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A vote against COVID-19

Karen Ehrens, Bismarck

HB 1323 is a bill that should not pass. If passed, this legislation would limit state, county, local and other government subdivisions, including schools, from directing the wearing of facial coverings. The bill passed the House, and was amended and passed the Senate as a compromise so that only state officials would be prohibited from requiring mask-wearing to prevent the spread of diseases during a public health emergency.

It is well demonstrated that covering the nose and mouth to stop the COVID-19 virus spread by respiratory droplets is effective. A patchwork of differing guidance when the entire state and nation are under threat from a virus is not effective. We can use Bismarck as an example. After taking no action the first time a request was made for masks due to an increase in positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, the Bismarck City Commission narrowly passed a mask “strategy” after a 6-hour meeting four weeks after a first request was brought for action. With the “strategy” in place, Bismarck saw only approximately 50-60% of people in the community wearing masks. When the Governor mandated mask wearing statewide two weeks later, 90-95% of Bismarck community members were using masks in public.

The process of passing and implementing local mandates is time and labor-intensive at the local level. Time is of the essence to protect the health and safety of residents during a public health emergency. In 2020, local public health personnel had to take on the work of requesting that local leaders to pass mandates city by city, and county by county. This work was in addition to: contact tracing and case investigation, educating the public, answering questions from citizens and businesses, arranging and carrying out COVID-19 mass testing events while still providing usual public health services.

Both the original and the amended “compromise” versions of 1323 are dangerous, and should not pass. We cannot compromise on the health and safety of individuals. COVID-19 was and continues to be a severe disease that spreads easily. What if we have even more contagious and deadly diseases in the future, what then if we cannot take action to prevent the spread of diseases? Public health workers are weary; it’s been a long fight, and there is still much to do. We encourage residents to please stand up, use your voice, and support public health and the people who are working hard on behalf of all of us North Dakota citizens to protect lives and livelihoods.

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