A Nebraska outlet mall plans to reopen as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in the state.
The Nebraska Crossing Outlets, located about halfway between Lincoln and Omaha, announced that it aims to reopen on April 24 — when health officials predict cases to peak in the state.
Outlet owner Rod Yates said the mall would hold a “soft opening” and could serve as a test site for how businesses can best go about reopening during the pandemic.
“We’re looking at the great opportunity to set some best practices and help our retailers open their portfolios across the country,” Yates told the Omaha World-Herald.
Nebraska is among a select few states that still allow malls to remain open even if most businesses are closed because of the restrictions on gatherings.
The state had documented more than 890 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday night, alongside 20 related deaths, after recording its first patient back on March 6.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, has urged residents to only shop once a week and to do so alone, though he hasn’t issued any formal restrictions beyond the state’s gathering limit.
Ricketts said the mall and other stores are free to open as long as they follow the social-distancing order.
“We didn’t ask them to close, and we didn’t ask them to open,” he said at a coronavirus news briefing.
“If companies are looking to be able to get prepared for some point down the road when those restrictions are loosened, that’s OK, but anybody who’s operating still needs to continue to follow all the guidelines.”
Local health experts sounded the alarm that the opening could undo any positive containment that has come from people staying home.
But representatives from the mall said they’re taking precautions. The mall has purchased 100 thermometers for each store to use to check employees at the start of each day. They also will install 200 plastic shields at registers to separate shoppers and workers.
Both shoppers and employees will be encouraged to wear masks and gloves.
“Anything we do is going to be very controlled,” Yates said. “We’re not going to do any mass events that attract hundreds of people. We’re going to slowly ease ourselves into the process of getting ourselves open.”
The open-air mall features stores from Coach, Nike, Kate Spade and others.
Mall officials already pushed back its soft opening once, from a planned April 18 date, and could do so again if cases spike, according to Johanna Boston, the chief strategy officer for Nebraska Crossing.
“If tomorrow our numbers jump and we have a conversation with the governor, it could change,” she told the World-Herald.
“But right now, we’re doing what we’ve been asked to do, which is to start getting people back to work in the safest environment we can create.”