Fargo city commission to discuss mask mandate options on the heels of Minnesota's requirement
So far, North Dakota cities have shied away from requiring masks in public gathering places.
FARGO — So far, North Dakota communities have been reluctant to require masks in the battle against COVID-19, but that may soon change.
About a dozen Minnesota cities were mandating masks be worn in public gathering places before Gov. Tim Walz issued an order instituting a mask requirement statewide on Wednesday, July 22.
Fargo City Commissioner John Strand is working to have discussion on the issue placed on the commission's meeting agenda for Monday.
Strand said the commission could approach the question from a number of angles, with one option being an all-encompassing rule requiring masks be worn in all indoor public settings.
If there is no appetite for such a broad rule, Strand said more targeted approaches could be considered, including exploring to what degree the city might require city employees or people working on behalf of the city to wear masks when they are near someone else in city buildings and facilities.
He said a separate discussion might focus on requiring masks to be worn by Metro Area Transit workers and passengers riding buses.
A third targeted approach, according to Strand, might be to consider what enforcement assistance the city could provide to businesses that have mask requirements in place.
As an example, he said, when a business issues a trespass warning to someone for not wearing a mask, the city could take enforcement action if the person returns.
Masks have been at the forefront of national debate regarding how best to fight the coronavirus pandemic, and Walz's order Wednesday requiring Minnesotans to wear face coverings in all indoor public settings places it among about 30 other states with similar mandates.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has said state officials encourage the use of masks, especially when social distancing isn't possible, but no statewide mandate is being contemplated.
Talk of making masks mandatory intensified after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official recently stated that the spread of COVID-19 could be significantly reduced if everyone in the U.S. wore masks when out in public.
The city of Moorhead has not passed any ordinances dealing with mandatory mask wearing and there are no proposals in the works to do so, according to Lisa Bode, governmental affairs director for the city.
Bode said city employees wear masks when assisting members of the public indoors and also outdoors in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained.
When it comes to the private sector, she said, many businesses in Minnesota are implementing their own requirements for masks. Bode added that businesses are expected to take responsibility for explaining their policies to customers who have questions and to work at deescalating situations that may arise if someone objects to wearing masks.
Bode said the Moorhead Police Department would only become involved in incidents of disorderly conduct or trespass if the efforts of the establishment are unsuccessful in resolving a conflict.
"We certainly hope that people will honor and cooperate with the policies of the businesses they frequent," she said.
Strand said he understands that when government restricts the rights of individuals to do what they want it is not a step to be taken lightly, but he said the coronavirus pandemic represents such a significant threat to public health that it warrants such a move.
Whether it's stop signs or speed limits, "We're all accustomed to living in a world where we follow some rules for the benefit and safety of other people as well as ourselves," he said.
Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson said the city has a variety of options when it comes to potential mask requirements and penalties that might be imposed for violating such rules.
He declined to cite specifics, stating those aspects will likely be covered in upcoming commission conversations.
Strand said the inconvenience created by a facial covering mandate pales in comparison to the threat posed to society by COVID-19.
"It's inconsequential and the results are of a magnitude that's just gargantuan," he said.
In response to Walz's action Wednesday, Strand said: "I'm not surprised; I'm relieved that Minnesota has implemented this.
"We border Minnesota, so it would make sense to have similar policies in the region if we can," he added.