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Councilman Festersen says City Council moving forward with mask mandate

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Posted at 3:23 PM, Aug 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-02 16:46:55-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — UPDATE: On Sunday, Councilman Pete Festersen sent out a tweet saying that Omaha City Council would be moving forward with a mask mandate as schools are getting ready to welcome students back.

Festersen said the mandate would be similar to the mandate passed in Lincoln.

“It’s unfortunate that leadership failed to act and with only two weeks before school starts," Festersen said in a statement to KMTV. "The City Council is moving forward with an ordinance requiring masks and has requested an emergency clause. It’s a simple and practical thing we can all do to try and get our kids back to school safely.”

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The Omaha Public Schools Board of Education were urging the Omaha City Council to immediately implement a mask ordinance earlier this week.

“With just days before the school year begins, we must do all we can to return to classrooms in the safest conditions possible for students, teachers, staff, and our entire community,” the OPS Board of Education wrote in a letter released to the media late Saturday.

The letter was released a day after Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour backed off plans to institute a mask mandate in the county due to legal issues. The planned mandate was expected to take effect in Omaha on Monday before spreading to other parts of the county.

The OPS Board of Education says a mask ordinance doesn’t need to be a criminal offense with the potential of jail time.

“Traffic laws, minor drug offenses, and Omaha’s fireworks ordinance are all examples of laws that are enforced with only a fine as a potential punishment,” the letter read.

The letter goes on to say, "Doing all we can as a community means following the guidance of the experts. Nothing should stand in the way of the recommendations being made by the leaders of UNMC who support a mask mandate. A mask mandate is not government overreach."

OPS plans to begin classes on August 11 with roughly 50 percent of students in school on a given day.

The letter was signed by all nine members of the OPS Board of Education.

Read the letter below.

Following the Douglas County Health Director’s decision against implementing an order mandating face coverings be worn in public, the undersigned members of the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education urge the Omaha City Council to immediately implement a mandatory mask ordinance.

With just days before the school year begins, we must do all we can to return to classrooms in the safest conditions possible for students, teachers, staff, and our entire community.

Doing all we can as a community means following the guidance of the experts. Nothing should stand in the way of the recommendations being made by the leaders of UNMC who support a mask mandate. A mask mandate is not government overreach.

A mask ordinance does not need to be a criminal offense with the potential of jail time. Traffic laws, minor drug offenses, and Omaha’s fireworks ordinance are all examples of laws that are enforced with only a fine as a potential punishment.

Lawmakers and leaders can never allow the threat of a lawsuit to keep them from doing the right thing. In just the past seven days, COVID 19 hospitalizations have increased nearly 50% in Omaha.

To put our community in the best position to return to in-person school this year, we must do everything we can to reduce the spread of COVID 19. We urge the Omaha City Council, in the strongest possible terms, to mandate face coverings be worn in public, and to implement the ordinance immediately.