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Tribune editorial: State lacking necessary tough action

Tribune editorial: State lacking necessary tough action

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Gov. Doug Burgum is misguided to believe he can goad the public into following safe practices during the pandemic. He’s also missing the opportunity to spare people the ordeal of COVID-19 by not adding enforcement tools to his protocols.

Instead, he placed 16 counties, including Burleigh and Morton, in the high risk (orange) category and removed the more serious restrictions from the category. The state’s five-level approach to the pandemic was originally intended to tighten the screws in counties where COVID-19 was increasing.

Under changes made this week, the high risk category no longer will require businesses such as hair salons and fitness centers to close and limit restaurants to takeout and delivery. Those restrictions have now been moved to the next level, critical or red.

In the last six weeks, North Dakota has rocketed from 24th to first among the 50 states for COVID-19 cases per 100,000. In the state’s week at the top of the charts it has been putting distance between the No. 2 state, Louisiana.

This begs the question, what does it take to reach the critical category? Or, better yet, is it possible to reach critical or will the governor simply change the criteria again?

Burgum, like many other governors across the nation, is afraid to enforce safe practices that save lives and limit the spread of COVID-19. Simple steps such as wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and washing hands have been shown to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Burgum refuses to issue a mask mandate while begging the public to voluntarily wear them. Too many people aren’t listening to him or the health experts.

“It’s not a job for government; this is a job for everybody,” Burgum said Wednesday in explaining his approach to the pandemic. The Tribune editorial board disagrees with him. It is the job of government officials to provide leadership, and that sometimes requires action that some find distasteful.

A group of North Dakota pediatricians called on Burgum this week to enact a mask mandate to protect the health and safety of citizens.

Everybody has the responsibility to practice safe protocols, but too many don’t. It’s a selfish act, and hiding behind the argument that it’s an infringement on freedom is bogus. There are numerous requirements by the government: you must get a driver’s license, obey traffic laws, use seat belts to name a few.

A mask mandate could be for a limited time until COVID-19 is under control. There doesn’t need to be draconian enforcement of the mandate. 

There would be pushback from a mandate, but government officials need to show some backbone. The pandemic won’t be controlled by saying please. Sometimes people must be told what needs to be done.

Burgum has made it clear he won’t issue a mandate. He’s also made it clear that he’s reluctant to place meaningful restrictions on hot spots. Raising the risk level while gutting guidelines won’t solve anything.

In the spring, the governor took steps to stem the spread of COVID-19. The state established sites for extra hospital beds, one at the University of Mary. The steps were painful for many businesses, parents and students, but it limited the community spread. That’s no longer true. Somewhere during the COVID-19 fight Burgum seems to have lost the will to take tough action.

Leaders need to listen to the health experts, not the noise on social media.

North Dakota is nearing 400 deaths, hospitals are short on beds and the number of infections is increasing. The state’s situation has drawn national attention.

Desperate times cry out for leadership, but sadly that’s lacking on the national, state and local level. It’s time for North Dakota leaders to take action even if it means enduring the wrath of some residents.

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