A citywide mask ordinance will go to the Grand Island City Council tonight for action.
The newly created Grand Island City Board of Health approved recommending a citywide mask mandate at its first meeting noon Tuesday.
The ordinance will require people to wear a mask in public when indoors. People who do not wear a mask risk a $25 fine plus court costs.
Businesses that allow people to not wear masks risk being charged as a public nuisance.
The City Board of Health was approved by the City Council at a special meeting Monday to comply with state statute.
The board is chaired by Mayor Roger Steele and includes Teresa Anderson, Central District Health Department director, Dr. Rebecca Steinke, a family medicine specialist, Council President Mike Paulick and Police Chief Robert Falldorf.
The health board agreed a mask mandate was needed in response to rising cases of COVID-19 in the three-county area.
Anderson said a mask is the best defense against COVID, both in protecting one’s self and in protecting others.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. The surge we’re just encountering right now is a very large surge and a very prolonged surge,” she said. “We’re at a point right now where if we don’t take action right now, our experts at the University of Nebraska Med Center tell us we will see a very sharp and continued increase.”
Steinke explained that hospitals cannot sustain the intake of COVID cases.
She noted that, presently, 64% of hospitalizations of Grand Island are COVID cases.
“We’re at the point now where we’re already at or near capacity with our local hospitals,” she said. “That’s burdening not only the staff to care for COVID patients, but also to care for other patients that come in.”
Steele said city departments are suffering a COVID-related manpower shortage.
“If we get short at the power plant or at the police department, or fire and ambulance, we cannot call up an employment agency and say, send us three power plant operators,” he said. “The virus puts essential city services at risk, and these are services that save people’s lives.”
Grand Island businesses cannot withstand another shutdown, Steele said.
“If he (Gov. Pete Ricketts) shuts down businesses, it reduces commerce. It destroys jobs. And it destroys people’s hope for a better future,” he said. “In addition to all you’ve heard about schools, our medical community, the public health aspect, I would urge us all to consider we must protect our businesses and our jobs.”
Wearing a mask is less burdensome, Steele said, than businesses and schools shutting down and the medical community being overwhelmed.
“I think asking someone to wear a mask when they enter a premises open to the public is simply asking them to be considerate of the health and safety of others,” he said.
There were no public comments made at Tuesday’s City Board of Health meeting. Grand Island City Council will consider the recommendation at its 7 p.m. meeting tonight.