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."
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