Omaha, Douglas County officials urge COVID-19 guideline compliance
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Mayor Jean Stothert, Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour, representatives from local hospitals, and the Omaha Police Department gave an update on the local COVID-19 response Friday, all urging residents to do their part in combating the spread of the virus.
“We are on a steep curve,” Pour said, noting her alarm at the fact that Douglas County has reported more than 600 new cases for the last four days.
She said the health department is concerned about the rise in cases in 10- to 16-year-olds. They have also noticed clusters tracing back to retail businesses as well.
If trends continue, Pour said, there could be 1,600 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals by Christmas. The county dashboard shows 393 are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 as of today.
Mayor Stothert referred to the chart Gov. Pete Ricketts talked about during his update Friday morning, noting the restrictions that would be placed on businesses and activities should local hospital capacity continue to diminish.
Omaha Deputy Police Chief Scott Gray said officers have been conducting compliance checks and educating business owners and patrons about the facemask ordinance the city has in place through February. He said that the majority of complaints they receive are about convenience stores.
OPD will be focusing on bars and taverns and other places where people are gathered in close proximity, he said.
“These will be random Officer initiated checks throughout each evening so that will be our next step in trying to gain compliance,” said Deputy Chief Scott Gray.
The mayor said they are getting a number of complaints — and the city has observed — several establishments where social distancing guidelines are not being adhered to.
“Our goal is not to criminalize non-compliance," Gray said.
OPD has not issued any citations relating to the face mask ordinance, which has been in effect since August, Stothert said.
Dr. Harris Frankel, chief medical officer at UNMC, said 25 percent of occupied in-patient beds at their facility are currently in use by COVID-19 patients while 23 percent of those beds are in use by COVID-19 patients in the ICU.
Nine percent of those patients in the ICU are currently on ventilators, Frankel added.
“This can still be a very serious disease for individuals,” he said. “Our biggest concern now is staffing.”
Having enough frontline staff to care for patients is driving a reduction in ambulatory staff to increase in-patient care.
A reduction in surgeries is also underway at UNMC to redirect resources to COVID-19 treatments.
“We all have a social responsibility to adhere to these actions,” Frankel said regarding the implementation of social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing.
Dr. Bill Lydiatt with the Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center said the most important thing that could be done is to educate and echoed what Frankel said.
“Our capacity right now is adequate but stressed. We are in contingency, this is a situation where we use non-traditional areas for patient rooms,” he said.
While surge plans and strategies have been developed and now put in place, Lydiatt said it is taking a toll on the staff -- especially nurses.
“Many are young mothers or fathers yet they come in and to a person, I ask how are they doing and they turn around and ask me,” he said. “These people are truly, day-in and day-out coming in and doing what is necessary because of the responsibility they have as health care professionals and their core values.”
To pay back those workers for their efforts, Lydiatt said people should continue to wear masks and consider having Thanksgiving this season be a small, intimate affair and not a big one.
“I know this is not easy. This is hard stuff. Is it fair? No, it’s not fair but it is necessary,” he said.
Dr. Cary Ward, chief medical officer at CHI Health, said COVID-19 related numbers have been on the rise which has resulted in changes to staffing across their 14 hospitals in the region.
“Anything we can do to curb the growth is greatly appreciated by our health care workers,” Ward said.
Stothert commented on the recent extension of the mask ordinance in the city. She said the new date the ordinance could lapse -- Feb. 23 -- was chosen because it takes five weeks for the council to pass a given ordinance.
To rescind an ordinance takes the same amount of time because three readings and then a vote is required.
Stothert also said a recent directive has been issued asking any city of Omaha employees who can work from home to do so.
She said her office has received reports of a “Let’s shop without a mask” event to be held at Hy-Vee at 180th and Q Streets this weekend.
“We have been in contact with Hy-Vee and OPD,” she said. “Hy-Vee will be strictly enforcing what the law is.”
An anti-mask billboard was also a source of controversy which was taken down earlier this week, Stothert said, but not by any order from the city or law enforcement but by the owner of the billboard.
“That is a First Amendment issue, they are allowed to do that but the owner of the company decided to take that down,” she said.
Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray said he would not support an ordinance which would shut down businesses “at this time” due to the pandemic.
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