Nebraska governor refuses to issue safety measures even as outbreaks rise


Gov. Pete Ricketts' request for a 'major federal disaster' declaration was approved weeks ago, but he is still refusing to issue a statewide stay-at-home order.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday he would still not issue a statewide stay-at-home order, even as two meatpacking communities reported hundreds of new COVID-19 cases in the past week alone.

Ricketts has encouraged residents to "stay home" amid the pandemic to prevent further spread but has so far refused to issue an official order forcing them to shelter in place.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, Hall and Dawson Counties — both home to major meatpacking facilities — have become "two of the nation's biggest hot spots" for the virus. With 171 new cases in Dawson since April 8  and 462 new cases in Hall during that same time frame, the two account for nearly 60% of the state's new cases.

Both were in the top 15 counties nationally for percentage growth over the past 10 days, according to the World-Herald's analysis.

Ricketts acknowledged Monday that a significant percentage of the new cases over the weekend were from the two counties "where we've got some of these food-processing plants." Still, the governor said he would not tell residents to stay at home.

"I really don't know that you necessarily get a lot from the shelter in place," Ricketts told reporters. "What we need is people to follow the [existing] rules. And that's what we're working on, is to get people to follow the rules."

Ricketts is one of just eight governors who have refused to issue a statewide stay-at-home order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Other states have also seen a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in and around meatpacking plants. A major pork facility in South Dakota closed last week after more than 300 workers tested positive for coronavirus. Another pork facility in Minnesota shut down Monday due to a similar outbreak. And dozens of workers at a Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa, have also become infected with the coronavirus.

Cases have also been reported recently at several other meatpacking plants in Nebraska.

Ricketts got the Trump administration to declare his state a "major federal disaster" on April 4. But he declined to tell residents to stay home, arguing such a move was not necessary in the state.

So far, Nebraska has reported 1,648 positive cases and 33 deaths. Both the surgeon general and the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have urged a national stay-at-home approach to flatten the curve and curb its spread.

Nebraska state Sen. Megan Hunt told the World-Herald this week that, while she supports a statewide stay-at-home order, "Anything the governor would do would be better than what he's doing now."

"Even a regional stay-in-place for Dawson and Hall would be better," Hunt added.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.