OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Two more of Nebraska’s biggest cities joined the growing list of communities that have passed local mask requirements in the face of the governor’s refusal to issue a statewide mask order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The leaders of Grand Island and La Vista voted Tuesday to approve mask mandates for their cities, joining the likes of Omaha, Lincoln, Norfolk, Beatrice, Ralston, Hastings and Gretna. Many of the local ordinances were passed in the past week, as Gov. Pete Ricketts continues to resist issuing a broad statewide mandate because he believes requiring them would generate resistance.
Instead, Ricketts has relied on educating people about the benefits of wearing masks, which he regularly urges people to do. Ricketts said he believes, based on his own observations, that more people are wearing masks and following other social distancing rules on their own. And the state does require masks in businesses where employees have close contact with customers for more than 15 minutes, such as salons.
In Grand Island, Dr. Rebecca Steinke, who serves on the local board of health, told the City Council that she’s worried that hospitals will be overwhelmed if the recent surge in COVID-19 cases doesn’t slow down.
“The numbers of COVID tests that came back positive in the last week confirm we’re already on that trajectory,” Steinke said. “It will be almost impossible to safely contain and properly care for that surge of patients, even with plans to double up rooms or use beds that are not meant for sick people. If things do not change soon, rationing of care will become a reality.”
Statewide, the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 decreased on Tuesday to 936, from 971 a day earlier. But that number still represents 23% of the state’s hospital beds, and Ricketts has said he will impose additional social distancing restrictions if that number hits 25% of the hospital beds. On Wednesday, he defended waiting for that threshold to be met before increasing restrictions on the state.
“We’re going to really manage this around hospitalizations. so we can provide that hospital bed, that ICU bed or that ventilator to anybody who needs it when they need it,” Ricketts said.
The state said Wednesday that 29% of the hospital beds and intensive care beds across Nebraska remained available Wednesday.
Ricketts reiterated his call for Nebraskans to forego large holiday gatherings this week to help limit the spread of the virus.
“We want everybody to have a happy Thanksgiving, but please also have a healthy Thanksgiving by having smaller group celebrations this year,” Ricketts said. “We know everybody wants to get together with their family but please, the virus spreads from one person to another one, so have a smaller get together.”
The state reported 1,761 confirmed cases and 16 new deaths on Tuesday, raising its totals since the pandemic started to 117,682 cases and 950 deaths.
Nebraska had the eighth-highest rate of infection in the nation on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Nebraska has risen over the past two weeks from roughly 1,847 new cases per day on Nov. 10 to about 2,046 new cases per day on Tuesday.
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