Restrictions to Be Loosened in Parts of State, Contact Tracing Increased

April 24, 2020, 6:03 p.m. ·

Counties in green will have loosened restrictions (Graphic by Joseph McMullen, NET)

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Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Friday that restrictions on restaurants and daycares will be relaxed a week from Monday in about two-thirds of Nebraska counties. Meanwhile, there will be a stepped up effort to trace contacts of people with COVID-19.

The loosened restrictions take effect May 4 in 10 of the state’s 19 public health districts, which include 59 of the state’s 93 counties.

Restaurants will be allowed to open, but to serve only 50 percent of their capacity, with six feet between tables and individual parties limited to six. People can drink alcohol, but only with a meal. Bars will still be limited to carry out and delivery only. Day cares will be allowed to have 15 children per room, up from 10. Beauty salons and barber shops will be allowed to operate, so long as patrons and workers wear masks. Ricketts said loosening restrictions in just part of the state makes sense.

“That will then allow us to be tailored around the state on how we loosen restrictions,” Ricketts said.

And he described why the affected areas were selected. “These public health districts have been more lightly impacted and that’s why they were included with regard to our announcement,” he said.

The districts include Omaha’s Douglas County. They do not include Grand Island’s Hall County, which has the most number of cases, nor the counties containing Lincoln, Hastings, North Platte, Lexington, Dakota City, Kearney, and Norfolk, among other places.

Statewide, people will be allowed to attend religious services, but those from different households will have to keep six feet away from each other.

Also Friday, Department of Health and Human Services Director Dannette Smith announced the state will deploy 325 workers to help public health districts trace contacts of people with COVID-19. Smith said tracing those contacts is important.

“As you know, being in close contact with somebody who is experiencing COVID-19, (it) is absolutely critical that we either get them isolated or quarantined, and we want to able to do that immediately,” Smith said.

She said people would be contacted by telephone and asked questions including demographic information and their personal health. She said special attention would be paid to the sensitivity of communities of color, with the use of people who speak Spanish and other languages, and that the questions would be conversational.

“It doesn’t have a feel of being government. It has a feel of ‘We really care about you and we want to take this information to direct you in the right place,” she said.

Ricketts was asked if answering the questions would be voluntary.

“Absolutely it’s voluntary. There’s no penalty for not answering them. But the person’s own self-interest is on the line here, because I personally would want to know if somebody I had been in contact with in the last two weeks had tested positive for coronavirus. Because that’s how I know I need to be monitoring my healthcare, to see if I might to see if I might be developing symptoms, to see if I might have coronavirus,” he said.

And the governor was also asked how he thinks the state’s effort to combat the coronavirus was going.

“In general, our plan is working. We have not overwhelmed the healthcare system, so we’re winning,” he said.

“Certainly we’ve got areas of hot spots that we need to manage, around densely populated folks, whether it’s at home or in their place of work, and we need to manage through that,” he said.

However, he added “If you actually pull those out and look at the state as a whole, Nebraska’s doing very well. So, we’ve got communities that we have to work on. But in general Nebraska’s doing really, really well with regard to the things we have put in place have worked. We’ve slowed the spread of virus here in the state.”