Right now, we’re facing one of the biggest challenges our state has ever encountered. In recent weeks, coronavirus hospitalizations have been rapidly rising with many people severely ill and more deaths. There are over four times as many Nebraskans in the hospital with coronavirus now as there were at the beginning of last month. As hospitals fill with coronavirus patients, doctors and nurses are dealing with the heaviest workloads many of them have ever experienced.
With the rapid rise in hospitalizations, we’ve entered a critical phase in our war against the virus. From Oct. 16th to Nov. 16th, our coronavirus hospitalizations increased by nearly 20 per day. As of Nov. 17th, we’re at 938 hospitalizations. If trends continue, our hospitals won’t have room to provide the standard of care Nebraskans deserve.
It’s urgently important for all of us to take personal responsibility for supporting our healthcare workers, protecting hospital capacity, and slowing the spread of the virus. We can do this by wearing a mask, washing our hands often, staying home when sick, and keeping six feet of social distance. Additionally, Nebraskans should avoid the “Three Cs”. Avoid crowded places where you can’t practice social distancing. Avoid close contacts where you’re within six feet of someone for 15 consecutive minutes. And avoid confined spaces with poor ventilation. By using these tools, we can help protect our hospitals.
In addition to these measures, the state is adjusting our coronavirus restrictions in light of the rising hospitalizations. Last Friday, I announced a new, phased approach to health restrictions based on the percentage of staffed hospital beds occupied by coronavirus patients. Currently, Nebraska is in the “orange” phase, which is the second most restrictive. The State of Nebraska will move into the most restrictive “red” phase as soon as coronavirus hospitalizations reach 25% of the staffed hospital beds in Nebraska. If the percentage of coronavirus-related hospitalizations declines below defined thresholds (on average, over a seven-day period) restrictions will be relaxed. A chart outlining each of the five, color-coded phases is available by clicking here.
I also recently issued a new Directed Health Measure (DHM) effective statewide as of Monday, Nov. 16th. It postpones elective surgeries that can wait four weeks or longer without substantially changing a patient’s outcome. In addition to the restriction on elective surgeries, the new DHM includes all of the health measures that took effect on Nov. 11, 2020. These include requiring masks in establishments where patrons and customers are within six feet for 15 consecutive minutes, requiring six feet of separation between groups in public spaces, and limiting attendance at extracurricular activities to household members of participants.
As Thanksgiving approaches, Nebraskans are making plans for the holidays. I urge all Nebraskans to limit the size of their holiday gatherings to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Our local public health departments tell us the virus is spreading at informal gatherings, usually in people’s homes. As you think about celebrating the holidays, please keep in mind the possibility of Nebraska moving to the “red” zone. If we enter the “red” phase of our coronavirus plan, indoor gatherings will be restricted to 10 people or less.
Regardless of the color of phase we’re in, schools will continue to operate. They’ve been doing an excellent job of helping everyone stay healthy. The risk of the coronavirus to children is extremely low, but the harm of school closures to students and families is enormous. Academically, remote learning simply doesn’t work well for some students. Without in-person classes, children miss out on valuable opportunities to build social skills. They also lose the benefits of a structured environment that promotes healthy nutrition, physical and mental health.
The impact of the pandemic extends beyond the virus itself. CDC Director Robert Redfield has highlighted the rising number of deaths from suicides and overdoses among high school-aged kids. For this age group, increased deaths from suicide and drug abuse in 2020—compared to a typical year—have been much higher than deaths from coronavirus. Tragically, we’ve seen evidence of this in Nebraska. According to work done by the Kim Foundation, suicides among youth under 20 years of age are double what they were last year in Douglas and Sarpy counties. And they’re ten times higher than deaths from the coronavirus. In light of these alarming statistics, it’s critical that we watch out for the well-being of our children in the coming weeks and months.
If you have questions about Nebraska’s coronavirus phases, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244. I’m confident Nebraskans will pull together to fight the coronavirus. It’s in our power to determine where Nebraska goes from here. We must all take responsibility to slow the spread and support our healthcare workers in the coming days. Working together, we can protect our hospitals and help return Nebraska to a more normal life.