FARGO — The COVID-19 situation in North Dakota is alarming and frightening. The numbers say it all. For weeks, the state has led the nation in new cases per capita, while adding hundreds of new cases virtually every day. September was by far the deadliest month in the state for COVID-19 deaths, while hospitalizations from the virus are at record highs. North Dakota has had about 25,000 cases and 300 deaths from the virus. In neighboring Manitoba, with roughly twice the population of North Dakota, they have only had about 2,500 cases and 25 deaths.
The problem is us. Too many North Dakotans are not taking the virus seriously, and taking foolish risks. They think it can’t happen to them. Too many North Dakotans aren’t wearing masks or social distancing, and getting together with too many people. On top of that, it’s stunning that North Dakota contact tracers, who are trying to lessen the spread of COVID-19, are often sworn at and hung up on.
Thousands of North Dakotans have inexplicably been guided by President Trump’s enormous negligence during this deadly crisis. It’s not just that Trump lied about the dangers of the virus and has no plan. It’s that he pushed businesses and schools to open when it wasn’t safe, mocked people for wearing masks, and held events where his crowds didn’t wear masks and social distance.
Meantime, Trump often stood close to people, with nobody wearing a mask. I wish him a full recovery from COVID-19, but it’s no surprise he has it, and possibly infected others.
All of this takes us to North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. Of late, he has been weak and ineffective. His wonderful pleas for North Dakotans to wear masks have fallen on deaf ears. Like in 34 other states, Burgum must issue a mask mandate. It’s the only way most state residents will wear masks.
These mandates work. Masks protect other people. They have dramatically reduced coronavirus infections in other states. The idea isn’t to penalize North Dakotans. It’s to stop the spread of a dangerous virus. Without a mask mandate and/or a vaccine, COVID-19 will continue to be a huge problem in the state.
Burgum has also been weak in other areas. While it’s been encouraging to see him raise the coronavirus risk levels in several counties, the problem is those risk levels have no teeth. They are simply guidelines as to how businesses should operate or how many people should be in the same facility.
Not to be overlooked is Burgum’s break with CDC guidelines, by rescinding the order that requires people who have had close contact with COVID-19 cases to quarantine. It’s no surprise that three state health officers have resigned since the pandemic started.
My guess is Burgum knows what he should do, but won’t do it, because he’s afraid of ticking many people off. In times of crisis, leaders have to do the right thing, even if it’s not popular. It’s time for Burgum to do the right thing.
Shaw is a former WDAY TV reporter and former KVRR TV news director. Email firstname.lastname@example.org