Local COVID emergency declaration remains in place

For now, the board will keep the emergency declaration in place and will likely move to end it in May.
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 10:28 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2023 at 9:37 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Whether or not to end a public health emergency on the local level is proving to be a divisive decision for the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners.

At their public meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Matt Schulte had an item on the agenda to end the county’s COVID emergency declaration. But, that item did not get very far.

“There’s no doubt about it that COVID had a major impact on our society, but that major impact is gone,” Schulte said in an interview with 10/11 after the meeting. “For the most part, when we look at the number of cases, the number of people who are ending up in the hospital, the emergency is over.”

Both the City of Lincoln and Lancaster County have their own emergency declarations in place and both were implemented at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Commissioner Rick Vest told 10/11 Now that commissioners met on Thursday of last week. At that time, they discussed the topic at-length and Vest said a majority of the commissioners expressed they were not ready to end the emergency declaration just yet.

“We use [emergency declarations] for a variety of things to ensure that we capture all of the federal funding that’s available,” Vest said. “Some of it comes to us directly, some of it comes to the health department. We just want to make sure we have completed the process and when it’s done we will gladly give it up.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Schulte made a motion on the item to end the emergency declaration, but the motion wasn’t seconded by any other commissioner, which meant it could not move forward for things like public comment.

A small group of community members was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting to testify in support of doing away with the emergency declaration. But, during the item’s introduction and motion, there was confusion and some conflict between would-be testifiers and board members about public comment not being allowed on it.

For now, the board will keep the emergency declaration in place and will likely move to end it in May of this year, in line with the federal government’s plans to end its own public health emergency at that time.