Nebraska leaders watching for new strain of COVID-19

Nebraska health leaders say they are keeping a watchful eye out for a new strain of COVID-19 that is believed to have originated in the UK but has been found as close as Colorado.

On Wednesday Dr. Gary Anthone, chief medical officer of Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services, gave a report on the new mutant strain of COVID-19. The strain is more contagious than the COVID-19 strain originally identified, but Anthone says it does appear to be covered by the COVID-19 vaccines currently available. “Viruses mutate all the time,” Anthone said during Governor Pete Ricketts' coronavirus update.

Anthone says the main concern about the new strain is an increase in hospitalizations, he said. “This now even stresses the need more than ever to continue the practice of wearing your mask, keeping your distance, washing your hands, following the ‘three C’s’ that the governor goes over in his press conferences every time; and hopefully we can keep this under control as we roll out our vaccinations."

Governor Ricketts said the state is “actively monitoring” for the new strain here as people are tested for COVID-19.

The state is working to schedule vaccine distribution to long-term care facilities via Nebraska’s pharmacy program, Ricketts said. Other doses are going directly to local health departments or to hospitals, particularly the Pfizer doses, which require ultra-cold storage.

Following his comment on the matter during his Monday news conference, Ricketts talked more about vaccinating all meat-packing employees — including undocumented employees — as part of the Phase 1 vaccine roll out. While stressing that all employees must be legal by a matter of law, “they won’t be asked to show ID. We don’t ask for proof of citizenship,” he said.

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