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Nebraska officials encourage healthy holidays noting COVID-19 ‘never going away’

State officials encouraging monoclonal antibody treatments, share infusion center information online
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 9:33 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Gov. Pete Ricketts and the state’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Anthone held a news conference to encourage Nebraskans to prioritize their health this holiday season.

Both Ricketts and Dr. Anthone were encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations but also encouraged Nebraskans to ask their doctors to prescribe monoclonal antibody treatments should they contract COVID-19. The treatment is under an emergency use authorization, as COVID-19 vaccinations have been.

“But still, the No. 1 mechanism to fight COVID is to get vaccinated,” Dr. Anthone said.

Ricketts said if you get COVID-19 and have symptoms, monoclonal antibody treatments have a good chance of keeping you out of the hospitals. If your doctor won’t prescribe it, and don’t have a good reason for that, go get another doctor, he said.

Dr. Anthone said Nebraska has 86 infusion sites throughout the state, even in smaller communities, giving about 1,400 infusions per week. Those sites are mapped online at covid.infusioncenter.org. Nebraskans can also contact the DHHS COVID-19 information line at 531-249-1873.

Nebraska has been allocated to 800-900 doses of monoclonal antibodies by the federal government, but Dr. Anthone said that the state has been able to secure an extra 600-800 doses each week by demonstrating the demand for the treatment.

Dr. Anthone also talked about remdesivir, for severe cases in hospitals, and two new oral therapeutics that may be out in coming weeks. He also encouraged eating right, getting exercise, and taking Vitamin D and Zinc.

The latest monoclonal antibody treatments are available for ages 12 and older who have severely compromised immune systems, Dr. Anthone said.

With a message contrary to that of Nebraska hospitals on Thursday, the governor said that hospitals “still have robust hospital capacity.”

The governor did note that hospitals in the state’s metro areas have been hovering around 10%-15% availability, or 85%-90% full.

Dr. Anthone, who was also on Thursday’s livestream, echoed the governor’s message about the state’s hospital capacity.

“Most patients are getting the care they need at this point,” he said.

Nebraska COVID-19 hospitalizations were lower this week: On Monday, Nebraska’s respiratory illness dashboard showed 523 patients were being treated for COVID-19. That’s down from 584 reported on Friday and from this year’s peak: Nebraska hospitals were caring for 637 COVID-19 patients on Dec. 13. The highest number recorded last year was 980 hospitalizations on Nov. 20, 2020.

Vaccination is still the best tool for fighting COVID-19, the governor said. He also encouraged Nebraskans to get tested ahead of gathering for the holidays, noting that nine out of 10 COVID-19 patients in hospitals are unvaccinated.

“Getting the COVID shot will help you build the antibodies so you reduce the severe reactions like going to the hospital or potentially dying from getting COVID,” he said. “Everybody needs to remember that this is going to be with us forever. The virus is never going away. The flu virus doesn’t go away; we have new shots every year for the flu virus. The COVID virus is going to be with us for a long, long time, so we’re going to have to manage this, and the best defense we have against that COVID virus is making sure we get the vaccine. It’ll help you build that immunity so that you can fight off the virus.”

Ricketts also said he would be extending his executive orders that allow for expanded hospital capacity and loosen requirements for medical licensing and other state checks.

On other topics, the governor acknowledged the recent ransomware attack included an attack on Kronos, which is how the state manages its human resources. He said the state is doing manual workarounds to maintain system functionality.

He also said that the state had received “a significant increase,” maybe three to six times normal, in the number of applications to jobs with the Department of Corrections.

Watch Tuesday’s news conference

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