Lincoln-Lancaster Co. Mandate Masks In Public; Gov. Ricketts 'Exploring Legal Options' To Challenge

Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird (D-Lincoln) speaking at a virtual news conference Friday afternoon (Credit: LNKTV)
July 17, 2020 - 5:53pm

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announced today all Lancaster County residents will be required to wear face masks in public starting Monday. But there’s disagreement about whether a local health department has the authority to mandate face coverings. 

New COVID-19 cases in Lancaster County are reaching the highest point in the pandemic so far. 

Gaylor Baird says health officials have considered other restrictions as well, like closing bars and limiting crowd sizes even further. 

"It is our hope that this one new action of requiring masks will prevent us from having to pursue any of these other restrictions," she said in a press conference Friday afternoon. 

Prior to the announcement, Gov. Pete Ricketts said local health departments don’t have the authority to mandate face masks.

"Generally local health departments have to check in with us and so they’re not going to be able to make those mandates without us," Ricketts said at a press conference Friday morning. "We’d like to make this a collaborative process where we’re working with our local public health departments on this."

Shortly after the mayor's announcement, a Ricketts spokesperson said the governor "strongly disagrees" with the mask mandate. 

"This is not a data-driven decision based on the current numbers in Lancaster County at this time. We are reviewing legal options." 

Local health officials confirmed an average of 50 new cases a day over the past seven days. That's the highest seven-day average so far; the next-highest were 42 on May 21 and 43 on May 9.

City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick says they have done a legal analysis and are confident in their authority. 

"We don't see this step as creating an adversarial position at all," Kirkpatrick said. "I don't think we're going to be in a situation like they are in Georgia where we're going to be in court." 

The Douglas County Health Board, which oversees that county's health department, says the department does not have the authority to pass a new Directed Health Measure without the governor's approval. But it said the health board is ready to pass a resolution asking all cities in the county to pass a mask ordinance.

There are several exceptions to the Lincoln-Lancaster County directed health measure. It does not apply outdoors, to residents under age five or who cannot wear a mask for health reasons, and masks are not required while eating or drinking in a bar or restaurant.

COVID-19 Cases in Lancaster County

Source: Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department | Last updated: 7/17, 6:30 p.m. CT

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COVID-19 Cases in Nebraska

Source: Nebraska DHHS | Last updated: 7/17, 6:30 p.m. CT

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