The battle against coronavirus is not yet won – not in the nation, in the state or in Greater Grand Forks.
Keep in mind the words last week of Dr. Joshua Wynne, dean of the UND medical school: “The worst thing we can do,” he said, “is declare victory."
That comment came around the time Gov. Doug Burgum rescinded a Nov. 14 statewide mask mandate. The governor let the mandate expire, but still is urging residents to continue to practice personal responsibility during the pandemic. Even without the mandate, Burgum is encouraging North Dakotans to continue to wear masks.
The statewide mask mandate shouldn’t have been allowed to expire. As Wynne says, it’s just too early to declare a win over the pandemic, even as the curve has been flattened and as COVID numbers stabilize throughout North Dakota and the region. Letting down our guard could prompt another spike and further clog the region’s hospitals, which have had to put forth incredible efforts to keep up with the number of cases. After all, the state was relying on personal responsibility prior to the November mandate.
Fortunately, Grand Forks County Health Officer Joel Walz has remained steadfast on masks. Even as the state mandate expired, Walz declared that, as of Monday, Jan. 18, the mandate within Grand Forks County will continue. It requires face coverings to be worn in indoor businesses and public settings, as well as outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible. It makes exceptions for certain parts of the population and activities, including children younger than 5, those with medical or mental health conditions and during religious services. “Universal masking policies can help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Walz said. "Masks protect not only the people around the individual wearing the mask but also the mask wearer. This is a simple and critical tool in helping protect our communities and slowing the spread of COVID-19. Keeping the mask order in place is an additional mitigation mechanism especially as we get our most vulnerable population vaccinated and get through the peak of influenza season.”
Consider the place from where we have come: On Nov. 13, when the statewide mask mandate was announced, Grand Forks County had 1,059 active COVID-19 cases. Nearly every COVID-19 metric that public health staff use to track the virus had been skyrocketing for about a month and was peaking at about twice the level, at least as measured by active cases and positivity rates, as the alarming surge that had struck in August.
On Wednesday of this week, the number of active cases had fallen to 118. All measuring metrics have been trending downward since mid-November.
Did masks alone cause that decline? Probably not. Other factors – including capacity restrictions in businesses, more people staying at home and the like – certainly helped.
Wearing a mask is a simple act. It does not inhibit shopping or watching your kid’s basketball game. And we believe the health experts – Walz, Wynne and others – who say masks are effective in slowing the spread of coronavirus.
Keeping the mandate active in Grand Forks County is the right decision.