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Omicron cases confirmed in Nebraska

Initial omicron case confirmed here in unvaccinated traveler to Nigeria
Six cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant were confirmed in southeast Nebraska on Friday, Dec....
Six cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant were confirmed in southeast Nebraska on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.(Source: Associated Press)
Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 2:30 PM 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.

According to a release from the health district serving southeast Nebraska, the first case here likely came from an unvaccinated international traveler to Nigeria who returned Nov. 23 and became symptomatic the following day, NPHSD 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 the NPHSD 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.

Dr. Josue Gutierrez and the Nebraska Public Health Solutions District talked about the omicron COVID-19 variant cases confirmed in southeast Nebraska on Friday.

“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.”

NPHSD, based in Crete, serves Fillmore, Gage, Jefferson, Saline, and Thayer counties.

Over 1,000 doses were administered between the two Douglas County vaccine clinics Friday and the new variant may be bringing renewed urgency for people to get the vaccine. Nurses were busier than usual with 160 appointments.

“Usually, we don’t get over 100 in a day. So this is a lot higher than normal. A lot of them are people who are now due for their booster after six months depending on what vaccine they have and I think some people are nervous about the news of the omicron variant too,” said Douglas County Senior Epidemiologist, Anne O’Keefe.

Sherri Brown was already on getting her booster when the news of omicron surfaced making that extra dose more important to her than ever.

“With hearing about the variants, I was like definitely I’m getting boosted and I was eligible last month but once they announced that we can get boosters, I was ready to get it,” said Brown.

“Omicron is worrying but you should be worried what’s here now and see just how effective the vaccine is to prevent you from going to the hospital and getting severely ill.”

WOWT 6 News Live at 6:30

Slamming 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.

Clarification: Context was added after initial publication to underscore that the information reported by Nebraska health departments referred only to cases reported in this state.

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