Omaha face mask ordinance: City Council hears public comment, discusses ending ‘sunset clause’

Councilman Ben Gray proposed using COVID-19 data to determine end of ordinance
The City Council on Tuesday again heard from residents for and against the city’s face mask ordinance after hearing a report on the latest local COVID-19 info.
Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 2:08 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The City Council on Tuesday again heard from residents for and against the city’s face mask ordinance after hearing a report on the latest local COVID-19 case and positivity data from the county health director.

On the table this time, too, was a proposal from Councilman Ben Gray to throw out the “sunset provision” on the ordinance, keeping in place until the population reaches benchmark numbers for COVID-19 positivity and positive cases.

Gray is proposing the face mask ordinance remain in place — without further action from the council — until Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour determines two COVID-19 data points have been consistently both met in the city:

  • The positivity rate equals 5% or less for two consecutive weekly reporting periods.
  • The seven-day rolling average equals 10 or fewer positive cases per 100,000 people for two consecutive weekly reporting periods.

On Tuesday, Pour addressed the council and said there have been “sharp increases” in the number of cases diagnosed in recent weeks, partly because of increased testing — but that is not the only factor.

“The positivity rate in Omaha is 17% at this time,” she said. “Hospitalizations have increased significantly in recent weeks.”

City Council members will discuss extending the ordinance and consider Councilman Ben Gray’s motion during its meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Other factors influencing the increase are most likely those who do not wear masks when they cannot social distance, while both masks and social distancing are not being observed in small groups and gatherings.

“The more people that are infected and the more exposure in the community which can lead to logarithmic increases,” she said. “Are masks effective? Yes.”

Wearing masks reduces the risk of exposure and consequently reduces the burden on hospitals and the number of people having to quarantine in isolation, Pour added.

The next three months will mean more people staying indoors, where the coronavirus is more likely to infect individuals and social distancing becomes more difficult.

Pour recommended keeping the mask ordinance in place until the end of the year or until “certain thresholds are achieved.”

Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the College of Public Health at UNMC, was next to speak and stated flatly that masks work before delving into disinformation being spread about masks' effectiveness online.

Points he made included:

1. No one dies from COVID-19, they just die of COVID-19: data Khan presented reflects 300,00 have died in the US and it has become the nation’s third-leading cause of death. If not controlled, it may become the second-leading cause of death this year.

2. Do nothing and wait for herd immunity: “This is the most unethical, disastrous, and racist approach I have ever heard in response to a pandemic,” Khan said.

By infecting everyone in America, Khan called it the Maximum Death Strategy for minority populations. African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans disproportionately die of COVID-19, Khan explained, with charts and graphs.

3. Sweden: “I love when people mention Sweden to me,” he said. He presented information that Sweden suffered five to 10 times as many deaths compared to Norway and Denmark along with a greater decline in GDP than the rest of the world.

Sweden’s response to the pandemic is sometimes touted as proof masks and social distancing are not effective. However, Sweden and the U.S. are similar in their failure to reduce deaths related to COVID-19, according to studies.

Dr. James Lawler with UNMC shared information on the effectiveness of face masks from a study comparing communities with mask ordinances or mandates compared to those without.

“Counties that enforced a face mask mandate had their case counts level out, while those who did not saw their case counts continue to grow,” Lawler said, with information from a study done by the University of Kansas Institute for Policy and Social Research.

After several more proponents argued on behalf of the mask ordinance, opponents were next.

Spellings of names are phonetic.

Leigh Merrick said masks do not control viruses, they control people. Wearing masks is damaging to society and children. She said she recently returned from Washington D.C. at a White Coat Summit and reviewed literature which stated 97 percent of particles passed through cloth masks.

She explained those who wear masks have six times a higher chance of having influenza-like illnesses and upper respiratory diseases.

“The Norwegian Government of Health just showed they would have to mask 200,000 people to decrease transmission of COVID by one person,” she said. The evidence she referenced seems to stem from a memo from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health published in June.

As Khan mentioned Sweden earlier, Merrick said, “1.8 million children were never kept out of school. They’re not wearing masks, no deaths, and the teachers are not getting this at any greater risks than the background population.”

There have been 5,918 deaths from COVID-19 in Sweden as of Tuesday, according to the Folkhälsomyndigheten (Public Health Agency of Sweden).

Dr. Ben Tapper, an Omaha-based chiropractor, spoke next. Those who hold doctorate degrees in chiropractics are not the same as medical doctors.

“I am here to oppose this government overreach. No emergency or threat of any kind on this planet supersedes our inalienable rights of the Constitution -- and that includes a virus,” he said, and added regulations like the ordinance are ruled by fear and propaganda.

Tapper said he has observed the majority of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 were asymptomatic while those who were symptomatic “presented no differently than the flu.”

“I have observed with a broken heart our most vulnerable being trapped in nursing homes while they protest they would rather die of COVID-19 than loneliness,” he said.

A group of 581,000 concerned citizens including thousands of physicians and public health scientists agree the lockdowns and regulations do more harm than good, Tapper said before presenting a graph of Sweden’s COVID-19 progression published by John Hopkins University.

“Why is there conflicting information out there?” Tapper said in reference to the information on Sweden presented earlier by Khan. Tapper displayed a daily death graph from Sweden’s health agency and asked why is there censorship.

“This act of censorship is real and it’s happening to others who are standing on the rooftop shouting,” he said.

This is a developing story. Stay with 6 News for updates.

Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.

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