OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Wearing a mask in public places in Omaha will be a choice and no longer a legal requirement starting midnight Tuesday.
"At this point in time we will no longer have a mask mandate in the city of Omaha and the people can make their own decision whether they feel more comfortable wearing a mask, that's absolutely just fine. And for those people that don't want to wear a mask anymore they're not mandated to do so," Omaha City Councilwoman Aimee Melton said.
Melton has been a strong advocate against the mandate since the idea was thrown around nine months ago.
"I've always felt that a mask mandate is an overreach of the government," she said.
Other councilmembers, like Pete Festersen, have long been in favor of a mandate.
"Almost every other city in the country had already done it and we felt that it was our responsibility to step up and provide that leadership," Festersen said.
But now with the CDC loosening mask wearing requirements for vaccinated individuals, both Melton and Festersen, along with other council members, believe the mandate should expire without being renewed.
“I think it’s time we move on with our economic recovery," Festersen said.
Nine months ago, in August, Omaha City Council passed the mask mandate and then some extensions after. This came with strong opposition from members of the community.
Health officials say mask wearing became a politicized activity, and they wish it never got to that point.
“I think unfortunately politics and ideology became somewhat central to people’s beliefs and perceptions about face masks and their efficacy," UNMC's Director of Global Center for Health Security Dr. James Lawler said.
Dr. Lawler believes face masks, along with other prevention efforts, greatly helped prevent additional COVID-19 outbreaks and hospitalizations.
"I'm hoping that even though the mandates may expire, people will continue to use common sense and to wear face masks in public settings and particularly indoors," he said.
Mask mandates have also expired in Ralston, Lincoln and most other metropolitan cities.
The Open Door Mission is also losing its requirement for visitors, volunteers and staff to mask up but said protocols like temperature checks and social distancing efforts will remain in place.
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