Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse said Wednesday she has been told by Nebraska state officials that a move to issue a mask mandate would be challenged by the state.
Huse said state officials told her last week that such a move most likely would be met with a court injunction that would hold up a mandate while the issue made its way through the legal system.
Huse outlined the results of her query for members of the Douglas County Board of Health on Wednesday. Board members had raised concerns about rising cases of COVID-19 in the county, including among school-age children.
Chris Rodgers, the board’s president, said case counts now are higher than they were last August when the Omaha City Council adopted an emergency ordinance mandating masks in public, indoor spaces.
Omaha officials said recently that no plans are being considered to reinstate a citywide, indoor mask mandate. City Council members said no consensus exists on the council around such a move.
Rodgers said Huse could issue a mask requirement for the county. But that path would require the approval of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, as the state’s chief executive, oversees the department. Ricketts has said repeatedly that he opposes mask mandates and has instead encouraged Nebraskans to wear them voluntarily. He also has urged people to get vaccinated.
A similar scenario played out last summer before the City Council, in the face of rising COVID cases, adopted the first ordinance requiring masks indoors. Lacking state approval to issue a countywide mandate, then-Health Director Adi Pour had been moving toward implementing a requirement for Omaha. Facing a legal disagreement, she opted not to pursue the option.
Rodgers said health officials now are in a race to get more people vaccinated. The only thing they can do, he said, is continue to provide information.
“We’re going to have to go through a little more agony before they get to the mandate stage,” he said.