FARGO — With COVID-19 cases surging again in North Dakota, it’s time for Gov. Doug Burgum to reinstate the statewide mask mandate for people in public places. Failing that, it’s time for North Dakota cities to reinstate their mask mandates. There are hundreds of new infections in the state every week. Active cases in North Dakota have doubled in just the past month. The alarming case numbers are higher now than last summer. Cass County has been especially hard hit.

“Cases are increasing now primarily because people aren’t wearing masks,” said Dr. Stephen McDonough, a former longtime North Dakota Public Health Officer. “Reinstating the mandate would reduce cases and hospitalizations.”

It’s a very simple concept. Masks work. They protect you and they protect people near you. Last fall, North Dakota was the world’s epicenter of the pandemic. An astounding one out of every seven North Dakotans have been infected, and one out of every 500 state residents have been killed by the virus. Sadly, that’s not surprising. Dr. Deborah Birx said Bismarck was the worst place in the country for wearing masks that she had seen.

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Here’s another simple concept. Mask mandates work. North Dakotans, except Luke Simons, will wear them when they are required to, but many will not wear them when it’s optional. After Burgum reluctantly and tardily imposed the statewide mask mandate last November, an amazing thing happened. Deaths, infections and hospitalizations from the coronavirus dramatically dropped in North Dakota. McDonough estimates that the statewide mask mandate saved 421 lives.

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The trouble is, Burgum prematurely lifted the mandate in January. So, it’s no surprise that the numbers are spiking again.

“If we would have kept the mandate a few more months, we could have driven COVID into the ground here,” McDonough said.

The problem was and remains the politicization of this virus and wearing masks. Never mind what the medical experts say, this is about “freedom.” Yes, the “freedom” to infect other people.

Unfortunately, there’s little chance that Burgum will reinstate the mandate. He is surrounded by crazy House Republicans, who passed one of the most reckless, ignorant and dangerous bills in state history. The bill would ban statewide or citywide mask mandates. That’s right. In the middle of the state’s worst health crisis in 100 years, in a state that has been devastated by that crisis, House Republicans want to ban an effective option that saves lives and prevents infections. So much for local control.

“Wearing a mask should be no big deal,” McDonough said. “But we’re so selfish and so unconcerned about our neighbors that we keep doing stupid things.”

The vaccines have been a godsend, but only about one-third of North Dakotans have been fully vaccinated. In football terms, we’re in the red zone. If we just reinstate the mask mandate for two months, we can cross the goal line.

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