LINCOLN — Don’t expect restrictions on restaurants, bars and public gatherings to disappear on April 30, or whenever current state orders expire, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Tuesday.
But he said the limits may be loosened, depending on how the coronavirus pandemic unfolds across Nebraska over the next few weeks. As of Tuesday evening, the virus had killed four Nebraskans. In all, 177 cases had been confirmed, in 23 of the state’s 93 counties.
“There will still be restrictions after April 30. I don’t know what those restrictions will be,” Ricketts said. “We will reevaluate as we get closer.”
Speaking at his daily briefing, the governor defended Nebraska’s regional approach to enforcing limits on public gatherings, saying the state’s plan does not call for imposing such directed health measures statewide. He said he worked out the plan with state health officials and experts from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“This is a tailored approach,” Ricketts said.
As of Tuesday, the governor had ordered directed health measures for 41 counties, home to more than 75% of Nebraska residents. The measures set enforceable limits on public gatherings and require restaurants and bars to offer takeout or delivery only.
The measures also ban elective surgeries.
The latest measures cover 12 Panhandle counties and 11 in south-central Nebraska, expiring May 11. The first measure, covering Douglas, Sarpy and Cass Counties, expires April 30. The rest expire May 6.
The governor rejected suggestions that the restrictions should be expanded to all 93 counties in the state, saying the virus will peak at different times in different areas of the state. If restrictions were ordered too early, people might grow weary of them and quit following them, Ricketts said.
The measures are triggered when someone tests positive for coronavirus and the case cannot be traced to travel outside Nebraska or to someone known to have COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Among other topics from the briefing:
Ricketts said all people entering Nebraska from other states should quarantine themselves for 14 days. He said that message is being emphasized on electronic highway signs that otherwise show Amber Alerts and other critical messages.
However, the governor said quarantines are not required for truckers and others whose jobs involve travel, and he would not expect out-of-state workers on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to be quarantined.
Ricketts said Nebraska is exploring a number of channels to expand the state’s testing capability. Testing now is limited to high-priority groups, including people hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms, health care workers, first responders and long-term-care residents.
He said there is no way to know how many people may have the disease but do not fit into one of the priority groups and can’t get tested. He said anyone with symptoms should quarantine themselves at home and contact their health care provider.
The state issued new guidance for nursing homes, including a recommendation that all workers wear face masks.
Residents and employees at four long-term-care facilities in Nebraska have come down with COVID-19, including 19 residents and employees at Carter Place, a Blair assisted-living facility.
The governor also issued an executive order temporarily waiving some training requirements for nurse aides, medication aides and dining assistants in long-term-care facilities. He said the waivers would help facilities fill vacancies and continue operating if regular staff get sick or need to isolate themselves because of potential coronavirus exposure.
World-Herald staff writer Paul Hammel contributed to this report.