Douglas County Board of Health expects mask mandate will start Monday

Commissioner Chris Rodgers said he expects the mandate to extend at least through all of August
Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 3:25 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2020 at 1:49 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A mask mandate is coming to the city of Omaha and the rest of Douglas County

After hearing from the public and from Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour, the Douglas County Board of Health unanimously passed a resolution Monday morning in support of a face mask mandate.

The resolution supports Pour’s ability to order those in Douglas County — and in Omaha specifically — to require a face mask for anyone over age 5 while indoors where 6 feet of separation cannot be maintained at all times.

Commissioner Chris Rodgers said he believes the mandate will go into effect for the city of Omaha on Monday, Aug. 3, and last through the end of August, at which point, they will re-evaluate whether to continue the mandate.

Such a mandate may go into effect countywide in mid-September, he said.

Rodgers said he expects the official announcement to come Friday.

The board had called Monday’s meeting to discuss only one thing — a mask mandate — after Pour had alluded to the possibility of a mask mandate Thursday during a news conference with Mayor Jean Stothert.

Within the first minutes of the meeting, the board, along with Health Director Dr. Adi Pour alluded to the support of a mask mandate. The mandate would require people above the age of 5 to wear a mask indoors and in public if 6 feet of distance is not possible.

In making her comments in support of a mandate, Dr. Pour mentioned that the past weekend was one of the worst weekends yet.

The county health director said she had received many emails over the weekend: about 30% were against a mask mandate, 60% were for a mandate, and 10% had questions.

Dr. Pour also referenced a situation out of Missouri where two hairstylists wore a mask at work while positive for COVID-19, noting that they did not infect any of their clients.

The floor was then open to comments of support and opposition from the public. Dr. Pour was able to make rebuttal comments and answer questions from board members. The vote happened afterward.

Among the public comments, there were a handful of people in support of the mandate, but more comments came from those against the mandate, including some against wearing face masks at all.

“This mandate that is proposed is an insane demonstration of government overreach by someone who is not even an elected official,” one said.

Rodgers followed up on those calling attention to their Constitutional rights.

“I understand the concern,” he said. “You can say your peace, but the wearing of a mask — I hope — should not be that dramatic where we gotta call it ‘draconian.’ ”

Two opponents took the floor to express outrage that health professionals weren’t pushing preventative measures that support a healthy immune system, like an increase in Vitamin C or D.

Councilman Ben Gray later addressed those comments saying he himself takes several vitamins daily and that anyone who does knows they are expensive. Some people in his district can’t afford food and cant be expected to buy vitamins, he said.

Another opponent said that the masks could impact oxygen levels. At the request of Councilman Gray, Dr. Pour addressed the comment saying the information applies to medical-grade N-95 masks and not to the face coverings typically worn by the public.

One man in opposition to the mandate said he respects a “persons right to choose,” noting that he “isn’t always a fan of” that phrase.

Another commenter also cited personal freedoms.

“Please don’t mandate this, don’t take away our freedoms. Let us be the land of the free and the home of the brave,” she said.

Rodgers addressed this comment in his remarks as well.

“I’m all for individual freedom, and your individual freedom is good as long as your individual freedom doesn’t hurt me,” he said.

The right to free speech is a classic “law school” example: You have the right to free speech, but you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, he said.

Other comments questioned the data as well as the legality of a mandate.

“What all was said today violates what is actually published, and I’m calling for an investigation into this data as misrepresentation in this committee today,” one commenter said.

Another said recent flu data wasn’t available for Douglas County, which Rodgers also refuted outright, saying they could easily get flu statistics, before defending the integrity of DCHD’s published data.

Dr. Pour also addressed the comments regarding inaccurate data reported by the county. She said the data is doubled-checked, is correct, and that the data she had presented corresponded with the data currently present on the Douglas County Health website.

Rodgers also noted requests from authorities to voluntarily adjust behavior to stop community spread of COVID-19 hasn’t worked previously.

“In the peak of COVID, we asked people ‘Please don’t attend parks,' " Rodgers said. “We asked them: ‘Don’t go to the park. Don’t crowd up.' The only way we could hold it off to prevent the spread was to limit capacity for parks for a while.”

Another commenter, a nurse working with COVID-19 patients, touched on the state of hospitals in Omaha.

“I’ve been working at the hospital for four years, and I’ve never seen us so busy, so understaffed, and just not having the resources that we need to take care of these patients,” she said.

Rodgers spoke following public comments, saying that if the virus were under control, the county would only be reporting about 20 to 30 news cases a day.

“We are far away from that,” he said.

Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated remarks from Commissioner Rodgers regarding a potential countywide mandate. 6 News regrets the error.

correction: A previous version of this article misstated remarks from Commissioner Rodgers regarding a potential countywide mandate. 6 News regrets the error.

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