Churches urged to remain closed

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced this week that he will loosen restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic for much of the state effective May 4, though local health officials advise that Hamilton County is not included on that list.

Areas of the state with a low level of infection will be allowed to reopen dine-in restaurants, as long as patrons sit at least six feet apart and the eatery keeps capacity at 50 percent. Churches, barbershops, beauty salons, movie theaters and similar close-contact facilities will also be allowed to open in 49 counties, as long as patrons and workers wear masks.
Kirt Smith, who has monitored this crisis closely as Hamilton County’s emergency management director, reported Monday that it is still too soon to ease restrictions here due to the growing COVID-19 case count.
“The changes the governor is making that will technically affect our district (the Central District Health Department) are that churches can be open with the restrictions he put out,” Smith said. “However, Teresa Anderson (CDHD executive director) is strongly recommending that our churches remain closed with the numbers continuing to rise here.”
As of Monday, the CDHD reports a total of 954 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the three-county area and 25 deaths. Hall County remains the hot spot for the entire state with 866 cases, while Hamilton County surged over the weekend to 47 cases. Merrick County’s count is currently at eight.
“We went up 16 cases over the weekend and we’re up to six deaths, so our numbers are pretty high for a small county,” Smith said. “It’s community spread, so Teresa highly encourages churches to follow our directed health measure, at least for a couple more weeks.”
Smith said he has been encouraged by the level of alert and caution he has seen in the community throughout this pandemic crisis.
“I think overall people are doing a really good job of wearing a mask and helping support our businesses, which is so important,” he said. “We just need to continue doing what we’ve been doing with social distancing until we see our numbers decrease. I don’t think we will see any changes (regarding reduced restrictions) for at least a couple of weeks.”
Maintaining the integrity of Nebraska’s health care system has been the state’s top consideration when making decisions about public health measures.  Nebraska continues to have ample capacity to care for the state’s residents. As of April 24, 48 percent of hospital beds, 42 percent of ICU beds, and 74 percent of ventilators are available for use statewide.
Contact information and maps for the state’s Local Health Districts are available at dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Local-Health-Departments.aspx.

 

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