The legislative chambers inside the Omaha/Douglas County Civic Center.

During her weekly update to the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse issued a mask mandate for the city of Omaha that went into effect at midnight Wednesday. She said the mandate is necessary as COVID-19 cases skyrocket, and hospital capacity remains high.

“I can’t stand by and not do everything that we can. My integrity as a health professional — as a public health professional — cannot stand by and watch that happen,” Huse said.

COVID-19 transmission in Douglas County. Data courtesy of Douglas County Health Department.

Huse said the Omicron variant does cause less severe symptoms, however the unprecedented case numbers will strain community hospitals. She said the county will need at least 40% more capacity to deal with both COVID and non-COVID hospitalizations. Huse said hospital capacity was 93% Tuesday.

The mask mandate only applies to the city of Omaha, but Huse said she hoped it will set an example for other jurisdictions in Douglas County. 

“I really hope that people can look past the political piece of this and look at the human piece of this,” Board Chair Mary Ann Borgeson said. “And let’s do this for our fellow man and woman and child, let’s do this for the healthcare workers.”

Among critics of the mask mandate was Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts who said he asked Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson to file suit and have the mandate declared invalid, claiming Huse needs approval from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert also said a mask mandate doesn’t make sense and called the decision to move forward without approval from her or the Omaha City Council, which is divided on party lines, “disappointing.” The mandate can not be vetoed by either the mayor or the city council.

The county board also allocated funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to several projects Tuesday, including $715,000 to I Be Black Girl to fund a Black maternal health program and $1.5 million to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals to develop a model of care for the long-term effects of COVID-19.

City Council

Anti-mask mandate protestors outside city hall before Tuesday’s Omaha City Council meeting. Photo by Anton Johnson.

The Omaha City Council delayed voting on a contract with Noddle Co. to oversee the relocation of W. Dale Clark Library Tuesday. 

Mayor Stothert announced the move in November. Replacing the current building at 215 S. 15th St. has been in Omaha Public Library’s master plan since 2017. W. Dale Clark, which is currently OPL’s central branch, would have its contents moved to a smaller building at 1401 Jones St. and a new distribution center to a former Shopko at 84th and Frederick streets.

Noddle Co., a real estate agency, was selected to manage the project and solicit architectural and engineering services. Councilmember Vinny Palermo questioned why the contract was being voted on before the lease agreements for the new locations are actually in place. The public hearings for the new leases are on Jan. 25, and the city council doesn’t vote until Feb. 1.

Palermo asked what would happen if the city council approved this contract but voted against the lease agreements. City Attorney Matt Kuhse said if there’s no project, then there’s no need for a contract to manage it. Noddle would have to be paid for any services provided before the contract is terminated.

Palermo said Omaha’s urban core needs a downtown library to thrive, but the new downtown location is a “dump.” Troy Anderson, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, said finding both a new downtown location and a central distribution center was difficult, and 1401 Jones St. provides an exciting opportunity.

Councilmember Danny Begley said accessibility was a major concern for his constituents. W. Dale Clark’s current location is on the ORBT route, making it accessible for people who can’t drive. Anderson said although the new location isn’t on the ORBT route, there are bus lines that provide access and the area has more parking.

Councilmember Don Rowe said he was concerned that delaying the contract would prevent the move from being completed within it’s nine month timeline. Jay Noddle, CEO of Noddle Co., said they’re open to a different location being selected, and they could get started on the first steps of their plan regardless.

The city council ultimately voted to delay voting on the agreement until Feb. 1, to coincide with the vote on the lease agreements.

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