Even with coronavirus infections trending upward in Omaha and Nebraska, the time is right to relax some restrictions because local hospitals have enough capacity to treat patients and because people are becoming fatigued and are not following all the regulations anymore, Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour said Friday.
“We need to be realistic,” Pour said. “I think that’s what the governor is seeing, too.”
That said, she urged everyone to “be careful in these next two weeks.”
Pour allowed her directed health measures specific to Douglas County to expire, leaving Gov. Pete Ricketts’ statewide restrictions in place.
Some of those restrictions are being eased beginning Monday, allowing faith communities to have services and restaurants and many previously closed businesses to reopen with social distancing requirements still in place.
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said the initial tight restrictions had worked to flatten the curve in Nebraska. Pour likened those “very aggressive restrictions” to “the hammer.” The gradual easing of the restrictions, she said, is like “a dance.”
“We need to dance until we either have a vaccine or an anti- viral,” Pour said.
Pour, speaking at a press conference with Stothert and U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, noted that Ricketts could tighten restrictions again if conditions warrant that. Pour said she is very concerned about churches resuming services.
“My advice would be if you are vulnerable, you are at high risk,” Pour said. “There are many other avenues where you can worship, and I would prefer individuals who are elderly, have underlying illnesses, immunocompromised systems, that those individuals stay at home.”
The easing of the restrictions comes as the number of cases is surging in Douglas County.
Douglas County reported 77 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing to 686 the total number of cases reported.
Stothert reiterated that sports practices and games, including youth club sports, are prohibited through May 31. She said she sent a letter to some coaches and clubs after getting reports from parents that they had received emails from coaches saying practices would start in May.
Stothert said the City of Omaha projects an $80 million shortfall in its general fund budget and $127 million to the city’s overall budget because of the coronavirus.
Bacon said he is introducing a bill in Congress that includes no new coronavirus emergency relief money for cities, counties and states, but that would allow some of the money already allotted to be used to make up for such lost tax revenue.
Bacon said he has bipartisan co-sponsors for the bill and hopes it will point the way to compromise in Congress.
Stothert said she is working closely with Nebraska’s congressional delegation “asking for clarification on what’s in the CARES Act but also asking them if they could work with us on some flexibility, at the minimum … that we could use that money that has already been allocated for some loss of revenue.”
Douglas County Board Chair Clare Duda said the county, which has been awarded $160 million in federal coronavirus expense aid, is waiting for specific guidance on how the money can be used.
He said he hopes it can help Omaha and the other towns and cities in the county, but added that there are seven opinions on the seven-member county board.
Albert Varas, executive director of the Latino Center of the Midlands, noted that Omaha’s Cinco de Mayo parade and festival have been at least postponed. He urged people who might want to celebrate the holiday to follow social distancing restrictions in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and protect vulnerable people.