City governments in Nebraska are beginning to let mask mandates expire as more people become vaccinated and coronavirus infections go down.
Lincoln’s mandate will expire at the end of the day Thursday, meaning that masks will no longer be required in most indoor settings starting Friday.
Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird this week called it “an historic moment in our community’s pandemic story.”
Omaha’s mandate is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. next Tuesday. Local officials have taken no steps to pursue an extension of the measure.
The Ralston City Council this week voted unanimously to rescind its indoor mask mandate. A 6-0 vote by the council Tuesday triggered an immediate end of the mandate there.
Papillion’s mandate expired in December after being in effect for 10 days. Bellevue never passed a mask mandate and instead encouraged people to wear face coverings.
Mandates in many other Nebraska cities expired in February.
The end of such mandates comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week eased indoor mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to safely stop wearing masks inside in most places.
The new guidance still called for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but the move will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues — removing the need for masks or social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.
In response to the CDC’s guidance, Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour said last week that letting Omaha’s mask mandate expire May 25 made sense.
“We think the timing is right for this step, and it makes sense for the City Council to allow the mask mandate to expire,” Pour said in a statement last week. “It is our hope that Douglas County residents will continue to get the vaccine so our return to normal can continue.”
Anyone who is not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should continue to wear masks around others and practice social distancing, according to the CDC.
Many large retailers have begun to ease their masking requirements as well.
As of Tuesday, Hy-Vee grocery stores no longer required fully vaccinated customers and employees to wear face coverings in its stores (except where required by local ordinance). It joined other retailers, such as Target and Walmart, in announcing the move.
Baker’s Supermarkets, which are part of the Kroger chain, also will allow fully vaccinated customers to enter stores without a mask beginning Thursday, the company said Wednesday.
In Nebraska, new COVID-19 cases have continued a downward trend, according to CDC data. The state added 988 new COVID cases for the week ending Saturday, which would be the first time the weekly total dropped below 1,000 since mid-April 2020.
The state crossed a vaccination milestone last week, as more than 50% of residents 18 and older had received vaccination for COVID-19.
As of Sunday, 756,000 Nebraskans in the 18-plus bracket were fully vaccinated, representing 51.3% of people in that category.
Douglas County by Monday had vaccinated 54.5% of residents 16 and older.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.
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