Mayor Outlines Factors That Will Guide Easing of Restrictions
Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird today outlined key factors that are guiding local decision-making regarding relaxation of the current COVID-19 Directed Health Measures (DHM) that are in effect through Wednesday May 6. Local public health officials are working with the State, business associations, and other key stakeholders to determine how and when to safely make changes.
"All of the non-pharmaceutical interventions that our community has undertaken obviously have worked well in Lincoln. They have bought us a lot of time to prepare and prevented our hospitals from being overwhelmed, "said Mayor Gaylor Baird. "All of us feel the heavy toll the pandemic is taking, and all of us are eager to get through to the other side of this pandemic and to fashion our recovery from it." The mayor stated that even as Lincoln moves forward with relaxations of the measures, the public must continue to think about how they can create barriers between the virus and its next potential victim.
"Think of the process not as an on-and-off switch but instead like a dimmer switch," she said. "We won't be flipping on a switch but rather will be easing off the measures and practices in order to prevent flare-ups that derail our progress on the road to recovery."
Gaylor Baird said the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) is considering five primary factors in its decisions on easing restrictions:
Testing capacity - The number of tests available from the Public Health Lab and Lab Corp is going up from 150 to 300 a day in Lincoln sometime this week. Gaylor Baird said testing is important in identifying those who need medical care, understanding the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community, and performing effective contact tracing.
The number of new daily cases - Gaylor Baird said a 14-day period with flat or declining numbers of new cases would indicate a lower risk associated with loosening some of the more significant restrictions. Lincoln is currently seeing an increased number of daily cases of COVID-19 reported. The 36 cases reported Sunday and Monday represent nearly a quarter of the 156 total cases reported so far.
The positivity rate - The percentage of people who test positive out of the total number of people tested is increasing in Lincoln. In late March and early April, when testing was limited to higher priority populations, the positivity rate held steady at 2 to 3 percent. Now that testing is more available and more symptomatic people are being tested, the positivity rate has risen to 4.7 percent. The positivity rate last week was 5.8 percent, the highest percentage in a one-week time frame. Gaylor Baird said the positivity rate provides an even sharper picture of the virus' progression in the community, and a decreasing rate would indicate that the spread is being controlled.
The strength of the local health care system - To ease restrictions, Gaylor Baird said officials need to feel confident that local health care facilities have enough beds, ventilators, and personal protective equipment to manage COVID-19 cases and potential outbreaks.
Public health capacity - To ensure that any outbreak can be mitigated, Gaylor Baird said LLCHD must have sufficient trained staff to do the needed investigations and to perform contact tracing at a pace that keeps up with the caseload demand. LLCHD has 8 to 10 staff members working on contact tracing, but additional staff training will increase that number to 28.
Mayor Gaylor Baird said that until a vaccine is available, some degree of physical distancing measures will be needed to reduce the risk of future outbreaks. She said individuals at high risk for developing severe cases of COVID-19 most likely will need to continue to stay home, and face coverings will continue to be needed to prevent the spread of the virus.
More information on COVID-19 and the City's response is available at COVID19.lincoln.ne.gov. The website includes information on how those with symptoms of COVID-19 can be tested in Lincoln.