Lancaster Co. Will Not Follow State Order to Enter Final Reopening Phase This Month

Sept. 2, 2020, 4:25 p.m. ·

More than half of all new COVID-19 cases in Lancaster County in the last week have been connected to UNL (LLCHD Dashboard)

Lincoln-Lancaster County health officials say the area will not move into the final phase of reopening this month, despite plans from the state health department.

The statewide Directed Health Measure will be updated September 14 to move the entire state into Phase 4 of reopening.

But Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez said Wednesday the local Directed Health Measure will keep restrictions at the same level through the end of September.

"With local cases numbers on the rise and with the new circumstances we face with schools, colleges and universities resume classes, this is the time not only to stay the course but also to redouble our efforts in Lancaster County," Lopez said. "We need to do what is best for our community to overcome the impact of this virus."

Local officials previously defied state orders by enacting a public mask mandate. Gov. Pete Ricketts strongly opposes the mandate, but the state has not legally challenged it.

The final phase of reopening removes nearly all restrictions for limiting the spread of the virus.

Almost half of all the new cases of COVID-19 in Lancaster County last week were related to people connected with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

Lopez says there was a 20% COVID-19 positivity rate among students who were tested and live in on-campus dorms and a 35% positivity rate in sorority and fraternity houses on campus.

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green says school officials are doing all they can to prevent spread.

"We have had no transmission in class or on campus of COVID-19 to this point," Green said.

Eight Greek fraternity and sorority houses on campus are under quarantine so far because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Green says the school is increasing on-campus testing, and on Monday will start testing a portion of the campus community every week.

There have been 273 positive cases on campus since August 12, including 28 reported on Tuesday.

The health department is also investigating a crowded outdoor gathering that took place in the Lincoln Railyard after an event at Pinnacle Bank Arena Saturday night.

A picture that circulated on social media showed a large group socializing, many without face masks.

Lopez said people need to follow social distancing and mask rules so bars and restaurants aren't restricted or shut down again.

"Many will say it's a choice between bars and schools," said Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird. "That is the cold, hard fact of life across the country and around the globe. We are trying to thread the needle in a way that accomplishes both."

Gaylor Baird said enforcing the DHM involves first educating business owners before forced closure is considered.