Gov. Pete Ricketts, speaking on Jake Tapper’s Sunday show on CNN, said Nebraska will follow its own plans and guidelines on when to open local schools and businesses.
The governor, video chatting from his Omaha home, said Nebraska will not change its novel coronavirus plans based on the federal government’s efforts to speed at least some reopening.
President Donald Trump has said governors and states will be able to make their own decisions on when and where to restrict activity, Ricketts said, and that’s what Nebraska intends to do.
“We’ve got a plan, and we’ll keep working our plan,” Ricketts said.
The Trump administration's initial guidelines on crowd sizes expires Tuesday, and the president on Fox News last week said he thought certain parts of the country, including Nebraska, could begin resuming more normal activity.
"It's a very bad situation, we haven't seen anything like it, but the end result is we got to get back to work, and I think we can start by opening up certain parts of the country, you know, the farm belt, certain parts of the Midwest, other places," Trump told host Sean Hannity. "You take some of these great states, like Iowa, you take a look at Idaho, you take a look at Nebraska ... they have it under control ... they immediately put people in quarantine," he added in the interview Thursday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday on CNN that people in areas with relatively few infections (like Nebraska) must remain vigilant. Partial openings might be possible, but not until these areas have enough testing capacity to get sick people out of circulation and enough resources to effectively track their contacts with others.
With the proper tools, he said, states and places with fewer infections might be able to avoid the fate of the Washington state or New York City, which have seen COVID-19 cases explode.
Fauci said he’d like to see people wait to relax restrictions and open things up until the daily number of cases flatten out or until they “turn the corner” and come down.
Ricketts said Nebraska has performed about 2,000 tests for COVID-19, the abbreviation for coronavirus disease 2019. The state’s plans were designed for being short on tests, he said. That will be adjusted as more become available.
Tapper asked Ricketts how prepared Nebraska’s rural health system is to handle the spread of coronavirus and on the need for ICU space, which is spare in much of the state.
Ricketts said the key to helping rural hospitals is managing the spread of the virus and making sure testing protocols and availability are the same in rural areas as urban.
State health officials, working with hospitals and local leaders, are trying to get supplies to the medical providers who need them, when they need them, he said.
And Nebraska’s rural hospitals and clinics already transfer cases to larger hospitals that they cannot handle, he said, so they will likely do the same with COVID-19 patients who need it.
The state is doing an analysis right now on the need for hospital beds and ventilators and will work to secure what Nebraska needs, including personal protective equipment, he said.
Nebraska has roughly 600 ventilators, Ricketts has said. He sidestepped Tapper’s question about whether states such as Nebraska with fewer cases should share with harder-hit states.
The governor told Tapper that Nebraska is not having the troubles other states’ governors shared about bidding on medical equipment and supplies.
Two governors joining Ricketts on the show — Washington's Jay Inslee and Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer — have complained that they've had trouble bidding against other states and the federal government for supplies.
Ricketts said there are only two models to secure such equipment for the states, a model that relies on the federal government to buy them and the one he prefers, which relies on states to do so.
“I prefer that we leave it up to the states to manage this, because we will have a better outcome,” Ricketts said.