Ricketts: Virtual Meetings Okay; Vaccine May Not Be Widely Available 'Til April

Nov. 25, 2020, 5:21 p.m. ·

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

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Gov. Pete Ricketts said Wednesday local public meetings can be held virtually in Nebraska for the next two months. The governor also asked employers to trust their employees who say they need to quarantine, and cautioned that vaccines for COVID-19 probably won’t be generally available until April.

Earlier this month, Ricketts announced local government bodies like city councils or county boards would be allowed to meet virtually if the state entered the “red zone,” where 25 percent of all hospital beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients. But Wednesday, with the figure still hovering below that threshold, the governor went ahead and said he would allow virtual meetings for two months starting Dec. 1. Ricketts said he acted after hearing concerns from local officials.

“They’re having difficulty getting (a) quorum from some members who are maybe in that at-risk category who are worried about traveling to have a board meeting. And given the prevalence of community spread are concerned about having those in-person meetings. And since they’ve got year end business to take care of, and we may not actually hit the red zone here…we decided to give them the opportunity to be able to plan for that so they could get the notice out and do any year-end business before the end of the year,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts stressed that local governments will still have to provide an opportunity for the public to observe and comment during the meetings.

The governor also said local public health districts have complained that some employers are asking for verification when employees say they’ve been told to quarantine. He asked employers not to do that.

“Please take their word for it and don’t ask the local public health directors for those letters, because they’ve got a lot of work that’s going on right now already. With the number of cases they’re doing contact tracing on, they’re all very, very busy,” he said.

And Ricketts said while it’s promising that a vaccine could be available in December, it probably won’t be available to the general public until springtime.

“We were told that it’s not likely to be generally available to the public until April. Which means that even though it’s very good news that we’ve got vaccines that are both 95 percent effective, with other vaccines coming down the pipe as well hopefully, like AstraZeneca, we will then have those at some point in the future. But we will need to continue through the next several months to continue to follow all our rules around keeping that 6 foot of distance, wearing your mask when you go to the store, wash your hands often, avoid the ‘three C’s,’ stay home when you’re sick, work from home if you can -- all that,” he said.