It’s official: the Panhandle will remain in Phase 3 of the directed health measures put into place by Gov. Pete Ricketts on June 22.
Panhandle Public Health District officials had been trying to prepare western Nebraskans for an extension of the directed health measure, which had initially been effective through July 31. PPHD Director Kim Engel had advised throughout the month that she expected the directed health measure to remain in place into August.
The directed health measure was extended on Friday to Aug. 31. The measure is available on PPHD’s website, www.pphd.org, and on the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services website.
Remaining in Phase III means:
— Limits on gatherings remain in place. Indoor gatherings are limited to 50 percent occupancy and outdoor gatherings are limited to 75 percent occupancy. Venues with capacity of more than 500 people or events that are expected to include more than 500 people must also complete an event application through PPHD. Health officials review plans for social distancing, sanitation and other guidelines.
— Events such as parades, carnivals, midways, dances, street dances and beer gardens remain prohibited. Drive-by or reverse parades are allowed. Dancing is allowed at events — if individuals remain at their tables and seats.
— During Phase 3, there are no limits on bars and restaurants and dine-in services are allowed, though buffets and salad bars still remain prohibited. Restaurants and bars must also limit groups to 8, splitting larger groups into multiple tables. social distancing and other measures remain recommended practices. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has a number of recommended practice documents on its website for businesses and others.
— Capacity at childcare facilities remain limited, based on age group, with capacity staggered depending on age.
— Gyms remain limited to 75 percent of occupancy.
— Salons, barber shops, massage therapy services and tattoo parlors or body art facilities have to continue to require masks of staff and patrons. Those businesses are also limited to 75 percent occupancy.
— Weddings and funeral reception venues can operate, but groups have to be limited to a maximum of 8 and dancing and other social events remain limited by health guidance. Self-serve buffets and salad bars remain prohibited.
Three districts, covering 28 counties, have moved into Phase 4 of the directed health measures: Loup Basin, North Central District and Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department. In most instances, counties moving to Phase 4 have reported relatively few — or no — coronavirus cases, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star.
During Friday’s briefing, Engel expanded on information regarding quarantine and isolation procedures in school settings. In most cases, a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 is required to isolate for 10 days since the start of symptoms and until they are fever-free or without other symptoms. Close contacts are required to quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus. The Star-Herald had asked during Thursday if that guidance would differ as schools announce re-opening plans that involve requiring students and staff to war masks.
However, Engel said, health departments throughout the state consider the latest scientific evidence in case investigations related to COVID-19. Basically, Engel said, each case is considered on a case-by-case basis, with each case decided on the specifics of the investigation, such as were persons wearing masks, social distancing and other factors regarding exposure, such as duration of the exposure.
Regarding schools, Engel said, health departments have put together a congruent statement: “In a K-12 school setting when everyone has been appropriate wearing a mask or face covering over their nose and mouth and practicing physical distancing, it is less likely that a whole class will need to quarantine and be excluded from in-person school activities.”
Engel said officials aren’t able to say exactly who would be able to be quarantined in the case of a student or staff member testing positive the coronavirus or being exposed, until an investigation is conducted and the specifics are taken into account. That would be the case in any place of exposure, such as at a business or a restaurant.
Masks are important to stop the spread of the virus, Engel said, with masks being able to stop a person from transmitting the virus. However, she said, studies have shown that masks are also effective in reducing the likelihood that a person will contract the virus, as well.
“The more that you can protect yourself through social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands, the more we will stop the transmission of the virus and the fewer people will be affected.”
On Friday, officials announced four new cases of the virus: two community spread cases, involving a Scotts Bluff County woman in her 50s and a Cheyenne County woman in her 50s; and two close contact cases, both involving women in their 40s. There are 53 active cases, with the bulk of those cases being in Scotts Bluff County.
Two people are currently hospitalized.
There are 40 cases in Scotts Bluff County. Other counties with active cases: Morrill County, 4; Kimball County, 1; Dawes County, 4; Cheyenne County, 4.
To date, 432 people have tested positive and 7,873 people have been tested, for a cumulative positivity rate of 5.4 percent. Six people have died of the coronavirus in the Panhandle.