‘A dangerous phase for Nebraska’: Ricketts changes state DHM in response to increasing hospitalizations

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday announced changes to the state's directed health measure in response to increasing hospitalizations due to COVID-19. 

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday announced changes to the state’s directed health measure in response to increasing hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

Ricketts said as of midnight more than 320 people were hospitalized across Nebraska – about 40% more than the peak hospitalizations the state saw in May.

To combat this, Ricketts say several changes will be made to the DHM effective Oct. 21:

  • Indoor gatherings will be limited to 50% of rated occupancy (currently at 75%)
  • Patrons at restaurants and bars must remain seated unless placing an order, going to the restroom or playing a game
  • Table size at restaurants and bars limited to 8 people, larger groups will need to be split up (also applies to weddings)
  • Hospitals conducting elective surgeries must maintain 10% of their beds and ICU beds as a “cushion” to handle COVID-19 patients

The new changes will be in effect for the first Husker football game.

Officials say the pandemic is now widespread across the state, including in rural areas where positivity rates are “well above” the rates New York City was seeing at its peak in early April. They say in May the spread was limited to Omaha, Lincoln and areas with meatpacking plants.

“We’ve entered a dangerous phase in the pandemic for Nebraska,” Dr. James Lawler with UNMC said.

Officials say cases often come several weeks before hospitalizations and deaths, and that the full effects of the current case load may not be felt immediately.

Lawler says there is “certainly” a risk of state health systems becoming overwhelmed.

Currently, roughly 30 percent of state hospital beds and ICU beds are available.

Ricketts says he will not issue a mask mandate, but says people should get used to wearing them.

“We’re going to be doing this for the foreseeable future,” he said.. “Everyone needs to learn the rules around wearing masks. We’re not mandating it because we don’t want people to be resistant to them.”

Nebraska Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said people need to follow health measures in order to help keep schools open.

“We’re fighting an uphill battle,” he said.”

The adjusted DHM will be in place until November 30th. If things worsen further, restrictions will increase further, officials said.

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