Nebraska leaders give statewide COVID-19 update

(Lincoln, NE) -- Nebraska leaders say the state could loosen its Directed Health Measures on Saturday.

During a coronavirus update on Friday, Governor Pete Ricketts said that he is preparing to move Nebraska into the new phase of DHM that will remove any capacity restrictions for businesses as the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decline.

Ricketts said the state currently has 341 COVID-19 hospitalizations and is at 33% capacity for hospital beds across the state, 38% for ICU bed capacity, with 77% of ventilators available. “This is still not the place that hospitalizations were back in September,” he said.

Due to the decline in hospitalizations, Ricketts said the state will likely move from the blue to the green phase of DHM. That move will allow 100% occupancy of indoor venues and lifts any restrictions on extracurricular activities for young people. “Even though we’re in that phase we still encourage people to continue to wear masks when they’re out in public,” Ricketts said.

Quarantines will still apply in the new phase and large events will still need to be approved by the local health department.

Also in the new phase, those who have had COVID-19 must wear a mask everywhere for 14 days, which aligns with CDC guidance. Ricketts said the new DHM will also stipulate that anyone who has been vaccinated but comes into contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19 will have to wear a mask in public for 14 days.

The governor said he still encourages Nebraskans to get tested for COVID-19. At this time, Test Nebraska has conducted more than 646,000 tests, Ricketts said, and 1.9 million assessments. Currently, tests are being turned around in 24-48 hours, he said.

Giving an update about vaccinations Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services incident commander Angie Ling said the state is working to determine any potential over-allocations made to the pharmacy program and bring those doses back to the state to re-distribute to other areas.

Ling said CVS “was comfortable returning” 5,850 doses, which includes first and second doses. Walgreens is expected to report their numbers early next week, she said. Those doses are Pfizer doses, so they will be required to be re-allocated — by population — to facilities with ultra-cold storage capabilities, Ling said.

State leaders said they are accepting about 2,000 registrations on Nebraska's online vaccination application every 10 minutes. They report that there was a small issue with one of data fields, but it was corrected and did not appear to affect any of the underlying data.

Ricketts said Douglas and Lancaster county may be behind other health districts in reaching Phase 1B because they have more health care workers and long-term care centers, which means it’s taking longer for them to move through Phase 1A vaccine distribution.

Once the state reaches the vaccination phase that distributes to the general public, the public will be notified at random. “We’re not publishing the way we’re randomizing it because we don’t want people to try to guess about that, but it will be random. We’re not going to have first-come-first-served.”

The state is encouraging Nebraskans to get vaccinated in the county that they live in rather than the county that they work in.

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