GRAND FORKS — "Here in Grand Forks we have a very serious situation now," said City Councilor Bret Weber.

He spoke at length Monday night to urge city leaders to seriously consider a citywide mask mandate. Health leaders are blaming students returning to the University of North Dakota.

Mayor Brandon Bochenski revealed 87% of current positive cases are found among people between the ages of 15 and 29 years old.

"There was a small number of people who were infectious when they came here, and the spread has been happening here," Michael Dulitz with the Grand Forks Health Department told the City Council.

Grand Forks County has the highest number of active coronavirus cases in the state at 536. That's nearly 100 more than the second-highest county, Burleigh, and more than double Cass County's cases.

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While many on the council appeared to oppose a mask mandate, they agreed the city should have a better plan about the tipping point.

"We want to keep kids safe and we want to keep them in school. We don't want something to happen where they can't go to school," said Councilor Ken Vein.

Other councilors pointed out that Minnesota just recently had its largest spike in cases over the weekend. They've had a statewide mask mandate since the beginning of August.

"I'm not completely convinced it will work in the city of Grand Forks," council member Danny Weigel said.

Nearly a dozen people attended the meeting to speak out against the idea.

"The question isn't if COVID-19 is a real virus. The question is, is our response to COVID-19 appropriate for the level of risk it brings to us?" asked David Waterman.

The discussion comes at a critical time. The council is days away from a vote that could require all nonessential businesses to close again like back in March.

"You can't continue locking us down. With the whole mask mandate it scares the hell out of people," said Scott Reinhart, who works with Integrity Fundraisers.

"One of the best things we can do to keep our businesses open is the simple act of putting a cloth over our face," Weber said.

Bochenski said, "this isn't Nazi Germany where we can bust into houses and force people to wear masks."

He did agree with councilors that more education is needed.