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Gov. Ricketts comments on medical marijuana, Big Ten, COVID-19 outbreak at pentitentiary

Published: Aug. 31, 2020 at 1:35 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 31, 2020 at 2:44 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - In an update Monday that featured a new slogan focused on the agricultural exports of Nebraska, Gov. Pete Ricketts also commented on the state penitentiary’s COVID-19 quarantine, medical marijuana, and the Big Ten’s fall sports decisions.

Focus on Nebraska exports

The governor talked about the rebranding of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, which will focus on exports: “Nebraska: Straight from the Good Life.” He talked about the increase in beef and pork exports to Vietnam following a “trade mission” trip to the country last year. Ricketts also noted that 50% of beef going to the European Union is coming “straight from Nebraska.”

Q&A with the governor

On his attendance at the RNC: Ricketts said he didn’t wear his mask the entire time he attended the Republican National Convention last week “because it was also kind of hot and so forth,” but that he did wear it when he was in closer contact, particularly while seated, and did feel safe while attending the event.

At The White House with fellow Governors waiting for President Donald J. Trump to take the stage! #MAGA

Posted by Governor Pete Ricketts on Thursday, August 27, 2020

On reported issues with COVID-19 contact tracing: Ricketts encouraged Nebraskans to “do the right thing” and cooperate with contact tracers.

The governor said the best to handle any issues with contact tracing is through education but that the state can’t compel testing or cooperation with contact tracers. Ricketts said the latest data available show that contact tracers were reaching out to 90% of close contacts on the first day of a known case and getting ahold of 63% of them, and then were able to get in touch with 45% of those close contacts.

Encouraging cooperation with contact tracers to determine exposure, Ricketts said Nebraskans should do their civic duty to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in their community.

“If they ask you to stay home, stay home so you don’t infect somebody else,” he said.

On the penitentiary quarantine: The governor addressed a question about how COVID-19 got into the state’s prison system. Relating it to the flu, Ricketts said: “It’s a virus, so it’s always going to be looking to spread from person to person... and there’s going to be places where it’s difficult to (social distance).”

Most cases in the prison system are being taken care of at the penitentiary, he said, but an acute case might get moved to a hospital if necessary, which lines up with standard inmate care practices.

In the case of the current outbreak, the inmate did not report his symptoms, Ricketts said.

On potential business closings: The governor said the state’s focus on hospital capacity will drive all decisions made regarding COVID-19, even as students get back to college on campuses.

He reiterated the “five rules” and encouraged all Nebraskans to avoid crowded gatherings and parties, and that the state just needs to stay the course and continue to manage the virus.

“I do not see the need to take the steps that they’ve taken in Iowa,” Ricketts said.

During his brief COVID-19 update, the governor noted that more than 180,000 tests conducted through Test Nebraska, which amounts to 50-60% of all tests done throughout the state.

On medical marijuana: Ricketts said he would leave the legal battle to the courts, but said that he’s very much against a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana in Nebraska, calling it “a dangerous thing.”

“There is no such thing as medical marijuana,” he said. “This is not something that’s going to be prescribed by a doctor. It’s not going to be distributed through a pharmacy. Right. These are dispensaries that’ll be in your communities.”

The governor said the effects of legalizing medical marijuana can be seen by looking at state where this has already taken place.

“People show up to work stoned, and that puts them at greater risk for accidents on the job,” Ricketts said. “We know that this has a huge impact on children, their development, their you know their cognitive development, their development in their brain is impacted when they have access to marijuana.”

In states where marijuana is legalized, those rates go up, he said.

“This is not... a benign thing; this is a dangerous thing,” Ricketts said.

On the upcoming Big Ten football season: The governor criticized the conference’s handling of its fall sports season.

“I think the Big Ten has made a mistake in the way they’ve handled it,” he said.

There was no reason to cancel cross country because of what might happen at football games, he said, encouraging the Big Ten re-examine the decision.

“They’re penalizing a lot of folks here, and again, I think this is all manageable,” Ricketts said.

The governor said the state was working with local public health departments and the university to figure out how to “manage football games.”

“It was going to look different from last year, right, because of the pandemic, but I think it was manageable,” he said.

Ricketts said the Big Ten should think about how states are going to be impacted differently, and that each state should be able to make their own decisions based on the “facts on the ground for each locality.”

Watch the governor’s full update

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