DICKINSON, N.D. — Stark County witnessed the largest single day increase in new cases on Thursday, Aug. 13, with 49 positive cases confirmed by the North Dakota Department of Health. Currently more than 110 residents are known to be infected, which is the second most of any county in the state.

“We are starting to see the activities that people did in July, the big gatherings, we’re starting to see that spread from those big gatherings,” said Sherry Adams, executive director of the Southwest District Health Unit. “Whether it was a family reunion or rodeo, whatever the case may be, more and more people were gathering together and less and less people were socially distancing or wearing masks. So those factors alone really are increasing the spread across North Dakota.”

District 36 Sen. Jay Elkin, who also sits on the Stark County Commission, cautioned residents to practice social distancing but acknowledged that life goes on.

“Be cautious and practice social distancing if possible, just be careful. Be aware of other people and let’s be respectful of one another,” Elkin said. “At some point all of us will come into contact with someone who has or will test positive for (coronavirus), and we can’t stop living.”

District 36 Sen. Jay Elkin, who also sits on the Stark County Commission, cautioned residents to practice social distancing but acknowledged that life goes on. (Dickinson Press file photo)
District 36 Sen. Jay Elkin, who also sits on the Stark County Commission, cautioned residents to practice social distancing but acknowledged that life goes on. (Dickinson Press file photo)

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Elkin added, “Back when this thing started in March it was probably more simple to self isolate, but you hit summer and you have kids and grandkids, it’s just the nature of the beast. I’m hoping that people take care of themselves because I do believe this virus is dangerous, but I also believe there are other viruses that are just as dangerous and we are social creatures.”

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum announced a new campaign aimed at encouraging residents to wear facemasks as active COVID-19 cases reached a pandemic high on Monday, Aug. 10.

Burgum echoed federal health agencies, noting that the wearing of masks is one of the most effective and cheapest ways to prevent the virus from spreading, while lamenting the rising misinformation circulating about mask-wearing on social media.

From the lectern, Burgum commended business owners who have mandated masks in their stores and workplaces, but stopped short of addressing masks in government buildings.

In Dickinson, Mayor Scott Decker went a step further last week, telling Forum News Service that he would not require anything locally without state direction and mandate.

“We’re not going to change how we’re doing business out here ... unless mandated by the governor,” Decker said.

Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker said he would not implement any policies in the city concerning the wearing of masks without state mandates. (Photo by James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson Mayor Scott Decker said he would not implement any policies in the city concerning the wearing of masks without state mandates. (Photo by James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press)

This week, Decker reiterated his position saying that as mayor, under the current form of government, he does not have the power to implement or mandate anything and must rely on the city commission to pass ordinances, resolutions and/or regulations to carry out its governmental and propriety powers.

"Even if I had that power to issue a mandate, I would not use it," Decker said. "There has been far too much executive overreach since this pandemic has emerged. People are free to conduct their lives understanding they do have to be personally responsible for their health and well-being."

While the rash of positive cases in Stark County can be attributed to the increased levels of testing available in rural areas, it also demonstrates the pervasiveness of the virus on the Western Edge of North Dakota, according to the Southwest District Health Unit.

Area polls indicate that residents in the west are less inclined to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines concerning the wearing of masks, unless directed by ordinance or policy, compared to their eastern counterparts — something addressed directly by the CDC director, noting that North Dakota is now just one of 19 states that does not require people to wear masks when out in public.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”