Gov. Ricketts holds news briefing on Nov. 12.
Gov. Pete Ricketts holds a news briefing Thursday while in self-quarantine. Image courtesy of Governors Office.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced a new phased health restriction plan for the state on Nov. 13, due to a surge in COVID hospitalizations.

Nebraska is seeing about 25 new hospitalizations a day. On Sept. 23, Nebraska hospitalizations remained at around 200 COVID patients. Now, that number is well over 900, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website

“Our hospitals are in serious condition right now, and we need all Nebraskans to step up,” Ricketts said. “We’re using the hospital capacity and the guidelines for future restrictions.” 

Currently, COVID-19 patients are taking up 20 percent of the state’s hospital beds. 

Effective Monday, Nov. 16, a new directed health measure will take effect in the state. This DHM will limit fan attendance to sporting events to household members only, decrease indoor gatherings to 25% (or eight people), and all elective surgeries that can wait four to 12 weeks will be prohibited. 

“We will need to take additional restrictions if we don’t see a slowing of the spread of the virus and slowing in our hospitalizations,” Ricketts said.

Should the state have 25 percent of its beds taken up due to COVID, then further restrictions will be put in place. Some of those restrictions include:

    • Prohibition of youth extracurricular activities below the high school level.
    • Restaurants and bars will be dine-out, delivery, or drive through only. 
    • Only licensed restaurants can remain open for limited dine-in seating. 
    • Indoor gatherings will have to be limited to 10 or fewer people.
    • Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 25 or fewer people. 
    • More elective surgeries will become prohibited.

Teresa Anderson, health director for the Central District Health Department, which represents Hall, Hamilton, and Merrick counties said, “When people let down their guard, the virus takes advantage and spreads faster and farther. We need to remind ourselves that we are in this for the long haul and that we will be masking and social distancing for a long time.”

Lincoln and Omaha are the only cities in the state with a mask mandate in place. Even with a surge in COVID cases, Ricketts is still opposed to a statewide mask mandate. 

“I think we need to educate people for using masks. There is a lot of good information out there,” Ricketts said. “With regard to cities like Omaha, for example, they had an old-rule charter that allowed them to pass an ordinance.”

Nebraska State Law prohibits counties from issuing mask mandates, but Ricketts said some other municipalities might have the legal authority to pass such mandates. However, the governor stressed that these municipalities will need to seek legal advice.  

“What we’re really asking Nebraskans to do, is not only follow the rules while out in public but also keep that in mind during your formal gatherings as well,” Ricketts said.

With the holidays nearing, residents are encouraged to follow precautions.

Family members should stay home as much as possible, and limit travel for the holidays this year. Do not attend gatherings such as weddings or holiday parties until the virus spread slows,” Anderson said.

Test Nebraska, the state’s testing program, has had more than 500,000 Nebraskan’s sign up, a little more than 400,000 have been tested for the virus, which is a positive sign, according to Ricketts. 

Any Nebraskan who has symptoms or has been exposed to COVID-19 is encouraged to sign up for a free test on www.testnebraska.com

Journalism student. Coffee-dependent life form. Proud plant dad. Not your typical Nebraskan.