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Bismarck City Commission to consider mask mandate

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Lives and livelihoods: That’s what government leaders say are at stake in combating COVID-19.

“We’re trying to save lives, and we’re trying to keep businesses and the economy open,” Gov. Doug Burgum said at a previous press conference.

Now seven months into the pandemic, Bismarck could be the latest city to follow the footsteps of Fargo, Minot and Grand Forks, and implement a mask mandate. City commissioners will vote Tuesday night on a “Pandemic Mitigation Declaration,” and some of them have already voiced opposition.

“This is scary, scary stuff,” Commissioner Mark Splonskowski said in a Facebook Live post Monday night. “I will be voting no on this. Strong, strong no.”

When it comes to saving livelihoods, Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC President Brian Ritter says a mandate would level the playing field.

“A small business based here in Bismarck-Mandan didn’t feel like they had the same leverage to either ask or require their employees to wear a mask in compliance with state guidelines or to do the same with their patrons as say a Target or Walmart would,” Ritter said.

Ritter opposes penalizing businesses that don’t comply, which is part of the proposal. Businesses could face fines up to $1,000 for noncompliance.

“That’s just not something we’re prepared to support,” Ritter said about the penalties.

That enforcement is unique among other mandates that passed in the state, like in Minot and Fargo, which don’t carry consequences. When it comes to saving lives, Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health Director Renae Moch says the state has run out of options as the death toll grows.

“We’ve tried all else, we’ve tried the public education piece, and we really need to do something before it becomes too late,” Moch said.

While the governor repeatedly says the efficacy of mandates is inconclusive, recent research suggests otherwise. The University of Kansas’s Institute for Policy and Social Research compared case numbers in Kansas counties with mandates and without mandates.

In counties with enforceable mandates, cases were nearly cut in half. In those without mandates, or with unenforceable ones, cases rose at a higher rate, according to Donna Gither, Director of the Institute.

“I think we have very convincing evidence that masks have slowed the spread of the disease in Kansas, and Kansas and North Dakota are very similar,” Gither said. “I think these rural counties might be able to get a better handle on the disease if they have a mask ordinance.”

It will take three out of the five commissioners to vote yes for the measure to pass.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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