EXCLUSIVE: Nebraska governor talks COVID-19 data, vaccination mandates, medical marijuana, more

Gov. Pete Ricketts sat down for a one-on-one interview with 6 News to talk about topics important to Nebraska residents.
Gov. Pete Ricketts sat down with Lauren Taylor for an exclusive one-on-one interview ahead of his final year in office.
Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 3:39 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - With so many issues happening across our country, we feel the impact here at home.

6 News sat down with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts for an exclusive one-on-one interview to get answers to viewer questions as he enters his last year in office.

Hospital capacity

As the governor enters his last year in office, he says his focus is on property tax relief, growing the state, and promoting Nebraska both domestically and internationally; but 19 months into a worldwide pandemic, Ricketts said his No. 1 priority has always been making sure there’s room in our state’s hospitals.

“During the pandemic, what we focused on was hospitalization,” Ricketts said. “Got some good advice early on from UNMC that said, ‘Hey, this is a virus. You can’t stop it, but what you can do is preserve your hospital capacity to take care of people who need that acute care.’”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nebraska is tied with Minnesota for having the 10th lowest death rate for COVID-19 in the nation: 146 deaths per every 100,000. Last week, Ricketts extended until Oct. 31 a Directed Health Measure aimed at preserving hospital capacity as the delta variant spikes hospitalizations.

Two weeks ago, the state’s COVID-19 dashboard went back online after it was taken down at the end of June. Repeatedly called for by state leaders and Nebraska’s healthcare community, the reinstatement came nearly a month after the governor declared a hospital staffing emergency.

Ricketts said the state will take it down again when covid hospitalizations fall below 10%.

The governor said he is proud of how the state has kept death rates low, while for the most part, keeping kids in the classroom.

“We also were ranked the sixth-best state for kids in classrooms, which is also important for our school kids,” Ricketts said. “And we have the lowest unemployment rate, so we were able to protect lives and livelihoods.”

COVID-19 vaccination mandates

Last month, President Biden signed an executive order requiring employers with 100 or more employees — to either force their employees to get the covid vaccine or undergo weekly testing — in an effort to curb the spread of the delta variant.

Ricketts said testing could cost some companies more than $1 million per year. He also believes the vaccine mandate will affect operations at rural hospitals.

While he encourages Nebraskans to get the vaccine, the governor said his administration will fight back against a nationwide vaccine mandate.

Medical marijuana

6 News also asked the governor about medical marijuana petitions as advocates work to collect signatures and get the issue on the ballot in 2022. Ricketts said he’s not on board with any drug unless it’s approved for use by the FDA.

“Again, if it goes through the FDA process, that’s how we determine drugs are safe and effective, in what doses, with what ailments, with what side-effects,” the governor said. “It’s all done in a way to protect the health and safety of Americans. That’s the proper way to do it.”

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Refugees in Nebraska

And as 700 Afghan refugees make Nebraska their new home after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Ricketts said Nebraska has always been a welcoming state, and it’s mostly up to agencies to help refugees assimilate to American life.

“The federal government doesn’t tell us what it’s doing because it doesn’t work with us,” said Ricketts. “So, it’s really up to the agencies like Lutheran Family Services and Catholic Social Services to be able to work with folks who are going to help welcome the refugees to our state.”

Ricketts added he wants to ensure the federal government is properly vetting refugees who come to America.

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