FARGO — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s stunning decision to end the mask mandate is foolish, premature and dangerous. The mandate has been a tremendous success. It makes no sense to drop it now. It sends the wrong message.

Just two months ago, North Dakota had the highest death rate in the world from COVID-19. Hospitals were overwhelmed. Then Burgum rightfully imposed the mask mandate. Many more people started wearing masks in the state. Deaths, infections and hospitalizations from the coronavirus dramatically dropped in North Dakota.

“The mandate has been working so well,” said Dr. Stephen McDonough, a former North Dakota Public Health Officer. “Why stop it now? It’s just stupid. It defies common sense. North Dakotans were and are in favor of a mask mandate.”

Perhaps Burgum has been influenced by crazy anti-maskers, such as Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot. Hoverson has introduced a dangerous bill that would prohibit all state and local mask mandates. I assume Hoverson will soon try to ban speed limits, traffic lights and stop signs.

This is not the time to drop the mandate. The virus is still surging out of control in the country. The U.S. is seeing record daily highs for infections and deaths from COVID-19. A new highly contagious strain of the virus is rapidly spreading throughout the country. North Dakota is not an island. While the numbers are much improved in the state, dozens of North Dakotans are still dying from the coronavirus every month and hundreds are newly infected every week.

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We’re nowhere near safe yet. The vaccine rollout has been an epic failure so far. Only about 2% of North Dakotans have been fully vaccinated.

Burgum once again is emphasizing “personal responsibility.” That slogan was a disaster. Many people were irresponsible and weren’t wearing masks when it was optional. That’s in large part why North Dakota became the COVID-19 death capital of the world. Sadly, many people will stop wearing their masks now. That means more deaths and infections. Preventable deaths and infections.

Burgum said dropping the mandate provides “a chance for us to take a breather.” The trouble is, the coronavirus isn’t taking a breather. This will just give the virus an opening to strike harder in the state with deadly consequences.

“Mask usage will drop quite a bit,” McDonough said. “We will see more deaths. We need to wait at least another 100 days when most people are immunized. The governor has made a bad calculation. He has demonstrated a profound lack of courage.”

Passing of Gary Annear

Sorry to hear of the recent passing of former longtime North Dakota federal prosecutor Gary Annear. A great guy, Annear was the prosecutor of a drug case in Fargo, in which I was foreman of the jury. I had never met or talked to Annear before then.

I will never forget Annear’s brilliant closing argument when he said, “When the defense has nothing, you get a smokescreen. And that’s what you just heard. A smokescreen.” It was emotionally draining for us, but we convicted the defendant on all counts.

Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email jimshawtv@gmail.com