Health restrictions to be loosened in 10 more Nebraska counties

Counties in purple are to have restrictions loosened May 11 (Graphic by Joe McMullen, NET)
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April 29, 2020 - 5:58pm

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Wednesday health restrictions will be loosened in another 10 Nebraska counties in a little under two weeks, although at least one local official said the loosening was not a sure thing.

The governor announced last week restrictions would be loosened in 59 of Nebraska’s 93 counties beginning next Monday, May 4. The relaxation includes letting restaurant dining rooms reopen, although at half capacity; letting beauty parlors and barber shops reopen, with both operators and patrons wearing masks; and letting daycares increase the number of children per room from 10 to 15.

Wednesday, Ricketts added three health districts, comprising 10 counties, to the list of those where restrictions would be loosened – although for the newly named counties the relaxation will take place a week later, on May 11. They include the counties containing the cities of Lincoln, North Platte, and Fremont.

Speaking at a separate news conference after Ricketts’, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird noted  Lincoln and Lancaster County had seen more new cases last week than in any other. Lincoln/Lancaster County Health Department Interim Director Pat Lopez said there have been 73 since Sunday, 23 of them connected to the Smithfield packing plant in nearby Crete. Gaylor Baird said local officials are trying to strike a balance.

“We are fully cognizant of the difficult balance between protecting the public health and our economic vitality. And what we are working to achieve through this directed health measure is a reduction of the negative h impact, both health and economic, that could result from increased transmission of the coronavirus,” Gaylor Baird said.

The mayor said she and Lopez met with Ricketts Monday and agreed on extending current restrictions through May 10. She said local officials would be evaluating what next steps to take between now and then.

“We want to work in concert with the state of Nebraska to support efforts to carefully and safely bring our economy back to life. And that said, we reserve the right to reconsider the relaxation of measures if the status of our community demands that we do so,” she said. Meatpacking plants like the one in Crete have been at the center of outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Tuesday, President Donald Trump ordered the plants to stay open to assure the food supply. Wednesday, Ricketts applauded that move. “Certainly I appreciate President Trump issuing that executive order, really reinforcing how important this industry is to be able to -- supplying food in our country and our state. So it’s important and mission critical that we keep this open, and that’s what the president recognized,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts said the state needs to continue to work on testing and contact tracing, working with meatpacking companies on best practices for running the plants safely, and educating workers in languages in addition to English on things like social distancing.

One questioner asked the governor about a meatpacking worker who complained he got sick after the company he worked for didn’t tell him the worker next to him had tested positive for COVID-19. Ricketts said it’s a matter of individual responsibility and contact tracing.

“We’re relying on the person who was identified with coronavirus to tell our public health departments about that. So this is not the company’s responsibility necessarily…The person’s got to let us know who they’ve been in contact with,” he said.

 Ricketts was asked if he had considered visiting one of the plants to reassure people and see conditions for himself. “I’m taking my own advice we’ve been talking about with our stay home to stay healthy, which is, I go between my house, the Capitol, and back to my house,” he said with a laugh.

And asked what he would say to consumers worried about meat shortages in grocery stores, Ricketts replied “This is similar to what we saw with like, toilet paper, right? Go in and buy what you need for the week. A couple of months ago we told everybody to go out and get two weeks of food. They should still have that, right? So, go out and shop once a week, buy what you need for the week. We’re going to keep the supply lines open. You may not have all the selection you had in the past. Again, that’s why we’re working so hard to keep these facilities open,” he said.

Watch: Daily News Update, April 29



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