LINCOLN, Neb. (KTIV) -- In response to the rising COVID-19 hospitalizations in Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts has announced the state will be rolling back on several health guidelines.
During a news conference Friday, Gov. Ricketts said they will be changing the state's Directed Health Measures starting Oct. 21. Ricketts said these changes are necessary to maintain the state's hospitalization capacity moving forward in the pandemic.
"It's pained me the put in place these restrictions on people's personal liberty and for government to tell businesses how they have to run. But it's been necessary to be able to preserve that hospitalization capacity," said Ricketts.
As of Oct. 15, Nebraska health officials say there are 323 hospitalizations in the state due to the virus. Nebraska currently has 30% of its inpatient beds and 29% of its ICU beds available.
Ricketts says the recent surge in COVID numbers is because of informal gatherings.
"In talking to our public health departments folks, we see that a lot of the spread is coming from informal gatherings. It's important to remember, just because you know somebody doesn't mean they can't give it to you," said Ricketts.
In response to the rising numbers, Ricketts said indoor gatherings will become more limited. Currently, health guidelines limit indoor gatherings to 75% of the venue's total capacity. But starting Oct. 21, indoor gatherings will be limited to 50% capacity with groups restricted to eight people, like it was during Phase 3 of Nebraska's Directed Health Measures.
Outdoor gatherings will remain at 100% capacity.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services says gatherings include, but are not limited to, indoor or outdoor arenas, indoor or outdoor auctions, stadiums, tracks, fairgrounds, festivals, zoos, auditoriums, large event conference rooms, meeting halls, indoor theaters, libraries, swimming pools, or any other confined indoor or outdoor space.
Similar to Phase 3, Ricketts said restaurant and bar customers will be required to stay seated unless they are getting up to place an order, go to the restroom or play one of the games at the establishment. Tables sizes will also be limited to eight people, but 100% of rated occupancy continues.
"With the upcoming Husker game on the 24th, that will mean bars, everyone will have to have a seat in that bar, you will not be able to have standing room only in your bars to watch the Husker game. I just want to emphasize that," said Ricketts.
Weddings and funerals will have similar limitations, with receptions being restricted to eight people per table.
To help address the rising hospitalizations, Ricketts said the state is providing up to $40 million in CARES Act money to boost staffing. In addition, Ricketts said hospitals must maintain 10% of their inpatient and ICU beds if they are choosing to allow elective surgeries. This is to provide a cushion for hospitals so they can accommodate new COVID-19 patients.
"It's important that we don't become like Italy, and not be able to provide that care for people who show up at the hospital system," said Ricketts. "While right now our hospital system has been able to accommodate the 323 people that we have in our hospital system, we have to look down the road to make sure that does not get to a point where it becomes a problem."
Ricketts said with the virus continuing to spread, Nebraska is launching a new campaign that emphasizes how the virus goes from person to person.
The focus of the campaign is to remind people how the virus spreads and what situations should be avoided if possible.
"In the era of COVID, the science-based healthy choices we can make are fairly easy and they are 100% affordable. They include avoiding the three C's, on our poster here we have crowded places, close contact and confined spaces. And then, if you have to participate in some of these activities wear a mask and maintain six feet of distance between yourself and others," said Gina Ewing, health director of the Elkhorn Logan Valley Health Department.
Ricketts said since a readily available vaccine is not expected for several more months, everybody needs to learn when wearing a mask is appropriate.
You can watch Ricketts' full Friday news conference here.