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Six cases of Omicron variant detected in southeast Nebraska

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 11:05 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska health officials reported Friday that six cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant have been detected in the state.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Nebraska Public Health Solutions District, and the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory said one of the six people was vaccinated, but none of them have required hospitalization. All six of the cases were confirmed in southeast Nebraska.

According to a release from the health district serving southeast Nebraska, the first case likely came from an unvaccinated international traveler to Nigeria who returned Nov. 23 and became symptomatic the following day, officials said. The other five people were likely exposed “through household contact” with the originating cause.

The health district said the patient sought testing and alerted health officials once they confirmed having COVID-19 to initiate sequencing, given their travel history.

Dr. Josue Gutierrez stressed in a news conference Friday afternoon that there was no indication yet that the variant was severe and that more data was needed to determine that.

He said that even though many people have COVID-19 burnout, the precautions people have been taking throughout the pandemic should definitely continue, particularly as transmission rates of the new variant are still being confirmed.

“Being the good neighbor that Nebraskans can be, I think thinking of your fellow neighbor and masking up is important. ... I think this is an issue of always trying to help that person beside you and also your family,” he said.

Health district officials stressed the importance of watching for symptoms and staying home when you’re sick.

“Sequencing was rapidly completed through NPHL,” the health department said in its release. “Dr. Peter Iwen and Dr. Baha Abdalhamid at NPHL identified the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 using the Clear Labs next-generation whole-genome sequencer and the identification was made available for public health response immediately.”

While much is still not known about the omicron variant and how it travels, state officials urged Nebraskans to get vaccinated as the delta variant continues to drive COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations.

“The identification of omicron reinforces the urgency for Nebraskans to get vaccinated. The more Nebraskans are vaccinated, the less opportunity new SARS-CoV-2 variants will have to take hold in the state,” DHHS Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Donahue said. “With delta, which is the current predominant variant, unvaccinated Nebraskans are filling hospitals at a rate 10 times higher than vaccinated Nebraskans. We are doing our part to find new variants when they emerge and arrive in the state, older Nebraskans have done their part in getting vaccinated at high rates; we need younger Nebraskans to keep stepping up to protect themselves and each other by choosing to get vaccinated.”

Voicing his disapproval of the Biden administration’s recent COVID-19 mitigation strategies, Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a statement Friday afternoon, stating that the confirmation of the omicron variant in Nebraska would not result in lockdowns or mask mandates in the state.

“In Nebraska, we have learned how to balance living a more normal life while protecting our healthcare system. Coronavirus will be with us forever. That’s why we’ll continue that balance while also urging everyone to get vaccinated. Nebraska has maintained one of the lowest coronavirus death rates and protected our hospital capacity all without lockdowns, without mask mandates, and without vaccine mandates. We aren’t going to follow the Biden Administration or Dr. Fauci’s draconian policies.”

Statement from Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts

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