Gov. Pete Ricketts held a press conference at the state capital on Friday, Dec. 4, to announce that the State of Nebraska has issued new Directed Health Measures (DHMs) to align with CDC recommendations to shorten the length of quarantine required for persons who’ve had close contact exposure to the coronavirus. The updated DHMs took effect Dec. 3.
Under the new DHM someone who has had close contact exposure may discontinue quarantine without testing after 10 days have passed without any symptoms. If you have been exposed and tested at least five days after the exposure, and the test was negative, you may now discontinue quarantine after seven days. However, in both cases the exposed person must continue to self-monitor and wear a facial covering through day 14.
While the governor’s office noted that Nebraska’s coronavirus hospitalizations have stabilized over the past week, our hospitals continue to care for high numbers of patients. And even this week many hospitals in the state are bracing for a potential uptick in cases due to holiday get-togethers. The good news is, help seems to be on the way.
On Dec. 2 the Governor announced that the first coronavirus vaccines are on track to arrive in Nebraska the week of Dec. 13 - 19. Initially, vaccinations will be limited to priority groups, such as healthcare workers at hospitals and long-term care facilities. As manufacturing ramps up in 2021, availability will expand to more groups. Vaccines are expected to be widely available to the public by late spring.
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Incident Commander Angie Ling joined the Governor at last week’s press conference to discuss the state’s vaccination plan. Ling said that the federal government has forecasted Nebraska to receive about 100,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (combined) by the end of December.
“It’s vitally important that those on the frontlines in the fight against the pandemic stay as healthy as possible and that we reduce their chances of spreading this virus,” said Ling. “This is why the first allocations will focus on healthcare personnel.”
As the number of positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to increase in Dawson County and across the Two Rivers Public Health Department seven-county area, the risk dial has moved even deeper into the red zone. However, Gothenburg’s number of cases per 1,000 residents dropped slightly this past week, from 49.60 to 46.40.
TestNebraska continues to offer free coronavirus testing every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Gothenburg Health. While testing is free it is limited, so anyone wanting to be tested is asked to register on the TestNebraska website prior to arrival.
Gothenburg Health is also fortunate to be one of 48 hospitals in the state to offer a new method of treating the coronavirus and staff say they have seen great initial results since they began administering the treatment in mid-November. It’s called bamlanivimab and is antibody therapy for the treatment of mild-to-moderate Covid in adult and pediatric patients.
While the safety and effectiveness of this investigational therapy continues to be evaluated, bamlanivimab was shown in clinical trials to reduce Covid-related hospitalization or emergency room visits in patients at high risk for disease progression within 28 days after treatment when compared to placebo. The treatment is not authorized for patients who are hospitalized due to Covid or require oxygen therapy due to the virus.
The Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) allows for bamlanivimab to be distributed and administered as a single dose intravenously by health care providers. The drug is being managed and distributed to hospitals by the State of Nebraska through the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“Unfortunately, the supply is limited, so we have a set allotment (currently 12 doses/week), but that potentially means 12 patients/week that can receive this drug and avoid hospitalization if effective,” said Becky Jobman, Chief Planning & Development Officer for Gothenburg Health.
Gothenburg Health did have an opportunity to utilize the medication in treating residents at Stone Hearth Estates. “Dr. Shackleton was instrumental in quickly organizing a protocol and workflow in order to administer the new treatment efficiently (treatment needs to be administered within a 72 hour window),” said Jake Flint, Administrator of Stone Hearth Estates. “Rick Zarek, our hospital pharmacist, also provided key instruction on mixing the drug with ongoing consultative support as needed. Gothenburg Health also supplied Stone Hearth with an IV pump.”
Flint said that because of Dr. Shackleton’s quick and efficient response, no patients that received the new treatment required hospitalization due to Covid. Shackleton said it is just part of her job.
“The pandemic has certainly challenged all of us to be creative and flexible in how we partner with both Stone Hearth and Hilltop in order to continue to provide care to our friends and neighbors,” Dr. Shackleton added. “It was our privilege to be able to help them in this way.”