COVID-19 update: Douglas County moving to Phase 4 on Sept. 14, allowing further reopenings

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 12:02 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 3, 2020 at 7:42 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - In addition to relief for restaurant owners, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert announced the reopening of more libraries and community centers as Douglas County prepares to move into Phase 4, allowing further reopenings.

During the Thursday afternoon news conference, Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour gave an update on the local COVID-19 response, and Douglas County Commissioner Chris Rodgers updated the county’s CARES Act funding allocations.

CARES Act distribution update

The county was given $166 million in CARES Act funding and have allocated $108 million to date, Rodgers said Thursday.

The Omaha Community Foundation is helping to distribute $20 million to nonprofits and arts associations, Rodgers said.

Rodgers said $800,000 of the $10 million allocated for rental assistance has been distributed so far. He said those with remote learning can qualify for assistance from the CARES Act funding and should reach out online through the county’s website or by calling 402-444-7232 for information on how to obtain that aid.

Other announcements

RESTAURANT TAX FEE WAIVER: Mayor Stothert also announced Thursday that the city will be waiving the restaurant tax late fee from March 1 through the end of the year, provided those businesses pay the total restaurant tax owed for the year by Dec. 31, Stothert said. Those who have already paid such fees — about $80,000 has been collected so far, Stothert said — will have that money refunded back to them.

MORE LIBRARIES TO OPEN: The city is reopening Elkhorn, Washington, Millard, Abrahams, and Willa Cather libraries on Sept. 21. A.B. Sorensen, Benson, and Florence libraries were reopened Aug. 28; the reopening of remaining branches will be announced at a later date. [INFO]

MORE COMMUNITY CENTERS TO OPEN: Stothert said three of the community centers with indoor pools — Common Ground, Montclair, and Mockingbird — opened first, but that on Sept. 20, Saddlebrook, Florence, and A.B. Sorensen will reopen. By Oct. 19, she said, the rest will be able to reopen. The mayor said the city has been calling back people who had been reassigned to other city services.

MOVING TO PHASE 4: On Sept. 14, the state Department of Health and Human Services will move all counties currently in Phase 3 — including Douglas County — to Phase 4, the mayor said Thursday. That means all restrictions will become “guidance” at time, and that all outdoor venues can operate at full capacity.

Arenas and event centers will be allowed to operate at 75% capacity, but all events with 500 people or more will still be required to have local health department approval, the mayor said.

MASK ORDINANCE: Stothert reviewed the processes that put the city’s mask ordinance in place, noting that the mayor doesn’t have veto authority over an emergency ordinance. The regular ordinance passed by the council this week could be vetoed by the mayor, but since it received the same votes that would be required to overturn her veto, she said the ordinance was “veto proof.”

Stothert also noted that the city has no jurisdiction over Omaha Public Schools decisions, including decisions about sports and activities.

Douglas County COVID-19 update

Giving an update on the most recent available local COVID-19 data, Dr. Pour said the county is seeing about 104 new cases per day, but she would like to see the numbers hit an incremental goal of 50 cases per day. She also gave a data breakdown of local COVID-19 cases and deaths to date, as well as hospital capacity.

She the county currently had 69 COVID-19 patients, “and that’s actually a very low number.”

In the beginning of August, she said, the high was about 100-135 COVID-19 patients, with the highest number since the pandemic occurring on May 27 with 163 patients.

Pour said the county currently has a 1.2% death rate, which compares to the national death rate of 3.1%. 164 deaths on the dashboard, but said an additional death was reported: an 89-year-old woman with underlying conditions.

Before listing the breakdown of COVID-19 deaths that have occurred in the county thus far, the health director also took time to break down how COVID-19 information gets included on death certificates, as the document allows for up to four causes that can be listed as cause or as significant health conditions of the person who died.

Pour also acknowledged three larger clusters that DCHD is keeping an eye on: corrections facilities, long-term care facilities, and Creighton University.

The health director also gave an update on the COVID-19 impact on Douglas County schools, and called on parents to make good decisions — and help their children make good decisions — over the upcoming holiday weekend.

“Schools have really tried to do the best they can, and they have good plans in place,” she said. “But they need to rely on parents, too, to do the right thing, to really tell their children what to do outside of schools because otherwise, these students are bringing in all the virus back into the school again and it’s going to make it very difficult to have ongoing education going on.”

She also asked people to “take the hand-sanitizer to the barbecues,” and wear masks. She noted that loud talking spreads COVID-19 more so than regular conversation, and encouraged wearing face masks at any barbecues or other social gatherings people might be planning to attend over the long holiday weekend.

“Remember that the virus is still in our community, and all together we can do the right thing,” she said.

She also recommended that talk of plans dealing with COVID-19 during the colder winter months should be underway now.

Watch the full news conference

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