Personal responsibility falls short

Jacob Thomas, Minot

Both of my children celebrated their 2020 birthdays over FaceTime.

We tried to make the celebration as normal as we could, considering the circumstances. Balloons. Cake. Pizza. All while aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends sang, “Happy Birthday” through tinny speakers from miles away. There is never an easy time to be a caregiver, but a pandemic makes every decision so much more difficult. Can our kids visit their grandparents if we stay outside? What about dance class? If nobody else wears a mask but my kid does, is that OK? Or do we make the difficult decision to pull our children from activities and school?

As parents, we ask such questions and make difficult decisions daily because we know it’s necessary to ensure the safety of the people we care about. It is, as Governor Burgum is fond of saying, our “personal responsibility” to look out for one another.

However, I have to wonder if we see infections and hospitalizations climbing at an exponential rate in North Dakota because Governor Burgum’s calls for “personal responsibility” are hollow. States like Delaware, whose governor issued a statewide mask mandate alongside other measures in April, have seen an 82% reduction in Covid-19 infections and an 88% reduction in hospitalizations. Mandates work. The science proves it.

As I write this, Ward county has a 26.4% 14-day rolling positivity rate. Trinity Hospital, the only major hospital in Ward, has issued multiple statements to the public stating that they are short-staffed and running low on hospital beds. North Dakota continues to break infection records daily, and despite months of begging people to wear masks and take precautions, we still show no signs of slowing the spread.

Parents and caregivers know “personal responsibility” involves so much more than wearing a mask. It means isolating when sick. Limiting crowds. And, above all else, taking action to control what we can so the people in your care stay safe. It means making hard decisions that may not win approval but will certainly keep people alive for another round of birthdays. Where, then, is the leadership necessary to keep our hospitals open? Where are the policies and mandates with real consequences attached needed to keep North Dakotans safe? What steps will our state leaders take to personally ensure there aren’t another 644 dead North Dakotans (or more!) because of their inaction?

A few weeks back, Governor Burgum issued a “Thanksgiving Challenge,” to try and lower the Covid numbers in our state by the end of November. I think at this point it’s fair to ask: who will be held personally responsible for so many empty chairs around the dinner table at next year’s Thanksgiving celebrations?


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