Presidents of teachers unions in the Omaha, Millard, Westside, Elkhorn and Ralston school districts on Friday called for masks to be required in Douglas County.
The president of the state teachers union joined them in their appeal to members of the Douglas County Board of Health and the Omaha City Council.
“We urgently ask that you act to immediately require masks be worn by all members of our community to help ensure the health and safety of children, school staff and all our citizens,” they wrote.
The letters were signed by Tim Royers, president-elect of the Millard Education Association; Paul Schulte, president of the Millard Education Association; Robert Miller, president of the Omaha Education Association; Carla Rohwer, president of the Elkhorn Education Association; Jane Leadabrand, president of the Ralston Education Association; and Teresa Matthews, president of the Westside Education Association.
Also signing was Jenni Benson, president of the Nebraska State Education Association.
“We are just a few short weeks from the start of the school year and teachers are eager to reconnect with their students,” they wrote. “Yet, if we cannot do so with the appropriate health measures in place and enforced, the lives of all students and school staff are at risk.”
On Thursday, Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department, said she thinks it’s time to require masks in indoor public spaces.
“We need to get our cases under control if we want to get our schools open,” she said.
Mayor Jean Stothert said Omaha’s city code gives Douglas County’s health director the authority to make rules and regulations for the city during epidemics and public health emergencies.
Stothert said she would prefer that every Omahan voluntarily wear a mask when they can’t distance from others. She also said she must consider how a mask mandate would be enforced. The mayor said she and Pour would discuss the matter.
The rule, if Pour goes ahead with it, would not apply to Douglas County communities outside Omaha, such as Ralston. In those cities, the Douglas County Board of Health would have to take action on a mask requirement.
The teachers union leaders say they agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics that children older than 2 should wear masks, unless wearing one exacerbates a physical or mental health condition, leads to a medical emergency or introduces significant safety concerns.
The leaders pointed to a recent statement from the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, that mask-wearing could bring the epidemic under control in four to six weeks.
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