The refusals by the Bismarck City Commission and Morton County Commission to impose a mask mandate reflects state and local officials’ unwillingness to deal with pushback from the public. Instead, they say it’s the responsibility of the other to take action.
Passing the buck during a pandemic is no way to solve a problem.
Gov. Doug Burgum has stressed individual responsibility while urging the public to wear masks. He argues it’s not the role of the state to mandate masks but local governments have the power to do so.
One Bismarck commission meeting attendee went so far as to say: “To ask us to be responsible for someone else’s health is too much.”
No it’s not.
Whether the flu season or a pandemic, we must act responsibly. If someone has the flu, they shouldn’t be in the public where they can spread it.
Data has shown wearing masks is effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Dr. John Hagan, medical director for the Department of Corrections, told city commissioners there was only one positive case of coronavirus among 1,600 prisoners last week and credited it to a mask mandate imposed in March.
Hagan is a member of the Burleigh-Morton COVID-19 Task Force, which asked the commission to adopt a mask mandate. Mayor Steve Bakken also is a member of the task force. Commissioners took no action on the request, instead asking for more information from the task force.
Stalling on action while COVID-19 numbers increase in Burleigh County doesn’t make sense.
The Morton County Commission unanimously rejected a mask mandate. “I’m a mask wearing advocate but a mask mandate opponent,” Commission Chairman Cody Schulz said. He’s also a member of the task force.
Schulz, like others, said the use of masks should be driven by individual responsibility. Many governors and community leaders have followed the example of President Donald Trump. We now know in the president’s own words how he downplayed the coronavirus.
The Burleigh County Commission also will discuss imposing a mask mandate. The Mandan City Commission could add the mask issue to its agenda. The Tribune editorial board doesn’t expect either commission to adopt a mandate. Officials are too cowed by the public sentiment that requiring masks violates personal freedom.
We disagree. There are many laws and regulations in place for the health and safety of the community. School districts are requiring students and staff to wear masks, so it doesn’t seem outlandish for a commission to adopt a mandate.
The Tribune understands why many people are uncomfortable wearing a mask. It’s not a natural piece of clothing. But a mask mandate needs to be in place only until COVID-19 numbers are under control.
Expecting everyone to do the right thing during the pandemic isn’t working. Too many people ignore efforts by businesses to require masks. There are too many large gatherings that contribute to the COVID-19 spread.
It appears we are unwilling to make sacrifices for the good of the community. People complain they are worn out by the restrictions imposed during the pandemic. It hasn’t been seven months. Americans had to sacrifice much longer during other events such as World War II.
The Tribune believes a mask mandate is one way to reduce COVID-19 numbers and ease the pandemic until a vaccine becomes available. It’s time for our commissions to show leadership and take effective action. Waffling will only prolong the misery, but that appears to be the official chosen path.
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