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Omaha City Councilmembers react to mask mandate

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 10:08 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 9:22 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Attorney General Doug Peterson says the health director never got permission from DHHS to issue a mask mandate.

But Omaha’s City Attorney Matt Kuhse says Dr. Huse doesn’t need permission from the state because Omaha city code allows it, that if there is an epidemic, the health director has the power to issue orders deemed effective to limit the disease.

Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse says she wants the mask mandate to be temporary before an already brittle health care system is broken.

“Nurses, physicians, therapists, and others who work in this setting are caring for more patients than they would ever be assigned during normal times,” said Dr. Huse.

Across the country, mask debates often get ugly and the omicron variant with its skyrocketing numbers has brought the issue back to the forefront.

“This is knocking out the workforce as a whole. You saw what it did to the airline industry. The other industries aren’t void of having this done to them so this is a whole, bigger picture,” said Douglas County Commissioner Chris Rodgers.

The three Republicans on the Omaha City Council said they’ll wear a mask starting next Wednesday because it would be law, however, they don’t believe the city should be ordering anyone to wear one.

“You’re telling me that after a year or two years now of now having therapeutics and that all of a sudden masks are going to be the silver bullet to take this all away? There are proven cases around the country, around the world that mask mandates don’t solve the issue,” said Brinker Harding, Councilmember of District 6.

“Mask wearing isn’t going to help the hospital capacity. Those are staffing issues that we have to help,” said Aimee Melton, Councilmember of District 7.

Council President Pete Festersen, a Democrat, stands with the health director in doing whatever it takes to get ahold of the virus and the rising case numbers.

“We’ve always believed that the Douglas County Health director has this authority and that’s what she exercised today,” said Festersen.

Last time around in 2020, the Omaha city council ordered the mask mandate. But it was cumbersome and it needed five votes to go into effect right away.

There’s no longer a fifth vote to do it that way and with only four votes, Mayor Stothert who doesn’t support the decision to move forward with a mask mandate could veto it.

We strongly disagree with Douglas County Health Director Huse’s dictate forcing a mask mandate upon the City of Omaha. Over the last two years, we have seen time and again that mask mandates are not an effective method for combating the coronavirus.

We also vehemently object to an unelected and unaccountable bureaucrat imposing their will upon the city without reaching out to those who are entrusted by the citizens of Omaha to represent them. We are ready and willing to have a conversation with Dr. Huse regarding her concerns, but to this point, she has failed to reach out to any of us regarding her plans.

Personal accountability and responsibility are key to getting through this pandemic. We encourage people who have not been vaccinated to consider doing so, if you are eligible, get your booster. If you are sick, get tested and follow CDC recommendations. Above all, be smart and responsible.

Omaha City Councilmembers Aimee Melton, Brinker Harding, and Don Rowe oppose another mask mandate

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