Gov. Ricketts loosening COVID-19 restrictions for most of Nebraska on Monday

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 10:34 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2020 at 4:48 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Wednesday that most of the state on Monday will move into Phase 4, which further loosens COVID-19 restrictions.

Ricketts said all counties except Lancaster County would move into Phase 4, which loosens restrictions and allows outdoor venues to have 100% occupancy and indoor venues to increase to 75% capacity. Those planning large events of 500 or more people will still need to check with their local public health director to make sure all precautions are in place, Ricketts said.

The governor said he wasn’t considering any further shutdowns at this point, noting a stable hospital capacity in the state. Ricketts said 38% of hospital beds and 34% of ICU beds were still available, and that 83% of the state’s ventilators were also still available.

Ricketts said the state has distributed millions of KN95 masks, but that N95 masks — which are preferred by medical personnel — are still in short supply in Nebraska.

The Phase 4 reopenings won’t have any bearing on the plans in place for schools across the state at the moment, according to Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska’s Commissioner of Education.

“At this point and time, we want to stay the course,” he said.

Even though things are going well in many parts of the state, maintaining the restrictions and being vigilant in efforts to contain COVID-19 spread are important for helping schools continue with their learning plans.

“It’s also important to understand that quarantine is part of the process to help keep the environment safe,” Blomstedt said. That’s a different precaution than isolation, which means someone has actually been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Schools will continue moving forward with improving remote learning and working to support students, he said.

“We have a whole school year yet to get through, and we’re still learning,” he said, urging patience with the process and noting the significant progress that has been made.

On extending emergency benefits: The maximum SNAP payment allotment won’t be extended for Nebraska, Ricketts said.

“We’re going back to the program as it existed before the pandemic,” he said.

The emergency maximum was meant to be a pandemic response, the governor said, and “now we’re getting back to a more normal life," with unemployment falling below 5% and more people going back to work.

But the state is looking at extending the pandemic EBT payments, Ricketts said.

Nebraska emergency response update: Major General Daryl L. Bohac, director of Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said the state has the ability to provide an emergency response to local authorities that need it within 8-12 hours. The state recently implemented an incident management team, which enables better coordination and response in situations like wildfires.

On the Big Ten sports decision: Ricketts said he thinks each school should be able to make the best decisions for themselves.

He said the decision to not allow activities doesn’t make sense for sports like cross-country. The governor also echoed Nebraska Head Football Coach Scott Frost’s sentiments that sports programs allowed the colleges to take better care of their student-athletes.

Watch the full news conference

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