Nebraska loosens pandemic restrictions as hospitalizations decline

Even as other states tighten their pandemic rules, Nebraska is lifting some novel coronavirus restrictions, citing a decline in hospitalizations and other encouraging indicators.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Friday that the state would move from the “orange” to the “yellow” phase of its COVID-19 public-health response effective Saturday.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, protecting Nebraska’s hospitals has been the ‘north star’ guiding our strategic response to the coronavirus,” said Mr. Ricketts in a statement. “Coronavirus hospitalizations have decreased from where they were three weeks ago. As a result, we’re updating the State’s DHMs [Direct Health Measures] in keeping with our pandemic plan.”

At the same time, the Republican governor urged residents to keep on their guard over the holidays to avoid spreading the virus, reminding them that “nobody wants to be sick over the holidays.”

The state’s move allows indoor gatherings to increase capacity from 25% to 50% while continuing to limit parties to eight people per table; removes the six-foot social-distancing rule for fitness centers, spas and churches; and lifts the household-members-only restriction for fan attendance at school and club activities.

Elective surgeries will also be permitted as long as hospitals keep 10% capacity available for COVID-19 patients.

In addition, masks are recommended, not required, for establishments such as childcare centers, salons, barber shops, massage therapists, and tattoo shops, although some cities, including Omaha, have their own indoor mask requirements.

After a surge in cases in November, Nebraska’s seven-day rolling average for COVID-19 hospitalizations fell below 20% as of Friday, the threshold for moving to the yellow phase.

The move comes in contrast to California and New York, which have increased their pandemic restrictions in the last week amid an increase in cases and hospitalizations, drawing pushback from restaurant and bar owners who say they risk going out of business.

Mr. Ricketts said Friday that Nebraska has 28% of hospital beds available and 26% of ICU beds available, as well as 70% of ventilators.

“We’re also seeing 779 hospitalizations right now, and that’s been pretty stable for the last week,” Mr. Ricketts said at a Friday press conference, as shown on KETV-TV. “And that’s stable below our level of 20%.”

He encouraged Nebraskans to continue to keep up safety precautions such as frequent hand-washing, social distancing, wearing masks at stores, limit in-person shopping, working from home if possible, and taking advantage of the state’s COVID-19 testing program,

“Even though we’re going into yellow, we remind people that we still have virus in the community and you still need to continue to practice all the rules we’ve been talking about,” Mr. Ricketts said.



He also recommended postponing holiday parties until next year, or keeping gatherings small with mask-wearing.

“Look, folks, nobody wants to be sick over the holidays when you may be spending time with your families. Nobody certainly wants to be in the hospital. You don’t even want to be quarantined,” Mr. Ricketts said. “So slow down right now is going to be the best thing to do.”

Nebraska reported as of Friday 146,777 cases since the pandemic began and 1,343 deaths, with 82% of fatalities occurring in those 65 and over.

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