LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts told a national audience Wednesday morning that he’s not following the lead of President Donald Trump and taking the controversial malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in an effort to prevent a COVID-19 infection.

Ricketts, appearing on a Washington Post webcast, said his preventative steps have included wearing a mask when shopping and avoiding unnecessary trips, mostly traveling only to and from his home in Omaha and his office at the State Capitol.

On Tuesday, Trump revealed that he was taking hydroxychloroquine because it was “my decision to make.” He called a study of American veterans that indicated the drug wasn’t effective and was possibly dangerous “false” and an “enemy statement.”

Ricketts, an avid supporter of the president, said that he’s not taking hydroxychloroquine and that the drug is not being pushed by the State of Nebraska as a preventive or a cure for COVID-19.

“We have focused on the things that are proven and established through science,” Ricketts told his interviewer, Washington Post national political reporter Robert Costa.

Costa asked the governor about remdesivir, a drug that was the subject of clinical trials across the world, including at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Remdesivir showed promise in reducing the treatment time for severely ill COVID-19 patients and possibly reducing fatalities.

Recently, Ricketts said the state had received a shipment of the drug from the federal government and had set up a committee to determine where to distribute the medication.

He said he expected that Nebraska would have enough remdesivir to treat anyone who needs it.

Most of the interview dealt with questions about how the state was managing outbreaks of infections in meatpacking plants, which have accounted for about 1 in 6 cases in Nebraska.

Ricketts said the state is working with meatpacking firms to ensure they employ “best practices” in protecting workers.

The governor added that as a conservative, he is suspicious of government and has preferred a “lighter hand” in imposing social distancing guidelines rather than stay-at-home orders that have been issued in other states. That, he said, includes loosening restrictions gradually, a step at a time.

“If you have too tight of restrictions too long, people will start disobeying them,” he said during the 20-minute interview.

Trump told reporters that his doctor didn’t recommend hydroxychloroquine but that he requested it from a White House physician.

The Food and Drug Administration warned last month that the drug should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside hospital or research settings because of sometimes-fatal side effects. Increased reports of dangerous side effects from hydroxychloroquine called in to U.S. poison control centers prompted, in part, the warning.


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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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