Ricketts focuses on protecting assisted-living residents from coronavirus

Ricketts focuses on protecting assisted-living residents from coronavirus

With Nebraska's coronavirus deaths centering in long-term care facilities, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Friday that the state is asking every assisted-living home to develop and submit a plan for how it will respond to that challenge during the remainder of the year. 

Ricketts said the state wants to "keep the health and safety of the residents at the forefront" of its pandemic response efforts, recognizing that those facilities contain many of the state's most vulnerable citizens.

The plans need to include how facilities propose to "manage family interaction," he said.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is prepared to "assist them in developing a comprehensive coronavirus response," Becky Wisell, interim deputy director of health licensure and environmental health for the Division of Public Health, said during the governor's daily coronavirus news briefing.

Plans need to consider rapid identification and management of any coronavirus infection, visitor policy, supply of needed resources and infection control, she said.

"Every facility is expected to complete a plan and send it to DHHS," Wisell said. "We all want to protect our most vulnerable residents."

While spread of the virus has infected far more workers at meat-processing plants in Nebraska, the death toll has centered among the elderly population in long-term care facilities. 

Of the state's first 100 coronavirus-related deaths, 62 were residents of long-term care centers, state officials said earlier this week.

Lower-risk patients infected by the virus in Nebraska are generally not dying from the infection, Dr. Gary Anthone, the state's chief medical officer, noted.

"But we don't want any deaths," he said. 

State officials have thus far rejected calls to name long-term care facilities that have had coronavirus cases.

Outbreaks, however, have been noted at Carter House in Blair, Gold Crest Retirement Center in Adams and group homes in Callaway, Aurora, Grand Island and Omaha, among others.

On Thursday, Omaha television station WOWT reported 51 of 77 residents and 17 of 39 staff members at Life Care Center of Elkhorn tested positive for COVID-19.

On other matters, Ricketts said his policy of gradually lifting restrictions imposed at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Nebraska match up with counseling he has received from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The policy of "how to plan restrictions (and) how to loosen gradually over time" was generally designed two months ago, the governor said.

The strategy he has been pursuing "absolutely is in line with UNMC recommendations," Ricketts said.

Imposing restrictions early, including limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people while urging six feet of physical distancing, and then "gradually loosen back up" was always part of the plan, he said.

The ultimate goal has been to preserve the capacity of Nebraska's health care system to respond to the challenge, Ricketts said.

That strategy has been "tremendously successful," he said.

Responding to a question submitted on behalf of the Heartland Workers Center in Omaha as to whether he would be willing to sit down with meat-processing workers to discuss their concerns, Ricketts said he has "a phone call set up next week for workers."

Ricketts said the state will begin to add race and ethnicity to its coronavirus reporting statistics, matching what is currently done in Lancaster and Douglas counties.

Looking ahead, the governor said he hopes to be able to loosen some restrictions still in effect at the end of May.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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