OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday predicted a return to normal in Nebraska's K-12 schools by this fall after a year of coronavirus restrictions that included mask-wearing in classrooms and remote learning.

Ricketts said the state appears to be in good shape with its vaccination efforts and virus-related hospitalizations, which have now fallen below 100 statewide.

“Given where we are right now, it's my expectation that we will not need these pandemic restrictions this fall,” Ricketts said at a press event in Omaha.

Ricketts, a Republican, made the comments as he encouraged Nebraska's new high school graduates to get vaccinated if they haven't already. He said he also supports younger children getting vaccinated, as long as a vaccine has been federally approved for a child's age group and the parents give consent.

“We really want our high school graduates to get that vaccine,” he said.

Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Cheryl Logan said the district has worked with Douglas County public health officials to provide vaccination sites and share information about vaccines with students and families.

“We must not let up on our health and safety focus,” she said.

Dannette Smith, the CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said state officials are still working to encourage younger residents to get vaccinated, including those ages 12 to 15 who are now eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

“We want you to be able to do it and we want to make it as painless and easy for you as possible,” she said.

Nebraska has fully vaccinated 52% of residents who are at least 16 years old, according to the state's online tracking portal. The number of new daily vaccinations has trended downward since hitting a high of 23,910 on April 12. On Sunday, the number of doses given to achieve full vaccination was 2,240. The state's numbers, however, don't include doses administered under the federal government's vaccine program.

Nebraska reported a new low of 97 virus-related hospitalizations on Sunday, a number that has fallen sharply since the peak of 987 hospitalizations in November. The state has confirmed 222,512 coronavirus cases and 2,266 deaths since the pandemic began.

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