Gov. Ricketts, DHHS Leaders Discuss State’s Work to Ramp Up Contact Tracing

News Release
For Immediate Release: 11/20/2020

Media Contacts: 
Taylor Gage, (402) 471-1970
Justin Pinkerman, (402) 471-1967


Governor's Media Release:

LINCOLN – This afternoon, Governor Pete Ricketts held a press conference at the State Capitol to provide an update on the State's work to slow the spread of the coronavirus and protect hospitals.  The Governor reminded Nebraskans that the State will move to the most restrictive “red" phase of its pandemic response when coronavirus hospitalizations reach 25% of staffed hospital beds in Nebraska.  Currently, the State is in the “orange" phase, which is the second most restrictive.

Ashley Newmyer, Chief Data Strategist for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), joined the Governor for today's briefing.  She outlined the State's work to increase resources to conduct contact tracing.

Coronavirus survivors Christina St. Hilaire and Elizabeth Griffith of Dwight shared their story of recovering from the coronavirus.

Dr. Gary Anthone, the State's Chief Medical Officer and Director of the DHHS Division of Public Health, gave an update on the distribution of monoclonal antibodies in Nebraska.  These antibodies are a new therapy, and they have potential to reduce the need for people with the coronavirus to require hospital care.

Gov. Ricketts: Three Cs Reminder

  • Currently, we have 983 coronavirus hospitalizations.  That's more than four times the amount we had on October 1st.
  • To slow the spread and limit hospitalizations, we need every Nebraskan to stay committed to good health habits.
  • We're urging all Nebraskans to avoid the Three Cs:
    • Crowded Places
      • Avoid gathering in groups where you can't maintain six-feet distance from others.
    • Close Contacts
      • Wear a mask or maintain six-feet distance when you're with people you don't live with.
    • Confined Spaces
      • Avoid enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. 
  • Let's all do our part to slow the spread so that we can protect our hospitals and help our healthcare workers.

Ashley Newmyer: Contact Tracing

  • Contact tracing is an important tool to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
  • As a reminder, contact tracing is a confidential process that starts with a positive test result being reported to the state or local health department.
  • Next, a trained contact tracer calls the person who received a positive test result and asks them a series of questions about what symptoms they may be experiencing. 
  • The contact tracer also asks if they know where and when they were exposed, as well as who they were in close contact with during the few days prior to their symptom onset or positive test result.
  • Due to the rise in coronavirus cases, contact tracers are dealing with a high volume of work.
  • To most efficiently manage the workload, we've taken the following temporary measures:
    • Reducing the questions asked during the interview.
    • Reducing the number of call attempts from five to two.
    • Focusing on calling those who test positive for the coronavirus.
      • We've temporarily suspended calling close contacts of positive cases.  We're asking people who've tested positive to notify their close contacts.
  • We are also increasing contact tracing staff.  We're activating our DHHS reserve contact tracers who had performed this work earlier in the year.
  • We're also working with PRC, Nelnet, and North End Teleservices to add additional contact tracers.

Christina St. Hilaire: Coronavirus Survivor Testimonial

  • A year-and-a-half ago, my mother was diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer.  She was given 3-6 months to live at the time.
  • Thanks to the excellent care of the Southeast Nebraska Cancer Center, she's still with us.
  • In September, our family contracted the coronavirus despite taking a lot of precautions against it.
  • My mother woke up feeling exhausted.
  • Initially, we thought her cancer was back.
  • She developed a low-grade fever, loss of appetite, and some chest pain.
  • I took her to Bryan Hospital, and she eventually tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • At first, we monitored her symptoms.  After she became much weaker, we took her to St. Elizabeth's.
  • Her oxygen levels had fallen, and she had pneumonia in both lungs.
  • She received convalescent plasma as a treatment, along with antibiotics.
  • Within a day of receiving the plasma, she had improved significantly.
  • My mom has recovered amazingly well.
  • We don't want people to be discouraged or to despair if they get coronavirus.  There are great treatments available.

Dr. Gary Anthone: Coronavirus Treatment

  • The monoclonal antibody therapy is a great breakthrough.
  • Scientists have been able to make a specific antibody to target the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
  • This therapy can help prevent persons with the coronavirus from needing to go to the hospital.
  • The State of Nebraska has received our allocation of the monoclonal antibodies.
  • We've set up a process of getting the antibodies to hospitals throughout the state.
  • We've sent it to the hospitals first, since they have the capability of administering it on an outpatient basis.
  • The therapy is already being used at this time, and we're hopeful it will help to reduce the need for hospitalization.

Video from this afternoon's press conference is available by clicking here.


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