Kearney City Council votes unanimously to pass mask mandate

Published: Nov. 17, 2020 at 5:20 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2020 at 8:13 PM CST
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - Kearney has become the first of the tri-cities to pass a mandatory mask policy Tuesday night. It will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Nov. 23 and last until Feb. 23.

The Health Board made a recommendation that the city council vote to pass it after seeing numbers of COVID-19 rise steadily in the area. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Buffalo County has reported 881 new cases in the last two weeks.

Higher numbers means more hospitalizations and now health workers are feeling overwhelmed.

Kristen McQueen is a registered nurse in a Kearney hospital and was one of the few people who spoke during a public hearing in support of a mask mandate.

“I would just plead with you all on our behalf. We’re tired, we’re exhausted. There’s not much more that you can push our systems,” she said to the city council before the vote. "It’s just a small thing people can do to protect each other and our community and also protect our hospitals.”

While a few other local residents spoke in support of the mandate, dozens showed up to urge the council to vote against the mask policy. Many raised the concern of taking away their personal freedoms.

“I don’t have a problem with people that want to wear masks, I am all for if they want to wear a mask and feel that they need to,” Kearney resident Amy Wilson said. “If people want to be able to breathe the air that God gave them, that should be a freedom.”

The ordinance states violations can lead to a fine of at least $25. Many people were also concerned about it would be enforced and were concerned that it would change residents support of local law enforcement.

“You can’t possibly hope for this widespread support to continue if a mask mandate is instated," Kearney student Riley Cross said. "The people who were once seen as protectors will quickly be viewed as our wardens. I think it’s absolutely asinine to not think a mask mandate would change our relationship with our police force.”

The policy did pass unanimously despite two hours of comments similar to that of Cross and Wilson.

While the city council thanked the public for coming to share their opinions, they decided to move forward with doctor and health department recommendations.

“Looking at the numbers in Nebraska and the deaths, we have about a .8% mortality rate," Councilwoman Tami James Moore said. "If we threw our hands up and did nothing in Kearney with our population, that means we are willing to sacrifice 272 citizens and I am just not in a place where I can do that.”

The new mask policy will make masks mandatory for people over the age of 5 when they are in an indoor public location and cannot maintain six feet social distance, with some exceptions.

Masks will not be required in a bar or restaurant if someone is eating or drinking. They will also not be required if a person is alone in an office, vehicle or room.