MINOT, N.D. — In Fargo, despite rising number COVID-19 cases, Mayor Tim Mahoney says he doesn't believe the public would accept a new mask mandate.

“I think it would be extremely hard to do a mask mandate,” the mayor, who is also a physician, told reporter Patrick Springer.

That's a correct observation, from a political perspective. In the world of public policy, there is often a divide between what the public should do and what the public is willing to do.

And when it comes to mask mandates, specifically, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that they don't do as much as we'd like to curb the impact of COVID-19.

For instance, research from the US Army Institute of Surgical Research and the Brooke Army Medical Center, looking at mask mandate in Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas, found no evidence that mask requirements there reduced the impact of COVID-19.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

"We were unable to detect a reduction in per-population daily mortality, hospital bed, ICU bed, or ventilator occupancy attributable to the implementation of a mask order," the study's authors write in conclusion.

This conclusion is specifically about the efficacy of a mask mandate, and not necessarily masks themselves, which is a distinction I suspect is lost on many of those touting this study as a rebuttal against masking and masking policies.

There are other studies out there with findings similar to the one from San Antonio, and they're being bandied about on social media by gleeful gadflies who feel exonerated in their belligerently anti-masking stances. Why anyone should be happy about something like masking proving ineffective at suppressing suffering from a dangerous virus like COVID-19 is beyond me, but that's where we're at in the world right now.

Maybe we're learning that masks, or at least mask mandates, weren't all that effective a tool against COVID-19. That doesn't change anything about what we knew about masking, and the spread of this virus, a year ago. Since the risks attendant to wearing a mask are essentially zero, and the potential good enormous, what was the point of the activism against masking?

Sophomore Sara Smith, front, and other NDSU students march on campus with signs to protest the campus mask mandate on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.  Only about 20 students showed up for the protest. 
Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
Sophomore Sara Smith, front, and other NDSU students march on campus with signs to protest the campus mask mandate on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Only about 20 students showed up for the protest. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

"The consensus among medical experts appears to support public mask wear because the potential benefits of source control outweigh the risks, despite the lack of strong evidence," the San Antonio study authors note.

Is that so unreasonable?

Perhaps the masks curmudgeons were at least somewhat right, in hindsight. I'm not sure that's a ringing endorsement of their hostility.

But that's so much water under the bridge. What we have now, that we didn't have a year ago, are multiple effective vaccines that we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, protect people against COVID-19.

The data is stark. According to the Department of Health, since the vaccines became available, fully vaccinated North Dakotans account for less than 1% of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

That evidence cannot be denied.

Vaccinations in North Dakota slowed to a crawl in July, but there's evidence that things are picking up again. The average daily vaccination dose rate climbed every day in August, and even remained strong heading into the Labor Day holiday weekend.

We've been debating masks for so long, and so viciously, that we've all become entrenched.

Nobody is going to change their minds.

I'm not sure we should keep trying. Not when the efficacy of mask mandates, if not masks themselves, is in doubt. Not when we could be focusing our resources, and our reason, elsewhere.

Maybe it's time to stop talking about masks, and focus on vaccines.

After all, no reasonable person wants Americans to be wearing masks forever. We all want this pandemic to end.

Vaccines, not masks, are the long-term solution.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com.