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City health officials are considering restricting gathering sizes, revising sports requirements, requiring masks in public spaces and even closing bars after a three-day surge of 165 new coronavirus cases in Lancaster County.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department is exploring what tightening of restrictions might be necessary to prevent a significant outbreak, said Scott Holmes, manager of the health department's Environmental Public Health Division.

"All options are on the table," Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said during a news conference Tuesday. 

The local health department reported 44 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, pushing the county's total to 2,226. 

But what is concerning is the recent spike in cases and positivity rates for tests at close to 7% for a third straight week. The weekly positivity rate was at 3.1% at the end of June.

The overall positivity rate since testing began in Lancaster County is 6.6%.

Local health officials again warned of the spread of COVID-19 among younger age groups, including those who fraternize in large group settings, go to bars and don't wear face coverings. 

Those in the 20-to-29 age group make up about 18.5% of Lancaster County's population but represent 57% of new cases in the last two weeks, Holmes said.

"We have many young adults who have returned to normal behavior," he said. "Unfortunately, we are not in normal times."

Local bar owners will receive letters restating social distancing guidelines in the coming week, and those who do not follow the ordinances can be shut down, officials said.

The current guidelines are part of Phase 3 of Gov. Pete Ricketts' reopening plan in Nebraska. Under those rules, bars and restaurants are allowed to operate at full capacity, but patrons are required to be seated and groups are limited to eight people.

Phase 3 rules allow indoor gatherings at 50% of capacity and 75% for outdoor gatherings. There are also stipulations for fitness centers, salons, barber shops and reception venues.

The recent spike in coronavirus cases is also a threat to students returning to schools in the fall, Gaylor Baird said. 

Last week, even before the most recent spike in cases, city officials raised the risk of spread of COVID-19 in Lancaster County to high.

"We don't want Lincoln to become the next Miami or Houston or Phoenix," Gaylor Baird said. 

As COVID-19 cases rise in Lincoln, Bryan Health officials said they are starting to see more people seeking tests and more people winding up in the hospital.

Bryan Medical Center CEO John Woodrich said Tuesday that the hospital system had nine hospitalized COVID-19 patients, eight of whom are from Lancaster County. That was up from only five, three of whom were from Lancaster County, on Monday.

Only one is on a ventilator, Woodrich said, and that person is the only one in intensive care.

Woodrich said Bryan is seeing more testing demand, although he said it has not maxed out its available testing slots at its drive-thru site, and people still generally can get an appointment the same day.

He added that Bryan also has seen the wait time for results come back down to an average of three to four days after it rose to a week or more.

"There are spaces available if (people) feel they need to get tested," he said.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported an increase of 318 cases statewide Tuesday, the highest one-day growth since late May, bringing the state's total to 21,717, in addition to 286 deaths, two less than were reported Monday. The state also reports 16,205 recoveries.

Photos: Lincoln under the pandemic

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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