Ralston health officials pass mask mandate at emergency meeting; council to review Tuesday

Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 2:47 PM CST
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RALSTON, Neb. (WOWT) - During an emergency meeting on Thursday afternoon, Ralston officials passed a face mask mandate for the city that borders Omaha, where a mask ordinance has been in place since August.

The mandate is set to go into effect on Wednesday, but the City Council will get a chance to look it over first at their meeting Tuesday.

Utilizing an online forum, the Ralston Board of Health on Thursday heard from members of the public, officials, businesses, and medical experts before passing the mandate aimed at helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The panel talked more about the legality of the action they were considering as well as the citations or other punishments that mandate violations there might entail. It’s been tricky for leaders in Ralston to figure out how to get a mask mandate in place legally. City lawyers have had to go through state laws and statutes to determine whether they even have the authority to do it.

Like other communities around the state, Ralston officials were concerned about enforcement and talked about how the mandate might impact the work of local police.

They also heard from doctors who reminded the officials of decreasing capacities at hospitals as they struggle with increases in COVID-19 patients who need hospitalization.

During public comment, area resident Reggae Simmons, who has spoken against mask rules at all area meetings, said via video that she was also opposed to adding any such mandate for Ralston. An emailed comment read to the panel expressed approval of the mandate saying it would help businesses that struggle to require their customers to wear facemasks.

Ralston Fire Chief Kevin Eischeid spoke in favor of a mask requirement, saying he has required his crew to wear them for a while now, and that it kept his team’s spread to zero.

“We saw the need to protect our members who are on the front lines responding,” Eischeid said.

Wearing masks in his shop has worked, he said.

“I think it’s helped us out a lot — we haven’t had a whole bunch of COVID cases within our department,” the chief said. “We’ve had an isolated few, but it was not directly dealing with our department.”

Eischeid said they knew the few volunteers who have contracted the virus didn’t get it at work because of contact-tracing. He said all volunteers have to wear masks when they can’t socially distance. They also wear them along with other PPE when they suspect they will be dealing with a person who has COVID-19.

“It was the decision that we discussed, and we knew it was the right thing to do,” Eischeid said. “Passing this mandate it kind of just unifies everything across-the-board within our city.”

Beatrice is also working to implement a mask requirement. Kearney passed one earlier this week. Omaha’s mask ordinance has been in place since August.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has repeatedly said he opposes mask mandates and said he will not institute one statewide.

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