The Grand Island City Council approved their "COVID-19 prevention ordinance" on Nov. 24. According to the new rules, people are required to wear masks in indoor spaces that are open to the general public, with few exemptions. People who violate the order will be fined $25 plus court costs, which amounts to a $74 fine.
The Grand Island Police Department (GIPD) has emphasized that its officers will not respond to complaints regarding mask violators in businesses unless it has been brought to the attention of a store's manager. It will only respond when there has been some kind of intervention and the violators continue to refuse to comply.
Businesses are tasked with enforcing the mask ordinance and informing the GIPD about people who refuse to comply. Their failure to implement the mask order in their private property risks them being charged as public nuisances.
"We will respond if the complaint is against the business not enforcing it," said GIPD Captain Jim Duering. "The property owner of the business is really the first line where most of that should be taking place."
So far, Duering said the department has only received a handful of calls regarding mask enforcement.
"In most cases," added Duering, "the [non-compliant] people either put their mask on or they leave. And it really doesn't involve the police at that point."
Duering added that the ordinance does not apply to private residences, unless the homes of people are directly accessible to the public.
"So, I suppose if you're having an open-door party, maybe that would be an issue. But [the ordinance] really is geared toward publicly accessible properties."
Grand Island's mask ordinance expires on Feb. 23, 2021, unless it is extended by the City Council.
As of press time, eight out of Nebraska's 10 largest cities have issued some kind of mask order. Despite this, and pressure from local leaders and public health officials, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts is still refusing to order a statewide mask mandate.
More than half of Nebraska's over 1.9 million residents now live within an area where they are required to follow some kind of mask order.
Ricketts has publicly questioned whether cities in his state are allowed to adopt mask mandates on their own. While he has not brought cities and counties with mask mandates to court, he has refused to allow local public health districts to implement their own mask mandates, forcing these localities to turn to city ordinances.
The governor believes that the only city that can legally do this is Omaha because it is guaranteed a greater degree of autonomy thanks to its home rule charter.
The governor has stood firm in his opposition to implementing a statewide mandate. He has instead focused his efforts on urging Nebraskans to voluntarily wear masks, and communicating that he believes it is one good step they take to slow down the pandemic. (Related: Face masks offer no protection from the coronavirus to the people who wear them – study.)
Ricketts' public health communication campaign has also strongly recommended that people avoid crowds, wash hands frequently and stay at home if they feel sick or if they're showing symptoms of the virus.
"Everybody can be a part of this," said Ricketts during a news conference, believing that residents will follow the guidelines if it is made clear to them that these are ways to avoid tougher restrictions.
The governor has promised to implement a lockdown if cases rise drastically and hospitals become more crowded.
Despite Ricketts' opposition to a mask mandate, he has relented slightly. Masks are required for staff and customers at personal care businesses such as barbershops and salons. Other than that, mask usage is only strongly recommended for restaurant personnel and for the general population when outside their homes.
Learn more about mask mandates in Nebraska and in other parts of the United States at Pandemic.news.