Gov. Doug Burgum’s executive order implementing a mask mandate and outlining other steps to combat the coronavirus won’t be successful without the cooperation of the public. It also will require law enforcement across the state to make difficult decisions.
Burgum resisted issuing a statewide mask mandate until Friday, when the COVID-19 numbers were out of control. The governor has been basically begging the public for months to wear masks, social distance and take other safety steps.
Too many people have ignored him and the number of COVID-19 cases has been increasing, leaving hospitals scrambling for beds and staff. The Tribune editorial board believes Burgum’s order was necessary; we just wish he had done it earlier.
Under the order, a face covering is required when social distancing isn’t possible. Bars, restaurants and food establishments are limited to 50% capacity not to exceed 150 patrons. There is no in-person dining from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., but takeout is allowed. Banquet, ballroom and event venues are limited to 25% capacity.
Winter sports along with K-12 extracurricular and community activities have been put on hold through Dec. 13.
These are difficult rules for many people to swallow, with some parents and students protesting the sports moratorium at the Capitol on Monday. They are necessary steps if the state wants to avoid a lockdown that would do more extensive damage to the economy.
The executive order won’t be successful unless people obey it. We know some people will ignore it and that’s unacceptable. Law enforcement in general has said it will focus on educating people about the executive order. In his order, Burgum said charges should be filed in only the most egregious cases.
That’s fine. We don’t want to be China, where there were scenes of police dragging away people who weren’t wearing masks. At the same time, we don’t want law officers looking the other way. They need to explain the executive order to offenders and ask them to comply. If a business calls for help it should be provided. There will be uncomfortable situations for law enforcement.
The North Dakota Sheriffs & Deputies Association and the North Dakota Chiefs of Police Association in a letter to Burgum last week suggested an infraction penalty for a violation of any mask mandate. The letter argued this allows officers to safely cite someone who would than have to appear in court. An infraction carries a fine up to $1,000.
The executive order needs the teeth. It also needs the help of businesses in making sure staff and customers wear masks. Customers who don’t wear masks should be offered one, and if they refuse they should be asked to leave. The executive order shouldn’t be considered optional; it’s not.
Stark County Sheriff Corey Lee on the weekend explained that his department’s focus will be on education. If a business asks for help, the department will provide it. Lee said he understands the seriousness of the pandemic, having recently lost his grandfather to COVID-19.
His grandfather is among the more than 750 people who have died from COVID-19 in the state. The time has arrived when "North Dakota nice” no longer works as a strategy to fight the coronavirus. It’s time to follow, and when necessary, enforce the executive order.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!