Lancaster County COVID emergency declaration will continue despite effort to end it
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Since March 2020, Lancaster County has been under an emergency declaration due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Statewide, the emergency status ended in June 2021, and nationally the Biden Administration has said it plans on ending declarations this May.
If that happens, the amount that people pay for COVID-related products could change.
Those declarations gave governments more flexibility to adapt to the pandemic by helping to supply tests and vaccines to the public, among other steps.
Now, some are saying that the pandemic is over and that since most places have returned to normal operations, it’s time to end the declaration in Lancaster County as well.
At the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner Matt Schulte introduced a motion to end our area’s emergency declaration, saying people have made it abundantly clear that they want it terminated.
“The number of cases, people getting sick, the number of people ending up in hospitals has dropped precipitously,” he said. “So it’s time for us to face the reality that the COVID emergency has ended and that we need to end the COVID emergency declaration.”
But the motion was not seconded by any other member and, therefore, didn’t move to a vote.
Schulte said he was disappointed that it didn’t go forward and that there wasn’t a more robust conversation about ending the declaration.
“There was a number of people that showed up that wanted to share their opinions, and they didn’t get a chance to,” he said. “It’s clear to me and to my constituents that it’s time for the COVID emergency declaration to end, and that’s what I was hoping to accomplish today, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
During the meeting, there was some confusion about whether the public could speak on the item, and one citizen felt that he was being blocked.
Samuel Lyon, chair of the Lancaster County Republican Party, said since the start of the pandemic nearly three years ago, people have been told what they can and can’t do by the government without having their voices heard.
“I think a thousand days is too long for the executive branch to have complete control of regulations,” he said. “You need to be very careful when you make a king or a queen of a city or state or country. That’s not what this country was founded on.”
Lyon said while national emergency declarations are likely to continue until May, the federal government has more to consider than the county.
“Biden has to make his decisions based on the lowest common denominator of the country, and if California has a spike or something, that’s different from us,” he said. “We make decisions based upon Lancaster County, and so Lancaster County doesn’t have to be the same as the rest of the country. We’re different. We’ve gone back to normal, and it’s time to invite businesses and families back into the city.”
Schulte said there’s not always going to be an opportunity for the public to participate in discussion, but he understands why Lyon felt like he was blocked.
Chair Christa Yoakum said that it wasn’t the board’s intention to silence anyone’s voice and that it was just following procedure.
She said while it has been common practice to hear from the public on agenda items, that’s only after a motion has been seconded.
Yoakum said board members will continue to hear from experts and citizens about the emergency declaration during the public comment portion of meetings, which take place every Tuesday.
“And that’s been another great value of keeping this as an agenda item, is that we do get information on a regular basis,” she said. “And it’s very clear that we are phasing out of this, we are out of the pandemic of COVID, but we still have some considerations that we need to look at.”
While the county’s emergency declaration wasn’t ended Tuesday, multiple members of the board said they intend to align with the federal government’s plan and terminate it in May.