Douglas County streamlines mask mandate input into unofficial poll

The hotline was set up after the Omaha mask mandate went into effect.
Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 5:08 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2022 at 5:33 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Since Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse issued a mask mandate for the City of Omaha, the phones in the County Commissioners’ Office have been ringing off the hook, forcing officials to make some adjustments.

Almost everyone has an opinion about Omaha’s mask mandate and many of those people are making their opinions known.

When you call the Douglas County County Commissioners’ Office, you will hear a message: “Thanks for calling the Douglas County Commissioners’ Office. If you are calling to share your opposition to the city of Omaha mask mandate, please press ‘1.’ If you are calling to show your support for the City of Omaha mask mandate, please press ‘2.′ If you are calling regarding any other business with the Douglas County Commissioners, please press ‘3.’ ”

Patrick Bloomingdale, chief administrative officer for Douglas County, had to set up this phone system last week after Dr. Huse issued a mask mandate for the City of Omaha.

“From Tuesday afternoon until end-of-day Wednesday last week, we had 3,000 calls come into our office. ...We had three secretaries and myself taking calls pretty much nonstop during that period of time. ... Got to the point where I ultimately made the decision that our secretarial staff cannot get any other work done.”

All in all, after the system was put in place, about 40,000 calls were taken: The machine took close to 20,000 calls against Omaha’s mask mandate and close to 17,000 in favor.

But it’s hard to determine what these numbers really mean because it’s difficult to determine who’s really calling.

“I think it’s a combination of people spamming the system repeatedly calling, and people who live outside of Douglas County calling in,” Bloomingdale said. “This went viral on social media, so there’s no way to know who these people are or where they’re calling from.”

He said he was surprised that the new phone message attracted so much attention.

“I wasn’t surprised there would be opposition to it; normally people don’t call in unless they’re opposed to it. I was surprised that the action I took would be seen and go viral,” he said.

The phones have been ringing off the hook since last a mask mandate was ordered for the City of Omaha, so adjustments had to be made.

Bloomingdale stressed that the county didn’t put in the message system to collect numbers.

“It’s not the intent to conduct a poll or conduct a survey,” he said. “It was just to take the load off our staff.”

He said the county plans to keep the message on the Commissioners’ phone system up for a while.

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