Grand Forks’ mayor reiterated that he does not intend to require residents to wear masks as a novel coronavirus regains ground in Grand Forks County.

Mayor Brandon Bochenski stressed the importance of wearing a mask at a “virtual” press conference on Wednesday, July 22, but said it would be nearly impossible to enforce a citywide mask mandate.

“Without enforcement, a mandate simply becomes a recommendation,” he said. “Are we going to see three cars at our neighbors’ house, and we’re going to call the police and have them come and everyone puts a mask on before the police get there? Are we going to have police roaming the streets looking for people without masks? There’s a lot that would have to go into trying to figure out a way to do that.”

Bochenski, who listed a series of ways residents can help prevent the virus’ spread, said governments’ responsibilities at this point are to educate and recommend.

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“People need to judge their risk level based on not only their personal risk, but those around them,” he said.

Debbie Swanson, Grand Forks Public Health’s director, said masks and face coverings have been shown to effectively prevent the virus’ spread.

“The real important thing about masks .... is that it’s very, very helpful to protecting others,” Swanson said. “Protecting others is what we need to do in order to be able to effectively open our schools, keep our essential workers working and ensure the safety of the health care workforce, the public health workforce and especially the long-term care workforce.”

The mayor was similarly uninterested in ordering bars or restaurants to close to in-person service.

“If we get superseded by state or federal government, then we would do it,” Bochenski said. “But right now, we don’t intend to at any point.”

COVID cases in Grand Forks County have climbed since mid June: Positive cases in a given week have risen, as well as the proportion of tests that come back positive and the number of people who actively have the virus. There are 102 “active” cases countywide, which means there are 102 people who have tested positive for the disease but have yet to either recover or die.

There haven’t been that many active coronavirus cases in Grand Forks County since May 21, which, coincidentally, was the last time city leaders had called a COVID-19 press conference until Wednesday. It was Bochenski’s first since he was elected mayor in early June.

City health workers recommend that residents maintain physical distance and wear a mask if they cannot, stay home if they’re sick, wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, clean and disinfect “high touch” surfaces, avoid touching their face and cover coughs and sneezes.

Next door in Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz ordered residents on Wednesday to wear a mask in indoor public places, calling it a “small sacrifice for a potential big gain.” Minnesota is the 30th state to enact a mask requirement of some variety.