As the COVID pandemic again surges in North Dakota, consider these developments.

In West Fargo public schools, students and staff are at risk because the school board and administration refuse to mandate indoor masks, despite overwhelming evidence that masking significantly slows the spread of the virus and its variants. This toxic nonsense from one of the fastest-growing school districts in North Dakota is just short of criminal. School officials are evading their primary responsibility: to keep schools safe. Instead they’ve been cowed by a very small, but very noisy and nasty gaggle of shrews. Disruptive, crude pseudo-science propagandists, they have put their children and every other child in the schools in obvious danger.

For their part, school administrators seem to have bought into protesters’ mask myths and are being less than forthcoming and timely about reporting the extent of COVID spread among students. Looking for conspiracies about the pandemic? Look no further than the farrago in West Fargo, which, by broad definition, is a shade away from child abuse and neglect. It will be on them if (when?) a child or teacher dies from COVID picked up at school.

Then there’s “data-driven” Gov. Doug Burgum, who has demonstrated a penchant for emphasizing data that comports with his misfiring approach to the pandemic, while he glibly soft-pedals data that does not. Months ago Burgum purged public health experts who were honest about the science, preferring malleable boot-lickers who minimize the reality in order to support his flawed narrative.

The data is alarming. It’s clear. Every indicator shows North Dakota is in for a fall and winter COVID surge that already is showing signs of being worse than last spring’s peak. Hospital capacities are severely strained. The positivity rate among those tested ranges from 6% to over 8%. A vaccination rate below 50% is among the nation’s lowest. Some 97% of new cases, young and old, are unvaccinated. Yet, governor data insists North Dakotans “will do the right thing” regarding masking and vaccinations. For cryin’ out loud, gov, the data unquestionably reveals that they are not doing the right thing. They are not responding to platitudes and banalities.

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It’s as if the governor has embraced the Trump plague politics of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who is emerging as the 21st century’s Typhoid Mary, what with her endorsement of super spreader events like the Sturgis motorcycle rally. COVID Kristi and Data Dougy. Smart leadership? Enlightened governance? Not so much.

Click here for more of Jack Zaleski's columns.

Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He is author of a new history of Forum Communications Co. He and his family lived in the West Fargo district for nearly 30 years. Their children attended Horace elementary and West Fargo middle and high schools. Contact him at or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.