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A politicized piece of fabric: looking back on a year of masks and mandates

Published: Mar. 11, 2021 at 6:56 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - How a piece of fabric became politicized in a battle of freedom versus necessity.

Whether it’s a cloth mask that can be washed and worn again, or a single use surgical mask, or any other type of mask in between, North Dakotans have their opinions on wearing them.

Some had opinions on whether or not masks are effective.

“There’s no actual evidence that proves this,” said Rachael Stewart, Williston.

Or take away personal freedom.

“It’s not really taking your rights away,” said Bruce Schmautz, Bismarck.

While some business owners are simply trying to serve their customers.

“They do complain about it, which is totally understandable,” said Hair Garage owner Anna Vetter.

Differing views on masks has caused clashes.

Public health professionals have differing views than some state lawmakers.

“People are dying alone and we need to do something,” said Bismarck-Burleigh Public Health Director Renae Moch as cases spiked at the end of October.

On the first day of organizational session in December, Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, said freedom not to wear a mask was more important.

“I don’t think any one of them would want us to give up our freedom for their loss,” said Magrum.

These consistent differing views have caused conflict across the state, especially as those in charge tip-toed around mask mandate policy.

Cases started rising over the summer in July and continued with seemingly no end.

Public health leaders pushed for Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D., to institute a statewide mask mandate.

“This is the least use of masks that we have seen in retail establishments of any place we have been. And we find that deeply unfortunate,” said the former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Birx during a visit to North Dakota in late October.

But, instead, the pressure got put on local governments, which stirred up controversy at meetings across the state.

“For me it did not make sense to have a mask mandate in place in just Bismarck or just Fargo or just Grand Forks or just Minot, and I was not going to go down that road,” said Bismarck Mayor Steve Bakken.

The governor was adamant a mandate couldn’t be enforced.

“Masks work, mask mandates are inconclusive,” said Burgum.

Nonetheless, as the state continued to climb in active cases, a statewide mask mandate, along with other COVID-19 mitigation strategies, were announced on Nov. 13 as cases skyrocketed to over a 10,000.

Even so, some law enforcement across the state declined to enforce it.

“In a nutshell, we will not be enforcing mandates,” said Stark County Sheriff Corey Lee.

But after a month of the mandates in place, cases dropped by more than 7,500 and continued to drop as the governor let the mandates expire in mid-January.

Active cases are still low on March 11.

No matter how you feel about wearing a mask, this year’s history shows it helped decrease COVID-19 case counts in the state and helped us get closer to the new normal.

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