Letters to the Editor • Opinion
We already know how to prevent pandemics
In this Aug. 20 photo, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) addresses Republican supporters during the opening of the Nebraska Trump Victory Office in Omaha. (Nati Harnik/AP)

If she hadn’t picked up the dinner shift for a co-worker who had contracted the coronavirus, Karina Montanez would not have seen Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) posing maskless for photos and cradling a baby at a sports bar on election night.

When the 25-year-old server saw the governor remove his mask in the back of DJ’s Dugout, an Omaha-area restaurant, to talk and take photos with other maskless people, she pulled out her phone and started filming.

“Hey, Pete, where’s your mask? Where’s your mask, Pete?” Montanez said in a Snapchat video she later posted to Twitter. “What are you doing, Pete? We’re in a pandemic, Pete.”

The video went viral this week, leaving critics slamming Ricketts for refusing to issue a mask mandate in the state as coronavirus cases surge. But Montanez faced her own blowback: She was fired on Tuesday from the bar, for violating the company’s social media and cellphone policy, according to the owner.

Montanez told The Washington Post she felt she had no choice but to film Ricketts when she saw him taking off his mask and not practicing social distancing.

“It was a slap in the face,” Montanez said. “You’re supposed to be taking care of us and you’re out here acting like a celebrity, while people are fighting for their lives and are in hospitals dying right now.”

Taylor Gage, a spokesman for the governor’s office, told KPTM Ricketts had only removed his mask for photos and while eating, noting “the state does not require people to wear masks when seated in bars or restaurants.”

Addressing the video at a news conference on Tuesday, Ricketts also denied he had flouted any coronavirus guidelines.

“Oftentimes when I’m taking a picture, depending on the preference of the person taking the picture, I’ll remove my mask to take the picture and put it back on when the picture ends,” Ricketts said, according to the Daily Beast.

The episode comes as Nebraska, like the rest of the nation, is in the midst of the most devastating period of the pandemic. There have been nearly 14,000 new cases in Nebraska in the past week, an increase of 14 percent, according to The Post’s coronavirus tracker. Almost 1,000 people are hospitalized for the virus, setting a state record for hospitalizations. There have also been 90 new deaths over the past seven days, a 63 percent spike in covid-19 fatalities in the state — one of the highest in the United States.

But like other GOP governors, Ricketts has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate. On Tuesday, he maintained a mask mandate was inappropriate and would “breed resistance” as he urged people to voluntarily wear a face covering.

In the 17-second video shot on Nov. 3, a maskless Ricketts is shown talking and laughing among a group of about 10 people, only one of whom appears to be wearing a mask, at the restaurant in Bellevue, Neb. Ricketts was attending an election-night party for state Senator-elect Rita Sanders (R), according to the Lincoln Journal Star. The governor is also shown being handed a baby.

Montanez, a single mother with fibromyalgia, said she’s fearful of contracting the virus and was horrified at the governor’s behavior.

Montanez said she was surprised when her video suddenly blew up nearly two weeks later. Democratic state Sen. Megan Hunt drew more attention to the scene on Tuesday when she posted a photo of Ricketts that night at DJ’s with more than 20 people bunched together to celebrate Sanders’s win.

Not long after that post, Montanez said she got a call at around 4 p.m. from her boss. When Montanez heard him say the words, “your Ricketts video on Twitter,” she stopped him midsentence and guessed she had been fired, which turned out to be correct.

In a statement to KPTM, DJ’s Dugout CEO Sunni Renner said Montanez was fired because “the employee recently posted a video to social media, which was taken while that employee was actively on duty for DJ’s Dugout and constitutes a violation of DJ’s Dugout’s written social media and cellphone policies.”

Montanez is now left scrambling to figure out how to provide for her 4-year-old daughter, Mila, and where she can find work in a pandemic to help pay for her return to school in two weeks to study psychology. Democratic state Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue has reached out to help the single mother find legal assistance or any additional help, the Journal Star reported.

Montanez said she has been encouraged by the kind words of many who have offered help in the aftermath of a video she initially thought would not rise past the level of “funny troll” status.

“If you see something wrong, you have to stand up for yourself,” she said.