FARGO — Despite pleas to keep the option open as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the city, there won't be a mask mandate in Fargo any time soon.
The Fargo City Commission voted 3-2 on Monday night, Oct. 5, to reject consideration of two proposed mask mandate options, one with a civil penalty and another without.
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney cast the deciding vote against the mandate saying it was an emotional issue and he believed it would tear the city apart.
Instead, he said, an effort to urge people to wear masks through education was the way to go.
Two other city commissioners offered more overt opposition.
Commissioner Dave Piepkorn said flatly that "masks don't work."
Commissioner Tony Gehrig said he thought there would be "violent interactions" erupting in the city if such a mandate was imposed.
"Just look at what's going on on social media," he said.
The city's new police chief, David Zibolski, was brought into the conversation at his first meeting after being sworn in, joking his "honeymoon didn't last very long."
The chief, who wore a mask throughout the meeting, didn't have a definite answer to the question of whether police would be able to handle calls for enforcement of such a mandate. It could be an "undue burden," he said, but he also emphasized the importance of educating people about the virus and its dangers.
The decision left Commissioners John Strand and Arlette Preston, a registered nurse, concerned about not having another "tool in the toolbox" if the virus continues its attack on city residents.
Strand, who favored the option to have a civil penalty with the mask mandate and to put it on the agenda in two weeks for consideration, said he said he was only doing it "for the safety of our people."
Preston said she didn't think "people were taking this seriously enough."
She also pointed to what medical professionals are saying: "Masks do work."
"I realize there are some people who are never going to wear a mask," she added.
Preston also said there were many people who favored a mandate for public settings, but they were afraid to come to the City Commission chambers where chairs aren't six feet apart and many people aren't wearing masks as required.
The anti-mask crowd was out in force again at the meeting, too, with many signing up to address the commission during the public comment period.
Bridgett Ertelt said surrounding states where masks are mandated are still seeing rising cases. She said America is a "free society," and the commission should continue to reject mask mandates.
Gretchen Hoffman also brought up freedom. She said residents need to be given more credit for knowing what to do to take care of themselves and their health.
Glenn Knutson said studies show that the only masks that work are surgical masks and N-95 masks that are used by health care workers.
In the end, Mahoney, a physician and surgeon who was part of a massive mask wearing campaign that was unveiled late last week at City Hall, was the deciding vote, despite voting two weeks ago to have the mandate options drawn up by City Attorney Erik Johnson.
Johnson, in presenting the two mandate options, said he believed "additional input" from both the city health and police departments would be important if a mandate was adopted. He also suggested in the penalty version of the mandate that a warning be given first and that those under 18 should only be given a verbal warning.
It doesn't matter much at this point, as a mandate is off the table for now. However, a commissioner could bring it up for consideration at a future meeting.