After increasing pressure from local and national health experts along with a skyrocketing increase of positive coronavirus cases in Lancaster County, the mayor of Lincoln, the City Council and the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department have now instituted a mask policy.
For the past four weeks, Lincoln’s infection rate has been approaching a level of spread similar to where Florida and Texas were less than one month ago. The new mask use policy would require all people age 5 and older to wear masks in public buildings as recommended by public health experts.
As physicians with expertise in public health and prehospital emergency management, we would like to thank Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and Health Department Director Pat Lopez for doing the right thing to protect the citizens of Lincoln and Lancaster County!
During his July 20 news conference, Gov. Pete Ricketts stated our “guiding post” is hospital capacity and that we are not even using 10% of our capacity. This may explain the comment from Taylor Gage, Governor Ricketts’ spokesperson, that the governor does not think a mask mandate is a “data-driven decision.”
While hospital capacity is a metric worth following, it is a reactive response. The goal of public health is never to wait for people to get severely sick and die to react.
Local and international experts, supported with solid data and evidence from all over the world, have demonstrated the effectiveness of communitywide mask use as a proactive way to stop the spread of the virus and ultimately reduce hospitalizations and save lives.
As a public health physician with more than 20 years of experience and a physician with 16 years of prehospital emergency management experience serving the great state of Nebraska, we believe all “data-driven” science points to universal mask wearing in public settings as the single most cost-effective decision we could make.
We are not saying that everyone in Nebraska is in the same situation as Lancaster County. A rancher in Cherry County is not dealing with what we are seeing here in our clinics or hospitals in Lincoln, but we can assure you if he has sent his daughter to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she is. Governor Ricketts could easily recognize the local emergent need for a temporary change and support our local decision without breaking political rank.
If we don’t wear masks for now, then what is the alternative? Do we continue to have people wait a week while they try to find a test location or get results? Do we exhaust our medical resources and testing supplies? Do we put even more local business owners at risk for going out of business because they cannot afford to close a second time?
When Governor Ricketts ran for office, one of his promises was to “run Nebraska like a business." Businesses all over the country have decided everyone should wear a mask. This past week, business after business announced they would be requiring masks for all employees and customers. Best Buy, Walmart, Sam's Club, Costco, Walgreens and CVS to name a few.
In addition, several days ago, 21 CEOs of national commercial retail companies wrote an opinion piece asking all governors in the United States to enact mask ordinances to protect their businesses and to help get the economy back on track.
We encourage Lancaster County residents to follow the lead of these businesses and to support our local decision. Safe and responsible work environments for a business’s employees and customers should not be a matter of politics. From America’s corporate boardrooms to national public health experts, all have come to the conclusion that masks are the most important intervention to both save lives and get our economy back on track.
Dr. Bob Rauner is president for Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln and serves on the Lincoln Board of Education. Dr. Don Rice is president and owner of Urgent Care of Lincoln and an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.