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Omaha-area officials urge public to take COVID-19 more seriously

Mayor Stothert says she will support mask ordinance if council implements one
Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 5:10 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 7, 2020 at 8:35 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Two Omaha-metro officials who have been vocal during the debate about a local face mask mandate gave comments following the OPS news conference Friday about the district’s decision to move to 100% remote learning.

Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray and Chris Rodgers, a Douglas County Commissioner who is also president of the Douglas County Board of Health, were both supportive of Dr. Logan’s decision.

“Look, you all. We’ve got to stop playing with this virus,” Gray said. “This virus is serious. this virus is taking lives like you wouldn’t believe.”

Gray took aim at critics, saying some point out that 90% survive COVID-19.

“But what condition are they?” he asked, noting that some survivors have had to learn to “walk again and talk again.”

“It is ridiculous for us to continue to think that we can play with this virus,” he said. “It’s serious. Dr. Logan did the right thing.”

The councilman said he will be voting in favor of a face mask mandate at Tuesday’s emergency meeting of the City Council.

“I can hear people all day long tell me that what we’re doing is violating their Constitutional rights. They cannot show me a section in the Constitution that is not up for interpretation. So to say that we’re violating rights, you’d have to show me how.

“You still have freedom of speech; just talk through a mask. You can still pray; pray through a mask. You can still — we certainly can assemble; assemble with a mask,” he said.

We need to stop “playing games” with a virus when cases are still going up, he said.

“We are now considered one of the hot spots in the nation — come on. Let’s be serious about this,” Gray said.

Commissioner Rodgers said he has been working to educate himself about COVID-19 as much as he can, including talking with epidemiologists from UNMC and CHI.

“We aren’t going to break this. We have to yield to this,” Rodgers said.

“We can’t put the virus on our timeline, he said. “The virus is the driver, and the reality is that, quite frankly, for the next 18 months, it’s going to be driving.”

Rodgers said even with a vaccine, the timeline won’t be quick, and it will be ever-changing — it won’t be a “one-shot solution,” like the mumps vaccine.

“The point that people have to notice is, you know, this has its base in the flu, and even every year when we do the flu vaccine, we have to make it new,” he said.

There will also be a challenge to get people to allow themselves to be vaccinated, he said.

“Conversations happening in my personal house all the time is, ‘Am I going to be the first one to try to take this thing, and experiment with it?‘ So you’ve got to note the realities,” Rodgers said.

The vaccine won’t solve the issue quickly or immediately. Adjustments will need to be made to accommodate the virus in our lives, Rodgers said. If not, if it breaks us, then we have to shut down again, which no one wants, he said.

“If there’s another shutdown, you start getting into shutting down Nebraska football, which has a whole other economic effect,”

Rodgers said it would be good to start having some “cross-silo” conversations. The environment of both work and learning are going to have to change and find a new normal, he said.

“We thought were in Phase Two. We’re probably in the second or third quarter of still Phase One,” Rodgers said.

Everyone maybe thought the summer would be a pivot point, but the decision made by OPS today is “a reality check,” he said.

Both Gray and Rodgers said the OPS decision to go to 100% remote learning strengthens the argument for a mandatory mask ordinance in Omaha.

“As long as we’re realistic about it,” he said. “We know that there are people that are not going to do it. We’re not going to arrest you walking down the street without a mask.”

The goal is to slow the spread and bend the curve, he said. If we don’t, we’ll have to shut down again.

“And if you think the last one was bad, that’s going to be a picnic compared to the next one if we have to shut down,” Gray said.

These difficult decisions have to be made in order to preserve the viability of the city and its schools, which is what they were elected to do, he said.

“We’ve got to do it, and make sure that we do to the best of our ability with the best science available. Let me say that again: the best science available. Not the best politician who can talk the most. But with the best science available,” Gray said.

If you don’t, then you run the risk of spreading COVID-19, he said.

“As the numbers have shown, young people are not immune to this. And the numbers have also shown that young people are not immune from dying from this,” Gray said.

If we don’t have a mask ordinance or remote learning, the city will be worse off, he said. “If the worst comes, and what parents face now will be infinitely worse if their children catch something.”

Bending the curve is the only way to find the way back to some sort of normalcy, he said.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said in a statement Friday that she would support the decision made by the council:

“I have consistently expressed my strong opinion that wearing a mask will help reduce the risk of COVID 19 exposure and infection. If the City Council approves the new city ordinance to temporarily require masks, I will support it.”

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