The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department raised its COVID-19 risk dial to elevated orange Tuesday less than two weeks before the end of the semester at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when many students plan to return home for winter break. 

The county’s positivity rate is the highest on record, and hospitalizations remain high, Health Director Pat Lopez said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. Hospitals Bryan Health and CHI Health reported 101 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. 

High case counts for COVID-19 continue to be driven by the delta variant, Lopez said, but it can be controlled with vaccinations, masking and social distancing. The omicron variant has not been identified in Lancaster County. 

Nebraskans not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, she said. Four deaths from COVID-19 were reported in Lincoln on Monday. 

The Daily Nebraskan reached out to two university officials to ask whether protocols would be changed due to the increase of the dial. Both Leslie Reed, UNL’s public affairs director, and Deb Fiddelke, UNL’s chief communication and marketing officer, said no changes would be made at this time. 

“The dial entering [elevated] orange doesn’t really change the testing policies that we’ve had throughout the semester,” Fiddelke said. 

While no changes are being made, Reed said the university will continue to monitor the situation. 

“Yes, the spike is concerning to all of us,” Reed said, “but I think at this point there are no changes in our procedures, which we are continuing to require masks inside of buildings and do the random testing of the people who aren’t on the vaccine registry and maintaining social distancing.”

Reed said the university’s close contact with the health department will continue and will continue to help shape UNL policies.

“We’ve always worked very closely with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department and we’re meeting consistent with their guidelines,” she said. “I think we’re pretty comfortable with our procedures as they stand right now.”

While there is no current plan to hold mandatory re-entry testing for the spring semester, like for the spring and fall 2021 semester, Fiddelke said the situation is fluid, as it has been in the past. 

“There’s so many factors that go into any adjustments that we make,” Fiddelke said. “There’s no single factor that triggers anything. It’s a whole bunch of combinations. We evaluate it as we see it and we coordinate really, really closely with the health department to make the best decision.”

If things do change, the university will then respond and inform students as soon as decisions are made, according to Fiddelke. 

“If conditions worsen and the health department recommends specific actions, we’ll do what's necessary to protect our community,” Reed said.

In the meantime, Fiddelke said, students are encouraged to get tested before they return home

On-campus drop-in vaccine clinics will be offered Wednesday, Dec. 8, for anyone who wants the COVID-19 vaccine doses or the booster. These clinics will be in the Nebraska Union’s Regency Suite from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and in the Nebraska East Union’s Prairie Suite from 2:30-3:30 p.m.