Beginning today, nearly all of Nebraska’s social distancing restrictions will end as Gov. Pete Ricketts moves the state into the fourth phase of its reopening plan.

Under Phase IV, indoor gatherings are limited to 75% capacity and gatherings of 500 people or more will need approval from local public health directors. But all other state-imposed mandates are dropped in favor of voluntary guidelines for masks and social distancing.

State officials indicated they made the decision based on the availability of hospital beds and ventilators. 

The state’s assisted living communities and nursing homes, however, continue to follow federal guidelines such as those from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

Although the state’s movement to Phase IV does not apply directly to senior living and care communities, LeadingAge Nebraska President and CEO Jenifer Acierno said the change may affect positivity rates in areas where facilities are located and where staff members who care for older adults live.

“LeadingAge Nebraska encourages continued vigilance and social responsibility, in particular for those who provide services and care for seniors,” Acierno told McKnight’s Senior Living

Cindy Kadavy, senior vice president of policy, research and reimbursement for the Nebraska Assisted Living Association, said it’s important to note that although the requirements change today, the recommended safety precautions and guidance remain in place.

“The Nebraska Assisted Living Association appreciates the importance Gov. Rickets, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, and other Nebraska leaders and medical experts have placed on wearing masks, handwashing, social distancing, testing and other preventative actions in the fight against COVID-19,” Kadavy told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Since one of the most significant factors contributing to a positive case in a long-term care facility is an increase in the COVID-positive rate in the surrounding community, NALA and our members urge Nebraskans to use common sense and good judgment and continue to follow the recommended safety precautions and guidance to keep COVID-19 out of our communities and out of our facilities.”

Under the state’s long-term care phasing guidance for assisted living communities and nursing homes, facilities are permitted to enter phases of reopening based on local community criteria. NDHHS created a three-phased reopening approach for facilities, advising them to monitor county/local community trends to determine whether movement through phases is appropriate for each building.

Under the long-term care phasing guidance, Phase I prohibits visitation except for compassionate care and limited conditions. Communal dining and group activities are restricted, and staff members and residents are screened daily. 

A facility can initiate Phase II if it has adequate staffing levels and supplies of personal protective equipment, the ability to cohort, and no active COVID-19 cases. Phase III can be initiated once baseline testing for staff members is completed. Baseline testing for residents is recommended but not required. In both phases, visitation is still limited but allowed.

“We join the governor in urging Nebraskans and all individuals to do the right thing,” Kadavy said.

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • A new video from the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living celebrates the many residents who have recovered from COVID-19 in assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities and celebrates the hard work and dedication of caregivers who have been by their side since day one. The video is a reminder that positive cases do not necessarily end in tragedy, AHCA / NCAL said.
  • The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is working to provide criteria for limited indoor visitation in assisted living communities and nursing homes by Oct. 1. Visitation guidelines for the settings were loosened on Sept. 1, allowing limited outdoor visitation. 
  • Long-term care facilities in Oklahoma now have more flexibility to reinstate in-person visitation after updated guidelines were released last week by the Oklahoma Department of Health. The revised guidelines provide a phased approach to opening for nursing homes, with assisted living communities and other congregate settings given the option of having their infection preventionist follow an independently developed framework for easing restrictions using the state plan as a guide along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 mitigation strategies.