Oct 14, 2020 8:36 PM

Nebraska officials urge caution with Halloween amid pandemic

Posted Oct 14, 2020 8:36 PM

By JOSH FUNK-Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska officials say Halloween celebrations may need to be tweaked this year because of the coronavirus pandemic as the state continues to set records for the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday that he thinks children will still be able to go trick-or-treating for Halloween but people may decide to leave candy on their porches for kids to pick up instead of handing it out themselves this year.

"I think there are ways that we can have Halloween and still do in a way that we can slow the spread of the virus and keep that 6-foot of distance and so forth," Ricketts said. "We can do this but we have to manage it. It can't be like it was in the past."

Ricketts, who eliminated most of the state's restrictions related to the virus last month, isn't likely to impose new rules for Halloween, but he encouraged people to follow the recommendations of public health officials who have called traditional trick-or-treating a high risk activity.

In the state's most populous county, Douglas County health officials said Wednesday that people can reduce the risks associated with trick-or-treating by setting out goodie bags for families to grab while maintaining a safe distance and staying in small groups. Foregoing trick-or-treating altogether in favor of planning scavenger hunts or other activities only with your own family would reduce the risk further.

"I think we want to have a fun Halloween, but we also want to have a safe Halloween," said Douglas County Health Department Director Adi Pour who recommended that people avoid large indoor parties or big gatherings at haunted houses to limit risks.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has said children should wear masks along with their costumes to help limit the spread of germs.

Nebraska set another new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations Wednesday with 315 people being treated for the virus in hospitals across the state. That number exceeds the record of 305 set last weekend and remains well above the spring peak of 232 set on May 27, according to the state's online virus tracker.

Nebraska health officials have said they are monitoring hospital capacity closely, but so far hospitals are managing the patient load OK even though hospital capacity is tightening. The state said 24% of Nebraska's intensive care beds and 76% of the state's ventilators remained available Wednesday.

Nebraska continues to have the seventh-highest rate of new cases, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Nebraska increased over the past two weeks from 13.01% on Sept. 29 to 13.28% on Tuesday.

The state reported 704 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday to give Nebraska 53,543 cases since the pandemic began. Five new deaths were also reported to give the state 527 deaths linked to the virus.