Emergency Mask Mandate Goes Into Effect in Omaha After Unanimous Vote by Council

August 12, 2020 Updated: August 12, 2020

The Omaha City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to pass an emergency mask ordinance, which will be effective immediately and last until at least Sept. 15.

The debate leading up to the vote had lasted for 4 hours on Tuesday, according to the Omaha World-Herald, but ultimately culminated in a 7-0 vote for the ordinance to help slow the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus in Omaha, Nebraska. The ordinance needed six votes to be effective.

Doctors and leaders from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, CHI Health, Methodist Health System, and OneWorld Community Health Center had urged the council to pass a mask mandate, the newspaper reported.

Under the new ordinance (pdf), people who fail to wear a mask in most public areas in Omaha could face a $25 fine, which applies to people who are aged 5 and above.

The ordinance lists a number of exemptions, saying that masks are not required for those:

  • Seated at a bar or restaurant while consuming food or beverages
  • Engaged in exercise
  • Engaged in an occupation that prevents the wearing of a mask
  • Purchasing goods or services that require a mask be temporarily removed
  • Speaking to an audience where 6 feet of distance is maintained
  • Seeking state or county government services
  • Who cannot otherwise wear a face covering because of a medical condition, mental health condition, or a disability that makes it unreasonable for the individual to wear a mask
  • Seated at a desk or work station that has a solid plastic barrier which has been approved by the health director of the City of Omaha

Until the vote, Omaha was the largest U.S. city that had no local or state mask mandate.

The Douglas County Health Department announced it is providing free cloth masks for residents, available to be picked up on weekdays.

Council members Pete Festersen, Ben Gray, and Chris Jerram had proposed the ordinance ahead of the council meeting (pdf).

By Sept. 15, when the mask mandate is expected to be lifted, the council is expected to discuss the mask mandate with guidance from Dr. Adi Pour, the health director of Douglas County.

Pour was supportive of the mask mandate.

“We have widespread community spread. We have a long way to go,” she said, according to KETV, adding that the current community spread is “very hard to control.”

She noted that Douglas County has 11 inpatient hospitalizations related to the CCP virus, which marks a 42 percent increase in hospitalizations since 4 weeks ago.

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