Mask requirement for Lancaster County begins Saturday

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – The Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department issued a new local Directed Health Measure that includes a mask mandate. It will go into effect Saturday through Feb. 11, when it will be reevaluated.

The DHM will require all individuals ages two and older – regardless of vaccination status – to wear a mask when they are in an indoor space unless six feet of separation from others at all times can be achieved. The DHM requires business owners to ensure their patrons ages two and older wear masks any time they cannot maintain six feet of separation with non-household members.

The DHM includes exceptions. Masks are not required for the following:

  • Individuals eating or drinking or seated to eat or drink
  • Those exercising
  • Those engaged in an occupation that prevents the wearing of a mask
  • Those obtaining a service or purchasing goods or services that requires the temporary removal of the mask
  • A person giving a speech, lecture, or broadcast to an audience as long as six feet of distance from other individuals is maintained
  • Those individuals who cannot otherwise wear a mask because of a medical condition, a mental health condition, or a disability that prevents the wearing of masks
  • Courts of law; meetings or sessions of the Nebraska Legislature; individuals accessing federal, state, county, or city government services; congregate living settings; group homes and residential drug and/or mental health treatment facilities; or shelters

Health Director Pat Lopez said omicron is now the predominant strain of COVID-19 in Nebraska and is causing COVID-19 case numbers locally to increase at unprecedented levels. The number of new weekly cases in Lancaster County hit an all-time high of almost 2,900 last week, and cases this week are already over 3,000 with two days left to go. Lopez said 1,013 cases of COVID were reported Friday, a new daily high.

The local positivity rate so far this week is now 27.2{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33}, also the highest on recent record. So far this month, 17 residents have died from COVID-19.

“Omicron is spreading extremely fast and causing a high number of cases in a very short period of time,” Lopez said. “This rapid spread is threatening our health care system, our schools and our businesses. Additional action is necessary to help reduce the impact on our community.”

Lopez said the high number of cases is causing additional strain on an already stressed health care system. The Risk Dial metric for local hospitalizations was in orange (high risk) for 19 of 20 weeks between August 14 and December 25, but the metric has been in red (severe risk) for the past three consecutive weeks. The seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 patients hospitalized locally has increased from 113 on December 25 to 132 so far this week. Of the 132 patients, 97 are from Lancaster County. On Wednesday, only 8{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} of local ICU beds were available.

“Hospitals are really full. COVID-19 cases are way too high,” said Dr. Eric Avery, Lancaster Medical Society.

Lancaster County 7-Day Rolling Average of COVID-19 Daily Cases.
Lancaster County 7-Day Rolling Average of COVID-19 Daily Cases.(LLCHD)

The health director is also recommending that for the next four weeks, you should only leave the house to go to work, school, buy food or get medical care or vaccinations.

Community guidance and recommendations from Lincoln Lancaster County Health Director.
Community guidance and recommendations from Lincoln Lancaster County Health Director.(LLCHD)

During the Friday news conference, Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird made a plea to the public to consider cancelling gatherings if you can’t social distance or wear a mask.

“I’m asking anyone in a position of influence in this city to elevate these urgent messages of vigilance for the next several weeks in response to the crises our schools and healthcare system are experiencing in this moment,” said Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird. “Our community needs everyone to help out right now. Right now, your actions are vitally important to preserving access to hospital care, keeping kids in classrooms, and saving lives.”

Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients 7-Day Rolling Average
Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients 7-Day Rolling Average(LLCHD)

The COVID-19 Risk Dial for Lancaster County has been in the “red” Severe Risk range since Jan. 4. On Friday, Lopez said the situation has moved beyond severe to extreme risk of COVID spread.

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