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Omaha mask ordinance set to expire

Published: Apr. 30, 2021 at 11:01 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Barring a tremendous surge in COVID-19 cases in the city, the sun appears to be setting on Omaha’s mask ordinance, due to expire May 25.

The ordinance has been in effect for the last nine months; the City Council put it into effect in early August, and renewed it a handful of times.

6 News surveyed most City Council members Thursday afternoon, finding that members who were once divided on the issue are now on the same page.

Councilmembers from Aimee Melton and Brinker Harding, two who voted against the previous ordinance; from Vinny Palermo to Pete Festersen, who supported the ordinance even though they didn’t agree for months on whether the government should dictate mask-wearing — all now seem to be on the same page.

The sense, now, is that the ordinance will go away unless there is a tremendous surge in cases between now and then. With vaccines available to anyone who wants one, and with case numbers down, it’s time, they say, to let the mask ordinance expire.

“People are getting vaccinated. The numbers are encouraging,” Harding said. “We have a month from now to when the mandate expires — I think we’re going to see positive results.”

Harding, who is up for re-election next month, said his main concerns over masks were the council’s overreach and clunky way of enacting it.

“I encouraged people to wear masks. I also didn’t think it should be a finable offense. I think that was the only difference,” he said.

Naomi Hattaway is challenging Harding for the Dist. 6 seat. While masks are a topic on the campaign trail, she said the conversations often shift.

“What we end up talking about more than mask mandates is values of families,” she said. “They may not ask about it — but it quickly turns to whether our current representation listens to the public health experts in our own backyard.”

If there is a surge in cases, the only way to keep the mask ordinance in place would be with an emergency ordinance that would need six of seven councilmembers voting to pass it.

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