FARGO — Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said Tuesday, March 2, that he is looking to let the mandatory mask mandate in the city expire on March 22, while he said vaccinations could be near completion in the city in June, which is months ahead of schedule.
Mahoney said a more realistic goal for vaccinations in the city will likely be in the 50% range, as he and COVID-19 task force members and physicians believe many younger people might not get vaccinated. Although, he said, the newly approved one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine might encourage more to receive a shot.
Repealing the mask mandate, which has been in effect in the city since Oct. 19, isn't set in stone, he said, but if numbers continue to decline and more high-risk people are vaccinated it could end in three weeks.
The city appears "to be in a good place" with people returning to restaurants, bars and retail stores, he said, noting that was economically good for the city.
Mahoney and West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, however, told area legislators in a meeting on Tuesday that they don't support a proposed state law that would prevent cities from approving mask mandates.
It passed the House on Feb. 22 on a 50-44 vote despite strong evidence from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that widespread mask-wearing is effective in mitigating transmission of the coronavirus.
"We need to do what's best for our citizens," Dardis said.
West Fargo’s Mask Strategy strongly encourages members of the public to wear a mask when unable to keep six feet of distance between them. There is no penalty for not following the strategy, but it does support property owners who require masks in their buildings.
Dardis said he realized that geographically across the state there needed to be different steps to slow the transfer of the virus, but he said the larger cities need the ability to follow the science and public health recommendations.
The bill was part of what Dardis sees as moves by the state Legislature to "erode local control."
Mahoney agreed and said the ability to mandate masks is certainly needed when it comes to communicable diseases, and cities with large populations are in more danger of outbreaks.
As for vaccinations, Mahoney said, the addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and progress being made with those 65 and older could mean that most people who want the vaccine could have it by June, well ahead of an earlier schedule that thought it would be anywhere from September to October.
He would like to see the city at a 70% vaccination rate. However, he said, some young people who already contracted the virus and others who are less susceptible to severe symptoms may not plan to be vaccinated. Thus, he believes a new goal of 50% would be more realistic and attainable.
State Rep. John Boschee, D-Fargo, told the mayors one concern he had was that some senior citizens and others were having issues finding transportation to vaccination centers.
Mahoney and Cass County Commission Chairman Chad Peterson said they would look into the issue with Fargo Cass Public Health to make sure people find a way to the city's main vaccine center at 5100 14th Ave. S. in Fargo or to other locations.
State Rep. Brandy Pyle, R-Casselton, said there's a program available for senior citizens in that more rural area of the county that could help them receive the transportation needed.
Peterson said he believes the county vaccine effort has been "second to none."
He said, for example, veterans have been able to easily get vaccines at the Fargo Veterans Administration Medical Center and also praised FCPH for its efforts.
Despite rumors, Mahoney also said health officials are not aware of any shots that had to be thrown away. Many people on waiting lists are called immediately if any shots become available, he said.