Ricketts urges Nebraskans to 'redouble' efforts to slow spread of COVID-19

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Gov. Pete Ricketts is asking Nebraskans to “redouble” their efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus after hospitalizations for COVID-19 have nearly quadrupled in the last six weeks.

During a press conference Monday, Ricketts announced changes to the directed health measures, which take effect Wednesday. Changes include indoor gatherings limited to 25% of rated occupancy; masks are required for staff and patrons at salons, barbershops, massage therapy, bowling alleys, pool halls; restaurants and bars remain open for dine in, but tables must be 6 feet apart and patrons must remain seated unless placing an order, going to the restroom or playing games; and fan attendance for all indoor youth extracurricular activities is limited to household members of participants only.

Ricketts said he is “very concerned” about hospital capacity, which remains at 31% for hospital beds, 31% for ICU beds and 71% for ventilators.

“But again, we want to make sure we are slowing the spread of the virus because we've seen those increase in cases,” he said. “This is serious.”

On Sept. 23, there were about 200 people hospitalized due to COVID-19. As of Monday, there were 794.

Ricketts said local public health departments have reported many of the increased cases are due to informal gatherings.

Kurth Brashear, vice president for institutional advancement at Concordia University in Seward and a coronavirus survivor, shared his story.

Brashear said he and his family “generally” had been following the state's guidelines for the pandemic. They wore masks in public, both he and his wife wore masks at work and their children wore masks at school.

“We've really limited our face to face interactions with others,” he said.

But in September, they had friends over to their house.

“We let our guard down a little bit,” Brashear said. “These were a few families with kids who go to school with our kids, so they've been masked all the time. At that time, cases in Seward were not very high and much of what we were going to be doing was outside.”

On Sept. 24, Brashear and his family were notified that two people at the gathering tested positive for COVID-19. He and his family immediately quarantined, and Brashear began having symptoms that same day.

Six days later, Brashear woke up with a fever. He had chills and trouble breathing. He tested positive and went into isolation. His family tested negative.

“There is no rhyme or reason to COVID, in my view, so I would encourage us to take it seriously,” he said. “Don't let our guard down.”

Outline of changes to directed health measure

Take effect Wednesday

Six feet separation rule and masking

• Six feet of separation between parties is required in all instances; includes, gyms/gitness centers, health spas, restaurants, bars, gentlemen and bottle clubs, weddings, funerals, indoor gatherings and church. For churches, weddings and funerals, parties are considered household members only.

• Masks are required for staff and patrons at salons, barbershops, massage therapy, bowling alleys, pool halls, body art establishments and any other indoor businesses where staff and patrons are within six feet of each other for 15 minutes or more.

• Bar patrols who are participating in games such as pool, darts, shuffleboard, etc., are required to wear a mask when not drinking or eating.

Extracurricular activities

• Fan attendance for all indoor youth extracurricular activities is limited to household members of participants only. Extracurricular activities include both school and club sponsored events.

• Six feet of separation required between household units.

Bars and restaurants

• Restaurants, bars, bottle clubs and gentlemen's clubs remain open for dine in.

• Patrons will be required to be seated while on premise unless they are placing an order, using the restroom or playing games.

• 100% of rated occupancy, but six feet of separation required between tables. Bar seating is permitted but six feet of separation must be maintained between parties.

• Maximum of eight individuals in a party. Groups larger than eight will need to split into multiple tables.

• Self-serve buffets and salad bars are permitted.

Churches

• No limit on occupancy but must maintain six feet separation between household units.

Gatherings

• Indoor gatherings will be limited to 25% of rated occupancy (not to exceed 10,000).

• Outdoor gatherings remain at 100% of rated occupancy.

• Gatherings include but are not limited to indoor or outdoor arenas, indoor or outdoor auctions, stadiums, tracks, fairgrounds, festivals, zoos, aquariums, large event conference rooms, meeting halls, indoor theaters, libraries, swimming pools or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.

• Groups shall be no larger than eight individuals.

• Six feet separation between groups required.

• Carnivals and dances held indoors are prohibited. Dancing at wedding receptions is permissible if individuals remain at their tables/seats and keep social distancing between groups. Dance recitals are permitted but must follow the gathering requirements.

• Plans for reopening or expanding to new capacity limits must be submitted to the local health departments and approved for all indoor and outdoor locations/venues that hold 500 or more individuals (1,000 or more in counties over 500,000 population) before reopening is permitted. The reopening plan must contain planned number of guests, how the location will meet social distancing guidelines and sanitation guidelines.

Gyms, fitness centers/clubs, health clubs and health spas

• Six feet of separation between customers is required.

Salons, barber shops, massage therapy services and tattoo parlors/body art facilities

• Six feet of separation between customers is required.

• Both workers and patrons are required to wear masks at all times. An exception will be made for all services performed on faces. Patrons will be permitted to remove their mask while receiving services directly. The mask must be worn by the patron at all other times while on premise.

Wedding and funeral reception venues

• Maximum of eight individuals in a party (groups larger than eight will need to split into multiple tables).

• Dancing at events is permissible if individuals remain at their tables/seats and keep social distancing between groups.

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