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Ricketts announces next phase of Directed Health Measures, proclaims 'Dairy Month' in state

Staff Writer
Syracuse Journal-Democrat

At an afternoon press briefing on June 15, Governor Pete Ricketts announced the next steps in the State’s phased plan to loosen restrictions that have been in place during the coronavirus pandemic.  The new directed health measures (DHMs), easing restrictions on businesses and activities, will take effect June 22, 2020.   Most counties in Nebraska (89 out of 93) will move to “Phase 3” of the reopening on June 22.  Dakota, Hall, Hamilton, and Merrick counties will move to “Phase 2.”

Felicia Quintana-Zinn, Deputy Director for the Division of Public Health of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), also participated in today’s press conference.  She overviewed the State’s plan, developed in conjunction with partner associations and local health departments, to help long-term care (LTC) facilities safely move toward more normal operations.

Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) Commissioner Matthew Blomstedt also joined the Governor at this afternoon’s briefing.  He stated that NDE expects schools to resume instruction this fall with students in the classroom.

The Governor also proclaimed June as “Dairy Month” in Nebraska at today’s press conference.  Nebraska State Dairy Association President Mike Guenther accepted the official proclamation on behalf of the state’s dairy farmers.

Gov. Ricketts: Directed Health Measures

We first implemented Directed Health Measures back in March to help slow the spread of the virus.

We’ve successfully slowed the spread.  Now, we’re taking a step-by-step approach to loosen restrictions, while still making sure our healthcare system is stable.

On May 4, we began Phase 1 of our reopening plan in some counties.  On June 1, most counties entered Phase 2.  Today, we’re announcing that 89 of the state’s 93 counties will proceed to Phase 3 on June 22.  The remaining counties—Dakota, Hall, Hamilton, and Merrick—will move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 on June 22.

We’re also announcing the content of the Phase 4 Directed Health Measures.  We’ve not yet set a date for these to take effect.  However, we wanted to provide the Phase 4 rules so that counties know what to expect as we move forward.

To see an outline of the Phase 3 DHM changes, click here.

To see an outline of the Phase 4 DHM changes, click here.

Gov. Ricketts: Long-Term Care

We have been asking people not to visit long-term care facilities.  This short-term solution has helped to protect lives and has kept the number of coronavirus cases down.

However, we know that this approach cannot last forever.  Long-term isolation is challenging for anyone and can have a significant impact on the mental health of our most vulnerable.

As part of our reopening plans, we are announcing a phased approach to reopen long-term care facilities.

Felicia Quintana-Zinn: Long-Term Care

DHHS is working closely with long-term care (LTC) facilities, local health departments, and their partners to provide safe and appropriate care for residents of long-term care facilities during the pandemic.

DHHS has developed a Long-Term Care Coronavirus Phasing Guidance (LTC Phasing Guidance) for responsibly easing restrictions in LTC facilities while coronavirus remains in communities across Nebraska.

The LTC Phasing Guidance mirrors the Directed Health Measure phases to allow facilities a standardized tool to determine when they should ease restrictions based off of their community data.

The LTC Phasing Guidance has three phases that include considerations such as visitation, communal dining, and group activities.

All LTC facilities are currently considered to be in LTC Phase 1.

If their local health district is currently under DHM Phase 2, LTC facilities can move to LTC Phase 2 now if they meet the criteria under the LTC Phasing Guidance.

In order to move to LTC Phase 3, an LTC facility must be located in a local health district under DHM Phase 3, complete baseline testing of their staff, and meet other criteria under the LTC Phasing Guidance.

If a positive case of coronavirus is identified at a facility after progressing to another phase, the facility must work with the local health department to determine whether circumstances require the facility to return to Phase 1.

Test Nebraska resources are being offered by the State to help facilitate baseline testing of staff and residents at no charge to facilities for specimen collection materials, laboratory testing, and PPE.

LTC facilities must register for testing online.  The State will schedule facilities for testing and will distribute test kits and PPE to facilities through the local health departments.

All test specimens will be processed by the CHI St. Elizabeth lab in Lincoln.

Facilities and the local health departments will receive reports of test results.

The LTC Phasing Guidance is being e-mailed to all long-term care facilities in Nebraska today and will be available on the DHHS coronavirus website (dhhs.ne.gov/coronavirus) soon.

Gov. Ricketts: Dairy Month

Dairy Month started out as a way to distribute extra milk during the warm months of summer.

Nebraska’s dairy farm families pride themselves on producing wholesome dairy foods that provide great-tasting nourishment.

Nebraska has a strong dairy farming heritage, which is evident in the 127 dairies across the state.  100 percent of these dairies are family owned.

Thank you to the dairy farmers who work hard to help us keep our refrigerators stocked with fresh milk and other dairy foods.

Matthew Blomstedt: Schools

Today is a significant day for us.  We’ve said before that we hope schools can have in-person learning in the fall.  Now, our expectation is that schools will have in-person learning this fall.

NDE will continue to provide guidance for schools as they work on protocols to safely hold classes in the fall. 

We’re posting best practices online at launchne.com.

Schools are built for students.  We’ve always intended to get students back in buildings.  We’ll work to provide a safe environment for them as we prepare for the fall.