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Despite shutdown of two bars, Railyard commons, most Lincoln residents complying with mask mandate
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Despite shutdown of two bars, Railyard commons, most Lincoln residents complying with mask mandate

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LINCOLN — The owner of Tavern on the Square and the Other Room in Lincoln’s Haymarket estimates that 85% to 90% of the patrons entering his bars willingly wear masks when indoors.

Matt Taylor said he or another employee ask the other 10% to 15% of bar patrons, who aren’t so willing, to put one on. Since last Monday when Lincoln’s mask mandate took effect, Taylor has made masks available for purchase.

Before that, both of the downtown locations recommended masks indoors but did not require them.

“We take this very, very seriously, and more than anything, I want the health of my employees,” Taylor said.

Most Lincoln residents are abiding by the city’s new directed health measure and wearing masks, says the head of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department. “The majority of people in Lincoln have been focused on doing the right thing in helping Lincoln move forward,” Pat Lopez, interim director of the Health Department, said via email Friday.

However, on Saturday, Iguana’s Pub, Longwell’s and the Railyard commons — all popular drinking spots in downtown Lincoln — were ordered by the Health Department to close for 24 hours for violations of the new directed health measure requiring masks in Lincoln.

The three establishments were not allowed to operate from 5 p.m. Saturday to 5 p.m. Sunday. A Health Department investigation found “significant” violations of the mandate at the locations.

Iguana’s Pub, a popular college bar on O Street, and the other two Haymarket locations, which draws a broader crowd, were ordered to close after attempts to educate and work with them failed, according to a Health Department press release.

A spokeswoman for the Railyard said the area is still navigating how to enforce the health measures in an outdoor space, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

“We plan to work with the Health Department to follow the directed health guidelines to keep the community safe,” said Katy Martin of Hurrdat, the marketing company that manages the Railyard.

The department said Friday that many Lincoln businesses were reporting more customers wearing face masks.

The number of positive cases reached its highest one-week total, as the Health Department reported 340 new cases in Lancaster County for the week ending Saturday. The department also upgraded its risk dial from low-orange to mid-orange to indicate that the risk of spreading the virus is high.

Omahans could see a similar mask requirement, as Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour announced that the County Board of Health, along with the city, is exploring a similar mandate. The health board has called a special meeting Monday to discuss the mandate.

Pour said she decided to consider a mandate after seeing what Lincoln “has been doing and how well it has been perceived in that community.”

The requirement to wear masks in Lincoln amid the ongoing pandemic came from Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird. The mandate — which may draw a legal challenge from Gov. Pete Ricketts — requires masks to be worn indoors, unless 6 feet of separation can be maintained, for Lincoln residents over age 5.

Exceptions can be made, including while exercising or while seated in a bar or restaurant eating or drinking.

About 35 complaints had been filed with the Health Department about noncompliance with the mask mandate as of Friday. Lopez said that wasn’t many, and the department has staff reviewing the complaints with the goal of educating those who aren’t in compliance.

At least some Lincoln businesses were already requiring masks before the mandate took effect.

Goldenrod Pastries, a bakery near Union College, has required masks since it reopened in May.

“It’s definitely gotten a lot easier for us to enforce,” said Goldenrod owner Angel Garbacz.

The Lincoln bakery also has a second location between the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s City and East Campuses, which opened in March.

Garbacz said the vast majority of her customers have worn masks, and Goldenrod has had fewer than 10 customers refuse to wear masks.

“It’s so hard as a business owner when you’re trying to have a really welcoming environment for your guests to really put your foot down and say, ‘If you do not follow this rule, you are not welcome,’ ” Garbacz said.

During a walk-through of Lincoln’s Haymarket on Friday, many restaurant and bar patrons were observed wearing masks when ordering food and moving around restaurants. They took the masks off when dining, as is allowed under the directed health measure.

“Not ideal, but I’ll live with it,” said Lincoln resident Randy Forst of the mandate. “If the Lincoln mayor says, ‘You gotta have it,’ I’ll go with it.”

For Pam and Dale Rassmussen — a Ceresco, Nebraska, couple who were visiting Lincoln to dine Friday — they’ve been wearing masks since the pandemic began in March.

“It just makes logical sense if we’re going to end this thing,” Pam Rassmussen said.


Photos: The faces of the mask effort

wbauer@owh.com, 402-444-1069

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