On May 5, 2020, Pete Ricketts and four other GOP governors wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post titled in part: “Here’s Why Our Approach Worked” and essentially declared “mission accomplished” regarding the corona virus pandemic. In that piece, Ricketts contended: “Our collective experience ensures that our contribution toward reopening our nation’s economy is stable, safe and durable…. Our approach has created a model for success that can be applied throughout the country…The Plains states have managed this emergency exceptionally well by many measures.”
What has happened in Nebraska since Pete Ricketts took that premature victory lap over five months ago? It’s important that progressives revisit these absurd claims and hold Republicans to their own promises and standards. We certainly can’t count on the media to do it for us. Republican propaganda depends heavily upon amnesia from the press and the voters. It is our duty to refresh hazy memories.
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.
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. Ricketts compounded these blunders by lifting all pandemic related restrictions on September 10. The billionaire governor told us it was time to “get back to normal.”
Unfortunately, the corona virus doesn’t care what Ricketts says. Since the former T.D. Ameritrade executive lifted the remaining restrictions, corona virus cases in Nebraska have soared. As recently as September 7, Nebraska only had 84 new corona virus cases. As of October 2, the number of new cases had sky rocketed to 792.
The experts at the U.N.M.C. have reacted with this alarm to this disturbing trend. Nebraska has joined North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa in the so-called RED category. What that means is that Nebraska is considered to be suffering from “unchecked community spread.”
On October 5, Dr. Daniel Johnson, Dr. James Lawler and Dr. Mark Rupp held a press conference to warn Nebraskans of this dangerous trend. Dr. Johnson made the following comments: “The thought of having a flu season and a COVID 19 pandemic on top of it at the same time makes us extremely uneasy. We were far beyond ICU capacity in May. We opened multiple units, three additional units that were dedicated to COVID and we were completely packed. We started that at 50% capacity. We’re starting this at 85% capacity. If people do not change the way we’re currently behaving, we’re not going to have capacity. The assumption that if you get sick we’re going to have a hospital bed for you is a false assumption.”
Dr. James Lawler weighed in as follows: “I think, ultimately, what we should base our decisions on is not those constructs of which phase we’re on which were made really earlier before we knew as much about the pandemic as we do now. We should really base those decisions on is current conditions: what are case counts in the community, what’s happening with our percent positive testing, what’s happening with our hospitalizations. “
Dr. Rupp rejected the notion that Omaha should end its mask mandate. Instead, Rupp advocated that the mask mandate should be statewide. Taylor Gage — Ricketts’ spokesman — rejected a mask mandate and argued that “mandates breed resistance.” (Does Ricketts believe that the state wide mandate requiring that people drive sober, actually encourages more people to drive drunk?)
The UNMC made the following statement on October 5:
“Our daily counts of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are now equal to our May peak and rising rapidly. However, we continue to relax social distancing measures and fully open schools, all while cooler weather begins to drive activities indoors and the annual flu season looms. To absorb the increasing load of patients, Nebraska is relying on hospitals that are currently more than 85% full, which is a very different scenario than in April and May, when hospitals were 50% full. It is a potential perfect storm.
Early in the pandemic, Nebraska took sensible and strong actions to mitigate COVID-19 spread, and we reaped the results of those actions by having one of the lowest fatality rates of any state. We built a solid structure of community protection, but like the game of Jenga, we steadily have removed block after block of that tower: lifting limitations of occupancy inside restaurants, opening bars, allowing large gatherings and opening schools at full student density. As the structure weakens, our case counts accelerate. Now, some communities are considering rolling back the use of face masks. Remove that block, and the entire structure may collapse.”
It is clear that Nebraska is facing a rendezvous with disaster due to incompetent 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!