FARGO — City Commissioner John Strand said he may soon ask fellow Fargo city leaders to join him in pushing for further action to limit the spread of coronavirus, including requiring masks in public.
"These are life and death issues for some people," he told fellow commissioners this week, stressing that city officials should think more about what they can do locally to keep people safe from COVID-19.
Strand said if he doesn't see numbers go down in two weeks, he's going to ask that the commission to consider some changes "with teeth" in them to help control the virus.
"Am I the only commissioner that thinks we need to have a discussion about wearing masks? Are you on the same page?" he asked the others at the City Commission's meeting Monday night, July 13.
"If we just wait and wait, we're going to be in trouble," said Strand, suggesting the city take proactive steps to try to prevent the outbreaks that are happening in other states.
The Duluth, Minn. City Council on Monday night voted to approve an emergency ordinance that requires people ages 10 and older to wear masks or other face coverings when inside publicly accessible common areas of buildings, including retail operations.
The ordinance does not apply to restaurants, bars or private buildings that are not open to the public.
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said Rochester, Minn., also approved a mask ordinance. Other Minnesota cities that have enacted forms of face mask requirements include St. Paul, Minneapolis, Edina, Mankato and Winona.
Newly elected Commissioner and nurse Arlette Preston told Strand she had similar concerns, but that she'd "have to think through" whether the city should require masks.
"I think setting an example is important," Preston said. "I think (mandatory masks) needs to be a point of discussion."
Fargo Cass Public Health Director Desi Fleming told the commissioners that officials conducted about 5,000 tests for coronavirus last week, and would likely do about 6,000 this week.
The positive rate is about 3% in Cass County, which compares to 2% on the state level but is down considerably from the county's rate of about 8% to 10% earlier in the pandemic.
"We really have made great strides," Fleming said about reducing the number of positive cases since the Red River Valley Task Force on the virus was formed. "We have to continue on that path."
Still, there's been a "slight uptick" in cases in Fargo, with about 20 to 30 new cases each day lately, she said. With more people "out and about," contacts have been increased from an average of about 10 people per patient to about 30.
"It makes cases more complex," she said.
There are about 150 active cases in the county, she said, and 72 deaths, with 56 of those in residents in long-term care facilities, which continue to be officials' primary concern. The hospitalization rate has stayed constant, Fleming said.
One concern Fleming had was that there have been "threats of violence" against some public health agencies across the country after they made making mask-wearing mandatory.
Mahoney said the task force on the coronavirus would be meeting this Wednesday to discuss the issue further.
The mayor, who is a doctor, said City Attorney Erick Johnson was looking into how the city would enforce a public mask-wearing requirement.