OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska will let bars, zoos, movie theaters and swimming pools reopen and allow small concerts and auctions to resume on June 1 in all but four hard-hit counties, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday as the number of coronavirus deaths continued to rise.
Ricketts announced plans to further loosen social-distancing restrictions, saying he's trying to strike a balance between public health and the need to move back toward normal life as people grow restless.
"We're taking this a step at a time," he said at a news conference.
He made the announcement as state officials reported six more coronavirus deaths and 276 new cases in Nebraska as of Wednesday night, bringing the statewide totals to 138 deaths and 11,122 confirmed cases. Nearly 75,900 people have been tested.
The number of new cases has trended downward, however, since the one-day peak of 677 on May 7. Ricketts has said he's using Nebraska's hospital capacity to judge when to ease restrictions, and those numbers have remained fairly stable. Even so, public health officials say people still need to practice social-distancing measures to keep the virus from spreading.
Businesses that do reopen will still face mandatory social distancing restrictions. For instance, the number of patrons allowed in bars will be limited to half of the venue's rated capacity, and groups of customers will have to remain at least six people apart. Patrons won't be allowed to play pool, darts or arcade games or eat at the bar.
Nebraska will also allow gatherings of up to 25 people or 25% of a venue's rated occupancy, whichever is greater, as long as the total crowd doesn't exceed 3,000 people.
The new requirement will replace the state's current 10-person limit and will apply to both indoor and outdoor venues, including stadiums, fairgrounds, meeting halls, zoos, libraries and swimming pools. Individual groups will still be capped at six people and required to stay away from other groups.
Additionally, any event expected to draw more than 500 people will need prior approval from the county's public health director. In Omaha's Douglas County, the threshold is 1,000 people.
Ricketts will also ease rules for sports, allowing baseball, softball and volleyball teams to resume practices on June 1 and play games on June 18. Rodeos can begin on June 1, but contact sports such as football, basketball and wrestling will remain prohibited.
The changes won't apply to Hall, Hamilton, Merrick or Dakota counties, some of the hardest-hit regions in Nebraska. Hall and Dakota counties have seen particularly large spikes driven by local meatpacking plants.
On Thursday, a coalition of Latino Americans called on Ricketts and local meat packers to do more to protect plant workers who now account for a large share of Nebraska's coronavirus restrictions. Activists said conditions at the plants have generally improved, but they're still hearing reports about inconsistent use of protective equipment at some facilities.
"Unfortunately, these efforts may be seen as too little, too late," said Yolanda Nuncio, a former member of the Nebraska state Latino American Commission. "Some of these plants have not lowered production rates, so when workers go on standard breaks, their coworkers must maintain the same rate of production."
Asked about the criticism on Thursday, Ricketts said he has talked by phone with plant workers and union leaders to discuss their concerns. He also has said that local public health officials from the University of Nebraska Medical Center have gone out to plants to help them establish safety procedures to keep the virus from spreading.
For some infected people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness or death. But for most people, it causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks.
Whats Next For Hall County
(Listen to this feature in it's entirty below)
(Grand Island, NE) - Monday morning a flyover..over CHI Health St. Francis in Grand Island to salute those on the front lines in our healthcare system, a healthcare system that with collaboration with other hospitals and an extremely dedicated staff of heroes were not overwhelmed by the coronavirus.
The data coming back from the Central District Health Department in GI is also showing positive signs, signs all pointing to one thing.
We are past the peak of this virus.
But instead of a sigh of relief, it’s more concern, and more questions for local businesses in Grand Island who watch other parts of the state slowly open, while our community sits on the sidelines.
Local business owner Casey Williams is in the tourism industry, a hotel owner with the Travel Lodge here in GI, who has seen bookings and stays simply come to a halt as more and more events preemptively call things off.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has said consistently, that the original goal of the DHM's and social distancing practices were to not overwhelm the healthcare system.
“That’s what we’ve done very successfully, at no point was our health care system in danger of being overwhelmed.”
So mission accomplished? Will we see a relaxation on the directed health mandates and social distancing restrictions?
The Governor has taken a more cautious approach.
The frustration that many Nebraskan’s are feeling isn’t due to the boredom of social distancing, it’s the uncertainty and the lack of a gameplan for the business community to move forward.
A popular hashtag on social media is “win back GI”, it could be argued we never lost it, but while we wait, the question remains...what will we come back to?
Covid-19 Update - City Hall/Grand Island
Notes from Mayor Roger Steele
Grand Island is projected to have a 12% decrease in sales tax revenue. That loss will be a loss of $1.5 million dollars to the general governmental fund for the fiscal year ending on September 30th.Overall the city is projecting a 5.6% decrease in all revenues for the general fund which equates to $2.2 million dollars.
Food and beverage tax collections were down for the month of April, that’s based on March sales, by 24% ($50,000) as compared to the same month last year. The city expects to have the food and beverage receipts to be significantly reduced for the rest of the fiscal year ending September 30th.
With an estimated loss of revenue of $437,000. Keno proceeds for the month of April are down 42%.
Grand Island Mayor Roger Steele spoke to Gov. Ricketts last Friday. Ricketts told him that he does not believe GI will be able to have gatherings of people until August, if even then. Referring to crowds where social distancing will not occur.
Opening of the water park (Island Oasis) and Lincoln Pool will probably not be happening given the expense and uncertainty of when it will be allowed for people to gather in close proximity.