Speeding, Reopening Bars Discussed at Ricketts' News Conference

May 12, 2020, 6 p.m. ·

Nebraska State Patrol Supeintendent John Bolduc (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Speeding, and going to bars, were among topics at Gov. Pete Ricketts coronavirus news conference Tuesday.

State Patrol Superintendent John Bolduc said since March 19, when the state’s first directed health measure for dealing with the coronavirus was issued, the Patrol has stopped 177 people driving faster than 100 miles an hour. Bolduc says that’s a substantial increase over normal times. And he thinks it has to do with opportunity.

“We’re seeing the traffic counts are very low. We all can see that if you drive from here (Lincoln) to Omaha, we see the interstate has very little traffic other than commercial motor vehicles. So it is an assumption that, in part because of the lower traffic volumes, the opportunity exists for people to speed,” Bolduc said.

But Bolduc says it’s not safe, and even though the Patrol is trying to limit the stops it makes, there are limits to that limit.

“Certainly we’ve asked our law enforcement officers to use great discretion -- to make fewer contacts. That’s not a secret. The less contact we have with the public, the safer the public is and the safer our officers are. But still, we have to do our job and we have to make sure the motoring public is safe, and really go after those obvious safety violations that tend to be out there,” he said.

Overall, Bolduc said, the Patrol has been fortunate not to have any of its own members test positive.

“We’ve had several that needed to isolate because of customers they were dealing with who didn’t necessarily want to go to jail saying ‘Hey, I have COVID’ thinking that’s a free pass – it’s not, by the way. So we promptly tested those folks who said they were ill and then tested our folks who interacted with them, and fortunately found that none have tested positive,” he said.

Also at the news conference, Ricketts was asked about why restaurants have been allowed to reopen, but not bars. He said it’s a matter of social distancing.

“If you think about when you’ve gone to a crowded restaurant, even in a crowded restaurant people were typically sitting down at tables where there’s some separation. And of course what we’ve done with the DHM (directed health measure) we’ve made that mandatory. There’s got to be six-foot distance between the table and the next table. We’re putting other restrictions on that as well. Now think about the most crowded bar you’ve ever been to. Was there six feet of distance between anybody? It was all very close,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts said allowing bars to reopen is under consideration, but it won’t happen before the end of May.

Dr. Gary Anthone, the state’s chief medical officer, said decisions on whether restrictions can continue to be loosened will hinge on the availability of hospital beds, intensive care unit beds, and ventilators. Anthone said they will rethink loosening if that availability in specific hospitals drops below 30 percent. As of Monday, 48 percent of hospital beds, 41 percent of intensive care beds, and 76 percent of ventilators were still available statewide.