OPINION: Did our governor set the path for COVID to rampage through Nebraska?


Bella Watson

Gov. Pete Ricketts was repeatedly spotted at bars and restaurants throughout the pandemic without wearing a mask or practicing social distancing. In the pictured instance, he was at an election night party at DJ’s Dugout. Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail

Pete Ricketts, Nebraska’s governor since 2015, spent the majority of the lockdown gallivanting around town as if we were not in a global pandemic. As I sat quarantined inside of my home for what seemed like an eternity, Ricketts was seen frequenting local bars, unmasked, long before the vaccine was an option. After bearing witness to our state’s governor, who should have been setting a standard for citizens—but was instead enjoying his time having a drink—it was no surprise to me when I began to see people I knew attending social gatherings and going to bars again. It did not take much time for the Omaha nightlife scene to return to normal. Bars and restaurants began to fill to capacity again, and masks had become a loathed fashion accessory worn around one’s wrist or the handle of a purse, rather than covering faces as they were intended to.

I soon began to feel alienated for adhering to the CDC’s suggested precautions, and was mocked by peers for taking the pandemic seriously.

Nebraska’s Coronavirus cases violently rose and reached an average of over 2,000 new cases per day. This was in December of 2020, the month following Gov. Ricketts being seen in Omaha bars. At the time, I believed the spike was due to the negligence of Omaha citizens, and criticized many of those around me for not being more cautious in regards to the safety of their health. I found a reoccurring response from those around me who were not quarantining: “Why should I take it seriously when our elected officials don’t?”

At the time, I deemed the response as pure ignorance, but in reflection, it is a fair point. Our elected officials are meant to be a precursor for society, an example of what citizens should be doing, and people who we count on to enforce regulations when necessary. If this elected official is claiming that the pandemic is nothing to fear, why wouldn’t citizens trust him? Unfortunately, when the official is being negligent of their responsibilities and is not thinking of what outcome is best for our community, their actions are going to reflect that.

Gov. Ricketts made it clear throughout the pandemic that his overall goal was not to better Nebraska, but to serve his own selfish intentions. The egotistical actions of the governor have set a negative example for the rest of the state throughout the pandemic.These actions have encouraged the entirety of the state to continue their behavior, causing an influx in both cases and deaths. Now, in August of 2021, we are still fighting to lower COVID numbers.

It was frustrating to watch our elected officials act as though quarantine was just a long-term vacation, while many of us went through life-altering experiences. A friend I made in my freshman year of college lost her father and her grandfather in the same week, both due to COVID. My partner and I were both unemployed for four months, making lockdown particularly difficult. While the full blame of these events and the pandemic does not fall on Ricketts, his complete disregard for human life does. I believe that had he taken COVID more seriously, it would have set an example for our state, especially for those who strongly support him.