Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday announced that some of the social distancing restrictions written into the directed health measures for the South Heartland Health District will be relaxed effective May 18 — two weeks earlier than had been scheduled.
The relaxation of restrictions mean restaurant dining rooms, beauty and nail salons, barbershops, massage therapy services and tattoo studios will be able to reopen, but with many requirements in place to help mitigate the public health risk of doing so.
The South Heartland district includes Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties. The relaxation of restrictions will take effect at midnight on May 18.
According to information posted to the city of Hastings’ website, restaurant dining rooms will be limited to 50% of their maximum occupancy rating at a time. Each dining party must maintain a minimum of 6 feet of separation from every other dining party, with a maximum of six individuals in each party. Self-serve buffets and salad bars will continue to be prohibited.
Restaurant staff must serve food directly to customers or implement buffet orders from the customer’s table. Customers won’t be allowed to serve themselves.
Bar and counter seating aren’t permitted. Patrons may consume alcohol on the premises only if they also are consuming a meal.
Beauty and nail salons, barbershops, massage therapy services and tattoo studios can open while maintaining the 10-person rule with employees and customers wearing masks, plus other safety measures.
Child care facilities will be permitted to have up to 15 children per room/space, which is an increase of five over the current requirements.
In a news release Monday night, Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland health department, said her agency, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, and Ricketts have been monitoring local trends in the rates of positive cases as well as indicators of hospital utilization and capacity.
“From the public health perspective, our trends are showing that the huge efforts everyone is making in our counties to practice social distancing and prevention are working to slow the spread of COVID-19 and are keeping our health care system from being overwhelmed,” she said.
“However, we are not yet out of danger for increased spread of the disease, so it is important to have a stepwise reduction in restrictions that can ease us toward some normalcy, while doing everything we can to continue actions that reduce the spread.”
Bever said the health department will continue to monitor the rates of positive cases and deaths, as well as hospital utilization.
“If our trends start to get worse, the restrictions may be put back in place,” she said.
“We want to emphasize the importance of following the guidance for reopening and we encourage restaurant and salon owners to review the guidance and follow it carefully. We want businesses and patrons alike to understand their risks and to do everything they can to assure they are providing or entering a safe environment,” Bever said.
Mayor Corey Stutte said in his mayor’s comments during Monday’s Hastings City Council meeting things are going in the right direction.
“I think we’ve been doing a good job as a community following the recommendations from the health department,” he said. “You’re starting to see some of our numbers level out, which is a good sign, but we want to make sure people stay alert; that they continue to practice social distancing. We don’t want people to be doing things they don’t need to be doing. If you need to go out, only go out when it’s necessary to pick up groceries or whatever the case may be. We want people to continue to practice that because if we see a reversal of some of those numbers, it’s possible the directed health measures could be put back in place. I encourage our community to continue to do the great work they’ve been doing.”
The following restrictions already in place are set to continue through May 31:
- Gatherings of more than 10 people in a single space at a time are still prohibited. This includes gyms, conference rooms, libraries, or other confined indoor or outdoor spaces. It does not include health care facilities, polling places, churches, factories, retail or grocery stores.
- People who test positive for COVID-19 — including those who haven’t been tested but are showing symptoms as well as those who live with a COVID-19 positive patient and are showing symptoms — are required to home quarantine for 14 days from the onset of symptoms. Household members of a COVID-19 positive patient can discontinue their home quarantine seven days after the COVID-19 positive patient is released from home quarantine, but they must self-monitor for an additional seven days after that.
- No in-person instruction is allowed from elementary or secondary schools, but meal distribution and remote learning still are allowed. Most schools are nearing the end of the spring semester at this point.
- Organized team sports for youth and adults remain suspended, but Ricketts announced on Monday that team practices for baseball and softball will be able to begin across the state on June 1, with games starting on June 18. A number of social distancing guidelines will apply to athletes, coaches, parents and everyone else involved. Likewise, schools will be able to reopen their weight rooms for use of all student-athletes on June 1, but with safety guidelines. Those dates are subject to change as COVID-19 developments warrant.
- All other businesses currently ordered to close in the South Heartland district must remain closed until May 31, or until the orders are amended, including bars, gentlemen’s clubs, bottle clubs, indoor movie theaters, and indoor theaters.
Ricketts announced the relaxation of restrictions in the South Heartland Health District, Two Rivers Public Health District and Public Health Solutions Health District during his COVID-19 news conference on Monday. All three districts include Tribland communities.
Additional information on the directed health measures and the changes announced Monday is available on the South Heartland District Health Department website, southheartlandhealth.org.
Meanwhile, South Heartland announced on Monday night the death of a seventh district resident related to COVID-19.
The victim, a man in his 60s, had been hospitalized and had underlying health conditions. Although South Heartland didn’t specify it in its news release, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported that the victim was from Adams County.
South Heartland on Monday also announced five new positive cases of COVID-19, all in Adams County. The new patients include three women (one in her 40s, one in her 50s, one in her 60s), one female child, and one man in his 60s.
The new cases bring to 244 the total number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases recorded in the South Heartland district since March 18. The cases have included 225 in Adams County, 14 in Clay County, five in Webster County, and zero in Nuckolls County.
Of the 244 total cases, 170 individuals have recovered. All seven district residents who have died have been from Adams County.
The Central District Health Department, which serves Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties, was reporting a cumulative total of 1,410 positive cases of COVID-19 as of Monday. The Central district announced one additional fatality, bringing its death toll to 43.
Satewide, Nebraska now has recorded 8,572 positive COVID-19 cases and 100 deaths related to the illness.