As the number of coronavirus cases rebounds higher in Grand Forks County and beyond, area civic leaders say they aren’t presently considering a mandate that would require residents to wear masks.
Twenty-one U.S. states have mandated masks in public, and other Midwestern cities have done the same, including Minneapolis and, more recently, Duluth and Rochester. Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said he’s not considering enacting a mask requirement here.
“I think it’s hard to enforce and I think, generally, society needs to kind of set the rules,” he told the Herald. “But I don’t think at this point that we’d be interested in making a mandate.”
Bochenski said Thursday he didn’t know if there is a point at which the city might enact – or consider enacting – a mask requirement.
“We’re not against wearing masks,” he said. “We certainly think that if people are comfortable wearing masks that they should.”
Dana Sande, Grand Forks' City Council president, said he hasn't spoken with anyone about requiring people to wear masks.
"And I have no desire to even have that conversation," he said. "People need ... to take their own personal responsibility."
Cynthia Pic, a member of the Grand Forks County Commission, said she thinks it's good that many businesses are requiring masks – including Walmart, Menard's, Starbucks and numerous others – but said the commission hasn’t considered doing the same.
“We haven’t brought up the topic,” Pic said.
The Herald asked Dan Gaustad, Grand Forks’ city attorney, how the city might enact or enforce a mask requirement, but he declined to comment, saying those questions “present legal and practical issues” that he had not been requested to review.
By each of the primary metrics that Grand Forks Health Department staff consider as they track the virus’ progress, COVID-19 is rebounding: there are more active cases in the county now than there were two months ago, and the seven-day “rolling” average of new cases and percentage of tests that come back positive both have risen for the past several weeks. But, of the hundreds of cases reported countywide, the death rate has been low, with four deaths.
“It is true that death rates are lower, but people are still getting sick and they are still needing hospitalization, so that’s an important thing to keep in mind. We also know that our therapeutics and how we can do treatment are getting better, and so when we have fewer people in the hospital and better ways to treat them, our outcomes will be better,” said Grand Forks Public Health Director Debbie Swanson, who noted that death rates tend to lag behind daily or weekly virus figures. “But that is not to negate the fact that we’re all still susceptible to this and we don’t know who will have those worst outcomes and who is most likely to die.”
Swanson said social restrictions might ultimately be reinstated if people don’t take precautions against spreading the virus. But she said she doesn’t want to conjecture if Grand Forks County cases are rising because many residents don’t wear masks, and she deferred to city leadership when asked if she thinks masks should be required in public.
“Those will be policy-maker decisions,” she said. “If we know that masks can save lives, it would make sense to have policy surrounding that. Whether it’s done with individual businesses, with government entities, or if we recommend it and require it for an entire city. Those are all levels that could be beneficial.”
Staff at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday asked Americans to wear masks to prevent the virus’ spread.
“Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus,” Director Robert Redfield is quoted as saying in a CDC press release. “Particularly when used universally within a community setting.”