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Ricketts ties new restrictions to additional COVID-19 hospitalizations
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Ricketts ties new restrictions to additional COVID-19 hospitalizations

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COVID news conference 11.12

Gov. Pete Ricketts appears virtually to deliver his coronavirus briefing in November.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Friday he will impose more restrictive directed health measures in the state if the rise in the number of COVID-19 patients in Nebraska hospitals reaches 25% occupancy of hospital beds.

That figure has already moved to a level of 20%, he said.

"Our hospitals are in serious condition now," Ricketts said during a news conference, and he has decided to make hospital capacity the guideline for future restrictions imposed by the state.

If coronavirus patients begin to occupy 25% of hospital beds, the state will impose, or reimpose, a number of restrictions that previously had been in place.

At the 25% threshold, Ricketts said he would restrict the size of indoor gatherings to 10 persons and outdoor gatherings to 25 persons.

New restrictions would require bars to return to carry-out and delivery service only. 

Schools will remain open, the governor said, but youth extracurricular activities would be halted below the high school level.

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Lancaster County took that a step further Friday, updating its own directed health measures to put a three-week moratorium on youth sports effective Monday. That includes high school sports in Lincoln.

"Restrictions were relaxed" when the state appeared to have the virus under control, Ricketts noted. "Now we need to get people to pay more attention again."

In moving forward with any new restrictions, Ricketts said "we want to take this a step at a time.

"If we slow the spread of the virus," he said, "we won't need additional restrictions."

While he will continue to oppose mask mandates, the governor said he hopes Nebraskans are aware of new evidence that masks protect the person who wears one as well as others.

"Masks work, but they are just one tool," he said. Despite mask mandates in Lincoln and Omaha, he noted, COVID-19 cases are rising in both of those cities, too.

However, per capita, the rate of new cases is surging fastest in many of Nebraska's rural counties, including Scotts Bluff, Cheyenne, Lincoln and Jefferson counties.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported 2,369 new cases Friday, bringing the state total to 94,922. Friday was the fourth straight day the state has recorded at least 2,000 cases. The four-day total in that span is 9,371.

The in-state number of deaths linked to COVID-19 is 775.

As of Friday, 918 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Nebraska. That's the highest daily number of hospitalizations, topping Thursday's previous high of 905. That figure that has increased from 200 on Sept. 23, Ricketts noted.

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And that's "a very serious situation for our hospitals," Ricketts said.

"We need to get back to the good habits we had in the spring," he said. 

Maintain 6 feet of physical distance, wear a mask, wash hands often, stay home when sick, the governor said, and work from home if you can.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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