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Tribune editorial: Burgum needs to declare a mask mandate

Tribune editorial: Burgum needs to declare a mask mandate

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The numbers don’t lie.

COVID-19 cases are soaring in North Dakota and across the nation. Hospitals in the state are struggling to provide enough beds and staff during the pandemic. This week the Bismarck metro area had the highest cumulative case rate in the nation since the beginning of the outbreak, according to the New York Times.

Bismarck’s rate was 94.6 per 1,000 people; Sioux Falls, S.D., was sixth at 76.1; Minot seventh at 76; and Grand Forks 10th at 74.8. Three North Dakota cities in the top 10 reflects the depth of the pandemic in North Dakota.

The state has been breaking the record for the number of active cases on a daily basis. Active cases exceed 10,000, the number of deaths is now over 700, and the daily positivity rate as reported by the state has at times surpassed 18%. Gov. Doug Burgum has placed all counties in the high risk category.

However, Burgum has refused to issue a mask mandate for the state, arguing that it is the responsibility of local governments. Bismarck, Mandan and other cities and counties have adopted mask strategies, but they lack enforcement teeth.

Burgum needs to declare a statewide mask mandate with enforcement powers attached. Research shows masks help slow the spread of the coronavirus and can reduce the number of deaths. The patchwork of city and county strategies helps, but a statewide policy would have more impact.

If people don’t wear masks, use sanitizer and observe social distancing the number of cases will increase. There is a financial impact attached to not wearing masks. Higher positivity rates mean higher costs for testing for health care facilities; higher risk levels result in lower capacity levels for restaurants and events (if they aren’t canceled), and additional costs to businesses.

The best way to boost the economy involves stopping the spread of COVID-19. We have known from early in the pandemic what steps the public can take to reduce the spread. Burgum has relied on voluntary compliance, but that approach has failed. While there will be pushback to a statewide mandate, strong leadership can counter it.

The Tribune editorial board isn’t advocating Draconian measures, but businesses and offices should be expected to enforce a mask mandate and social distancing. Violators could face a fine that increases with the number of violations.

Costco announced this week that it was tightening its mask policy. Starting Monday, everyone entering the store age 2 or older must wear a mask or face shield. Many national chains have adopted mask rules. The Republican governors of Iowa, Utah and Ohio are adopting some form of mask mandates.

This week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, criticized South Dakota and North Dakota for not taking a more aggressive approach to the pandemic. He was especially critical of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, citing the allowance of the Sturgis bike rally. Walz was careful not to blame the Dakotas for the increase in COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, but his point was clear. If some states have a lax policy toward the pandemic, than it will contribute to the spread.

A mask mandate can protect our economy, not gut it. A mandate can reduce the high costs associated with health care and, unfortunately, funerals. We encourage Burgum and state officials to adopt a mandate and we urge the public to obey it.

It’s no more a loss of freedom than requiring a driver’s license, or wearing a shirt and shoes into a store. Widespread use of a vaccine remains weeks or months away. We need to stem the tide of COVID-19 now.

North Dakota needs a mask mandate.

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