OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Omaha City Council has passed a mask mandate extension until November 24.
The mandate was passed, after heated exchanges from opponents and proponents, with a 5-2 vote.
Before the council made their decision on extending a mask mandate, three public officials - Douglas County Health Director Doctor Adi Pour and UNMC doctors Ali Khan and Mark Rupp, warned the council of rising numbers, and how it could get worse if a mandate was removed.
“We see warning signs, if they are ignored we can easily approach a crisis,” says Rupp.
Doctors Rupp, Pour and Khan pointed to rising cases, positivity rate and hospital capacity in the community.
They then say extending the mask mandate through late November is a piece to the puzzle of containing the virus.
“We have the power to affect the trajectory of this outbreak right now, before this vaccine ever shows up,” says Khan.
There was pushback.
Council-member Aimee Melton, a vocal opponent of the mandate, brought up a different doctor, Dr. Lee Merritt, who countered the public health officials, questioning how much masks worked.
Melton, says people may wear them more if there is not a mandate.
“Let’s not have a mandate, let’s all get together and do it because we want to do it, because we’re trying to do something, even if it doesn’t work 100 percent, even if it only works 30 percent,” says Melton.
Council President Chris Jerram pointed out to the opponents in the crowd, the Omaha Police Department has yet to issue one citation for a mask violation.
“Nothing the government does, or the city council does, is going to change those few, who choose to disrespect the law, unless the law is enforced,” says Jerram.
Jerram closed by saying to those that don’t wear masks, that they’re too focused on themselves, not the rest of the community.
“Your freedom to infect does not exist to me under the United States constitution,” says Jerram.
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert's office shared this statement following the mask mandate extension:
"We are all listening and learning together as this pandemic progresses. What we have learned is that we need to do everything possible to reduce the risk of exposure and infection.
Our best medical experts tell us masks do reduce the risk. A mandate will help us keep students in school, employees working and keep our health care system open.
We must be nimble and quick and adapt to the information we have and at this time, the information shows the extension of the mask mandate is warranted."