In a press briefing Tuesday morning, Gov. Pete Ricketts provided updates on — among other topics — vaccine distribution and the possibility of protests at the state Capitol on Inauguration Day.
The governor said changes could be coming soon to the state’s vaccination phase guidelines, as the Trump administration is requesting that states speed vaccine delivery to those older than 65 and others who may be at elevated risk.
The president wants states to avoid withholding second doses and instead provide other high-risk individuals with their first doses.
Ricketts said while no changes are official yet, the state is working with local public health officials and hospitals regarding potential changes to vaccine guidelines.
“We have talked about how to roll out vaccinations faster,” Ricketts said. “Stay tuned; we will make changes and will have more information for people 65 or over on how to get a vaccine. There’s no need to call your local health departments; that information will be made public once it’s ready.”
The state is still administering vaccines to people in Phase 1A, Ricketts said, but some local health departments have begun administering doses to Phase 1B recipients, namely people age 75 and over.
More than 40% of Nebraska’s 90,000 health care workers have received the first of two doses of the coronavirus vaccine as the state ramps up distribution. Of the 144,363 doses shipped to the state, 78,074 had been distributed as of Tuesday morning — 67,939 first doses and 10,135 second doses.
There is no central depository for vaccines, Ricketts said; vaccines are banked at the federal level at Walgreens, CVS and community pharmacies.
Since vaccines began to roll out in mid-December, pharmacies have brought the vaccines to the necessary facilities and vaccinated qualified recipients. The remainder of the vaccines the state received had been shipped directly to hospitals and health centers.
“The state never physically receives the vaccines,” Ricketts said. “They are given straight to the people who administer them.”
The governor noted that in the coming months, he, too, would receive a COVID-19 vaccine and would recommend receiving it. But Ricketts held his stance on letting vaccinations be a personal choice for everybody, rather than mandating it.
“I think we need to educate people on\!q the benefits and bring them on board, but I oppose mandatory testing and vaccines,” he said.
Nebraska said 1,197 doses of the vaccine were administered Sunday, which is typically a slower day. The state administered an average of 5,811 doses each day last week.
The state reported 644 new cases of the virus and 12 deaths Monday to give Nebraska a total of 176,670 cases and 1,772 deaths since the pandemic began.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has increased over the past two weeks from 798.86 new cases per day on Dec. 28 to 1,003.71 new cases per day on Monday.
The number of people hospitalized with the virus in the state increased Monday to 484 from Sunday’s 475, but it remains less than half of November’s peak of 987.
Ricketts also provided an update on COVID-19 hospitalizations during Wednesday’s conference.
As of Friday morning, 34% of the state’s hospital beds, 35% of ICU beds and 74% of ventilators were available.
Inauguration Day protests
The inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden will take place next Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and Nebraska is preparing for the possibility of its own rounds of protests at the state Capitol.
Ricketts said that while Nebraskans hold the right to protest, he encourages them to do so without violence.
“We have protests at the Capitol all the time; we encourage protests, but the American way is to peacefully protest,” he said.
On Monday, the Michigan State Capitol Commission voted 6-0 to adopt a policy banning the open carrying of guns inside its capitol following an armed assault last week.
Ricketts will not consider such a policy in Nebraska, he said, since it is a Second Amendment right for citizens to bear arms.
The governor has been in discussion with the National Guard and the Nebraska State Patrol to take precautions at the Capitol next Wednesday.
“Look at the track record. We are going to make sure we have a safe environment here,” he said.