LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts is urging businesses to remain open, but be flexible amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In his latest live Facebook conversation with Nebraska business owners and entrepreneurs, he urged them to take the virus seriously, given the high mortality rates among those 70 years and older who contract the illness. Those rates are 15% for people ages 80 and older and 8% for those 70 and older.

“It’s a virus that’s much more dangerous than some of its predecessors, such as H1N1,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts made it clear that restrictions on businesses, including a suggested limit on no more than 10 customers at a time and social distancing, will likely remain in effect beyond March 31. The goal, he said, is to avoid a huge spike in cases that would overwhelm the state’s hospital facilities, as has happened in Italy and China.

On the governor’s Facebook page, there were several questions posed about beauty salons and similar businesses, with one asking for “black and white” directives.

Tuesday, Ricketts urged them to remain open and take precautions, but in the Omaha area, salons were told by Douglas County health officials to close because workers could not maintain a six-foot distance from clients.

State Economic Development Director Tony Goins, who was also on the program, urged business owners to “take a step back and take a deep breath and really think through the things we need to do.”

Goins said it was important for business owners to reach out to their bank and landlords to see what can be done to deal with financial issues impacting their business. The governor said he was aware of one Lincoln landlord who has cut rent in half for his tenants.

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The following suggestions were offered:

Offer drive-up service to customers

  • Restaurants and bars have moved to takeout, curbside pickup, or drive-thru service.
  • Traditional sit-down restaurants are adding phone lines to handle calls for delivery/pickup orders.
  • Local retailers are posting items for sale online, and then readying orders for curbside pickup.
  • Veterinary clinics have begun to offer stay-in-car services. They will come get the pet from a vehicle, take the pet inside for a checkup, and then deliver the pet back to the vehicle after the exam.
  • Photography stores are offering online sales and giving customers the option to pick up curbside.

Deliver to customers

  • Traditional sit-down restaurant establishments and bars are delivering orders.
  • Consider how you can deliver your product to your customer. Even cigar lounges are delivering cigars to customers.
  • Fitness centers are offering virtual classes. YMCA has classes available on a YouTube channel. Other gyms are offering free classes on demand.
  • Gyms are sending instructors to provide in-home classes to groups of 10 or less.

Modify normal day-to-day operations

  • Businesses are meeting virtually via teleconference or videoconference.
  • Food processing plants are taking temperatures of all workers at the door to ensure the health of their teammates at the work site.
  • Large stores have marked off where customers should stand while waiting to checkout. This helps to maintain the recommended social distance between customers.
  • Medical clinics are having patients check in from the parking lot and wait in their vehicles for their appointment. This prevents patients from being bunched together in a waiting room.
  • Fitness centers are spreading out their equipment to allow up to 10 customers to work out at once.
  • Manufacturers are rearranging workspaces to space out their teammates during the pandemic.
  • Restaurants are offering gift cards with more value than the purchase price, while specifying that the cards must be used at a later date. For instance, they’re selling $75 gift cards for only $50, provided that the cards are used after June 1. This is helping their cash flow during the pandemic.

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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