Local health officials seeking to tamp down coronavirus spread and stave off the collapse of Lincoln's hospital system will prohibit all indoor youth sports practices and games for the next three weeks, including those involving high school teams in Lancaster County.
And the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department's new health directive, which takes effect Monday and lasts until Dec. 7, also mandates bars and restaurants close earlier each night.
Lincoln Public Schools also said it would cancel classes Nov. 23 and 24, which essentially keeps students at home for nine days over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Health Department Director Pat Lopez on Friday also implemented new limits for indoor gatherings, nixed larger events planned in the next three weeks and recommended families cancel their Thanksgiving get-togethers.
Lancaster County confirmed 161 new coronavirus cases Friday and set a COVID-19 hospitalization record.
Lincoln hospitals cared for 142 COVID-19 patients, and local hospital leaders and front-line health care workers said the community cannot bear the consequences of inaction as the COVID-19 surge has pushed hospital capacity to the limit, exhausted staff and jeopardized the care of all patients.
Lincoln will run out of hospital beds if nothing changes, they said.
"We do not need to be scared," Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said. "We just need to be strong."
Short-term sacrifices over the next three weeks can reduce spread, protect the community's hospital system and prevent further restrictions on businesses, the mayor said.
Last week, the Health Department raised the alarm, categorizing the coronavirus risk in the community as severe and extending the mask mandate to include all indoor spaces except homes.
Friday's new health directives focus on indoor gatherings, including the late-night bar scene that contact tracers have found catalyzes coronavirus spread, Lopez said.
Under the new pandemic rules, alcohol sales must end at 10 p.m. and local bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m., Lopez said.
Lincoln officials tailored the latest restrictions based in part on the provisional restrictions Gov. Pete Ricketts has outlined he will mandate statewide if coronavirus hospitalizations continue to surge, according to the Health Department.
If coronavirus patients begin to occupy 25% of hospital beds statewide, Ricketts said he would make restaurants close to dine-in service at 9 p.m. and restrict bars to takeout-only or delivery service.
The new Lancaster County directed health measure will still allow restaurants to offer takeout and delivery service even after closing to in-person dining.
Chuck Cheever, owner of WC’s South bar, supports the local restrictions.
“It’s been a battle to get people to keep their masks on around here," Cheever said. "If closing early is what it takes to beat this thing, that’s what we’ll do.”
Scott Hatfield of Duffy's Tavern said the pandemic has obviously shaken and stressed the livelihoods of bar owners, who have been asked to enforce unpopular rules with their patrons to remain open.
"Without question, this is the right thing to do," he said. "This is a time to change, and this is a time to take things seriously."
Pedal pubs and party buses cannot operate beginning Monday as part of the measure.
Indoor gatherings in Lancaster County will be limited to 25% of capacity and events in venues with 500 or more people must be postponed until after Dec. 7, Lopez said.
It wasn't immediately clear if the rules for larger events apply to indoor venues only, or how they might alter plans for the Golden Window Classic, a season-opening college basketball event scheduled for the week of Thanksgiving at Pinnacle Bank Arena and the Devaney Sports Center.
Tickets that were expected to go on sale this week were not available on the event's website as of Friday evening.
Tickets, however, were still on sale for a Lied Center concert Nov. 19.
After Dec. 7, venues with a capacity of larger than 500 people need to submit and receive approval for event plans regardless of the number of expected attendees, Lopez said.
The moves come after photos circulated online showing maskless concertgoers huddled in front of the stage at the Royal Grove on Nov. 7. In response, the Health Department has revoked the Royal Grove's event plan, and City Attorney Yohance Christie is considering legal action.
All indoor club sports, including cheerleading and dance, must cease until at least Dec. 7 under the new local rules. That puts on hold the start of practice for high school basketball, wrestling and swim teams in Lancaster County scheduled to start Monday.
Also Friday, the city announced it would cancel remaining games this week and planned tournaments for the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department's fall adult volleyball leagues, as well as suspend other adult activities.
Gaylor Baird said the new restrictions deserve and will receive time to demonstrate effectiveness, but if after three weeks nothing has changed, heightened restrictions will likely follow.
With one day left, Lancaster County has already recorded a weekly record of 1,336 new confirmed cases.
Lancaster County has to date 12,284 cases, 57 deaths and 4,609 recoveries.
A doubling of new cases among residents who are 60 or older has become of particular concern to health officials, as this age group has been at higher risk of hospitalization, Lopez said.
Residents need to stay home as much as possible, wear masks, wash their hands and keep their distances to help stop coronavirus spread, she said.
"We must take action now before the hospitals are overflowing," Lopez said.
Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.
Reporter Pat Sangimino contributed to this article.
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