The clock on Grand Forks County’s mask mandate is ticking. No hurry, as far as we’re concerned, but it’s an encouraging sign as spring breaks and, hopefully, the pandemic begins to break with it.
Dr. Joel Walz, the county health officer, has declared that if the virus stays in the “low” risk category for 14 straight days, he’ll rescind the order that requires masks in most businesses and public places.
As reported in the Herald earlier this week, Monday was the seventh consecutive day of low risk on the city’s coronavirus gauge. A few days from now – Monday, March 8, to be precise – would be the 14th day. If we can get to Monday without the risk increasing, it’s very possible Walz will lift the order.
“I think masks have been very beneficial and have saved a lot of people,” Walz told the Herald on Monday. “I just feel like we’ve reached the level where it doesn’t need to be a health officer’s order to wear them.”
This is big, since it could mark an important milestone in the region’s fight against COVID-19. Remember when the county saw a high-water mark of 1,227 active cases back in those dark days of early November? As of Monday, the local count was 52.
And more good news: As of last week, 10.7% of county residents were totally vaccinated, posting the best numbers of the state’s most populated counties and 2 percentage points ahead of the statewide average. Over the weekend, Grand Forks Public Health staff administered 2,021 doses of vaccine during an event at the Alerus Center, helping bring the county’s rate of vaccinated residents up to nearly 12%.
Good work, Grand Forks. Perhaps someday in the foreseeable future, coronavirus will only be a mild threat and we can move past the terrible impact it has made on our businesses, schools and everyday life. It’s not time to declare victory, but for the first time in a year, that declaration seems more than just a misty, distant vision.
To us, there needn’t be a great urgency to lift the mask order. Wearing a mask in public places isn’t a heavy lift, nor does it impede much of how we go about our day. Rather, Walz’s possible decision is a step in the direction of normalcy, albeit one that might only be temporary.
In a letter Walz sent to the Herald, he urges residents to remember the lessons learned from previous surges and warns that the virus could rise anew if residents aren’t careful and vigilant.
“While (current rates are) a significant decline from our peak case rates in mid-November, it is still enough activity that could easily be the seed of an outbreak if the right conditions exist – such as many unmasked individuals congregating,” he wrote.
He concludes: “In the meantime, there is much you can do to help us to reduce the need for masking. Good hand hygiene, masking in public places and when social distancing cannot be maintained, and testing remain easy steps you can take to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Finally, the most important thing you can do is get vaccinated when it is your turn.”