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New COVID strain likely already in Nebraska; labs testing for proof

New COVID strain likely already in Nebraska; labs testing for proof

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The new, more infectious strain of the novel coronavirus is most likely already in Nebraska, the state’s chief medical officer said Wednesday.

Nebraska is starting to monitor for the strain but has not yet proved the mutated virus is here, officials said Wednesday. The Nebraska public health lab is purchasing its own equipment to be able to test for the strain and will have it running within about a week, said Dr. Gary Anthone, the chief medical officer.

Anthone, speaking by video at a press conference with Gov. Pete Ricketts, said the strain could lead to an increase in hospitalizations, and that’s why officials are concerned about it.

“Hopefully we can keep this under control as we roll out our vaccinations,” Anthone said.

Anthone said the strain, first identified in the United Kingdom, has now been identified in five U.S. states: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and New York.

Officials said the current testing systems, including TestNebraska, are able to identify a positive case from the mutated strain. However, the test results won’t tell the person if they’re infected specifically by the new strain.

Anthone said that so far, the vaccines being distributed appear to cover the mutated strain.

He said the new strain shows the need to stress public health precautions to limit spread of the virus: wearing a mask, keeping distance from other people, washing your hands and avoiding crowded places, close contacts and confined spaces.

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