The first case of coronavirus was reported in our state almost eight weeks ago on March 6, 2020. A week later, I declared a state of emergency due to the risks posed by the virus. In mid-March, the state began to issue directed health measures (DHMs) to slow the spread of the virus and protect our residents.
Nebraskans have responded to public health measures with cooperation, patience, and understanding. I am grateful for the sacrifices made by so many people to help us flatten the curve. As we enter May, it’s time to get Nebraska growing again. However, we’ll need to proceed with caution.
As we restore growth to the economy, our approach will be regional and gradual. The pace at which we reopen will be informed by the capacity of our state’s healthcare system as well as testing data.
Throughout May, we are continuing to ask everyone to follow our Six Rules to Keep Nebraska Healthy:
• Stay home. Do not take unnecessary trips outside the home. Respect the ten-person limit.
• Socially distance your work. Work from home or use the six-foot rule as much as possible in the workplace.
• Shop alone and only shop once a week. Do not take family with you.
• Help kids follow social distancing. Play at home. No group sports. And no playgrounds.
• Help seniors stay at home by shopping for them. Do not visit long-term care facilities.
• Exercise daily at home or with an appropriately socially-distanced activity.
Starting in the coming weeks, the State will have 19 separate DHMs, one for each local health department (LHD). These DHMs will be effective through May 31. Contact information for the state’s LHDs, along with a map of the LHDs, is available at dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Local-Health-Departments.aspx.
Starting May 4, places of worship statewide are no longer subject to the 10-person limitation. However, households must be seated six feet apart at worship services. In addition, it will not be permissible to pass items among worshipers.
On a regional basis, we’re gradually easing restrictions in LHDs that are less affected by the virus. As of May 4, these less restrictive DHMs took effect in:
• Douglas County Health Dept.
• Sarpy/Cass Dept. of Health
• East Central District Health Dept.
• Four Corners Health Dept.
• Loup Basin Public Health Dept.
• North Central District Health Dept.
• Northeast Nebraska Public Health Dept.
• Panhandle Public Health District
• Southeast District Health Dept.
• Southwest Nebraska Public Health District
On May 11th, the less restrictive DHMs will also be effective in…
• Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Dept.
• West Central District Health Dept.
• Three Rivers Public Health Dept.
In these locations, beauty/nail salons, barber shops, massage therapy services, and tattoo parlors can reopen on a limited basis. Both workers and patrons of these establishments will be required to wear masks. Restaurants can also resume dine-in service in these areas, up to 50% of their rated occupancy maximum. All dining parties must be seated six feet apart and limited to six persons. Any groups larger than six must be seated at separate tables. Additionally, childcare facilities will be permitted to have up to 15 kids per room/space. All other state provisions, statutes, and regulations (including child-to-staff ratios) remain in effect.
Even as these restrictions are slightly eased, continued social distancing will be necessary to ensure we can successfully loosen them and protect our healthcare system.
The integrity of Nebraska’s healthcare system has been my top consideration for decisions about reopening businesses that have been limited or closed. Nebraska continues to have ample capacity to care for the state’s residents. As of April 30, 49% of hospital beds, 45% of ICU beds, and 77% of ventilators are available for use statewide. Every Nebraskan who needs treatment has been able to receive it. We’re closely monitoring incoming data to make sure that continues to be the case.
As we reopen segments of our economy that have been restricted, our approach will be driven by healthcare data first. Our Test Nebraska initiative will play a central role in gathering information to guide our decision-making. We’ve already increased our testing capacity to between 1,000 and 1,500 tests per day. Our Test Nebraska program will continue to scale up our capability to test for the virus.
I encourage Nebraskans to go to www.TestNebraska.com to take an initial assessment. This information is crucial in helping us determine where to deploy new testing sites. As we ramp up testing, we’ve also devoted 325 additional state teammates to perform contact tracing with a goal of having 1,000 people doing contact tracing in the coming months. This will enable us to better track the spread of the virus and reduce the risk of exposure.
I urge all Nebraskans to exercise good judgment as we ease our directed health measures. Just because an activity is permitted, does not mean it’s advisable for everyone. Elderly Nebraskans and persons with underlying health conditions should be especially mindful of maintaining physical distance until the virus subsides.