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As more Omaha-area communities look at implementing mask mandates, experts urge fast action

Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 4:45 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - After Douglas County hits another record high for COVID-19 cases, a number of surrounding Omaha-metro communities are now looking at implementing a mask mandate.

La Vista will have the board of health and city council vote on it next week. Gretna City Council will be discussing it next week. Papillion and Bellevue are also looking into what their options are.

“The state is truly on fire with regard to COVID-19,” said Dr. Mark Rupp, infectious disease chief at Nebraska Medicine.

Another day, another strong message from leaders at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis.

As Douglas County hits another record high Thursday — 978 new cases reported in a single day — surrounding communities are now looking at putting mask mandates into effect. Ralston City Council will vote on one Tuesday after the city’s health board passed the mandate during an emergency meeting.

Rupp said that will help the stressed hospital system — but not for a while.

“Anything we put into effect now will be weeks, if not a month or more, until we really see the impact. That’s why it’s very discouraging and disappointing that these things should have been put into place a month or two ago; and we could have blunted the pain and suffering that we are seeing now,” Rupp said.

Dr. James Lawler with Nebraska Medicine says unless we dramatically change course in the next two to three weeks 2,000 Nebraskans could be hospitalized statewide.

“I can tell you that I’ve been in mass causality situations in combat zones in Afghanistan, I’ve been in Ebola treatment centers in very austere conditions and I have never been as frightened about the status of the healthcare system as I am about the status of our health system in Nebraska right now,” Lawler said.

Along with supporting a broader expansion of mask mandates, experts continue to stress that we should avoid large gatherings. And now is the time to buckle down, they say.

“Transmission is running wildfire right now and everybody needs to take very, very responsible actions to try and prevent the transmission,” Rupp said.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday that he does not support a statewide mandate, and encouraged cities to check with their legal departments to see if they can legally issue a mandate.

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