Nebraska Crossing Plans to Open Next Week, Health Officials Encourage Shoppers to Stay Home

April 17, 2020, 4:25 p.m. ·

Nebraska Crossing Outlets is planning to re-open on April 24 (photo by Bill Anderson, NET News).

The Nebraska Crossing Outlet Mall in Gretna announced earlier this week that it would hold a soft open April 24th, before social distancing restrictions are relaxed in Nebraska.

The mall is home to over 80 stores and restaurants, all but one of which chose to close towards the beginning of the pandemic. Nebraska is one of a few states without a stay-at-home order to close non-essential businesses. The mall was never officially asked to close.

Now Rod Yates, owner of Nebraska Crossing, said he wants to give national retailers a space where they can test out best practices for eventually reopening across the country.

“They came to us and asked us if we would start thinking about getting the mall back open and interacting with employees and customers so they can use Nebraska Crossing as a test case or case study,” Yates said.

Yates said this will involve new measures like testing employee temperatures before work, encouraging customers to wear masks, and putting up screens between employees and customers at the point of sale.

Health experts worry that won’t be enough to keep Nebraska Crossing from becoming the site of COVID-19 transmission.

Bryan Noonan, Senior Director of Communications and Education for the Nebraska Hospital Association, called the move to open the mall irresponsible.

“We have to be patient and listen to our public health officials. We have to trust the science and the guidance that they’re… they’re looking at the numbers and the data every day. We can’t force a date, you know, really the virus needs to tell us when things are free to open up as business as usual, and it’s just not time yet. And that’s what we’ve all been working hard toward in reducing this curve, but again it’s just premature, in our opinion,” Noonan said.

Noonan said with opening a non-essential business like an outlet mall, there’s risk of increased infection and increased hospitalizations.

The legal authority to ask the mall to close belongs to the governor and the Sarpy Cass County Health District, where Gretna is located.

Jenny Steventon, assistant health director for the district, said there are no plans to make a local directed health measure to close non-essential retailers.

“Right now, certainly through the end of the month, public health is really encouraging individuals to stay home and to isolate. It is more difficult to do that once you go out to any kind of public location, whether it’s a grocery store or other types of retail. So, while they are certainly in their rights to open, we’re still encouraging community members, through the end of the month, to stay at home and practice social distancing,” Steventon said.

Governor Pete Ricketts has taken a similar stance, asking people to stay home but defending his decision not to implement a stay-at-home order.

The mall will likely have a few stores open for business on April 24th, with others bringing employees back to work in preparation for an eventual reopening.