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Ricketts says Nebraska is approaching renewed COVID-19 restrictions

Ricketts says Nebraska is approaching renewed COVID-19 restrictions

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COVID news conference 11.12

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is in quarantine, appears via television screen to deliver his coronavirus briefing in the Governor's Hearing Room at the Capitol on Nov. 12. 

Gov. Pete Ricketts warned Friday that Nebraska is nearing his hospitalization-based trigger point to renew some prior COVID-19 restrictions while acknowledging that the state has incurred an unacceptable backlog in performing its contact-tracing responsibilities.

"We didn't do our job," the governor said during a coronavirus news briefing. "We should have done a better job."

Ashley Newmyer, chief data strategist with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said there are about 2,600 people in the backlog who have not received either a first or second telephone call to inform them they were in contact with someone who recently has contracted the virus.

Contact tracing is considered a vital tool in slowing the spread of the virus, since those who have been in contact with someone who has been infected are informed and then requested to go into quarantine.

The state has a pool of about 1,000 contact tracers.

Newmyer said she believes the state can catch up with the backlog by the end of next week.

Ricketts said hospitalization of COVID-19 patients in Nebraska is "approaching the red line" he has drawn in determining when and whether to reimpose a series of previous restrictions.

The governor earlier announced that those restrictions, including reducing the authorized size of indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people while limiting bars to take-out and drive-thru service, would automatically be reinstated once COVID-19 patients occupied 25% of the state's hospital beds.

Figures from Thursday evening showed coronavirus patients occupying 983 of the state's 4,525 staffed hospital beds. Another 150 COVID-19 patients would bring the total into what the governor describes as the red zone.

There were 227 hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients Oct. 1. 

"We could hit the red zone before the (Thanksgiving) holiday," Ricketts said.

Answering questions at the briefing, the governor said he believes a COVID-19 vaccine may begin to be distributed to health care workers in Nebraska sometime in December.

Also on the priority list are long-term care workers, first responders and people who are considered to be the most vulnerable, with general distribution occurring later, perhaps by the end of March or early April, Ricketts said.

Asked why it appears that he no longer follows the advice of University of Nebraska Medical Center experts to the degree that he appeared to do early in the pandemic, the governor said UNMC is one of many sources that he values.

A number of UNMC experts have urged Ricketts to impose a statewide mask mandate now in an effort to try to help control the fast-spreading virus.

"I still continue to take feedback from UNMC," the governor said. "I look at other sources too."

Ricketts, who has encouraged Nebraskans to wear masks when they shop for groceries or gather indoors or in crowded conditions, has resisted a mandate, suggesting that "masks are one of the tools."

Dr. Gary Anthone, the state's chief medical officer, said Nebraska has received its first allocation of monoclonal antibodies, which can help fight the COVID-19 virus and, in many cases, prevent the need for hospitalization and supplemental oxygen.

The drugs were distributed to 39 hospital facilities, he said.

Anthone said the state is supposed to receive shipments every week. 

Photos: The scene in Lincoln

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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