These days are strange times in the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cases are surging once again. Instead of taking an FDA-approved vaccine, some consider ingesting horse dewormer to be the safer option. And in a bold, controversial move, President Joe Biden has announced a vaccine mandate on federal workers and employees at companies with more than 100 workers.
As you can imagine, it was not embraced by all.
In the weeks since its announcement, Republican governors have rallied against the mandate, including Nebraska’s governor Pete Ricketts. In his latest press release, the governor outlined efforts on behalf of his administration to refute the vaccine mandate, including seeking “every available legal option to hold [the President] accountable and uphold the rule of law.” Ricketts recounted Nebraska’s efforts as one of 24 states that censured the president. He stated his continual dedication to stopping the mandate.
But instead of charging forward with a showy lawsuit destined for the partisan battlefield, here is a list of constructive actions I hope the governor would consider doing instead.
Expand Nebraska’s COVID-19 rural resources
A beat I’ve been covering lately is the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic in rural Nebraska, the corners of our state that don’t often receive the spotlight but, as agricultural powerhouses, are certainly vital and valuable communities. Remote rural communities have decreased access to healthcare, with a steady increase in rural hospital closures over the last decade clashing violently against the COVID-19 pandemic. This leads to areas without vaccination or testing availability, with an emphasis on the latter.
Urban areas are held afloat by the private sector — chain pharmacies and grocery stores such as Walgreens and Hy-Vee that provide testing in addition to public clinics. However, rural areas lack these resources. For example, out of the 17 Walgreens locations in Nebraska, only two of them are in the western half of the state. The Hy-Vee closest to my hometown? A mere 112 miles away.
Nebraskans deserve adequate access to COVID-19 resources no matter where they live. Ricketts may believe he is championing Nebraska values by fighting the vaccine mandate, but in the meantime, his fellow Nebraskans are struggling to even acquire the tools to fight against the virus. This issue is past due for the governor’s attention.
Develop a new ad campaign for recruiting healthcare workers
Hospitals throughout the nation have struggled to keep healthcare workers employed through the pandemic, and Nebraska is no exception. Faced with an understaffed system, Ricketts even declared a state of emergency in August in response to an overwhelmed healthcare system. This shortage of healthcare workers is a major hazard not only for our state community’s health but for the health of tired and overworked workers who remain on the job.
To the governor’s credit, he did take steps to recruit new healthcare workers into Nebraska. The downside is that, in a series of advertisements greenlit by the governor, he took steps to actively recruit nurses who refused vaccinations.
Nebraska is indeed in a healthcare crisis, so Ricketts’ urgency in needing new healthcare workers is, at the very least, reasonable. But recruiting nurses who aren’t just unvaccinated but, at this point, have such strong anti-vaccination views that they want to abandon their home state and come to Nebraska is bad for business. The goal of these ads is to bring in as many healthcare workers as possible, but by highlighting the ability to refuse vaccinations at Nebraska, vaxxed nurses who would’ve considered coming here might be alienated. Furthermore, existing healthcare workers may not want their hospitals flooding with the unvaccinated, leading to an exodus of current workers.
Perhaps this isn’t a job for Ricketts himself, but his top advertisers really need to rethink the next public health campaign in the works.
Actually educate the public about vaccinations
This is a bit of a cheater because it’s actually something because Ricketts himself professed interest in during his recent press release. However, instead of outlining precisely how to educate the public and make strides, Ricketts argued that “it takes time to educate the public.” This is a fair point, but as the governor, Ricketts has the ability to actively control how long it takes to educate Nebraskans.
Nebraska does actually have campaigns in place to encourage vaccination, most notably “Finish Strong Nebraska,” which serves as the state’s official vaccination campaign. “Finish Strong Nebraska” includes a website that directs to the state’s online vaccine portal, downloadable fact sheets and PSA videos available to watch. However, unless Nebraskans are actively looking for a program — which those skeptical of vaccines will most likely not do — this approach of throwing information at the internet is like throwing darts with your eyes closed. Except unlike the campaign, someone may actually get pricked in the arm.
It’s understandable that mass vaccination takes time. However, Nebraska is falling behind, especially in rural communities, where 11 different counties have vaccination rates under 25% as of June. Nebraska officials need to take action to Nebraska communities, not away from them. Ricketts must make efforts to combat the sticky web of superstition and falsehood that made Biden’s order necessary in the first place.
Focus on the genuinely problematic areas of Biden’s mandate
There are valid concerns with Biden’s executive order. Ricketts’ showy lawsuit undermines the actual genuine problems that riddle the mandate. Perhaps most importantly, the mandate requires all employees to receive their second dose no later than Nov. 8, 2021, which leaves workers with less than two months to get fully vaccinated. Considering this will affect around 4 million federal employees, with additional regulations to the mandate adding a potential 100 million people to the list, it would be fair to criticize the Biden administration for an unrealistic deadline, especially in regard to communities that lack testing availability or individuals who lack the socioeconomic resources to leave work or travel for the shot.
There are valid concerns about this mandate, but instead of attacking the logistical flaws of Biden’s mandate, Ricketts has insisted on joining a personal liberty crusade. It’s grand and bold but in the end, it doesn’t hold much of a chance in actually inspiring intelligent discourse across party lines. Compromise is a longstanding principle of democracy, and it can be wielded here. By attacking Biden’s mandate from a more logical angle, Ricketts would stand to contribute to and actually improve upon the executive order.
Record another episode of “The Nebraska Way”
Obviously, I’m a believer that everyone deserves a space to air their thoughts and opinions into the public sphere. Even if they’re just shouting into the void via their university newspaper, for a random example.
Therefore, I commend Ricketts on “The Nebraska Way,” a podcast hosted by the governor about “the people who are moving our state forward about the issues that matter most to Nebraskans,” including Huskers head football coach Scott Frost, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse and Larry the Cable Guy. As a huge podcast proponent and participant, I think every new series holds the potential to bring new ideas to a public table and, from a place of prominence, Ricketts can truly use this platform to his benefit and, as the podcast title may indicate, the benefit of all Nebraskans.
However, Ricketts hasn’t released a new episode since Sept. 10, a day after Biden announced the federal vaccine mandate. Perhaps the new requirements, outrage and lawsuits have taken so much of his time, Ricketts has fallen behind on his productions. Instead of pursuing the lawsuit, perhaps the governor should return to his online audience. After all, as a podcast fan as well, I can tell you we all hate inactivity.
Am I eagerly awaiting the next episode of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ sensational new podcast?
Like I said, times are strange.
Emma Krab is a junior English and journalism major. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.