Proposal Would Give Nebraska Health Officials More Power

Local health officials across Nebraska could gain more authority to impose restrictions related to the coronavirus under a bill in the legislature. The bill would allow local public health departments across the state to impose restrictions related to the virus or other infectious diseases, without seeking state approval. Under the current rules, Governor Pete Ricketts’ administration prevented local health officials from requiring people to wear masks when COVID-19 started spreading widely across the state last year. Later, many cities across the state took action to require masks once it became clear they had the legal authority to do so.

Ricketts has steadfastly opposed mask mandates because he has said that requiring them would likely generate resistance. State Sen. Tony Vargas’ bill would take the authority to require masks away from city councils and put public health officials in charge of those decisions. Nebraska health officials resumed reporting statistics on the virus after its online virus tracking site was down for maintenance. The state said 2,064 new cases and 20 deaths were reported over the two days between Monday and Wednesday to give Nebraska a total of 184,482 cases and 1,862 deaths. There were 433 people hospitalized with the virus across the state Wednesday. That was down slightly from the previous day’s 438.