Ricketts previews what's next for Nebraska after current DHMs expire — and beyond

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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) -- Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts held his daily briefing on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday with an overview of the six ways Nebraska is handling the crisis.

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

Hospital capacities and testing

Ricketts said the hospital system in Nebraska remains in "very good shape," and reported 46 percent of beds in hospitals across the state are available, while 46 percent of ICU beds are available and 77 percent of the state's ventilators are available.

The Nebraska National Guard is administering tests in Omaha, Fremont, David City, and Wahoo as of Tuesday. Teams with TestNebraska are working in Omaha, Lincoln, North Platte, Scottsbluff, Bedford, West Point and David City this week.

Nebraska's strategy

Ricketts said the main topic of Tuesday's update was an overview of the myriad ways the state is fighting the coronavirus.

Step one is testing, with 22,200 tests completed in the state in the last week.

"It's a key thing on how we fight this as once we identify somebody, we can do contact tracing," Ricketts explained, which is step two. The state has trained 266 people to assist in contact tracing investigations to find the close contacts of those who test positive and get them to self-isolate.

"Our goal is to get to 1,000 contact tracers," Ricketts said.

Step three is lodging -- setting up hotel rooms, college dorms and other places to stay for medical providers who cannot go home or for those who are positive so they can self-isolate.

Step four is the collection and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to areas across the state with supplies issues. The state delivers the PPE to local health districts who in turn allocate the resources to longterm care facilities, hospitals and so on.

Step five is the management of at-risk populations like residents of longterm care facilities. On Friday, Ricketts announced every such facility in Nebraska must complete its own COVID-19 response plan to be submitted to the state.

The state is also working with homeless shelters to help them devise how to respond to cases in their area, plans for quarantines and more. The same was said about meatpacking facilities, Ricketts continued.

"We put focus on these groups where it is tough to socially distance, so we put additional effort into those plans," he said.

Step six is guidelines. Directed health measures and guidelines from the state are published for how businesses are to operate.

All six steps are being taken with the goal of preserving the healthcare system and to keep it from being overwhelmed.

"And with that, we've been successful. That's how we know we're winning this fight," Ricketts said.

Nebraska Business Response Survey Report

Ricketts moved on to results from the Nebraska Business Response Survey Report conducted by the Nebraska Business Development Center asking 4,500 businesses how they have been impacted by the pandemic.

Out of the respondents, 87 percent said they have been impacted in a negative way -- especially industries for the arts, entertainment, recreation, food services, healthcare and social services.

Catherine Lang, state director for the NBDC, spoke about the survey in greater detail.

Lang said the survey began April 15 to explore the challenges of the pandemic on businesses in the private sector. A second survey will be done in June.

"The impact is vast, touching every part of Nebraska and every industry in Nebraska," Lang said. "While 89 percent of respondents said revenue is down, Nebraska businesses and nonprofit organizations are actively working to maintain their employees and the hours of their employees."

The response was encouraging, Lang added.

Lang said the top three concerns shared from businesses through the survey are the financial impact of COVID-19 on their operations, the duration of the outbreak and decreasing customer/consumer confidence or spending.

Executive orders

Ricketts then addressed a number of executive orders set to expire at the end of May:

The order to allow public meetings to be held via teleconferencing will be expanded through June but no further.

The order extending the timeframe for eviction notices will not be renewed.

"The CARES Act money and the unemployment money has been coming out to folks," Ricketts said. "Our concern is we don't want people to fall too far behind on rent and not be able to catch up."

The order suspending the sale of turkey hunting licenses for May will not be extended. Turkey hunting season ends May 31.

Q&A

Ricketts was asked how COVID-19 deaths in Nebraska were being recorded accurately as other states have listed "dying with" or "dying of" the coronavirus.

"The way this works, the doctor or medical examiner makes the determination in regards to the cause of death and to fill out the death certificate. We leave that up to them as to what the cause of death was," Ricketts said.

The governor was asked what the hospitalization rate has been for those who test positive for the coronavirus. He said it was 4.8 percent.

Asked for updated numbers for COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities, Ricketts said as of Tuesday there have been 80 facilities affected with 62 resident deaths, 380 residents testing positive and 280 staff members testing positive.


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