Gov. Pete Ricketts
Gov. Pete Ricketts (second from right) wears a mask in a June photo posted to his Facebook page. Photo courtesy Ricketts' Facebook page.

The governor says the state is reviewing the legality of the Lincoln mayor’s decision to mandate that the city’s residents wear masks.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird announced July 17 that Lancaster County will require people to wear masks inside of public places to slow the spread of the coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control, cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings.

But during his weekly press conference on July 20, Gov. Pete Ricketts said he was against Gaylor Baird’s decision and believes the state should be consistent. 

“We’re still reviewing whether or not the mayor has the legal authority,” Ricketts said. “We have to have some consistency so people know what they’re doing when they’re going from one location to another.”

Ricketts has previously said he will deny coronavirus-relief funding to counties that require face masks to be worn in places that provide government services to the public such as courthouses. 

Nebraska was one of only seven states that did not issue an official stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 outbreak. The state has 22,583 confirmed cases of the virus and experienced its largest surge of 677 reported new cases on May 7, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. 

Ricketts, in response to a question from a reporter during the July 20 press conference, said he had been tested for COVID-19 and was negative. 

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department has reported a sharp increase in new cases among young adults. Individuals ages 20 to 29 are 18.5% of the population, but 54% of new cases over the last two weeks.

Gaylor Baird has said it will benefit the city to get ahead before thousands of college students return to campus. She also hopes a mask mandate will help schools reopen in the fall and ease business and restaurant restrictions. 

“There’s a fierce urgency to do this right now,” Gaylor Baird said on July 17. “It is our hope this one new action will prevent us from having to pursue these further actions.”

During the press conference July 20, Ricketts was asked why he has not imposed a statewide mask mandate. More than half of U.S. states have now mandated masks statewide, according to the news organization CNBC

“We’ve asked Nebraskans to do the right things and by and large they have,” he said. “We didn’t bring the heavy hand of the government down and tell people what to do. We asked them to do the right thing and Nebraskans being community-minded people did it.”

Ricketts said that the number of COVID-19 cases has fallen across the state and that hospitals are far from capacity with 38% of beds and 78% of ventilators still available.

“There is not a data-driven reason for more restrictions,” he said. “We have managed through the peak of our cases without having a mask mandate, why do we need one now?”


Madeleine Grant is a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying journalism. She enjoys reading, writing and travel. Madeleine is from Illinois and aspires to become a professional journalist or editor.