OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Omaha City Council held a public hearing on extending the city's mask ordinance on Tuesday.
Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour cited the rising cases of COVID-19 as a reason to keep the mandate. She said masks are effective and said it's necessary to extend the mandate.
"The next three months in Omaha will bring people inside where the virus is more likely to infect individuals and social distancing is more difficult to achieve regularly," Pour said.
Pour said society doesn't have to choose to shut down the economy but can rather choose to wear masks and protect ourselves and others. Pour added that hospital occupancy is very high and suggested extending the mask mandate until the end of the year.
Dr. Ali Kahn, who works at UNMC, said if we don’t get COVID under control it can be the second leading cause of death in the country. Dr. Khan said implementing a mask mandate will lead to the least number of people of color dying from the virus as opposed to if the city does nothing.
Do you support the Omaha City Council proposed mask mandate extension?— KMTV 3 News Now (@3NewsNowOmaha) October 27, 2020
Not everyone who spoke on Tuesday was in favor of extending the mask mandate. Opponents of the mask mandate said masks aren't as effective as people believe, they cause inhalation of carbon dioxide and said they were an infringement on people's constitutional rights.
Dr. Lee Merritt said masks don’t control viruses but they control people. The orthopedic spinal surgeon says 97 percent of particles get through masks, so they do not help control viruses. She also argued that masking children "damages" them and that they will "carry life long problems from this."
Dr. Ben Tapper of the Wellness Pointe says the regulations infringe on people’s rights. Tapper also argued the immune system needs to be trained and that most of the people who are dying of coronavirus are deficient in vitamin D.
After the public hearing, Councilmember Ben Gray asked Dr. James Lawler to speak on the effectiveness of masks. He said that while they aren't perfect, they reduce the amount of virus a person sheds. He added that masks do not restrict oxygen to lungs.
Gray has proposed an amendment to the ordinance that would make it expire based on certain data, like the positivity rate and a seven day rolling average of positive cases in Omaha.
The council is set to vote on the extension on November 10. The existing mandate would end on November 24 but the extension would push it to December 29.
Watch Tuesday's meeting below or on our Facebook page.