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Tribune editorial: Bismarck can be leader with mask mandate

Tribune editorial: Bismarck can be leader with mask mandate

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The Bismarck City Commission next week should approve a mask mandate. Meeting as the City Board of Health on Wednesday, commissioners heard compelling testimony for a mandate and voted 4-1 to have city staff draft a proposal.

The Tribune editorial board has argued for a statewide mandate, but Gov. Doug Burgum has resisted taking action, insisting it’s a local decision. Fargo and Minot have adopted mask mandates, though there are no enforcement penalties. The Tribune would be happy with a similar mandate in Bismarck.

The board heard testimony from the public health department, the business community and the local school district arguing for a mandate.

Renae Moch, director of Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health, said contact tracing teams are overwhelmed, hospitals are at capacity and Burleigh’s in danger of being moved to the red/critical risk level. Under that level, businesses could be closed and schools forced to go to distance learning.

The Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC on Wednesday also endorsed a local mask mandate. Chamber President Brian Ritter said businesses are complaining there’s no level playing field with some businesses requiring masks and others rejecting them.

Overall, dire consequences were predicted if the Bismarck-Mandan area continues to be a COVID-19 hot spot.

Commissioner Mark Splonskowski remains strongly opposed to a mask mandate. Mayor Steve Bakken voted for the motion to move the discussion to the city commission, but previously said he doesn’t believe mandates are effective. The Tribune urges the other city commissioners, Nancy Guy, Steve Marquardt and Greg Zenker, to approve the mandate.

The Tribune editorial board also asks the Burleigh County Commission, Morton County Commission and Mandan City Commission to revisit the mandate. If Bismarck adopts a mandate it will be a positive step, but it would be more effective if both counties and cities had mandates. It will send a message that it’s urgent we mask up for the safety of everyone.

As a first step, Bismarck commissioners voted at a special meeting Thursday to require city staff to wear masks when they are in contact with other people and can’t social distance.

North Dakota has had the nation’s worst per-capita spread rate, there’s a backlog in contact tracing and deaths have hit 440 and are climbing. In April, state officials were so worried they established field hospitals. Those hospitals have been dismantled and the governor relies on begging the public to behave smartly.

That’s not working, so it’s up to local governments to take action to curb the spread of COVID-19. It’s such a simple task to wear a mask and health officials have the evidence that they are effective. They may not be comfortable, but it’s a small sacrifice for keeping yourself and others healthy.

Wearing masks can reduce the number of COVID-19 cases and keep our schools and businesses open. The Bismarck City Commission needs to approve the mandate and other commissions must follow its example.

If that happens, maybe it will prompt Burgum into more effective action.

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