North Dakota should be embarrassed. When Dr. Debra Birx, the White House’s coronavirus coordinator, visited the state this week, she was specifically critical of the low rate of mask use she witnessed.
“We were in your grocery stores, and in your restaurants and frankly even in your hotels,” she said during a roundtable discussion with state and local leaders and health officials. “This is the least use of masks that we have seen in retail establishments of any place we have been."
Perhaps she only was critical of Bismarck, the specific location of her visit. Either way, her comments became headlines for the nation’s media networks.
Although active COVID-19 cases dropped in North Dakota for the third day in a row on Wednesday, Oct. 28, the state continued to lead national rankings for virus cases and deaths per capita. The death toll this month, as of mid-week, was 217, marking the deadliest month so far in North Dakota.
Other states in the region also are seeing a surge.
It’s why we’re glad to see a mask resolution passed this week in Grand Forks. The City Council, via a 7-0 vote, opted to adopt the resolution, albeit one without any sort of enforcement measures.
We, like many others, have questioned whether an outright mandate – one with actual penalties – could be adequately and fairly enforced. And many politicians rightly hesitate to create superfluous laws and regulations.
But to sit idle and not take some sort of official stance wouldn’t be right. Like dominoes, city governments are starting to take actions to try to persuade their residents to mask up, even if it’s by simple resolution rather than actual law.
It happened in Fargo, Minot and Devils Lake in the days leading up to Grand Forks’ decision earlier this week.
Good for the Grand Forks City Council for tackling this contentious, yet important, issue. Their resolution Monday may not carry legal weight, but it still sends a heavy message.
Birx, during her visit to the state, touted the use of masks as a coronavirus mitigation measure.
Not only does evidence show that masks work, she said, but evidence also shows that “masks utilized as a public health mitigation effort work.”
Birx did have some praise for the state. She said North Dakotans have done a “superb” job with testing – she didn’t single out Grand Forks, but this community has had numerous free testing events. Anecdotally, we believe other communities can’t compete with Grand Forks’ testing efforts.
Yes, masks and the coronavirus in general are controversial subjects. But at what point does the rising COVID count become truly critical?
More than 44% of North Dakota total COVID-19 deaths came in October. Hospital beds are in short supply at facilities across the state. Grand Forks County last week was moved into “red” status, indicating high risk for coronavirus spread.
During her visit, she said efforts to slow that spread start “with the community.”
In our community, something had to be done. And if nothing else, the council’s resolution is a strong and necessary message.