Reasons to Hope
By Governor Pete Ricketts
December 15, 2020
Governor’s official photo here.
This has been a hard year. We’ve been battling the coronavirus in our state for over nine months. I know many Nebraskans are weary. Folks are tired of the virus’ many negative impacts. They’re burned out from Zoom meetings. They’re tired of being unable to hold traditional gatherings with friends and family. And they’re tired of activities and celebrations being postponed.
Despite this weariness, there is hope in this season of Advent and the heart of the Christmas Story. In less than two weeks, we get to celebrate the Good News that came on the night Jesus was born. Nebraskans are also celebrating Hanukkah through December 18th, kindling a candle each night during the Festival of Lights to display hope in the Creator who sustains life. This holiday season, I pray you’ll find renewed hope as you reflect on the reason we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah.
Developments in our battle with the coronavirus give additional reason for hope. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a sustained, downward trend in coronavirus-related hospitalizations in Nebraska. We’ve also received welcome news that the first coronavirus vaccine, from Pfizer, is now authorized for emergency use. While this is encouraging, we need everyone to stay committed to slowing the spread of the virus. It’s vital that we protect our hospitals until vaccines become widely available. It will still be several months until this happens.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, protecting Nebraska’s hospitals has been the ‘north star’ guiding our strategic response to the coronavirus. On November 13th, I announced Nebraska’s phased plan to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s based on the percentage of staffed hospital beds in Nebraska occupied by coronavirus patients. Each color-coded phase of the plan corresponds to a different set of restrictions.
When I first announced the plan, Nebraska was in the “orange” phase with 20-25% of staffed hospital beds taken up by coronavirus patients. After nearly hitting the 25% threshold during Thanksgiving week, we’ve seen coronavirus hospitalizations decline from a high of 987 on November 20th to 693 as of December 15th. Last Friday, we moved below the 20% threshold (7-day rolling average). As a result, we’re now in the “yellow” phase and under updated Directed Health Measures (DHMs) in keeping with our pandemic plan. Go to dhhs.ne.gov/coronavirus and click on “Directed Health Measures” for details.
Moving from the “orange” to “yellow” phase doesn’t mean we can relax our guard. The virus is still present in our communities, and we all need to continue using the tools we have to slow its spread. I especially urge Nebraskans to be mindful of at-risk loved ones when making plans to celebrate the holidays. Let’s all take personal responsibility to stay healthy and keep Nebraska headed in the right direction.
As long as coronavirus hospitalizations remain between 15-20% of staffed hospital beds, we’ll stay in the “yellow” phase. Should we fall below this range or rise above it—on a 7-day rolling average—we’ll adjust our DHMs accordingly. A chart comparing the color-coded phases of the State’s pandemic response plan is available on the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) website by clicking here.
Nobody wants to be in quarantine or isolation over the holidays—or to spend Christmas and New Year’s Day sick in the hospital. Now is a good time to slow down. If you’re shopping, go alone. Don’t take the entire family. Don’t try to muscle through a cold this year. Please stay home when you are sick. Continue to use the tools we’ve been emphasizing to slow the spread. Keep six-feet of distance from others, wear a mask when you go to the store, wash your hands often, and work from home when you can.
I also want to remind everyone to avoid the “Three Cs”. They are crowded places, close contacts, and confined spaces. The virus spreads from one person to another, and avoiding the “Three Cs” reduces the likelihood of infection.
Test Nebraska is operating during the holiday season. Go to TestNebraska.com to take a brief health assessment and schedule a time to get tested. If you plan to visit family, consider getting a test. Viral spread can occur from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people. Taking a test can detect the virus, even if you’re not experiencing symptoms. This can help you avoid inadvertently passing the virus to loved ones.
On Sunday, the CDC approved Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use. This week, hospitals in Nebraska are receiving their first shipments of the vaccine and will begin immunizing healthcare personnel who are in direct contact with patients. Following federal guidelines, we’re also prioritizing staff and residents of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities for vaccination. Nebraskans living and working in long-term care facilities will receive vaccinations through their facilities’ partnership with area pharmacies. This week, federal regulators are assessing clinical trial data on Moderna’s vaccine. It may be approved by the FDA for emergency use as early as Friday, December 18th.
As the first vaccines arrive to our state, I encourage Nebraskans to learn more about coronavirus immunization. The CDC has helpful information on its website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines. The State of Nebraska’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan is available online at dhhs.ne.gov/Documents/COVID-19-Vaccination-Plan.pdf.
If you have questions about vaccinations or our current Directed Health Measures, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244. Let’s continue working together to slow the spread of the virus so that Nebraskans can enjoy a healthy and happy holiday season.