Omaha City Council discusses face mask ordinance ahead of vote next week

Published: Sep. 29, 2020 at 5:48 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2020 at 8:49 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The City Council discussed and heard public comment about the city’s face mask ordinance during its meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The ordinance, which went into effect Aug. 11 and was extended by a 5-2 council vote in September, is set to expire Oct. 20. The council plans to vote on the matter at its meeting next week.

Comparing data from last week with data from Aug. 15, Dr. Pour said:

  • There were 69 fewer positive cases, with 756 cases reported Aug. 15 as compared to 687 cases confirmed last week.
  • 7,390 had been tested for COVID-19 as of Aug. 15; as of last week, 7,890 had been tested.
  • The positivity rate was 10.2% on Aug. 15; as of last week, the positivity rate was 8.7%.

In summary, Pour said, there were fewer positive cases confirmed last week after testing more people, “and we decreased our positivity," and she urged the council to extend the mandate.

Nearly all public comment was in opposition of the ordinance — many of those speaking were opposed to wearing face masks at all, and some said they don’t ever wear them. Some commenters called the council’s actions unconstitutional and unlawful; others questioned the validity of data and even any science suggesting face masks have any bearing on COVID-19 prevention, emphasizing the psychological toll on individuals and the toll on businesses and the greater economy.

One woman had to be forcibly removed — while screaming — from council chambers after refusing to end her comments after her allotted speaking time had ended and Councilman Chris Jerram cut her mic and asked her repeatedly to vacate the podium.

After hearing from the public, who had waited in the city chambers for more than three hours while the council discussed the city’s recycling contract, council members had questions for Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour.

Councilman Vinny Palermo had strong words for Dr. Pour, calling on her to declare a mask mandate and take the burden off the council. Other council members also voiced their support for Dr. Pour if not a mandate itself.

“Do you think we need a mask mandate? You make the decision, it’s not our job,” Palermo said.

Some on the council voiced their opposition to the metrics behind the decision of the mask ordinance but also said they wear masks themselves — especially in places where it is required or even requested — and prefer to err on the side of caution.

Councilman Brinker Harding said he would have more questions and comments during the council’s meeting next week.

Councilwoman Aimee Melton also said she planned to ask her questions to Dr. Pour at next week’s meeting. But when the health director said she wasn’t going to be able to attend next week’s meeting and would send a representative, Melton did ask what data or metric — beyond the 5% positivity rate that Pour has answered that question with previously — would cause the health director to declare a mask ordinance was no longer needed.

Dr. Pour offered to put together a proposal that would include more specific goals and data targets that the council could use as indicators for when a mask ordinance would no longer be needed. After some discussion among the council, that offer was requested filled.

Jerram and Councilmen Ben Gray both said during their comments that they intended to vote in favor of extending the mask ordinance.

“Since I don’t know this it would seem logical to me to listen to the people who know it best,” Gray said.

Watch Tuesday’s City Council discussion

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