Ricketts extends dining area restrictions to Lancaster, Saunders, Dodge counties

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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) -- As noted in his live news conference earlier in the day, Gov. Pete Ricketts updated his directed health measure Wednesday night to include three more counties.

Lancaster, Saunders, and Dodge counties are now under enforceable public gathering restrictions until May 6, prompting restaurants and bars in those areas to close dining areas and immediately move their businesses to carry-out, delivery, or curbside service "until further notice."

The order also extends the previous DHM deadline for Washington County to May 6 as well; the county was previously included in the measure affecting Cass, Douglas, and Sarpy counties, which is set to expire April 30.

In his 2 p.m. news conference Wednesday, Ricketts noted the Unicameral had passed its $83 million emergency funding bill only minutes earlier, making resources and equipment available as our state handles the coronavirus crisis.

Ricketts also said he would issue an executive order suspending evictions for tenants affected by COVID-19 for the next 90 days.

The order does not apply to anyone involved in criminal activity, Ricketts said. Instead, it is intended to help only those tenants who have been directly impacted by coronavirus, such as those who have lost their jobs or are forced to stay home to care for children whose schools have closed because of COVID-19 concerns.

He said the order, signed Wednesday afternoon, included a requirement for courts to hear qualified coronavirus-related evictions cases, possibly extending past the May 31 deadline.

Ricketts also said his office was working to expand the Directive Health Measure, which effectively closed dining areas in Omaha and surrounding counties, to include Dodge, Saunders, and Washington counties.

Later in the news conference, Nebraskans were urged to donate blood, noting that state blood reserves are critically short.

The American Red Cross reported that canceled blood drives had left the state with substantially fewer collections, though the American Red Cross is hoping to still be able to conduct a statewide blood drive from 2-6 p.m. March 31.

"If the need for blood exceeds the need for supplies, we will have another healthcare emergency on top of COVID-19," said Weysan Dun of the American Red Cross.

Also on Wednesday, Nebraska's Attorney General noted that price gouging during the coronavirus was prohibited.

Nebraska Town Hall on Thursday

NET will televise a town hall with Gov. Pete Ricketts at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Viewers and listeners are invited to call in with questions during the program; call 402-472-1212 or 1-800676-5446. Or you can submit a question ahead of time on NET's website.