- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2020

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts ordered the closure Thursday of all salons, tattoo parlors and strip clubs until April 30 and announced the cancellation of organized group sports until May 31, expanding an order that was already in place in the state’s biggest cities.

Ricketts said the executive order was intended to bring consistency to a patchwork of mandates from local public health departments. Salons in Omaha, Lincoln and many surrounding communities have been closed since late last month, but some of those businesses had been allowed to remain open in other parts of the state.

Ricketts, a Republican, tried to use persuasion and regional restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus until last week, when he imposed enforceable statewide limits on social gatherings. Nebraska is one of a small handful of holdout states that haven’t issued formal stay-at-home orders, although Ricketts has argued that many of the state’s restrictions are similar to what’s in place elsewhere.

Ricketts on Thursday also issued a non-enforceable proclamation, calling on residents to stay at home unless necessary, maintain a safe physical distance at work and only shop once a week, with one person per family. It also asks residents to keep children away from playgrounds and group sports, help seniors and exercise daily at home.

“This is about asking Nebraskans to do what’s right,” Ricketts said at his daily coronavirus news conference. He said that if Nebraskans can adhere to the recommendations for 21 days, “we should really be able to take a whack at the virus.”

Ricketts said he’s confident that most residents “want to do the right thing” to keep the virus from spreading and overwhelming the state’s hospitals.

On Wednesday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert ordered all of the city’s parks closed through April 30 amid complaints they were too crowded and visitors weren’t following social-distancing rules to keep the virus from spreading. Stothert said the worst offenders were youth sports coaches and parents with children.

“What we saw this weekend was a lot of a lack of compliance,” she said.

On Tuesday, a gathering of about 100 people in Omaha’s Benson Park for a barbecue ended in a fatal shooting.

Ricketts’ announcement came as state health officials reported another coronavirus death in Nebraska, bringing the state’s total number of COVID-19 deaths to 14.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services reported late Wednesday that the latest death was that of a man in his 70s in northeastern Nebraska’s Madison County. The man had several underlying health conditions, health officials said. As of Thursday morning, the state had reported 523 cases of the virus, with more than 7,500 residents testing negative.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Ricketts also pushed back Thursday against the state public employee union’s request to allow all state employees to work from home if they’re able.

“Our members understand the critical importance of the work they do, and that’s why they must be protected,” said Deb Studl, a state child and family services worker. “If we aren’t kept safe, there will be no one left to provide essential services to the most vulnerable Nebraskans

Ricketts said individual workers who can believe they can do their job from home should make the case to their managers. But he argued that for some employees, doing so isn’t possible.

“We have to continue to provide essential services,” he said. “We all know that every organization in the state is going through challenging times. Everyone is trying to figure out how to work from home. We’re all in this together and we must be mindful of this.”


Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak


Margery Beck contributed from Omaha


Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

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