LINCOLN –The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Nebraska Public Health Solutions (PHS) District, and the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) have detected six cases of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 among Nebraska residents. The first case was likely exposed during international travel to Nigeria, returned on November 23rd, and became symptomatic on November 24th. The five remaining cases were likely exposed through household contact with the first case. Only one of the six cases were vaccinated. None have required hospitalization.
DHHS Acting State Epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Donahue said, “Coronavirus will continue to be with us forever. The identification of the latest variant, Omicron reinforces the importance of 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. 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.”
DHHS has built and maintains a strong statewide genomic surveillance program that includes a consortium of local and state epidemiologists, and laboratory experts: the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory, Creighton University, and the UNMC College of Public Health. For this identification, the patient self-identified their travel history, sought testing, and alerted the local health department. The local health department promptly investigated and coordinated testing for sequencing to identify a variant, and sequencing was rapidly completed through NPHL. 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. Testing platforms will still produce a “positive” result for the Omicron variant (and other variants). The state of Nebraska has fully vaccinated 62.4% of eligible residents. The state boasts an 87% vaccination rate of adults 65 plus.
Nebraskans can register for vaccination at Vaccinate.Ne.Gov.