Omaha World-Herald: Ricketts defends meatpacking plants, says they need to stay open despite coronavirus cases
· By Martha Stoddard World-Herald Bureau
· Apr 23, 2020 Updated 1 hr ago
LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts said Nebraska is working to keep meatpacking plants open despite soaring numbers of coronavirus cases in those communities.
Shutting down the plants, as has happened in neighboring states of Iowa and South Dakota, could jeopardize the nation’s food supply, he said. He warned there would be civil unrest if people could not get access to meat.
“I don’t foresee a scenario where I would tell them to close,” he said.
Ricketts also refused to blame the plants, where employees typically work in close proximity, for the number of cases in Hall, Dawson and Dakota counties. The three counties have among the nation’s highest rates of coronavirus. Hall County has nearly twice as many cases as the much more populous Douglas County.
The governor called the outbreaks in those counties a "community problem," noting that employees only spend part of their days at the plants and often live in close quarters.
He touted steps being taken by plants to increase safety by putting up dividers between workers, providing masks, sectioning off the cafeteria and more. But he said the plants may not be able to follow the state directive to maintain 6 feet between workers.
As of Wednesday evening, Nebraska had 1,813 coronavirus cases and 45 deaths. Hall County accounted for 588 cases, or about one-third of the total. The county also had the largest number of deaths at 15.