It’s urgent Nebraskans use the tools they have been given to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the governor said Monday.
Ricketts said there is more community spread happening now, but if Nebraskans keep wearing a mask indoors when near others, avoiding the “Three C’s” and staying home if they feel sick, they can help slow down the spread of COVID-19.
Ricketts, who is in isolation after getting exposed to someone who tested positive, spoke to reporters and others in Lincoln by video during a press conference.
Ricketts said he tested negative for COVID-19 but still is required to remain in isolation. So for those wondering if a person who has been exposed to the coronavirus tests negative, do they still have to quarantine, the answer is yes, the governor said.
“You can’t test out of quarantine,” Ricketts said.
The Three C’s to avoid are crowded places, close contacts and confined spaces. Also, Ricketts said to avoid groups where people can’t maintain 6 feet of distance from others.
“With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, we want people to think about smaller groups for the holiday,” Ricketts said. “Don’t get the whole family together in a big group.”
All this is necessary so that there’s enough capacity at hospitals. On Monday, Ricketts said the state had about 20% of its hospital beds available, 30% of its ICU beds available and 70% of its ventilators available.
“Again, we want to make sure we preserve that,” he said.
Kelly Driscoll, president and CEO of Faith Regional Health Services, said on Monday that while capacity fluctuates throughout the day, Faith Regional has seen an average capacity of 85% to 90% over the past several weeks.
Faith Regional is part of the hospital’s state patient transfer line system. While it hasn’t had to be used as a resource locally, the Norfolk hospital has accepted patients from other areas.
The Columbus area also has seen a sharp uptick in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.
As of Friday, the East Central District Health Department website reported 3,777 total positive cases in its four-county district that includes Boone, Colfax, Nance and Platte counties. The district reported there were 30 hospitalized patients in the district with one intensive care unit bed available.
Also on Friday, Columbus Community Hospital was caring for 20 COVID-19 positive patients. The hospital had three negative pressure rooms available in the ACU/ICU/third floor and four negative pressure rooms available in the maternal child health department. The hospital had eight additional medical/surgical beds and two additional ICU beds available for patient admission. Staffing across the hospital remains safe and adequate, the hospital reported.
Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear anytime from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. That includes fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea
People with these symptoms may have COVID-19 and should seek evaluation and testing at a primary care or urgent care clinic. Test Nebraska also offers several free COVID-19 testing sites each week day. State and local officials recommend people visit TestNebraska.com to take the assessment and sign up to be tested.
Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, seek emergency medical care immediately:
— Trouble breathing
— Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
— New confusion
— Inability to wake or stay awake
— Bluish lips or face
Ricketts said more restrictions may be put in place if the hospital numbers continue to go up.
“We’re really treating the state as one big hospital system,” Ricketts said. “All of the hospital systems have been very, very cooperative.”
An additional $40 million has been provided to the hospital system to hire traveling nurses, more respiratory therapists and screeners, as well as to allow for hazard pay, he said.
Ricketts said he also would like people to use Test Nebraska. Already, more than 500,000 Nebraskans have signed up and more than 450,000 people have tested. In most cases, results are available in 24 to 48 hours, he said.
Test Nebraska tests are free. Contact tracing is still being used and can help slow the spread of the virus, especially if people are staying home to can it more easily be determined where contact occurred.
So what would it take for the governor to support a mask mandate?
Ricketts said he supports education. People are being asked to wear a mask where appropriate, such as if they are going to be within 6 feet of other people for more than 15 minutes.
“That’s part of the education process,” he said. “We’re going to decline to do just a broad-based statewide mandate such as you’re referencing.”
Even if the vaccine starts becoming available next month, people are still going to need to follow the rules and use the tools that are available, Ricketts said.