Ricketts: Trump Order on Meat Packing Consistent With Nebraska's Efforts

April 28, 2020, 5:31 p.m. ·

Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks Tuesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Governor Pete Ricketts said Tuesday President Donald Trump’s expected order to keep meatpacking plants open is consistent with Nebraska’s efforts.

The Associated Press and other news outlets reported Trump’s order would use the Defense Production Act to classify meat processing as critical infrastructure to keep production plants open. The action comes as outbreaks of COVID-19 have affected meatpacking plants in Nebraska communities including Grand Island, Hastings, Lexington, Dakota City, Madison, and Crete. Union officials have accused companies of putting continued production above worker safety.

Ricketts was asked about the order to keep the plants open in his news conference Tuesday.

“That’s what we’ve been working to do here in Nebraska. It’s something that you have to work at on the ground. You have to work very hard to reach out to the plants, to the communities, to work on social distancing and all those sort of things, the testing, contact tracing all the things we’ve done. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” Ricketts said.

Asked if the decision to keep plants open should be up to the president or the governor, Ricketts said “If the president has a plan to be able to do it, we’re happy to work with him on the plan. But at the end of the day, you still have to work to be able to have people in there and do all the social distancing and everything like that. If we can get additional resources to do that, I’m all ears on how that could happen.”

In Dakota County, where a Tyson Foods plant is located in Dakota City, COVID-19 cases jumped from the 459 reported on the state website Monday evening to 629 reported by the Dakota County Health Department Tuesday afternoon. Ricketts noted the National Guard had been doing tests in the area.

“We are doing a lot more testing up in Dakota County. So we deployed the National Guard up there and we expect to do a lot more testing in the Dakota County area to be able to have an idea,” of COVID-19 infections there, he said.

Also Tuesday, Ricketts announced more state employees will now be eligible for up to 80 hours of coronavirus-related leave, if they themselves are sick or in quarantine or have to care for children out of school.

Previously, leave had not been available to employees in “mission-critical” jobs in Corrections, the State Patrol, 24-hour facilities, public assistance, and health care. But Ricketts said agreements worked out with state unions now mean those employees will qualify, if the missions can still be carried out.

Also appearing at the governor’s news conference was Zoe Olson of the Nebraska Restaurant Association. Olson said when restaurants begin to reopen for dine-in service in 59 of the state’s 93 counties next week, they will observe social distancing and other practices to protect customers that she called the “Nebraska Promise.” But she said customers would be making a promise, too.

“And the promise that you’re making to us is that you will not come into our restaurants, into our dining rooms if you are showing any symptoms of COVID-19, if you have a fever, anything like that. Because our staff is incredibly important to us and we need to keep them safe,” Olson said.

Dental offices will also be allowed to open around the state starting next Monday. Dr. Ken Tusha of the Nebraska Dental Association said patients will be limited to avoid interacting with one another, protective equipment will be used, and some procedures will change. And he compared it to an earlier change in dentistry.

“Dentistry went through an episode like this back in the Eighties with the AIDS crisis. That’s when, all of a sudden, dentists started wearing gloves, wearing masks. And rest assured that we got this. We will beat this,” Tusha said.

WATCH: Daily News Update, April 28