Omaha’s mask mandate is lifted by health director

By: - February 16, 2022 12:18 pm
Sign advertising face masks

Omaha’s mask mandate has been lifted. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

This article has been updated.

OMAHA — Masks are no longer mandated in Omaha.

Dr. Lindsay Huse, health director for the City of Omaha and for the Douglas County Health Department, lifted the mask mandate Wednesday for certain indoor spaces in Omaha.

Huse, in her role as city health director, announced the change by press release from the county health department, shortly after people at City Hall were notified that the change was coming.

Mayor Jean Stothert is home this week after being diagnosed with COVID-19, but her staff said she was asymptomatic.

It was not immediately clear how or whether the elimination of the mandate might impact the State of Nebraska’s lawsuit against Huse and the city regarding the mask mandate. Huse enacted the mask requirement Jan. 12.

The state has argued that Huse, by nature of her county job, needed state approval to require masks, which she did not obtain.

The judge, at least in the early stages of court proceedings, appeared to side with Huse and the city’s lawyers.

She wrote that Huse appears to have derived her authority from the Omaha City Council and Omaha city code. That means it appeared to the judge that Huse could enact the requirement on her own.

Suzanne Gage, a spokeswoman for Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, said the state “will continue with its case.”

“This case has always been about whether Dr. Huse has the power to unilaterally issue a mask mandate,” Gage said of the state’s lawsuit. “That question remains unsettled.”

On Wednesday, the Douglas County Health Department announced that “New cases and hospital capacity have reached a satisfactory level as set out in the order.”

Her order said Omaha was under the 200 cases per 100,000 people threshold she had set. It said hospital capacity had not held below 85% for seven straight days — another threshold she had set —but the order said the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in metro Omaha hospitals continues to fall. It also said vaccination rates among younger people locally continue to climb.

Huse, in the release, encouraged people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and said it offers the best protection from serious illness and death from the disease. She declined to be interviewed, citing the state’s lawsuit.The City of Lincoln’s indoor mask mandate remains in place through Feb. 25.

Countywide, Douglas reported 106 new COVID-19 cases since midnight Tuesday. That put the county’s total cases since March 2020 at 141,136. Health officials reported two more deaths related to COVID-19. Both victims were over 50 and unvaccinated.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.