The county’s current mask mandate will be extended through Nov. 24, with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln following as well. The mandate had been set to expire on Thursday, Oct. 28. 

Health Director Pat Lopez announced the extension at a news conference Tuesday, stating it comes after the Lincoln-Lancaster County Risk Dial remained in the elevated yellow ‘moderate’ area. This is due to hospital capacity, case rates and death rates remaining at a critical level.

“The data tells us our local situation is still concerning, and we’re not yet in a position where we can safely remove the mask requirement,” Lopez said.

Lopez stressed the county had improved significantly since the last extension of the mandate in September, but the risk indicators have remained too high to lift the mandate. 

“We will be following the direction and guidance of the Lincoln-Lancaster [County] Health Department as we have through the entire pandemic,” Leslie Reed, UNL’s public affairs director, said., “And we will be staying the course with our current policies.”

Current data shows the county’s positivity rate is higher than what the Health Department would like, hovering between 9-10%. According to Lopez, the department would like to see the positivity rate between 5-7%. Hospitalizations have consistently been under 100 patients since Oct. 6.

Lopez also stressed the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, with Nebraska data from mid-September to mid-October showing unvaccinated individuals in the community have a 3.4% greater risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and a 14.5% greater risk of dying from the virus.

According to the Lancaster County NE COVID-19 Dashboard, 75% of the county’s population ages 16+ have been vaccinated. UNL’s vaccination rate of students, staff and faculty who registered through the university’s voluntary vaccine registry has surpassed the county’s rate, with 78.3% of the community vaccinated as of Oct. 7, according to a university news release.

The county had previously lifted the mask mandate in May, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines that it was safe for vaccinated individuals to be maskless. The mandate was reinstated, however, on Aug. 25 as schools resumed and fall activities began.