Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) continues to spread across the country, and here in Nebraska, it has been spreading across the state. Nebraskans have been preparing themselves to meet the challenge, and are working together to win the war against the virus. Even so, COVID-19 has not yet reached its peak in the United States, and the month of April will be a critical thirty days in our fight against it. Now more than ever, every one of us needs to practice good hygiene, avoid large gatherings, and maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from other people whenever possible in public, at home, and at work.
Over the weekend, President Donald J. Trump extended the federal ten-person social distancing limitation until April 30th for the entire country. This is a prudent decision to protect the public, and we are extending our statewide social distancing restrictions through April 30th as well.
In Nebraska, we continue to have two sets of State-issued social distancing restrictions. The entire state must abide by guidance to limit social gatherings to ten people. For counties that are not covered by a Directed Health Measure (DHM), restaurants and bars can have up to ten patrons—although they are encouraged to transition to takeout, curbside, or delivery services.
In several regions, cases of “community transmission” have been confirmed. Community transmission cases are cases that our public health teams have not been able to trace how the person contracted the virus. After identifying these community transmission cases, the State issued DHMs for Banner, Box Butte, Burt, Butler, Cass, Cheyenne, Cuming, Dawes, Deuel, Dodge, Douglas, Garden, Grant, Hall, Hamilton, Kimball, Lancaster, Madison, Merrick, Morrill, Polk, Sarpy, Saunders, Scotts Bluff, Seward, Sheridan, Sioux, Stanton, Washington, and York counties. The DHM imposes an enforceable limit on public gatherings, restricting them to ten people or less. Among other steps, the DHM requires restaurants and bars in these areas to close their dining areas and move to takeout, drive-thru, delivery, and/or curbside service. Hospitals in these areas must cancel elective surgeries, and it’s especially important that people follow quarantine directions.
As additional regions of the state confirm community transmission of COVID-19, we will issue DHMs for other parts of the state to increase social distancing measures. For all the most recent information about statewide guidance and DHMs for specific counties, please visit www.Governor.Nebraska.gov. I also encourage you to sign up for email updates so you can get the latest information about COVID-19 as it happens.
Recent developments have reinforced how important these social distancing restrictions are to saving lives. As of Monday, our state has suffered three deaths from the coronavirus. This is a reminder for all of us to practice the ten-person rule, exercise good hygiene, and to stay home if you’re displaying flu-like symptoms. No matter where you live in this state, the virus is very likely present in your community, even if there hasn’t been a confirmed test.
Nebraskans can expect to see the number of cases climb in our state as testing expands. Initially, we only had capacity for 200 daily tests, but we’ve boosted that number to 1,000. The added testing will enable us to better track the virus and to make sure those infected by it are self-isolating. You can track confirmed cases by county by visiting www.dhhs.ne.gov/coronavirus. Click on “Nebraska Case Information,” and then select “view data dashboard.”
To ensure that we are doing everything we can to prepare our state for all of COVID-19’s impacts, I have signed a few executive orders recently:
- Additional Temporary Childcare Capacity: Childcare has become a challenge for many because of the limits on social gatherings and daycares. Executive Order 20-08 allows nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and schools to help provide the care families need now. It eases the licensing requirements to open and operate temporary, non-residential child care in an alternative setting. The executive order is effective immediately and will remain in place until 30 days after the State lifts the current COVID-19 state of emergency.
- Mixed Drinks, Beer, & Wine for Takeout: Restaurants are some of the hardest hit businesses during COVID-19. Executive Order 20-09 allows restaurants and bars to provide mixed drinks for takeout as long as they are sealed with a lid.
- Expanding Nebraska’s Healthcare Workforce: We may need more healthcare workers as COVID-19 increases. Executive Order 20-10 authorizes the credentialing of retired or inactive health professionals who wish to serve Nebraskans during the public health emergency. The order also defers the requirements for healthcare providers to pay initial licensing fees or to complete continuing education. Additionally, we’re temporarily waiving the restrictions on licensed out-of-state medical professionals working in Nebraska. This proactive step adds capacity to our healthcare system to ensure Nebraskans have access to medical care when they need it.
As our response to COVID-19 continues to unfold, I am confident Nebraska will emerge from this emergency as strong as ever. We have the world’s best infectious disease experts providing leadership in our state. We have dedicated doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals working tirelessly to provide care. We are expanding hospital space and medical supplies to treat patients with COVID-19. We have public-minded citizens who are doing the right thing each day to stay healthy. And we have a deeply ingrained culture of generosity, which is evident in the support Nebraskans are giving to their local businesses and neighbors affected by the pandemic. A year ago, our grit, determination, and love for one another carried us safely through the floods. By the grace of God, we’ll conquer coronavirus with these same Nebraska values.