Douglas County Board of Health Opposes Proposed Pandemic Authority Changes
By Melissa Rosales, Reporter/Producer Nebraska Public Media
March 16, 2022, 5:31 p.m. ·
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On Wednesday, the Douglas County Board of Health opposed Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and city council member Vinny Palermo's proposal to strip away the county health director’s pandemic authority.
Since 1949, the city ordinance gives authority to the health director to issue orders that would protect the public health of Omaha citizens against contagious diseases. Now, the proposed changes would remove that authority and transfer it to the Omaha Fire Department’s medical director, as the new City Special Epidemic Health Director. The City Council has to approve any directed health measures, like the city's first mask mandates.
This proposal came after Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse issued a mask mandate for just the city from January to February during the COVID-19 Omicron surge.
"This is being made, I think hastily over COVID when you have a lot of other infectious diseases that are out there that this call will need to be made on," said Chris Rodger, president of the Douglas County Board of Health.
The Douglas County Board of Health unanimously opposed the changes in Wednesday's meeting. Their resolution said to interfere with the director’s authority can “only be construed as being politically influenced, rather than being driven by the long-term public health needs of the community.”
Rodgers said the board discussed the importance of having public health experience when making decisions, which the Omaha Fire Department’s medical director doesn’t have.
"This is not really just a public health decision. It's a public safety decision," he said. "One thousand people died because of this. This is about the safety of the community. And we can't leave that to chance."
He encourages citizens to testify and share their views at the city council’s public hearing for the proposed ordinance on March 29.
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