Gov. Ricketts unrolls new DHM for Nebraska to head off ‘dangerous phase’

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced new directed health measures Friday afternoon, Oct. 16,...
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced new directed health measures Friday afternoon, Oct. 16, 2020 — the same day Douglas County reported its highest number of new cases since May.
Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 12:22 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 16, 2020 at 6:22 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and public health leaders held an update Friday on the state’s COVID-19 response, rolling out a new directed health measure for the state, effective Wednesday, Oct. 21.

To slow the spread of COVID-19 in the state, Ricketts wants Nebraskans to avoid the “three Cs”: crowded places, close contact, and confined spaces.

Hospitalizations has been the key metric for the governor in keeping an eye on the impact COVID-19 is having on the state. But as hospital capacity tightens to 10% — or even less in some communities — the rising number of new COVID-19 cases has authorities and experts on alert.

Dr. James Lawler of UNMC said during the meeting that Nebraska has entered a dangerous phase of the pandemic. The case numbers in communities have reached excess of the coronavirus’s previous peak in May. In Douglas County on Friday, that number was 305.

“Unfortunately, we are still accelerating in the number of cases per day," he said.

In May, the pandemic was centered mostly around the Omaha area and Lincoln along with communities with meatpacking plants and congregant settings. Now, the pandemic has become widespread and more active in rural areas, with positivity rates of infection higher than in New York City during its pandemic peak in April, Lawler said.

“We are certainly at risk for our health systems becoming overwhelmed,” he said.

New daily case numbers tend to lead hospitalization numbers and deaths by several weeks, he said.

“What we see now, today, we aren’t going to really feel the full effect of for another three or four weeks,” he said, adding that it’s time to buckle down and take action to reduce transmission in the community.

During the Nebraska COVID-19 update Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, UNMC's Dr. James Lawler said the case numbers in Nebraska communities recently hit a new peak.

Thankfully, we have a better understanding now of how to protect the community than we did in May, Lawler said. We know now, he said, that aerosol transmission can happen over distances, like in crowds or in close-contact in confined spaces. Studies are now showing that those who frequented restaurants without masks had seven to 10 times increased risk of becoming infected, Lawler said. In another study, he said, those who frequented events and venues with crowds of more than 10 people — attending seven times or more — were almost 30 times more likely to develop COVID-19.

“We also know now that this virus tends to spread in clusters and spurts, so the majority of people who become infected probably won’t transmit the virus to anybody. But a small proportion of people who are infected, maybe 10% or 20%, are responsible for the vast majority of cases,” Lawler said, noting that these

Experts also now know that the virus is often transmitted by people who have no symptoms, particularly in younger people. But it doesn’t make them less likely to pass COVID-19 along to others, he said.

Lawler emphasized that face masks reduce the risk of transmission and does protect those who are wearing masks as well.

The governor said it has pained him to put in place restrictions on personal liberties, but it has been necessary.

“I know that everybody is tired of the pandemic, tired of wearing masks — they want to meet with people. But we still have the virus in our community,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts talked about cases coming out of recent gatherings, like weddings and homecoming parties, and urged Nebraskans to be vigilant about avoiding the “three Cs” to avoid spread.

“As we see more community spread, it’s going to be harder and harder to be able to maintain a safe school environment,” Nebraska’s Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt said Friday.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts was asked during his news conference Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, whether he would consider a face mask mandate.

Ricketts encouraged being vigilant during football games and to “mask up” — from spectators in the stands and particularly in contained spaces, including groups traveling together in cars and buses. Taking these precautions now, he said, will make sure students don’t have to quarantine later and schools can continue attending classes.

While schools are doing well in working to protect against COVID-19 spread, it’s an uphill battle — and the responsibility can’t stop there, Blomstedt said.

”We know, maybe we’re not doing a great job in our communities, and not taking it seriously as we need to take this," he said before making an appeal to parents that following the school protocols outside of schools — in the home with families and into social settings — is how to make sure schools can stay open.

“I’m worried as we go into the winter sports season...” Blomstedt said. “I think this new directed health measure is absolutely critical to start signaling that these limited public spaces are going to be critical to keep us going.”

Details on Nebraska’s newest DHM

The governor on Friday announced a new directed health measure with the following enforceable restrictions, many in line with Phase 3 restrictions. The state’s new DHM, effective Wednesday, covers the following:

Bars & restaurants

Patrons will be required to be seated while on-premise unless they are placing an order, using the restroom, or playing games.

100 percent of rated occupancy continues.

A maximum of eight individuals in a party, while groups larger than eight will need to sit at multiple tables.


Indoor gatherings will be limited to 50% of rated occupancy not to exceed 10,000.

Outdoor gatherings will remain at 100% of rated occupancy not to exceed 10,000.

Gatherings include but are not limited to indoor or outdoor arenas, indoor or outdoor auctions, stadiums, tracks, fairgrounds, festivals, zoos, auditoriums, large event conference rooms, meeting halls, indoor theaters, libraries, swimming pools, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.

Groups shall be no larger than eight individuals.

Plans for reopening or expanding to new capacity limits must be submitted to the local health departments and approved for all indoor and outdoor locations/venues that hold 500 or more individuals (1,000 or more in counties over 500,000 population) before reopening is permitted.

The reopening plan must contain a planned number of guests, how the location will meet social distancing guidelines, and sanitation guidelines.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts and public health leaders are planning an update at 1:30 p.m. Friday on the state’s COVID-19 response.

Wedding & funeral reception venues

Maximum of eight individuals in a party while groups larger than eight must sit apart.

100 percent of rated occupancy continues.

Limited dances or other social events requiring guests to gather outside of their respective tables in guidance.

Elective procedures/surgeries

In order to continue elective procedures, hospitals must maintain at least 10 percent of their general and ICU beds as reserve capacity to treat COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals must continue to accept and treat COVID-19 patients and must not transfer COVID-19 patients to create capacity for elective procedures.

Watch Friday’s news conference

Gov. Pete Ricketts and other Nebraska officials will give an update Wednesday morning, Oct. 14, 2020.

KOLN 10/11 News Now contributed to this report.

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