State COVID-19 response column art

A few weeks ago, my mom called to tell me I needed to think about boxing all my things up since I probably wouldn’t be coming back to Nebraska after spring break. But no one at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln or in the city of Lincoln seemed to be as concerned as my mom was at that point, so I put off her suggestions and went about business as usual. 

But on March 12, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced it would cancel all classes the week before spring break and move all courses online for the rest of the semester. I had to beg my roommate for a ride to a shabbily-stocked Target to try and find some storage boxes.

Some states enacted or are currently passing legislation to aid their constituents in these trying times, such as a New Jersey bill that will prohibit the shutdown of utilities during the COVID-19 outbreak. A large number of college campuses suspended or canceled in-person classes in response to COVID-19, like UNL. 

We should applaud UNL for its swift and effective response to the COVID-19 outbreak and encourage the state of Nebraska and Gov. Pete Ricketts to follow in its footsteps.

While the university was a bit behind other schools to close, it was able to close down before the virus became rampant in Nebraska. This allowed students extra time to decide what they were going to do and figure out their living situations before there was an overwhelming panic in the state. 

For UNL’s more than 3,220 international students from 114 countries, the timing of the university’s announcement might also have very well meant the difference between being stranded in the United States or being able to return home. In the two weeks following the university’s closing, many flights to foreign countries were drastically limited or canceled altogether.

But the state of Nebraska was more behind than the university in issuing its mandates. By March 5, there were 18 cases in Nebraska. The university later announced it would prohibit spring travel and study abroad programs to level three countries, but Nebraska officials had yet to announce any mandates or pass any bills relating to the coronavirus.

By March 12, there were 25 cases in Nebraska, and the university announced it would move all classes online for the rest of the spring semester.

On March 25, the governor approved a bill that appropriated about $83 million from the Emergency Cash Fund to be used to increase testing and protective equipment for Nebraska residents, among other things.

On March 18, Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a Directed Health Measure to three of Nebraska’s 93 counties, which banned gatherings of 10 people or more, ordered restaurants and bars to close or only open for takeout and limited non-essential or elective surgeries and procedures.

On March 28, 16 days after UNL canceled all in-person classes, Gov. Ricketts expanded the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ health mandates to apply to 18 of Nebraska's 93 counties. 

As the governor was just getting around to approving a bill for emergency funding and expanding health mandates, UNL had already created a comprehensive website for its students. It also created a take-out system for the dining halls and moved all students still on campus into apartment-style or suite-style housing in order to promote social distancing.

The decision to leave the Adele Coryell Hall Learning Commons and computer labs in the Unions open while closing every other non-essential facility, such as Campus Recreation, shows the university’s sensitivity to how this issue can impact its students, and how it is doing the most it can to protect students without hindering them academically.

While UNL wasn’t one of the first universities to shut down, it was within the first wave of universities to do so. More importantly, it did not force any students off campus, an issue that many students attending universities on the East Coast had to deal with. 

Everything UNL has done and all the announcements it released regarding COVID-19 seemed thoughtful and sensitive to the needs and worries of students, faculty and staff.

Gov. Ricketts seems to understand none of those things and shows no desire to step up as a leader of his state as other governors are: Nebraska is one of only three states that hasn’t received a statewide order to close all schools as of the time of publishing. 

He has also been late to issue health mandates. Ricketts was late to approve emergency spending bills, and the only executive orders he has issued have been ones that ease requirements for childcare and healthcare workers and allow cocktails with lids to be available for takeout.

UNL has created countless support systems for students: a coronavirus website, remote counseling and crisis appointments, as well as emails with helpful tips for online learning and managing mental health.

On the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ website, several of the resources link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is not necessarily a bad thing but shows a lack of personal communication from state authorities — something Nebraskans need in order to feel they are cared for.

Some may argue that it’s harder to do things as a state because of the larger population to provide for. However, the government is set up with resources and infrastructures to make quick and efficient changes for the well-being of the public in a crisis such as this one. 

Ricketts may not have wanted to issue a statewide mandate because he doesn’t think the virus is that widespread in Nebraska yet. However, counties disagree, as they have taken matters into their own hands. For example, Lincoln Public Schools made the decision to close public schools following spring break on March 13.

But local control is not the answer, because the coronavirus is not a local issue. 

This is not something that can be dealt with on a case-by-case manner by each of the 93 counties in Nebraska. This is a global pandemic, and in order to stop the spread of this disease, we need to take statewide, national and global measures for public safety. 

Sydney Miller is a sophomore psychology major. Reach them at opinion@dailynebraskan.com.