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Fargo reinstates mask mandate for city workers

Visitors strongly encouraged to also wear masks

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Members of a group of about 25 young people who supported a mask mandate and who had several members speak in support of the measure are seen here in Fargo City Hall on Monday night, Sept. 21, when a measure was first discussed. WDAY photo

FARGO — With the more virulent COVID-19 delta variant on the rise, the Fargo City Commission voted to adopt a temporary policy for city workers to wear masks.

The action also included urging all employees to receive vaccinations to limit the spread of the coronavirus and issuing a public statement encouraging businesses and employees to consider similar actions in the city.

As part of the policy, visitors to City Hall, libraries and other city buildings are "strongly encouraged" to wear masks.

The measures were approved on a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Tim Mahoney joining Commissioners Arlette Preston and John Strand in favor. Commissioners Tony Gehrig and Dave Piepkorn were opposed.

Fargo Cass Public Health Director Desi Fleming said there were 347 active cases in Cass County and 1,508 statewide as of Monday, Aug. 23, with 20 people in Fargo hospitals. Unfortunately, she reported, there were four deaths in recent days.

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More cases are being found in the 12 to 39 age groups, she said, where the vaccination rate is about 42%.

With the Federal Drug Administration giving full approval to the Pfizer vaccine Monday morning, Fleming said she hoped more people would receive shots. North Dakota is below the national average, she noted.

Mahoney, who is a physician, said it was a "proactive" move to reinstate the city employee requirement. He favored the move, noting rising concerns, including the four deaths and more young people becoming infected and hospitalized in recent days.

Children under age 12 cannot be vaccinated yet, he said. He also acknowledged that North Dakota has far fewer ICU beds than previously thought, and Essentia and Sanford are experiencing staffing shortages .

Fargo serves not only local residents, but also ICU patients from across the state where cases are going up, Mahoney said. The number of cases is expected to continue increasing over the next four to six weeks, he said.

Gehrig said the city employee mask mandate was "nothing more than a show."

He argued the issue should be revisited on a regular basis to evaluate the necessity of a mask mandate, and Mahoney agreed.

Strand, who along with Preston wore a mask at Monday's meeting, said he doesn't want to wear a mask, either, but it goes beyond that.

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He said wearing and requiring masks is about saving lives.

"I just can't imagine that we would not act with the science guiding us," he said.

Strand encouraged the commission to set an example and send a message to the community.

"We have experts in public health," Strand said. "Why do we have them if we're not going to listen to them?"

The city's vote came almost two weeks after Fargo Public Schools opted to adopt a mask mandate for students and staff. Strand compared the city's decision to that of the school board, nothing the example the city could set.

"I want to commend the school district for courage and backbone and for making the right decision for the sake of the kids and the public," he said.

Gehrig said he talked to most of the Fargo School Board members to urge them to drop the school mask mandate.

"That's not going to do anything for transmissibility in our community," he said. "You're not saving anybody's life, in my opinion. You're hurting them socially ... you're hurting them developmentally."

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Piepkorn asked about the science behind having vaccinated people wear masks.

Dr. Tracie Newman, the new public health officer for the county, said there are some "breakthrough cases" where those vaccinated came down with the virus and could be spreaders, too.

She emphasized that the delta variant is "highly transmissible," and people can carry heavy loads in their noses.

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