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Alcohol takeout, shortened hours for Lincoln restaurants among new restrictions
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Alcohol takeout, shortened hours for Lincoln restaurants among new restrictions

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News Conference: Coronavirus Update November 24, 2020

Lancaster County bars can only offer alcohol takeout beginning Wednesday as part of a new directed health measure that also restricts operations at restaurants and gyms. 

Restaurants and bars selling food can operate their dining rooms until 8:45 p.m., and then they must switch to takeout service after 9 o'clock, Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department Director Pat Lopez said. 

Gyms must reduce their capacity to 25%, not including employees, ensure social distancing and prohibit indoor team activities such as basketball and volleyball, she said. 

Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people, Lopez said, but with exceptions for schools, stores and offices.

Health directors reiterate use of masks, avoiding large gatherings heading into holiday

Tighter restrictions announced Tuesday last until Dec. 18 and come as the county reported three new coronavirus deaths, 226 new cases and 164 COVID-19 patients stressing Lincoln hospitals. 

The new deaths raised the local pandemic death toll to 73.

Though the Health Department had incrementally imposed new restrictions in the last few weeks, Lopez and Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said the local coronavirus data had not shown enough progress or that the rampant spread had peaked. 

"What should be clear to everyone by this point is that our situation is critical," Gaylor Baird said just before the new measures were announced.

The mayor said she wished the situation were different, but the coronavirus numbers show further action must be taken to slow the spread.

Downtown bar Duffy's Tavern announced Monday morning it was temporarily shutting down until the situation dies down and said "maybe if we all take this seriously we can get to a point where our businesses can be open and people (again) have jobs. It didn’t have to be like this."

On social media, the bar blamed Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts for a lack of leadership.

The governor recently made federal coronavirus stimulus funds available in a second round of grants for bars and entertainment venues, and those disbursements are forthcoming.

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Ricketts rejects mask mandate, urges Thanksgiving caution

The heightened restrictions kick in on the day before Thanksgiving, a day that typically draws people out to bars and restaurants.

Some bar owners have called for additional city support as they fear another shutdown imperils their ability to survive financially, and Gaylor Baird said the city will continue to advocate for state and federal funding and will assess its own ability to support these businesses. 

During her news conference, the mayor said anyone in need of housing or rental assistance in the coming weeks should contact the city, which has a $2 million housing assistance fund aimed at providing coronavirus relief. 

Lopez said the new restrictions did not change the Health Department's view that in-person learning at schools in the county remains safe, but she added that her department will act if that changes.

The suspension of youth sports through Dec. 7 continues, but health officials will reevaluate it, Lopez said. High school basketball, wrestling and swim teams in Lancaster County are the only varsity teams in the state sidelined by coronavirus restrictions.

The health directives in Lancaster County have not covered collegiate sports because of the coronavirus-specific protocols adopted by those teams and their conferences, Lopez said during the news briefing.

Surge of COVID-19 cases affecting Lincoln's skilled nursing facilities

However, all large events remain postponed under the restrictions, and a mask mandate remains in place.

Community residents need to take more action collectively to reverse the situation, she said, and both the mayor and health director encouraged people to celebrate Thanksgiving differently this year. 

The limit on indoor gatherings doesn't apply to homes, but health officials say they hope people model their behavior off Health Department guidance and with care for the serious situation the county remains in, Lopez said. 

These new measures will help if residents faithfully adopt them while avoiding crowds, confined spaces and close contact, Gaylor Baird said.

"We can do this," she said. "We do hard things."

City Hall: Pandemic policy touches everyone, including Lincoln mayor's family

PHOTOS DURING THE PANDEMIC IN LINCOLN

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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