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

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Ricketts touts revenue, virus response in legislative speech

Gov. Pete Ricketts walks back to his office after addressing lawmakers in Lincoln in July. 

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday rejected a continuing series of White House COVID-19 task force assessments declaring that Nebraska needs to issue a mask mandate to control the spread of the virus in the state, arguing that his plan is "right for Nebraska."

Ricketts has urged Nebraskans to wear masks when shopping or when they are in close contact or in crowded conditions, but has stopped short of issuing any kind of overall mandate.

An exception is a directed health measure requiring a mask when interacting in a business closer than 6 feet apart for 15 minutes or more. 

"This is a plan that's right for Nebraska," the governor said during a COVID-19 news briefing. "We listen to all kinds of experts. This plan is tailored specifically for Nebraska."

A series of White House task force recommendations was posted on the @_DanGolden Twitter account after the Omahan received the data in response to a records request.

Those recommendations are "pretty much the same for all of the states," Ricketts said.  

Don Walton: Atlantic article foresees Nebraska COVID-19 nightmare

"Use a mask when it's appropriate," the governor said.  

"And leave a little space for grace," he suggested.

Nebraska is among the Midwestern states where COVID-19 infections have spiked, although there has been a recent leveling of new cases.  

Ricketts has been focused on protecting hospital space for coronavirus patients, announcing that he will tighten restrictions if the number of COVID-19 patient hospitalizations reaches 25% of staffed hospital beds.

Current figures as the governor spoke were 3,986 staffed beds and 896 COVID-19 hospitalizations. That's 100 patients short of reaching the 25% figure.

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Ricketts said he's trying to "strike a balance" of continuing to manage the virus while recognizing that "we've got businesses out there we're all supporting."

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

Ricketts urged Nebraskans who are returning from Thanksgiving holiday travel to "look for an opportunity to be tested."

If the Thanksgiving holiday is going to result in an anticipated spike in COVID-19 infections, that probably would become visible within a couple of weeks, he said. 

John Hilgert, director of the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs, joined Ricketts at the news briefing, urging Nebraskans to be aware of the deadly danger of spreading the virus inside the four state veterans homes where aging veterans are vulnerable.

"Of course, we should wear a mask," Hilgert said. "I wear a mask because it's a sign of respect. I care about your health as well."

Hilgert has battled COVID-19 infection himself after contracting the virus in May.

In answer to questions, Ricketts said "it seems unlikely that (President Donald Trump) is going to be able to overturn the results of the election" following a continuing series of losses in court challenges.

Don Walton: Post-Thanksgiving virus alert; but help is on the way

Ricketts, a Republican, was a strong supporter of the president and often praised his engagement with the nation's governors.

"It depends on the president-elect (Democratic winner Joe Biden) what kind of relationship he has with governors," Ricketts said.

On another issue, the governor said he believes it is unlikely that additional federal coronavirus funding assistance will be available this year.

If there is to be another round of stimulus funding, he said, "it's unlikely until the new president is sworn in."

THE SCENE IN LINCOLN DURING THE PANDEMIC:

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

On Twitter @LJSdon

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