Gov. Ricketts asks Nebraskans to celebrate Memorial Day safely

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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) -- Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts was joined by other state officials Friday to give an update on the COVID-19 pandemic ahead of Memorial Day weekend.

Gov. Pete Ricketts updates Nebraska's COVID-19 response during his daily news conference Thursday afternoon, May 21, 2020. (WOWT)

Hospital capacity, TestNebraska

Ricketts said 43 percent of hospital beds are available in the state, 36 percent of ICU beds are available and 77 percent of the state's ventilators are available as of Friday.

More than 148,000 people have signed up for tests through TestNebraska. Testing sites next week will be in Lincoln, Omaha, Hastings, Kearney, York, Seward, Beatrice, and Clay Center.

Pandemic affects minorities disproportionatly

Ricketts then mentioned some of the statistics shared just minutes prior by Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour. He said African Americans account for 11.4 percent of the county's population and are 10.2 percent of the overall cases reported in the county.

"However, the Latino community is about 13 percent of the (county's) population but make up for 47.3 percent of all the cases testing positive," he said.

Asian Americans are 4 percent of the population in Douglas County and make up for 15.6 percent of total cases. Caucasians are 80 percent of the county's population and account for about 17 percent of the cases.

Regarding fatalities, Latinos make up about 10 percent of the deaths, Asian Americans about 21 percent and Caucasians about 68 percent.

"This virus does not care what color your skin is, what race or ethnicity you are. If it can get to you, it can infect you," Ricketts said.

Schools work to reopen

Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska Commissioner of Education, spoke about the future of school events and activities in the state.

Procedures and processes on how schools reopening are taking shape, Blomstedt said. Keeping children and families safe remains the highest priority.

"Serving students that might have special needs or remote learning was not ideal, to help them catch up," is one of the many goals being worked towards, he added.

"There is a lot of work we will continue to do," he said.

Info for healthcare providers

Dr. Kelly Caverzagie, vice president of education for Nebraska Medicine, spoke about the Department of Health and Human Service's website being updated with information for healthcare providers, found here.

"Our goal was to help people find that information about COVID-19 in one place," Caverzagie said. "To find that guidance, that training to better do their job."

Ricketts said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced a $4.9 billion fund that will go to skilled nursing facilities. They will receive a lump sum of $50,000 and an additional $2,500 per bed with a minimum of six certified beds to qualify.

Memorial Day

With Memorial Day on Monday, flags in the state will be flown at half-staff in remembrance of military members who died in service and also for those who have died from the pandemic, he said.

Asked if a spike in cases is expected because of Memorial Day celebrations, Ricketts said Nebraskans should maintain social distancing and other precautions like handwashing, wearing a mask, and keeping gatherings limited.

"If Nebraskans follow the rules, we'll be in good shape," he added.

No COVID-19 response update will be held on Monday.

Q&A: DHM queries

Ricketts was asked, under current directed health measure guidelines, if beard trimmings would be allowed. He said no.

Another question posed if local health districts could impose further restrictions beyond the guidelines approved by the state -- Ricketts said no.

Concerning swimming pools being allowed to open, Ricketts said yes, under health guidelines which will be released soon.

Dancing at weddings is still prohibited, Ricketts said to another question asking if it was allowed.

Ricketts said he supports President Donald Trump's efforts to have all places of worship in the U.S. be categorized as essential.

Q&A: interpreteing hospital numbers

Dr. Gary Anthone, director of Public Health for DHHS, presented some statistics and said some good news was there was only one new hospitalization in Douglas County Thursday, from 134 to 135.

General bed occupancy remains at 30 percent. In Douglas County there are 439 beds available out of 1,600. ICU beds availability is down to 20 percent -- about 61 beds are open out of 365, Anthone said.

Anthone was asked, with fewer ICU beds available in Douglas County, if "this was the right time" to loosen restrictions in the state.

"As the governor says, I don't think there's any right or wrong time," Anthone said. "Sooner or later you're going to have to lift some restrictions. It's my job and the job of my team to make sure we have that availability. My personal opinion is, I can't predict the future but I'm not worried about it right now."

RELATED: More coverage | MAPS | Metro cases

New Test Nebraska schedule released

Test Nebraska COVID-19 testing will be available throughout the state at the following times and locations:

  • OMAHA -- 8 a.m.-6 p.m. May 23, 26, 30 at 455 N. 10th St.
  • LINCOLN -- 8 a.m.-6 p.m. May 23, 26, 30 at 4100 N. 84th St.
  • KEARNEY -- 8-11 a.m. & 3-6 p.m. May 29-30 at 3807 N. Ave.
  • YORK -- 8-11 a.m. & 3-6 p.m. May 26 at 3130 Holen Ave.
  • SEWARD -- 8-11 a.m. & 3-6 p.m. May 27 at 900 W. Scott St.
  • BEATRICE -- 8-11 a.m. & 3-6 p.m. May 29-30 at 400 N. 14th St.
  • HASTINGS -- 8-11 a.m. & 3-6 p.m. May 26 and 8-11 a.m. May 27 at 947 S. Baltimore Ave.
  • CLAY CENTER -- 3-6 p.m. May 27 at 701 N. Martin

The Dakota City testing site concluded testing Friday evening.