As Nebraska begins to open up gradually with loosening of restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday he is going to be cautious about giving the green light to large gatherings.

Expect limits on crowd sizes at least until August, the governor said during his daily coronavirus news briefing.

That would take him up close to a couple of big decisions: The State Fair is scheduled to begin in Grand Island on Aug. 28; Nebraska is scheduled to play its first football game in Lincoln on Sept. 5.

If he gives the green light to the State Fair, Ricketts said, "it's safe to say it won't be able to operate this year the way it did last year."

At a previous briefing, the governor said he believes the Huskers could be able to play football in Lincoln "under certain conditions" and he thinks "there could be fans participating."

At Thursday's briefing, Ricketts said "the thing that really drives spread of the virus is crowds" and he expects to be "cautious about opening up large crowd venues."

A directive limiting sizes of social gatherings in Nebraska to 10 people remains in effect through May, but he said he is "looking at loosening that restriction in June," with the expectation of continuing to loosen restrictions "a step at a time."

Thursday's briefing focused on the contact-tracing program that is being constructed by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to contact people who may have been exposed by people who have been diagnosed with infection by the virus.

Increased testing for the virus and self-quarantine of those contacts is viewed as vital in containing and slowing the spread of the virus.

"It's essentially detective work," Felicia Quintana-Zinn, deputy director of the Division of Public Health, said.

And the goal is to "stop the spread as quickly as possible," she added.

Contacts are made with people who may have recently been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 10 minutes, and thus subject to likely exposure.

The state expects to train 1,000 contact tracers, who will conduct those interviews by telephone.

Meanwhile, the state is ramping up its testing program through and plans to eventually test 3,000 persons a day, expanding from four mobile test sites to six.

Tests are being conducted in Lincoln and Omaha now while other test sites have moved from Grand Island and Schuyler to Lexington and Norfolk.

On a related topic, Ricketts said his administration is beginning to ask agency directors to "think about how to reduce their budgets and control costs" in view of the loss of state revenue that will result from the economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

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