PAPILLION, Nebraska — Masks are nowhere to be seen and wearing one while social distancing attracts negative attention and earns you passing glares as if wearing a mask is wrong during a global pandemic. It appears that being cautious and wishing well for the health of others is now seen as a sign of irrationality and being melodramatic.
That’s what life is like here in Nebraska. America’s heartland is home to some of the nicest people, however, many aren’t likely to open their minds to new thoughts and opinions once the old ways have been solidified in their daily routines. Face masks being one change they refuse to adopt.
As I traveled from Hawaii back home to Nebraska (with doubt in my head about whether or not it is smart that I am traveling as cases continue to rise in both states) in late October and early November, it is jarring to see how differently the people in the two states are responding to Covid-19.
Working retail in Waikiki on Kalakaua Avenue during the pandemic has been an uneventful season of limited store capacities, empty streets, and strict face mask enforcement. Many restaurants have been lucky to offer takeout or even be open at all. Nightclubs have remained closed for months.
While in the greater Omaha area in Nebraska, bars and clubs continue to act as a spawning ground for Covid-19 cases. Although many businesses claim to require face masks and enforce business capacities, I saw no evidence of it. Dance floors are packed with heavy breathing, sweaty bodies, without a face mask in sight. Off-duty police officers stand post in these establishments, but only to break up bar fights while ignoring all safety protocols regarding the virus. Bars, restaurants and gas stations are all places I have witnessed citizens lacking face masks with social distancing ignored as well. Many times if I did see masks being worn, they were worn improperly, just barely covering their mouths and leaving their nose exposed.
Coming from a place of heavily enforced guidelines to little to none was a stressful adjustment making it difficult to visit my family that live in different parts of town.
The first few days I was in my hometown of Papillion were enough to make me want to change my departure to a sooner date; I walked around my small town with my jaw dropped, although no one could see it because I was one of the few wearing a face mask. Omaha was one of the last “big” cities in the country to enforce a mask mandate, which came on Aug. 11. Papillion, on the other hand, still does not require its residents to wear a mask unless businesses within Papillion require customers/guests to do so.
Many members of the local community have ignored the pandemic entirely by exercising their right to go mask-less inside of public facilities, including the Sump Memorial Library, a public library located in the heart of my hometown.
Nebraska has experienced 9,682 cases within the past seven days, while Hawaii has recorded 620 cases in that time, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The governors of each state have reacted to Covid with opposing viewpoints. Gov. David Ige of Hawaii has strictly been enforcing mask mandates, reduced business capacities, and strict social distancing guidelines. Nebraska’s Gov. Pete Ricketts had a difficult enough time enforcing a mask mandate and did so strictly within the cities of Omaha and Lincoln only. As of Nov. 6, he has yet to add further restrictions as numbers rapidly spike within these areas.
“I am declaring a State of Emergency in Nebraska as we continue to work to be the best-prepared state in the nation for Covid-19,” said Gov. Ricketts on March 13.
Since then, Nebraska has done very little to prepare and respond to Covid.
Disregarding my conscience, I decided to make the trek home to visit family. To my surprise, I have found that some of my family members have thoughts opposing mine on the matter of coronavirus, although not to extreme degrees. If anything, my family is reacting to the pandemic more cautious than most in Nebraska, although they’re still unaware of how it is being handled in Honolulu.
With both perspectives in mind, I have learned to appreciate the strict guidelines Ige has enforced on the county of Honolulu. It is clear that Hawaii is in better position moving forward, and I’ll be grateful to get back to the aloha and mask-wearing state soon.