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Q&A on Omaha's mask mandate: Here's what you need to know

Q&A on Omaha's mask mandate: Here's what you need to know

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The mask mandate set to go into effect in Omaha at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday applies to indoor settings, with some exceptions.

The mask mandate announced Tuesday by Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse was set to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday within Omaha city limits. It applies to schools and many other public indoor spaces in the city.

How long will the mask mandate last?

Huse said the mandate will remain in place until case counts for the city of Omaha are below 200 per 100,000 residents for seven days and hospital capacity is maintained at or below 85% for seven consecutive days. The order will be reviewed every four weeks at a minimum for extension or expiration.

Where does the mandate apply?

The mandate requires people age 5 and older to wear masks over their noses and mouths in indoor public spaces, including but not limited to educational institutions and child care centers, unless they maintain at least 6 feet of separation at all times from those who are not members of their household.

Are there any exceptions?

Yes. Face coverings will not be required for people who:

Are seeking government services.

Are seated at a bar or restaurant to eat or drink.

Have a job that prevents mask-wearing.

Can’t wear a mask because of a medical or mental condition or disability.

Are exercising in a gym.

Are speaking before an audience but are at least 6 feet away.

Are participating in a religious service.

What kind of face covering is required?

Any paper, disposable or cloth face mask, religious face covering or medical-grade mask or respirator. Masks with vents that allow exhalations, mesh or other holes are not adequate.

What’s considered a public place?

The ordinance covers indoor places that are generally open to the public, including public, private or nonprofit workplaces; schools; places of worship; private clubs; commercial or business establishments; and public transportation, including buses, taxis and ride-share vehicles under apps like Uber or Lyft.

Are there other places where the mandate does not apply?

The order does not apply to courts of law; medical providers, facilities or pharmacies; public utilities or essential federal, state, county and city operations; logistics/distribution centers; congregate living settings; group homes, shelters and residential treatment facilities; airport travel; election offices or polling places on an election day.

Do I have to wear a mask when I’m outside?

No, the ordinance applies only to indoor settings open to the general public. You don’t have to wear a mask when you run around Zorinsky Lake, walk your dog or go inside private homes.

Does the Douglas County health director have the authority to impose a mask mandate?

Doug Peterson, Nebraska’s attorney general, says Huse needs the approval of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to issue a mandate. Omaha’s city code says the county health director can issue orders in public health emergencies in the city.

One section of the code says the health director “shall have the authority to adopt such rules and regulations, restrictions or measures as he shall deem necessary to protect the public health of the city.”

Another section, labeled “authority at threat of epidemic,” says it shall be the duty of the health director, when the city is afflicted with or threatened by an epidemic of contagious disease, to issue orders for the prevention, removal or limiting of such diseases.

Who will enforce the mandate?

If they receive complaints, Douglas County Health Department staffers would inspect premises. Law enforcement likely would not be involved unless repeat offenses are reported. Offenses would be considered misdemeanors under municipal code, subject to a fine of up to $500, up to 6 months in jail or both, at the discretion of the court.

Mayor Jean Stothert doesn’t support the mandate. Will Omaha police enforce it?

Huse said, “I think they’ll respect the law.”

Even though Stothert said she opposes a mask mandate, she said in a prepared statement Tuesday that she recognizes Huse has the authority to impose one under the city code.

“The order signed by Dr. Huse cannot be voided by the mayor or the City Council,” Stothert wrote.


Omaha World-Herald: Afternoon Update

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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

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