New COVID-19 variants not enough for restrictions in Douglas County

Published: Feb. 27, 2021 at 5:16 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Douglas County Health Department says two new COVID-19 variants discovered over the past day aren’t enough to implement restrictions.

Instead, the department’s senior epidemiologist says officials should respond if cases start to increase. They have trended downward since winter.

The department is also waiting to learn more about the newly approved vaccine.

DCHD says there’s no need for restrictions because residents are wearing masks, keeping their distance, and getting the vaccine when they can.

“We’ve seen cases drop,” senior epidemiologist Dr. Anne O’Keefe said. “We don’t want that to turn around.”

Experts including the health department’s top infectious disease doctor say the B.1.1.7 and California variants have likely been in Nebraska, but it’s unclear for how long. New sequencing technology at the state’s public health lab allowed officials to confirm the presence of new variants.

“If we continue the restrictions that we have now, we can prevent [cases] from going up while we get more people vaccinated,” Dr. O’Keefe said.

Nine people in Douglas County have the Calfornia variant, and one woman in the county has the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K. Both variants are more infectious than prior strains, so Dr. O’Keefe says inoculations need to outpace new variants.

“The fact that we have a vaccine and we’ve gotten into a lot of people’s arms already, we’re in a pretty good place,” Dr. O’Keefe said.

A health department spokesperson tells 6 News they’re waiting to learn more about allocations of the new single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The spokesperson says it’s likely the department will receive it, but they don’t know when.

Health department officials say the single dose is ideal for rural residents. Some have had to travel far to get their two doses from metro-area clinics.

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