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

In her weekly update to the Douglas County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse said cases are rising more significantly. She said that children will be at greater risk during this wave with school starting.

“We’re under the wall cloud and the funnel cloud is forming,” Huse said. “We have tools to stop this or to slow it.”

According to county data, people under the age of 19 have made up 14.7% of cases throughout the pandemic. That age group makes up 26% of the recent wave in cases, Huse said. No vaccine is available for children under the age of 12 years old yet.

In response, Omaha Public Schools have recommended but not required masks for the upcoming school year. Huse said that she recommended schools follow CDC guidance. Westside Community Schools are requiring masks for students and staff in the elementary school.

Commissioner Mike Friend said the CDC has “run this truck into the ditch,” criticizing the lack of clear communication. The CDC recently changed its guidance to recommend fully vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors. Friend said the confusing changes to guidance leads to vaccine hesitancy.

“People are fatigued,” Friend said. “They’re tired of the dialogue and they’re tired of the misinformation.” 

South Omaha activist Ben Salazar suggested that the county provide incentives for getting vaccinated. Salazar asked the county to support a ticket giveaway to a Union Omaha soccer game for people who get vaccinated. Huse said she was “on the fence” on vaccine incentives, but the health department is looking at their options.

Douglas County put out a survey Tuesday on vaccine hesitancy. Commissioner Maureen Boyle said that getting vaccinated is important for protecting healthcare workers.

The county board created the American Rescue Plan Act Strategy Committee to develop the process for distributing ARPA funds. Despite opposition from Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh, the board approved the committee’s initial recommendations.

The ARPA Strategy committee is made up of three county commissioners and meets privately. Cavanaugh said every board member should be a part of the committee and they should meet publicly, given the importance and amount of money being spent.

The committee’s recommendations included prioritizing mental health, and putting County Finance Director Joe Lorenz in charge of vetting requests for funding.

“It’s problematic, if you follow through with this resolution, that almost nothing on here requires public hearing, notice, or input,” Cavanaugh said.

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