HASTINGS – There will now be a mask policy in the City of Hastings, effective starting Thursday and will last until February 23. The Hastings City Council passed the mask policy at Monday’s Council meeting. The Hastings Public Schools District and a group of Mary Lanning Healthcare providers and nurses both sent letters to Mayor Corey Stutte supporting the mask policy.
Michele Bever, Executive Director of the South Heartland District Health Department, says that cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise locally.
71 percent of the hospitalizations in the South Heartland District hospitals were COVID-19 related. The number of patients needing hospital care due to complications of COVID-19 have also increased 260 percent since November 1 when there were 9 COVID patients to 24 COVID inpatients this past weekend. All of our regional hospitals are very close to capacity.
Many citizens spoke during the public hearing both supporting and speaking out against the policy. Healthcare workers spoke about the experiences they’ve had while working in healthcare during the pandemic and how masks are vital for protecting the healthcare system.
Students and teachers also spoke about their experiences wearing masks and their support for the policy. Some also voiced concerns about freedom and choice and the effectiveness of masks. City Administrator Dave Ptak said this mask policy will not close any businesses.
It’s an indoor mask requirement, is basically what it is. It’s not anything that I would consider to be extraordinary in what it seeks to do. It’s a lot of just plain common sense as far as how we should respect each other and how we should take care of each other.
They can rescind the mask policy if the situation improves, based on the opinion of the board of health. Mayor Corey Stutte reiterated that this is about protecting the hospital system.
Last week we had zero ICU beds one day. And I think that that’s a big concern. We are coming into that period of time when we were all expecting it back in the spring but it never came forth. We’re in a crisis right now. We want to keep the hospital capacity. We want to make sure that we are able to keep our healthcare staff sufficiently staffed. Which, they’re already spread thin and they’re already overworked. I think we were at 130 percent of staffed beds on Friday, when we had our board of health meeting. And we want to make sure our first responders are kept safe.
Fire Chief Brad Starling said that five people are out due to the virus and Police Chief Adam Story said three are out in their departments. Story also says that most of their enforcement actions will be through education and warnings.
We’re not looking to cite people for things. We’re looking at people to follow the rules or the laws that are given to them. To have good conversations, about the necessity of masks. And then, ultimately if it came to an enforcement action, the reality is that could happen. But that’s not the goal that we’re looking at.
Only one time during the pandemic they have had to enforce mask wearing. The possibility of the police department giving masks away to those who don’t have one, if that situation occurs was also discussed. The Council ultimately passed the policy 8-0.
Kearney passed a mask policy last week and the Grand Island City Council will vote on one Tuesday night.