WATCH NOW: Ricketts eyes recovery of business activity after huge hit

WATCH NOW: Ricketts eyes recovery of business activity after huge hit

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Tuesday turned the spotlight on the anticipated restoration of business — but perhaps not exactly as usual — in Nebraska as he prepares to further loosen some restrictions prompted by the coronavirus beginning next month.

Ricketts made no promises about what he has in mind but said he is ready to relax restrictions "gradually, a little bit at a time" in order to "allow as much of a return to normal life as possible."

The emphasis on business activity came with the release of a business survey conducted by the University of Nebraska at Omaha that showed 87% of Nebraska businesses negatively affected by the virus in terms of normal operations.

The business activities that have been most negatively affected included arts, entertainment, recreation, food service, health care and social services, Catherine Lang, director of the Nebraska Business Development Center at UNO, said during the governor's daily coronavirus news briefing.

Although the survey showed an 89% decline in business revenue, Lang said, it also demonstrated that employers have been "actively working to maintain their employees and their hours."

"Something very special is happening," she said. "Our businesses are doing all they can do to keep the economy of Nebraska going."

Businesses are "very concerned about when will customers be comfortable in coming back," Lang said, and they will face "an incredible challenge as they are reopening their doors" in determining whether masks should be required and what limitations should be in place.

While Ricketts has not yet signaled what he is prepared to do as he surveys conditions with the arrival of June, he did say that "hopefully, we can take additional steps to loosen some of these restrictions."

Current restrictions include a 10-person limit on social gatherings, closure of some businesses like bars that do not serve food and limitations on other businesses, including restaurants as they open up their dining rooms in most counties across the state.

"Until we have a vaccination, we are going to be managing this virus," Ricketts said. "I'm guessing until at least the end of the year."

Once again, Ricketts emphasized that he looks at the capacity of Nebraska's hospitals and health care system to manage the coronavirus outbreak in determining how to move forward.

"We need to preserve hospital capacity," he said.  "That's how we know we are winning this fight."

The latest figures indicate 46% of hospital beds, 40% of intensive care unit beds and 77% of ventilators in Nebraska remain available.

Some 22,000 Nebraskans were tested for the virus last week as the state ramped up its testing capacity, Ricketts said, and the state is building an army of 1,000 contact tracers to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus and ask them to quarantine.

In long-term care facilities, where the greatest number of coronavirus deaths have occurred in Nebraska, 380 residents at 89 facilities recorded positive tests, including 62 deaths, along with 280 staff members and zero deaths.

The impact of the virus is "touching every part of Nebraska and every industry in Nebraska," Lang said.

In addition to dealing with the financial impact on their operations, businesses face concerns about their liquidity and capital as well as what may be decreasing consumer confidence and spending, she said. 

Next, she said, businesses will need to decide "how to navigate the safety of employees and customers."

The UNO center will conduct another survey in June to see how they are doing. 

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

On Twitter @LJSdon

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