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Douglas County Health Department pivots after CDC recommendations

Recommend schools make masks mandatory for all
Posted at 6:42 PM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 16:22:47-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The rise in COVID cases, and what’s next, was on Tuesday's agenda at the Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting.

The Douglas County Health Department and Director, Dr. Lindsay Huse, recommended the schools require masks for those who are unvaccinated.

“If they are unvaccinated then yes, we would recommend that they wear masks. Those buy time for the vaccine to be approved for those younger groups and for more people to become vaccinated,” Huse said. “Because once you have high vaccination rates, you have fewer people for the virus to get into and mutate.”

That includes teachers and staff at schools. As of right now, those under 12 years old are not allowed to get a vaccine. The health department doesn’t expect the emergency use authorization for those kids to come until around October.

“Of course, we can always keep our fingers crossed that they move it up a little quicker,” Huse said.

Teens, on the other hand, are highly advised to do so as quickly as possible.

“I can’t overemphasize the importance of vaccination for kids who are able to get it returning to the school. The severe illness right now is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Division Chief for Pediatric Hospital and Medicine at Children’s Hospital Dr. Russell McCulloh said. “For that segment of the pediatric population, where there is a vaccine available under emergency use the same as adults, they absolutely should be getting it.”

Things change fast, just like they have throughout the entire pandemic. After the CDC's announcement of new recommendations this afternoon, requiring everyone in K-12 to wear masks at school, Dr. Huse followed suit.

"Our recommendations for kids, and staff, and other people in our community can change on a dime - as we saw it happen today,” Huse said. “We just have to be ready to pivot and be very flexible in how we're approaching this."

Even though the department's stance has changed, they are still pushing for the younger generation to get vaccinated.

“We’re attending back-to-school events through Omaha Public Schools, Metropolitan Community College, UNO, really just trying to be where we know there might be higher numbers of unvaccinated people that we can catch coming through,” Huse said.

However, all Dr. Huse and the Douglas County Health Department can do is give the schools guidance. Not enforce regulations.

“I’m not able to mandate that, that’s not a power that my office holds, but I think it’s something that local government bodies should consider,” Huse said when asked about making masks a requirement for all.

She does say the local health departments and school superintendents have been in constant communication and working hand in hand as the school year approaches.

Dr. Huse believes health care professionals should be required to get the vaccine, and that once the vaccines get that full FDA approval around January, more institutions and employers will require those that have not received the vaccine to do so.