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Lincoln – The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Nebraska Public Health Lab (NPHL) have confirmed that the South Africa variant of COVID-19, known as B.1.351 has arrived in the state. The initial case has been identified as a Lancaster County resident. An investigation is underway and ongoing. The identified B.1.351 variant has been spreading throughout the United States, but has been identified less frequently than other variants. CDC estimates less than 1% of sequenced specimens are B.1.351 throughout the United States. Testing platforms like Test Nebraska and others will still produce a “positive" result for the identified B.1.351 variant (and other variants). B.1.351 appears more contagious than standard SARS-CoV-2 strains. It is expected that vaccinations will remain effective, although some bench studies show higher levels of antibodies are required to neutralize B.1.351 than the level of antibodies required to neutralize standard SARS-CoV-2 strains.
Nebraska's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Anthone said, “Nebraska has done a great job with its vaccination rollout. I am pleased to report that 70% of residents 65 and older are fully vaccinated and that percentage is continuing to increase. This pandemic can only be slowed through vaccination and employing mitigation efforts such as masking and distancing. Vaccination is our greatest hope for preventing another major surge of COVID-19 cases and getting our great state back to normal. I strongly encourage that individuals continue to get tested, especially if they have symptoms. Now that the vaccine is available to anyone 16 or older, we all should get vaccinated as soon as possible."
A total of 291 of these variants of concern have been identified in the state. To date, 234 cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, 54 cases of the B1.427/B1.429 variant, 1 of B1.526, and 2 cases of the P1 variant have been identified in Nebraska. As researchers learn more about this and other variants it remains as important as ever to continue masking, distancing, and avoiding the 3Cs. Get a test if you're exposed or if you develop symptoms. Register now at Vaccinate.Ne.Gov and get the vaccine when it's offered to you to help Nebraska FinishStrong.
DHHS has been working to increase sequencing capabilities within the state and have partnered with the Nebraska Public Health Lab and Creighton University for expertise in sequencing. Higher volumes of in-state sequencing began in January and DHHS partners are currently sequencing roughly 200 specimens per week.
To date just over 35% of Nebraskans are fully vaccinated. 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. Registrants 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. 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.