OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Pete Ricketts is resurrecting a version of Nebraska’s daily virus reporting dashboard website because the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has continued to rise through the summer.
The state eliminated its daily virus dashboard in June at the same time the last of Ricketts' emergency orders related to the pandemic were allowed to expire and cases were low.
At the end of June, the state was reporting 253 virus cases per week and 28 people were hospitalized statewide. There were 5,643 virus cases reported in the most-recent week and 415 people were hospitalized.
The state’s decision to stop providing daily COVID-19 updates was widely criticized by health experts who use the data to track the virus’ spread. A group of 11 state senators wrote a letter to Ricketts last month urging him to reinstate the daily virus dashboard.
“I think it’s overdue. I think it should have never gone away. I think the dashboard is an important risk communication tool to the community,” said Dr. David Brett-Major, an epidemiologist with the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The state launched a weekly website to report some virus numbers in July but it didn't offer as much detail and information as the old daily site.
Even though the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 remains well below last fall’s peak of 987, hospital capacity has been a concern in recent weeks because hospitals are so busy with non-COVID cases. And as of Monday, COVID cases accounted for roughly 15% of the state's hospitalizations.
Ricketts said the state will maintain the new dashboard as long as COVID cases continue to account for at least 10% of hospitalizations statewide.
Ricketts said about 28% of the state's adult hospital beds and 23% of adult intensive care beds remained available statewide on Monday.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska improved slightly over the past two weeks, going from 688.86 new cases per day on Sept. 4 to 672.43 new cases per day on Saturday.
The new dashboard will allow the public to make informed decisions in response to the risks that they are facing.
“It’s about being honest a that we are having a problem,” Brett-Major said. “Look at these numbers. They are absurd. We are at least 50 times higher in case rates than what we were worried about a year ago.”
State officials have said that part of the reason the daily dashboard was retired was because state and federal health privacy laws, which were suspended during the virus emergency, limited the amount of information that state health officials could disclose. Ricketts signed a new executive order Monday suspending those privacy rules again to allow for the new dashboard.
The state planned to launch its new virus dashboard website sometime Monday afternoon.