FARGO — North Dakota has had quite the week on the national stage. COVID cases are surging, local politicians are saying stupid things and the state has pretty much thrown up its hands and said, "You're on your own, folks."

National media, those dastardly coastal elites who have the audacity to point out the dysfunction in North Dakota's elected officials instead of talking about how great the state's oil industry is, have noticed.

First, Fargo city commissioner Dave Piepkorn went viral when a video of him saying masks don't work to stop coronavirus was shared on Twitter by Vox reporter Aaron Rupar to his 547,000 followers. The video, which also attracted the scorn of 1970s rock star Peter Frampton, has been viewed more than a million times.

Piepkorn's lunkhead comments were also picked up by MSNBC host Joy Reid, who played them on her show Tuesday, Oct. 21, with commentary by a doctor. Reid's show is watched by an average of about 2 million people each weekday, according to the Nielsen ratings.

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A database kept by The Financial Times shows that if North Dakota was a country, it would have the world's worst confirmed COVID-19 outbreak. Both the Twittersphere and MSNBC picked up on that nugget.

But the award for Blockhead Comment of the Week Picked Up by National Media belongs to Tim Helbling, the mayor of Mandan. Along with Bismarck mayor Steve Bakken, a failed FM disc jockey who was placed in his seat by wealthy local developers so they could have a puppet (although Steve is too dense to realize this is what happened), Helbling forms a dynamic duo of Coronavirus Denial in the state's second-largest population center.

Bakken told Forum News Service this week that he doesn't support mask mandate because of what it could lead to — like forced hand-washing or forced hand sanitizer. Literally nobody has ever raised those issues, and frankly all levels of government have rules about cleanliness when it comes to restaurants or food-handling, but nobody's going to be treading on Steve's personal freedoms in the name of public health.

At a Mandan city commission meeting Tuesday, Helbling said a mask mandate would be "government overreach" (yawn), doesn't believe there's enough scientific evidence to prove that masks work (easing into Piepkorn territory) and ... wait for it ... said invoking one would start a slippery slope that could lead to government closing cookie shops.

Not on Helbling's watch, dammit!

"What's next? Are we going to close every chocolate chip cookie place, everybody who sells chocolate chip cookies because ... you know, it just explodes. Where does it stop and where does it start? I'm afraid once it starts, it's not going to stop," Helbling said.

It's this kind of leadership that has North Dakota ranked No. 1 in new COVID cases, per capita. It's this kind of leadership that the families of the 422 North Dakotans killed by COVID, including 10 on Tuesday, can look at and say, "Yes, the people I've elected are laser-focused on the right things. Like protecting the liberty of cookie shop owners from the heavy hand of government."

You know the old saying: First they mandated masks. And I did nothing. Then they came for the cookie shops. And I did nothing. Then they came for the Mexican restaurants. And I did nothing. Then ...

You get the idea. The next thing you know, North Dakotans won't be able to buy convenience store submarine sandwiches and a chocolate milk because The Government will have come for them. As Helbling said, where does it stop?

Thank goodness for leaders like Helbling, Bakken, Grand Forks mayor Brandon Bochenski and Gov. Doug Burgum. Good Republicans all, each one looking out for the rights of cookie shop owners.

People vulnerable to a virus, not so much.

But, really, is life worth living if you can't have chocolate chip cookies?

Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at mmcfeely@forumcomm.com or (701) 451-5655.