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Fargo City Commission rejects mask mandate as omicron variant continues to take hold

Without an "all in" masking in the city, reservations were expressed about a positive effect.

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Fargo is looking into possibly providing more effective masks for residents as the omicron variant continues to take hold in the city.
Submitted photo

FARGO — A proposal by City Commissioner John Strand to reinstate a mask mandate for city employees and public buildings was rejected Monday night, Jan. 10, by a 4-1 vote.

Strand thought with the highly contagious omicron variant taking hold in the city, county and state perhaps such a measure could help.

He didn't get much support from even Public Health Director Desi Fleming, who said she doubted if the mandate would have much effect if it wasn't an "all-in" effort in the city to mask up.

The cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have instituted mask requirements in all buildings.

Fleming again encouraged everyone to be vaccinated as a way out of the pandemic whether it's their first or booster shot.

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Strand did make progress, though, on his request to perhaps have the more effective N-95 masks that health care workers use available to the public.

Grand Forks has a similar program where residents can pick up the masks.

Fleming said there were supply chain issues with the more effective masks, but that they could look into the situation and maybe in a week or so they could offer them.

Mayor Tim Mahoney, who is a physician, said people need to correctly wear the mask when they are used and especially to wear them over their noses.

The mayor and Fleming said the masks do allow for easier breathing when they are worn. They also said federal COVID relief money could likely be available to buy the masks.

Fleming reported there were about 1,100 cases of likely mostly omicron variant confirmed cases in Cass County currently, with about 3,000 statewide.

She said 50% of the cases are in people ages 20 to 39, with children also being affected.

The number hospitalized is 122 statewide, she said, as so far the omicron appears to be more mild although with the ballooning number of cases there could still be more hospitalizations.

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She said those with vaccinations, especially with booster shots, can almost be 90% sure of staying out of the hospitals, according to information from the United Kingdom.

Fleming said the omicron variant is expected to peak in late January.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn spoke out against any mask mandate saying it was "hypocritical" to be talking about it when none of the commissioners and only a few people in the meeting room were wearing masks.

Fleming said testing continues strong in the city with thousands each day and that it was "incredibly challenging" to keep up at their site at "The Store" at 3051 25th Street South Suite K in Fargo.

Health care providers are also offering testing at various sites, but Fleming suggests there might be charges whereas their testing is free.

Deaths in the state from COVID stand at just over 2,000, while 290 have died in Cass County, Fleming said.

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