Gov. Ricketts proclaims May as Mental Health Awareness Month, speaks on DHMs for June

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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) -- Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts spoke on the importance of mental health Wednesday during his COVID-19 update while answering questions regarding when more businesses will open in the state and how current directed health measures are to be enforced.

Hospital capacities and testing

Ricketts reported 44 percent of hospital beds are available in the state, while 38 percent of ICU beds are available. The state's supply of ventilators is 78 percent available.

About 145,000 people have signed up through TestNebraska.

On Tuesday, 1,197 test swabs were collected by TestNebraska. Ricketts later said in his address the state is trying to reach 3,000 tests per day by the end of May.

Mental Health

Ricketts said May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Child Mental Health Awareness Month. He said mental health is important and should be treated as seriously as physical health.

"Right now with the pandemic, we are all feeling the impact of this," Ricketts said. He then signed a proclamation declaring both Mental Health and Child Mental Health Month in Nebraska.

Sheri Dawson, R.N., is the Director of the Division of Behavioral Health in the Department of Health and Human Services, said one in five Nebraskans experience mental illness or substance abuse.

"The opportunity we have with not only this month but every day is we can normalize the conversation about mental health and mental illness," she said.

Dawson encouraged everyone to educate themselves and asked the room by show of hands if they knew how to identify signs of a heart attack or stroke. Ricketts, standing behind Dawson, raised his hand.

"How many of you are aware of symptoms of someone in mental health distress?" she asked and said there are mental health first aid classes for adults and adolescents.

Q&A: Mask-wearing, Iowa reopening

Ricketts was asked if restaurant workers are required to wear masks or face legal consequences. He said it is not legally required but if the state finds restaurant employees are not wearing masks or adhering to guidelines, they could change the directed health measure to legally enforce mask-wearing in those instances.

Earlier Wednesday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced when bars could reopen in their state. Ricketts was asked when bars in Nebraska could reopen.

"We are looking at our directed health measures set to expire May 31 and what to expect for June," Ricketts said and added to stay tuned about news regarding bars.

Ricketts was then asked about raceways opening up -- he again said to stay tuned for more guidance to be released ahead of June.

Q&A: Prayers, Sen. Sasse's comments

The governor was asked if a state day of mourning would be scheduled for Nebraskans who have died of COVID-19. He said a day of prayer was held and they continue to encourage others to pray for those affected by the coronavirus.

A question about if diners at restaurants can continue to consume alcohol after finishing a meal. Ricketts said that is up to the restaurant to decide.

Regarding overnight camping at state parks, Ricketts said that Nebraska Game & Parks is an agency that does not report to him directly and said questions concerning those matters should be referred to them.

Ricketts was asked if wedding venues would open up soon -- he said to stay tuned for the guidelines for the month of June.

Asked his thoughts on Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse's commencement speech on May 16 where Sasse advised a graduating class of Fremont high schoolers not to major in psychology, Ricketts said he thought Sasse was "just trying to be funny."

Dawson was also asked her reaction to Sasse's comments on the field of psychology. She said she has not heard the comments directly and would not comment on Sasse's statements but did say mental health professions "are certainly something we need."

Q&A: Iowa's influence, DHMs

Ricketts was asked if Iowa reopening businesses and easing health restrictions puts pressure on Nebraska to do the same. He said no, the issues in Iowa are different than in Nebraska, and hospital data in Nebraska is what drives the state's decisions, not what is happening Iowa.

Asked if he is concerned if Nebraskans will go to Iowa and then come back with the coronavirus, Ricketts said no. Nebraskans commute from Omaha to Council Bluffs or South Sioux City to Sioux City every day, he added.

Ricketts was asked when updates to the directed health measures and guidelines for businesses like bars would be released. He said to stay tuned.

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