Mayor declares emergency for Omaha for next 72 hours; many establishments ordered to close

Published: Mar. 18, 2020 at 5:47 PM CDT
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Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert said Wednesday afternoon that she was issuing a state of emergency for the City of Omaha.

At 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Douglas County Health Department Director Dr. Adi Pour updated the community on local authorities' response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pour gave further details about the second community spread case in Omaha, reported earlier today during Nebraska Gov. Rickett's news conference. That case is a 46-year-old man who showed symptoms on March 11, went to the hospital on March 15, and tested positive of COVID-19 on March 17.

"His symptoms are mild, he experienced fatigue and cough but already had a baseline cough," Pour said. The man was placed in intensive care but his condition has since improved.

"Community spread" means health officials cannot trace back from where the infection stemmed.

The 10-person limit on gatherings is now enforceable by law, Stothert said. All bars in Omaha will be forced to close. Restaurants will be shutdown for dine-in meals but can remain open for carryout or home delivery options.

Daycare facilities are limited to 10 persons per room.

The state of emergency will last 72 hours; however, the City Council passed an amendment to extend the state for longer if needed, Stothert added.

Other enforcements, such as a curfew or restrictions on gasoline, have not been discussed, Stothert said.

She also signed an executive order to create a community advisory board for both long-term and short-term assistance for those impacted by the pandemic.

Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said a team of officers will do compliance checks to ensure the 10-person limit is enforced.

"They will have the option to issue a citation to the owner or anyone else in violation of that, at the location," Schmaderer said. "We intend to work with our business community and they have been very civic-minded. We anticipate it will continue to go smoothly."

Schmaderer was asked about his thoughts on such an order conflicting with the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to assemble.

"At times, individual rights must be put on the back burner to protect the masses. There may be those on social media saying those things, but we haven't encountered them yet. People we talk to know this is dangerous and we have to protect the healthcare system from overloading," he said.

Omaha Fire Chief Daniel Olsen said they have scaled back training opportunities and other operations to focus on emergency response.

"We ask people to think carefully when they dial 911 and make sure it is only for a true emergency," he said.