha, dictate statewide trends barring breakouts like we had early in the pandemic in places like Hall County.
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