Nebraska’s governor told local governments they will not receive any federal money to help fight the effects of the coronavirus pandemic if they require people to wear masks in public buildings.
The mandate from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts seems at odds with his usual message, often delivered at his regular news conferences to address the COVID-19 outbreak, encouraging people to wear masks to slow the spread of the virus, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
Ricketts stands by that advice, his spokesman Taylor Gage said. Local governments can encourage mask-wearing in courthouses and other county government buildings, he said, but the governor “does not believe that failure to wear a mask should be the basis for denying taxpayers’ services.”
“Counties are not prohibited from requiring masks, but if they want CARES Act money, they have to be fully open, and that means they cannot deny service for not wearing a mask,” Gage said.
The mandate is drawing objections from county officials, who say it runs counter to Nebraska’s long-held bent toward local control and the advice of public health officials.
In Lincoln, officials planned to require all visitors to wear masks when entering the City-County Building, but those rules were dropped when officials learned that doing so would cost Lancaster County any chance at the $100 million that has been allotted to Nebraska counties as part of the federal economic rescue law.
“We’d like to have a little bit more ability to call the shots in our courthouse, but we realize that he has the right to set the rules,” said Deb Schorr, a longtime Lancaster County Board member.
Dakota County Assessor Jeff Curry said the order could have dire consequences in his county, which is home to a Tyson Foods meatpacking plant and has been one of the hardest-hit counties in the nation for the virus.
Curry said he was hoping that a mask requirement could be in place for the courthouse through July 1.
Nebraska continues to pull back on restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus, even as more cases are recorded. On Wednesday, the state saw nearly 200 news cases of the virus reported, bringing Nebraska’s total to 17,226, according to the state’s online virus tracker. Nebraska has seen a total to 234 deaths related to the COVID-19 virus.