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LINCOLN – The Department of Health and Human Services is reporting 1,745 new COVID-19 cases this week, compared to 2,522 last week. The daily average of new positive cases in the last week was 249. Averages for positive cases are now based on specimen collection instead of lab report dates, which provides a more precise view of COVID-19 cases. Data from previous days is updated as lab results are received.
As of Tuesday, the latest statewide total of positive COVID-19 cases is 219,341, with a total of 169,256 of Nebraskans recovered. The total number of COVID-19-related deaths reported within the state to date is 2,242.
Cumulative hospitalizations in Nebraska due to COVID-19 number are at 6,496, with 130 patients currently hospitalized. More men than women have been hospitalized to date, and those aged 65-74 have the highest rate of being hospitalized (22%), followed closely by those 75-84 (20%) and those 55-64 (19%). Nebraska's main goal remains protecting hospital capacity.
Nationwide, more Americans age 18 to 64 have gone to emergency departments for COVID-19 complications. This increase of mainly younger adults is because most of them have not yet been vaccinated and may be more susceptible to new variants. The number of elderly Americans getting hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 has decreased as they were vaccinated first, and remain more likely to be vaccinated.
Variants continue to increase in the state. To date, a total of 594 variants of concern have been identified. Of that total, there are 499 cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant (U.K.), which is more contagious than the original strain of coronavirus and is the most dominant strain in the U.S. Other variants present in Nebraska are 77 cases of the B.1.427/B.1.429 variant (CA), 6 of the B1.526 variant (NY), 4 cases of the B.1.351 variant (South Africa) and 8 cases of the P.1 variant (Brazil).
Testing platforms like Test Nebraska and others will still produce a positive result for the identified variants. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) have been working to increase sequencing capabilities within the state. Higher volumes of in-state sequencing began in January and NPHL currently has capacity to sequence more than 100 specimens per week. Creighton University is also sequencing roughly 100 specimens per week.
Although caution is required because of many of the unknowns surrounding the new variant strains, vaccines remain the greatest hope for returning to normal. Widespread vaccinations can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. All approved vaccines were shown to prevent hospitalization and deaths related to COVID-19.
Nebraskans are reminded that precaution is the best defense against COVID-19 until you are vaccinated. 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.
Nebraskans are encouraged to Finish Strong and do their part to end the pandemic by registering for the vaccine. As the State is now in Phase 2B, which means anyone 16 and older can get vaccinated, there are several options available. Register at Vaccinate.Ne.Gov, or with your local health district, or check with area pharmacies that may be scheduling appointments. 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 State's website; users can access this by selecting Español from the language drop-down menu at the top-right side of the page.
Testing continues to be available to help limit 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, and has remained steady; rapid tests may be available for a fee at some medical walk-in centers. As of today, over 2,828,074 tests have been administered throughout Nebraska.
COVID-19 symptoms can include 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. Those infected with any variant will show these same symptoms. The severity of a B.1.1.7 variant infection appears to be elevated compared to normal strains, based on international hospitalization and mortality data.
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.
DHHS has updated the travel guidance standards for Nebraska. Testing is required within three (3) days for those returning to the U.S. by plane, or a person should have documentation of recovery. It is recommended that a person be tested 3-5 days after a return to the U.S. and quarantine for seven days after travelling; if testing is not completed, they should quarantine for 10 days.
The entire state has moved to Phase 2B, which includes all Nebraskans age 16-49.
DHHS is allocating doses via an existing vaccine network that includes local health departments, federally-qualified health centers (FQHCs), community-based clinics, and tribal health care centers across the state.
For the week ending May 2, Nebraska is scheduled to receive 56,160 total doses of Pfizer and 39,900 total doses of Moderna. Nebraska is not expecting additional doses of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals this week, but those vaccination sites that have it in stock are able to resume administering it.
The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals' vaccine had been paused after 15 cases of rare blood clots, accompanied by low platelet levels, were reported in younger adult women following vaccination, out of some 8 million people who have received the shot in the United States. Scientists have yet to establish a direct link between the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceutical vaccine and the unusual blood clots. The safety and effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been confirmed by the CDC and the FDA. Nebraska providers who have a current supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should resume using those doses, according to state officials.
Any potential adverse reactions to vaccines should be reported into the CDC's vaccine adverse events reporting system (VAERS, https://vaers.hhs.gov/). The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) permits reporting of protected health information to public health authorities including the CDC and Federal Drug Administration (FDA). The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) continues to provide oversight and updates on safety in all available vaccines.
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 of the Pfizer or Moderna are reminded to keep their vaccination record card in a safe place and take it to their second dose appointment. The Johnson and Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccine requires just one dose.
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 and Johnson and Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccines are approved for those 18 and older.
A phase three clinical trial showed the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceutical vaccine had 66% efficacy in the U.S. at preventing any moderate to severe disease 28 days after vaccination (while being studied in regions with new variant strains of COVID-19). 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 works 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.
Per CDC definition, as of today, DHHS has identified 287 possible vaccine breakthroughs among Nebraska residents, which include individuals with positive tests 14 days or more after completing a vaccination series. Out of the 601,946 Nebraskans fully vaccinated, this represents just 0.0005 (0.05%), indicating the vaccine is working for more than 99% of people who receive it. We have the most confidence in 101 of these individuals, for whom genomic sequencing was successful thereby suggesting a high level of virus was present in the specimen they provided. Variants of concern represent 85 (84%) of the 101 that have been successfully sequenced; six of these 101 have been hospitalized. Answers to these and other questions are available on the COVID-19 Vaccine Information page and are available in several languages.
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.
U.S. health officials warn that the country will run into another challenge in the next few weeks: vaccine supply will likely outstrip demand. They estimate that between 70% to 85% of the country needs to be immune to the virus either through inoculation or previous infection in order to suppress any spread. So far, roughly 42.5% of the population has gotten at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, according to data from the CDC. As of April 26, the data shows that approximately 29% of the population is fully vaccinated. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations
A slowing vaccine demand now could give dangerous coronavirus variants the opportunity to continue to mutate, spread and set off new surges, and could delay the country's return to a semblance of normalcy. In Nebraska, health departments across the state have started offering more walk-in clinics for the shots instead of requiring appointments to make it easier to get vaccinated.
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 the DHHS website.
This week, DHHS Chief Executive Officer Dannette Smith and Dr. Emily Patel, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist at Nebraska Methodist Hospital, will discuss COVID-19 vaccines and Women's Health Month at noon on Thursday, April 29.
The DHHS data team in its continued efforts to provide accurate and timely information has made a change to the COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard. As of this morning, age for population vaccinated will be a rolling calculation in real-time according to an individual's birthday to more accurately reflect the current age of vaccinated individuals in the state. Age will be calculated for those both partially and fully vaccinated by birth month, day, and year instead of only birth year. As a result, there will be an increase in the younger age categories, most notably in the 16-19 year age group.
As of Tuesday, more than 1,388,224 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given to Nebraskans throughout the state, according to DHHS. Additionally, over 615,027 Nebraskans are fully vaccinated. That number translates to 41.5% of those over 16 years of age. To follow Nebraska's COVID-19 vaccination progress, please visit the COVID-19 Vaccination dashboard.
These numbers include all vaccinations that took place in Nebraska last week, including through federal entities, such as the Indian Health Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the Federal Pharmacy Program. The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program is coordinated and managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and participating pharmacies in the state have signed up and been approved by the federal government. For more on the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, visit the CDC website https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/retail-pharmacy-program/participating-pharmacies.html.
According to the CDC, Nebraska is #11 nationwide where residents aged 65+ are fully vaccinated; this is 75% of that age group.
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 today, more than 377,131 Nebraskans, with an average age of 51.5, have registered for the vaccine. 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.
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.
Directed Health Measures
As vaccination continues, Directed Health Measures (DHMs) continue to be updated to provide clarity as more Nebraskans complete vaccination and recover from COVID-19.
A DHM is in effect regarding those who have completed antibody tests. Unvaccinated individuals who test positive for antibodies are not required to quarantine if it's within 3 months of the completed antibody test. However, those who experience symptoms of COVID-19 are still required to quarantine.
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.