Omaha, Douglas County officers are calling for COVID-19 tips to be adopted
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) – Mayor Jean Stothert, Douglas County’s Health Director Dr. Adi Pour, representatives from local hospitals and the Omaha Police Department issued an update on the local COVID-19 response on Friday, calling on residents to do their part in fighting the spread of the virus.
“We’re on a steep turn,” Pour said, noting her alarm given that Douglas County has reported more than 600 new cases in the past four days.
She said the health department was concerned about the increase in cases among 10 to 16 year olds. They also found that clusters also originated from retail businesses.
If the trends continue, there could be 1,600 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals by Christmas, according to Pour. The county dashboard shows that 393 patients are currently being hospitalized for COVID-19.
Pointing to the card Governor Pete Ricketts talked about during his Friday morning update, Mayor Stothert noted what restrictions on businesses and activities would apply if the local hospital’s capacity continued to decline.
Omaha deputy chief of police Scott Gray said officials conducted compliance checks and informed business owners and patrons of the face mask ordinance the city was enacting by February. He said most of the complaints they receive are related to convenience stores.
OPD will focus on bars and tavernas and other places where people gather in close proximity, he said.
“These are random officer-initiated reviews that are conducted every evening. This is our next step in ensuring compliance,” said Deputy Chief Scott Gray.
The mayor said they have received a number of complaints – and the city has been monitoring – several facilities that are violating social distancing guidelines.
“Our goal is not to criminalize violations,” said Gray.
OPD has not issued any quotes related to the face mask regulation that has been in place since August, Stothert said.
Dr. Harris Frankel, chief medical officer at UNMC, said 25 percent of the occupied inpatient beds in their facility are currently used by COVID-19 patients, while 23 percent of those beds are used by COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit.
Nine percent of these ICU patients are currently ventilated, Frankel added.
“This can still be a very serious illness for an individual,” he said. “Our biggest concern now is staffing.”
When enough frontline staff are available to provide patient care, outpatient staff will be reduced to improve inpatient care.
A reduction in operations is also underway at UNMC to redirect resources towards COVID-19 treatments.
“We all have a social responsibility to adhere to these measures,” said Frankel, referring to the implementation of social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks.
Dr. Bill Lydiatt of the Estabrook Cancer Center Methodist said the most important thing that could be done is to educate and repeat Frankel.
“Our current capacity is sufficient, but stressed. We are in need, this is a situation where we are not using traditional patient room areas, ”he said.
While surge plans and strategies have been developed and are now being implemented, Lydiatt said this puts a heavy strain on staff – especially the nurses.
“Many are young mothers or fathers, but they come in and to a person, I ask how they are and they turn around and ask me,” he said. “These people really come in day after day doing what is necessary because of the responsibilities they have as health professionals and their core values.”
To repay those workers for their efforts, Lydiatt said people should keep wearing masks and view Thanksgiving as a small, intimate, and not a big deal this season.
“I know it’s not easy. This is tough stuff. Is it fair No, it’s not fair, but it is necessary, ”he said.
Dr. Cary Ward, chief medical officer at CHI Health, said the number of COVID-19 employees has increased, leading to staff changes at the 14 hospitals in the area.
“Anything we can do to contain growth is greatly appreciated by our healthcare workers,” said Ward.
Stothert commented on the recent expansion of the mask ordinance in the city. She said the new date on which the regulation could expire – February 23 – was chosen because it takes five weeks for the Council to adopt a particular regulation.
It takes just as long to repeal a regulation as it requires three readings and then a vote.
Stothert also said a policy was recently issued urging all Omaha City employees who can work from home to do so.
She said her office had received reports of an event due to be held this weekend at Hy-Vee on 180th Street and Q Street.
“We were in contact with Hy-Vee and OPD,” she said. “Hy-Vee will strictly enforce the law.”
An anti-mask billboard was also a source of controversy that was cleared earlier this week, Stothert said, but not by order of the city or law enforcement agencies, but by the billboard owner.
“This is a First Amendment problem, you can do it, but the company owner decided to fix it,” she said.
Omaha City Councilor Ben Gray said he would not support an ordinance that would close companies “at this point” due to the pandemic.
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