Governor Pete Ricketts handled the pandemic competently for a short period of time after it broke out earlier this year. Last spring, Ricketts followed the advice of the University of Nebraska Medical Center ((UNMC) and instituted a lock down in Nebraska even though there was never a formal stay at home order. In any event, Ricketts’ early measures were the functional equivalent of a stay at home order.
The billionaire governor’s opening moves were effective and after an initial big spike, Nebraska corona virus cases began to decline after peaking on May 8. On May 8, the number of corona virus cases in Nebraska peaked at 640. As of June 15, new corona virus cases had declined all the way to 116.
However, Ricketts ceased following the advice of UNMC in May and began to prioritize the agenda of his political donors and Donald Trump. Perhaps Ricketts’ most risky decisions were to fully re-open the bars on June 22 and to deny funds to local governments that required the wearing of a mask.
Beginning shortly after the July 4 holiday weekend, cases in Nebraska began to increase again. New cases as of July 14 reached 273 after a steady increase in cases that began on July 6. Both Dr. Ali Khan of UNMC and Dr. Bob Rauner in Lincoln have expressed concerns about this new spike in cases. On July 6, Dr. Rauner posted the following on his Facebook page: “Looks like the start of a surge of cases in Lincoln Lancaster County! This doesn’t even include the likely spread of cases due to the July 4 weekend parties. I hope the Governor & Mayor don’t wait as long as they did in the rest of the country. This was the level of spread in Texas, Arizona, Florida, etc. 2–4 weeks ago. We need to get this under control by August so we can get kids back to school!”
This new surge in cases in Nebraska is especially prevalent in young people. According to the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, approximately 57% of Lancaster County’s new cases in the past two weeks have been among people in their 20s, an age group that makes up only 18.5% of the county. There has been a similar disturbing trends in Douglas County. “We are concerned about the numbers of young people socializing in that age group and the lack of mask use among them,” said Phil Rooney, spokesman for the Douglas County Health Department. “It’s worrisome.”
The Omaha World Herald recently reported that: “The increase in cases among young adults is coming weeks after Nebraska relaxed restrictions on bars and restaurants. On June 22, they were allowed to operate at 100% capacity again. They had been limited to 50% of capacity. June 22 was also when maintaining 6 feet of distance was made voluntary outside of Lancaster County.”
In response to this alarming spike in cases, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird has announced that there will be more compliance checks at the bars and said that: “All options are on the table.” Since that announcement, Mayor Gaylor Baird has made the wearing of masks mandatory in public places. Unfortunately, Ricketts’ spokesman has indicated that the billionaire governor may file a lawsuit aimed at throwing out Lincoln’s new mask requirement.
Despite this troublesome trend, Ricketts has signaled that it is still full speed ahead for his reckless policies. There is no sign he has any reservations about opening up the bars. Moreover, Ricketts is insistent that the schools fully open in August and he still won’t make the wearing of a mask mandatory — even in the schools.
In response, author Ted Genoways tweeted (in part) as follows: “This is pure madness. There are roughly 2,500 students at Lincoln High — where my son attends school. Add in teachers, support staff, cleaning crew, and lunch room staff, you’re talking about 3,000 people, potentially unmasked, in a closed environment for 7+ hours per day. The kids who attend that school have parents who work at Smithfield (in Lincoln and Crete), Universal Pure, the state penitentiary, the county lockup, Bryan hospital — all of which have reported cases. Will students be tested? No. If this is allowed to go forward, students, teachers, and staff will be infected. Zero doubt. And they will also spread it to family members. Fully reopening schools is crazy enough. Doing without masks is a death sentence. It’s depraved.”
It is clear that Nebraska is facing a rendezvous with disaster due to bad decisions made by Ricketts and Trump. The billionaire governor is a well behaved version of Trump with future presidential aspirations in mind. That’s why Ricketts has been a regular at right wing meetings like the NRA, Red State, the Federalist Society and CPAC.
I would recommend that you commit your time and/or money to good legislative candidates. We need a check and balance on Ricketts. Elections have consequences. Let’s chase the money changers out of the temple in 2020! Together, we can whip the corona virus and take our country back!