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Ricketts: Nebraskans must ‘do better’ to slow coronavirus

April 1, 2020 GMT
A nurse in protective gear tests for the COVID-19 and coronavirus virus at a drive-thru test location at Bryant Health's LifePointe campus in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Testing was by appointment only. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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A nurse in protective gear tests for the COVID-19 and coronavirus virus at a drive-thru test location at Bryant Health's LifePointe campus in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Testing was by appointment only. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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A nurse in protective gear tests for the COVID-19 and coronavirus virus at a drive-thru test location at Bryant Health's LifePointe campus in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Testing was by appointment only. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a stern warning Wednesday to try to pressure Nebraskans into taking steps to keep the coronavirus from spreading, but he reiterated that he won’t impose a stay-at-home order as at least 31 other states have done.

His comments came as the number of confirmed Nebraska cases rose to 210 as of Wednesday afternoon, with four people dead. New cases have continued to surface daily, with 33 confirmed Wednesday afternoon, up from 25 the previous day and 17 on Monday.

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Ricketts said it appears that statewide social distancing rules are successfully preventing even larger increases, but “we have to do more” to avoid overloading the state’s hospitals.

“Folks, we’ve got to do better,” he said at a Capitol news conference. “I have by and large seen that Nebraskans are paying attention to this, but we’ve got to do better.”

Ricketts has repeatedly said he won’t issue a stay-at-home order, as at least 31 other states and the District of Columbia have done.

Earlier Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order that will remain in effect for at least 30 days amid growing pressure from local and federal authorities. The Florida order includes exceptions for buying food, medicine and gas, visiting the doctor, outdoor exercise and commuting to jobs deemed essential. All businesses not considered essential must close their offices and stores, but can let employees work from home.

Nebraska has taken a less restrictive, regional approach. Statewide, officials have urged residents not to have any social gathering larger than 10 people, but that request isn’t legally enforceable.

However, Ricketts has also ordered more restrictive “directed health measures” in 52 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. The directed health measures impose the same 10-person limit, but people who refuse to comply can be charged with a misdemeanor. The orders also require restaurants and bars in those areas to close their dining areas, but they can still offer takeout and delivery.

Asked Tuesday why Nebraska hasn’t announced a full stay-at-home order, Ricketts said he was following a tailored approach out of concern that imposing such an order too early might lead some residents to grow weary and stop following them, which would then allow the outbreak to worsen. He said more immediate action was needed in places like Omaha and Lincoln because the number of local cases are likely to surge first, but rural areas may not have the same problem.

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A top lobbyist for Nebraska grocery stores said customers “need to take this issue very, very seriously,” so that state officials aren’t forced to impose even tougher restrictions.

“Do what needs to be done so other people don’t need to make those decisions for you,” said Kathy Siefken, executive director of the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association.

Siefken, who appeared with Ricketts at the news conference, said grocery stores are taking steps to keep the virus from spreading, but some Nebraska stores have seen large crowds as people try to stock up on supplies.

Meanwhile, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday that a Buffalo County man in his 90s had become the state’s fourth resident to die of COVID-10.

For most people, COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are among those particularly susceptible to more severe illness, including pneumonia.

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

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