LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus that has been discovered in five states is probably in Nebraska as well, but officials haven't yet confirmed its presence, the state's chief medical officer said Wednesday.
Dr. Gary Anthone said the new strain is concerning because it could lead to an increase in hospitalizations in Nebraska. Anthone said the state's public health lab is purchasing its own equipment to test for the mutated virus. The new strain has led to a national lockdown in England, and the virus has been detected in California, Florida, New York, Georgia, and neighboring Colorado.
“We can all say with some certainty that it's most likely... here in Nebraska," Anthone said at a press conference with Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Ricketts said state officials plan to keep close watch for the new strain and that he expects to see a confirmed case in Nebraska soon given the state's proximity to Colorado.
Anthone said the current tests provided through state-sponsored TestNebraska sites can identify positive cases from the mutated strain but can't determine which strain has infected a person. He said the new version of the virus shows the need for continued mask-wearing in public and social distancing.
Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus vaccines being distributed per day in Nebraska rebounded this week to its level before the New Year's holiday.
The state said 2,969 vaccines were distributed on Monday, which is the most recent data available. That is up from the weekend low of 361 doses on Sunday and in line with the roughly 3,000 doses per day that were administered last week before New Year's Day.
Nebraska officials have said they expect the pace of vaccine distribution to increase significantly over the next two weeks. So far the state has administered 39,691 of the 104,504 doses of the vaccine it has received.
The state reported 1,448 new cases of the virus and 10 new deaths Tuesday to give the state 171,033 cases and 1,692 deaths linked to COVID-19.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska decreased over the past two weeks, going from 1,108.43 new cases per day on Dec. 22 to 962.29 new cases per day on Tuesday.
The number of people hospitalized with the virus in Nebraska declined Tuesday to 515 from the previous day's 527. That total has remained relatively steady over the past two weeks, and it is well below the November peak of 987.
Associated Press writer Josh Funk contributed from Omaha.
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