Nebraska to end nearly all social distancing restrictions

FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2020 file photo, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts addresses Republican supporters during the opening of the Nebraska Trump Victory Office in Omaha, Neb. Ricketts will end nearly all of his state's social-distancing restrictions on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, even as the number of new coronavirus cases has trended upward over the last few months. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik File)
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2020 file photo, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts addresses Republican supporters during the opening of the Nebraska Trump Victory Office in Omaha, Neb. Ricketts will end nearly all of his state's social-distancing restrictions on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, even as the number of new coronavirus cases has trended upward over the last few months. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will end nearly all of his state's social-distancing restrictions on Monday even as the number of new coronavirus cases has trended upward over the last few months.

The new rules will still limit the size of large indoor gatherings, such as concerts, meeting halls and theaters, but will drop all other state-imposed mandates in favor of voluntary guidelines, as other conservative states have done.

“We are loosening the restrictions further on Sept. 14,” Ricketts said at a news conference.

State officials said they made the decision based on the availability of hospital beds and ventilators, in keeping with the Republican governor's goal of not overwhelming medical facilities.

“The goal has always been to protect hospital capacity, and capacity remains stable,” said Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage.

Nebraska's hospitals have 36% of their regular beds, 31% of their intensive care unit beds and 81% of their ventilators available, according to the state's online tracking portal. Those numbers have changed little in the last few months.

The new rules will apply statewide except in Lancaster County, which includes the state capital of of Lincoln, home to the University of Nebraska's flagship campus. They’ve already been in effect in 27 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, but those areas are overwhelmingly rural and have seen few confirmed cases.

Nebraska will also allow smaller indoor facilities, such as bars, restaurants, churches, gyms and hair salons, to operate with no formal restrictions. State guidance still recommends limiting crowd sizes, but those guidelines aren't enforceable.