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Ricketts may consider economic assistance for Nebraskans if Congress fails to act
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Ricketts may consider economic assistance for Nebraskans if Congress fails to act

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Virus Outbreak Nebraska

Gov. Pete Ricketts puts on his face mask after briefly removing it during remarks at a press conference in Omaha on July 14.

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Wednesday hailed the approaching arrival of COVID-19 vaccines this month as a long-awaited signal that "help is on the way," and said he would consider providing some form of state economic assistance to Nebraskans if Congress remains deadlocked and the federal government fails to act.

"That is something we will take into consideration," the governor said in answer to a question at a coronavirus news briefing.

Ricketts said he is hopeful that Congress will act, but "we will take a look at what additional resources we may need to provide as we move forward" if Washington remains politically paralyzed.

Several states, including Michigan, Minnesota and Colorado, have recently enacted state programs to meet needs prompted by the pandemic and its impact on the economy. 

Ricketts says his COVID-19 plan is right for Nebraska despite White House task force assessments

Those actions have been directed at unemployment benefits, rental and utility assistance and stimulus checks.

Ricketts said the state could begin to see Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine flow in during the week of Dec. 14, with 15,600 doses expected in the initial allocation.

If Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is also approved, as expected, its shipments could begin during the week of Dec. 21.

Nebraska could receive more than 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines this month, according to Angie Ling, who is coordinating the program for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Don Walton: Atlantic article foresees Nebraska COVID-19 nightmare

Those doses will be allocated almost entirely to health care workers and nursing home residents, the two groups deemed to have the highest priority for vaccinations by the federal government's advisory committee on immunization practices earlier this week.

The next phases of priority groups are expected to include essential workers, older adults and people with preexisting health conditions.

The general population is not likely to be fully vaccinated until spring or early summer.

Asked about himself, Ricketts said he is not on any priority list and would anticipate receiving the vaccine "sometime in the spring."

"I will have no qualms about taking the vaccine," the governor noted.

UNMC expert makes urgent call for mask mandate; Ricketts doesn't budge

Ricketts said there will be a communications campaign that attempts to assure people about the safety of the vaccine while informing them about potential side effects.

Since most of the vaccines that are being developed require two doses to become maximally effective, there are concerns that some people might not return for the second vaccination unless they are adequately prepared to anticipate side effects.

Asked when Nebraskans could anticipate "a return to normal," Ricketts said "maybe in April, maybe sometime in the summer."

The governor said the state has "caught up" with a backlog that developed in its program of contacting people who may have been exposed to the virus by a relative or acquaintance.  

Statewide, the number of new cases has slowed slightly but cases are surging at a rate that ranks Nebraska behind only Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming in new cases per capita over the past week, according to the New York Times.

Deaths in Nebraska crossed the 1,000 mark this week, with the Department of Health and Human Services announcing nearly 100 deaths in a span of just two days.

As mask mandates pop up in more cities and towns across the state, Ricketts said he has not changed his position on the possible denial of future federal stimulus funding to county governments if they deny services to a citizen who refuses to wear a mask.

"If any citizen gets denied services because of a mask, that would create a problem," he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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