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
City Council distancing
Gameday empty Saturday
Thank you Bryan West
No fans allowed
Volleyball social distancing
Boo at the Zoo
Downtown mask art
Marching band competition
East Campus proposed budget cuts
No Football Saturday
UNL in-person class
Farmers Market influencers
Weeping Water vs. Fillmore Central/Exeter-Milligan
First day of middle school
First day of school
Pius X volleyball practice
City Council BLM protest
Rally and hearing
Lancaster County Super Fair
LPS board meeting
Meatpacking workers rally
Lincoln Northeast graduation
Gov. Ricketts address Legislature
Masked Archie the Mammoth
First Jury Trial in Four Months
Lincoln Community Playhouse
The Kindler Hotel
Garth Brooks Drive-In Concert
Urban Air Adventure Park
Gere Branch Library
Music on the Move
Bars Opening in Lincoln
LPS Teachers Retirement
Holmes Lake Manor Horse Visit
Lancaster County Courthouse
Church Social Distancing
Children of Smithfield
Parkview Christian Teacher Appreciation Day
Lincoln Christian 2020 Seniors
Test Nebraska site
Drive-Thru Career Fair
Center for People In Need food distribution
Masks For Truckers
Teacher and Staff Parade
Virtual City Council
Good Friday Music
Masks on a walk
Watch: A timelapse of the mural at Saro Cider
Watch: Hand sanitizer rolls off Innovation Campus assembly line
No fun here
Tower Square sign
WATCH: Celebrating a birthday with a parade
Simpsons in the windows
Drive-thru COVID-19 testing
UNL Beekeeping virtual class
Lincoln Lutheran Online Teaching
Blue for public health
Basketball without fans
Thanksgiving to go
Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @LJSdon
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