Governor Coronavirus Updates

Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks during his daily coronavirus news conference in April at the state Capitol. Content Exchange

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday the state's primary role in protecting meatpacking workers during the coronavirus pandemic is to encourage companies to adopt best practices for worker safety identified in a playbook compiled by the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Meanwhile, the governor told Washington Post national political reporter Robert Costa during a live interview online, he has been reaching out to workers with Spanish-language briefings on how they can best protect themselves and their families.

Working on the production line in meat processing plants shoulder to shoulder, and usually across from other workers, is "an environment in which it is very difficult to do social distancing," Ricketts told Costa in response to questions about Nebraska's large number of infected workers. 

The plants have implemented some safety protection measures, including erection of plastic barriers between workers, to help shield workers in lieu of attempting to adhere to the current norm of 6 feet of physical separation that is in effect elsewhere during the coronavirus outbreak.

Increased access to testing for the virus has also been implemented at meatpacking plants, Ricketts said.

Worker safety is the primary responsibility of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the governor noted.

"We don't have any regulatory role in the state of Nebraska," the governor said. "We offer best practices."

While OSHA is the regulatory agency in charge of the health and safety of meatpacking workers, states are permitted to institute requirements of their own as long as they are at least as effective as OSHA's standards in terms of protecting workers.

Worker advocates have called for institution of the 6 feet of distancing rule while encouraging companies to adjust to such a requirement by altering or adding production shifts.  

Costa also quizzed the governor about criticism that has been directed at the Test Nebraska program, his administration's lengthy delay in implementing the Medicaid expansion program approved by Nebraska voters a year and a half ago and his policy of implementing guidelines, rules and regulations rather than issuing a shelter-at-home order in the state in response to the pandemic.

Asked whether he is taking hydroxychloroquine, the drug that President Donald Trump says he is taking to help shield him from the coronavirus, Ricketts said he's not taking drugs, but does continue to take fish oil pills and wears a mask when he goes into stores.

Earlier, he said Nebraska's defense against the virus is focused on "things that are proven and established according to the science."

Latest updates on coronavirus in Lincoln and nearby

See the latest news as more coronavirus cases are identified in Nebraska.

Ramadan, an important month in the Islamic calendar wherein Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down, is commencing during an uncertain time due to social distancing measures. While the usual traditions that come with this month are currently not an option, Muslims in Lincoln are finding unique opportunities to connect with their faith.

Among the changes the company is instituting are providing face coverings and requiring employees to wear them, making time clocks touchless and monitoring employees for fever.

The Elton John concert scheduled for Pinnacle Bank Arena on June 9 has been postponed and is being rescheduled for 2021, although no new date has been set.

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At middle and high schools across the city, teachers made signs and hung decorations and put on costumes and played music to help students note the end of a school year where dining room tables and bedroom desks became the classroom.

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This year would have marked the 153rd annual community Fourth of July celebration in Seward, which first put on an event in the local town square in 1868.

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Gov. Ricketts said he has tried to balance restrictions with a regional loosening of mandates that preserves citizen willingness and responsibility, an approach sometimes described as "the hammer and the dance." 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSdon

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