Festersen and Palermo: No ‘consensus’ for city council mask mandate

The two leading Democrats on the Omaha City Council are, at best, playing wait and see on a new mask mandate.

Council President Pete Festersen and Vice President Vinny Palermo telling News Channel Nebraska that for the time being there is no "consensus" on the 7-member council to bring back a mask order; the original city decree expired in May after nine months.

Already this week the Douglas County Health Department came up short in its push for a mask mandate when state health officials rejected the move.

Douglas County cited three main reasons for a mandate:

  • Transmission rates in the county are double the CDC’s standard what is considered a high transmission rate. They are more than 15 times as high as our rates in early June.
  • Current vaccination rates are inadequate to slow the transmission rate.
  • Younger children cannot be vaccinated and locally four school rooms were closed in the first week of classes while another school district (Omaha Public Schools) mandated masks for all grades (Ralston Public Schools have also mandated masks for all grades).

The head of the County Board, Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson, tells NCN the board does not have the authority to issue a mask mandate.

Last month Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert told NCN she doubted a mask mandate was on the way back and this week added to her argument that a mandate is not necessary.

"I do not support another mask mandate,” Stothert said. “Any new Directed Health Measures should be based on hospital capacity to care for patients, and vaccination rates. The vaccination rate continues to increase, and the FDA’s final approval of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to increase the percentage of vaccinated persons. I will continue to encourage vaccines and support programs to make vaccinations accessible to everyone."

At this week’s regular Tuesday meeting none of the council’s four Democrats and three Republicans were masked.

At the same time six members of the 7-member Douglas County Board were wearing masks (three Democrats and three Republicans; Democrat Mike Boyle was absent—but Boyle has worn a mask in the past).

As for the city council, Festersen tells NCN, “When public health experts make the determination that action is needed it should be taken seriously. I will continue discussing it with council members and the mayor but there’s no consensus at the moment and it would take at least five weeks unless the public health director is able to take the action herself.”

Palermo says he is “Open to the (mask mandate) discussion. But without consensus of my colleagues it would be a moot point.”