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Omaha’s mask mandate medical exemptions ‘few and far between'

Published: Jul. 27, 2020 at 10:27 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Douglas County Health Department officials are planning a mask mandate and leaders say most of it will be based on the Lincoln-Lancaster county health department’s mandate.

Part of each mandate includes exemptions to wearing a mask, but that hasn’t been clearly defined.

Little has been said about who could be excused because of medical reasons.

The Douglas County Board of Health President Chris Rodgers said the legal department is working on the document.

At Nebraska Medicine, infectious disease expert Dr. Mark Rupp said exemptions from wearing a mask when people are out in public should be “few and far between.”

If anyone could be exempt, Rupp said he believes it would be those with some type of claustrophobia — but not those who have a respiratory complication like asthma.

“If they were to contract COVID-19, they actually could have a much more severe course,” he said.

Another possible exception would be the rare situation of an impaired individual who would not be able to remove a mask if it were caught in their mouth, which could cause them to choke, Rupp said.

Some still oppose the mandate even after the positivity rate of COVID-19 in Douglas County rose from seven to eight percent over last weekend — the highest rate since May.

“This mandate is an insane demonstration of government overreach,” mandate opponent Reagan Simons said. “These are the risks parents are concerned about: difficulty breathing, headaches, skin lesions, self-contamination.”

Rodgers says the legal department is still in the process of writing the mandate and it will be similar to Lincoln’s.

“The mask process is not about me. It’s about you protecting me and me protecting you,” he said.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County health measure is vague when it comes to exemptions for a medical condition — only saying a face-covering won’t be required by any person for whom doing so would be detrimental to their health.

Rupp says health officials have heard those who have their doubts but wants to assure them they have their best interests in mind.

“All of these public health issues have become politicized, and that you know, somehow wearing a mask is indicative of your political leanings,” he said. “This is just really ridiculous, and it’s so unfortunate. We need to be wearing the mask because it’s a public health measure.”

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