OMAHA (AP) — Nebraska will let bars, zoos, movie theaters and swimming pools reopen and allow small concerts and auctions to resume on June 1 in all but four hard-hit counties, Gov. Pete Ricketts said as the number of coronavirus deaths continued to rise.
Ricketts announced plans to further loosen social-distancing restrictions — including in all of Northeast and North Central Nebraska except for Dakota County — and said he’s trying to strike a balance between public health and the need to move back toward normal life as people grow restless.
“We’re taking this a step at a time,” he said at a news conference.
He made the announcement as state officials reported more coronavirus deaths and new cases in Nebraska, bringing the statewide totals to 143 deaths and 11,425 confirmed cases. Nearly 78,700 people have been tested.
The number of new cases has trended downward, however, since the one-day peak of 677 on May 7. Ricketts has said he’s using Nebraska’s hospital capacity to judge when to ease restrictions, and those numbers have remained fairly stable. Even so, public health officials say people still need to practice social-distancing measures to keep the virus from spreading.
Businesses that do reopen will still face mandatory social distancing restrictions. For instance, the number of patrons allowed in bars will be limited to half of the venue’s rated capacity, and groups of customers will have to remain at least six people apart. Patrons won’t be allowed to play pool, darts or arcade games or eat at the bar.
Nebraska will also allow gatherings of up to 25 people or 25% of a venue’s rated occupancy, whichever is greater, as long as the total crowd doesn’t exceed 3,000 people.
The new requirement will replace the state’s current 10-person limit and will apply to both indoor and outdoor venues, including stadiums, fairgrounds, meeting halls, zoos, libraries and swimming pools. Individual groups will still be capped at six people and required to stay away from other groups.
Additionally, any event expected to draw more than 500 people will need prior approval from the county’s public health director. In Omaha’s Douglas County, the threshold is 1,000 people.
Ricketts also will ease rules for sports, allowing baseball, softball and volleyball teams to resume practices on June 1 and play games on June 18. Rodeos can begin on June 1, but contact sports such as football, basketball and wrestling will remain prohibited.
The changes won’t apply to Hall, Hamilton, Merrick or Dakota counties, some of the hardest-hit regions in Nebraska. Hall and Dakota counties have seen particularly large spikes driven by local meatpacking plants.