We’ve heard our health professionals’ recommendations and pleas regarding COVID-19 many times now:
Stay at least 6 feet apart. Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds. Stay home if sick. Avoid crowded places, close contact, confined spaces. Work from home if you can.
And, yes, wear a mask to limit how much of the virus travels between you and others (and vice versa).
Now Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has never imposed a statewide mask mandate but effectively shut down the state for six weeks when COVID-19 arrived, has raised the stakes.
About 20% of Nebraska’s staffed hospital beds statewide were occupied by COVID-19 patients as of Friday. (As of Thursday, more than 38% of Great Plains Health’s staffed beds were so occupied.)
If that percentage reaches 25%, Ricketts said, he’ll reimpose most of the legal health restrictions he did in April so long as it stays that high.
Most indoor gatherings would be limited to 10 people. Outdoor gatherings couldn’t exceed 25. Bars would be closed except for delivery, takeout and drive-thru. Only licensed restaurants could offer dine-in meals (an improvement from last spring).
You know the drill.
There’s still a chance to avoid this fate, Ricketts said (from his own COVID-19 quarantine): “Please get engaged with our non-pharmaceutical interventions.”
Right. Social distancing. Hand-washing. And masks.
No one can deny that Ricketts has repeatedly called for Nebraskans to do all that, all year long, without a statewide mask mandate.
He’s called upon Nebraskans’ common sense and desire to protect loved ones and neighbors from unnecessary harm.
Our health professionals have had two unchanging goals: Restrain the virus’ spread 1) to buy time for a vaccine and 2) to avoid overwhelming hospitals and their staffs.
It was good news last week to learn the first COVID-19 vaccines are on their way. But they’re still a few weeks off at best.
With few exceptions, Nebraska’s hospitals have had enough room all along to take care of the worst COVID-19 patients and people with other serious illnesses or injuries.
Now it’s a matter of making sure that remains true. And deciding what our holidays look like.
That said, the choice remains yours.