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Ricketts talks about why he opposes face mask mandates for Nebraskans

Governor: State would have challenged Douglas County Health Director in court had she gone through with mandate
Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 7:35 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2020 at 7:48 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Days after the Douglas County health director indicated legal hurdles prevented her from calling for a face mask mandate here, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts addressed concerns Monday that pressure was coming from his office.

Ricketts said the state laid out the reasons why Dr. Adi Pour didn’t have the authority to implement a face mask mandate in Omaha or Douglas County.

“We did not believe she had the legal authority, and if she did — if she did move forward — we would challenge that in court,” he said.

He said whether the state “goes after” Omaha about a mandate has everything to do with how city authorities go about it.

“If you are not following the law, then we are going to pursue that,” he said.

In Lincoln, the law applies differently, but Ricketts said he also had a problem with that city’s lack of enforcement.

“If you don’t enforce it, what are you teaching people? That it’s OK to violate the law? I don’t think that’s a very good societal thing that we ought to be doing,” Ricketts said.

The governor said the state is addressing the issue through education. Rather than implementing a mandate, he said, the state is trying to focus its efforts on educating Nebraskans when to wear a mask, and how to wear them appropriately.

But having a mask mandate through a directed health measure would have the “force of law,” he said, and that was what the state talked with Dr. Pour about, he said.

“That’s the way the laws work today. So in absence of changing that, it either has to be a crime, or you can’t put it into law,” he said.

Masks are one tool, but not the only tool, he said.

It’s a good tool, so we want to educate people about the appropriate use of wearing masks, like at a store, and encourage that people use them “in the appropriate way,” which includes in the classroom, he said.

“Having kids wear masks in class makes a lot of sense,” Ricketts said.

Just like the state didn’t mandate people stay home at the beginning of the pandemic — same for masks, he said.

“We asked people to stay home during our ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected’ campaign, and guess what? Nebraskans did the right thing. They’re community-minded. They did the right thing,” he said.

He wants to have people adopt mask-wearing in their everyday life, he said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t want to make it a crime, which is what it is if you pass an ordinance or something like that, you’re not making a crime that somebody’s not wearing their mask. That heavy hand of the government is not, I believe, the best approach to get people to adopt wearing masks as part of their everyday life.”

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