DHHS COVID-19 Weekly Update

News Release
For Immediate Release: 3/17/2021

Khalilah LeGrand, (402) 471-9313, khalilah.legrand@nebraska.gov 

LINCOLN – As of Tuesday, the latest statewide total of COVID-19 cases is 205,214.

To date, a total of 158,961 Nebraskans testing positive for COVID-19 have recovered. The total number of COVID-19-related deaths reported in Nebraska is 2,129.  

COVID-19 hospitalizations ticked upward slightly in the last week, with Nebraska hospitals caring for an average of 124 COVID-19 patients a day over the last seven days. Daily averages in prior weeks were 139, 156, and 173 COVID-19 patients.

The daily average of new positive cases in the last week currently stands at 232, compared to 283 daily cases last week. Averages for positive cases are now based on test dates instead of lab reporting dates, which provides a more precise view of COVID-19 cases. Data from previous days is updated as lab results are received.

 Feb. 23March 2March 9March 16
Total positive cases199,782201,608203,587205,214
Current hospitalizations178150131133
Total deaths2,0542,0912,1202,129


Comparison to Past Pandemics

Pandemics, defined as being a global disease outbreak from a strain of virus that is either new or hasn't circulated for a long time resulting in little immunity for humans, are not new to the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the 1918 H1N1 virus, lasting from February, 1918, to April, 1920, resulted in approximately 675,000 deaths in the United States, with 50 million deaths estimated worldwide. 

In 1957-58, the H2N2 virus resulted in 116,000 deaths in the US, and the 1968 H3N2 virus claimed approximately 100,000 lives.  The most recent declared pandemic before COVID-19 was the 2009 H1N1 virus returning, resulting in 12,469 deaths in the US.  As of March 6, 2021, one year since the pandemic was declared, 524,262 Americans have died in the US, which equates to approximately 20.3% of all the COVID-19 deaths world-wide.

Nebraskans are reminded that basic precautions are the best defense against COVID-19 while vaccine supplies are limited. You can be #BigRedResponsible by wearing a mask. Additionally, watching your distance, washing hands often, staying home when you're sick, and avoiding the 3Cs – crowded places, close contact with others, and confined spaces – remain critical to preventing infection and controlling spread.  Officials continue to urge Nebraskans to be tested if they are exposed or develop COVID symptoms.  Anyone who is not fully vaccinated and may have been exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine.

The state has confirmed the presence of two new variant strains: the B.1.1.7 variant that was originally identified in the United Kingdom, and the B.1.429 variant that first surfaced in California.  All available vaccines, Pfizer, Moderna and the new Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccine, appear to be effective against these variants. To date, 12 cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant and 21 cases of the B1.429 variant have been identified in Nebraska.

Nebraskans are encouraged to Finish Strong and do their part to end the pandemic and register for the vaccine. Those registered will be alerted when a vaccine is available in their priority group and health district. There is a Spanish translation site for the vaccine portal on the website; users can access this by selecting Español from the language drop-down menu at the top-right side of the page. Be safe. Get vaccinated.  Finish Strong!


COVID-19 Testing

Testing continues to be crucial to limiting the spread of COVID-19.  Anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19, anyone experiencing any symptoms, those planning to travel, or those returning from travel are encouraged to schedule a COVID-19 test.  Free testing is available at more than 60 Test Nebraska sites across the state. 

COVID-19 symptoms can include a fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, tiredness, muscle aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

Visit Testnebraska.com, or TestNebraska.com/es for Spanish, to schedule an appointment. Those with questions about testing, or who need help completing the online assessment, can call the Test Nebraska hotline at 402-207-9377.


Vaccine Update

All Nebraska counties are now vaccinating Phase 1B priority groups, which are those 65+ in age.  Nebraska's 19 local health departments are coordinating vaccination for these groups. Vaccination will expand to other 1B priority groups as supplies allow, such as those working in critical industries, including first responders, educators and daycare providers, those in the utilities and transportation sectors, corrections staff, and those working in food processing and at grocery stores.

The state has announced that many rural locations are nearing the end of this 1B phase. As the prioritization has changed with an age-based focus, officials are aware that medical conditions can still pose a significant impact to those who contract COVID-19. As Nebraska moves into Phase 2A, in the near future, up to 10% of the weekly allocation will be allotted for high-risk medical conditions, regardless of age. The medical community will make the decision of who will be vaccinated with these doses.  The additional 90% will go to those aged 50-59 years of age.

To date, 125,835 doses have been received through the CDCs Federal Vaccine Program in Nebraska.  These doses are distributed throughout the state at 135 sites eligible to vaccinate Nebraskans 65 years and older. 

For the week ending March 21, Nebraska is receiving 85,940 total doses of both Pfizer and Moderna combined. DHHS is allocating these doses via a vaccine network that includes local health departments, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), community-based clinics, and tribal health care centers across the state. There will be no additional vaccine from Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals this week, as the entire quantity that was allocated for March has been received. To date, 14.4% of the 1.48 million Nebraskans 16 and older have been completely vaccinated.

Community clinics with scheduled appointments are the primary way vaccine doses are being given to help ensure all doses can be used in the required timeframe. Community clinics will stagger appointments in order to observe social distancing and provide space for monitoring after vaccination.

Mild side effects like a sore arm and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms with COVID-19 vaccines. While many people will have no symptoms, others may experience headaches, chills or a fever. These side effects are normal and a sign your body is building protection, and you should be feeling better within a few days.

Those receiving their first dose are reminded to keep their vaccination record card in a safe place and take it to their second dose appointment.

Nebraskans are reminded a second vaccine dose is needed to complete vaccination (except in the case of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine), which research shows provides the best protection against COVID-19 symptoms and potential complications.

The Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine 94% effective in phase three clinical trials. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. Two doses are needed to reach full effectiveness against COVID-19, and the same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses. The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for those 16 and older, and the Moderna vaccine approved for those 18 and older. 

A phase three clinical trial showed the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceutical vaccine had 85% efficacy in the U.S. at preventing any severity of COVID-19 (while being studied in regions with new variant strains of COVID-19), and only requires one dose. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. Each of these three authorized COVID-19 vaccines had 100% efficacy against COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths. Since each of these COVID-19 vaccines work extremely well against the virus, individuals should feel confident they are reducing their risk when they choose to vaccinate. Moreover, every person who gets vaccinated is doing their part to help reduce spread and put an end to this global pandemic.  

Answers to these and other questions are available on the COVID-19 Vaccine Information page and are available in several languages.

COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available to the public and it's expected to be late spring before mass vaccination begins.

The CDC considers a person to be fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving their final second dose, or in the case of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccine, two weeks after their single dose.  Officials also said people who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine if exposed to a COVID-19 case and may opt out of COVID-19 testing if they do not experience any symptoms.


Vaccine Outreach

DHHS continues to share new information via the Coronavirus website, as well as Facebook and Twitter and at virtual town halls. Each week, members of the DHHS team hold a mid-day Facebook Live session to discuss vaccine-related and pandemic-related topics. For those unable to watch live, all sessions are archived and available on the video tab of the DHHS Facebook page and DHHS's website.

On Thursday, March 18 at noon, Josie Rodriguez, administrator of the Office of Health Disparities and Health Equity at DHHS and Dr. Josue Gutierrez, a family medicine specialist with Saline Medical Specialties in Crete, will discuss Hispanic health, the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, and why it is important for Hispanics to receive the vaccine. The session will be conducted in Spanish.

Nebraska DHHS is also partnering with the Mexican Consulate in Omaha for a Live Town Hall on Facebook on Thursday the 18th at 4:00 PM.  The event will be live on the Consulate's Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/ConsulmexOmaha/


Vaccine Dashboard

As of Sunday, more than 624,230 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given to those in Phase 1 priority groups throughout Nebraska, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), with more than 100,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses administered again last week.  Additionally, as of Sunday over 247,067 Nebraskans have completed vaccination, which represents 17% of Nebraskans aged 18 years of age and older.  According to the CDC, this puts Nebraska as #11 for completed vaccinations.

To follow Nebraska's COVID-19 vaccination progress, please visit the COVID-19 Vaccination dashboard .


Vaccine Registration

Nebraskans can register online to be notified when COVID-19 vaccination is available in their area, and a Spanish translation of the site is now available. Available at Vaccinate.Ne.Gov, users should select Español from the language drop-down menu at the top-right side of the page.

As of March 15, more than 278,148 Nebraskans have registered for the vaccine.

Those 65 and older who have registered for vaccination with their local health department do not need to register a second time using the state site. Local health departments and DHHS are working to migrate all registrations.

Those who are 18 to 64 with a high-risk medical condition and live outside of Lancaster County are asked to register using the state site to help ensure proper prioritization.

The state continues to add innovative technology to support the fight against COVID-19.  New selection and scheduling software is being implemented with providers across the state.  Registrants will be selected according the state priority phases for their turn to get the vaccine.  Those selected will get an email with a unique personalized link that allows them to select a vaccine clinic within their local public health department area and an appointment time at that clinic.  After making their appointment, they will receive a confirmation email with a QR code that can be used to speed the check-in process at the vaccination clinic.

Those who entered a friend's email will have their emails sent to that friend's email address where they can again be assisted, this time to make their appointment.  If the state's email address was used in your registration, either the state or your local public health department will contact you to help you make your appointment.

Those interested in registering will need to provide name and contact information, date of birth and answer health questions used to help determine priority group eligibility. Any information entered is strictly confidential and used solely for this purpose. Friends, family and caregivers are encouraged to assist others with vaccine sign-up if needed, and the DHHS Information line can assist those with limited technology, language or Internet access, and is available by calling 531-249-1873 or 833-998-2275.


Directed Health Measures

As vaccination continues, Directed Health Measures (DHMs) have been updated to provide clarity as more Nebraskans complete vaccination and recover from COVID-19. These new DHMs went into effect on March 16 and will continue until April 30.

They include the following:

  • Added requirements to the Federal Retail Pharmacy participants:
  1. They must coordinate vaccine schedules with their local health department or until they are using the state's vaccine registration and administration system
  2. By April 1, they must be using the state's vaccine registration and administration system
  3. They may vaccinate healthcare workers, critical infrastructure workers, individuals 65 years and older and in some regions, if the state department of health has authorized, individuals 50 years and older
  • Added that all COVID-19 vaccine providers must use the state-designated vaccine registration and administration system by April 1
  • The requirement for 're-opening plans' for large outdoor gatherings has been removed and added clarification that this requirement is for indoor gatherings only

Those who have received both COVID-19 vaccine doses are not required to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19. Individuals should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days, and are required to wear a mask when in public. Anyone who later develops symptoms must then quarantine at home.

Those who have recovered from coronavirus within the last three months are not required to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19. Wearing a mask is encouraged but not required.

Those who have recovered from coronavirus longer than three months ago are required to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19.

In addition, a five-phase series of DHMs aimed at preserving hospital capacity for urgent medical care remains in effect for the entire state. Currently, less than 10% of hospital beds are needed for COVID-19 patients. The state is in the green phase, which removes capacity restrictions for indoor gatherings but it's recommended that Nebraskans continue following guidance to reduce virus transmission. Organizers of events for 500 or more people, or 1,000 people in Douglas County, are required to receive approval from their local health department. Capacity restrictions remain in place for Lancaster County.

In addition, the DHHS COVID-19 information line is available to answer questions at 531-249-1873 or 833-998-2275. The line is staffed seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT.

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