Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts acknowledged Friday that state officials should have moved more quickly to interview people who contracted the coronavirus in recent weeks so they could warn others who may have been exposed. Ricketts said the recent surge in virus cases created a backlog of people who needed to be called, and officials within his administration didn’t add more workers to help with the extra workload. “The simple answer is we didn’t do our job,” Ricketts said at a coronavirus news conference.
The state now has a backlog of 2,600 people who still need to contacted. Some people who tested positive recently have waited more than a week for one of the state’s “contract tracers” to ask where they’ve been and who they might have infected, part of a broader effort to slow the virus’ spread. Ashley Newmyer, chief data strategist for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said agency officials hope to work their way through the backlog by the end of next week. Newmyer said the state is adding more workers and will rely on a combination of state employees and private contractors to perform the service.
She said contract tracers will also ask fewer questions during their interviews to save time and reduce the backlog. They’ll also make just two attempts to contact infected people, down from the current five. Meanwhile, more Nebraska cities are making moves to require faces coverings in public as the coronavirus outbreak worsens in the state and across the country. The Omaha suburbs of Bellevue, Papillion, Ralston, Gretna and La Vista are either weighing or have scheduled emergency meetings to consider requiring masks in public, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Earlier in the week, the cities of Beatrice and Kearney passed mask mandates. Grand Island will consider doing so next week.
The uptick in such mandates comes as Nebraska set a record for hospitalizations across the state on Thursday, with 983 people hospitalized. That outpaced the previous record of 978 hospitalizations on Tuesday. The state reported its third-highest daily total of new confirmed cases on Thursday at 2,663, which raised its overall total since the pandemic began to 109,280. The state recorded 28 new deaths on Thursday, raising Nebraska’s COVID-19 death total to 854, according to the state’s online virus tracker.
Nebraska has the fifth-highest rate of infection in the country. Over the past week, one out of every 115 people in the state was diagnosed with COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has risen over the past two weeks from roughly 1,335 new cases per day on Nov. 5 to 2,382 new cases per day as of Thursday.