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New gauge pegged at 'high risk' for coronavirus spread in Lincoln
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New gauge pegged at 'high risk' for coronavirus spread in Lincoln

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Even as more restrictions eased Monday, local leaders rolled out a gauge of risk for the spread of the coronavirus in Lancaster County that checked in Monday at Code Orange.

The COVID-19 Risk Dial, developed by the health and fire departments to provide a summary of current conditions, ranges from low risk (green) to severe risk (red) and currently is at the high end of high risk (orange). 

It will be updated each Friday. 

Pat Lopez, the interim health director, said restrictions have eased, "but the threat from this virus has not."

City officials reported 40 more COVID-19 cases Monday, bringing the county total to 647.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department did not release any information specific to the new cases. But, at a daily news conference, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said the city's case numbers and positivity rate both are continuing to trend upward.

Gaylor Baird said Lincoln and Lancaster County don't meet the White House Coronavirus Task Force's and Centers for Disease Control's key criteria for relaxing restrictions, but the state "flatly rejected" a request that she and Lopez made to extend the restrictions further into May. 

"Yet here's the good. Our community is listening to our local message of caution and focusing not on what they can do but on what they should do," Gaylor Baird said.

Barbershops, beauty salons, massage providers and tattoo parlors were allowed to reopen Monday, and restaurants could reopen their dining rooms with reduced capacity.

But, she said, a majority of faith leaders in Lincoln opted to wait to return to in-person worship services; and many private-sector business leaders, restaurant and salon owners aren't rushing to return to prepandemic operations, instead opting to take a phased-in approach.

"They recognize that a choice between public health and the economy is a false choice. We cannot have one without the other," Gaylor Baird said.

She said the hard truth is we will be living with the COVID-19 virus for months if not years. 

Lopez said the largest area of concern for Lancaster County continues to be related to an outbreak at the Smithfield plant in Crete.

So far, investigations have identified 208 cases in Lancaster County tied to the meatpacking plant, including 128 employees and 80 family members or others who had direct contact with employees, Lopez said.

Nebraska doctors say it's too early to reopen

She said another 10 cases have been connected to both the smaller Smithfield plant in Lincoln and the Smart Chicken processing plant in Waverly.

New world, new rules: Closed since March, Lincoln businesses allowed to reopen
Cindy Lange-Kubick: 'We’re really uncomfortable opening to the public until cases locally start to drop'
Nebraska doctors say it's too early to reopen

Photos: Lincoln during the pandemic

Staff writer Matt Olberding contributed to this report.

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Business reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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