Fargo, North Dakota, mayor clashes with governor over whether the state should require people to wear face masks as COVID-19 cases multiply in the state

GettyImages Doug Burgum
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum. Stephen Yang/Getty Images
  • Several cities in North Dakota have enacted mask mandates as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to rise.

  • The state's governor has encouraged mask use but stopped short of enacting requirements, despite calls from some mayors.

  • North Dakota was the first state to surpass 100 cases per 100,000 residents.

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COVID-19 cases in North Dakota continue to surge and while different cities have chosen to enact face mask requirements, Gov. Doug Burgum has been hesitant to order a statewide mandate.

In October, the city of Fargo mayor Dr. Tim Mahoney enacted a citywide rule instructing everyone in the city to don a mask indoors and outdoors if they are with people who are not members of their own household. While there is no punishment for ignoring that requirement, Mahoney says he said people are cooperating with the mandate.

"We found great compliance. So what's happened is the businesses now kind of blame the mayor for saying you got to wear a mask in their business so they don't really irritate their client," Mahoney told Business Insider. "It's more that, well, the mayor says you got to do it, so you gotta do it."

Currently, the state encourages mask usage but has stopped short of requiring it, despite North Dakota becoming the first state to surpass 100 cases per 100,000 people, according to an October 27 report from Vox.

Mahoney lamented what he described as a lack of leadership in North Dakota on measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the state. Gov. Doug Burgum has taken a hands-off approach to face mask regulations, arguing it "is not a magic bullet to make this virus go away," the Associated Press reported in October.

Mahoney takes issue with that strategy.

"So ... do I shut your businesses down, or do you do that? And early on the mayors pushed back and said, 'We want to have some ability to be part of the decision-making,'" he said.

Other cities in North Dakota have since adopted rules for face masks. Mahoney said that should be a cue for leaders at the state level to act.

"More of us feel it would be very helpful. But he's still saying it's a local decision," Mahoney said of the North Dakota governor.

Bergum's office did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force also pushed for the state to adopt a statewide policy during a visit last month, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

"There is not only an evidence that masks work," Birx said during her visit, "there is an evidence that masks utilized as a public health mitigation effort work."

The outlet reported that Bergum has dismissed the idea and instead encouraged residents to take "personal responsibility," in their individual decision making.

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