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Business owners eye reopening

With directed health measures being revised to allow some businesses to open their doors to customers once again, some local establishments are preparing to open on Monday while others will be waiting a bit longer.

Mikki Shafer, president of the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, said during the city’s weekly news conference Friday that her office has received several calls from local businesses about the changes and requirements.

The chamber has been encouraging businesses to put out signs about any expectations of customers and make sure to train staff to understand what is expected of them as well as customers.

She said people can’t assume that a business will be open again on Monday, especially due to the added requirements placed on them under the new directed health measures.

“Call ahead and ask about any requirements,” Shafer said. “Just because they are allowed to open up, they may not open up.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm  

Jeremy Reynolds readies carry out orders Friday night at Murphy’s Wagon Wheel in downtown Hastings. Restaurants are included in relaxed directed health measures that go into effect Monday.

Rod Strong, who owns Bullseye’s Sports Bar and Grille with his wife, said they won’t be opening their dining area right away, instead continuing to offer take-out service.

“We have people calling, asking about when the buffet will be open,” he said. “That’s probably not going to be for a long while.”

Strong said they started a flooring project and painting the restrooms to use the time they were going to be closed to their benefit. They will have to wrap up those projects and make sure staff are prepared to operate under the latest guidelines before they reopen the dining area.

“We want it to be safe for staff and safe for guests,” he said. “We certainly want to get back to letting guests come in, but we want to do it right.”

Julie Richards, owner of Off the Top, a beauty salon she runs in her home, said she was both happy and nervous when she heard the news that she would be allowed to reopen on Monday. She is planning to reopen but can understand why some people may not be able to do so due to the extra requirements.

And customers are ready to come back. She’s booked for nearly two weeks and expects the remaining slots to fill quickly.

“All of my clients want to be in that first week,” she said.

Richards won’t be able to see as many customers as before because she is scheduling a 15-minute gap between clients to have time to sanitize and disinfect equipment. Customers will be required to wear masks when coming in. Only one person will be allowed in the salon at a time, and customers will have to wait in their vehicles between sessions. She also will be taking temperatures as clients enter.

Richards said she is serious about following the health guidelines. At age 60, she and her husband are among those considered to be at higher risk of complications from the coronavirus. Many of her regular clients are at higher risk, as well, giving her added incentive to eliminate any chance of allowing the virus to spread.

“I will be very strict in trying to protect my older clientele because I don’t want to be the one to spread it to someone else,” she said.

Concerns over potentially spreading the virus are delaying the reopening of other businesses, like Avani Day Spa and Yoga Studio, at this time.

Avani manager Kim Perez said they didn’t realize at first that there had been a change.

“We had an influx of phone calls asking if we were going to open early even before we knew we could,” she said.

Associates at Avani started planning for a June 1 opening when the directed health measures were last changed at the beginning of May. They are working to put the proper protocols, equipment and supplies in place to keep everyone safe when they reopen, using guidelines set out by health officials and experts in the massage field. Online scheduling is open with the yoga studio and classes are scheduled to resume in June, as well.

When the directed health measures abruptly changed to allow certain businesses to reopen next week, Perez said, the Avani team met through video conferencing to discuss the pros and cons of reopening earlier than they had planned.

“The cons outweighed the pros by quite a lot,” Perez said. “We thought it was best to take it slow.”

She said they have very close contact with clients when providing a massage, which will necessitate added precautions and protective equipment.

Clients will be required to wear masks during services and the facilities will be cleaned more often. Massage therapists will be required to wear gloves and masks during services, which they aren’t used to.

Even though Hastings is among the areas that will be able to reopen on Monday, she said some of their employees and clients live in Grand Island and that could cause confusion since that city is under different restrictions.

Perez said they have been grateful that the public has been understanding while they’ve been shuttered.

“Our community of Hastings has been so supportive of us while we’ve been closed,” she said. “We are a small business and this could have ended a business like this without community support.”


Reopening businesses face lists of safety regulations, recommendations

Several types of businesses in the South Heartland Health District will see relaxed operating restrictions related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, effective Monday.

In the case of restaurants, dining rooms may reopen. And barbershops and salons, massage therapy practices and body art businesses may reopen their doors for the first time in several weeks.

All those businesses will be required to adhere to mandatory safety regulations, however — and much longer lists of safety recommendations also come into play.

Restaurants

According to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, restaurants reopening their dining rooms must limit their number of customers at any one time to no more than 50% of their maximum occupancy.

Dining parties are limited to six individuals each, and the parties must remain at least 6 feet apart.

Customers aren’t allowed to serve themselves from buffets or salad bars. Their food must be brought to their tables by restaurant staff.

Bar and counter seating aren’t allowed, and customers may not consume alcohol on the premises unless they are having a meal.

All of the above rules must be followed as a matter of law. But restaurants also are asked to adhere to many other guidelines developed by the NDHHS Division of Public Health and the Nebraska Restaurant Association.

The recommendations include all employees wearing face coverings that are washable and must be laundered or replaced daily. Employees must wash their hands before and after putting on the mask and after every time they touch it.

Whenever possible, workers who are serving food should not also be doing other duties such as handling money.

Tables and chairs should be disinfected after each customer leaves, and all high-touch surfaces (like door handles) should be disinfected every four hours.

Employees should be screened for fever and other symptoms consistent with COVID-19 before every shift. Also, employees who are well but have a family member at home sick with COVID-19 should notify their supervisors before starting their shifts so the employer can consult with the local health department about whether it is appropriate for those employees to be working.

Restaurants should have a response plan for what to do if any employee turns up as a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. Employers also are encouraged to schedule certain employees together in “contact pods” and to redesign workflow to keep workers physically separated from each other as much as possible.

Pool tables, dart boards, video arcades and other game equipment and areas are to be kept closed.

Restaurants are encouraged to erect partitions where possible to separate high-traffic walking areas from customer seating.

Use of reuseable paper menus should be abandoned in favor of throw-away menus or digital menu boards or tablets with anti-microbial screens. Touchless payment or pay-at-table devices also are encouraged. Restaurants without touchless payment systems should consider disinfecting credit cards before returning them to customers.

Barbershops and salons

As a matter of law, all clients and staff in barbershops and salons must wear face masks at all times on-site. The businesses also must adhere to the maximum 10-person rule for customers and other invitees on the premises, excluding staff.

Additional best-practice guidelines were developed by the NDHHS Division of Public Health, state Department of Economic Development, state industry leders and the Get Nebraska Growing Task Force, to be used in conjunction with existing rules from the state bodies regulating those industries.

Recommendations for staff include staggering work shifts, pre-screening employees for illness, and redesigning workflow to promote social distancing.

Customer chairs are to be at least 6 feet apart, and all items like magazines and stylebooks that can’t be disinfected should be removed from waiting rooms. Each customer should get a clean or disinfected cape, or the business should use disposable capes.

Between customers, everything at the station should be disinfected. This includes chairs and headrests, tools like shears and clippers, brushes and combs, mirrors and more. When possible, towels should be kept in air-tight locations separate from client stations.

Hand sanitizer should be provided inside the door for customers, and doors should be cleaned and door windows wiped down every half-hour. Where possible, front and back doors should be used to establish one-way traffic through the business.

Businesses are urged to encourage appointments and discourage walk-ins and to promote advance payment online or other forms of contactless payment.

Customers should wait outside in their vehicles prior to being called in for service, or should stand in line 6 feet apart outside the door while waiting for service. If waiting rooms are needed, people should stay 6 feet apart, and chairs should be wiped down every half-hour.

Massage therapy, body art

In massage therapy businesses and in body art businesses (branding, body piercing, permanent color technology and tattooing), all clients and staff are required by law to wear face masks at all times on the premises. As in barbershops and salons, no more than 10 customers and invitees may be on the premises at any one time.

When a client is being served, no additional guests may be present unless the client is a minor. In that case, one parent or guardian may be there.

Again, appointments and contactless payment methods are encouraged, and walk-ins are discouraged.

Separate lists of guidelines have been published for the massage therapy and body art businesses.

For complete listings of regulations and recommendations that will apply for restaurants, barbershops and salons, massage therapy and body art businesses in the South Heartland health district, visit southheartlandhealth.org.


Covid-19
Adams County sees eighth death from COVID-19, but local disease trend is downward

Despite the downward trend in positive COVID-19 cases locally, adherence to health measures remains important to ensure there isn’t a second wave of infections.

That was the message of local officials during their weekly news conference Friday morning.

On Friday night, the South Heartland District Health Department reported Adams County’s eighth death related to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19. The victim, a man in his 50s, had underlying health conditions.

South Heartland also reported a total of six new confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The patients include five Adams County men ranging in age from their 30s to their 60s, as well as one Clay County man in his 30s.

Michele Bever, South Heartland health department executive director, said Friday night that she was sad to report the eighth fatality in the health district. To this point, all of those victims have been Adams County residents.

On Friday morning, she cautioned the public that the threat of increased spread of COVID-19 isn’t over. Continued diligence and accountability are important.

“It’s going to happen probably through the summer to some extent,” she said of directed health measures. “It’s not just all going to be lifted at once. We need to realize that.”

Additional restrictions will be relaxed as the curve flattens.

Bever said as the situation continues to improve, more restrictions will be lifted. If the number of new cases begins to increase again, the easing of restrictions will be slowed.

“It’s important we do this step-wise reduction in our restrictions; that can ease us toward some normalcy while continuing to do everything we can to reduce the spread,” she said.

Business owners and customers alike have responsibilities to ensure restrictions continue to be relaxed.

“Are you doing everything you can to minimize the risk and keep those who are most vulnerable safe and healthy?” she said, in reference to business owners.

Are patrons aware of risks and doing everything they can to protect themselves and others from exposure?

Updated figures, as of Friday evening, include 244 positive COVID-19 cases in Adams County, 20 in Clay County, five in Webster County and one in Nuckolls County, for a total of 270 cases to date among health district residents.

One hundred seventy-four of those individuals — 64% of the total — have recovered.

Eric Barber, president and CEO of Mary Lanning Healthcare, said Friday morning that the hospital had four COVID-19-positive patients, two of whom were on ventilators. Mary Lanning had seen two recoveries and one death since the May 8 news conference.

Barber said the trend is in the right direction, based on the number of patients in the hospital.

He said the number of admissions peaked about three weeks ago, but reiterated Bever’s warning that the threat of increased spread isn’t over.

“I think it’s important that even though that data bears out, Michele’s absolutely right,” he said. “We still have to follow guidance as we move out of this to prevent a second spike.”

In Friday night’s news release, Bever said that South Heartland has received nearly all of the results from a Nebraska National Guard testing event Monday and Tuesday in Hastings.

“Fifteen of the test results from that event were positive, which is about 4.5%,” she said. “Of those, nine are residents of South Heartland district, and six live outside of our health district.”

“We continue to encourage testing for anyone who has symptoms, anyone who is a health care worker or responder, anyone who works in essential or critical infrastructure sectors, and anyone who has come into close contact with a confirmed positive case,” Bever said.

Residents who are ill or have any symptoms consistent with coronavirus disease are encouraged to stay home from work and isolate at home to avoid spreading the illness to others.

“Please be aware of the COVID-19 symptoms, which may include a cough, fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing, runny nose, diarrhea, headache and sore throat,” she said. “Symptoms can also include nausea/vomiting, body aces, and loss of taste and smell. In many cases, a person will have more than one of these symptoms.”

The Two Rivers Public Health Department, which covers seven counties to the west of the Hastings area, announced on Friday that six new cases had been confirmed in its jurisdiction. Of those, three were in Dawson County, two were in Buffalo County, and one was in Kearney County, which now has recorded 10 positive cases to date.

To date, the Two Rivers district has recorded a total of 924 cases, 757 of which have been in Dawson County. Buffalo County has recorded 128 cases.

In the Central Health District, which includes Hall, Hamilton and Merrick counties, the current case count as of Friday was 1,474, with a death toll of 46.

Statewide, a total of 9,772 positive cases of COVID-19 had been reported to date, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported Friday evening. The state’s death toll stood at 119.


Hastings Gives Back

Public support for local businesses started strong Friday morning and didn’t let up during Hastings Gives Back.

Hastings Economic Development Corp. and the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce partnered for Hastings Gives Back, which launched Friday. HEDC provided $100,000 toward 100% matches for gift card purchases to participating businesses, giving that amount to the business.

“Really the point of it is to leverage personal, private investment, with our contribution, so we can help, if even a little bit, the local businesses in our area get through this situation,” HEDC Executive Director Michael Krings said.

He and Chamber President Mikki Shafer participated in the weekly news conference with local officials on Friday.

Shafer said gift card purchases reached $35,000 within two hours of opening. Sales were $64,000 at noon, $91,680 by 4 p.m. and $97,210 at 5 p.m.

Krings said it was great to see that amount of support.

While the amount of gift cards purchased was close to $100,000, Krings said some businesses quickly reached their allotted match, so the match amount isn’t the same as the purchase amount.

He hopes Hastings Gives Back spurs continued gift card purchases.

With certain restrictions eased for different categories of businesses beginning on Monday, the time to use those gift cards may be soon.

Neither he nor Shafer were surprised to see such strong community support.

“It was not a surprise for us that we were crazy, crazy inundated with the amount of gift cards,” Shafer said. “Our community has always supported the businesses, and it just proves it every single time. It was a great experience this morning, so far.”

Mayor Corey Stutte said the Hastings community is very strong.

“I think it is really built on the backs of small businesses,” he said. “It is important we continue to support them as we move forward.”

Participation in Hastings Gives Back is a good way to support those businesses, he said.

“I think it’s a great way to accelerate capital back into our economy as we start to see this loosen up,” Stutte said.

Krings said HEDC is a group of business and industry leaders from across the community, who for a long time have worked hard to help shape, help support and help expand the local economy.

“There’s always been ups and downs, maybe not like this, but there’s been ups and downs through the years,” he said. “Our goal is to remain the same — that we just want to be a resource for local businesses, large and small. With recent changes and everything that’s going on, the way we support our local businesses has obviously changed.

“But I think residents need to know that there’s been a group of organizations that have been getting together quite a bit since the beginning of this pandemic to really discuss how it’s impacting our community. How we can connect business and industries with different resources that are available in the health care industry and then determine the best way forward and eventually out of this situation, so we can all get on to living a more normal life?”

He thanked businesses that remained open — especially manufacturers where social distancing is a challenge.

As evidenced by the success of Hastings Gives Back as well as Give Hastings Day on May 7 and the Hastings Public Schools bond issue vote to turn Morton Elementary into a preschool, Krings said the community is eager to support Hastings.

“That’s been really neat to see,” he said. “The goal with this program is to try and make sure the local economy — that we all will get to enjoy post-pandemic — is as close to, if not better, than the one we left before.”