Ricketts gives coronavirus update remotely, still in quarantine

(Lincoln, NE) -- Nebraska's governor gave another remote coronavirus update on Friday as he continues to quarantine following a COVID-19 exposure last weekend.

Governor Pete Ricketts is still in quarantine, per state guidelines, but notes that he has tested negative twice.

During the update, Ricketts said that the state received a bump in Moderna vaccine dose allotments this week, and is expected to get an increase in Pfizer doses later in the month.

Ricketts said the state’s hospitalizations were still declining, reaching 285 today, the same as about the first week in October. The state has 31% of hospital beds available, 35% of ICU beds available, and 80% of ventilators available, he said.

The governor encouraged Nebraskans to continue taking steps to stop the spread of COVID-19. “We want to continue to see those hospitalizations go down” to the levels the state saw over the summer and into September.

Health districts across Nebraska are working to get the state’s older populations vaccinated, Central Health Departments were vaccinating those ages 90 and older last week and ages 80 and older this week; Douglas County is vaccinating those 75 years old and older.

Angie Ling, incident commander for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, gave an update on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Nebraska leaders plan to submit a proposal “in the coming days” to FEMA and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, requesting additional support in the form of funding, Ling said.

On Thursday, the state administered its highest number of COVID-19 vaccine doses yet, she said, giving 14,231 shots. “And we plan to keep this momentum moving forward,” she said. The governor noted that the numbers could get a boost if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, on the cusp of approval, gets the OK from the federal government.

Ling said the state is currently receiving 11,700 Pfizer doses and 15,500 Moderna doses; those allotments are expected to increase next week to weekly allotments of 11,700 Pfizer doses and 17,000 Moderna for at least the next three weeks. In addition, the state will receive 23,500 second doses, she said, and that schedule is expected to increase in line with the rise in initial doses.

The state is also working with the long-term care pharmacy program to return extra doses to the state’s allocation, Ling said. CVS returned 5,850 doses this week, and Walgreens plans to return 11,700 doses over the next three weeks, she said. The retail pharmacy program is also expected to start early next week, Ling said, bringing COVID-19 vaccination doses to select Walmart and locally-owned pharmacies that utilize drug company AmerisourceBergen as a distributor as well as those in the CardinalHealth system. “This is additional product coming into the state,” she said. “This is not pulling from our state’s allocation.”

Ling said the state doesn’t have more specific information on the amount of doses heading for those pharmacies, as those companies work directly with the pharmacies, which then inform the state. “We have no expectation at this point,” she said. However, she said, the numbers will be based on the population allocation for the federal distribution of 1 million doses.

Ling also talked about mass vaccination events happening at the state fairgrounds in Grand Island, where 1,000 vaccinations were expected to be administered Friday; and at Pinnacle Arena in Lincoln, where 4,500 were vaccinated Thursday. Meanwhile in Douglas County, multiple sites are administering between 700 and 2,500 doses, she said.

But the state has noticed some drop-off in the numbers of people coming back for their necessary second dose of the vaccine. Ling said there were about 6,000 people who had not returned within the CDC’s four-day grace period following the recommended 21-day follow-up.

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