OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The number of virus cases in Nebraska continued their steady climb last week as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreads.

Nebraska reported 5,649 new virus cases last week for the 11th straight week of increases, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Omaha World-Herald reported that's up from 4,916 cases the week before and 3,464 cases the previous week. The state was reporting 253 cases per week in late June when officials declared an end to the state virus emergency.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska rose over the past two weeks from 575.29 new cases per day on Aug. 23 to 693.43 new cases per day on Monday.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is also on the rise, straining hospitals that are already running full with other patients. As of last Thursday, the seven-day average number of people hospitalized was 337, up from 309 the week before.

The Nebraska Infectious Diseases Society recently sent a letter to state officials urging them to reconsider their denial of the Douglas County health director’s request to issue an indoor mask mandate in the Omaha area.

The group noted that only 56% of Douglas County’s residents have been fully vaccinated, area hospitals are running full and the rate of transmission of the virus now is higher than it was when the Omaha City Council imposed a mask mandate a year ago.

“Your decision to deny this request is not based on the best and scientifically proven methods to stem the very real public health crisis occurring in this community,” they wrote.

In recent weeks, the state has taken a couple steps to ease the burden on hospitals by waiving some state licensing laws and regulations and putting limits on some elective surgeries. The state also reopened its transfer center to help Nebraska hospitals find places to send patients who need additional care.

But state officials have not changed their opposition to the proposed Douglas County mask mandate. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts has steadfastly opposed any mask mandates, and health officials have said they had to balance the potential benefit of mask wearing with “individual liberty.”

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