Ricketts Urges Nebraskans Not to Stigmatize People During Pandemic

May 22, 2020, 5:59 p.m. ·

Gov. Pete Ricketts speaking Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Gov. Pete Ricketts urged Nebraskans Friday not to discriminate against people during the coronavirus pandemic. And Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said eased restrictions will now allow some high school graduation ceremonies to take place.

If you compare what percentage of the population different racial and ethnic groups make up, to what percentage of COVID-19 cases and deaths occur in those groups, you see some stark differences.

In Omaha’s Douglas County, for example, the Census estimates about 13 percent of the population is Latino. But the Douglas County Health Department says about 47 percent of the county’s COVID-19 cases are among Latinos. On the other hand, only 7 percent of the deaths are in that group.

Non-Hispanic whites, by contrast, are about 69 percent of the population, only 17 percent of the cases, but 60 percent of the deaths. Officials think that could be because that group is older, and the virus has disproportionately killed people in nursing homes.

African Americans are about 11 percent of the population in Douglas County and 10 percent of cases, but 26 percent of deaths.

And Asian Americans are 4 percent of the population, 16 percent of the cases, and 7 percent of deaths.

Speaking about disparities like that at his daily news conference on the coronavirus, Gov. Pete Ricketts drew a simple lesson.

“This virus does not care what the color of your skin is. It does not care what race or ethnicity you are. If it can get to you, it wants to infect you. So please, remember, do not stigmatize anybody who has been infected, who has come down with the virus. We need to make sure that those folks are being taken care of. If you can isolate at home and prevent the spread in the community, that’s best. If you need to go to the hospital, go to the hospital. But remember folks, this virus does not care what the color of skin is that you have, it is trying to infect you,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts has said the state is trying to collect statewide information on racial and ethnic breakdowns of the disease to publish before the end of the month.

Also at the news conference, Education Commissioner Matt Blomstedt said relaxed guidelines on gatherings in June will permit some graduation ceremonies to be held. Blomstedt referred to the guidelines contained in a new directed health measures, or DHM.

“The new DHM actually allows venues to open with limited capacities. We believe that graduations can take place underneath those DHMs in a certain fashion…So an outdoor graduation for instance, in a school district’s football stadium, for instance, is a possibility with those limitations,” Blomstedt said.

Department of Education spokesman David Jespersen said while some school districts have already held online graduations, others have postponed the ceremonies. Those schools may now be able to schedule graduations, and others who have had online ceremonies may now opt to have in person ones as well.

Ricketts was also asked about TestNebraska.com. When the testing program was announced in late April, its stated goal was to test 3,000 people a day within about 5 or 6 weeks. Thursday, it tested 1,155. Ricketts said it’s making progress.

“We haven’t reached the 3,000 tests a day yet, but we knew it was going to take time to ramp that up. And again, folks, this is like a startup business. You know, when you start up a business, the first casualty of every battle is the plan. So you find out things that you can improve upon. That’s what we’ve been doing with TestNebraska.com, as we find something we can do a better job on, we fix it and move on and try to do a better job. And the fact of the matter is we are testing more people because of TestNebraska.com. You cannot dispute that fact at all,” he said.